Intervew with Count Bass D for Deluxe Edition of Dwight Spitz

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

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Afropunk Day 2: The Coup, Death, Danny Brown & Chuck D

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The Coup’s Silk-E and Boots Riley

We had mixed feelings about Day 1 of Afropunk. Day 2 on the other hand was one of the most musically and politically stimulating days that I have been fortunate enough to experience.

DSC_0034The day started off with The Coup‘s leader Boots Riley announcing to the audience, “We came to funk you hard. That’s easy to do. Sometimes we funk you softly… The sweet angel of revolution whispering in your ear. What does that sound like? I don’t know. I don’t believe in angels. But if I did, it would probably sound like this…” Their set did not disappoint. One highlight was the song “5 Million Ways To Kill A C.E.O.” off 2001′s Party Music. Boots introduced the song as a cover of a traditional song he once heard Paul Robeson perform.

DSC_0043Boots then presented the group’s “fiery femme fatale” Silk-E, who began a powerful soul singing showcase by saying, “We ain’t gonna talk about. We just gonna do it.”

DSC_0047The band ended their set with an “oldie but a goodie,” “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” from their second album, 1994′s Genocide & Juice. The song, an outstanding example of hip-hop storytelling, follows a small time hustler, who learns that the real hustlers are corporate executives. Boots stepped back to allow the band’s guitar player B’nai Rebelfront unleash a filthy solo, followed by bassist J.J. Jungle doing some literal acrobatics during his own solo.

Death's Bobbie Duncan, Bobby and Dannis Hackney

Death’s Bobbie Duncan, Bobby and Dannis Hackney

The next performance we took in was from Death, a group from Detroit, who like fellow hometown hero Rodriguez was unfairly lost to obscurity before recent documentaries (A Band Called Death and Searching for Sugar Man respectively) brought the artists renewed interest and recognition.

DSC_0065DSC_0067DSC_0068Death’s unique style of protopunk was just as powerful now as it must have been in the band’s brief original career from 1971-1976. They dedicated one of their songs to David Hackney (who died of lung cancer in 2000), brother to bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis, and the group’s original guitar player.

DSC_0112DSC_0101Danny Brown was one of Afropunk’s biggest crowd-pleasers. He played some (presumably) new material from his upcoming Old album. He also returned to 2011′s critcally-acclaimed XXX, performing “Monopoly” and “Blunt After Blunt,” and leading the crowd in the unabashed ode to cunnilingus, “I Will.”

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Closing out the day for us was Chuck D, who wore a KRS-One t-shirt and performed with what he called Elements of Public Enemy or Too Much Posse. Like The Coup and Death, Chuck D demonstrated an incredible amount of energy for a veteran performer. He tossed and swung the mic, throwing it up in the air and catching it like he a quarterback passing to a wide receiver.

DSC_0181The musicians backing him up were no slouches either. He introduced drummer T-Bone Motta by asking, “Can the drummer get wicked?” That he did. Also on stage was a member of Public Enemy‘s legendary production crew, The Bomb Squad, Hank Shocklee (Chuck called him “King” Shocklee). Davy DMX, who worked as writer, producer, and DJ for early hip-hop acts Kurtis Blow, Lovebug Starski and Run-D.M.C., played bass. Guitarist Khari Wynn laid down a solo Jimi Hendrix-style by using his teeth.

DSC_0185This set was about more than just the music. Chuck D soon got into the politics that Public Enemy is known for, saying that there are “more check to check, ain’t making a check black people than ever… I ain’t talking for long, but every word I say is gonna be a motherfucker.” The group played “Black Steel In The First World” off 1988′s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us BackChuck D then said, “J. Edgar Hoover set out to destroy us as a people.” He called out radio stations Hot 97 and Power 105 for playing “hate music,” or, as he put it, “Hoover music.”

