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Originally published on HUCK

In 2001, J Dilla sat in a booth at Detroit’s Studio A with one goal in mind: to make his mark on the music industry. After signing a two-album deal with major label MCA Records, Dilla’s mainstream debut was intended to take advantage of a certain momentum.

Having been a member of ’90s rap trio Slum Village, he was about to transition into becoming hip hop’s brightest beat-maker, inspiring the likes of Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots.

Things started to go wrong, however, when his most-trusted connection at the label – A&R Wendy Goldstein – left to work at Capitol Records, prompting MCA to shelve the album.

Dilla subsequently moved to Los Angeles and joined indie label Stones Throw, where he developed the most revered collaboration of his career with fellow beatmaster Madlib. But he soon began fighting an incurable blood disease and eventually passed away in 2006, aged 32.

The producer’s stature has grown ever since. Maintaining that legacy, however, has been a source of drawn-out contention and legal battles.

Now, 15 years after its inception, that vocal-led album for MCA (originally titled Pay Jay but renamed The Diary) has been re-booted by Eothen ‘Egon’ Alapatt – the man Dilla assigned the project to before he died.

Egon, who serves as creative director for Dilla’s Estate while running his own imprint Now Again, talked to Huck about the years spent years trying to resurrect a lost album by one of hip hop’s greatest pioneers.

What was it like to be the one responsible for the sonic architecture of The Diary?

With a project like this, where there are numerous different threads that have to be stitched together in one piece and numerous people that know how the threads are supposed to be arranged, a dialogue has to happen. House Shoes, J Rocc and all the collaborators that were part of the record had to be consulted and their opinions taken seriously, because its creator didn’t leave us any sort of direction other than what he organised in his files and what we knew of the demos sent to MCA. But because of all the archival work that I do with Now Again, I realised that if I spent too much time discussing the outcome with the committee, I was never gonna please anybody and the final work would be a jumbled record with alternate versions and bonus tracks and extra CDs… Dilla wouldn’t have wanted that. Even though we can all make him into our own and love and cherish what he did, there’s a certain point where we also have to respect the fact that he had a very clear idea for this project. That’s what I wanted to see through… I hope I’ve done him justice because, at the very end of this process, I knew the one person I didn’t want to piss off was him.

What was Dilla like to work with?
He was one of those people where you realise how important and special they are but also how fragile your relationship [with them] is. He’s coming from a different space. I believe he was touched by a higher power. People like that can be very fiery; you had to be on your A-game with him all the time. It could be odd to be around Dilla. You could say the wrong thing and it could lead to a very tense situation. But at the same time, he could be very generous, giving and loyal. He inspired confidence in those around him. That’s basically what he did to myself: inspired me to be confident enough to work on this project after his death.

How did the plan for releasing The Diary come about and what was the biggest challenge throughout the process?

Dilla and I had a conversation one day about The Diary, Ruff Draft and a couple other projects that he worked on when he left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles. His mother was there with us; we were at the hospital. So we decided that, at the appropriate time, we would get these tapes, look into them and figure out how to put them together – especially The Diary andRuff Draft.

Later, when he passed away and his mother Maureen felt ready, we called up Studio A where he had warehoused the tapes. Me and Dave Cooley, the mastering engineer who worked with Dilla in the last couple of years of his life, unpacked all the files and then started piecing it all together. J Rocc was a huge help in the early part of the process; House Shoes later on as well; Karriem had the electric guitar track that we couldn’t find in the multi-tracks. It was a nightmare! Then it was about asking questions and finding what made sense. In the end, the biggest challenge for me was putting into place a structure with which we could release the music. I didn’t even have an idea of how it should be done. The only thing that made sense was that I was running Stones Throw and this should be released through the label. In 2006, I didn’t have any idea that I would restart Pay Jay and put it out through that. But that’s the end result, with its trials and tribulations over the course.

Were there moments when you felt this project just wasn’t going to happen?

A couple of months before the record was put into production, I thought about just removing myself from it all together. I had a really tense conversation with Dilla’s mom because she was beefing with House Shoes [who took to social media to accuse her of profiting from Dilla’s legacy]. I think she still is. It was really, really bad. I wanted to remove myself but then I realised I couldn’t. This is something I committed to and regardless of what comes next, I’m gonna deal with this commitment.

