Friday, June 27, 2008

Band of the Week


"What I say don't mean as much as what I do..."

In order to speak on the issues of the world and our government you must first see and experience the alternative. There is no way to comprehend freedom and all of its responsibilities without first traveling to other countries. After you have experienced life in Southeast Asia or Ecuador then you can write about solution, adventure, justice, and unknown sexually transmitted diseases. You can write your hidden gem, a clusterbomb, brightly colored and waiting to explode.

Chicago emcee Alltruisms, member of the Giraffe Nuts crew, has traveled world and written his debut album in various countries and in various states of mind. On Clusterbombs (Gravel Records, July 1st), he has reached out to the Chicago hip hop community found some of the top producers in the business. With tracks produced by Chicago's Earmint, Maker, K-Kruz, 5th Element, and Kaz1 as well as New York's J-Zone and Ohio's Dj PRZM (who passed away just over a year ago from a heart condition), Alltru's debut is not short on beats. With such a wide range of producers you might expect to hear a lack of connection between tracks, but he pulls it a together with his tight rhymes. Their is also an overwhelming sense of jazz on this album, especially in Maker's "Rocket's Red Glare". Horns and beats, guitar and scratches, Clusterbombs is a Chicago classic in waiting.

Recently, Alltruisms was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): Clusterbombs is your debut album, but you are not a newcomer. How long have you been working on Clusterbombs? Is there an overall theme to the album?
Alltruisms (AT): I was traveling in Southeast Asia and New Zealand from Feb. 2005 through May 2006. 5 of the songs existed before that trip, but they were rewritten and rerecorded after I came back. All the other songs were written between May 06 and December 07, when I finished the album and left to travel in Ecuador. As far as theme, the title theme is the similarity between Cluster bombs and rappers. Think of the slang, they "drop", many at once, and need "spins" to be able to "blow up" upon release. Some do, but many don't, and sit there, waiting to be "picked up" by an unsuspecting child in a field in Laos, or a music fan in a record store in Chicago. I wrote 2 title tracks, one is specifically about the munitions, Laos, and the places I visited, and the other expands on this comparison. As for a theme of the album, it follows my back and forth of traveling and returning, juxtaposing the stories and concerns I have in those 2 different situations.

OA: Gary G. of Fourty/4/Media has made another incredible cover. How did choose 44 and were you happy with the results and 44 in general?
AT: Verbal Kent put me into contact with Gary. Gary also did the artwork for VK's new album "Fist Shaking". I'm extremely happy with how the art came out. I had the idea in my head to show a person standing in a deserted field with bombs and records. And I had the bombshell logo in mind. But I'm not a visual artist, so Gary brought it all to life far beyond what I imagined.

OA: You have enlisted some of the top production talent in the city with Maker, Kaz1, K-Kruz, Earmint, 5th Element, J-Zone (New York), and Overflo, and it gives the album a very eclectic feel. Why did you decide to have different tracks produced by different people as opposed to just one one beat creator?
AT: It's just really difficult to find an album's worth of beats that I like from any one producer. Also, having one producer do an entire album risks monotony. At the same time, having many producers risks an album that doesn't sound cohesive, but I trust my skills as an arranger...The process is an assembly line, I want to get as many beats as I like ASAP so I can immediately make songs out of those beats. And it's unlikely that one producer will have 6 available beats that I like right now, but more likely that 4 producers will each have a beat or 2.

OA: Speaking of Chicago Hip Hop, it seems like a clusterbomb itself, all of this quality music dropping all at once. What are your thoughts on the Chicago scene? Do you think this success of Lupe Fiasco, Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Kayne, etc will help you in anyway (even though they are making hipster rap)?
AT: It's interesting that you describe those artists as hipster rap. I think that a lot of music fans who would be demographed as hipsters, people who pride themselves on exotic and eclectic music tastes, are really pretty conservative in the type of hip hop they're willing to listen to. It's either the type of people you listed, or it's Clipse and coke rap, or it's stuff from '95 or earlier. Hopefully that will expand with time... I would describe the people you listed as pop music first and foremost. There is rapping on it, but we've long passed the point where there can't be rapping on a pop song. And I think pop music is, by definition, something for a lower common denominator of people, where more people may like it, but the people in that mass don't have as intense of a connection with the music, except maybe the 12-year olds. I see how people are excited by something that image-wise, and sonically, seems different than boring mainstream rap. But to me, content-wise, I don't see how Kid Sister and the Cool Kids talking about nails and low rider bikes is very different from mainstream rap or R&B songs about clothes and cars. Kanye is still saying "wait till I get my money right," and even Lupe's old music was about guns, drugs and hos... Will these groups' success help me? It will if lots of people read and hear my name next to theirs. You're doing your part, thanks for that.