Next, he addressed a subject that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In my interview with Thoth & Lila’Angelique, we talked about how people are turning into cyborgs, constantly immersing themselves in technology, rather than connecting with other human beings. And in the recently released film, The World’s End, a group of reunited high school friends battle robots in a commentary on the insidious place of technology in our society. Chuck D said that there are going to have to be “medical services for people who keep their heads at a 45 degree angle… Be smarter than your phone. Don’t be a dumb motherfucker with a smart phone. Forget about Big Brother out to get you, people are signing up to help Big Brother.” Then he turned to the corporate suits that control the hip-hop industry, asking, “Who said it was the home of hip hop [a reference to Hot 97's motto "Where Hip-Hop Lives"]? A bunch of motherfuckers in offices, who said they could take this shit from you. The air is the last battleground. They’ve been hating on the originators of this beautiful art form… Reclaim your air. Every city in this country needs to play local artists. Man up, local artists. We are rebellious with our homage to the people and black music, which unites people all over the world.”

DSC_0210Chuck D began the most dramatic section of his performance by asking, “What did James Brown say? “Papa’s got a brand new bag.” I ain’t James Brown, but I salute him every day, cuz I’m black and I’m proud.” He then took out a bag full of magazines and newspapers, along with a barbecue lighter. First up was Rolling Stone, which he called out for not writing about real musicians. “Fuck Rolling Stone. Don’t talk about real music.” Next up was the New York Post. When it comes to hip-hop and black people, “bad news is the only news.” They got burned, along with some other publications that Chuck D considered bad for the people.

That wasn’t the end, though. Chuck went on to say, “I don’t like the way we’ve allowed radio stations to talk bad about our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. They’ve disrespected the classic artists: DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, Grandmaster Flash…” Then came one of Public Enemy’s best and most well known songs, “Fight The Power,” which he introduced by saying, “We went right to a Klan rally in ’97 and played this song…” Next, he paid tribute to his DJ, DJ Lord, asking, “Before there was an MC, who’d we pay attention to? The DJ. DJs were gods.” DJ Lord then displayed some virtuosic skills on the turntables. Concluding the show, Chuck D said, “You hold this microphone like an instrument. You don’t give a microphone to a motherfucker who can’t, like Rakim says, move the crowd… I don’t smoke shit. I don’t drink. But I smoke the fucking stage.” Few in the audience could have disagreed with that statement.

-Jesse Brent and Adam Wechsler

Afropunk Day 1: Corporate Punk and The Skins

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The Skins guitarist Daisy Spencer

The consumerist appropriation of punk rock occurred early on in its history. As The Clash put it in “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”: “The new groups are not concerned/With what there is to be learned/They got Burton suits, ha, you think it’s funny/Turning rebellion into money.” The website for the Afropunk Festival states, “the word AFROPUNK itself has become synonymous with open-minded, non-conforming and unconventional, placing the institution at the epicenter of urban culture inspired by alternative music.” Undeniably, the Festival has a great lineup, and a strong emphasis on diversity and artists with a political message. Unfortunately, Afropunk is also a corporate-sponsored event, which relies on companies like Red Bull and Absolut Vodka to keep the price of admission free. That corporate sponsorship undermines the admirable political messages of artists like Chuck D and The Coup. It also means that the speakers are turned up to unreasonable volumes (for some reason this always, in my experience at least, is the case at corporate-sponsored concerts), making the entire Commodore Barry Park deafening. And security guards in tuxedos (whoever made that costume decision for the month of August is a real jerk) guard the entrances. These might seem like small bones to pick, but it does leave the festival with a bit to be desired, especially when (on day one at least) some of the acts sounded like imitators of Korn, and DJs, at extreme volumes inexplicably ruined songs like “Billy Jean” and “All About the Benjamins” by altering them with discordant electronic effects.

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Siblings Kaya, Reef & Bayli Mckeithan

Fortunately, there was at least one group that straight-up rocked, playing a strong, high energy set of blistering punk/soul/hip-hop. The Skins are a group of mostly teenagers (and three of them are siblings) from Brooklyn. Adam and I caught up with the group’s lead singer, Bayli Mckeithan after their show. Bayli led the group in a cover of Kanye West‘s “Black Skinhead,” and introduced some of the band’s songs by yelling out, “We are all artists!” and “This is dedicated to all my soldiers. Not military soldiers, per se, but just soldiers.” This is definitely a young band to keep an eye on. Talking to Bayli made me feel a bit curmudgeonly for my thoughts in the previous paragraph. The whole experience has been fun and awesome for her, and the band, and it’s hard to see things otherwise when watching them perform or talking to them.

