Exclusive: The Sacramento lyricist explains the motivation behind his '90s-themed project, how paying homage to J Dilla was difficult and why police get no love from him.
It’s fascinating to think that a '90s baby would be making 90’s Hip Hop today. At the same time, not only does it show an appreciation for the foundation that was laid down before their time, but also a maturation of the music we know and love. Chuuwee certainly fits this mold.
Born in 1990, the Sacramento-native has been honing his craft over the course of several projects with his latest releases (Watching The Throne, Crown Me King) proving he is an emcee that has the knowledge and likewise skills to respectfully embrace the golden era of Hip Hop. With a moderately growing yet dedicated fan base, the 22-year-old is poised to turn a new generation of listeners onto the sounds of our past while still keeping his style fresh.
With his Amalgam Digital debut Wild Style around the corner (October 8), Chuuwee spoke with HipHopDX about the direction he wanted to take with it and why it will be a free release. Recently releasing his J Dilla-inspired project Ch3z!!?...Chill!!!, Chuuwee also explained how the mixtape was developed.
HipHopDX: You have released close to a dozen mixtapes and street albums since 2010. The Millenium Falcon, The Date Tape, Hot N’ Ready, the list goes on. It’s clear that you have an intense work ethic. Do you typically focus on one project or are they projects that you piece together over time?
Chuuwee: Sometimes I’m working on one project, like I’ll get motivated to do the project and then I’ll probably get like three or four songs done, next thing I know I’m starting another project. A lot of the times it’s just one project, I’m just sitting there thinking of what I want to do and try to come up with a theme. Other times it’s like I get so many different beats I’ll mess around and start like five projects in one day. [Laughs]
DX: You’ve been somebody that’s never really held your tongue whether it’s about religion, cultural issues or even other artists’ music. On the track “Stones & Crowns” off of Watching The Throne you say, “I download Tha Carter IV / Waste of time like a fucking broke Audemar.” Clearly there’s a divide between the music that you make and respect, and then the music that’s predominately being heard on the radio. Who do you feel should be held more accountable, the artist or the listener?
Chuuwee: Not to necessarily blame, ‘cause it’s not really anybody’s fault, but it’s definitely on the listener because if we didn’t have to find ways to make people interested in what we wanted them to be interested in, then we could just do whatever we wanted. Like here in Sacramento alone we have no Rap station anymore because most of the people in Sacramento don’t care about what’s going on in the music industry or any music scene anyway. They just want to cut the radio on and dance. It’s definitely heavily-inspired by the consumer because they’re the ones who make what’s going on right now.
I don’t even know what genre it would technically be, but I guess techno even though it might be wrong. But all the techno-dance, there wouldn’t be any of that if there wasn’t a high demand right now for that. Everybody wants to hear it. It was popular before and now everybody wants to hear that. It’s like how everybody wanted to hear the 50 Cent-type of Rap stuff that dwindled out, and then everybody wanted to hear the Wiz [Khalifa]-smoking stuff, so it’s definitely on the consumer. They change their mind and their emotions just like underwear.
DX: [Laughs] Another example of you not holding your tongue is on the “Vigil Tempus” off of Ch3z!!?...Chill!!! You take sort of an N.W.A. stance on that record. What kind of encounters have you had with the police?
Chuuwee: I’ve had numerous encounters with the police. This one time my parents were coming from a park. They were just posted up at the park, sitting there talking to each other. I guess their tail light was out, so the cop followed them from the park all the way back to my grandmother’s house and proceeded to write a ticket in the driveway. You know, if you’re seeing that I’m doing something wrong or seeing there’s a violation, you have no right to follow me five minutes up the street to write me a ticket at my house. You should have written that right then and there. The tail light was out at the park.
I’ve seen police take people’s drugs, like we’ve been pulled over before because we were smoking in the car. I’ve seen them run through our stuff without a warrant, just like, “We’re taking this.” They can’t do that, but they’re like, we can take you to jail for having it. So they took our whole stash and we can’t do anything about it because they’re the cops. [Laughs] I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff with the police. I’ve even seen the cops beat people up for nothing.
There was this concert I went to and a fight broke out, just super chaotic. And people were just running around trying to get out of the way. But the police were grabbing them, and they weren’t even involved in the fight. Cops were just tackling people and throwing them into their car. I know it’s probably worse elsewhere, but Sacramento has some shady police.
DX: Speaking of Ch3z!!?...Chill!!!, doing a project like that can be a bit difficult because the individuals who were close to J Dilla are also very protective of his legacy. At this point it’s fair to say that the project has been well-received, but when making it were you initially worried about a possible backlash for doing a Dilla tribute project?
