So thrilled to have BK-One of Rhymesayers [[Brother Ali’s former DJ + Producer of more than a decade]] on the blog this week.

I really don’t think BK needs much of an intro, especially if you’re a loyal Rhymesayers fan. However, if you are unfamiliar with BK, you can look him up on Rhymesayers website and his Facebook music page to learn a little more about him and his work by following all the links in this entry.

So without further ado, let’s cut to the interview.

First of all, thank you for taking your time to answer my questions. I’ve been a fan of the Rhymesayers collective for over a decade. All of you are incredibly talented artists so it’s a real pleasure to be able to have this opportunity to interview one of the Rhymesayers OGs.

[V] I have read that you had studied music and experimented with many musical genres in the early stages of your career and was even part of a Jazz band before settling with hip-hop. What really inspired you and intrigued you to enter and settle in the hip-hop scene?

[BK-One] When I was in middle school and high school, just like now, I didn’t particularly care what kind of music I was making. I just wanted to be creatively challenged and having fun. I was listening to everything from Ice Cube to Fugazi to Desmond Dekker to Charles Mingus to Tom Waits, so I didn’t feel any allegiance to a specific genre. I played organ in a band that covered Fishbone and Aaron Neville and The Clash. I toured the country playing vibraphone in a jazz sextet. I recorded little 4-track creations with a sampler and a synthesizer. I played live behind a trio of rappers. And all the while, I was collecting records. Lots and lots of records.

When I moved to Minneapolis in 1996, the first concert I went to was called The Hip Hop Olympics. It was a benefit show thrown by the local Headshots crew to raise money for the family of one of their members that had recently died in a car accident. I didn’t know anyone on the bill, but was instantly struck by how much talent was in this city (the standout was a young skinny cat named Slug). A friend asked me to help him start the city’s first independent hip hop radio show, and I jumped at the chance. The show took off, and artists from all around the cities started coming through to freestyle, promote their music, or just bullshit with us while we played records. One of those artists was from over North and called himself Brother Ali. We had very little in common, but got along right away. He started coming through all the time, and I introduced him to the Headshots dudes. Headshots turned into Rhymesayers, Ali got on, I became his DJ, and before I knew what was happening we were touring the world (this answer is getting long, so I’m condensing 5-6 years into a sentence!).

I guess my point is that I didn’t necessarily decide to work exclusively on hip hop. I just wanted to make music with talented and passionate artists, and Rhymesayers is where I found an opportunity that stuck.

[V] At what point in your life did you quit your daytime job to pursue your music career full time? Or have you always been making ends meet in the music industry?

[BK-One] For the first several years of touring with Ali, I had a job at a local food co-op. In 2003, days after coming home from a run with Atmosphere, I got fired for telling a customer that there was “a thin line between holistic and assholistic”. I realized that I was now making enough money from touring to be a full-time musician. I was super excited to have so much free time for practicing, writing, recording, etc. I even had visions of learning a new language or teaching myself how to paint. To my surprise, I spent the next year doing next to nothing. I’ve never had a more unproductive period of my life. That taught me an important lesson about myself: I need something structured in my schedule that limits my amount of free time. It keeps me focused and puts pressure on me to use my time wisely. I’ve held a part-time job at a local group home ever since.

[V] How did you get linked up with the co-founders of Rhymesayers [Slug, Ant, Musab and Siddiq]? And what intrigued you about getting signed with this label?

[BK-One] I kind of answered this already, so I’ll tell you something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in an interview before. In the winter of 1998, I threw a benefit show called Hip Hop For The Homeless to collect winter coats for folks in need. It turned out to be the last show that Headshots ever played as a collective before breaking up and reforming as Rhymesayers. It was also the show where Beyond announced that his new name was going to be Musab. And it was the first show Ali ever played in Minneapolis! I still have a flyer from it. I don’t know why, but the standout memory from that night is Musab paraphrasing MC Lyte: “98 was great, but 99 is my time”. So great!

