They are the best thing to come out of Las Vegas since the $2 all-you-can-eat buffet, showgirls, comped rooms, and, of course, HipHopSite itself. Somewhere off the fabled Strip and the cheesy neon lights that make Vegas glow at night are 2 of hip-hop’s most innovative forces trapped in a city known more for its double-downs than its double-timed raps.
Already mentioned in the July issue of XXL without much distribution or even a true record contract, The Chapter, comprised of emcee Verbal E and producer 3Sixty, made noise with their appearance on last year’s Okayplayer release, True Notes Volume 1, where they were hand-picked by The Roots’ ?uestlove out of 5000 entrants to appear. One listen to their debut album, Us Vs. Them, reveals why, as tracks like the Vegas anthem, “Life in the City,” and the ex-girl bashing of “Akhil Hill” easily make the album a must-have for 2005.
Don’t take our word for it though. The fellas from Vegas (by way of Chicago) took a few minutes out of the hustle-and-bustle of America’s Playground to speak with HipHopSite about why Vegas ain’t exactly soft, why the blood of Chicago still pumps through their veins, and how the Internet put The Chapter on the map. Read this Chapter up!
HipHopSite: Most people in the country think Las Vegas and see the Strip, the lights, and the storied casinos. I actually live in New Jersey and anyone in that area knows that, while Atlantic City has the casinos, it also has a rap for having poorer neighborhoods surrounding the fancy digs. “Life in the City” really gives an overview of Vegas beyond the million-dollar hotels though. Can you give those out there not familiar with those parts of the city an overview of what it is really like?
Verbal E: It’s real life goin’ on. Most people that live here don’t even go to the Strip at all, unless it’s to go to work. No doubt you got your gated communities with palm trees and over-exaggerated landscapes, but you also got the projects, public housing developments, and Section 8 communities. In the last 2 years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots grew to alarming proportions with the real estate boom. Those without land, property, and homes before 2003 were priced out of the market, and those renting experienced huge rent increases. Even before then, if you didn’t fit in the grand money scheme of Las Vegas, then you were shit outta luck and you know what happens when the people are deprived. The ghetto may look a little different, but the mentality is the exact same everywhere. I hope I ain’t getting’ all “Tony Brown’s Journal” on you, but the world already knows about the glitz and glam of Vegas. I’m trying to effect change when I speak on one of the nation’s highest dropout rates, the serious homelessness problem, or the woefully shameless sex industry. Where else in America can you drive your daughter to school and have to pass big-ass billboards and cab advertisements with about 10 ass cheeks in your face?
HipHopSite: Well, Vegas has treated you 2 nicely in the past though, and the hip-hop scene only seems to be getting bigger and bigger out there. You’ve got Little Brother coming out there, Talib Kweli, different acts that you guys opened up for. How have those opportunities helped you both to advance the group?
Verbal E: In the past few years, the hip-hop scene has really grown in Vegas. We’re definitely still in our infancy, but we got our spots where cats can go and work on their craft and build their skills on stage. As far as people like Little Brother, Kweli, Mos, and the like coming to Vegas, it’s been a true blessing to be able to share the stage with the greats of our generation. The experience of being on stage with Nas, KRS-ONE, The Roots, Mos Def, and Slum Village is priceless. On one hand, our peer group changes and the people can see you earnin’ your respect, and on the other hand, we get to see first hand that we’re not being given a hand out, but that we actually belong there with the greats – not only because they’re telling us through their words of support or by their actions, but you can actually feel the shift from local act to a group in high demand. Our time is upon us. We like the Last Dragon Bruce Leroy right when he got his glow!
HipHopSite: Cool! (laughs) Talking about being recognized and in demand, congratulations on the July 2005 Chairman Mao feature of The Chapter in XXL, too. Chapter essentially has no major push marketing-wise, no really strong distribution hub, and yet, you land in a national magazine that so many major acts covet attention in. What does that say about the music and the whole process behind The Chapter and the music that you 2 are creating?
3Sixty: Thanks, man. I would say that it is a great compliment to have XXL and anybody else that says in public that they respect our music. We have sat here in Vegas in our rooms wondering if the music that we created was going to be good enough, not only to come out, but to make an impact on the people listening to it. It is almost impossible to get into the spots that we have been getting without backing and we are not taking this for granted.
HipHopSite: Another funny thing about this album is that it is called Us Vs. Them, which sounds as if it’s pitting The Chapter against those in the industry, which is sort of played anyway. The record does not come off that way though. In other words, there are no long tirades against the injustices of others getting deals over your group. So, what does that title mean to you guys?