Is ‘Ma Dukes’ happy with The Diary?

I don’t think so, honestly. She told me to shelve the record before actually going into production because of this thing with House Shoes. We haven’t really spoken since, although I tried to talk with her. I have a great deal of respect for her and for being welcomed into her son’s life. And during the time we spent at that vulnerable space at the hospital, she told me it was okay [to work on The Diary]. When I took the role of creative director [of The Estate of James Yancey], I’d just listen to whatever she said and do it. But when she told me to shelve the record, I said ‘I can’t.’ Regardless of what happened between ‘Ma Dukes’ and House Shoes, it’s water under the bridge for this project, because [the collaboration] was a decision House Shoes and Dilla made together in 2001 and that’s the Dilla that I’m trying to portray, not what happened since. It was all very difficult; it was almost heartbreaking. She suffered so much and I wanted her to be happy with everything, but I don’t know if she’s going to be happy with this. I really don’t. I hope she will, because I believe this is very close to her son’s vision for this record and I spent a tremendous amount of effort doing it… I’m going to see this thing through and ultimately this will be an asset to pay back not just his immediate heirs, but his children.

How did you feel after realising it was ready to be released?

The first thing I felt was a great sense of relief. When you finally take the leap off the cliff and you put the record out there, you know there’s nothing else you can do except wait. It may take a couple of weeks or months for people to start getting it, listening to it, experiencing it and giving their take. It may not be well received. That’s something you come to terms with when you work in the record industry and put out something you believe in, regardless of what you suffered [through] or the time and money you spent on it. It comes out, people pick it up and judge it based on this man’s legacy.

Did the fact that this was shelved by a major label, leading Dilla to Stones Throw, reshape his mindset and approach?

Of course. You know, it’s hard to take compliments if you don’t like compliments, but getting one from Dilla was the most difficult thing to achieve. But he would always say in subtle ways very nice things about the environment at Stones Throw and the way that it worked and how dedicated some of us were. That probably came from the way he was treated when he was working with major labels where he was looked as a cog in a big machine, whereas at Stones Throw he was looked as ‘it’. Him and Madlib were collectively ‘it’. We were not sitting there bowing down and praising him, we were just working with utmost respect and loyalty and feeling blessed to have Dilla with us. That internal, emotional state resonates outwards in a lot of ways.

Many of Dilla’s projects were released posthumously and they obviously went through edits without him present. That’s also the case with Donuts, for which you have the original cut. Where has this version been and how was it edited from its original assemblage?

He once gave me two CDs in the hospital with the inscription ‘Dilla Donuts’ on the cover. Normally I throw CDs out, but in that case I kept one of them and I just threw it in the closet somewhere. It wasn’t until long after he passed away that I was looking through my closet and I saw the CD. I’ve put it on and listened to it and I was like, ‘Wow, this is way different’. I remembered that Jeff [Jank, Stones Throw’s art director] did an intense amount of editing on the record because he was the only person Dilla hadn’t screamed at at Stones Throw. I’ve been screamed at by Dilla, I was definitely not gonna call him; Wolf [Peanut Butter Wolf, head of Stones Throw] was screamed at more than anybody so he was definitely not gonna call. We were all about putting the record out as Dilla wanted it. But Jeff, out of full heartiness, just figured he’d call up Dilla and say he was going to edit the record. Dilla approved it and so now we have the version that everybody heard, which is this edited version – although we still have his original vision. I do go back and listen to it now and then.

Will we ever get to listen to it too?

Maybe. Everything that comes after this is a revision and the thing about my role as creative director is that I can be let go tomorrow. It was always tenuous: I had to litigate with the first executor to keep my position and even get The Diary out, so I don’t look at anything as a given. I just hope that all of this music, if ever put out to the world, is done with the utmost respect.

What have you learned from working with Dilla?

You know what he taught me more than anything? That at a human being’s most difficult point, you still have to carry yourself with humility and as if you’re fortunate. You still have to push forward. If you’re a creative person, you have to create. I’ve been around a lot of creative people and I’ve been around a lot of musicians close to death and I still think about Dilla all the time because you have to push yourself. If I’m ever in a position like that, I hope that I can look back and be inspired by that.

