On August 25, Count Bass D released the tenth-anniversary deluxe edition of his little known, but nevertheless classic album Dwight Spitz. The album is available streaming and for download on his Bandcamp. Count Bass D first showed up on my radar when I heard his guest verse on MF DOOM‘s “Potholderz” (which the Count also produced) off 2004 record Mm..Food? The collaboration between the two idiosyncratic hip-hop artists dates back to Dwight Spitz, on which DOOM appears on the tracks “Quite Buttery” and “Make a Buck.”
Music writer Dart Adams introduces the deluxe edition by writing, “I’m just glad we have cats like Count Bass D in this current time to help us in the constant war between real music & bu11$#!+.” That isn’t self-censorship, but rather a reference to Bass D’s song “Real Music vs. BULL$#!+.” The sequel to that track is one of six new songs included on the deluxe edition. The original track samples someone declaring, “Real music’s gonna last. All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow.” Dwight Spitz is a testament to that statement.
Though he had previously recorded hip-hop with live instrumentation, Count lost his major label deal with Sony long before 2002 and, as he put it, “I didn’t have the money to record traditional instruments correctly.” Instead, he used the AKAI S-3000 and MPC-2000 to create an entirely sample-based sound that is as engrossing and smoothly connected as other well loved sample-based records like Endtroducing….., Since I Left You and Donuts.
The following is an interview I conducted with Count Bass D over the telephone:
WESU: So, are you in Tennessee right now?
Count Bass D: No. Actually, I’ve lived in Atlanta, Georgia since the end of 2009.
W: Oh, OK. Because on Wikipedia it still says Tennessee. But that’s often pretty inaccurate.
C: Exactly. I didn’t do many interviews for a long time, so my Wikipedia page didn’t have information updated. That’s a reason why I started doing more interviews lately. There’s a lot of inaccurate information that I hear sometimes. So, I’d like to clear the air, and it’s a good idea to do interviews again.
W: I watched the documentary about you last night. One of the things I learned from that was that you were born August 25, 1973, around the time that hip-hop was invented by DJ Kool Herc. I actually got to see him perform recently. There was a concert in Central Park for the 40th anniversary of hip-hop. He was there. Rakim, Big Daddy Kane were also there, and a bunch of other people. It was really cool. So I was wondering, when did you first realize that connection?
C: Honestly, I started to realize it every day as I grew up. I just turned 40 a couple weeks ago. Every day of my life I would see more and more things that were centered around hip-hop. It became my race, more than just my culture. Hip-hop was everything to me. My favorite art was graffiti art. My favorite dancing was break dancing. Any time I saw anything on television or any magazine or anything that had to do with it, automatically, I was drawn to it. It’s always been that way, even up to now. I gravitate to and am automatically drawn toward things that have a heavy concentration of the culture and the art form of hip-hop.
W: Another thing you were talking about was this preacher stage persona that you have– that you based on ministers that you saw when you were growing up. Do you see a parallel between gospel and hip-hop?
C: I guess in some ways. Preachers speak what they’re saying and rappers speak what they’re saying. And a lot of times you have a microphone and an audience in front of you, and it’s your job to speak the words. And there’s music. As far as accompanying, preachers will have an organ behind them, you know, a drummer– a certain type of backing band behind them. And we have DJs behind us. It’s the same sort of dynamic so far as bringing motion out of people, and making them feel things, a call-and-response. Preachers will say, “Turn to your neighbor and do this.” And you might say, “Say ho, and throw your hands in the air.” A lot of soul musicians and black performers borrow from preachers that we saw growing up because that was a concert that we saw every week. A lot of people who don’t go to church now still have a foundation of that from when they were younger– from when they were in grade school up until junior high, and then at that point maybe they stopped going. But most people that are my age have some semblance of going to a traditional church, and by that I mean a real church, not a mega-church– the ones with the big productions and the slick pastors that we see today. People were more sincere about the religious aspect. Now, the religion has gotten a little away from the spirituality. So there are a lot of parallels that I see, at least for myself.
