Three minutes after our interview with Austin-based producer’s Eli Elkin, AKA Memory Man, a tweet appeared on Twitter (as they are wont to do) from the Chef himself.
@RAEKWONICEWATER Ayo foreal i dont know who made that new mixtape “Cuban Revolution” been gettn alot of phone calls bout it but Salute who put it out! THANKS
The responsible party is, of course, Memory Man whose Cuban Revolution tape is easily one of the hottest releases to drop in the last … 18 hours or so. The tape succeeds in authentically reproducing the Wu-Tang’s elusive and unique sonic aesthetic, while elevating some perhaps unfairly dismissed Raekwon verses in anticipation of the forthcoming Only Built For Cuban Linx II.
Passion of the Weiss’ contributor Sach O enthusiastically posted the tape yesterday. Today we got to speak with its creator because we’re fucking nice like that.
Passion of the Weiss: I heard this Cuban Revolution mixtape yesterday and I was like, “What is this?” How did this project come together? Was it something you were commissioned to do?
Memory Man: No, not at all. What happened was I made those beats for Raekwon totally freelance and sent them to his brother. Initially I sent three. I got a response: “I like it. Send more.” So I sent more. They responded again, “Hey, send more.” So I sent more. Then I started getting a little worried because I’m just sending out all these tracks. My boy started getting in my ear saying, “Yo, you should put those beats out or they might clown you.”
The truth is I’d been wanting to do a Raekwon remix album for a long time. I liked a lot of his lyrics on later records even though I wasn’t necessarily too crazy about the production. This was a good opportunity so I used those beats I’d made for him.
He should be aware of the project somewhat because the guy who did the Cuban Linx II artwork also did my artwork. He’ll probably ignore it because it doesn’t have any new material on it. But it’s free promotion he can benefit from without having to endorse personally.
PotW: You’re OK with that?
MM: I’m perfectly fine with it. To be honest this was more of a fan project. I’m just kind of a big geek for rap music. All the Kung Fu samples are in there for, “What would make a fan like myself geek out?”
PotW: I noticed you drew a lot of the vocals from his later records like Lex Diamond Story, which is underrated.
MM: To be honest that’s what was available as far as acapellas. I pretty much just used whatever I could that I thought would work. Some stuff I had to piece together from different songs.
PotW: What was your intention making these beats. Were you really trying to recapture that Cuban Linx sound?
MM: Absolutely. I’m just sort of a superfan of the stuff I enjoy. It’s not my normal production style. I did about half of MC Paul Barman’s new album that’s coming out. Those beats are very experimental, more in line with Dust Brothers cut-and-paste style. I’ve also done work with Kool Keith. We did a single together and I’ve done a bunch of remixes for his website. Keith is another favorite of mine so any time he needs something I’m down. I played bass on a song called “The God of Rap” on Dr. Dooom 2.
The first thing I ever had released was with Edan. I did a song on Primitive Plus. He was a mentor to me and he taught me how to make beats and DJ while we were roommates at the Berklee College of Music.
PotW: So you’re a musician first and you just apply it.
MM: Yeah, I’m a guitar player and a drummer. For instance, on the Raekwon tape half that shit is played. It’s not samples. The piano on “Cipher Born” is me playing piano. The guitar on “Better Shoot Something” is me. The keys on “Fearless Ninjas” are me. It’s just a matter of using lo-fi solutions and I’m a big fan of just running shitty keyboards through stomp boxes. It’s truly an aesthetic that can be achieved with any equipment. It’s just a matter of getting good sound out of it. If you know the aesthetic you’re going for it’s attainable so long as you develop your ears.
PotW: This Wu-Tang vs. D.I.T.C. tape has also been getting a great response. How did that project come together?
MM: That was another fan project. I just got an idea in my head to mash up those groups. They’re both my favorite and I would say the two best crews to come out of New York in the 90s. I think that’s safe to say. I thought back to the tradition of battles, the Furious Five mode. I’m a big fan of the early tapes. I used to have a blog called The House of Tapes where I was just putting up old L. Brothers and Cold Crush, super-early live tapes and battles.
PotW: So you’re a hip-hop historian.
MM: Well I have no pretensions of any kind of authority. I’m just a student of music and hip-hop culture in general. I’m drawn to the energy of that early shit and that’s definitely an aesthetic I hold on to as my core. The Wu-Tang vs. DITC project started while I was just messing around DJing, throwing Big L acapellas over stuff. I threw the “Size ‘em Up” acapella over “4th Chamber” and I was like, “Oh shit. I got to do something with that.” Then I started thinking about the inverse like “Criminology” over “Step to Me.”
I like doing things that change how you feel about the vocals. I think the reason people are geekin’ out over this Cuban Revolution tape is they slept on Rae’s vocals from those later albums. They think he’s suddenly rapping better and some people are saying these are tracks that got left off Cuban Linx 2 for sample reasons. It’s not the case but I definitely take it as a compliment.