The Diary is out on Mass Appeal.

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Photography by Greg Funnell

Ever since I read Boogie‘s interview in HUCK’s Street Photography Issue (March 2014) I’ve became drawn to the decisive moment. I’m pretty sure I bought my first decent camera (Canon 600D) not too far along the way after immersing myself in his story, illustrated by a fraction of his distinctively edgy portfolio of black & white stills of crackheads and gangbangers. I assume at this point that, in a way, I started shooting thanks to Boogie.

Born in Serbia in 1969, Vladimir Milivojevich (Boogie’s ID name) was past his teenage years as war ravaged through his homeland, drawing a routine of all-around violence and death. Weapons were traded as cheaply as a handful of dollars and tomorrow’s uncertainties reigned throughout surviving souls. Growing up as photographer in war-torn Serbia, Boogie eventually escaped from his country to New York after he was granted a Green Card to move to the United States and thus offsetting his professional career as a photographer.

After a few gigs for brands like Nike or in fashion shows, Boogie moved to documentary photography. Strolling around the ghettos the Big Apple, he eventually came across homeless people, junkies, and gang members and began shooting their daily lives – “life as it is”. Boogie’s portfolio and reputation soared, but it was only ten years later, by 2006, that he saw his work recognised through exhibitions and book publishing. Still loyal to film photography, Boogie is nowadays an authority when it comes to document the life of disenfranchised communities.

As I’ve recently invested on a Fujifilm X-Pro1, I went looking for some knowledge and inspiration for street photography and naturally started by researching for interviews with Boogie and the video below is actually the most interesting and chat I’ve read/seen with the Serbian photographer. It was recorded back in 2008 and with Boogie in his studio was then hip-hop journalist Dante Ross, today an executive in the music business specialising in hip-hop. A super-chilled 30 minute-chat between like minded people begging for several replays.

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A Southeastern way of life

Photography by Francisco Melim

In November last, the 22 year-old filmmaker and photographer Francisco Melim jumped on his first trip to the far Eastern lands of Asia. It was the fulfilment of a year long promise to cross Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and capture their vibrant, simple, highly-scented urban and natural living.

A skateboarder from young age and a native-of-sorts of Portuguese fishing and surfing village of Ericeira, Melim’s body of work is informed by the Atlantic’s soothing visions and the intense and fast-paced life on the streets of Lisbon and its outskirts. Influences foreseeable in the gallery he shared here on his life changing journey.

Follow Francisco Melim’s work on Cargo, Facebook, Instagram and Gimbras Collective.

“Always knew I’d be in this position where I’m killing it
Yeah, I’m bragging and I tell ’em how the fuck I’m feeling
Money, money, money, money, yeah, you get the gist
You’re talking ’bout loyalty but you don’t know the meaning
I dare these niggas here to try me, you think you’re the shit
But I’ve been like this from early from when I was teething
How I’m feeling, play my shit at parties, not museums
You can keep your love, it’s just money that I’m reaching for.”

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An unlikely sanctuary

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Originally published on issue 10 of Delayed Gratification
Photography by Jessica Parry

It’s four in the morning and I’m up to my elbows in chip fat. Sauce bottles and plastic food trays bob in the sink, whose surface shimmers with grease. I trawl the water in search of baskets from the fry station, which need to be rinsed and sanitised. Not for the first time tonight, I ask myself how I came to be working the graveyard shift at McDonald’s, in the middle of a bitter London winter and a thousand miles from home.

I left Portugal in 2012 on the advice of my prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho. His message to recent graduates was stark: if you can’t find work, get out of the country and look abroad. As part of the most highly qualified and underemployed generation in Portuguese history, and with a shiny new degree from the Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias in Lisbon, I set my sights on the UK. I cleared out my parents’ attic, sold their old possessions at a flea market and raised enough money for a flight to London.

Six months on, I’ve made a lot of milkshakes, served a lot of quarter-pounders and applied for hundreds of jobs but am yet to get asked in for a single interview. McDonald’s was the only one to return my call. I decided to work the night shift so that I’d have the day free for applications, but this stop-gap job is starting to look dangerously like a long-term option.

