I’m feeling good, man. We put out a collectors edition of the album out here for my people in Michigan. That’s been selling well. We just re-released it with some distribution help on June 12.
How did you put the new album, Pure, together?
Well, I had made a couple of songs back in 2004. I really didn’t have any intentions of making a solo album. We were still working on Athletic Mic League stuff. I was just messing around with joints and getting some ideas. A couple of those songs back from ’04 actually made the album. But late 2005 is when the crew, AML, came to me and told me I should do some solo stuff. A lot of the cats in the crew make beats and they wanted to focus on the Lab Technicians Productions and go back to school. It’s not that they were fed up with the rap game, but things weren’t really working out the way we wanted them to. They said to me, “Can you take the reigns for a little bit?” That’s what I did. The title, “Pure,” didn’t really come to me ‘til the end of the recording process. These are songs that I thought were missing from the hip-hop game.
The album has a great flow to it. Was that a conscious decision or did that come naturally?
That was a very conscious effort. This is my first solo album, but I’ve been putting product out for awhile with AML. We try to make albums instead of just making a collection of songs. Not all classic albums, but some of the best albums, they have a certain feel to them, like ATLiens has a certain feel to it. Even if there are no interludes and things like that to separate tracks, it’s a kind of feel to an album that brings it all together. That was definitely a conscious effort. I had about 30 songs done, so I cut the songs that I felt needed to be cut and arranged them and ordered them so that it would flow. I really wanted to make this a real sonic experience that people could feel.
Why were you chosen to be the first solo artist to come out of Athletic Mic League?
I would say it’s because of my charisma. I’m a people person. You can see it when I’m on stage. I just connect with the crowd and I connect with the people. I have energy. I would like to think that I kind of embody a piece of everybody else from the Athletic Mic League. Vital is one of the dopest with the metaphors in the world. He’s on anybody’s level, from Eminem’s level to Redman’s level. I think that’s his specialty. I try to bite some of that from him. Tres is the one who the ladies love and I try to steal some of that. Vaughan T is like the analyst. He’s like the narrator of the group. Even if he didn’t experience it, he describes it so well. KT is like the spiritual side of the crew. Every time he raps or makes a beat, you can literally hear God. I try to represent that. Haircut brings the soul and the funk. It’s kind of weird that a Jewish dude brought that, but he’s a musician. He plays the bass and drums. He’s like the technical ear of the group. I try to steal some of that. Grand Cee is the streets. He reps the streets of Ann Arbor/Ypsi and the whole 734 to the fullest and so do I. I’ve known him for the longest. He’s my old school homie from way back in the day. I think they saw all those things in me so they told me to step forward.
You’ve always rhymed with Athletic Mic League. Is your solo album overdue?
It’s not really overdue. When you first start rapping, you’re obviously looking up to people that you respect and you say that you want to get to that level. Everybody that raps has dreams of doing it big. But really, it was all about the team with me. I was never like, ‘I feel stifled’ or ‘I have to break out and at least experience doing a solo album on my own.’
Really, they came to me with the idea and I didn’t really want to do it at first, but once we got started, I got into the flow and it was very natural. I was very happy and very pleased that I got the opportunity to be the first one out of the crew to do a solo album. It’s not really overdue, but I’m happy with the fact that it turned out the way it did.
You shout out some of your influences on “Pure.” What inspires you to write?
Life. Just life experiences. It could be something I see on TV. It could be somebody else’s song. It could be somebody telling me something that they’ve been through. It could be something that I’ve been through. It could be anything. It’s anything that gets the wheels turning and makes me say, “I want to write about that.” It could even be a tangent that’s not even closely related, but it sparks an emotion in me that makes me want to write.
What inspired “Moving Along”?
Getting old! (laughs) Getting old inspired that, really. I was just thinking about where I’m at right now in my life. At the time, I had just graduated from college. This was a couple of years ago. Usually when people graduate from college, they’re like, ‘Okay, now I have to get a job. Now I have to get me a nine-to-five, get a mortgage and settle down.’
