Airborn Audio (Part 1)

Date: September 25 th, 2004.
Location: Villette Numérique, Cité des Sciences, Paris, France.

Hip-Hop Core: Beans has already released a lot of solo projects and nearly 2 full-length albums since the break-up of Antipop. On the other hand, you've been pretty discreet. A lot of projects have been announced but just a few tracks reached our ears in the mean time. How do you explain that?

M. Sayyid: The main thing with us, man, was that we were spending time focusing on Airborn. We're in nobody else's hurry. We just spent the time in the lab, switching management, switching labels and just holding it down and built anticipation. I think that if you're just throwing stuff out there with no leg work and just seeing where it falls, it's all good… But you gotta put leg work behind your releases. We're living in a different time now as artists. Leg work means putting out mixtapes, getting them in the stores, getting the bus cracking before your album drops. So our release date is in February 2005 and now (note: September 2004) we're hitting all the stores with instrumentals and freestyles and things like that. We had to sit back and build instead of just throwing things out there.

HHC: Initially, the album "Good Fortune" was supposed to be released in November 2004…

M. Sayyid: They pushed it.

High Priest: That's on Ninja Tune for the
States and then we'll work something out overseas. It's "to be announced" but I think it's gonna be released around the end of February. One thing I just wanted to add on is that I'm 10000% happy about the fact that we had the time to take and put together a proper album and also make the format change from Antipop to Airborn Audio. Because if you look at it, you know Beans from Antipop, that's his name: Beans. But when you see Airborn Audio, you don't know automatically that that's from Antipop so it takes time for people to know. That's what we've been working to do and let everyone know that it's just a change of address and a graduation from one stage to another stage. With the same brain, same production team who brought you all the Antipop albums (since we held most of that down)… It's coming from the same school and we wanted to make this clear over these many months that we were in the lab.

HHC: I believe that both of your solo albums were supposed to come out on Warp… What happened?

M: As far as all the solo album thing and stuff, it's all good. We're gonna be G-Uniting it up, you know what I'm saying, as far as dropping things. But primarily we had to focus on the house, not the car. The house is Airborn Audio and then we'll drop various little things. But when you see myself, you're gonna see Airborn Audio. That's how we're rolling. So the solo projects are definitely gonna pop off but first things first. And then we'll go down the line, just like G-Unit.

HHC: But will they be released on Warp as it was announced originally?

M: No, no, that was what was said by somebody but, no, that wasn't the case. We only promised to give Warp one record with the option of another record. We gave them the one record and then we kept it moving into another thing. We never had no solo deal plans particularly with Warp. There's been talks about various things but it was not really defined.

HHC: Priest, your rhyme style is clearly influenced by spoken word but with a dark twist. On the contrary, Sayyid, your flow seems to cut through the air like a sabre. How did you develop those techniques?

HP: It's pretty much like you said, man. Right here (note: looking at Sayyid), this is Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, just cutting through it. We do what we have to do. Obviously, there's a lot of different influences but the biggest thing is the space where we both meet on tracks, collaborate and put it down. Same format as Antipop is Airborn. Now it's just the two of us. Everything that you heard, everything that you read previously, everything that you listened to previously, now just put down in a Y2K compatibility format. That's what Airborn is.

M: As far as rhyme styles, it's just begun. We're still developing as writers and artists. We're always trying to get it right. There's just so many different ways of spitting flows, breaking songs, structure part and messing with stories… So there's an infinite amount of possibilities in making the music that we make. We're just really excited to explore all of them while still staying in the pocket. Not just being random (note: mimicking the so-called abstract rappers) or spitting just anything. No! We have to be as clear as possible and as boundary-pushing as possible because that's what they pay us to do.

HHC: Do you think that your art background and the fact that your family was involved in different arts influenced the way you see and make music?

HP: Everything that you're exposed to in your life is your influence, whether you consciously or unconsciously know it. Even us being together right now is gonna be an influence for something else because seeing the fact that y'all appreciate what we do makes me say: "Damn! Somebody else is hearing what we do and they appreciate it". It inspires us. Everything, from what we've seen as children to what's happening now to what we think might happen, is what goes into our music. This is the studio right here, just on this stage (note: pointing at his equipment in front of him).