I am at least in good company. Economic collapse, civil war and – in the case of Greece – the rise of neo-Nazism have driven thousands of motivated, qualified young people to the UK’s capital, and many wind up flipping burgers in the middle of the night. This McDonald’s is a refugee camp at the heart of London, a place where everyone has a story to tell about how they found their way to shelter under the golden arches.

 

FLEEING THE DAWN

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Supporters of Golden Dawn celebrate the results of the 2012 elections. ©Dimitri Messinis/AP/Press Association Images

Serving food to customers at peak times is one of the most stressful experiences at McDonald’s. Queues spring up quickly and need to be dispatched as speedily as possible. That’s why I usually find manager Simos Karaoglou (photo above) running around like a madman, shouting at the kitchen staff to speed up their grilling.

Simos was born in Zambia to a Greek missionary father and a Zambian mother. By the time he turned 15, his father had died and his mother had left the family to move to California to work as a nurse. Simos was left alone with his two older brothers. After completing high school in Lusaka, he moved to Greece in 2009, arriving in the middle of the  worst financial crash in living history. Despite the dire situation he loved the country from the first moment. “I always felt like it was my home, it made me happy,” he says with a grin.

Simos moved in with his cousin in New Philadelphia, on the outskirts of Athens. He had a year living a laidback, bohemian life, partying with friends and working as a DJ, before spending nine months completing his compulsory military service. When he left the army, he joined a marketing company with his best friend, selling health and beauty products. The crisis grew deeper, the business wasn’t going well and money was scarce. Friends were sacked from their jobs, others worked overly hard for a pittance. One even had a stress-related stroke aged just 23. “Things were getting worse. In Greece, the crisis slammed us very hard,” he says.

“I worried that if I walked into the centre of Athens, Golden Dawn supporters would put me in hospital”

No one saw a future in the country. Salaries were being slashed and it became harder to live with dignity. “Everything became limited, even down to what you could eat. I rented a studio flat with my girlfriend, but we ended up leaving it as we couldn’t pay the bills. But, still, the feeling was that we are in a crisis, let’s make the most out of it,” he says.

The nation’s fury bubbled over in demonstrations in front of the Greek parliament: Simos would gather his friends and join the thousands of people invading Syntagma Square, hoping to see some chance of a new start. “We’d go to demonstrations, but still nothing changed,” he says. “We had hoped to see people in the streets debating new ideas to solve the problems.” He took part in battles with the riot police (the MAT), which didn’t end well. “I threw stones, they threw tear gas,” he says.

Racism and xenophobia grew in the capital particularly after the ultranationalist party Chrysi Avgi – Golden Dawn – secured 18 seats in the parliament in the June 2012 elections. Right-wing sentiment spread through the streets and state services including the MAT, and despite his Greek nationality, Simos felt vulnerable because of his black skin. “They closed down my freedom,” he says. “I worried that if I walked into the centre of Athens, Golden Dawn supporters would put me in the hospital.”

One day Simos’s cousin was on a train with his two children when a group of Golden Dawn supporters got on board. “They screamed out ‘White people on the left and the rest on the right.’ The people moved because they were scared. But an Egyptian-Greek guy pulled out his ID and showed it to them. He said ‘Look, I’m Greek!’ They replied: ‘We don’t care.’ And they beat the shit out of him.”

It’s hard to imagine, but Simos supported Chrysi Avgi at the start. “Everybody thought they were good: they were doing good things, like giving food to people and sometimes replacing the police. But once they joined the parliament, they just lost it, they became straight-out Nazis,” he says. Worried about his security and with no prospect of a job, Simos finally decided to move to London to pursue his dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer and a commercial pilot. Such dreams have no place in Greece, where banks aren’t granting student loans any more.

Simos moved to London in September 2012, and regretted it almost immediately. “One week is the maximum amount of time someone should be in this city,” he says. “When we visit on holiday, we go to the parks and Big Ben and think that it’s London, but it’s not. McDonald’s is London: basically we live to work. I don’t want that, I want to have a goal and do more than just sleep and work.” Simos lives in a flat in East Ham with his girlfriend, who works at a Greek restaurant, and eight other people. “As soon as I saw London, I just thought: I’m going to be stuck here forever. I want to go back,” he says. “I think of leaving every single day, every moment.”

