Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Straight-N-Narrow Records presents: IIE: Infiltrate, Instigate, Expand (2010)

APEX - PA Hustlers

Richburgh - Dynamite Stix

Verbs - Nice Trip

Jon Quest - In the Jaws of Life

Cory Eaux of JSP - So Mean


Rory Webb: Straight-N-Narrow Records presents IIE: Infiltrate, Instigate, Expand. It’s complete. Now available to the world. How does it feel?

Premise: Like a decade puttin’ in work has led to this… I started in 2001 making beats on the computer and it’s led to a completely original release featuring an eclectic group of emcees from Pittsburgh, Philly, NYC, Detroit… all of whom I’m honored to work with. It feels like a relief, but not a relief like “I’m so happy this is over with." It’s more of a “I’m relieved the world will finally hear what I’ve been cookin’ up” type of relief. I’ve been at this a long time, just behind the scenes crafting my sound for the majority of the last decade. I’ve been in Philly hip-hop events, but on a local level in Pittsburgh I wasn’t exactly a household name even last November. I’m still far away from being a household name, but I’ve definitely networked a ton since late ‘09, building the relationships necessary to release a compilation of this caliber.

RW: This being your first full album release, what are some things you learned during the creation process?

P: I did release a solo LP as an emcee in 2003, fully produced by myself at a time when I was a production novice trying to be the next great white rapper. But it was an amateur project. I evolved after that to become a full-time producer/engineer in terms of my focus, although there may or may not be a hidden track on IIE (may or may not be….)

Putting this release together taught me valuable lessons in terms of tailoring beats for specific emcees and finalizing tracks to make them songs, not just verses on beats. Most of that is up to the artist, but as a producer you are the final “ear” and should act as such.

I think I’m more versatile than I personally thought, which is definitely vital to succeeding on a national level. Any sub-genre of artist(s) in hip-hop can hit me up and probably find something they want to rock on. And we know there are many sub-genres. For example, would you think the same producer would work with Nas and then turn around a do a Trick Daddy jam? No, usually, but I believe SNN is capable of that with the catalog I’ve built.

It’s a different beast though, for a producer reaching out to a variety of emcees, as opposed to just being in my own creative world shaping songs as an artist, like when I started. You have to be mindful of the artist, and realize we all come from different hip-hop environments with a specific set of influences, although many of us share the same ones.

RW: With the long list of dope MC’s involved, I’m sure your expectations were high for damn near each and every track. But can you talk about one song or artist that really exceeded even the highest of expectations?

P: I had a feeling you would hit me with a “pick a favorite track” type of question. So I’ll answer it, I won’t give the wishy washy political answer that “loves every track equally.” I’d be lying to you if I did that. The artist who really blew my mind with the final product has to be Real Deal. He hit the beat exactly how I envisioned him doing so… track 13, “Revival.” That’s actually what I named the beat and he just ran with it. The word-play, flow, and mic presence is top-notch, as expected, and the overall sound is a signature SNN banger. As a producer and hip-hop fan especially, it's tracks like these that I enjoy most. Thanks to Real Deal for helpin’ to make that one of my favorites on the release, hands down.

RW: I’m hoping to hear some of Premise the MC on this album! Let’s reverse your role real quick. If you were the sole MC on the album, and had a team of five producers working with you, who would they be and why?

P: I like this question a lot because I’m a fan first, and was an emcee second, I must stress that. I’ll spit them right out in no particular order- Large Professor, Alchemist, Rob the Viking, Michael Masser, and Jermaine Dupri. Most people won’t know who Rob the Viking or Michael Masser are, but I bet they know “Big Things” by Nas (Masser), from I Am. That beat single-handedly put Masser on the map, because it’s retarded hot, and every element is near-perfect. Rob the Viking also isn’t a household name, but he’s produced a lot of gritty records for Swollen Members/Battle Axe, and was a big part of my adolescent years. Dupri, Alchemist, and Large Professor should go without saying since they are entrenched Hip-Hop Hall-of-Famers in most books. Large Professor is a true sound-crafter and bender; a pure one, from day one to now, with no dilution. JD would do my club jam, and Alc…. Well…. Alc would make whatever he wanted and I’m sure I’d love it. It’d be a ridiculous EP!!!!

RW: How has your participation in the Philadelphia iStandard Producer Showcases challenged, inspired, and motivated you as a music artist?

P: J-Hatch and Don Di Napoli, founders of iStandard, opened up the industry door to me back in 2006. I submitted beats and they accepted me into their showcase of producers. iStandard events always involve judges who are platinum producers, A&R’s, and/or executives at labels. That’s inspirational, challenging, and motivating on its face. It’s also scary at first because you think “this is it.” Of course it’s not “it,” but just a step in a series of steps you should be taking to further your career while networking with the right people. You mature a lot when taking part in these shows, and it’s teaches you professionalism.

Participating each year since ‘06 has educated me as to what the decision-makers in the industry are looking for, from a quality standpoint to a complete package standpoint, everything… It’s been a critical part of my development as a producer- in the mix of thousands trying to stand out and turn heads, which is not easy to do.

RW: What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve encountered and overcome as an entrepreneur in the music business?

P: The biggest hurdle is staying on top of the technology and being able to afford what you need. For about six full years, from ’03-’09, I was working on a Pentium 4. You cannot produce industry-quality sound on that computer, I don’t care what anyone says. I made a major upgrade to the Intel i7 processor last August and subsequently, here we are discussing my release 11 months later. The technology… the virtual instruments… hardware…. It’s expensive and there is an ocean of it to swim through, literally. You can get a lot of stuff free, but not the quality, high-end equipment and virtual tools that really stand out. A producer/engineer is truly only as good as his sound engine. In other words, you can’t run a 2002 Cavalier out there with Porsche rally whips and expect to be on the podium.

RW: You attribute much of your drive as a music artist to your father, who is a musician in his own right. How has his encouragement affected your work from the time you were just beginning to now?

P: From as far back as memories formed, music equipment was all around me. Pop always had a studio and has been playing the drums since the 1960’s. Growing up in a house with drums, guitars, keyboards, 8-tracks, etc, is something that makes it almost impossible not to gravitate towards music as a teen especially. I made my first beat on a keyboard at 14, and I can say without a doubt that my Father is why. It’s in our blood and was my environment. There’s been collabs with him on beats, discussions about drum progressions, the business… He’s an all-around music aficionado who I’m blessed to have in my life and without whom IIE would not be happening. That should put it in perspective.

RW: What’s the most fun part of being a producer and engineer?

P: The creative process. Sometimes it’s quick and easy and then others it’s a labor of something like love, but more like a battle with your own impatience. There is a thing called “Producer’s Block” and the fun part for me is working around my own impatience and aggravation to focus and get it right. The feeling when you do get it right is completely unique, like a high for drug addicts, an orgasm for nymphos, or a good “pump” for bodybuilders (I had fun with that one). But yeah, easily the creative process at number 1. A close #2 is building relationships with artists. They need me and I need them; the talented ones that is. They know who they are and I consider myself skilled at finding them among this mess of artists we call the underground.

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