M: We're all living in a past, a present and a future tense. All these things combinate into influences and are part of the experience of life. Our background is a blessing from God. Being involved into fine arts and having family in that as well, I'm just mad happy.

HHC: As you said, you used to produce most of Antipop recordings. Do you work differently now that you're Airborn Audio?

HP: One of the biggest differences is that we're the engineers too. So when you hear the joints, we nearly did everything. It's a test that we took onto ourselves, taking our own destiny into our own hands…

HHC: Priest, could you tell us a few words about the "Sonics for the Youth" 12" that you released on Ozone?

HP: That was something I did at a time when I was just really learning about programming for myself. It was a situation where we had an opportunity to do some things with a little outlet so it's just one of the many sides of what we do.

HHC: Priest. At one time, there were talks about a possible solo instrumental album but nothing really came out. Apart from a remix for Daedelus and a few tracks for the Sound Frequency Crew, what have you been working on since the break-up of Antipop?

HP: Now that the house of Airborn is built, we can start to deal with the other things. Both of us do instrumentals 'cause we produce. Every beat that we don't rhyme on is still an instrumental so there's still many discs of that stuff, if you know what I mean. But right now, knowing that the priority is Airborn, all of that stuff is just in a chamber lined up for the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005… It's just good to know that now there's a uniform brain into what we do. We're gonna stay dropping promos, stay dropping mixtapes and then we'll see…

HHC: What can we expect from the "Book of Keys" Ep soon to be released on Sound Ink?

HP: That stuff is some instrumental, some rhyming… We both got a jump-off with the Sound Ink guys. I'm just glad that we've got that outlet. We were backed up for a minute, just having mad joints and having to make certain decisions as to where things are gonna go. The stuff we did for Sound Ink is from last year but we're still building the house.

M: We got our sound. With solo stuff, you just get a perspective of HP and his world. You get a glimpse of Sayyid and his world. And then you get a glimpse of Airborn again.

HHC: Why did you decide to work with Sound Ink for your solo projects but with Ninja Tune for the Airborn Audio LP?

M: With Sound Ink, we just did some vinyl releases. But for solo things, we have some other options. We just explore the options. Cats holla, we holla back… We've been getting lots of phone calls from various labels and we're also doing some self-releases as well. The spirit of independent music is alive and well with us and we plan on doing some things on our own as well. The Sound Ink guys are soldiers. They got in contact with us to do some shit. They rep us, we rep them… But it was a kind of a one-off thing.

HHC: Sayyid, we've been waiting for your solo album "The Alternative" for a long time now. What happened?

M: You gotta make decisions in life. One of the decisions that Priest and myself made was we had to get this Airborn thing cracking, before we move on with the other things. It continues to combinate from the agenda that we had with Antipop. It's just team work, it's about sacrifice. We fell back on the solo thing for a sec, just so we can build up Air. Now we gonna drop various things.

HP: Time has not the same relevance in terms of the music because the music is first and then the time frame is determined after it. It's not like "Oh, we have to do this by then!" If it's not ready, it can't drop.

HHC: Sayyid, you've also done a track with Grem's aka Supermicro from the french group Hustla recently…

M: With who? I'm not familiar with that.

HHC: You don't know about this? He's released a track with you.

M: Okay (laughing). That's dope. Big up to homie. That's all good. You know what, speaking about french rap, I am familiar with french artists. I don't understand French but I understand the inflections of what cats are doing out here. I check for their projection and their choice in song selection and I heard some phenomenal joints, man. To be honest, I forgot the names but I heard some really firry joints. I mean France is the second biggest hip-hop market in the world. The french keep it very real. That's something that I and Priest have always appreciated when we come over here. Because it's not like we're going to Greenland where cats kinda know… Here is the second heart of hip-hop. So it's an honour to be welcomed here.

HP: I'm more familiar with old-school french rap stuff like MC Solaar. Outside of that, Saian Supa Crew and cats that we've seen locally, I'm not up on a lot of the newer stuff…

HHC: What draws you both to minimalist electronic sounds?

HP: In all humility and honesty, we kinda really put that sound on the map, just in terms of no samples. When we came through with Antipop, everybody else was doing things more sample-based, underground EPS-based situation. We took the EPS without samples but still made it minimal…

M: Nobody was fucking with synths or things like that. The first Antipop album had a lot samples. But even before that we had the mixtape jump-off that had no samples on it. We did this out of necessity. This is '96, '97. Cats were like "Oh, man, what's this all about?"…

HHC: What are you listening to these days by the way?