 

THE SILENT ENGINEER

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Paula Maria Fernandez, 24, can spend a whole night working at McDonald’s without speaking to a single soul. You’ll find her Ajaxing toilets and sweeping the entrance area with no time to stop and chat with customers or colleagues. Born and raised in Canena in southern Spain, she traded her hometown for London in October 2012 to escape the financial crisis that has left 55 percent of 16-to-24 year olds unemployed. She graduated in civil engineering from the University of Granada, but it was impossible to find any work in her field.

Paula arrived in London with her boyfriend, a 25-year-old graphic designer, with hopes of finding jobs and a better future. Like many other Spanish graduates, she saw no opportunities in her own country. “I felt scared by the situations I saw Spanish families living through,” she says. “Unemployment was going through the roof and shops were closing all the time.” She chose London as her new home in the hope of learning English: at the moment she barely speaks a word.

“None of my friends are working, except for seasonal work helping with the olive harvest. The pessimism just becomes infectious”

The second of three daughters, Paula is the only one in her family who has fled the country. Her parents have a small business that has been suffering in the recession and her 28-year-old sister is struggling to get a break in child education. Spain is almost as bad at teaching foreign languages as the UK, which explains in part why most of Paula’s friends chose to stay in the country. “People are getting more and more depressed because they can’t pay their bills and support their families,” she says. “None of my friends are working, except for seasonal work helping with the olive harvest. The pessimism just becomes infectious.”

The first month in London was the hardest. Needing to make rent, Paula found a job as a part-time cleaning lady three weeks after arriving. “The Spanish people that I live with are all in the same situation,” she says. “We came to London to escape the crisis and learn English and we all got jobs as hostesses or cleaners on the minimum wage. We took low-paid jobs because we don’t speak English.” With uncertain hours of work, Paula couldn’t manage her debts and her boyfriend’s freelance work wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She was lucky enough to get a phone call from McDonald’s and signed a contract with the company, starting in December 2012. Paula finally found the stability she longed for, cleaning toilets in the night.

A naturally relaxed, happy character, Paula struggled with her first British winter. “I think this is a very stressful city,” she says. “It’s always dark, cold and sad.” One day I found her next by the outdoor bin, heaving in plastic bags filled with food debris. I asked whether she feels lonely while working. “I feel bored, but it gives me time to think about life,” she said. “I’m thinking of moving back to Spain in October. I have been back once already and I could see that the situation was worse, but I really miss my family and I don’t feel I’m learning any English at all. I need to go to an academy, but I can’t afford it because rent and transport are so expensive. If I’m going to be stuck at McDonald’s collecting the basic wage and not saving any money, I’d rather be back at home.”

 

THE STRANDED SYRIAN

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Haidra Al-Hassan, 23, left Damascus after the assassination of his old schoolfriend Amir Hassan. Back in September 2011, Amir had headed out on a holiday trip to Tartus, on the Mediterranean coast. Shortly after he left the capital, a yellow taxi started trailing the car he was travelling in, and its mask-clad occupants leaned out of the windows yelling: “Pull over, pull over!” When Amir’s driver refused, one of the pursuers pulled out a machine gun and sprayed the car with bullets. Amir was shot dead. Afterwards, it emerged that the only reason for his killing was that he was travelling in a car with Damascus license plates. “Damascus is the land of regime supporters, Homs is the land of rebels,” says Haidra. “The FSA (Free Syrian Army) killed the guy just because of the word ‘Damascus’.”

“The Syrian people, two years ago, were loving each other. Syria was the country of all religions, all people. But now every Syrian has to show who and what he supports”

All Haidra wants is to fight for his country. Instead, he’s at the counter,  serving McNuggets to drunks at 2am. He’s a strong supporter of the Syrian president, and refers to himself as “Ibn al-Assad” – “the son of Assad”. Haidra is an unusual mix: his mother is Alawite, the Shi’a religious faction which supports the president, and his father is Sunni, the religious majority which is fighting the regime. “I’m the union of both people, there’s no one like me in Syria,” he tells me proudly. “The Syrian people, two years ago, were loving each other. Syria was the country of all religions, all people. But now every Syrian has to show who and what he supports. I’m against that – I’m a Muslim, it doesn’t matter if I’m Alawite or Sunni. Each side must understand the other. People are shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and then dropping bombs. That’s not Islam, it gives it a bad image.”

