Summary: Welcome to Microphone Check, hip-hop culture with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley. Transcripts, portraits and info at https://www.frannieandali.com/
Microphone Check — the place where artists can talk about whatever concerns and interests they have, where they feel free to sound off and fan out on Ali Shaheed Muhammad and tell stories they’ve never told in public before — is back. February 27, only on Spotify.
Ill Camille was born and raised and still resides in Los Angeles, for the moment, and in March she released an album called Heirloom that we really love. We spoke to her about all her various jobs in the music industry, a path that eventually led her to stepping out in front and telling her own story. You can read the transcript of our conversation on our web site, frannieandali.com, where you’ll also find our full archive.
We taped this interview before we had any idea Z-Ro would later announce his retirement from music – he's said the album he's releasing on June 30th, No Love Boulevard, will be his last. It's our loss, especially because you can tell here (back then) that he was excited to release new work, and felt like he was sitting on heat. But he also details his frustrations with the industry in our conversation, so his retirement is not a total surprise. We're grateful he spent some time with us when he was still in the game, we're so thankful for the music he gave us while he was, and we wish him the best of luck in all his future pursuits.
To situate you in this episode, we left off last week when kris asked Ali how it would feel for his work today to be criticized and Ali’s response began with him saying he’s not worried about it because he’s right with himself, brought it back to Kendrick and "DNA." and ended in him saying Fox News is meaningless.
This first episode of the rest of our podcast’s life isn’t a straight ahead interview with a musician. Instead we asked music writer kris ex to come in and talk about the value of music journalism, especially its usefulness to musicians, and we kind of loosely centered our discussion on Kendrick’s album. kris was published for the first time in June of 1994, in the literary magazine African Voices and in the inaugural issue of Ego Trip. Since then he’s written for Billboard, Rolling Stone, Vibe, One Nut, Hip-Hop Connection, the LA Times, Complex, The Fader, Pitchfork, Mass Appeal and elsewhere. In 1996 he published a piece about Tribe in The Source, which will come up in this episode! kris also co-wrote 50 Cent’s memoir, which was published in 2005, blogged for XXL in the mid-2000s and edited the first four issues of Respect, a magazine devoted to hip-hop photography. In 2013, Frannie asked him if he’d start writing for NPR. These days he prioritizes writing on Facebook. We recorded in early May, and talked for so long that we’re running this interview in two parts.
Doc McKinney, the Minneapolis-born, Toronto-living producer and manager who's worked with Lucy Pearl, The Weeknd, Drake, Young Buck, Esthero and thestand4rd spoke with us about brands and music — he had a reluctant hand in the Hamburger Helper mixtape that popped off in the spring — Canadian hip-hop past and present, the ways having kids affected his business and his art, the ideal circumstances for collaboration, Spongebob, Lee Scratch Perry, Janet Jackson, the pitfalls of interviews and J Dilla.
Last summer we linked with Warren G for the last interview we tried to do bicoastal. And it's fitting that one of the main instigators of G-funk music was the one who convinced us to move operations to LA. We're airing it now, because despite some disconnect, the insight and the tempo is too good to bury. We spoke about "Deeez Nuuuts" and payola and the best places to dig. Warren G is smooth as ever in conversation with somebody from the other side of the country who first met him when everything was getting started, Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Our producer, David Luke, father of David Luke III, put together this special edition of Microphone Check, a compliation of times when the musicians we've sat with over the past couple years spoke about fatherhood. When we interviewed these guests — Danny Brown, Solange, Cormega, T.I., Killer Mike and El-P, Big Sean, Terrace Martin and Mr. MFN eXquire — we didn't always directly ask about their fathers; they brought up the idea and the men themselves when we were talking about getting put on, deciding how to structure a career and the ways growing older affects music-making. We're not only talking about biological fathers here. These moments are about the reverberations of father figures, mentors, uncles, teachers. And, of course, some of our guests relate stories about raising kids themselves, the emotional roller coaster of it, and the fiercely kept promise inherent in there. We hope that in this episode you can really hear the real life people who create and perform the music we all love. Shout to Frannie's dad, Larry Kelley, and to Ali's dad, resting in peace. Happy first Father's Day to Cedric Shine, our voice on socials and whose beautiful daughter adorns this page! And happy seventh Father's Day to David, who made this for you.
The music industry veteran, former manager of the RZA, the GZA and ODB, as well as D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq and A Tribe Called Quest, met up with Microphone Check in LA, where she told us what Wu-Tang taught her and how she thinks of her role: "I'm a manager. I am in the service industry. The service industry. I'm Midas f****** Muffler."
Gizzle is the one behind the curtain. Quiet as it's kept, she's written many of the biggest and best-loved rap and R&B songs of the recent past, in the course of working with everybody from Puffy to Nicki to Teddy Riley to Pharrell, Snoop, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, B2K and, most often, Ty$. "Music is a collaborative thing," she says. "Life is a collaborative thing. No one can do anything on the levels of greatness — and that's what we going for — by themselves. It just doesn't work that way."
The Atlanta rapper spoke with us in March, between the first and second of the three tours he's booked this year. We got into perspective, influence and frustration, but the point we kept returning to was agency. "I don't want anybody to do exactly what I'm doing," he said. "I want people to look at why I'm doing what I'm doing. And if you agree with that, you go do what you do about it."
Terrace Martin takes his job very seriously. Here's just a taste of what he sees as at stake when he goes to work: "You got the Marines. You got the Army. We are the only people that soothe them. The art community are the only people that soothe the people that violently defend us cause they have to sometime, or sometime they don't, but regardless we are the only community that defends them." This conversation, our second with Terrace, got heavy, even teary. It was always going to, and we taped only two days after Phife passed. All these words came out of a too-tired-and-sad-to-be-false period of time, which isn't to say that they aren't leavened by Puffy stories and suspect relationship advice.
Hip-hop music and culture informs most things, including works of art and creative expression that don't sound anything like an MC over a break beat. Though not everybody would file Dean Blunt's output as music that falls under the purview of Microphone Check, we are far too intrigued by his work to find out he would be in Los Angeles and not ask him to sit with us. Over his career as Dean Blunt, as half of Hype Williams and now with the trio Babyfather, who have just released a new album, BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow, he hasn't seen much use for face time with the music press, so we were happily surprised when he said yes. Dean Blunt's music can be, for listeners, a chance to momentarily exist austerely, outside the expectations of genre labels and references that have become so familiar they're less like inside jokes and more like uniforms. His songs make your brain briefly unbound and unwieldy. So does conversing with him.
The artist and thinker, who just released a new album that's only one part of a larger multimedia conception, takes us from the drummers of Burundi to Adam Ant, Octavia Butler to David Bowie, Rakim to Young Thug. We also hit on ageism in rap, artistry for sale and how to work interviews.
Crown Heights came to North Hollywood so we could talk about crossed signals on the highways between artist and industry. We also got into rap performance, being superstitious about writing, being not great about networking and this feeling: "I felt like I was too smart to do a record and not talk about s*** that's happening now."