W: You say that you are making music for yourself. And one of the funnier parts of the documentary, I thought, was when you were saying that you have the snobbiest, most bourgeois taste of anyone out there (laughter). When you’re making music, do you have something in mind that you’re aiming for, or are you just creating, and as you go along you say, “Yeah, I like that”?
C: It’s all about feeling and personal opinion. You know, when people go shopping, they say, “I like this shirt. I don’t like that shirt.” For me, musically, it’s the same way. It’s just a feeling that I’m looking for that the music gives me. That’s what I mean by snobby taste. If I can tell that it’s been put together just for the sole purpose of selling a lot or if it’s just for the sole purpose of sounding good in a strip club, a lot of the time that music doesn’t do much for me. Sometimes it does, though. It depends. It’s just a feeling. I’m looking for a loop that goes back to that essence of original hip-hop music. With my music, it’s really just a personal preference. That’s why I’m surprised when people tell me how much they like my music because I’m not making it with other people in mind. When you make yourself a mixtape and you say, “I’m gonna put these songs on here to go on the road. Because I’ve got a long trip, I’m gonna make myself a cool playlist to put into my iPod,” right? That’s your personal preference, you know. So now imagine if someone got a hold of that personal playlist, and a whole bunch of people were like, “Yeah, yeah. I want that mix. I want that mix. I want that mix.” You’d be pretty shocked, too because you just put down some songs that would entertain you. It’s your personal preference on your trip, you know. And so that’s kind of how I make the music. It’s something that would entertain me, that I really would like to hear. And I guess because I’ve listened to so much music, and have critiqued music for so long, there’s a common bond with other listeners out there. The music translates. So that’s the good part. I tell you, doing this interview is a great thing for me because one of my best friends just got in contact with me again last week from high school. He went to Wesleyan. And my spiritual adviser from when I was in Nashville, Reverend Edwin C. Sanders– he went to Wesleyan. And I remember when I was in high school, probably in 1990, I visited the college. I went there for a weekend, and, I’m telling you, it was the best weekend. I’ve been on tour, I’ve been all over the place, I’ve been everywhere, but still, that weekend was one of the greatest weekends of my entire life. Any time that school comes up in conversation, I tell people that’s one of my favorite colleges. That’s my dream college to go to if I could have, but, you know, when I was in high school, even though I was going to a great high school, my mind was elsewhere– really just on music and the background I had just come from. I didn’t really understand what it took to get into a university, and I didn’t have the discipline. I wouldn’t have lasted anyway. But I think it’s a great institution, and so when I was asked, “Would you do the interview?” I heard it was Wesleyan, no question about it. That’s why I did it.
Read rest of the interview after the jump
W: That’s awesome. That’s good to hear. I graduated in May, but I’m still writing for the website of the radio station. I worked there the whole time that I was at Wesleyan, and it was really a good place. We put on concerts and had a lot of good programs there. The thing about radio today is that there’s so much potential for there to be great stuff, but the vast majority of it is corporate, commercial radio, which is just horrendous, and plays terrible music.
C: Well, you know, I go back and forth. There was a time when I didn’t listen to anything that was on the radio. Probably around that time when I did the documentary, I had really really snobby taste. You know, now if you looked at my iPod and my iPhone and you saw what was in there, you’d probably say, “Man, I’m ashamed I even asked this guy to do an interview” (laughter).
W: What kind of stuff?
