By Mike Madden | June 24th, 2011
Once a year for each of the last four years, Shakopee, Minnesota, has been home to one of the greatest hip-hop festivals on the planet: Soundset. Assembled by underground label Rhymesayers, this year’s show was about as comprehensive as a rap fest can be, including a group who’s now in their fourth decade of performing (De La Soul) and an emcee who isn’t old enough to drink legally (Mac Miller).
Indie Shuffle caught up with three of the event’s main stage acts — Blueprint, Brother Ali (pictured), and Grieves and Budo — following their respective sets. Read on for info regarding Ali’s forthcoming album, Blueprint’s extensive record collection, and much more.
As a Rhymesayers artist and someone who spent part of his youth in Minnesota, how exciting is it to see Soundset become such a spectacle?
It’s amazing, and the growth of the event feels very natural. [Main attraction and closing act] Atmosphere helped with two things: they made it possible for a lot of these artists to do what they do, and they made a lot of these fans feel like they can like hip-hop, too.
Do all the questions about your background – about you being a legally blind, albino, Islamic rapper – bother you?
I’d have a hard life if they did.
Over the years, you’ve talked about your love of old-school emcees like Rakim and KRS-One. What have those artists and that particular era of rap taught you?
I started listening to rap in the mid ‘80s, and the one thing that all those guys taught me is that you have to know who you are and be who you are. But I’m a fan of hip-hop in general, so I also like guys like Lil Wayne, T.I., and Kanye West.
Your latest album, Us, featured Chuck D of Public Enemy on its opening track. What was it like to work with such a legend?
It was amazing. When I asked Chuck whether he wanted hear the album before it was released, he told me no, because if I believed in what I was doing, he would endorse it. That really touched me. I’ve met a lot of legendary rappers, but Chuck’s the only one who exceeded my expectations.
During your set, you briefly talked about a new album that you’re getting ready to record. What will separate this record from your previous output, if anything?
The biggest difference is that this one will be produced by Jake One, and most of my previous work was produced by my friend Anthony [Ant of Atmosphere]. A lot of the beats I’ll be using weren’t made with me in mind, so I’ll have to do my best to make them fit.
When might the album be released?
Hopefully this fall.
Grieves and Budo
How is your upcoming album, Together/Apart (released June 21) different from your last album, 88 Keys and Counting?
Grieves: This is easily the best-sounding album either of us have ever made. It’s a lot more melody-based, and there’s no sampling at all. It’s a very clear yet organic record.
Budo: It’s a very focused and very consistent album from beginning to end, but it goes off in different directions, too.
Grieves, you were on Black Clover Records before you switched to Rhymesayers last year. Is there anything that substantially differentiates the labels?
Grieves: They’re just two different entities. Black Clover felt like more of a crew, and a lot of the dynamics of a business weren’t really there. That’s not saying anything against Black Clover, but I do feel more free on Rhymesayers and I have more opportunities where I am now.
Grieves, you’ve said that in addition to hip-hop acts like the Wu-Tang Clan and Westside Connection, you’ve been a fan of artists as diverse as Carole King and NOFX. Do you think you’ll ever make any music besides hip-hop?
Grieves: Yeah! I want to make some sexy-ass baby-making music! [laughs]
Budo, during the set today you played a trumpet and electric guitar. What instruments do you play and when did you start playing music?
Budo: I started playing drums and trumpet when I was nine, and I also play guitar, keys, and I can really wail on a tambourine. [laughs]
You two will be spending a good chunk of this summer performing together on Warped Tour. Since Warped is mostly comprised of non-rap acts, are you going to approach the shows differently, and what are your expectations for the stint?
Grieves: I think the whole thing is going to work to our benefit. There’s going to be a lot of people there who just aren’t going to be into what we’re doing, because they’re into metal bands and stuff. But if they‘re not feeling us, there are 30 other bands they can go see.
As its title suggests, your latest album, Adventures in Counter-Culture, features a lot of lyrics about your distaste for the mainstream media. What’s responsible for your malcontent?
Well, I think most of what’s being played on the radio is bullshit. It’s very corporate, but it should be run by the people, by people who care about the music.
So if you were the CEO of a major label, what’s the first thing you would change?
I’d fire myself. [laughs]
You sampled the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” in your song “Dream Big.” Are you a big classic rock fan, and if so, what are some of your favorite classic rock acts?
Yeah, definitely. My favorite bands include the Moody Blues, the Doors, the Who, Parliament and Funkadelic. It’s hard to pick favorites, though, because I have a record collection of about 5,000 vinyl albums, so there’s a lot to choose from.
You’ve been very prolific over the last decade or so, releasing material with Soul Position, Greenhouse, and as a solo artist. Is there a particular era of your career or a particular release that you’re most proud of?
I always put 100% into whatever I’m doing, even when I only have 50% control, which is the case when I’m working with somebody else. So I’m proud of everything I’ve done.
Last October, your friend and fellow emcee Eyedea died suddenly at the age of 28. Since he performed at each of the Soundsets when he was alive, does this one feel different?
Yeah. It’s very sad. The first person I saw when I arrived today was Eyedea’s mother, Kathy, and the pain we’ve shared is fucked up. Hopefully we can carry the torch and keep the energy there.