Interview by Gentle Jones for ALLHIPHOP
I first met MC Sole at Scribble Jam in 2000, the hilarious one where Sage Francis won the MC battle disguised as the Soundman. Sole told me way back then that he felt you can't be a well-rounded MC if all you write are battle raps. Since then he continues to break with many hip-hop traditions while leaving behind a body of work that is undeniable. Sole is best known as the founder of Anticon records, a label that gained worldwide recognition under his guidance. Sole eventually left the label he created, and was forced to sue to get back his catalog. Now he hangs his hat with the embattled Fake Four label, owned by currently imprisoned Ceschi Ramos. His sophomore instrumental album WHITENOISE “nomoredystopias” was created with his wife, Yasamin, and is a wild ride of analog samples and plaintive drum programming showcasing the creative mind of one of Hip-Hop’s most interesting artists, who’s grown from an obscure New England solo act to international boss.
Gentle Jones: Have you and your wife worked on records together before? How is the experience?
MC Sole: Every once in a while I’ll be stuck on a beat and I’ll ask her to help finish a track. Her preferred genre is electronic music and dance, so I always want her input on beats cuz that’s her shit. She contributed to Mansbestfriend3, Desert Eagle, a couple records. With WHITENOISE, I was happy with where I got it on my own and asked if she would play on everything and she did and it came out awesome. We’re currently working on another instrumental project that will be more collaborative. I love working with her, we’ve been together over a decade so the idea now of us using occasional free time to make music is an awesome way for us to hang out and be creative. I would love if we built up this instrumental project to be something we could tour on together, score films, have excuses to take working vacations in cabins, etc.
Gentle Jones: Have you grown musically through the making of No More Dystopias?
MC Sole: For sure. This music was actually the hardest music I’ve put out, its music I’ve been working on for years. It’s a lot easier for me to rap on someone else’s beat and know it’s good, but when I’m making my own music on my own sometimes I over-think things and implode...that’s kinda why I had to call Yasamin in in the end. That said I have learned a lot about music theory, song structures, melodies, really learned a shit load about making music on an iPad, and expanding the way I’m using my equipment to make things feel more organic. Through all of this I also started having revelations about my live performance, so I abandoned Ableton/laptop and now I’m mostly rocking my SP 404 sampler instead.
Gentle Jones: Compare the equipment you used to record your early Northern Exposure projects to how you created Whitenoise?
MC Sole: Northern exposure... I don’t even know what kinda sampler that was made with... SP900 maybe, was the MPC 3000 even out by then? We recorded vocals/beats on ADAT, mixed in a pretty expensive studio, released on tape.
Whitenoise was recorded on a computer but everything was run through an old school analog 8 track. The drums were done mostly in Ableton. The music and tones were all made running samplers/keyboards/iPad shit through this noise rig... Kaoss pad, reverb pedals, delay, 90s multi effects processors, SP 404 sampler, Metal Muff pedal, etc. Whitenoise is basically running electronic shit through a guitar rig.
Gentle Jones: How did you come up with the title WHITENOISE?
MC Sole: Lots of reasons. Mainly because that’s what I like the most about my instrumental music, is creating tones, and using various tape/noise textures to make digital stuff come alive, to make it feel real. I got the original idea of Whitenoise from a Dellillo novel, people say it’s the first postmodern novel...that’s prolly why I latched onto it even though I didn’t know what post modernism was at the time... I think the term Whitenoise really describes the world we live in... It’s hard for me to even focus long enough to finish a sentence anymore... so fucking distracted all the time... overwhelmed with Whitenoise....
VIDEO: WHITENOISE - Fallujah & The Military Entertainment Complex
Gentle Jones: Are you currently with a label?
MC Sole: I count myself as part of the Fake Four world, but that’s more of an emotional support/ mutual aid relationship then a straight label/artist relationship. I release most of my music on my own, DIY style, through my website and Revolver distribution. I could be linking up with an overseas partner for label stuff pretty soon & might even put my next album out on another label. Anything goes, as long as it makes sense. I’ll work with a label if they can do things for me I can’t do for myself.
