Sach O grew up black hearted.
Sometimes, good music finds you. A few weeks ago, Zilla sent us a link to the BLKHRTS Bandcamp page, claiming they were like ” M.O.P meets Morrissey,” a risky if intriguing proposition. A few streams and an EP purchase later, I was hooked with the combination of 2K10 production, rock influence and hard knock life bleeding through the music to make it one of the most surprisingly engaging rap platters in recent memory. In the interest of promoting “grown man rap” that doesn’t sound like it’s stuck in the 90s, I tracked down the Denver trio of King Foe, Yonnas and Karma and asked them a couple of questions about their style, goals, rapping in Denver and the surprising origins of the group’s unique imagery…
Sach: First thing’s first: who are you guys? How did you come together? How long have you been emceeing, individually and as a group?
King FOE: We are a breath that you take the moment after the bungee cord is extended to its fullest extent jumping into the grand canyon, we are the adrenaline that pumps through your body and the voice that screams FUCK YOU! BLKHRTS!
Yonnas: Well, we’re all from Denver and came up on the scene together. I am in a group called The Pirate Signal, that is basically me working with certain people, now it’s a girl named Chez and a DJ named Soup, but it used to be a Dj named A-What. Anyway, F.O.E and Karma are part of a label called Jewell Tyme Records. I used to watch F,O.E, Karma and Haven perform together, and I loved it, and they seemed to be into what I was doing. We all have a very intense, energetic stage presence. One day I approached them about starting a group together, and a few days later I threw the name BLKHRTS into the ring and they didn’t throw it out, so….here we are.
Sach: Pirate signal aside, what were y’all doing before and what era did you come up in?
FOE: I don’t really remember doing much before music (could be all of the drug use) but before BLKHRTS I was and am still a solo artist.
Yo: I started making music when I was sixteen with an SP1200, Yamaha x7, and Pro Tools. I feel like I came up in the era was Indie rap like Def Jux and Rhymesayers was the wave of the future, and really came into my own when it petered out. I could tell, because as I was falling out of love with it, so was the rest of the world.
Karma: I’m a child of the 90s era. Before I found hip hop, being real, I was chasing girls.
Sach: You guys spit at pretty high-speed on a lot of joints but when you slow down (N HVN VRYTNG S BLK, THY WNT GO), a lot of the more abstract poetic side of your rhymes shines through: you guys are talking about some real shit but it takes a couple of listens to start to catch the content. How do you balance getting a message out vs. rhyming in that style?
Yo: It’s interesting to see how people digest rap, especially people who don’t do it or live it. I get a sense a lot of people don’t know what the fuck is being said when the raps are dense, but they can still appreciate it for the sound and agility of the rapper. People always say, “No one cares what you’re saying, they just wanna hear a good beat and catchy hook”, and they use that as a reason to say nothing, or have no substance. It seems to me though, that same logic could be why you could have a lot of substance in your music and as long as the beat banged and the hooks were solid, people would like that too. But don’t get me wrong I love that spaced out shit a lot, like Drake and Wiz, I love that shit too.
FOE: Honestly I try to make every verse enjoyable to listen too as well as have content, I just am a firm believer that it is still possible to get people to enjoy music with substance, good beat and solid hook they can sing along with, we just have to give it to them.
Sach: The whole EP (but THY WNT GO in particular) is, to say the least, pretty unusual in the current Hip-Hop climate where everyone’s trying to show off their swag. It addresses a lot of serious grown-man issues. What pushed y’all to go in that direction?
Karma: Day to day life shit!
FOE: My life is real. I don’t have money to make it rain on “hoes” or a parking lot full of cars that I drive depending on what my outfit is. I deal with my lights getting cut out, food stamps, drug abuse, hungry kids and trying to make it until tomorrow so we talk about what we know, what we go through and have been through.
Yo: Well, A) we are all grown ass men, so that’s what we have to write about. Our whole shit is antithetical to the current state of rap, but I couldn’t have it any other way. But also, the sample really spoke to me and with us, we usually have a loose concept, a sentence or less, then we get on with it, from our own perspectives. Ultimately, music is a life long pursuit, so whatever stage of life we are in, is what we will write and rap about. When we are old men, we will still rap, and we will address the issues that affect our life at that time.
Sach: Who’s making your beats? It seems like a lot of people are trying to go left-field these days and end up missing the mark, but you guys managed to develop a rock influence while still keeping it Hip-Hop.
Yo: I make all the beats. All of them. I have a very keen eye on rock and it’s strains as much as I do hip-hop, because really, I see many more similarities than I do differences. That having been said, this is rap, so in order to make sure these were good rap songs first and foremost, I adhered to what I believe needed to happen to make sure they were good rap songs, but I used sounds and certain musical techniques from rock.
FOE: I feel like a rock star period minus the skinny jeans because my nuts and belly won’t allow it!
Sach: How do you attack joints? You’ve all got pretty different styles, how do you make it all work as a whole?
Yo: Usually I make the beat and give it to them either with a concept already, if not though, it’s already composed and structured. Like I said, the concept is usually a phrase or a sentence, and we get on with it. Sometimes, I try to get us to co-ordinate amongst ourselves lyrics and ad-libs we can do for each other as a group or individually, most of the time though, I get the fuck out of their way. In many ways they let me produce and I let them write and rap.
Karma: I listen to tracks and attack off pure emotional how the beats make me feel.
Sach: One of the first things about the EP that caught my ear was that you guys RAP. Like, you don’t overstuff your bars but it’s definitely not the easy sing-along stuff that’s so common these days. How did you guys come to adopt that style?
Karma: I speak what’s on my heart at all times, music starts with the artist first then those who can be catered to. Being ourselves is our only style.
