When Rawkus Records closed their doors this season, hip-hop fans by and large were hurt. It also meant the end of a great notion, the saving grace to Hip-Hop music. That same excitement that was prevalent in those early Rawkus releases might very well be what’s to come over at Halftooth Records.
Kenn Starr and Oddisee are the promising future of Halftooth. It’s Oddisee’s supreme production, and Kenn’s bold lyrical delivery that have people running to checkout the label’s debut compilation: “You Don’t Know the Half.”
But these aren’t just scooped up newcomers. Both of these dudes have deep visions, and interesting experience that will help make the future bright, each in their own right. Rawkus and similar recording homes might be gone. But it’s our civic duty as Hip-Hoppers to stop, support and investigate new budding independent music houses when they start with such hot product. Check it out as both of these visionaries talk about the first time they were able to get up, future solo projects, and the battle to put D.C. on the Hip-Hop map for good this time.
AllHipHop: I have heard that you’re kind of inspired by the underappreciated MC, what do you mean, and why is that?
Kenn Starr: When I say, lesser known lyricist, it’s in terms of the mainstream. Really, cats like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Pharohe Monch, Ras Kass. The people who really inspire me are the cats who make the type of music [that] I make, but have managed to attain a certain level of mainstream success without sacrificing their artistic integrity, that’s really big to me. They stayed trued to themselves.
AllHipHop: I was mentioning your single to some people the other day. They started laughing at your name. Initially, I didn’t get the connection to the Clinton trials. Why’d you go that route?
Kenn Starr: Actually it was just a nickname I had that stuck with me. When the whole Clinton scandal jumped off, it really stuck, because the name was in the news everyday. From that point on, I’m stuck with the name. It kinda worked out. Because what I tell people now is that the Starr Report had explicit details of Clinton and Lewinsky’s sexual encounters and all that. I’m at the same level with detail and vivid imagery to my writing. It kind of all works out. Plus, he went after the President – a seemingly untouchable dude, it just goes to show, anybody can be touched. I feel like I bring the same thing to the industry – regardless of who you are, you can still get served.
AllHipHop: I know you had a big album release party in New York a few weeks back. How’s the response in the Big Apple for two cats from the Metro DC area?
Kenn Starr: The response has been great. I honestly feel that if people didn’t [already know I was from the South], they wouldn’t know. I’m not with a country accent like a lot of my peoples from VA. I been so involved with Hip-Hop at an early age, a lot of people think I’m from New York because of the accent or my style of my rap. It’s just that the influence of New York Hip-Hop is so strong, and since an early age, it’s all I’ve known.
AllHipHop: How did you come into the Halftooth picture?
Kenn Starr: Oddisee put me in a position where I was album to submit some tracks to the “You Don’t Know the Half” compilation. They really liked what they heard, and wanted to do something for the future because they had another artist they had tried to sign, but that didn’t really work out, which made room for me.
AllHipHop: From the bulk of work you did on the compilation, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a full LP from you soon. How far along are you with that?
Kenn Starr: Right now, it’s just the beginning stages. I’m really taking my time with this one. Because you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s scheduled to come out late this year after solo projects from Wordsworth in June, and Oddisee in the Fall.
AllHipHop: “If” is just a mind-blowing track. How did that come about, because it’s incredible on both your parts?
Oddisee: I’ll be real with you man. A lot of the beats that I make, almost don’t make it out to other MC’s. That’s when I know when I got really good stuff in my hands, when I get selfish and wanna keep it for myself. I was talking to Bahamadia [recently], and I had sent her a beat CD. She liked a few, and I asked if I could hop on one of the tracks. I told her I rhymed, and she said, “Yeah, I can tell. Because something about the way the drum patterns are, they know to make it accompany the MC. A lot of producers that just produce are too instrumental and don’t leave room for an artist to do they thing.” So when I do a beat like that, it naturally speaks to me lyrically. Making the beat, it was kind of pre-destined for the incredible way that Kenn laced it, and Asheru and Talib.
Kenn Starr: Just the song, listening to the track. It’s soulful. It’s the type of beat that just evokes emotion in you when you hear it, from the vocal sample. We just took that concept and ran with it. We all took our own perspectives too.
AllHipHop: You both are in this crew, Low Budget. What’s that about?
Kenn Starr: I met [him] by way of another MC/Producer that’s in our crew by the name of Shawn Born. He introduced me to Oddisee and a lot of other cats in the crew like Kev Brown and Cy Young, Critically Acclaimed. Basically, we been doin’ joints since then. That’s the beautiful thing about the crew, we all share a love for the same kind of Hip-Hop and the chemistry is just there.
Oddisee: We go back around 1999. I didn’t learn how to make beats or rhyme anything until [then]. We started doing college radio at University of Maryland. We’re trying to put together a Low Budget tour. We’re a couple steps away from that, but it’ll go down.
AllHipHop: You had an interesting start, working with Gary Shider of P-Funk, that’s crazy!
Oddisee: He lived in my neighborhood, lived down the street. I grew up with his son. He taught me how to use a studio, how to work a board, play keys, and arrange on A-Dat. Everything old school and analog. There was no looping. If we wanted to make a beat, we sat there and played it for five minutes straight. He basically my foundation on studio recording and music. It was a blessing to be raised around him and his son. He taught me how older music was done before I went into electronic music. Learning from the people we sample from really helped.
AllHipHop: When you look at history, and there’s a new label with a central producer, both the label and producer are in a position to just go large. How’s that feel and what do you intend to do?
Oddisee: Man, it’s a blessing in more ways than one. I appreciate it and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I prefer to start with something from the ground on up because it gives you that creative control that something already established wouldn’t have. Because [that] comes with so many pre-requisites. Working with Halftooth to [make big decisions], it was on the job training - becoming more than a beat-maker, but becoming a producer. It was great.
AllHipHop: There is a such a talent pool in the greater DC area with you all, Asheru, on and on. How does it feel to break the clog loose and show what’s really going on down there?
Oddisee: It’s real powerful. It takes people like you to bring to my attention that we are achieving that. Because, to be honest with you, the Washington Metropolitan area, if you guys didn’t say it, I wouldn’t believe. Because the reviews that they’re showing in the magazines and the papers are giving us a negative aspect. [They’re] basically saying the exact opposite of what you’re saying. We get articles saying “Nothing from DC makes it out of DC.” It really doesn’t register until someone outside of the area says something. I’m honored to be at the forefront. It’s gotta get put on the map eventually.