Friday, August 27, 2010
Artist Spotlight: Def Dee and La
It's that time again here at AYCE, where we ask the questions you want to hear (and if you don't want to hear it, we really don't care). Now, if you live in Seattle and list "hip-hop head" on your resume under “Skills”, one: I’m guessing that you can tell me what’s in the “special sauce” on my Big Mac, and two: based on your life choices I'm going to venture a guess that you have yet to hear "Gravity", the recently released album from Def Dee and Language Arts (La for short). If you're not from Seattle, you get a pass...at least until the end of this interview then it's time to come out your pocket. This album, in my opinion, is nothing short of amazing...I heard it got 5 mics from The Source (sorry Bun). From beginning to end "Gravity" has everything I need from an album: hard hittin kicks and snares, mixed with old school vinyl static, sprinkled with piano, and topped off with a slick, poetic flow. I caught up with Def and La and had a chance to chop it up a bit about beats, rhymes, and life.
Benny: Where are you guys from and how long have you been making music? Of that time, how long have you been making music together?
Language Arts (La): I was born in the Philippines, raised in Seattle. I have been writing music/poetry for 6 years. Me and Def have been working together for about four of those.
Def Dee: We are both from Seattle and have been making music together since early ’07 I believe. The first time I really began making music was in 2002. That was the year I got my first set of turntables and started making my own mix tapes. That was when I really became a student of the game. Studying and making my tapes helped shape my creativity for beats in the coming years.
Benny: How did you get the moniker Def Dee? As I surfed around the net I found that you're not the only Def Dee...ever heard of Def Dee & Scott Fresh? They were, apparently, doing their thing in the mid - late 80s. Any significance or purely conincidence?
Def: One day while DJing for my friends that were bboying, my homie Rudy said I was Deaf, not because I couldn’t hear but because I spoke with my hands. Somewhat corny but then again it was 7th grade. I went by the alias DJ Def. When I set my sights on production, I slowed down a lot on DJing, so I dropped the DJ and added my first name’s initial spelled out at the end. I knew that “def” was a classic hip-hop term, and classic was similar to the way I produce, plus def still has the meaning of speaking with hands.
As far as Def Dee & Scott Fresh, it was purely coincidence. After I found out about the duo I downloaded a song of theirs entitled “Go Def Dee Go!” . I had no idea of this group before coming up with my name; I hope they don’t have a price on my head! There was a DJ out there by the name of DEFDEE with no space between, but since “Gravity” was released and got exposure on the net I have yet to see his name anywhere. If for some reason you confuse me with someone else, you can find me under the alias of Dom the Don or Dom Sicily.
Benny: We’re all allowed to be a little corny in 7th grade. I recently heard an interview with DJ Premier where he said that he tailors his beats specifically for the particular emcee that he is working with at that time is that something that you try and do as well?
Def: Tailoring beats specifically for the emcee is definitely something I strive to do. At the same time I might like to produce something that the emcee hasn’t yet stepped to so that the collaboration feels fresh. A lot of the time the emcees I work with will come to me and say, “just produce me that Def Dee shit!” so it all varies. I do think tailoring music specifically for the artist is a great way to go about things as long as you don’t lose your originality.
Benny: He goes on to say that if that emcee doesn't like the beat, he erases it and starts over. Imagine the Primo beats that went to waste!!! So what's the count of the Def Dee beat library today? Do you ever erase a beat?
Def: I cant even begin to imagine what kinds of beats Premier and all the other amazing producers have thrown away, but at least we know that if they were out they probably wouldn’t want us to be listening to them; so I think its for the best. My beat count is very low in comparison to other producers I know. I have 4 different drives of music on my board that I record my beats into. Each drive has about 70 tracks on them, except for the 4th, so overall I have in excess of about 120 beats. It isn’t much but a lot of the stuff I make gets tossed in the trash, I’m very particular with the music I create. It doesn’t help to have a broken Zip drive, which doesn’t allow me to save my beats on the spot; I have to record them live into my hard disk recorder everytime. This is only for the time being since my pockets are currently filled with lint!
Benny: My pockets too homie, mine to…(shaking head). Speaking of Primo...the sample on the title track, Gravity...Royce (with Primo) or Killah Priest?
Def: You know your Hip-Hop! It’s a Killah Priest vocal that I mixed with Inspectah Deck.
Benny: C’mon son, this place isn’t called All You Can Eat Hip Hop for nothin! Spoken Word Poetry has long been synonymous with hip-hop music and culture. My first experience with La was through Spoken Word at the Seattle Poetry Slam. I remember you being the "sacrifical lamb" and then spittin for about 6-7 minutes off the head. What came first being an emcee or being a spoken word poet?