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WESU: How long have you been playing together?

Bayli: Just coming up on two years actually now.

WESU: Where are you from?

Bayli: We’re from Brooklyn. I live ten minutes from here. And my siblings, the bass player and the drummer, we all live together.

WESU: Did you always play music together as a family?

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Bayli: We always jammed, and that’s how the band started. We always jammed together in my basement, which is where we rehearse now. And then Daisy and Russell, we met. We always used to see each other at school, and then we met there.

WESU: What school?

Bayli: The School of Rock. It’s a real thing.

WESU: Are you signed to anybody?

Bayli: Well, we’re talking to labels.

WESU: Major labels?

Bayli: We’re talking to major and indie labels. That will probably be happening very soon. That’s what we’re excited about.

WESU: Have you released anything yet?

Bayli: We released an EP when we first started– maybe a year and a half ago. We’ve done a lot of singles and some videos. And we’re going to be releasing another EP, I think, in the coming months.

WESU: I loved your cover of “Black Skinhead.” That was so cool.

WESU: Yeah, definitely ballsy. Better than the recording.

Bayli: That’s so sweet. Thank you. We love Yeezus. We used to cover “Mercy” up until today. I guess we just love Kanye.

WESU: Would you say that you’re a punk band, or how would you classify yourself?

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Bayli with guitarist Russell Chell

Bayli: I would definitely say that we have the rock foundation. We’re a rock band. But we try to incorporate all these genres that we listen to, like punk, jazz, soul, of course classic rock and hip-hop. We try to mesh all those together.

WESU: Who would you say your biggest influences are?

Bayli: I love Amy Winehouse. As a band, we love Jane’s Addiction and Led Zeppelin, Sabbath. A lot of classic rock guys. We love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Shit like that. Vocally, I love ’30s and ’40s jazz singers like Nat King Cole, Sarah VaughanI just really like jazz singers. Soul singers, of course, like Aretha Franklin. Janis, of course.

WESU: So have you been singing your whole life?

Bayli: I only really started singing a few years ago. Like I said, we all went to music school. I started taking guitar lessons. We had these recitals, and I would see someone have a cover show of The Beatles or Bob Marley. So I started singing there maybe three or four years ago. I heard Gladys Knight‘s “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination.” That inspired me to start singing.

WESU: Anyone here that you’re a big fan of?

Bayli: The Heavy. They just played. We toured with them. They’re the only band we ever toured with. We’ve done a US tour, cross country. They’re awesome. Definitely Le1f. I love Le1f. He was awesome. There are a lot of great great great bands. London Souls. There are some really great bands here. I’m so lucky to be playing.

WESU: I never heard of you until today, but we loved your show.

Bayli: We’re relatively new still, I guess. And I guess we’re just trying to get out there. Since two years, we’ve come so far. Literally, we were starting in the basement. And we just came back from LA, playing for writers and producers. So I feel very lucky. It’s been a really fun experience. And I know it’s going to get more amazing.

WESU: Are you doing anything other than music?

Bayli: I’m an art student. I go to Pratt Institute. And I’ve been to art school my entire life. I still paint when I have time. Mostly, we’re all into music.

WESU: Are you the oldest sibling?

Bayli: No. We have an older sibling. She’s not in the band. I’m nineteen. My sister who’s the bass player, Kaya just turned eighteen. My brother is fourteen years old, our drummer.

WESU: So are all of you teenagers?

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Bayli: Russell, one of our guitarists, he’s twenty-one.

WESU: Do you have a Soundcloud or website?

Bayli: Our website is theskinsband.com.

WESU: You designed this yourself (Bayli is wearing overalls with beads glued on in the shape of an upside down cross on the back)?

Bayli: I did this last night. So that was fun. My mother was like, “You should put an upside down cross on the back.” So that’s my mom. I will not take credit. It was so fun playing here. I love it here. Awesome atmosphere. I guess all festivals are.

-Jesse Brent and Adam Wechsler