Eyedea & Abilities have been taking risks with hip-hop since they were still in high school and their new album, E&A, is the big payoff. Never bothering with college these two recorded their first album and went touring coast-to-coast with Atmosphere when they were still teenagers. But a lot has changed since then. I talked with both the man behind the boards and tables (Abilities) and the man behind the mic (Eyedea) about their new album and why they want to be the Led Zeppelin of rap. What follows are segments of each discussion.
Round One: DJ Abilities
HipHopSite: What would you like people to know about the album (E&A) as a work on the whole?
Abilities: I don’t know… it’s good (laughter). It’s probably something that they’ve never heard before, or it’s gonna be something that they haven’t heard before. It’s rhyming, DJing–it’s just good. It’s just good hip-hop music.
HHS: And compared to First Born?
Abilities: I mean, First Born, it’s a very old record. It’s kind of just a phase. We were in high school when we made it. It was just kind of like an experiment almost whereas this one is an actual representation of what him (Eyedea) and I do more. A lot of times a knock on us is that they like our live show but not necessarily the recorded version, whereas this record is definitely catching more of our live aspect–which is us. Music is live. You could perform it. We could perform everything on that record. The whole thing; we just took more effort on it too. It was just more fine-crafted.
HHS: This album definitely has more cuts and scratches than any other album these days. How important do you think that is for an album today?
Abilities: Well, for me personally, I got sick of making these DJ routines right? I was spending all this time on these DJ routines and they kill, they do really good live, but I could only perform them like three times. You know, ’cause people have seen them. It’s almost like a magic trick. Like, ‘Oh, that’s a dope trick.’ You see this trick enough times and you figure out how it’s done and you’re like, ‘It’s not impressive anymore.’ But whereas I see fuckin’ rapper motherfuckers, like I’ll see Slug do “Scapegoat,” and he’s been doing it for years and it’s still tight. You know? Or it’s like Aerosmith will still do “Walk This Way.” You know what I mean? This is like 30-years-old!
That’s another thing, other shit I’ve done previously, it’s almost like my turntables, talent and production shit was separate. Like I need to put them together so when me and this kid (Eyedea) rock we just do the song. I don’t need a separate set–we’re performing. Then it doesn’t feel like it’s an interlude to the show. When we do the show now I feel like I’m performing the entire time just like he is. It’s there. That was definitely a constant effort to make that happen. Really, this is just beginning of what it could be. ‘Cause right now it’s still just beats and cuts and I’m working on shit with the turntables that’s gonna be really integral.
HHS: Can you get into that right now?
Abilities: I mean have you heard the end of “Now,” the second song, that guitar piece?
Abilities: Well I’m gonna do more shit that’s melodic based where I might rock the whole melody through the whole song–like I’m a guitar player. Change it here, change it there, have a solo in it. That type of stuff is kind of more of where I’m going as far as turntable shit. But then always still just raw cuttin’. One thing that I like about our approach to music is that we want to do new things. We want to make a new sound. You have to have your own voice if you’re going to be anything. But there’s also the homage and there’s always this respect for just raw shit. I still practice, at least try to practice everyday, just cuttin’ raw and fresh–just working on the raw, technical ability to cut. That’s the essence as much as I’m trying to do the stuff that I feel is some of the next level shit of turntablism.
Round Two: Eyedea
HHS: Hey what’s up?
Eyedea: Pretty much disregard everything this dude just said and put my shit up.
HHS: Ha, ha. No problem man. First and foremost, on the lead single, “E&A Day” all the shit talkers are definitely put in their place. Were you singling out cats who talk shit on the Internet or was it geared towards shit talkers in general?
Eyedea: I don’t really think about the Internet as much. Early on in the Internet game, when the websites would start talking about shit, the first week of that we were reading what people thought. And then we were like, ‘We do not give a shit.’ I remember when our first single, “Pushing Buttons” came out we were reading what people think, but then we were on tour at the time and we were like, ‘We know what people think, we fuckin’ murdered it last night!’ That’s all we need, seeing what peoples’ faces look like when we get off stage. Certain people will browse the net. I don’t even read magazines. I haven’t read a music magazine in fuckin’ two years. I just really don’t pay attention to none of this shit. I know where I derive my pleasure from and I know that when we play live all my gratification comes form external sources (and) is definitely available to me when we do a show. So I don’t really fuck with any of that. So anyways, that whole approach is just people talking shit, maybe even people I knew, you know–people around me. Just in general man, don’t talk shit, I’ll fuck you up big time.
HHS: So all that counts is what the fans say at the shows right–the direct response?
Eyedea: Exactly. I mean everything counts. I don’t want to have a whole nation of critics thinking I’m a horrible musician but if that was the case, what am I going to do? I do what I do. I make my music. If they dig it, they do, if not, whatever.
HHS: I’ve been to your shows and I’ve seen that you take the time after the show to talk to the fans. What kind of conversations have you had? What are some of the most interesting things people have said to you?
Eyedea: Ah man, sometimes it’s really ill. Some of my favorite shit is just to see the look on somebody’s face, and they might be an aspiring musician themselves, when they just give me that look. They’re like ‘Man… yeah,’ and they don’t say anything. That’s my favorite shit. That’s how I am, that’s how I was and that’s how it will still be if I meet certain people–certain musicians I look up to. It’s everything from, ‘You’re songs have inspired me to live my life different,’ to ‘I fuckin’ hate your guts and I think you’re a fuckin’ disgrace to the music industry’–all of it. I welcome it all. It’s great.
