Filed under: Interviews
2007 has been good to Rawkus (more of this in the very near future). With a slew of quality releases and a clear focus on the importance of the digital game, there seems to be no stopping the label of late. I recently spoke to Barak Yalad, an MC whose recent affiliation with the Rawkus imprint via the Rawkus 50 should stand him in good stead in a market now heavily saturated with the great, good and downright awful. Although his first albumLoss For Words does feel somewhat inconsistent, there’s more than enough on show here to indicate that Barak could be someone to look out for in the future, and ‘Bewitch’ in particular has received some heavy play from me over the last couple of weeks. Here’s how it went down…
From Da Bricks: Congratulations on making the Rawkus 50. For those not in the know, can you fill people in on what it is exactly?
Barak Yalad: Basically, Rawkus is re-emerging and they are doing something that no other record label has ever done before. They’re pushing out 50 of the hottest MCs, a lot of searching, time and juggling has gone into finding the right artists to be a part of this camp. We got picked out. Rawkus was looking for well developed artists with a fanbase that were already making a lot of noise. That’s how they made the selections, and it’s a good start for a lot of underground hip hop artists and for the label to bring its name back up to what it was. After laying low for a bit it’s their way of coming back up, fresh to the world again.
FDB: It must feel good to be associated with the label after their previous successes.
BY: Man, it’s like a dream come true. For me back in the day I grew up listening to Rawkus: Company Flow, Big L, Mos Def, Kweli… I always dreamed of being a part of that. It was a label suited for artists such as myself and it feels kinda freaky now that dream has come true. I was like ‘wow, I’m hanging out with the president of Rawkus!’ [laughs] It’s pretty cool right now.
FDB: I know they’re linking to the audio on iTunes and Amazon, but do you intend to get a physical product out there as well?
BY: Definitely. Right now a lot of my CDs are in stores and I’m hustling them on the street when I’m doing shows: CDs are there, t-shirts are there, all kinds of merchandise is ready to go. I’m trying to set up some kind of distribution so I can get my music out there and overseas. I’m setting up a network at the moment through PayPal to CD Baby and Amazon so fans can still get the hard copy. That’s the diamond right there! You want that to put in your archive. The digital is one thing, but we’re definitely pushing our own hard copies as well.
FDB: Is there any chance of Rawkus being involved in that or will you have to do it independently?
BY: It’s gonna be an independent job. They’re doing the digital distribution through Iota to 125 digital distributing networks. They’re holding that down. The reason they’re doing that is that people aren’t really buying CDs anymore unless you’re a megastar, you know what I mean? Everyone is getting everything online now, click of a button, put it in the iPod: people just wanna listen to the music. It saves on manufacturing and all those different costs.
FDB: At the beginning of the album you state that you’ve been MCing for 18 years. Can you talk me through your journey up until this point?
BY: I started out at 14 years old. I realised I had a pretty raw talent there, I’d trash talk to my friends and things like that. At first they didn’t believe that I could rap because I was such a schoolboy! [laughs] Eventually, I started coming out with flows from nowhere and I found it easy to do. Most people look at it like it’s really difficult, but to me I just rhymed a couple of words and that’s it!
FDB: You’re lucky! I guess it came naturally.
BY: It started to grow after a time. I was doing a lot of venues at 16/17/18 and was very much involved in the graf and b-boy scene. I was really a dancer. This must have been around ’91 or ’92. As far as hip hop, I was grown into it, because when I was 10 or 11 years old I was already in it. But as far as MCing, that developed when I was 14 when I realised I could actually do it. That’s when I started doing all the shows and putting myself out there.
But this is my first album after 18 years! My thing was that I didn’t want to be one of these local artists who were like ‘yo, I’m on like my 18th album’. I didn’t want to put myself in that circle so I made a promise to myself that I would not drop an album until I got a deal.
FDB: So what’s the story with this album?
BY: Some people have asked me if I’m happy with my first album and I am, but it could have been a lot better. I felt the project was a little rushed, and a lot of the songs were things that I had done in the past and were recycled over new sounds. I’m currently working with the Justus League and in particular Kemistry, a Justus League affiliate, so we just updated some of the older stuff. The album is called Loss For Words because when I finished that’s how I felt, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it! [laughs]
There is a deeper meaning to it though. When you listen to some of the things I’m breaking down, it reminds me of something that my Grandma used to say which was ‘a hard head makes a soft behind’. If you keep trying to teach people about the system or the government and how we should move forward it can be lost: there are a lot of hard-headed people out there. It gets to the point where you have to let a man tend to his own soil, and when they do they might be like ‘wow, this guy was right all along’, but you have to learn the hard way. That’s how it works. So it got to the point where I felt I’d said all I could say with Loss For Words and there wasn’t anything more I could say to you. I said everything I could say. [laughs]
FDB: I did feel that the album had a lot of variety to it and wondered if that was intentional or the result of mixing and matching old with new. Do you think that’s a fair comment?
