Jonah Bromwich prefers Black Milk to Strawberry Quik. But he prefers Bosco above all else.
It takes a lot of balls to name your album, Album of the Year. Do you think you succeeded in what you wanted to do?
Yeah, I think I accomplished what I wanted to do. Saying that my album was the album of the year wasn’t a gimmick. I did what I was trying to do, what I was trying to say. I’ve definitely progressed since Tronic, and to me the album just sounds different from any other album I’ve heard this year and I do consider it the Album of the Year. One of the things that makes it difference is the live music, there’s a lot of live music on every track. And I brought in some cats I know, the Will Sessions band, Daru Jones, I brought them in and put them on the album.
So how do you start the tracks, how do they first come about?
It all starts with the MPC, then we bring them to the studio and then mix them and then have the live musicians play over them. A few producers do similar things but no one really does it the same way I do it.
So how did the tracks come together, what were some of the first ones you got together? Was Deadly medley an early one or…?
Actually, “Deadly Medley” was one of the last tracks. I knew I wanted to have Royce and El together again, I knew I wanted to have them together, just due to them being so good, and how successful “Motown 25” was. So that was one of the last samples I got together and then had them spit on it.
The first track I actually had was the intro, “365.” I had the beat for a while, and when I made the beat, months back, I knew it’d be the intro, it just had that kind of vibe. Out of all the beats, that remained the intro.
A lot of times on the album, a beat will play out for thirty, forty five seconds. Is there any specific reason why you did that?
I kinda look at is as having the track have its own thing, let it air out, let people hear the music. When I try to create music I want to create something that I listen to as a fan. So I noticed that people like hearing the track ride out, hearing that interlude on the song. So I like to give them that last part. Usually songs will be like verse, hook, verse, done, and I just want to let them hear the beat.
You say that you want to create something that you would listen to as a fan. Do you listen to your old records?
*laughs* Yeah I do, I listened to Tronic, not too long ago, that record is real dope. I can’t really go back to some of the stuff I did early, but I think that album holds up at an even point.
This has been a tough year for you what with Hex and Baatin and Album of the Year really responds to that, just by talking about it. Was that tough to do, tough to get into?
Like I’ve said, people would hear me being more personal on this album than any one of my other projects that passed. And that’s because I didn’t have any crazy tragedies before with my previous record, but now there was just a lot of new shit going on with Baatin and Hex and relatives passing on and I had no choice but to speak on it and I didn’t see how I couldn’t. And it was dope to see that I could.
Is the writing process different for that type of song?
Not that different, its just telling a story. Like the tracks “Popular Demand,” and “Long Story Short,” off Tronic, telling a story front to back and making the shit rhyme. But at the same time I had to be conscious of how my vocal tone was and how I was coming on the mic and all that.
Alright, let me ask you about some specific tracks. How did “psychedelic gospel rock” come about?
Well really it came together every other track, digging through vinyls, find the magic on a particular album or song, I heard, when I thought about what I wanted in my head, a gospel style of singing for the hook, and no rap hook, got my singers, on there, told them the melody I was hearing in my head, and it ended up coming out real dope. And I wanted to put live guitar on it, live gospel just mix it all together.
How do people like Carl Craig and Juan Atkins figure into the sound on that? Are they a major influence on you?
Well, those guys are huge in Detroit. And I’m just into it, into the different styles of music around here. Not just one thing not just soul, not just hip hop, not just electronic. And those guys influence us, and they like hip hop too, I know for a fact.
“Distortion” is a really powerful song. Did it take you a long time to write it?
No, it didn’t take that long, it was originally to a different beat, a couple months beforehand, and I had the first verse already done and I sketched the second verse by the time I had the beat done. And I was in a certain place and I had to be in that place to sketch that track and it’s a really powerful track, and people kinda got that, the beat and the melody it really kind of all came together.
Are El and Royce really competitive anytime they get a beat like Deadly Medley or Motown 25?
No, they just know they gotta do and they do what they gotta do. It’s really just the anticipation of hearing what the other guy is going to say. Everyone’s thinking in the back of their head that Elzhi’s coming with it, that Royce is coming with it, so they know they’ve got to come with it too.