C: I live in Atlanta now, and I guess when you live here, you really get exposed to the culture and the music that it comes from, you start to get into it. So, a lot of the music that you call “trap music” or whatever is really just music from my neighborhood. I live in Zone Six. You know, Gucci Mane, Trinidad James, and all that stuff comes right here from my neighborhood. You know, Rocko, Future, all that shit comes from right here. I listen to it and I enjoy it. It’s almost like if somebody says, “I don’t listen to too much world music or foreign music or reggae music,” and then they move to Jamaica. And all of a sudden they listen to it because they just live down there now. It’s kind of like that for me with moving here. And I also have a teenager, who has opened up my mind to what they’re listening to. It’s wild. It’s funny, you know, I thought by the time I got to this age, I would close my mind off and I would be clueless as to what was going on around me. But I know pretty much everything that’s going on. And I like some of it. I don’t like some of it. But I give everything an honest listen because it’s just that way now. There’s so much music coming out of here. And it’s sad because once commerce comes into something it limits the artistic mysticism of the music that we used to have. I was just reading here in Fred Wesley‘s book, he was talking about when synthesizers came on the scene, it changed the game completely– the way he was able to arrange horns. All the people who were really still getting work were guitar players because the guitar sound on the synthesizer really wasn’t all that great. But it’s the same thing now. Even the beat-makers and people who use drum machines, they’re all being replaced by people who just use software. And if you have a laptop now, you’re a CEO, you’re a DJ, you’re a videographer, you’re a photographer. Someone gets themselves a Macbook Pro, an iPad, and all of a sudden, they’re off to the races. So, that’s just the world we live in right now, and everyone’s just trying to survive. I’m glad that I got in on the forefront of everything. So the music I made before the technology got this way is still what keeps me relevant. And as long as I am able to stay relevant now, I can still be a part of the game.
W: Well, if Gucci Mane was on the radio here, I’d be listening all the time. I love Gucci Mane (laughter).
C: He’s a great artist. A lot of people dismiss him, but I’ve listened to a lot of his work, and he really is an original. A lot of the stuff he’s doing… A lot of people might say, “He’s not lyrical,” but just the other night I was listening to Nice & Smooth. I’ve been listening to Greg Nice since I was in high school, and nobody’s ever accused him of not being lyrical. Some rappers rap like Nas and Rakim and other people rap like Gucci Mane and Greg Nice. So I don’t think it’s any less intelligent or lyrical because he’s not using a bunch of words and cramming them all in a bunch of tongue-twisters. It makes me smile. The stuff that he says makes me smile. It makes me laugh. I like the music. I don’t have no bones about it, saying it to anybody. I like it.
W: And he’s such a unique character. Nobody else is like Gucci Mane.
C: That’s what hip-hop really is supposed to be about. You’re supposed to be your own separate entity, and no one else is really supposed to be able to do it the way you do it. Gucci Mane isn’t trying to be like anyone else out there. He’s his own guy, so that’s what I like about it. 100 percent original.
W: The one guy I wanted to ask you about– I’m sure you get asked about this a lot– but you’ve collaborated with MF DOOM a couple times. And you did on the Dwight Spitz album. That’s actually how I first found out about you. I’m sure a few other people found out the same way. I listened to your song “Potholderz” on MM..Food, and then I found the Dwight Spitz album. Are you still in touch with DOOM at all?
C: No. I haven’t talked to him in a while, but there’s no love lost. As he moved into a different type of direction, and I went into a different type of direction personally and geographically, we haven’t been in touch as much, but there is no love lost. And I won’t really get into any of the specifics about my work with him because he’s a very private person and he’s instructed me to keep any of our dealings on sort of a need-to-know basis, but I always say, the artist that I am now, I wouldn’t be able to be if it wasn’t for him. There are a lot of artists that are around now who sound a lot like him, and I hear his influence on them. But it didn’t come directly from him. It just came from listening to his records a lot of times. It’s different from the way I was completely instructed in the way that I approach hip-hop at this point. I really took a master class that took me to a level of craftsmanship that I have at this point. I owe a lot of that to him. There’s never any love lost. We’re just not really in touch like that anymore. Different lifestyles and different things like that. But he does his thing, and I always wish him the best. I’m always rooting for him, and I’m sure he would say the same.
W: And you’ve also worked a bit with MF Grimm. Not to get into too much gossip type of stuff, but I know he and DOOM had a bit of a falling out. Did you meet them both around the same time?