There’s an awful lot to love about Rhymesayers. Just an immense amount of talent, combined with some really smart business leadership. They’ve always had a diverse roster (I know it sometimes gets pegged as a “white” or “emo” hip hop label, but look at the spectrum of albums they’ve put out from I Self Devine, Freeway, Musab, MF Doom, Los Nativos, Jake One…). There’s a strong work ethic, a real sense of camaraderie, and for the first decade or so the top tier artists were reinvesting all of their money to make sure they were building something that we would all be able to find sustainable success through. Just a beautiful group of people to be able to call collaborators and friends.

[V] I understand you’re now a family man and I applaud you for putting your touring on hold to raise your daughter. However, do you ever plan on reuniting and touring with Brother Ali again as a full time deejay/producer?

[BK-One] Ali is one of my best friends, and I’m a big fan of his music, but I don’t see myself hitting the road anytime soon. My dad was a huge workaholic, and I grew up feeling like he cared more about his job than his family. I know a lot of musicians that tour heavily and are incredible parents, but I had always promised myself that I wouldn’t attempt to do the same. Being a stay-at-home dad has actually been great for my music career. Not in terms of growing my fan base or selling records, but I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. My creativity feels like it’s at an all-time high. Ali and I were working non-stop to put new spins on old songs, and we always had deadlines hanging over our heads. I got off the road, didn’t have a spotlight pointing at me anymore, and started remembering what it felt like to make music without any thought of what other people will think of it. Very refreshing.

[V] Could you share what exactly your contributions are to the Twin Cities Community Radio? And what made you want to get on board with this project?

[BK-One] TCCR is a coalition of nonprofits and residents working to build two new radio stations in the Frogtown and Phillips neighborhoods. These are the most densely populated and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in their respective cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis), and around 35% of their residents are living below the poverty line. The radio stations will be Low-Power FM, which means that they will be broadcast at a low amplitude and will only be available to an area of about 5 square miles, so this is community radio in the truest sense of the word. I became involved with the project after two good friends of mine, Steven Renderos and Danielle Mkali, explained the work they were doing and invited me to help. Radio was where I got my start as a DJ, and as a student of music history I know what a huge role radio has played in the development of American music (especially by stations that were in touch with and invested in their own communities). But since the mid-90’s when media monopoly laws changed, the radio dial has been bought up by 2 or 3 huge conglomerates that write programming from thousands of miles away and see their target markets as numbers instead of people. The FCC is granting licenses for these last few available slots on the dial this year, and then there really is no more room for new stations, so we think it’s unbelievably important to fill those slots with quality programming that reflects the lives, interests, and needs of the people listening.

[V] What artists and musicians have influenced your craft the most in the beginning stages of your career? And what are some artists that impress you today and perhaps even influence you in some way or another?

[BK-One] I’m tempted to name half of my record collection here. Run-DMC was the first music I heard that sounded completely new and original…something I didn’t understand yet, but wanted to hear lots more of. Stevie Wonder was the artist who showed me that there was tremendous value in looking backwards and listening to what came before you. Sonny Rollins helped me to really understand jazz. The Pixies taught me about the power of contradiction and dissonance. The Clash and Elvis Costello showed me how to wear your influences on your sleeve without losing sight of your own voice. The Bomb Squad and Prince Paul were masters of layering. But the biggest influences on me were people you’ve probably never heard of. The Pacers and Wild Kingdom (local Milwaukee bands from the early to mid-90’s), Cliff Gribble (my high school jazz teacher), Desmond Henry and Tom Noble and Aaron Money (early musician friends and collaborators).

In terms of current artists: Tune-Yards, Earl Sweatshirt, Sinkane, Janelle Monáe, Chance The Rapper, Thundercat, The Step-Kids… There’s also artists who I don’t necessarily listen to a lot, but whose career paths are inspiring, like Damon Albarn or Kanye West.


Radio Do Canibal

[V] What are your top five favorite albums or jams of all time? And what’s on your iPod play list right now? Also, which genre of music do you gravitate towards the most?