Yo: Well, for me, I grew up listening to Wu-Tang, and when I was in college Def Jux and that whole indie rap thing were very influential to me. I can’t speak for F.O.E or Karma in total, but I think they were much more into west coast rap, especially the denser rap stuff, like 40 or Lynch, so we both, in our own respective ways, were influenced by very dense rap, and really virtuoso rapping. Both F.O.E and Karma are amazing at faster rapping, and are just really gifted rappers naturally. Nowadays, I know Karma listens to everything and F.O.E doesn’t listen to shit, but his stuff or our stuff. I try to get him into new shit, but he refuses. The last thing I remember him liking was that K.R.I.T.
FOE: I think we all just enjoy content. There’s a lot to be said and told and I’m pretty sure I’m here to tell it. Plus growing up I listened to artists that weren’t just bubble gum bullshit, E-40, Scarface, 2Pac, Method Man, Biggie…
What kind of stuff do you guys listen to today (Hip-Hop and not)? What are some producers/emcees (if any) you’d like to work with?
Karma: Of course Hip Hop but I love my reggae and blues. It would be the bizness to grab beats from Cool and Dre. I’d get down wit a lot of artist to name a few, Crooked I, John Legend, Sizzla…
FOE: I don’t really listen to too much of the music out today I can’t really dig that shit. But I do like E-40, Talib, Lupe, TI, Tech N9ne, Radiohead, Luther Vandross, K.R.I.T, Yelawolf, Royce, Beastie Boys, NWA, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley… I’m liking the Dubstep stuff too.
Yo: Oh man, I listen to everything, but recently, I been really into kind of romantic electronic music. Stuff people call darkwave or lovestep. Groups like Two Inch Punch and Arc, maybe even James Blake could be lumped into that. Aside from that I am clearly obsessed with Joy Division and The Smiths, but even a lot of Morrissey solo stuff. Radiohead, Crystal Castles… I been fucking with OFWGKTA heavy as far as rap, and this dude named Rittz, who is Yelawolf’s people.
As far as who I would work with, If I could, I have always had a laundry list of producers I would kill to work with, like really work with on production, not just get beats from, alot of Low End Theory guys like Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Nosaj Thing, Dibiase, but also Exile, Black Milk, Madlib, Noah “40” Shebib, big shots like The Neptunes and Just Blaze, I dunno. So many. My features would be E-40, Ghostface and Drake though, and have Thom Yorke, Maynard James Keenan, Cedric Bixler Zavala and Morrissey sing hooks on it.
What am I not into you ask? True-School garbage. Most horn loops put me to sleep and the drum programming stolen right off Diamond D’s SP1200 is not the shit either. That’s why most of these Ball sniffing bloggers hate us though.
Foe: I would love to work with E-40, K.R.I.T, Travis Porter, Black Milk, Jake One, Scarface, Tech 9, Cool & Dre, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Busta, Crooked I, Royce, Big Sean, Cee Lo, Black Tide, Solillaquists of Sound…
Sach: You guys mentioned bumping and/or wanting to work with everyone from Def Jux to E-40 and Lynch, it seems like a lot of Hip-Hop fans are on this crusade to keep their own little rap-subgenre separate but when I speak to artists, everyone’s bumping everyone who’s dope. How do y’all deal with that when it comes to presenting yourselves and your music? You guys have rock influences but aren’t rocking skinny jeans, rhyme double-time but aren’t southern…
FOE: I think it’s all about just being us not who anyone wants us to be and that’s what makes us BLKHRTS.
Yonnas: I feel like if we can we be innovative without trend hopping, we can carve our own lane. The pirate signal, Blkhrts, all the music I’m involved is built on that idea.
Karma: By believing in what we do and contribute to the culture. We are from the Box state but u can’t put us in one. We don’t worry about genre just wanna make good music.
Sach: Coming out of Denver, what’s the scene like? Is there a unified sound going on or is it more the case of everyone doing their own thing?
Yo: Denver is right in the center of Babylon, so there’s influence from everywhere. There’s tension because this is unclaimed territory, there isn’t much cohesion or respect. I think that is still very much in its younger stages though. Niggas need to find their own voice and style.
FOE: We are a melting pot, we have people that come and settle here from the West Coast, East Coast and the South so you can hear that influence in a bunch of artists out here. We right now have dope artists but still have yet to find “our” own style and I think recently have just begun exploring us. Out here is just like every other place we all struggle and want to be heard.
Karma: There’s love In Denver hip-hop but it could be way more love. Too many worry on being the first to blow the state up. But trust and know we got some sick ass artist in the box state.
Sach: The EP has a lot of intriguing imagery through the various photos, how did you guys come to adopt this visual style? Who’s behind it?
FOE: Yo suggested we put a picture to every song on the album and originally we were going to take pics of objects we felt symbolized the songs but came to find it was easier to grab online. The beautiful woman we chose for the cover Yo argued for hours to have her as the cover, we don’t know her but I’m pretty sure he loves her!
Yo: At first we were going to make original photos, but that just wasn’t possible. So basically, we went on to Google image search and typed in the song titles and seen what we got, I found some and F.O.E found some and we picked what we liked. As for the cover, that was the same process, and we got that picture, and I had to fight for it a little bit, but we used it.
I don’t know who that chick is, but if she sees it and finds it, while she is cursing me out, I may just get on one knee and propose.
Sach: To steal a last question from that dude on the Wu-Tang CD: what is your ultimate goal in this? (touring, signing to a label)
FOE: Touring and getting the music out to as many people as possible and enjoying life.
Yo: To be as successful as possible and really enjoy it as it comes.
Karma: The goal is tour, see the world, share, sign if the deal is right and share the love of music with the globe.