November 28, 2016

camp lo

We still know almost nothing about Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede off the mic. Their mystique has never been dented. They are from the era of Rappers as Superheroes and have kept it that way: likable but largely unreachable, heard but not scene on reality TV, both stylish and exclusive. People who love Camp Lo—and I imagine that you do if you’re a fan of this site—usually tend to prefer Sonny Cheeba or Geechi Suede slightly more than the other. But that’s like preferring A Bronx Tale to Goodfellas, Iron Fist to Luke Cage, Erick Sermon to Parrish Smith.

I’ve been a diehard Camp Lo fan since 1997 and have always slightly preferred Geechi to Cheeba. The owner of this site has it the other way. No matter, Camp Lo the duo wins. Now, Camp Lo the duo is taking a slight break before the 20th anniversary of Uptown Saturday Night for Geechi Suede to deal for solo.

Camp Lo might be the last hip hop duo to finally go solo in Year 19. Going solo can be a mixed bag (CNN, Cool Kids, EPMD) or it can extend the duo’s style into familiar yet variant places (Mobb Deep, Outkast, Clipse). Geechi Suede will hope for the latter with his solo debut 0.9 NyteLife FM.

Who is Geechi Suede? A softspoken vanguard of velvet veracity moving casually in cashmere with satin wrapping his faculty. Born in the Bronx ballyhooing with blondes and bubbles. Skiing over Ski Beatz seeking out speech that’s trouble. Grabbing Gargamells going gonzo in Great Gatsby. Shooters throw strays but Suede is never aggy. Cool, confident, candelabras and Sunday operas. Compliments of fetty rakers, soufflé a hater in purple gators.

Paying homage to a man who is allergic to mundane wordplay is tricky when you have to write about him because writing about Geechi Suede in normal music writing words isn’t jazzy. His fashion is unparalleled. His raps have never been repetitive. His imagery is lavish without promoting classism. He’s the Phife Dawg to Sonny Cheeba’s Q-Tip (if Phife Dawg were also a funky dialetic, a word I just made up). His flow is water being poured into a glass. And now one half of Diamond Crooks is attempting to take over. —Zilla Rocca


I interviewed Ish from Digable and Shabazz a couple weeks back and we were talking about you guys, you know being on tour with each other and you guys always had the flyest outfits at all times. I wanted to confirm it because Ish said you guys have 100 outfits on deck for anything.


Geechi Suede: [Laughs] That is too funny. Very true though, very true.


How do you guys maintain a huge rotating wardrobe?


Geechi Suede: I kind of describe it like a producer that digs for records. I’m constantly digging for fabrics whether it be vintage, boutique, custom-made stuff just all across the bar. I’m really kind of obsessed man.


When did your obsession for fashion begin? Because I know you got here from the Bronx, was there a certain time frame or an age you remember specifically where you were like, ‘fashion is my shit?’


Geechi Suede: It was my mom, actually, who was putting me in fashionable stuff way before I ever did.


I know you’re about to head out to tour for your new record. I’m excited to hear the new album and I wanted to know why now you wanted to go solo after all this time? You guys have been hugely influential and neither one of you have done a real solo record so I just want to know that first: what made you want to do a solo record?


Geechi Suede: I started out solo. Way before I had met [Sonny] Chee it was just me and Ski [Beatz] doing my thing. Ski was helping me develop as an artist, he’s always been a big bro, mentor and he pretty much discovered me around 15, 16 and that’s been bro ever since.

We were working for quite a few years before I met Chee and we developed into Camp Lo so I guess there’s that individual spirit. I’ve always, even after me and Chee became us and found success and all that, I’ve always done individual records just to keep the pen sharp, just for the love of the craft. So being in a group, sometimes he might not be in the mood to do whatever the case may be, but it’s something that I can’t live without so I’ve always recorded records. I’m actually sitting on so many projects right now, individually.


I know over the years you let out songs and singles here and there and videos by yourself so I was always anticipating you doing something totally on your own. With this record, is it stuff you’ve done just recently or is it built off records in the past?