Me, I never really planned on using my degree. It was a goal and I told my mom that I would do it, but when I graduated, I was never like, ‘Okay, I have to find a job.’ I graduated and got on my grind. Back then, I wasn’t getting that much money with what I was doing. We’d get by and we’d do what we needed to do with it, but it wasn’t great. I couldn’t keep working the job I was working before I graduated. I wasn’t sure where we were going, I had to pay rent and I had to pay college loans. Thinking about that made me think about how you can’t go back to when you were a kid and it was easy, when all you had to worry about was playing every day. It’s real.
Does having a job outside of hip-hop allow you to make better music because the pressure to succeed musically isn’t as urgent?
I don’t want a job. So that really doesn’t affect my music. I’m trying to live off this music. We put the pressure to succeed on ourselves. One thing is that I’m not on a label. I’m not on an actual, real, functioning label. My label is my crew. We do everything on our own. So it’s not like I feel pressure from a label either.
Even a song like “Hula Hoops” on my album, when we made it, initially it was a joke. It was like a real tongue-in-cheek approach to a song. It was something that we hadn’t done before as Athletic Mic League. We just create the music that we feel at the time, so you might not here the same thing twice from AML or the Lab Techs.
With “Hula Hoops,” the way it turned out is my man DDT, at FM98 in Detroit, heard it, loved it and started playing it on the radio. It’s kind of coincidental that that type of song is the one that people chose to get played on the radio. But still, exposure is exposure and I’m not saying nothing too crazy on the song. I like booties just as much as the next man so that song is still 100% me. I even say in the song “Rappers from my ‘hood is mad at us/‘Cause we getting rap money without talkin’ bout gat-clappin’”.
That’s true, and it was good to get that message on the radio. But as far as my job and how it dictates how I make songs, it doesn’t really play too much of a role in it. Obviously it’s helping me pay my bills, but hopefully I can get rid of it. Hopefully when I do, my music won’t change.
How frustrating is it when songs you make as a joke are taken seriously?
A little. I initially put it out on my first mixtape, The One and Only Mixtape. I didn’t even intend to put it on my album, but my crew wanted me to put it on my album, because basically for cats not familiar with AML around Detroit, that’s the only song that people knew from me. They only knew “Hula Hoops.” They didn’t even know about the Athletic Mic League. That’s kind of frustrating. But I am reaching a whole new audience.
That’s cool. I wouldn’t even say it’s frustrating. It’s kind of like a Catch 22. You have to step away from yourself a little bit in order to accomplish the bigger picture and have the audience get that message that you’re delivering. I have to get my foot in the door to get across what I want to get across.
What do you want listeners to take away from Pure?
That the album is just 100% me. I’m not trying to make “real hip-hop.” I’m not trying to make “commercial hip-hop,” “underground hip-hop”, “club music” or “trap music.” I don’t want anyone to be able to put any labels on it. I just want you to know that it’s Buff when you hear it. Obviously I want to convey a positive message versus a negative message. There are a lot of songs on here that make up me as an individual. I hope people gather that and realize that and realize that I stand out in a crowd.
When are we going to get a new Athletic Mic League album?
We’re about to start working, hopefully within the next month or so. We’re about to get in the lab and start working on the next AML album. AML was never broken up. It never will break up and it never can. We were brothers before we even started recording raps on a microphone. It goes way, way, way deeper than that with us. Even if we never even make another song, Athletic Mic League will always be together. We’re about to start working on the next album. I think people got the itch back once I got done. Yeah, we’re about to start working.
Is it hard for everyone in the group to stay on the same page?
I think it is kind of tough keeping everybody on the same page because we’re such a large group. But it’s easy because we’re talking to each other every day anyway, just to talk about what’s going on in our lives, the playoffs, anything. We hang. We’re cool. In that sense, it’s not difficult. But at times, because there’s a lot of us, it can be difficult. You don’t want to have to call six people just to see what’s up.
You worked with Guilty Simpson, Elzhi and One Be Lo on Pure. What did that mean to you?