C: I knew DOOM from when I was on a major label. I was on the same subsidiary label. He was managed by the same entity that I was on the subsidiary of. And he knew Grimm at that time. But I’ve never actually even physically met Grimm. Everything has kind of been through the mail or through the internet. But as far as working with DOOM and working with Grimm, everything I did with Grimm came through DOOM. Grimm was DOOM’s contact. I didn’t know Grimm personally in that type of way. And everything that I was doing for Grimm was because DOOM had asked me to do it for him. Later on, as I got to know Grimm and had full conversations, I learned a lot from him as well– more about how to handle myself in the street, in the music game, and just period as a man. And so I was very fortunate to get to be tutored by him, as well as getting some pointers just by listening to his style of flow. We just collaborated on a song with DJ Crucial. That came out a couple of months ago. It’s called “That’s Good” with Count Bass D, DJ Crucial and MF Grimm. And we’re getting great feedback on that. just work on bettering my craft and becoming a better musician. And we’ll see what happens.
W: Is this the first time that you’ve done a deluxe edition like you just put out for Dwight Spitz?
C: Yes. It’s about to be eleven years in December that it’s been out. With that being a decade going by, it has taken me around the world and it’s still one of the most recognized pieces in my catalog, I just figured it was time. The deluxe edition really isn’t for people who have been in the know about me for a long time. People like you and people who have been following my career since 2004 or 2005 or even earlier than that, they already know what time it is. There are a lot of people who weren’t necessarily 18 in 2002 when Dwight Spitz really went national. So after that DOOM did the Dangerdoom thing. He did Madvillain and he went crazy. So a lot of people know DOOM’s name. And they’ve heard my name through him, but they don’t often know this work because it was before Dangerdoom and Madvillain. When I was on tour with DOOM, we would do songs from Operation: Doomsday and people would just stand there and look at us and wait for us to do some Dangerdoom songs. They didn’t care about “Rhymes Like Dimes” or “Dead Bent” or anything. They just looked at us like “I don’t know any of those songs.” I’m talking about 3000 people– big shows. None of those people were those kind of fans. They were just waiting for the Dangerdoom or Madvillain. So the Dwight Spitz deluxe edition is catered toward those folks, who may not know what time it is with my catalog, and they hear my name around and just don’t know why I’m so significant. “Everybody’s always talking about this guy Count Bass D, but I’ve never heard any of his music.” So that’s the reason why I brought it back out and put it in this format– Bandcamp– because the younger generation gravitates more toward those things. And it’s been very successful. People have been checking it out just as I figured they would. So that’s cool. I guess it’s my responsibility as a copyright owner to exploit my own catalog. I own the rights to most of my material, so I have to be the one to turn around and do these things. It’s a different hat for me to wear and I’m uncomfortable doing it, but I try my best.
W: I’ve been looking up some of your stuff on Amazon, and you can get used copies of your first album for two dollars, but then if you look at Dwight Spitz on vinyl, there’s a copy that’s being sold for 500-something dollars.
C: That’s the difference. My first album was produced by a major label. They did a lot of marketing for it a year early. Then they didn’t do any marketing at all and they released it a year late. I just read ?uestlove‘s autobiography. The Roots were signed November of 1993. I was signed to my major deal December of 1993. They released their album January of 1995. My album wasn’t released until September of 1995. It was just a different relationship. They had a very close relationship with their record label. I had a very distant relationship with my record label. So as a result of that, there were thousands of copies made, but not many sold. A bunch of those records went to scrap places or just a bunch of different warehouses. That record is more common than say a Dwight Spitz, which people now clamor for. I knew how to take care of myself as an artist better than a major label did. It’s hard to corral those people and get them to see your vision. As an artist, you know how they should spend their money and what they should do, but since you’re unproven, they don’t necessarily believe you. It was hard for them to do certain things the way I felt they should be done. And to be honest, the album Pre-Life Crisis is a much different album than Dwight Spitz. I made an album in between Pre-Life Crisis and Dwight Spitz called Art for Sale. The original EP of that had only eight songs on it. And I see people selling the original print of that for $80, $90, all kinds of crazy crap. I tell people, even if you don’t necessarily get the music that I make when I make it, if I offer you a physical copy of it, you should purchase it just for investment sake because if you look at my catalog, anything that I do that’s independent, in five years or so the price of it goes through the roof. That’s just the way it is. People sleep on it and then they come begging me, “Are you gonna put it out on vinyl?” I’m like, “No. You should have gotten it on vinyl when it came out.” I can’t be sympathetic to people who don’t buy my music and later on come begging for it. It’s very expensive to put out these things. And a lot of people don’t actually go out and buy it. They just like to talk.
