April 13, 2009

Ivy Emcees: True2Life Revisit Cornell

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Cornell may not always seem like the hottest place for up-and-coming rappers, but it has plenty of hip-hop history to boast of — not the least of which is True2Life, the trio composed of k. Words ’05, Concise ’05 and Slangston Hughes ’05. The Sun sat down with the crew — who make their own beats — and talked about hawking LPs at RPU, plans for the future and The Pussycat Dolls.

The Sun: How did hip-hop and music play a role in your lives as undergraduates here at Cornell?
k. Words: We could go on for days with this one. I had a townhouse my freshman year, and it started off with people coming through and just freestyling before parties, just regular stuff like that. Concise had taught me to make beats, and we would be doing that at all times also. March of our freshman year, we dropped a project, and it was us with a few other people from campus who rapped. And from there, it just took off, it’s like, it’s what we wanted to do, just make music, and present the music out to people. Our sophomore year album was called The Renaissance, and you know we were selling it for like $5 a CD, we got it professionally pressed up and everything, it was something we really put a lot into and were proud of. So on campus, that’s what we did, we were deejaying parties early on, play our music there. I guess that’s why we were there, we were known as the guys who rapped and made beats. Some people took that for what it was, like “Wow, they’re really out there, they’re really making music, like it’s official.” Some people kind of hated, ’cause I don’t think they really understood.
Sun: They didn’t appreciate Cornell students rapping?
k.W.: Right.
Concise: And we were doing little shows too, it started off with us just making beats, and rapping over the beats, started recording over the music. We put out a collection of songs, it was pretty long, because we didn’t know anything about track size or track length, we just recorded our music and put it out, and sold it out by hand, actually right here, RPU.
k.W.: We debuted the CD at midnight.
Slangston Hughes: I think the word of mouth was good, you know, because Cornell as big as it is, it’s still small. The word of mouth was that, okay, here are these guys, and they’re making I would say unbiased great hip-hop music, they go here to Cornell, they’re cool guys, they know a lot of people, obviously they’re very friendly. We started, we just did it, we sold it, pressed it, gave it out for free, by any means. And once we got the awareness up, that’s when we started getting attraction, and started opening up for artists that came, like we opened for Nas, Joe Budden, stuff like that, we started putting ourselves in positions of power to network with who we needed to network with.
Sun: When I look at you guys as a group, your style reminds me of Kid Cudi, Wale and this whole new wave of hip-hop. Where do you guys think you fit in with this new wave?
C.: Our style and what we were doing was around before I knew of Kid Cudi’s existence. I think the music is pretty significantly different than like a Kid Cudi or a Wale, but I can understand those comparisons. But there’s kind of a part of hip-hop that’s waiting for new blood, and those guys are kind of first ones blazing that trail right now. You see the Kid Cudi’s, the Charles Hamilton’s, and you see this new act you just heard of, you know they make dope music, but what are they like? They want to compare it to someone, they have to.
k.W.: Style wise, we may wear some of the same brands. I think where those comparisons come in, I believe, it’s not that they think our music is like theirs, its just maybe where we come from might be the same place, we were influenced and came up at the same time, we were influenced by the different movements of hip-hop, and that influence may create a certain type of feel. But I think our music is a lot more aggressive, and a lot more taking it to the rapping. Never let people forget, I feel that we are super skilled at rapping.
C.: Having practiced and being prolific throughout Cornell, if you went back and heard “What You Want No One to Do,” the first recording that debuted here in 2002, to now, it’s this huge difference, because of how much work we put into it. I would say there’s a significant difference between us and some of these newer breeds of MC’s that are coming in the scene. We’re self-produced, we make our own beats, and I just think the potency, the lyricism, the creativeness, what we bring to the table is a lot different.