Gentle Jones: How has your relationship with Fake Four changed since Ceschi’s incarceration?
MC Sole: I guess its stronger now. Last time I put out a record with Fake Four was 2010 (Hello Cruel World), but me and Ceschi have stayed in pretty constant contact, communicating, helping each other when we could. I’ve said it a million times, when I was down and out, had nowhere to turn, felt like my career was over, Anticon situation was in the dump... Fake Four stepped in and had my back, they put me on awesome tours, promoted the fuck out of my music, and welcomed me into one of the last-great-DIY-experimental-communities in rap! Now that he is the one in trouble I’m happy to do whatever I can to shed light on his case and make his time in there as bearable as possible. I talk to David and Jeep now, they run the label in his absence... its so heart wrenching to think of Ceschi in prison, who is literally the nicest guy I know. Even writing this I realize I haven’t written to him, and I’m a shitty friend for that. I’ll do it today.
Gentle Jones: Has a major label ever approached you for a project?
MC Sole: Not really, to be honest. From the moment I stepped in the game I had my middle fingers up, no management, no bullshit. Even before I was very political, dealing with me would always be more difficult for labels then its worth, every time I’ve asked a label for my masters back I can always sense a feeling of relief, “Oh thank god no more of this asshole”. I think if motherfuckers thought they could make money out of me they woulda stepped up though.
Gentle Jones: Do you consider yourself an MC?
MC Sole: Yeah sure. I’m a rapper. Not so sure I wanna be something like a “master of ceremonies” though. What kind of ceremony should I be “mastering?” I’d turn it around... most of these motherfuckers ain’t MC’s, they’re Instagram accounts that shit out music!
Gentle Jones: In the industry today who do you consider your peers? Whose current work inspires you?
MC Sole: My peers, B. Dolan, Sage Francis, Busdriver, Astronautalis, Ceschi, Bleubird, Jel, Nosdam, Jared Paul. All for different reasons, but those are who I consider my peers to be. Other than them I’m always inspired by Godspeed You Black Emperor, Witch House stuff, Pictureplane, really into the new anarcho-folk stuff like Andrew Jackson Jihad and Ramshackle Glory, gangster rap. I grew up on NWA, Spice One, my favorite rapper growing up was Ice Cube (big surprise). Nowadays I really like listening to overproduced rap albums, stuff like Yeezus, Jay Z, I like listening the new rappers to hear what kinda styles/beats they are rocking, the lyrics are generally awful, but it still inspires me. Trae the Truth, 2009 Lil B, Future, fuck it even Chief Keef, whatever, I can listen to anything really.
Gentle Jones: Do you think the current “Battle Rap” event trend is good for Hip-Hop?
MC Sole: No, not really. It’s just re reinforcing the worst things about hip hop culture; ego, racism, misogyny. When I was coming up, a freestyle battle was how you settled disputes, it’s how you communicated with other artists, it’s something you did for fun, and also for competition. It’s a skill you had to keep sharp because if you wanted to say you were the shit you had to defend it. Somewhere in the past 20 years the term freestyle started to mean, “verse I have laying around” and battle became something you wrote in advance! I think its wack as fuck. Not only does it enable people who can’t write a song to save their lives to feel like mini celebs on a shitty reality show, most of these grind time kind of battles I’ve seen are just “racist slam poetry.”
Gentle Jones: I’ve seen a picture of you performing as a teenager with house music legend Robin S., tell me how that happened?
MC Sole: Hahaha. Wow. I won a rap battle contest to perform with Robin S at a local club called BBC (in Portland, Maine). In the contest I tied with some R&B group that I was friends with, so together we had to put together a set and then I got to perform a rendition of “Show Me Love” with Robin S. I was 15 or so. It was hilarious and shitty.
Gentle Jones: Did you get to meet Robin S?
MC Sole: I met her. She was nice. That’s all I remember. My brain wasn’t fully formed at the time. I just remember I got to do one of those shitty Heavy-D esque rap verses at the end of show me love and people went crazy! This wasn't my first show. I had performed many times before that. I performed weekly at the local dance club, put on shows at skate parks, etc. But this may have been the first time I opened for someone with a hit record.
