Back in 2013, Awon & Phoniks successfully captured the golden era boom-bap sound of New York hip-hop in the 90’s with Return To The Golden Era, an album that has become something of an underground classic since. On the occasion of the release of the duo's second album Knowledge of Self, we approached them to get some clues about this new release.
Hi guys. You haven't been reviewed much on Indie Shuffle so far, and many of our readers may not know you yet. I'd say that since 2013 and your first collaboration on Return To The Golden Era, you have constantly been delivering new gems together. I'd add that you focus on the essential basics, beats and rhymes, and that your sound is reminiscent of the 90's hip-hop golden age. Does this sounds like a fair introduction?
Phoniks: No doubt, man. Everything I make is influenced by the legendary hip-hop producers of the Golden Age. I surround myself with dope classic music and I really don't check for anyone's new releases, honestly. I think this helps keep our sound unique within today's scene because we're not influenced by what anyone else is doing. Just making music that sounds good to us the only way we know how.
Did you change your working process since Return To The Golden Era? Are you still working separately, Phoniks sending beats by email and Awon throwing lyrics on after? Or did you reach a higher level of cooperation?
Phoniks: Actually yeah, the process was completely different for this record. Golden Era was something we put together entirely over email in a very short period of time. We were sending beats and verses back and forth to each other daily and knocked out the album in about 3 weeks. We were both in such a creative zone at that point. The recording process was real DIY with Awon recording himself in a makeshift mic booth at his crib and me mixing and “mastering” everything basically using my car stereo [laughs].
With Knowledge of Self we felt the expectation to deliver a high quality follow-up after the success of our debut record. We spent months working on demos over e-mail before I made a few trips down to Virginia to knock out the album together at a couple different professional studios. This new LP was recorded on top-of-the-line mics and pre-amps and we had tracks bounced down to analog tape for added warmth and grit.
Could you tell us a little bit more about "Certain Presence," the track reviewed here?
Phoniks: Well as a producer the 1st song on my album is extremely important to me. It has to be something that sets the tone for the LP and encapsulates the vibe of the entire project. That way the person who presses play for only a moment is going to know what we’re about. They’ll know they’re getting soulful bangers, DJ cuts and verbal acrobatics across the board.
Awon: With "Certain Presence" I also wanted to set the tone lyrically with a stream of consciousness rhyme style, strong cadence, and an impactful delivery. It is one of my favorite records on the LP and Phoniks epitomizes my thoughts within the cuts. We never discussed it, but those cuts say what I was thinking when I wrote the song.
Compared to your previous work together (Return To The Golden Era, on Dephacation, on Matte Black Soul etc...), what is the originality of Knowledge Of Self? Is there a leitmotiv for these 13 tracks ?
Awon: The idea behind Knowledge Of Self is self awareness, individuality, and the satisfaction of being unique when in essence we all identify as the same via our species. The beauty behind everyone is their own consciousness, free will, and the ability to feel which makes your experience on Earth completely unique and just as valuable as any other. With the main lane dominated by a homogeneous and bland message that confirms to the format that is the most lucrative at the time, there has to be an alternate route as an alternative. I wanted to create an album that was the alternative and so authentic that people from all backgrounds can enjoy it and relate to it. The themes of the songs range from police brutality and violence to trying to find a righteous girl. It's an album about life, hip hop, and moral principles.
Have you ever been touring together, or do you plan to do so in the near future? That would be dope!
Phoniks: It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time man. With the new LP buzzing we are beginning to get a lot of offers again so we are just weighing everything and hopefully putting together some some sort of tour within the next 6 months.
Awon: Touring is the next step and we are working on some things to hit the road soon.
Glad to hear that! There is a saying that no man is a prophet in his own country. According to statistics for your website you have a worldwide audience, with 80% of the visits coming from beyond the US. Would you rather interpret this as a success - reaching music lovers all over the world - or as a proof that "real" hip hop has become something secondary in the US music industry?
Phoniks: Yeah the overseas support is crazy. They really cherish and preserve that old school style sound over there. It’s wild to put out a song and see it being played in 100 different countries and people tweeting about it in all these languages. To me, that means success to be creating music that transcends cultural boundaries like that.
It's very human to gather producers and emcees in small groups, and in my mind you two are associated with Kameleon Beats, Dephlow, Anti-Lilly, Peebs the Prophet and SoulChef. Am I forgetting someone here ?
Awon: Tiff the Gift is also heavily affiliated with us, she is putting a record out soon on our label, Don't Sleep Records. Phoniks and I began Don't Sleep in December of 2014 because we just wanted to create our own platform for our releases. We knew we would be working together for a while so we might as well have our own label to release on. Now we are operating through Don't Sleep Records.
One of my favorite hip-hop labels is Mello Music Group, with the likes of Apollo Brown, Oddisee, L'Orange and Red Pill. In my opinion, Don't Sleep Records and Mello Music Group are members of the same galaxy. Do you agree or should I revise my astronomy?
Phoniks: No doubt, I really respect everything they are putting out at MMG lately and we are both within that same lane of soul and jazz infused hip hop. They are a big influence in where I look to go with Don't Sleep and are kind of like my model for how to run a successful independent hip hop label online.
Phoniks, your remixes of Biggie Smalls and the Wu-Tang Clan always are large successes. Is remixing such legends more a tribute or a way to make it to the masses?
Phoniks: I just like making remixes of my favorite artists, really. I made a name for myself initially by remixing hip-hop songs that people consider “untouchable” classics. A song like “C.R.E.A.M.” can’t be improved, but you can make it feel new and different by flipping it in a fresh way.
Part of why I make so many remixes is when I make a beat I want to hear a rapper over it immediately so I throw acapella’s over almost everything I make. Even if it’s just in the meantime while I’m waiting to get vocals back from another artist.
Awon: Phoniks, SoulChef, Poldoore, Thomas Prime... I don't know many hip-hop producers, yet I know all these names. You are particularly picky when it comes to choose who you are working with, aren't you?
Awon: Yes I am and I am getting more picky by the day, ha ha. I just enjoy good music and the producers I work with make great music in my opinion. We all are growing together and that is the most rewarding thing.