Verbal E: The title is the truest feeling we had at the time we were creating this album, and it has just grown stronger everyday. Us vs. Them means so much on so many different levels. Our group has gone through a lot of changes and every time somebody dropped off the team, it was always just me and 3Sixty. I know it wasn’t a personal thing, but it just felt like it, and so from that 3Sixty wound up playing every instrument on the album. For a stretch he played bass, drums, keys, guitar and deejayed on stage! Then you got “Us,” the heads that keep the culture that is hip-hop alive, in spite of “Them” trying to keep it one-dimensional and taking all the credit. Then, of course, there’s “Us,” the people of Vegas, fighting “Them,” the powers-that-be that run the Strip and not only suck the people dry, but turn around and lock the people out of the opportunities to develop anything other than another friggin’ casino! Honorable mentions? Freedom vs. Oppression, Brown vs. Board of Education, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, Richard Pryor vs. Bill Cosby, and Gore vs. Bush. (Note to self: Just let it go!) That is all for now.
HipHopSite: Several publications are calling this record a flashback to the sound that early Roots’ records brought – that live band, all instruments included type of sound. Obviously, that is a big enough compliment in and of itself, but what does it say for the record to feature a guest spot from ?uestlove basically passing the torch onto you guys and giving you the props for keeping that sound alive?
3Sixty: Man, we were at a concert in 1999 when The Roots played at the Hard Rock Hotel, a year after we formed The Chapter and put out our first EP. We were in the audience rocking to the show wondering how we were ever going to see what they saw in this music shit. 5 years later, we are on a compilation and stage with them hand picked by ?uestlove. I don’t quite know if he was passing the torch, but to have anyone that put 12-13 years in the music industry and achieve the shit that he and The Roots achieve, tell you your music is dope and should be heard AND put it in a position to be heard, still amazes us. Of course, we could be down with the most fashionable, “yeah we just did the dopest shit and cats came calling,” but that shit ain’t real. You need someone in this business and many others to recognize and give you a chance to develop your talents. The wiser your council, the more you may pick up to benefit you. Ask ?uest, Jayâ€“Z, Mos Def, and any other successful person doing this. There were plenty of groups that had the chance that we had, but it came down to one thing, and that was recognition. We cannot and will not take that shit lightly!
HipHopSite: For people who might not know, you guys came to Vegas from Chicago. Maybe it’s all the Chicago in you guys? Kanye, Twista, Common is back again with what people are calling an instant classic. Chicago is just taking off and really marking its territory on the hip-hop map. Do you think that your success can be attributed to your hometown of Chicago in any way? Even just that confidence that Verbal E brings forth on record is very Chicago.
3Sixty: Man, great question! When you come from Chicago, you are left with that imprint for the rest of your life. You can’t shake the attitudes, the words, the dress – shit from going to The Rink to calling Piggy 1! (Editor Note: Chicago in the house!) It’s like we never left the city, because we have that everlasting picture in our minds of how it was to grow up there. Our families still live there and our stories and experiences live on through the music that we all are putting out. Another funny thing is that we all come from the same area on the Southside- 63rd, 79th, 87th street area. Shit, Com’s mom taught at my high school!
HipHopSite: Speaking of Common, have you guys heard BE? The so-called conscious hip-hop heads down to mainstream acts are heralding the greatness of it. What are your feelings on it, being that your hometown now has 2 recent classics or near-classics within the last 2 years?
3Sixty: I listen to that shit everyday. Number one, that shit speaks to me on some straight Chicago shit. Number two, not only is it dope creatively, but his words and Kanye’s and Dilla’s music give me something to go on everyday. Cats is grown going through grown man shit, and you need those words and feelings to get through the days of the struggle. We still got jobs to go to and children to raise. Along with accomplishing and trying to accomplish some good things in this music, that shit will drive you crazy. Com and Kanye are like a virtual tour guide to Chicago and both their albums kept us in that “Chicago state of mind” here in the devil’s den, which you need to get through the shit they got on display here. As far as what they have accomplished, it is a testimony that hip-hop still has a lot to offer everywhere. The presentation is one-sided, but the people in it are not. Chicago has been waiting a long time for this light. We can only hope that some of that which is in them is in us.
HipHopSite: Verbal E, you have a very strong presence on the microphone and that might not be better evidenced anywhere else than on “Akhil Hill,” which has you just going hard at an unfaithful female. You’ve got everything from a Biz Markie reference in there to this consistent little rhyme pattern with all the “as in’s” on that record. You really sell the fact, on a lot of these tracks, that it’s real life material and not just phony stories even if some of them are!). How much of this record is real life, and can you hit us with some examples?