While living in the Abu Rummaneh district of Damascus, Haidra enjoyed the life of a liberal Syrian. He studied business administration at the International University of Science and Technologies, went to raves with friends and smoked weed. When the Arab Spring began, he rooted for change in Syria. “At the beginning of the revolution, there were millions, like me, who wanted freedom of speech and different opposition groups within the government.” But as the first reports on violent crackdowns surfaced in March 2011, people started to want something more: the head of Bashar al-Assad.

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A giant poster depicting president Bashar al-Assad ©Muzaffar Salman/AP/Press Association Images

Over the 18 months of civil war that followed, Haidra switched his support to the president. “I started believing the regime after I saw people getting killed because they were Alawites or in the military, getting kidnapped and raped by the FSA,” he says. Haidra acknowledges the atrocities of al-Assad’s regime, but still praises him. “He’s a human being, he has feelings. He’s a good man, but there is a war, people being killed on both sides. Butwallah al-azim, I swear to God, he’s ready to die for Syria.”

Haidra’s life in Damascus changed out of all recognition with the start of civil war. His parents forced him to be home by 9pm each night, and the city descended into a deep and unnatural silence. “Damascus was like another country. The streets were empty, no one was out any more.” Haidra’s mother, a housewife, grew up in the same street as Bashar al-Assad. In January 2012, two of her cousins, aged 24 and 26, were assassinated in the coastal city of Latakia, beheaded by the rebels. Their remains have still not been recovered.

When Haidra arrived in London it was as a student, with a monthly allowance from his father. The money stopped arriving after the FSA seized his father’s clothing factory on the outskirts of Damascus. “They stole everything from the factory. My parents lost their savings and are now in a tough situation,” he says. In the last few months of 2012, Haidra spent time waiting tables at a restaurant in Watford, before joining McDonald’s.

Though he hates London’s weather and high cost of living (“when I came here, £1 was 80 Syrian pounds; now it is 150 Syrian pounds, enough for lunch for a whole family in Syria”), Haidra has a soft spot for the city. But he hates sensing his family’s danger and not being near them. “I was studying one night and my mother called me on Skype. She said: ‘Don’t be scared! There was a huge explosion in our street. So many people died, the house shook all over.’” There had been an assassination attempt against the prime minister, Wael al-Halqi. “Two more minutes of conversation and I would have started crying,” says Haidra. “If my family dies, I want to be there. I don’t want to live without them.”

Haidra is happy enough in his job at McDonald’s. He likes wandering around alone, stocking up the Coke and ice cream machines while singing patriotic songs under his breath. He avoids confrontation with other Muslims at work, all of whom are Sunnis.

“If someone said something bad about me defending al-Assad, I know I wouldn’t be able to control myself; I would get into a fight.” He secretly wears a bracelet bearing the message “I [heart] Syria Al Assad”. He is convinced that with the help of Hezbollah, and provided the West does not intervene, the president will win the war within a couple of months. But if the rebels reach Damascus and al-Assad loses power, “people will be killing each other for hundreds of years.” And Haidra – like many of his co-workers on the night shift at McDonald’s – may very well never return home.

Some names in this article have been changed.

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Originally published on Dummy | Photography by Andrew Kass

Eric Adiele is on a quest to never make a wack beat. Inking as Sporting Life, the 32 year-old Virginia born and Harlem based producer has spent the past couple of years following an ongoing process of self-discovering his style. Mastering software and gear whilst knitting bits and pieces of samples found in old tape records, his line of work is all about creating beats with their own organic nuances, so they can live past the vocals to tell their own inspirations and ultimately rest in people’s conscience. Sporting Life’s debut solo tape 55’5s makes up a case for Adiele’s evolving journey.