Well was there any time, or is there any time, where it’s clear to the everyone in the studio that one person has destroyed everyone else?
*laughs* It did happen one time, on Bar Exam three, we did a song, and El went in and destroyed it, and everyone in the studio just knew it and it was clear. But everyone did well, and we don’t really talk about it, but we see how everyone responds. Everyone gots their own flavor, their own taste, El’s got his, Royce has got his, and I’ve got mine, so everyone just kind of vibes to the verse that they’re feeling.
How do you differentiate yourself from the rest of the musicians in Detroit, while still representing a raw Detroit sound to the rest of the country?
I don’t really have to do make my music sound Detroit. I grew up on the scene the hip hop scene around here, just being around here you just got that vibe, that music, you just have the drum machine. I don’t have to make it sound Detroit, its more in the feel than in the sound, and I cant really describe it in the sound. Whatever I do, it’s gonna have that Detroit feel, because I’m from Detroit, because I’ve been absorbing that stuff my whole life.
When we interviewed Danny Brown, he said that the Detroit scene was just “rappers rapping for other rappers?” Do you agree with that? Is that limiting?
*laughs* Yeah, that is kinda true, I think definitely people are trying to impress other rappers and just make good ass songs. You come up just being a battle rapper or just rapping. But then a few people kind of figure it out that you’ve also got to be an artist, not just a battle rapper.
How do you feel about being compared to J. Dilla all the time? Do you feel any pressure to differentiate your style of production from his?
Don’t really bother me much I can understand why, same scene, same city, you gonna always hear a little bit of Dilla style in my music. But im at a point where, especially with Album of the Year, that doesnt sound like anything that Dilla has ever done. And that sound comes naturally. You know, every artist kind of goes to there, goes to lots of different places for their inspiration. I can’t think of any artist that wasn’t inspired by other artists, and with me, you’re gonna hear a little bit of Prince, Michael Jackson, James Brown. And basically it comes down to the artist. Theres no artist who has no influences and so Dilla is one of mine, and those are some of the others.
What gave you the confidence to start rapping, as opposed to just producing? Which do you enjoy better, or are they too different to compare? How are they different, creatively?
I was rhyming before I was making beats, so to me rhyming is second nature. I was rhyming a year or two before I got into production, and I started to making beats, I been rhyming since 99, 2000. Nah ima change that, 98, and then getting into beats 2000, 2001.
Its definitinely a totally different process [making beats versus rapping]. You gotta use more work that goes into the production. With the verses, there’s work, but when you’re talking about the sound of the music it’s got to have a certain feel to it, you’ve got to engineer it a certain way, gotta find the crazy samples. With the lyrics you just sit there, feel a beat, catch a flow and start rhyming. You can write a quick sixteen, even a song in like fifteen minutes…well you can make a beat in fifteen minutes too but for me I like to go back and tweak the sound until it sounds right to me.
So do you consider yourself a perfectionist when it comes to the beats?
No I don’t like to use that word, because I know a lot of cats that use that word and I don’t think much of it but I just like to take a lot of time to make it sound right to me.
You played SXSW this year. Any good stories? What was that experience like?
It was dope, That was my first time going out there to rock, yeah man, we did three shows, all good turnouts, cool to kick it with a lot of different artists. It was a useful time man, I definitely plan on being there next year.
Most of it was the walking, so much walking, the first show we had we walked a few good miles…the first gig was outside the event and we had to walk outside the SXSW, but it was a dope vibe and there were a lot of artists that I knew down there, so it was real cool yeah, I’d like to go back.
Who are some artists that you’d be interested in doing projects with that you haven’t worked with before?
If you’re talking about dream collaborations, Stevie Wonder, Prince, I’d just love to be in the same space as them, that’s the kind of artist I like to collaborate with, that would just be a dream. Hip hop, you know, the usual suspects, Jay-Z, cats like that.
Finally, what’s your best Hex Murda Story?
*Long Pause* Ah man, I thought of one, but I don’t know if I can put him out there like that. I don’t think I can. You’ll just have to ask him yourself.