Chuuwee: That is exactly what kept me from putting it out. It was supposed to come out last year, and then it was supposed to come earlier this year. I’ve actually redone it five times, and every time I redid it I was trying to pick the perfect beats. I was definitely trying to pay homage to the artist in which the beat that I used. Like for instance I used a lot of different Dilla beats that no one really rapped over like the joint “Climax” by Slum Village. So when I did that song I was really trying to pay homage to Slum Village and also encompass the type of Hip Hop that I think they make. When I hear Slum Village and the sound that I get from them, I would try to encompass that into the song when I redid it.
So I was taking a lot of time trying to make sure that I wasn’t just rapping over Dilla beats. To me it’s something deeper than that; I didn’t want to just be another person rapping over J Dilla beats. That’s why I picked the ones that I did. I was honestly trying to make a tribute project. Like, if J Dilla were still alive and he were to hand me some beats right now, that is what I would have did with them.
DX: With releasing so many projects, there’s also been the possibility that some of them never come to fruition. You just mentioned Ch3z!!?....Chill!!! was supposed to be released about a year ago and it finally came out just a few weeks ago. Back in May of 2011 you released the song “It Was Great Here” which was produced by Lee Bannon, and in fact it was supposed to be a part of an album entirely produced by him called Fever Hunt. What happened to that project?
Chuuwee: With that project it was just conflicting schedules. Lee Bannon had a lot of stuff going on and that was when I had a lot of stuff going on as well. And sometimes it’s hard to get in contact with Bannon because the way he works is pretty intense. Like he’s a very hard-working individual, and he works a lot differently than other people do. And sometimes when two people are trying to work together not everyone’s always understanding of what the other person’s ethic is.
With that project we just didn’t have the time on both ends to do it and we were both trying to go for different directions but still stay within each other’s sense of taste. We need a lot more planning, we need a lot more time to be able to sit somewhere and do something. I mean the album was pretty much done. We were having sessions, but Bannon would disappear for like a month or two doing something, I would disappear for a few months doing something, so we just never had time to really focus on it.
DX: You said it was something that was pretty much done at the time. Do you think it will still be released?
Chuuwee: I think it could be, I won’t put a time on it. But I definitely do think that it would be coming out sooner or later. I think it would dope too to come out because it’s a really great project. Lee Bannon is doing his thing right now, and it really encompasses that type of Hip Hop that people are looking for right now.
DX: Now the debut album Wild Style is slated for next month. Is that still on?
Chuuwee: I’m shooting for an October release. I was supposed to release it a long time ago. For one, we were working on sample clearances. We couldn’t correct those. I also was taking a lot of time to craft it because I really wanted it to sound like what I was attempting to make. I’m trying to make all of the classic albums that I listened to when I was coming up and my mom was putting me onto, like different types of Hip Hop. I really wanted to recreate that era of music and really show people how much I was inspired by that era.
I hear a lot of people making '90s stuff, but it’s not necessarily…Just because you’re saying you’re doing something doesn’t mean you’re actually doing it, you know? So I didn’t want people to feel like I was trying to tap into somebody else’s style or I was trying to do something because other people were doing it. I’m really inspired by the '90s scene, that’s my thing. That would be my gimmick if anything. So I just really wanted to make sure I had it perfect, and I was taking as much time as I needed to do that.
DX: You’ve said before that Wild Style is an album that is six years in the making, which is essentially when you began taking Rap as a possible career seriously. Is there a different approach that you took in making Wild Style as opposed to making your past projects?
Chuuwee: Definitely. With a lot of my projects I always have the notion that people won’t like it. So I’m always going back and changing things because of other people’s ideas or opinions. This time I really focused on what I wanted an album to sound like, so I was really trying to find the correct production, I was really trying to find the sound to showcase me as an artist. Kind of like what I did with Crown Me King, just do whatever you want to do and if they don’t like it then they’re just not going to like it, but somebody is gonna like it. With this one I can’t worry about anyone else’s opinion. This is my album, this is my debut and I have to make this sound like what I want it to sound like. When I share it with the people they can’t have any choice but to accept it.
DX: You’ve released tracks like “Hustleman,” “B.Y.O.Weed” and “Rock The Party” from Wild Style which show a versatility in subject matter. Is there a certain record on there that best represents the mission statement you have for the album?
Chuuwee: Man, there’s like four on there. The whole album is like a day in the '90s, it would be like all of your typical Hip Hop movies. I basically use all of those and the soundtracks and albums that took place around that time period to create a sense of nostalgia for being the '90s. You’re really walking through a day in the '90s. So there’s songs on there, about four or five of them, that really put it together. It all sounds like the '90s but there’s certain joints that nail it in and give it that album feel.