55’5s has an experimental character: a mind-twisting beat narrative, blending a unique hip-hopian aura with footwork’s sprawling BPMs. It’s a test-lab of unpredictable results built upon an inconspicuous range of inspiring elements – from around-the-globe artists then back to New York itself. As Adiele asserted in our transatlantic Skype chat – travelling and meeting new people whilst still playing next to Wiki and Hak as New York’s noise-rap trio Ratking also helped to broaden his spectrum of influences. The group’s most revered records, So It Goes and 700-Fill came in-between the process, laying 55’5s sensorial-inducing roots. Adiele’s creatively immersing outputs resounded on this side of the globe and Belgium R&S Records released his debut tape, which now rests next to genre-defining producers such as Aphex Twin and James Blake.

Winter is here. It’s been cited as the major influence in your art, especially on Ratking’s latest release, 700-Fill. In what way has New York’s season-shifting moods influenced your productions?

It definitely influenced a lot. Physically because you have to live in New York City and work and feed yourself, so that kind of gives you a sense of urgency about your art. But also because of the city’s history and the sounds you hear in the streets. It’s influenced in a lot of different ways, the city definitely is and continues to be a reference in the sounds I make.

New York City certainly also lives within your new beat tape, 55’5s. How did you come up with this project?

I had the idea that I just needed to make a lot of stuff, so I was just practicing different styles and making things and trying to get better and better at Ableton Live whilst also figuring out how to never make a wack beat, you know? The tracks on 55’5s came from that process during the past couple of years. It’s like pieces and notes from that process and from studying different styles and trying to find my own, even with the old stuff I made.

These are beats that you designed during Ratking’s soaring years. How did working with Wiki and Hak shaped your productions along the way?

It shaped them a lot. As a group we like to make things and play it live and then let that tell us how we should record it. That process has definitely given me a lot of time to grow and explore new styles because it wasn’t something necessarily fixed, it can always change. Travelling and playing as a band helps in meeting new people and those folks give you influences or just share with you an instrumental or a song you never heard before. During those times you keep consistently creating, so if you can take that and use your time wisely, there’s a lot of room to grow.

Did the mindset of 55’5s divert from the one with Ratking?

It’s just different processes until getting to finally hear [the final version]. When producing with Wiki and Hak it was more like seeing where the song is going and minding the song title. It can’t also be that dense because you’re still looking to have a pocket for somebody’s voice and ideas. It’s just a different path. It might be really similar to maybe producing tracks I make from start to finish without a thought. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a song, just sounds I’ve wrote or beats I made for practicing purposes…like going out skateboarding. It’s kind of different but for the most part, kind of the same.

When you pick bits and pieces for a beat do you follow a storyline?

I tried to title [the tracks] in a way of a story. I like arranging things and trying to build a narrative with the sound. I think in ending like it did was like a really good wrap up of the story. Some songs are more story-like than others; some songs are just hard beats; and some songs tell a story. Having a mixture of those kind of things is really good.

People predominantly link you to hip-hop beats but that seems narrowing considering the blend of sounds and styles in your productions. Still, do you feel you’re trying to break new ground for hip-hop with this tape? Where do you see this sound fitting?

I’m trying to be as adaptable as possible. If I’m in a particular place doing a DJ set I try to adapt and meet people halfway. Hopefully I’m able to adapt in real time. As far as where it fits…I don’t know. Hopefully besides dope musicians like Gorillaz or Jay-Z. I don’t know how different my sound is, but I like to think about other people that did something different. Maybe not many of them come from my background. Or maybe not a lot of people can play basketball and shit like that. It might be coming from a different perspective. It’s just trying to push creativity, learning about new gear and reading interviews. You can read an Aphex Twin interview and realize some people in your present day are in the future, so when you see somebody like that it inspires you. Whatever the sound is, hopefully it’s just the sound of a better knowledge of a particular gear you are using, not a particular sound you are trying to mimic. Even though you can pass through different influences – which is good – the sound will be of your gear working together. When you listen to Aphex you’re hearing his signal chain, how these things are communicating. That’s the math behind the music.

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Does the science behind the music appeal to you? What would you say that gravitates you towards producing beats?