Gentle Jones: Did you sue your old label Anticon? Did you win?
MC Sole: About 4 years ago I entered into arbitration (out of court way of dealing with “internal” corporate/legal issues) to get the legal rights to all my music back from the label and to repudiate my shared in the company. I got my stuff back and now I earn more money from my music than ever and it’s amazing! But it’s hard to describe something as traumatic as that, winning. It feels like a win but it also represents a kind of failure.
Gentle Jones: How has the internet changed the game and how important are services like Sound Exchange to you as an artist?
MC Sole: The internet changed everything. It’s like the plow. It’s made everything more difficult, and cheapened everything as well. What it means to be a musician has been changed a lot, and I’d argue that’s technology not just the internet. Before you’d have to save up to buy equipment, thousands of dollars, then to get it out would cost additional thousands. It was a serious venture, you were fully invested in it, but when you released music people bought it. My first 12” sold 2,000 copies, imagine some no name selling 2,000 copies today. I sold 10,000 copies of Bottle of Humans without sending out a single promo! Then when Indy began creeping into the more mainstream world everything changed, you had publicists, distributors, booking agents, everybody getting a cut... then everything imploded people stopped buying music, anyone with a laptop could make an album, but the labels and related industries still were there. If I could sell 10,000 copies of a new CD out the box, today, I’d buy a house tomorrow with the money, but it’s just not like that. People think that the internet has made music more democratic but it doesn’t, blogs only wanna post what will drive traffic, what drives traffic is what’s popular, what’s popular is usually a mini update on something else... with hip-hop it’s even worse, labels do this “ghost A&R” thing like they did with artists like Odd Future, even cats like Action Bronson, Death Gripz, etc. They’ll be signed to a label but no one will know, and they’ll market them like they are underground and fans can’t tell the difference... motherfuckers just sop up whatever is put down in front of them! It’s harder than ever for new artists to break through if you ask me. I don’t fuck with sound exchange, but I do earn money from streaming revenues, it currently counts for about 15% of my digital revenue....
The positives of it, and I’m not even convinced it’s positive.... you can make something in your bedroom and put it out in the same day. There are people in the world who pay for mp3s. You can use social media to reinforce the alienation of American society while selling shit to your fans... you can have a website that sells stuff.... you can sell stuff on Bandcamp... you can make videos.... best thing about this sort of digital technology is that it does, by its very nature want to cut out the old middlemen (labels, publicists, etc.) Problem is, the digital technology, the internet, becomes the middleman for the world.
Gentle Jones: What direction do you think American music is heading?
MC Sole: We’ve become so decadent. Our music is escapist and it doesn’t reflect any sort of reality whatsoever. Music helps us make sense of a situation, when the popular culture can’t even communicate what is on people’s minds, their hopes/fears, etc. people ain’t gonna question shit, the power structure stays in place. There are people doing cool music in America, but not many people, what becomes popular is not the good/creative/political stuff... it’s not a good trend.... some of the most successful Indy artists these days are reality stars and YouTube viral celebs... we’re doomed.
Gentle Jones: Where have you found the most receptive audiences to your musical vision, in the U.S. or overseas?
MC Sole: I mean... nothing beats a dope LA show to be honest. For some reason southern California has always been my favorite place to play. That said; yeah consistently Europe, Australia, Japan are always the best shows... I have better shows in Canada then the U.S., typically.... people care about culture overseas and there is a radical infrastructure that supports it... here its Clearchannel or bust....
Gentle Jones: Do you think there is a “homemade” music movement right now?
MC Sole: Is that an official name? Yeah of course, lot of music is being made at home, most of it; it’s been that way for 15 years. There would be no DIY rap movement, no beat scene, no punk bands, etc. were it not for home music, homemade music is without a doubt, the future... motherfuckers don’t need a studio with a million dollars’ worth of great to make an album that will be lucky to sell 200 copies, that’s for sure! When I think of homemade music I think of people like Walter Gross, who are sitting at home making this Woodie Guthrie noise shit, totally original, releasing it on their own, and making more music and not giving a fuck.