Geechi Suede: This is all new. My boy came up with this term called ‘New Shit Syndrome’ because I always be on some cooking new stuff. I will release older stuff that was never released or whatever but this vibe just felt right in terms of being an introduction of letting everybody know that this is the first installment of more individual work to come. “Solo,” it gives me the creeps a little bit, the word, I’m definitely Lo for life. I like personal because it definitely is a personal perspective, but I guess solo is what it is…it’s just a term you ain’t gonna really be able to get away from but this is definitely not me going solo or anything. I saw in Facebook comments where somebody else had said that like, ‘Why now after all this time?’ Over time I geared up to do something individually, there would always be something that I had to do with the group and that would take precedence.

It was looking like it was about to be the same thing this year unless I just jump out in this two-month window before we start celebrating the 20th [anniversary of Uptown Saturday Night]. It was just like, yo I got this little small window between that should come out I’m just gonna take it because this is gonna always happen because I get ready to put something out individually and something pops up for the group so lemme just take this little space right here and just throw my shit out there and whatever happens, happens. I don’t have no set expectations other than just wanting to plant the seed and bear witness that I did do more on my own and you’re gonna see that more of that. That’s pretty much what 0.9 is for ya know?


How does it feel to do stuff by yourself compared to you and Cheeba and Ski?


Geechi Suede: It feels good man. I definitely appreciate both processes. When I’m with my brothers doing it obviously you got three amazing creative minds coming together, but when it’s just me I get to really kind of, give my full personal perspective on whatever it may be. Sometimes Cheeba is a very particular person when it comes to the music. We could go through 100 beats, let’s say we get through the first ten. He might’ve heard two that he liked, but he’ll still wanna hear ten more before he picks. He might hear the next ten and hear another two that he likes but want to hear another ten more. I get it, that’s his process, where I’m like okay, ‘We got ten we like two let’s knock those down. The next ten we like two out of those ten let’s knock those down.’ It’s just a lot more creative freedom so to speak.


I used to be in groups and I’ve been a solo artist for 7-8 years. I noticed the first thing going solo was that I had to do everything. I had to write all the rhymes, I had to come up with all the hooks, I had to pick out all the beats, I gotta think of the video stuff and the look. You don’t have the other person to be like, ‘I got the hook on this one and I thought of 8 bars for this.’ I’ve always noticed how you guys would rarely do songs whether it’s from Uptown Saturday Night to Ragtime Hightimes, you rarely do the same 16 and 16 and then 8 and 8. He might do 4, you might do 2, he might do 6, he might do 8. How is that now that he’s not gonna be there filling in the pockets on every song and you’re kind of carrying the load?


Geechi Suede: I really live for this, I can’t even front. I wake up rhyming and go to sleep rhyming. I’m always rhyming so that doesn’t even really cross my mind. There’s been plenty of times where I overwrite when me and Chee are doing something. Honestly I feel like in the group I might think a little harder about things than when I’m doing it by myself. When I’m by myself it comes out a little bit faster because I don’t have to think ‘Is Chee or Ski gonna dig this?’

It’s just I like the way this feels and then I lay it down whether it be the verse, the hook, or when I’m listening to beats and I gravitate towards something that I like I’m just gonna record all five. If I get another five that I like, then I’m just gonna record those and then I’m gonna sort through them all and pick the strongest one but ultimately if I like it I’m gonna record it.


Dope, man. You’ve worked with Ski, to me he’s one of my top 10 guys ever, and you’ve worked with Pete Rock. How did you think about production for your solo album?


Geechi Suede: It’s definitely a blessing. I had spoken to Pete about my individual project too and he was like, ‘Of course, whatever you need’ and also I have an album recorded with 9th and Khrysis. I’d say 9th and the Soul Council, but the majority, I have one on there from E. Jones, one on there from Kash, the others are Khrysis and 9th and like I said I got records with Ski. I got stuff with my guys that are main producers that are established already within this. Something just was like, this album is produced by NYTELIFE which are two brothers that I grew up with in the Bronx. I truly respect their craft and their sound. We just kind of got together one day after not seeing each other for a while and was kicking it and just turned on the drum machines and all that.