M: The new Airborn promo, fire (laughs). Big up to all the stores that repped us and took it in. I'm listening to the new Game, The Neptunes new joint with Snoop… I'm on a Bob Marley phase.

HP: Same type of stuff, some older vinyl too. We got our hands on some stuff like Genesis, Traffic. Just taking it back on a composition level. Apart from that, I listen to Nas, Missy…

M: We mostly listen to pop joints these days. Outkast…

HP: This whole pop vs. underground thing doesn't even matter anymore because what's hot is what's hot. David Banner, Lil' Jon, that's what's fire so that's what we listen to. But we also listen to MF Doom, Madlib. We don't care.

HHC: Sayyid, you've done a lot of collaborations these past few years. You've rapped alongside MF Doom, Aceyalone, Rob Sonic, Fred Ones, Heat Sensor and a few others. What particular memories do you keep of these meetings?

M: It's just a continued big-up to what we've been doing over the years. It's always a great look to spit on something with somebody. It's not too many deep experiences although I would say that doing the joint with Doom was pretty bugged-out. Doom is just scientific, he has his ideas on things and it was definitely interesting working with him.

HHC: Since 2 or 3 years, in my opinion, nearly nothing interesting seems to come out of the new New York hip-hop scene… and New York has clearly lost his central role in the avant-garde hip-hop. How do you feel about that as New-Yorkers?

HP: There's a cat, I'm not sure if he may have reached a lot over here but Jay-Z! (laughs) That's pretty much the jump-off.

HHC: I was talking about new avant-garde artists, such as you when you first began…

HP: Nobody else is gonna do it how we did it 'cause that's us. Nobody's gonna be us. Everybody's got their own situation now. Before, underground was like a movement so that was a sound that was being pushed in a kind of agenda. Now, it's no agenda. Every underground cat does want to get signed to a certain level so there's not like an underground sound so much in New York anymore. Cats are doing things that they wanna reach people with and hopefully get going to higher things… Instead of following behind this one and following behind that one, it's more individual now. Fat Joe has his sound; Airborn has their sound, Jay, Nas… It's not like back in the day where everybody sounded like Gangstarr, Wu-Tang…

M: As HP said before, have you heard of Jay-Z?! NY is the number one place for hip-hop. Cause NY breaks everything naturally. Even if it's from the South, it's gotta come through Hot 97 to get broken on a national level. NY is still in every way the pinnacle of hip-hop music. As far as new artists coming up and doing things, there's a lot of cats, for example, Cam'ron… Common's in New York. A lot of cats are in NY doing fresh things: Talib Kweli…

HHC: But I was speaking about ground-breaking artists… I don't see anything ground-breaking in what you've just listed.

M: That's where we come in! That's the honest truth.

HP: Overall, I just wanna say that I'm just glad that we have a sound. As a producer, if you don't have a sound, it's hard for you. Dr Dre's has a sound. Neptunes, Timbaland, Airborn, we all have a sound. I'm glad to be in that same company. Now it's a matter of dropping different joints and re-introducing our sound.

HHC: You were renowned for your live MPC experimentations. Now, a lot of rap artists are following in your footsteps for their live shows and we've even seen some MPC battles being set up. How do you feel about that?

HP: (laughing) I feel like Akai really owes us some money or at least a sponsorship situation because we really put the MPC 2000XL 8-outs 16-pads on the map. Nobody else in the whole game of rhyming had this situation on the stage and was using it live, not just triggering samples. It wasn't going down like that before us. What I'd love to see… Hey, my man thought of something, I thought of something, it was good idea. What you should do is embrace that 'cause that's a good idea but, for the record, I just have to say nobody else was doing that before we did. What Sayyid did was bringing the MPC to life. We just found a different use so I appreciate the fact of seeing other cats using it. That's dope.

M: Next time we come with our all-out new shit, we got to put some new kind of fucking curtain so you cats can't get at the shit, man! But it's classic though 'cause I was walking around here yesterday and I seen these cats playing with an MPC. And I was like, "yeah, I know where they get that from!" It was funny. We had an influence.

Interview by Cobalt
Photos by MC23 & Nicolanifanta
February 2005

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