Offwhyte (Part 2)

Location: Ninkasi Kao, Lyon, France
Date: June 6th 2004

Hip-Hop Core: Let's go back in time a little bit. How did you hook up with Jeff and when did you decide that you wanted to create your own label?

Offwhyte : I grew up with Jeff. We lived in the South part of Illinois. I've known him since I was 6 years old and he was 7 and we used to play baseball. When it was time to go to the university, we went together to Chicago to have fun and see the city. And of course we were into hip-hop music. So we went to The University of Illinois and we lived in the dorms with our art director Josh Grotto. We formed this friendship and we would talk about hip-hop and listen to rap and go to parties... We would always talk about making a label and putting out music that we thought was dope. At the time, underground hip-hop was really exciting and there were a lot of new styles coming out. Jeff ended up moving to Seattle the next year while the rest of us stayed in Chicago. When he was out in Seattle, he made a lot money working for It blew up and he got all these stock options which meant really big money. He came back to Chicago and then all of a sudden we had means to start a label. The first thing we did was put out a compilation. A lot of the artists that I was hanging out with in that time ended up being on "The Blackbook Sessions". That's really the way it all started.

HHC: Listening to the famous 'Galapagos4' track, it seems that you already had a perfect idea of what you wanted to accomplish with the label, that you had the whole road map in your head right from the start?

O: Not really. That song 'Galapagos 4' was written and recorded before we decided to name the label. It was because of the song that we decided to name it that way. But that song is a really good representation of the ideology and the goals of the label: to stay true and to stay original in what you do.

HHC: Could you tell us the whole story behind the Galapagos 4 logo and name? I believe it has something to do with the book "Galapagos" by Kurt Vonnegut, isn't it?

O: Yeah. Kurt Vonnegut has always been one of my favorite authors. He's got a lot of good philosophies in his novels. It's not too complicated and it's really easy to read. "Galapagos" is a pretty dark book. It's a story of these tourists that go to the Galapagos Islands and, one by one, they die. But that doesn't have any direct relation to my song. It's just that around that time I was thinking about the Galapagos islands and I just made an analogy of these islands that were in the middle of nowhere and that have very unique plants and animal species; relaying that to my music and the way we wanted to keep everything original, very unique, untouchable and pure. That's more of the analogy that Galapagos 4 is supposed to stand for.

HHC: You've done production on all of your albums. Yet it seems that you tend do less production these days. Why do you prefer to work with full-time producers?

O: Well, actually, I have been making some beats lately and on the new album there's going to be a few tracks that I produced. But as I was saying before, I really get pleasure out of working with different producers and hearing what everyone has to offer. Also, one of the reasons is that I don't have my own equipment. I mean, I still have the old shitty equipment that I've been using for ever. And I've got to be really into it to make a beat. A lot of my friends are doing some really cool shit and they keep doing it so it's hard not to want to work with people. I enjoy making beats but maybe if I got some new equipment or my own studio space it would be different… But I like working with different people. And it's cool because I'm mostly working with my friends and it's a way to keep in touch and talk about music. This is a productive way of living and a productive way of working towards a common goal. I mean, I'm interested in working with different producers. As long as your shit is tight and you have something that I feel, it's very exciting.

HHC: Could you tell us a few words about The Butchershop Quartet project and your involvement in it?

O: I don't know too much about it actually. That was put out on a sub-label of Galapagos 4 called Alabaster and it's run by DJ White Lightning. This is the first release on the label. I don't want to misrepresent his company. It's just that there was this album and DJ White Lightning asked us to rap on it and then we did and that was it! I know they've had some good reviews. The album is a 2-disc set. The first disc is The Butchershop Quartet and the second disc is remixes using the Butchershop Quartet. Mestizo and me are on this second disc rapping on these mixed beats that Meaty Ogre and Maker and White Lightning did. It's a great concept. But aside from what I did on there and what I just told you, I don't really know too much about it. It was really fast. We were about to go on tour and he had to get it finished… So that's another song I wrote in a day.

HHC: Could you tell us a few words about your affiliation with the Nacrobats crew?

