On the Record and Above the Law With Cold187um
In the beginning was the Groove. Flowing from the hard, metal-edged punch of Parliament and Funkadelic to the satin-n-lace, bedroom eyed silky smoove ballads of Marvin Gaye, Barry White, and Millie Jackson to the booty-boomin’ dance floor anthems of The Jacksons and Prince, the Groove came in many shapes, sizes, sounds, and colors throughout the decades.
But in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, the Groove landed in the gang-torn hamlet of Compton, California and assumed a form that came to be known as G-Funk. And the Groove was good. And oh, how the people rejoiced and danced. And then they danced some more. And the man behind the Groove’s latest form was Big Hutch from the old school hip-hop outfit Above the Law, but you can now call him Cold187um.
Two decades later, Cold187um is largely acknowledged by the hip-hop history books as the main architect behind the G-Funk sound, which basically defined the sound of West Coast rap in the early ‘90s, even if Dr. Dre’s The Chronic popularized the style. But chicken-or-the-egg quibbling aside, it’s 2012 and while the Artist Formerly Known as Big Hutch remains proud of his legacy, he’s not resting on his past glories.
Now signed to Detroit’s legendary Psychopathic Records, the kingdom of horrorcore icons Insane Clown Posse, Cold187um has just released a concept album called The Only Solution, a hip hop tale about the merry adventures of The Psychopathic Assassin and his bloody trade. Imagine “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song” directed by George Romero (director of “Night of the Living Dead”) and you might have an idea of what to expect with this flat-out fun record that will wag yo’ ass and give you nightmares.
We caught up with Cold187um over the phone to discuss his new home at Psychopathic Records, the muddled history of G-Funk, and the mysterious character on The Only Solution known as the Black Swan.
AllHipHop.com: There hasn’t been a really good hip-hop concept album in a long time. Where did the story for “The Only Solution” come from?
Cold 187um: Me and Violent J (of Insane Clown Posse) conceived the whole idea. He said he wanted to do a project with me and I knew that Psychopathic Records did a lot of albums that were pretty artsy and so I was a bit unsure as to where I’d fit in at first. Then I was on the tour bus on the “American Psycho” tour and we were talking and I said “What if I did a storytelling album?” That’s one of my great assets as an MC—I’ve always been able to tell a lot of dope stories. So I thought “What if I could do a whole record like that?” But the hook would be that I would be my own self in it, as a killer or an assassin, so I came up with the concept of the Psychopathic Assassin. It would be stories through the eyes of a killer. When we got off the tour, (Violent J) and I went back and forth over the idea and came up with this notion that we would capture the whole temperament of an assassin—how he became one, how he grew up, that whole mental scope of how he turned into an assassin. When we started shaping the actual project, we said we wanted him to do 12 different hits for whatever reason. Y’know, like, he’d go kill this person for this price. We put the vigilante twist on it because we wanted to make it a more personal quest he had, so that even though he was getting paid, he had this vendetta on every mission he went on. So I said to Violent J, “You go write-up the whole synopsis or scene that you want set up in each song or episode.” And then I was basically like a screenwriter, I’d script the whole episode. So if you look at “Born to Kill,” it was written like the intro of the movie, where it sets up everything that you’re about to hear. People will say “This kid (in the song) is crazy” but the last verse explains to you why he went crazy—he watched his father get killed right in front of him. So now you’re in his head. It’s funny because we recorded the whole album chronologically from his birth right on up to him getting called up by the agents in “Alive & Free”
AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk about that setup about when you hear Black Swan killing the Assassin’s dad. Where did you get the name Black Swan? Did you take it from that Natalie Portman ballet movie?
Cold 187um: (Laughs) No, see, when I was creating all the characters, I was trying to create kind of a ‘70s blaxploitation film, so I was trying to pick a name that would be kind of pimp-type character, so that’s how we picked the name Black Swan. We wanted a futuristic name. So that’s how we picked the characters names. I wanted them to be really cinematic but I wanted them to be surreal too.
AllHipHop.com: Were you worried that some of your old school fans would bristle at the notion of you working with Insane Clown Posse?
Cold 187um: Well, I wasn’t worried about the fan base part. I think I was more worried about how I wanted to stay me. I didn’t want to go so far left that I was no longer politically correct with my own fans. But Violent J was a big follower of Above the Law and he knew he wanted to protect the integrity of the audience that I had built with Above the Law. But I wasn’t really worried because I’m a musician first and I really respect what ICP has done in the industry. They’ve covered our records before so I really wasn’t worried about doing a disservice to my fans
AllHipHop.com: What do you think about the fact that Juggalos are now considered a gang by the FBI?