BY: When the album was being created, my producer Young Cee was throwing beats at me that were just blowing my mind and it was a case of matching stuff together: this’ll go with this, that’ll go with that. That’s pretty much how it worked. There wasn’t any real science behind it, but me and Young Cee rode together perfectly on it.
FDB: How did you hook up with the guys from the Justus League?
BY: That’s pretty interesting. We have a unit in Massachusetts called Ceremonial Masters, and we used to bump into different people when we were doing venues. In the midst of all of that I was meeting a lot of different DJs, and one of them was Wreckineyez from Atlanta. He happened to be connected Little Brother and a lot of different people, and he told me about this group of producers who he thought I should meet. He was DJing one of my shows and he brought along some of their sounds and I was blown away. I invited them to come to one of my showcases and bring their MPC or whatever they were making beats on to do a live beat show. We connected really easily and we just kept up from there.
At the same time, Young Cee hooked up with Slopfunkdust, the A & R for Rawkus. He was the first guy that heard the ‘Bewitch’ song and it was on from there. Young Cee has actually produced for a lot of artists, Little Brother, Skyzoo, Ed O.G…. his list goes on. I just happened to be with a producer that was doing heavy things for other people and pulled some strings to get where I am now.
FDB: Let’s get onto the rhymes. I was personally struck by a likeness in your style to Pharoahe Monch and Mr Complex. Would you say that those people have been influences on you?
BY: A lot of it is just my own vernacular, but at the same time, a lot of these brothers I grew up listening to. When I write, my flows constantly change up and I’m always on something different every time. But having grown up listening to Pharoahe, Mos Def and Kweli and those sort of people who are still around today, a lot of those elements are definitely in my blood. I look at those guys as real hip hop: expression through words. From Rakim to De La to the Fu Schnickens, there are so many artists who I could name that have influenced me over the years.
FDB: You handled some of the production on the album as well didn’t you?
BY: Yea, I am a producer and have been producing for quite some time. I’ve made a lot of beats for a lot of local artists that are still trying to get discovered. Actually a lot of my songs were originally over my beats. The song that got noticed by Rawkus was ‘Bewitch’ and they were blown away by it.
FDB: That’s definitely my favourite on the album.
BY: It really got them. So when they found out I was working with Young Cee from the Justus League the said that I should work with him to do the album. So I left a lot of the production up to him and I wanted to focus on my rhymes, I wanted to really write.
The second album Pressure Point is gonna be next level. I got a lot of treats on it, it’s going to be fully developed with storylines… it’s going to be like watching a movie.
FDB: How far along with it are you?
BY: I’m hoping to drop that by next summer. We don’t know who it’s going to be under so there’s still a lot of time to figure stuff out.
FDB: Is that going to happen with the Justus League connections?
BY: Yea, it’s gonna be with them and a lot more other producers. I’m even dealing with a producer out in Sweden called 12 Bit. I’m really working with producers from overseas as well, there’s so many great producers in Europe.
FDB: Europe does seem to be a market for artists who would consider themselves to be ‘real’ hip hop, having traditionally supported lots of underground American acts. Do you perceive a difference between Europe and the US?
BY: Hip hop in the US is at a standstill. It feels bogus if you ask me. Everybody’s into the jewellery and the chains, violence and guns that is a part of hip hop as it is the word of the streets. Then down south you get the partying and snapping which is again a part of hip hop, but there are a lot more elements in hip hop and right now America isn’t exercising. It’s sad, because the kids out here are being polluted with this madness. Nothing wrong with looking nice, with wearing jewellery… Slick Rick had jewellery! [laughs] the real problem with it is that it’s saturated and there just isn’t room for anything else out there.
The overseas market does seem to be more about music, and although who you are is important, there does seem to e more of an attitude that if you’re hot, you’re hot. All the elements seem to still be going overseas, and that doesn’t seem to exist anymore here in the US. You find certain places, but you got to know where to go. I’m in New York and I don’t even see it!
FDB: Are you from New York originally?
BY: No, I’m actually from Springfield, Massachusets. That’s like my foundation. From Boston, to Springfield and then onto New York. I’ve been here for 6 years now, so I’m still new here, but it’s long enough to say I rep it. [laughs]
FDB: I wish you the best with it all man.
BY: Take care, peace.