O: Of course. Nacrobats is a crew that started in the early nineties in Chicago. It's one of the largest emcee crews in the city. It started around 1993 but I didn't join until 1997 or 1998. I got in while I was dubbing little demo tapes. It was the first tape I put out under the name Offwhyte, with just a black and white cover. It had seven songs on it and I dubbed like a hundred of them at my house. I just sold them to different people or gave them out to make connections. The leader of Nacrobats is this emcee named Pugslee Atomz, a really legendary battle emcee. He was always a real good guy to be around. If Pugslee was interested in your music, he would give you confidence. He's a really easy guy to talk to and he would bring you to all the parties. Some of the first experiences I've had, rhyming in ciphers, Pugslee was standing right next to me, giving me confidence, like "It's cool, it's ok". In Chicago, everyone rhymes… And it was like that in the nineties. So when there was a cipher that kicked off, it would be thick. One of the first ciphers I was in was with Pugslee and his group called Stoney Island, who's one of the first Chicago hip-hop groups to put out records and things like that. I'm very grateful that I was able to come up in that sort of environment because it's a real important factor in the art of emceeing. Nacrobats was a really big part of that because that was how they would do their shit and practice. They had weekly meeting downtown and they would just cipher right there on the sidewalk. My affiliation with them is something I'm very thankful for. And Qwel was in Nacrobats too; he met them at a different time but he was accepted into their crew and was in ciphers with Pugslee and Prime and all these legendary emcees like Iomos and JUICE… Everyone was into ciphers. It would get very intense and very heated. That's an irreplaceable part of the feeling that we try to make when we rhyme. Trying to rhyme really hot so that people can keep their intensity level.

HHC: You've participated to the Nacrobats album "All Ways". What do you think about the fact that this album has gone widely unnoticed?

O: Well, that's not really my fault! (laughs) I contributed tracks to it but it was their deal. Birthwrite Records is the label that that CD came out on. Those guys are really great and I respect what they're doing but they kinda have to learn the hustle a little bit more and learn the game a little bit better, to be able to put out releases in a strong way. I think that's part of the reason why this CD wasn't as widely spread as it should have been. And also, around the time that CD came out, there were a lot of arguments going on in the Nacrobats crew. I don't really know the details of it but I know that didn't help. Last year, they went on a west coast tour to California and that went pretty good. But after that, they came home and they were saying that they were broken up. I don't even know if they are or if they aren't… But, so, there were a lot of things that contributed to that. But I'm very proud of my work on " All Ways " and there's some other really good things on "All Ways".

HHC: You're doing a lot of live shows with Galapagos4. How important are live performances compared to studio recordings according to you?

O: It's very important! I think it's the number one way to win new fans. Galapagos 4 is still an underground label and we don't have this big budget that we can put behind our records to print a million posters and get major radio play, billboards and things like that. So the best way to get fans is to go to every city and just perform. I think we've been really lucky in the amount of touring that we've gotten to do recently. Both last year and this year, it's been like every other month, I'm home and I'm leaving then I'm home and I'm leaving again. And it's good because you are putting yourself right there in front of everyone directly, showing your stuff basically, so they say. It's the most honest way to get new fans and it's a fun thing to do at the same time. And it's also a way to see the fans that have been listening to you. So we try to rock it as hard as we can every time. This is our 4 th show in a row tonight and I think we only get one-day break in the next 2 weeks… But it's cool because this is what we have to do. It's hard on your body and on your nerves, you know, you get very little time to relax. But the more that you get into it, the more you believe in yourself and the more you perform with confidence. It's kind of a good balance between stress and determination. Also, it keeps everyone focused as a group. We all are friends and we all argue on tour as well but when it's time to do the performance it's easy to snap into doing a good show. We always try to make sure that we're here for sound check and that we all check our mics thoroughly and talk to the soundman and practice even before we go on tour. We always go through routines and how it's gonna go… We do take it very seriously and hopefully we'll be able to do some new stuff in the future. There's a lot that I'd like to do with the live performance, with cool effects and lights, but it's hard to do when you're just touring on the train with luggage. And we're still an underground label but, with that, I think we do the most that we can. Even last time we were here as a crew, Qwel, Meaty Ogre and DJ White Lightning were doing a live band set and that went very well. We're not doing it this time because the tour is too big and a little bit crazy but we've always tried to exert as much effort as possible to the live set.

HHC: I know we're just in the early stages of it but how has the tour been so far?

O: It's been hard, man! First, we flew to London into separate airports. There were 9 of us to begin with, so we were split up from the beginning. Once we connected ourselves in London, we flew to Amsterdam the same day. That was the start of the tour! We spent 4 days in Amsterdam, kinda relaxing or whatever (smiles). Then we started to tour in Vlissingen which is a small town on the coast of the Netherlands. And we're going to Prague the next day, like 14 hours on the train. And then Geneva, Switzerland, which is like another 14 to 15 hours on the train… That was really really hard, man. I'm lucky that we had 1 st class tickets. 3 of us had 1 st class tickets and I'm one of them, because I just turned 26 this year and I don't qualify for the youth pass. And I'm really happy that I got a first class ticket because most of these trains are pretty full… and Meaty and Qwel were getting kicked out of their seats all the time! So that part was really difficult. But the shows were really good. We're not even halfway through. It's like the 5 th or 6 th show and we're right in the middle of this really long stretch of shows that we have right now but we're feeling really good. It's the first time that we're all out here, like everyone really… and that we all get to represent Galapagos 4 as a large crew. It's a little crazy, it's hard but it's very gratifying at the same time.