OA: How did you first get involved with Giraffe Nuts? What's next for the group?
AT: I can't really talk about how I got involved with GN, as the statute of limitations hasn't run out yet. I've been continuing to break in to the Adler Sanitarium to meet with "Dr." Murphy and the group, and work on the GN sequel. It's called "Debbie Travis: she's dead", although you wouldn't know it by the ongoing conversations Robert Travis continues to have with her.

OA: After you finished the album you traveled to Colombia. What was that like, and has that experience affected your music in anyway?
AT: It's affected my music because it's reinforced the view I have on my album, that hip hop, and American popular culture in general, are artforms that the whole world wants to take part in. I also love Cumbia music now.

One story that sticks with me...I have a Colombian friend here, and he put me in contact with his friend, who teaches 9th graders English in a public school in Medellin (ex Pablo Escobar). So I go to this 9th grade English class so the kids can have someone to practice English with. Of course they had no interest in that, but I speak some Spanish so I told them to ask me any questions they might have about anything. Their first 3 questions were "what's the image of Colombia in the U.S.?" "What do People in the U.S. Think about the potential free trade agreement with Colombia?" and after the teacher told them to ask a less political question, "how has racism affected you?" And then they said they liked the Wu Tang hat I was wearing

I was actually in Ecuador for 3 and a half months, and in Colombia for only 17 days. I crossed from Ecuador to Colombia soon after the incident where the Colombian army killed the #2 of the FARC (the main left-wing Guerrilla army in Colombia), at his hideout which was in Ecuadorian territory. So there was a whole brouhaha, diplomatic relations temporarily suspended. But as a tourist there it's very normal, although some places are off-limits. I spoke enough Spanish to be able to shrug off the policemen who wanted a bribe from me for not carrying my passport .

OA: What's next for Alltruisms?
AT: I'm currently working on my next album, which will be called "Travel VS. Rap", and I intend to have it finished before leaving again. Also in the works are the GN sequel, and a project by The Unhappyest, which includes myself, Verbal Kent, Rusty Chains and Lance Ambu. I plan to travel abroad again in October when my job ends, possibly through Mexico and Central America, keep improving my Spanish. But those plans might change if I have a lot going on musically, we'll see.

Bonus Questions:
OA: If you drink coffee, what was the coffee like in Colombia?
AT: It's spectacular. Juan Valdez (the man from the commercials) is the Colombian version of starbucks, good coffee there. And in Colombia, anywhere there's people there's micro-capitalism, and there are many people on the street selling tinto (coffee) out of thermoses. it's poured into 4 ounce plastic cups, costs about 15 cents, and always has a lot of sugar, no milk.

OA: Top 5 emcee's of all-time? (I know it's a tough one!)
AT: Funny you should ask, I've actually had this in my head for a long time
5: Rakim – He single-handily advanced the art of rapping more than anyone else
4: Nas - the ultimate street poet, he blows my mind to this day
3: Biggie - the most charismatic emcee ever, it's not even close
2: Ghostface - he made it allowable for rappers to force listeners to work a little to get it
1: Ice Cube ('93 and earlier) – A true SONGWRITER who described his life and environment in its full range of emotions

Listen to: Nine-Digit # (mp3) and Blindfolded (mp3) and The Bird's and The Bees (mp3)

For more information on Alltruisms please visit his website. If you pre-order Clusterbombs here before July 1st you will receive an instrumental version of the album for free (it's only $8.99!!). Also, you can stream the album here.

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