It’s a blessing. Guilty’s one of the best. It feels good to have him be a part of my project and to have him even want to be a part of it. I had Guilty on my first mixtape. I had just met him randomly. I think this is right after Jaylib had dropped. I had met him and I had seen him around, but I never heard him spit until Jaylib. He said he liked Athletic Mic League and he had been bumping Sweats and Kicks. He drove out to Ann Arbor and laid down his verse. He said whatever we needed, he’s got us. That was cool.
And I’ve known Elzhi for awhile. One Be Lo, being the mastermind that he is, saw something in us way back then and tried to bring us all together in the original Subterraneous Crew. We’ve all been down ever since then. And these are all of my favorite MCs. I just happen to know them. And they all want to work with me. It’s cool.
How’s your relationship with One Be Lo today?
He’s a busy guy. He’s probably one of the hardest-working guys in hip-hop. He never sleeps. He’s always on the road. Even when he wasn’t getting money to do shows, he was sacrificing and going out on the road on a whim just to build relationships. I didn’t have the courage to do that. Not a lot of people do. Not a lot of people can go out there on a wing and a prayer. He’s a guy that really, really grinds. He has family and priorities the same way I have priorities. It’s not like we hang like back in the day when he was starting the Subterraneous Crew, but it’s still fam. We try to get out there in the hoop court when we can before we get too old!
Where do you see yourself fitting into the Michigan hip-hop scene?
The fact that we’re from Ann Arbor and not Detroit kind of sets us apart initially. Usually when people think of Michigan hip-hop, they think of Detroit. That’s where some of the dopest musicians in the world come from, but we’re not from there. We’re from Ann Arbor and that’s what we have to represent. I know far too many people not from Detroit that try to claim Detroit. I’m proud of my city and I think people outside of Ann Arbor see that and respect that.
It took us awhile at first to really get noticed on the scene, because we were from Ann Arbor and cats from the D had the stamp on the Michigan hip-hop scene. As far as talent-wise, it was all theirs. Once they saw what we’re doing, they respected it and it’s been love ever since. We just try to stay true to what we are and as long as we stay true to ourselves, we’re going to get respect out here because we’re not trying to portray something that we’re not.
The Thrill is Gone, your first album, is impossible to find today. What goes through your mind when you listen to that project today?
It’s funny. I feel good about it. It was a definite landmark for us. It’s a landmark for Ann Arbor hip-hop and a landmark for Michigan hip-hop. It’s funny because we were so young and all we talked about was “MC this, MC that” and “you’re so wack.” There was a conscious effort to talk about life more and relationships, women, families and growing up on Sweats and Kicks and Jungle Gym Jungle. It’s cool, but it’s funny because we were so young and we were all about the emceeing side. We weren’t as good as we are now. It’s funny.
Ideally, when would the next Athletic Mic League album drop?
Hopefully in 2008.
Will we see more solo projects from you?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I haven’t really even thought that much into it. I will always have joints. Writing and being creative is nothing for me. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready. Right now I’m working on this album, trying to get out on the road and trying to get my money up. I’m trying to set some things up in the future for us, whether it’s with Athletic Mic League or production or whatever. I’m just trying to open up as many doors as possible, and if it calls for me doing another solo album, then I’ll do that.
What do you have to do to succeed as an independent artist in today’s climate?
Get on the road, man. We’re trying to get out and go across the country. We’re also working on the distribution end of it. I didn’t feel like waiting on distribution to put the album out, especially for the people who have been waiting so long for a project from AML to come out. The collector’s edition has a black and gold cover and has an unreleased Athletic Mic League song on it, “The Way I Do.” I changed the cover and took the bonus song off and re-released it June 12. We have a couple distribution channels set up with KSD and Crosstalk and iTunes will be a go real soon.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Shout out to Now On and the whole A-Side Worldwide family. Peace and love. I got love for everybody. Those that support and those that hate, I got love for everybody. It doesn’t matter. And support it. Support the movement. Support the music. If you like it, spread the word. Thank you.