S.H.: We’re unafraid to be ourselves, because we’re artists, and we’re true artists, and we make our music, but we’re also businessmen, and we know that we have colorful personalities. We exude that, we understand image. We know marketing, we know image, we know no one wants to look at a blank canvas. Our whole thing is not selling you the music, but it’s our lifestyle, it’s our culture, which includes our fashion, which includes the music, jokes that we have, movies that we watch. Everything is all presentation, but it’s natural presentation. We figure we don’t have to wear the generic hip-hop uniform, you know, we were never like that, so why would we impose those guidelines on us now just because we rap? […] Stand out, but be true to yourself, so you’re never wearing a costume.
Sun: Two weeks ago I was walking in New York City and saw Timbo King, a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, and he was pushing his tapes on a corner. After ten minutes of talking to him, he offers to do a track with me for $500. So he’s hustling himself in the streets, connecting to fans that way. How does your hustle compare?
C.: That’s the type of hustle we were built on, that hand to hand, street grassroots, get whatever you can take, take whatever you can get thing. We’re not at that point right now ’cause we don’t think it’s efficient to be pushing mixtapes in the street.
k.W.: If you think about this, when it comes to a CD, it’s a waste of money if people just take it and fling it out their Mercedes. You have to balance it, we have to have physical content but we have to take advantage of the digital media. But it is us out there doing it. You catch us in Miami on vacation with a stack of flyers, walking through the streets, handing out our flyers to people, talking to people.
S.H.: I like to describe our approach as the D.I.Y., the do-it-yourself approach to hip-hop. It’s more of a punk rock approach to hip-hop. People down in punk rock groups, they were the early adopters of Myspace, because they realized, this is how we’re gonna connect with our fans, we’re gonna be approachable. The common hip-hop mold is you’re a superstar who’s beyond reach of the average person, but you look at the average successful, mildly successful rock group, they’re gonna be in touch with their fan base. You can touch them after the show. We took the DIY approach in punk rock, and brought into hip-hop and what we do, we just look different, but it’s the same approach. I like my music, you like my music too, that doesn’t make me better than you. I like other people’s music too, you’re a fan, a supporter, however you want to put it, but you’re gonna be a part of the movement, I’m not just gonna take your money and run. We’re in this together, we want people to be a part of our movement.
Sun: What do you guys think of this year’s Slope Day picks, Asher Roth and the Pussycat Dolls?
C.: Yeah, we were tryin’ to get on that.
S.H.: We have [a] “I love College” remix that we did, we actually serviced it to a lot of the DJ’s up here at Cornell … which is dope, which is better than the original if I say so myself.
k.W.: Shots fired. [Laughs]
S.H.: I mean someone hit me up, they said Pussycat Dolls, I thought it was a joke, I didn’t know it was serious, but hey. I mean, [k. Words], you’re not here anymore to bring Snoop Dogg, to bring Kanye.
C.: You know what it is, it’s one of the weaker years, I was telling my brother “Damn, if we were gonna get Slope Day, if it would be any time up until now, this would’ve been the year,” just because it’s wide open right now.
k.W.: I would say we would really want to do a Slope Day because we know what we could do with it.
C.: There will come a time though, you know, this year we weren’t voted, I don’t know how it worked, I think maybe it was just politics. But like, it’s going to come soon, we’ll come back here and rock out. Nothing’s going to stop us getting what we need to get. There’ll be a time when we’ll be the biggest thing and they’ll have to book us.
k.W.: And maybe I’ll crowd surf when we get a Slope Day.
Sun: Five years from now, where’s True2Life going to be?
k.W.: Getting’ money. [Laughs] Hopefully just continuing to do what we love with a much bigger name, a wider fan base, more exposure, you know, bigger things. But still, five years from now, I don’t wanna be disconnected from our mission and disconnected from our people, you know the people that helped us grow.
S.H.: Affecting more people’s lives five years from now.
C.: Hopefully doing it on a bigger scale, to get there obviously building our name via expanding our fan base, getting onto these more popular media hubs, just to get bigger masses to preach to.