Live Hiphop Comes to CMJ
CMJ time again. The festival highlighting music's proud vanguard, proving that college radio and dusty little record stores near campuses across America are truly the best A&R around. Sony sends its scouts to hear the latest. Warner sends some of its brothers to act cool, smoke a Camel, pretend they know the singer of the piss-poor but well-loved Jersey group onstage at Mercury Lounge.
Though hiphop tends to play a small role at CMJ, some of hiphop's most celebrated got their break there. This year that may be Dujeous?. I've been following these cats for a little while now. New York's reigning live hiphop act, comprised of three MCs and a live band, has risen above much of the crap passing itself off as underground genius. Their first major vote of confidence came from DJ Rob Swift of the X-Men (I refuse to call them the X-Ecutioners just because Marvel is a bunch of whiny pigs), who gave them a guest shot on his LP, The Ablist.
These kids are no joke. I've seen them headline at their self-produced Wax Poetic showcases at Downtime, where they draw crowds larger than some acts who've been in the business much longer. Facing the harsh scrutiny even from some supporters of indie hiphop-including Fat Beats, which reportedly didn't want to carry the single at first-the group prevailed. Their now-classic 12-inch "Breathtaking" helped recruit an almost instant cult following. The record flew off of shelves so fast I'll give a dollar to anyone who can find a copy now.
I met with MCs Mas D, Rhetoric and Mojo, and their bassist Apex recently.
So what the fuck does "Dujeous?" mean?
Rhetoric: It's kind of a long story. This guy won Jon Bon Jovi's guitar off of Z-100-
Mojo: You're making it a real long story. Besides, that's not what happened.
Apex: It's some weird variation of Dude and some ill fucking something. It's like everything cool. Like how the Smurfs would use "I'm gonna smurf a drink, I'm gonna smurf this girl..." (laughter)
When did you get started?
Mas D: We've been doing it for six or seven years. We started out in high school doing talent shows. We covered "Pass the 40" and "Scenario" at an arts day in ninth grade, and started doing shows at places like Bond Street Cafe.
Does it piss you off if someone says you sound like the Roots?
Mojo: If somebody says you sound like the Roots it's a little disconcerting, because we say we sound like Dujeous?.
Rhetoric: A lot of time people compare us to the Roots. It's for the simple fact that we have a live band. And you know, that's not enough of a reason.
Yeah, Digable used to do shows with live bands back in the day before the Roots really blew up, and nobody ever made those comparisons.
Apex: I think people that have really sat down and listened to it know that we don't sound like the Roots. We have different instruments, the MCs have a different style, you know. And there are tons of live hiphop bands out there, and we've been doing this before we even heard of the Roots.
I've been wondering lately why everyone calls Puffy a loser for sampling pop hits, and why it was so innovative when Bambaataa did pretty much the same thing. That's like saying a jazz musician shouldn't use a sax because Coltrane's already done it (which actually might not be a bad idea).
Coming from a background of live music, what's your take on sampling? For instance, back in the day everyone used to do just what Puffy does, lifting straight loops, but in the old school, sampling someone like Kraftwerk was innovative. Now people wrinkle their noses. Do people expect more?
Apex: We have nothing against sampling. Most of us make beats with samplers as well. What it comes down to is if the beat is fat, it doesn't much matter where you get it from, but at the same time you have to be original. Look at someone like Premier. He can take something that's a second and a half long and make a whole song out of it.
Rhetoric: I was in the car today and I heard on the radio Puffy singing over the Luniz "I Got Five On It" beat. I mean that shit just came out like three years ago. And now he's sampling it. I think it's getting ridiculous. But I also think it's a mechanism that people like Puffy use. It's kind of like he has the money to do it, you know? To pay for the clearances and it's almost like, by doing that, he's saying, "Look at me, I can do this, you couldn't do this if you wanted to." There's definitely a real evil side to that.
Devil's advocate: Five years from now, I come to you and want to loop you. What do you say to me?
Apex: I mean it depends on how you're coming. I mean I think there is some understanding among artists that if you sample me then I can sample you and we won't sue each other. But at the same time, if you're coming from nowhere and looping our whole thing and making thousands of dollars off of it without no credit, then I think there is something to say for that. Like Fatboy Slim, you know, "funk soul brother"-I hope Lord Finesse got paid for that, because if you have a non-hiphop act sampling it and it becomes a huge hit...
What do you feel about the underground? Most of the underground is just a bunch of kids who couldn't get signed by a major label, running around wack as shit, and just because they scream "we're underground" everybody runs out and buys their shit.
Apex: I think there's gonna be a middle ground with a lot of these indie labels that are really doing it. The people who are dedicated and talented will emerge.
Mas D: But there's a lot of people signing these big deals and they're independent, so called, when it's really just big people backing them.
I know you guys are doing your thing with online distributors like Cductive. But you look around, and a lot of these companies are getting snatched up too. Sony just bought up CDNow and invested in Platform.net. So really, there almost is no more independence; the chances are getting smaller and smaller because these big companies are sneaking through the back door everywhere.
Mojo: Acquisitions like that are scary, because with independent groups like Cductive, they've started equalizing the playing field for anyone who can't get distribution on a major. And with acquisitions, they're doing what's happened to hiphop. Homogenizing everything. Everything sounds the same, everyone on the radio produced by the same person. But what do we see happening? Hopefully good music will prevail.
Dujeous? is working on a single that should arrive by the end of the year. They play Downtime as part of CMJ on Wednesday, Sept. 15.
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