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- Posted on Mar 9th 2010 11:20PM by Jill Jackson
How did you get the name 88-Keys?
That name was actually given to me by Large Professor, one of the living legends of hip hop. I was actually about 15 or 16 years old, and I was working on a beat at a friend of mine's house. At the time I was using the Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard. One day Q-Tip, from A Tribe Called Quest, brought Large Professor over. Large Professor liked my beat and called me 88-Keys, after the keyboard, because he didn't know my name. I always told myself that when I make it in the industry, that's the name I would use.
How would you describe your sound?
I always describe my sound as "The Tribe Vibes." That was a term used by magazines, back in the day, to describe A Tribe Called Quest and the sound that they brought to hip hop. Heavy sampling and sample chops and as far as content -- I try to be as clever and as humorous as possible, yet still try to deliver a message without sounding too preachy or like I'm beating somebody over the head.
What are your musical influences?
I've always listened to hip hop since the late 80s. I'm a huge Big Daddy Kane fan, but it wasn't until De La Soul hit where it definitely peaked my interest in rap and hip hop. Once A Tribe Called Quest made their debut, their music reached me in a way that made me feel like I had to be a part of hip hop.
There are four alternative rock groups -- The Morning Benders, Ra Ra Riot, Land of Talk and Tokyo Police Club -- that I listened to for a year straight without listening to anything else. Once it was time to get back to working on my next project, I was frustrated that I couldn't make my samples sound as musical as alternative rock musicians. They're instrumentalists and can make chord progressions and changes on the drop of a dime. I have to work with what I have. I was jaded musically, but now I'm back.
How did you get started?
I started out professionally in 1996 when I sold my first beat to a group called Network Reps. I did a remix for them called 'Dos Collabo (Hip Hop's Delight).' Then the following year I sold a beat, a song called 'Thieves in the Night,' to Black Star. Then I worked on Mos Def's first solo album. I produced two and third of the songs on there.
How did you go from producing to performing?
In the early 00s, I produced two for a group out of Philly called Schools of Thought. There was one song that I didn't produce that I jokingly said I wanted to rap on. They were a four-man group so there wasn't much room left for me to rap, so I had about eight bars. I wrote a rhyme to their song and tried my best to sum up the meaning of the song. I nailed it to the point that they decided to make my 8-bar verse the hook for the song.
How did you get Kanye West to produce 'The Death of Adam?'
Kanye and I have been best friends since 2001. I put together an album [The Death of Adam] that was mainly instrumentals. One day, I was over at his place. He had company over and he asked me if I had the album on me. The instrumentals are playing and I pull him to the side and tell him I have an idea for some raps for a stage show. The first song I did was 'Nice Guys Finish Last' and he had a huge smile on his face. Then I told him the rap for 'Handcuff 'Em' and he pretty much lost it. He said "You should add these raps to the album." And I said no. At that time, my album had already been mastered for the second time. Eventually we went to Decon, the independent record label that put out my album, and he became my executive producer.
Are you working on another album?
Yes I am. The going name, so far, is 'The ALPHA Program, Ver. 2.1.' I'm in the planning stages, getting tracks together. I plan on producing it all myself until I feel like I have an album's worth of material -- then from there I'm going to try to reach out to some of my close friends like Kanye, Mr. Porter and Ill Mind. I'm looking to dive back into it as soon as this tour is over and finish it before April.
What can the audiences at SXSW expect from your show?
It's fun, you can still enjoy my music and have fun with it and not really focus on trying to figure out what I'm saying. At the same time, I'm not making dumb music like dropping N-bombs. My album is pretty tongue in cheek, but I have little lessons that people can walk away with. I have a song called 'The Burning Bush' about Adam getting an STD. I have a song called 'MILF' where the character winds up having a child with a woman he wasn't in love with. At the end of the day I just want people to walk away knowing that they learned a little something from me or that they are inspired by me in some way -- on top of hearing some cool lyrics and some real hip hop and banging beats.
Will you be performing material from the new album at SXSW?
People can definitely expect to hear some sprinkles of these new songs.
Jill Jackson is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.