Cold 187um: Well, you know what’s crazy about that is that all the gangs I grew up with, we labeled ourselves gangs. You can’t label somebody a gang member. You have to have somebody say “Yo, we’re a gang! We’re gonna go tear shit up over here.” That’s usually how it works. But I just don’t think it’s fair because people can just label you anything. I think this is a situation that makes you realize that we’re more under control than we think we’re free. It’s like me and my homies, we hang out on the block and the police say “Hey, you guys are a gang.” And I’m like, “No, this is my brother and two cousins. We’re family.” That’s what the Juggalos call themselves—a family. So I think the FBI thing is really a violation of freedom.
AllHipHop.com: What’s interesting about The Only Solution is that you rap over beats that were used on older Psychopathic Records albums. Why did you rhyme over recycled beats instead of recording new ones?
Cold 187um: Well, see, that was the hook of it. The concept is that I would, in character, do 12 hits over 12 Psychopathic hit records. That’s the concept of the first record. It’s funny because a lot of people who are Above the Law fans have never heard a lot of the Psychopathic catalog, so they’re hearing this and going “Oh, that’s some Psychopathic shit? That’s dope!” Plus I’m paying homage to what ICP and Psychopathic have done, too.
go back in the day. It’s been acknowledged that you were one of the main architects of what became known as G-Funk. Take me back to those days when you were working at Ruthless Records and discovered that sound.
Cold 187um: How the G-Funk movement began was that I was producing for Above the Law and I was trying to be different than N.W.A. We kind of had the same concept—talking about the streets, the grind, the struggle, all of that—I just wanted to have a different atmosphere than N.W.A. had. So I went in and tried to produce sort of a groovier, funkier, more seductive sound with singing, chord progression, melodies, stuff like that. So G-Funk originated just from me trying to be different from N.W.A. N.W.A. had a colder, steel-sounding, hard edge to them and Above the Law was smooth and funky but still just as cutthroat lyrically and message-wise.
AllHipHop.com: What's so amazing about G-Funk is how pervasive it was during the '90s. It showed up in places you never expected, like in George Michael's single "Fastlove."
Cold 187um: Yeah, but where things got cloudy was when (Dr. Dre's) The Chronic came out. (Above the Law's) Black Mafia Life was done at the same time that (N.W.A.'s) Niggaz4Life was done. It's just that Black Mafia Life dropped after The Chronic, so suddenly it looked like we were chasing that sound when in fact our album had been done long before The Chronic. Dr. Dre and I worked a lot together so when I created G-Funk, it was a lot different than what he was doing and he actually took the musical theory to Death Row (Records). What a lot of people don't know is that we were supposed to be on Death Row because at that time we were al
l managed by Suge (Knight). So when Suge, Doc and all those cats were forming Death Row back in those early days, we were gonna be part of the artist roster. Then Snoop came up to us because we discovered Snoop through Warren G. When we decided to stay at Ruthless as Above the Law, Snoop and Warren G went to Death Row. That's how it all splits up. Black Mafia Life was the birth of G-Funk — you can quote Tupac (Shakur) on that. Tupac asked us what was our style of music and I told him "We call it 'G-Funk.'" But Black Mafia Life came out after The Chronic even though it was recorded long before that album because we were in a contract dispute with Sony and we were moving labels. When Above the Law left Sony and signed with Giant/Warner Brothers, The Chronic came out during that transition period. So that's where the discrepancy in history comes from you and where you get that "tomayto, tomawto" type of shit.
But if you research the records, you have to ask yourself, "How do you get from Niggaz4Life to The Chronic?" There had to something there in the middle and that was us. We were always funky and I stayed funky all throughout that whole '90s period. Dr. Dre never did that sound again—no disrespect to him. I never had a problem with them doing G-Funk. I just had a problem with them not acknowledging the origin of where it came from.
AllHipHop.com: Are you still in contact with Dre at all?
Cold 187um: No, I haven't spoken to Dre in years. I last spoke to Dre a year before I went into the penitentiary (Ed.— Cold187um went to prison in 2004 on charges of drug trafficking).
AllHipHop.com: Any final words for your homies out there?
Cold 187um: Keep your head up and grind it ‘til you find it. And go get The Only Solution. Above the Law for life, man! Oh, and come follow me on Twitter and check us out at PsychopathicRecords.com. That's how we roll!
Cold187um’s The Only Solution is available now from Psychopathic Records.