HHC: This tour in Europe is called the War on War tour and I know that you were a member of the 'Not In Our Name' movement a year ago. Could you tell us a few words about your political involvement and about your thoughts concerning the War in Iraq ?

O: This whole President Bush thing has dried out too long. In America, it's always been a kind of running joke. Ever since 2000 when there was this whole controversy with the election. It went on for months and there were all these issues with the voter ballots and everything that never really got cleared up. All of a sudden, Bush was just president. That was really fucked up in the first place. So ever since then, no one in America, at least the people that I know, the younger people, no one really takes it too seriously. In the media, they have Bush saying that he's taking control to make a new government in Iraq but that's such bullshit. I don't even know what's going on over there but I do know it's seriously fucked-up. We're in kinda deep and the repercussions are gonna last for 20-30 years at least… It's just some real bad shit. As far as I can say, we all know that this war is just bullshit and is just a personal vendetta that Bush has… And Bush being in power in the first place is kind of bullshit too. So I'm registered to vote, as a lot of these other guys are, and we're definitely gonna vote against him. We voted against him in 2000 too but look how well that did… It's a really strange time to live in America right now because, ever since the election and September 11 th, no one has really taken the media too seriously. It's put into a new perspective the way you look at the news. I was always like that but now it's even more like that, that you look at it and take a step back and look at what they're really trying to say to you. When you go in the States and turn on the news, it's just about the war and we have this terrorist scale. They judge it by colour and it can be red or orange or yellow. I was touring in Europe this January and while my plane left they raised the terrorist level up to red. They just say that on the news but they don't tell you why! So they do that and my mom calls me right before I'm ready to get on the plane, worried, like "Oh, they just raised the terrorist level, what are you doing? You can't go!" That's such bullshit, you know. It doesn't even make sense. They're projecting that on the news and they can't even tell you why. You would think that when you watch the news it should be something you can trust; information, the facts… It's supposed to be the news! But it's just turned into this circus, man. No seriousness at all. Just a bunch of bullshit to make you scared. It's been progressing like that ever since Bush came into power.

HHC: I believe that you learn French and you even came to talk on our forum a few weeks ago. What gave you the will to start learning French?

O: I knew we were coming to France ! We have a lot of shows here, we've done 3 so far and there's like 7 more to go. I knew we were going to be travelling through all these cities. But I don't really speak... "Je ne parle pas". I learned a little bit so I could get around and it helps a lot when you're looking for something or if you're lost or whatever. It's been a lot of fun trying to talk to people. Anytime you're going to learn a foreign language, it's going to be very difficult but "avec exercices, c'est facile".

HHC: You're more or less the webmaster of the G4 website. You have a BS in Computer Science and you're often posting on forums. What do you think about the internet as a way of promoting your own music?

O: It's a very reasonable and reliable way to have your music on display, and to sell your music and have people listen to your music. And I think even file sharing and burning is a good way. We kinda look at it as a new form of radio. Of course, we don't like it when people bootleg our stuff but you can't stop it either. So, as long as it's gonna be done, it's good to see the people listening to your stuff. I am in internet a lot. It's what I do at my job. I work for a world music club called the Outhouse and I do website work for them too. I'm always searching for Galapagos 4 artists and looking for the mp3's. There's always some out there so it's good to see that. It can stop there obviously so you have to put in really hard work too and that's what we're doing when we tour and when we record. So, yeah, the internet can be a very reliable resource and a good tool to use, but it's not necessarily the main crutch of our promotion. The main supportive thing that we do is going out to cities ourselves and, every show that we do, the next day, we try to go to a record store and to sell records there too. It's a very gruelling process but it's very gratifying too so it's kind of a trade-off…

HHC: What are your current projects?

O: Like I said, there's one record that's out right now called 'Crossing the Potomac' on Ish Records from Zurich. It's a very good record and I'm very proud of the stuff that I did on there. I'm also working on my new album which will be called "Mainstay". There's a lot going on with that right now. With being out of town so much, I haven't had a really good time to really concentrate on it but I got it worked out in my head. The reason I'm calling it mainstay is because it's based on the concept of home. There's a couple different meanings to the word. One of the meanings is on a sailboat; it's a support beam of the large sail. But it can also mean your home environment. I'm trying to reflect both of those concepts in the album. I'd like it to be something that you can listen to at home in your living room when you're just chilling out. But it's also talking about my home, Chicago and America, the things that I relate to as an American. Hopefully, I'm going to be able to hit the market that I'm going for… Regarding my projects, I guess that's pretty much it.

Interview by Cobalt
June 2004

Note: Thanks to MelloW and Mathieu from Mektoub Communication.

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