Verbal E: Man, I can’t believe you caught them (as in’s) on “Ahkil Hill!” You know, I was trying to be all creative with the way I wrote that song and not one person has mentioned that yet. No one ever seems to get passed the humor and the hook. Thanks for that one. Anyway, yes, even that song is based on a true story. I don’t know about all the “honey on ya ass” stuff, but I definitely caught my lady cheating on me and I was so caught up that it took a while before I could come off the ass. “Looking at a nigga hooked on sex is hard to watch, especially when the girl is a b as in -otch!” On “One Moment,” I speak briefly on my high school love and how that relationship produced my daughter Nahzy but quickly disintegrated after that. That’s probably my most emotional song and the easiest to perform since I never have to reach for the right emotion. It’s all right there because the lyrics are so close to me. Oh yeah, and on “Pop Said,” those are real life quotes. Here’s an example. (Me) “Pops, do we have to buy gym shoes from the grocery store?” (Pops)”Bullshit ain’t nothin’ but chewed up grass!” (Me) “Huh?”
HipHopSite: What?!? (laughing) Conversely, 3Sixty, you come with production aspects that make you feel like an orchestrator rather than a hip-hop producer. How are you able to bring all of these different sounds in and give that live band feel? How does a track all come together for someone who doesn’t just loop up a 5-second pattern and call it a beat?
3Sixty: I usually start with my “hip-hop rules.” You know, the beat has to be beating on your chest, bass rumbling, etc. But then I ask myself, ‘Can I do anything more to make Verb’s lyrics jump off the track and into the listener’s mind?’ This is where the live instruments come in. I try to make the track breathe. I have only been playing the last year and a half, and I just started to take it very seriously in terms of practicing scales, rudiments, reading, etc., so I have a great deal to learn in terms of being a musician. But being a sample based artist for many years and listening to so many of the records over the years to find samples has opened me up to different arrangements, patterns, and progressions. I mean, you listen to everything from Latin soul to classical to funk to strange children’s records. We as samplers listen to find all types of elements and the idea has bled into my playing. I still like to sample, and I will when I find the right shit to chop or loop, but I love to play!
HipHopSite: How has the Internet helped you guys to expand the vision and the music of The Chapter? Offline, if people heard of a group from Vegas playing live venues with the feel of a live band, people might just assume that you do cover band stuff in Vegas or something. But the ‘net has really given your name a push. How much of that push is just the good music, and how much of it is the effect that the digital age has had on the spread of music?
3Sixty: Damn, Alex Tribec! (laughter) Great questions. I don’t think it would be out of line to say that if it had not been for the Internet, we would not have been on True Notes Volume 1, doing this interview, or having Nicolay doing remixes for our album. I think both have to meet – the good material and the resources. If it wasn’t for the ‘net, this material would be sitting at home being played for our family and friends. If it wasn’t for the good material, no one would be looking at us on the ‘net, TV, or the bathroom wall for that matter. We have had good material in the past but not many of the resources that we have at our fingertips today. With the current state of the record industry, who knows if anyone would have heard about The Chapter in this climate.
HipHopSite: That said, how do you both feel about the crisis going on in the music community with all of the music downloading taking place and labels losing money out of their pockets? It seems to me that most music acts hit a point where the ‘net stops being so promotional and starts taking away their money. Do you guys have thoughts on where that movement is going, and how do you feel about it?
Verbal E: That’s a tough one because we’re at the stage where the net is still a very powerful promotional tool as opposed to something that’s hitting us in the pocket right now. Even though there are a lot of fans downloading music, that still only represents a small percentage of record-buying customers. I’m finding that even the people that download music will buy it if it’s really dope. If not, then they won’t buy it, but the other thing is…It makes it that much more important for the artist to really connect with the people, because once that happens, the people will be there for you. They’ll want to have the artwork and read the credits and thank you’s and see the DVD. Fortunately for us, we have an ace in the hole – our stage show. Word on the street is our show is nothing less than incredible. We have so much fun up there that it’s hard for the crowd not to join in with us.
HipHopSite: Us Vs. Them is in stores now, but many people out there might not know much or anything about The Chapter. If you each had to give them one sentence or one thought to remember about the group, what would it be?
Verbal E: Don’t be confused by the instruments. This is straight up raw hip-hop music!
3Sixty: That all we want to be a meaningful “Chapter” in this vast book of hip-hop music!
The Chapter’s Us Vs. Them is available now. For those in the Vegas area, check out their live stage show.ï»¿
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