One song turned to three and then he was just like let’s keep going. Crazy organic. I think what it was, was kinda just like I know I’m always gonna be able to put myself out with 9th and Pete and Ski and all of that, let me get some brothers that I grew up with and that deserve some shine, shine. It feels really good to do that because there’s so many talented cats that I grew up with that the world has never heard of and I mean I’m sure it’s like that, period. It’ll definitely be more work in the future with them as well as some more up and coming brothers from my hood. I’ve recorded with my other friends that’s established as well. It’s just kind of like the setup for so much more I’ve got to come.


I’ve worked with you in the past, it was just emailing verses, and so for me to actually talk to you on the phone is crazy for me because I’ve been a fan of you guys since I was 14 years old. You, Ish, Aesop Rock—you 3 guys to me I personally love because I can’t predict what you’re gonna say next and I think that’s what tied you and Ish and Aesop together. Roc Marci too. Is that something you consciously do? Or does that just come out of you that way? Because you’re very distinctive.


Geechi Suede: That’s definitely unconscious. I genuinely love words and I think I got that from my dad and researching them and I could be walking by somebody and then they say something and it catches my ear and I write it down in my notes or something like that. I definitely just kind of pull it from everywhere. I wrote a verse just from a conversation one day Ski and somebody was having. He said some dope shit and they were just having a regular conversation or whatever and I’m like, ‘Damn I like that, that’s cool.’ Just pull cool things that they were saying from each other and just turned it into a rhyme so it always just goes in different ways. Now, we’ve always been conscious of not repeating the same flow. Me and Chee always really focus on—I have my signature flow, we have our signature flow, but a lot of times when we write we are always conscious of switching up the flow.

Verses switch at every 4 bars, sometimes we switch at every 2 bars. That’s something that we’ve always been conscious of. In terms of not knowing what’s coming next, that’s always an unconscious part. And then you have the thing where people—I feel like on this record right here which was also unconscious it’s probably some records where they might understand what I’m saying through the whole record and then there’s probably those records where you might get a couple of lines and the other stuff is really abstract or whatever the case may be. Might be half and half like that where half is understandable, half is not or it might be 60/40, 70/30, but there’s definitely a couple records where they’ll be able to follow along line for line and get what I’m saying the minute I say it.


I went back and listened to a lot of you guys over the weekend, too. I have everything from the Fort Apache mixtape to Stone & Rob Caught On Tape to Black Hollywood. Everything you guys have ever touched I have it and what I’ve noticed is you’ve created a universe for yourselves where when other people feature you, people only reach out to you to put you on songs like the same vibe you guys do. When you were first hitting in the late ’90s, people don’t get at you to be on Ruff Ryder’s beats even though that was in fashion. People get you still to this day for elegant, slick, fly, bright production. What does that mean for you carrying on as a solo artist because people already have an expectation of what you sound great on. So I was wondering for your stuff now on your own are you sticking to that or making any sharp left turns?


Geechi Suede: I think there are things on here that’ll probably be reminiscent. There will be the ones that are reminiscent to some Lo shit and then the other shit is just purely my magnetic attraction to that frequency.


w fast do you typically write? Because when you’re in a group usually one person can bang things out quickly but the other person might be taking longer. Are you the guy that hits it right away or do you take your time with it?


Geechi Suede: I’m pretty fast. We actually both are. Every joint that people have ever heard from us we did it that day, we did it the day that we heard the beat, we laid it down right then and there. We used to be on a roll and hit a few joints in a day. For this particular project, the 0.9, I recorded four of the joints that’s on the album in one day. One of them didn’t make it but the other three did. If I put the phone down and step outside of all distractions it typically flows pretty fast.


You guys are really original; I can never compare you to anyone. I can’t say, ‘Oh on this verse he was really trying to channel Scarface,’ or ‘He was listening to Rakim that day when he wrote this.’ I can’t really get that with you so I was wondering how you developed your style?


Geechi Suede: Definitely appreciate that. Melle Mel is my number one dude; I love Melle Mel.