[BK-One] I can’t answer this. This just isn’t the way my brain works. As for playlists on my iPod, I put together a mix of Beatles covers from all over the world and in just about every genre you could think of. It’s probably almost 5 years old, but I still listen to it fairly regularly. I have tons of playlists compiling works by different producers or arrangers like Richard Evans, Lee Perry, and Allen Toussaint. I also tag everything I put into iTunes with the city it’s from. Then I make smart playlists by city and put them on shuffle. It’s fun listening to Howling Wolf next to Cocaine 80s next to Sam Cooke next to Heaven & Earth next to Betty Everett next to Cap’n Jazz next to Wild Belle next to Phil Upchurch, and trying to wrap my head around how they all fit together in the history of Chicago music. Oh, and my daughter loves throwing dance parties where she has me put 3 or 4 albums of her choice into an on-the-go playlist, then put them on shuffle. Our last one was Vampire Weekend, Raffi, and Ray Charles!

[V] What are your other interests and hobbies besides producing and playing music?

[BK-One] Riding my bicycle, drinking Vinho Verde on the porch with my wife, swimming in the lakes, and playing with my kids.

[V] Could you speak a little more about the two new albums that you’re currently working on?

(a) What can the fans expect from the album that you are currently collaborating on with Benzilla, as far as your creative approach and when will the album drop?

[BK-One] I can’t really talk about this too much yet. I will say that since I stopped touring, Ben and I have made a lot of music together. This time around, our work has been much more collaborative. On Rádio Do Canibal, we each had our roles and we played them. Nowadays, we’re actually sitting in the room together bouncing ideas off each other and saying “move over, let me try”.

(b) I’ve also learned that you’ve recently formed a new band Bones and Beeker with Anthony Newes of Villa and the two of you are working on an album as well. I know that Villa is an indie folk band based in Minneapolis so I’m assuming Bones and Beeker isn’t anything hip-hop. So what genre of music would you say it falls under?

[BK-One] Tony and I finished mixing our debut album in the Spring. We’re in the final stages of signing a record deal, and I’m super excited to share the music we made. Stylistically, it’s all over the map (from late-night soul steppers to classic rock ballads to grimy hip hop production), but I think it’s a really cohesive listen. Tony sings in a beautiful falsetto and stacks layers and layers of harmonies up. We both play a bunch of instruments on it, plus I added a whole lot of samples (including all of the drums and percussion). Chris Bierden (of Polica) plays bass, and Nate Collis (formerly of Atmosphere) plays guitar. It’s a project that gave me a chance to show off a lot of my non-hip hop influences and to experiment with sample-based music in weird time signatures and tempos. Coming soon…

[V] You’ve definitely left a pretty big imprint on the Rhymesayers Entertainment and you’ve also been blessed to work with the best artists in the hip-hop industry {you have literally collaborated with pretty much every artists on my iTunes lists. Big props to you BK}. Nonetheless, you are a human (obviously) and much like all humans, we have a tendency to doubt ourselves from time to time, so tell us what kept and keeps you going and inspired to continue to produce quality music?

[BK-One] Honestly, my biggest inspiration is self-doubt. I’ve always kind of felt like a golden opportunity landed in my lap and I needed to bust my ass relentlessly to justify it. I don’t have all that much raw talent, just lots of good ideas and a willingness to work really really hard. Although, earlier this year I checked in on myself and realized that now that I’m not up on stage and under a spotlight this has become less true. I think now more than ever (or at least since playing in middle school bands), I’m driven by curiosity and excitement. I credit that to fatherhood mostly.

[V] Lastly, could you also give some solid advice to the young and aspiring deejays, music producers and rappers out there trying to make it in this hip-hop game?

[BK-One] It takes so much more than skill to succeed at this. It takes savvy business decisions, presence and charisma, years of thankless work, and a whole lot of luck. Don’t pick this route unless you love it so much that you’re willing to devote everything to it and still fail.

       Follow BK-One on:  ||  Twitter  ↔  Facebook   ||

Also, be sure to add his album Radio do Canibal to your personal collection, you may purchase it through Fifth Element.

Check this out one of my favorite tracks by BK-One from his album Radio do Canibal

Gittit – BK-One ft. Slug & Brother Ali