HHS: Back to the album, Abilities was just telling me that he hits with the beats first and then you write from that. So how does that process go as far as selecting beats?
Eyedea: We were working on it everyday. We would take the weekends and go do separate things and by Monday or whatever he would have new beats. He’s like, ‘Look at ‘em,’ ‘What do you think of this?’ I mean he probably made shit that he didn’t even play me ’cause it wasn’t even there. Like he probably made shit that didn’t even get played. But out of the shit that did get played, we sat down together and were like, ‘Is this it?’ Is it raw?’ ‘Is this good enough?’ The first song we made was “Now,” and “Now” kind of set the standard for the rest of the record. We were like if in some form or fashion these songs aren’t as good as this one, we’re not even going to make it–we’re just going to move on and do something else. That’s kind of what we compared it to. And once the beats were there we kind of sat down and fucking arranged it and thought about the ideas of it, what’s behind it, what does he think, what do I think? And we really spent a lot of time together arranging it and making it like spills and chills–just feel right. There were even vocal pieces where Abilities would say, ‘At this point this should be the pattern: da da da da da da.’ It was completely 50/50 after that point. It was just lots of thinking about accentuating each other at the right part and making a certain part epic and then bringing it down. You know, like an emotional fluctuation of the song–that’s what we spent a lot of time together doing. I’m actually happy ’cause I think on a couple songs we accomplished that.
HHS: Yeah, I think the whole album shows how well you two work together, but for me, especially “Kept” really shows it. Are there any plans to make that a single?
Eyedea: The “Kept” song?
Eyedea: Oh God, no! No way! (Talking to Abilities) I’m like, ‘I almost didn’t hear him.’ I was like, ‘He can’t really be saying this.’
HHS: Aw man, c’mon…
Eyedea: That’s Abilities shit. That’s his joint. It’s cool though. The standout songs are “Now” obviously and “Glass.” If we did a second single it would be something around “Glass.” “Glass” is something else.
HHS: From you what you say on “E&A Day” and because of your extensive tour schedule I assume you guys don’t have 9-to-5s.
Eyedea: No (laughing). We had them for a while, which is cool.
HHS: So did you guys go to school at all, after high school?
Eyedea: Oh no. By the time that was happening it was all already kind of falling into place. That’s why even on “E&A Day” I say, “I accomplish more than you will in your whole life by the time I was eighteen.” By the time I was old enough to have to put my life together I had already done more than what most people do. I wouldn’t say that it’s real life, or in real emotional context; it’s a good thing to say when you’re trying to make people feel like shit.
HHS: Ha, ha yeah. But how does feel to be able to live off hip-hop–you’re contributions to hip-hop?
Eyedea: I don’t really know. I guess I don’t think of it in those terms. I just feel like I’m on this plight. Me and Abilities have this driving desire to become great musicians. We’re always striving to make epic, great music. Whether or not that’s achieved, we have no control over that. We can only make music and get better and better as we go along. And really, that’s the only thing I think about. And so I don’t know how it related to hip-hop as a whole–I’m not sure. I’m glad we’re trying to push an art form that I think is one of the most purest and genius art forms in the past hundred years. We have a lot of influences. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music, which is why we always make sure that people know where we’re coming from. We’re making hip-hop music–it’s just our version of it.
HHS: What do you want to do next to build even further off of what you’ve already created?
Eyedea: Next is some different shit, because right now, I’m sure Max (Abilities) already told you, we’re basically making the turntablist like the lead guitarist. He’s gonna be the lead guitarist. We’ve said it a million times, but it’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Paige. That’s what we’re trying to be: the Led Zeppelin of rap–the true front men that are two badass motherfuckers, technically and emotionally and whatever. Technically, Abilities is always working on his cuts but he’s also working on the emotional, melodic, how to hit chords. I mean he’s doing shit that I’ve never even fucking hear about. Me, it’s the same way–it’s like I’ll always keep the edge of technically being able to flip styles and come up with new patterns, but on the flipside I’m also learning the more emotional way to present myself and finding the right tone or voice and the just the right way to say things.
Right now we’re both working on writing music from scratch, writing a lot of piano music. I really see in the future us being more of a production team that’s just kind of layered this bed for us to just fucking solo over. It might be me coming up with a piano riff and sending it over to Max and him coming up with the drums and a horn sample and him sending it back to me and me having a guitar player I know play on it and him having it sent back to him and him coming up with a turntable baseline, then him coming up with the main melody on the turntable, going all the way through and then us doing the structure of the song. I really want that because I feel it’s engrained in us to just take it somewhere else. I’ll just say this too: there’s going to some day where you see E&A on stage and there’s going to be grand piano, drums, guitars, fuckin’ ten sets of turntables, microphones and effects, peddles and shit, but it’s only going to be two motherfuckers up there and that’s E&A doing all the work. That’s like really what we’re going at right now, just creating music from complete, honest rock bottom with the turntables and there it is.
HHS: What can people expect from your upcoming E&A shows?
Eyedea: You know this is the most arrogant shit I will ever say and I will say it: they have never seen a rap show like this and they probably never will unless there’s motherfuckers biting our shit. To me our live show is better than our record. And everything on the record, you’ll see how it translates–all the guitar peddles and effects, guitar solos on the turntable with the vocals and just the interaction between us two–you can physically see it, which is really something significant. Keep your eyes open for that ’cause it’s something new.
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