DX: Yeah, a track like “Rock The Party” could reflect a Friday night.
Chuuwee: Right, right. “Rock The Party” to me is like [Big Daddy Kane’s] “Warm It Up, Kane.” When that dropped, nobody was rapping like that back then. When that dropped, people were like, “Yo, this is Rap, this is Hip Hop right here.” So when I dropped “Rock The Party” not only did I want to showcase an old school '90s style, but I also wanted to show a variety in music. I hear no one rapping like that. I hear everybody taking someone else’s style of Rap, I hear nobody rapping like that. So I was like, why not rap like Kane? Nobody is paying homage to Kane like that, everybody wants to rap like 2 Chainz. I’m gonna rap like Kane.
DX: On the production side you’ve worked with Large Professor, Audible Doctor as well as Jonathan Lowell. Who else do you have on there? Did you get Lee Bannon as well?
Chuuwee: I couldn’t get Lee Bannon in time for this one. I’m trying to get bigger names that I don’t want to mention right now. But I also got a lot of my homies, just various people from Sacramento and surrounding areas that I’ve worked with and I chose them because they’re the ones that could really encompass the sound. I had a shitload of people send me beats that they thought were right, and it just wasn’t fitting. So the people that I picked, they were really sending me that nostalgia, they were really sending me that sound. For instance “B.Y.O.Weed,” my homie Telepath sent me that. And when I got it, I instantly felt the sound. He sent over like four or five joints, and they all sounded like different artists that we listened to from the '90s.
DX: Well, if that also includes anybody from the Crown Me King project then it’s definitely going to have that '90s sound because every single track on that project had that feel.
Chuuwee: That’s another thing that’s cool to me because on projects where I don’t really feel like I’m doing '90s stuff, people seem to still hear that nostalgia in my music. There’s times where I want it to be like this, and people will tell me it sounds like such and such from before. I’ll be like really? I guess this style really is my thing.
DX: In terms of features you’ve stated that Mistah F.A.B., a fellow Cali-native, is going to join you on a record. Interestingly enough, your first show ever was opening for him, so it’s kind of crazy to see that come full circle.
Chuuwee: It’s wild, man. I recently went to a Hieroglyphics concert and I was talking to him down there and just saying the same thing. My very first show, it was at a little hole in the wall club where Mistah F.A.B. had headlined at here called Colonial Theatre. He had an afterparty at a club in East Sacramento, and at that time I had a different manager and I was still in high school so I really thought I was doing it because the next show after this one was going to be at a strip club, so I really thought that I was blowing up. [Laughs] So anyways, I went in there and nobody was paying attention, like 30 people in there all hanging around Mistah F.A.B., and he was in there with his mom just spending time with her. It was like nobody cared, but I was like whatever man, this was my first show.
DX: Aside from him, is there anybody else you have featured?
Chuuwee: I’m trying to get a slew of people on there. I want to get Masta Killa on something, I definitely want to get Method Man. If I could get Mos Def on this one joint…You asked earlier what joints I felt really stuck out, and I have this song on there where I was attempting to remake "The What" by Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man. And if I could get Mos Def on that track, that would be so crazy.
DX: That would definitely be crazy. But of course if you were to get Mos Def at this stage do you think it would be in time for the album?
Chuuwee: No, I don’t think it would be in time for the album. The album now…I was going to change the name of it and drop it as a mixtape and then recreate Wild Style to avoid the sampling, but now I’m just going to put it out for free and let people get it. I know they’ve been waiting for it for a long time. And then my official debut release is a Southern Hip Hop-style album. It touches everything from Outkast to UGK to Devin The Dude. There even might be a little 2 Chainz influence on there. It’s just straight-up Southern Hip Hop because I’m also from Texas.
DX: Wow, I didn’t even know about that. So the free album is going to still be Wild Style and then –
Chuuwee: Wild Style is gonna be an album, but I’m just gonna drop it for free the same way I did Crown Me King. I don’t want people to keep waiting for it, they’ve been waiting super long. I know the sample clearances can be taken care of but it’s just a matter of me. I don’t really want to make me or anybody else wait for that so it’s like, let’s just drop it now and keep working. I got projects galore, so why not just give it to the fans. Plus I don’t feel like it’s time to sell anything anyway, I’ve been giving all my projects out for free and people seem to like it even though they ask me when they can buy stuff. [Laughs]
DX: And that’s respect, the fact that you have the type of following that’s willing to pay for your music.
Chuuwee: Yeah man. My fans have to be like the best fans out there. I know Tech N9ne’s fans are sick, and I know Lil Wayne’s fans are pretty dedicated. My fans are dope man, like they’re really down. The people that do understand me and where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to do in music, they’re really down with that and they really do understand my method.