W: I was going to ask if you were thinking of putting out a vinyl pressing of Dwight Spitz…
C: Nah. Maybe 25th anniversary (laughter). Maybe 25th anniversary, I’ll put out vinyl pressing. People will just have to see. $150 here, $500 there. It’ll just have to be that way. If you know that an artist is a good artist and a real artist, you should support him when it comes out. At that time, there were a lot of big records out that I’m sure people have copies of. They passed on my record in order to get those other records. And those records aren’t worth that now. That’s just the way it goes.
W: Well, for me at least, I was just 11 or 12 when Dwight Spitz came out…
C: That’s what I’m saying. That’s the whole reason for the deluxe edition. If I did a vinyl edition of it, it would just be a ploy to take advantage of it. I just want the music to be heard by the new generation, just like you being too young to necessarily hear it at the time it came. It’s the music that’s most important. You’ve got to understand. I come from a situation where we used to buy records before the internet gave this whole value to them. The whole idea of digging for records– we were trying to go to obscure places to find them. We wanted to find them at cheaper prices. We always knew that we could buy any record that we wanted to if we went to certain record stores in New York. But we would leave those records sitting on the wall. And we would go to Texas and go to North Carolina and actually mine and dig for records and get the best prices. But now you have people that don’t necessarily use records for DJing or sampling. They just collect records. It’s very akin to the sneaker situation going on. So as a result, these prices for records are through the roof. People are treating them like paintings or something, as opposed to a thing that you actually get and use and play. I can’t be a part of that movement. It’s price gouging. It takes all of the fun out of everything. People are just hoarding records. And some people are proud to say, “Yeah, I paid $500 for my copy of Dwight Spitz.” I guess if you’ve got the money on deck, that’s cool. But that’s a different animal than getting the music and just enjoying it.
W: There is something to be said though for people who actually just want to listen to music and want the best sound quality. Vinyl is probably the best.
C: Yeah. You know, I’ve been collecting records for over 23 years. That’s been my main and my favorite source of listening to music. But for me personally, if there’s a record that I’ve wanted since 1990, I’m not willing to pay $100, $150 for it. It’s just that simple. Unless I go to an estate sale somewhere and I see it sitting there for five dollars, two dollars, I’m not going to buy it. So I’ll have to listen to it on CD or when my friends sample it and play it. But I’m not paying $100, $150 for no record. That goes completely against the principles that I learned when I began shopping for records. Because let’s face it, the original artist doesn’t get a dime out of that sale. So you’re not helping anybody or supporting the artist. So if I’m getting a used record, I’m only willing to pay a certain amount for it.
W: What projects are you working on now?
C: Right now I’m writing. Writing and writing and writing and writing. And searching for inspiration. I make beats in my spare time, but I’ve been writing to put together a studio project of live instruments. In order to do that, you have to have songs. As far as projects, I’ve got a couple of lost albums that I’ve got to bring out soon. Here Comes The Neighborhood being one of them. And In Character being another one. Albums that were made in between 2007 and 2009 that never came out.
W: When you do live instrumentation do you play all the instruments yourself or do you do it with a band?
C: Usually I play all the instruments myself just because the budget for things are a lot lower than they used to be. Only on my first album was I able to hire a guitarist and some horns and a rhythm section. Here Comes The Neighborhood, that was a great situation because I was able to collaborate with a lot of musicians from Chicago. Jeff Parker being one. Josh Abrams being another. And others in the AACM, Chicago jazz community. That was really cool. But at this point, there aren’t too many people who have the respect for my catalog, who have a hip-hop background, and also are musicians. Outside of a guy named DJ Harrison from Richmond, Virginia. And Glows in the Dark, those guys– Reggie Pace and a lot of the musicians from Richmond, Virginia. I would really love to collaborate with some of those guys on making this material. It really depends on how the songs come out that I’m writing right now. That’s where I am.