La: I started performing in front of audiences with poetry, but I have been cyphering and freestyling long before.
Benny: Was the transition from one to the other easier or harder than you expected?
La: Not really, because rap is rhythm and poetry. I find a lot of "rappers" lack attention to detail when it comes to the actual poetics of their writing. I find that in the poetry community, a lot more writers who are well trained in all of the tricks of the trade (i.e. metaphor, simile, allusion, personification, foreshadowing, etc.).
Benny: La, on *Uno Amore* you have a line "you don't want beef, most of you local rappers are faker than my front teeth…” Just how fake are those teeth homie?
La: (laughing)... They are actually completely fake. I broke em skateboarding when I was 16.
Benny: Damn, talk about Kick Flip gone wrong (laughing). Seriously though, is that how you really feel? Any names you wanna drop?
Benny: Many of the blogs and reviews of "Gravity" have labeled the production as a "mid-90s-style NYC boom-bap"...as that the "theme", if you will, or is that what we can continue to expect down the line? I gotta admit I felt the same way when I first listened. It took me back, but didn't feel "old". I think that is a testament to La, his ability to methodically weave his way through the beats.
La: This wasn't our initial intention, but after the first few tracks we recorded this particular sound just felt natural at the time. We weren't hearing anything like this on the radio, only in our ipods. In the end it became a nod to the golden age, but we wanted to do so tastefully without being stuck in the past. My next album is completely different, much bigger sounds, more live instrumentation… but still 100% me. My guy Blu-Ray produced this one it's titled 'Roll With The Winners' and will be available for purchase September 11th. I just finished writing my 3rd album, produced by Jester, titled 'SEALAB 2011' which is projected to be out by early spring.
Continue reading after the cut...
Benny: “Tastefully without being stuck in the past” is exactly what I was sayin. Prior to "Gravity" it had been a long minute since I heard anything new from the two of you...I think Hit Kush may have been the last track I heard. Since it's release in April I have heard a couple new joints. Is the plan to start puttin out music for the masses?
La: Most Definitely, the Bandcamp has “Gravity” up, and we will periodically post new singles, b-sides, and other releases. I have a lot of music in the stash but I'm in no rush, I plan on winning the marathon not the 40 yard dash.
No doubt, you’re in it for the long haul. What we’re going to have right here is a musical interlude if you will… a couple tracks NOT on “Gravity” to whet your whistle a little. The first is titled Fast Life:
The second is titled Culture and features Chev:
Benny: All the talk leading up to "Gravity", and since the release, has been that you're two of the best out of the 206 yet I don't see you on many shows...why is that? Is that a decision on your part or have you guys just not been asked?
Def: We have been asked to do shows and we enjoy doing them, but our hunt for shows hasn’t been our focus. We tend to put our energy into creating music more than presenting it. Personally I like to do shows on rare occasions, so when we do perform its somewhat of a special occasion for us as well as the audience.
La: Well making the music has always been more important to me than PRing for myself at the local hotspot, or batting my eyes at promoters for gigs. I don't really feel like I have to be out there trying to convince some stranger I'm the hottest shit since Starbucks if I can get my fans to do that for me. Plus it's more genuine if your best friend is telling you I'm the best instead of me.
Benny: Do you plan on doing more shows in the future?
La: I really hope so (laughs). Na, I got some real great people out here who've been more than helpful in creating some awareness about my movement. I know in due time the right person is going to hear me out and want to share it with the world.
Benny: Well, that's about it. Big thanks to Def Dee and La for taking time out to come through AYCE. It has been cool choppin it up with you guys...anything you want to say to the people out there?
Def: I just want to thank everyone who downloaded Gravity and those who take the time out to support Hip Hop. You will get to hear dope new releases from my fam La very soon so stay tuned for that. More music from La and I are in the works and we will be collaborating with a lot of local artists for this next project. Keep it real and keep supporting that real music!! Big thanks to AYCE for reaching out and putting together this interview! Peace.
If you’re in or near the Seattle area you can check out Def Dee and La as they open for Tanya Morgan at the Columbia City Theater. MASH HALL and City Hall (EvergreenOne, Todd Sykes, and DJ Slimrock) will be rocking as well. The whole shebang will be hosted by Mr. Prometheus Brown (aka Geo of Blue Scholars) and feature a DJ set from DJ El Mizell (aka Larry Mizell Jr, aka Gatsby, aka….). Got my tickets in the mail two days ago and you should cop yours here. It’s about choices people…make the right one here. Peace.