See I would never know that until you said so because you sound nothing like him.


Geechi Suede: I feel like he was one of the first or the first to use powerful words in rhymes. Everything before him was kind of simple shit. He came in really verbally describing shit with high-tech words. The Rakim’s, The Krs-One’s, the Big Daddy Kane’s, the Nice & Smooth’s and the whole Natives man, Jungle, De La, Tribe. But by the time Digable came—that was my shit right there. I wanted Ish’s voice, I wanted Nas’ lyrics and I wanted T-strong, from Original Flavor, I wanted his flow. That’s why if you look in the back of Uptown Saturday Nights credits I thank T-strong for my newfound flow. You know how some fish might have bones in it? I always felt that his flow had no bones; it was liquid, man. I wanted his flow. I wanted Nas’ rhymes and I wanted Ish’s voice. That was my way of, you know, just like, “damn, that would be so dope if I could have that.” Like the perfect car you know what I mean?


What you share in common with Nas is you both are very elegant writers. You don’t say things straightforwardly. It could be something pretty straightforward but you and him would both say it in a way that sounds elegant and fly and more aspirational. You’ve always done that but I never saw the connection to Nas. So your fascination with Ish or Digable, how did it change you guys to process all that and come up with the Camp Lo style and the look and the unity? You guys have never wavered based on whatever was hot at the time and that’s hard to pull off, so do you guys choose to stick to your guns or you just don’t know any other way to go about it?


Geechi Suede: When we decided that we were gonna do this, our best friend Kareem was the first person I ever asked to be my partner and rhyme. I’ll never forget Kareem telling me, he couldn’t see himself, he likes to do it as a hobby and it’s fun and all that but he could never imagine doing it for his life. Now I understand what he was saying. When me and Chee decided to do it together, that came about it from him always talking at me, giving me suggestions and all that.

It got to the point where I was just like, why don’t you try it with me? It clicked and we were like we got something, and how are we gonna do it? We sat down at the table, me, him, and my brother Jungle Brown. He’s working on some real fly shit, too. We sat down and said okay we’re gonna look like this, we’re gonna talk like this, this is gonna be our mantra, we mapped the whole design out. We knew we wanted it to be first class originality especially being from the Bronx, the birthplace of it and all that. First class originality that’s just that’s it.


I’m gonna throw something interesting at you I thought about when I was listening to 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s. Pete did a lot of work on that album just having sound clips from the movie, and then just ill monologue and dialogue pieces at the start and end of songs, he’s like the king of interludes anyway. Did you ever see the movie beforehand or was that something you guys kind of thought of when you were making the record?


Geechi Suede: Cheeba did.


I never saw the movie until after you guys put out the first song. The homie DJ Trackstar did the blend tape for you guys. So, then I watched the movie and I started thinking about the record in terms of a concept album. The movie 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s is about how the Bronx and New York in the ’70s in general was a total toilet and there was a huge discrepancy between violence, street shit, gang shit, the birth of hip hop, but then another side of town where everyone was rolling on money and wealth and everything was still great. It was literally 80 blocks away from Tiffany’s. When I thought how that applied to you guys when you came up in that world, on the non-glamorous side, you made it through and the way your style is and the way you look and dress and talk, you reached the same wealth as the people who were going to Tiffany’s.

Actually, there was no separation between you guys and that world even though you grew up on the opposite side. You carried that with you, it didn’t matter that you weren’t in those stores back then, you guys came up in a place where you had to make it on your own and the whole idea of wealth and materialism and flashiness you created for yourself; you didn’t have to go to Tiffany’s. When I thought of it like that, you came from one of the craziest places in the history of America but you’ve never been the grimy dudes, you’re always smiling and looking fly as hell. So I thought it was more about your mentality was more aligned with Tiffany’s even though you came from the rubble.


Geechi Suede: Definitely. That’s definitely it brother. That’s 100% right there. How you think and how you vibrate is what you manifest. Always having those visions of living better and dressing to the point, it happened it manifested into that. Cats from the Bronx traveling around the world doing what they love and making a living, it’s a blessing man.