I’m moved by the idea of the sport of producing, making it force another purpose other than the beat. It’s like thinking that I’m doing this for the sport of styling on you with my ability of controlling this computer program. That inspired me, as did finding different producers around the world who also kind of feel the same. I don’t think anyone has ever put that [line of work] underneath a rap. Producers usually serve to help the MC, but this works for itself. If you take the whole lyrics out of a Ratking album and just listen to the instrumentals, you’ll find they have their own particular inspirations. So It Goes intro is like footwork, but new jungle-footwork, but the rapping on it is like Philadelphia Freeway or Bennie Sigel. That’s a new style that has been created and that’s what I’m aiming for all the time. And to least have something to go back to and look at and say, “Oh we made this particular style of song.” This means a fresh blueprint to make a new song, if anybody likes it.

“I’m moved by the idea of the sport of producing, making it force another purpose other than the beat.”

Speaking of blueprints, 55’5s was mixed in Daddy Kev’s studio, a place historically linked with the L.A. beat scene. As you’re also looking to create something unique, do you feel there’s a particular NY scene emerging around you?

Yes, there’s always something coming up in New York, even if you don’t know it. There’s so many producers and musicians out here just doing it. Some musicians play in punk bands and then make electronic music under aliases; there are just so many aliases that people don’t even know. I put out things under aliases and not a lot of people know that. A lot of my boys are making electronic music and we get together and do ill DJ sets and shit like that. So yes, beat-wise I’m definitely trying to push that forward and into people’s minds. We create beats while new MCs are coming up with influences from everything going on out here. I just feel really excited to be making music too.

So you’re looking to offset an alternative movement in New York, or at least a singular one just as in Los Angeles?

I just try to gain inspiration from people who aren’t stressed out. You can’t take it that seriously. It’s like Serious Play: if you can master it, you never get boxed in or stuck in a particular way of doing things. I think that’s really the sound of the movement, really taking it seriously on a level, but not taking it seriously on another level. Making it small, going to the next thing and not being too stuck on one particular thing or looking to label yourself.

55’5s is on Belgium label R&S Records. I think this cements the fact you’re looking to reach out to other audiences.

I think Europe has more of a platform for instrumental bass and electronic music – jamming a lot of styles that have been really developing and morphing over time, with people growing up with their ears tuned to like something that has nothing to do with the vocals. That culture is really strong in Europe and in certain parts of America too. I’m trying within my arms reach to make something that people can enjoy and have fun to.

R&S Records have released some widely known electronic artists – Aphex Twin, for instance. Did you change the course you set out for the tape based on the label?

I don’t know if it changed my path, but it let me know there are people other than myself who understand what I do and see things for what they are. They don’t necessarily have to follow what they heard in an interview or what they read about us in a hip hop section. Like the Beastie Boys talked about Ill Communication: the ideas being communicated through the sound to certain people, not necessarily to everybody, and then hopefully those can build ideas and get it to more people. That’s how ideas will grow in the public consciousness. R&S showing interest in what we we’re doing was certainly a dope thing but I can’t say it was necessarily surprising. That was the kind of stuff we were listening to already – like DJ Hell and Aphex Twin and James Blake; those were artists we were kind of inspired by. Then there’s New York City, so everything kind of mashes anyway and you pick and choose the artists you like out of a wide group of sounds, and people end up seeing the result of that.

And you went for a tape format. What do you find interesting in it?

I guess my interaction with tapes has been interesting as tapes have always been coming and going out of my production life. It was suggested that I released this way and I thought about how tapes can age and how it all sounds different after a period of time, which was something interesting to see. And it’s a format I haven’t necessarily heard my music played on, maybe because I was a little scared of it. You never know what people like to listen to and putting on tape might not be the clearest quality people want, but sometimes you have to do things that are kind of new to see the outcome. I’ve put it on tape to see how the project will sound like in a few years. And the design and artwork of tapes is really cool, it’s the most fun part of making a tape.

Who created the 55’5s artwork set?

The design is by a friend named Camilla Venturini. We sat down and we found Ralph Lauren’s font and myself and Letter Racer’s creative director then flipped the Polo logo together. The photograph was taken by a lady who came to the Boiler Room session I played and I think it looks pretty classy. The artwork on the cover was drawn by Cairo Marcopoulos, who’s the son of a photographer that we used to work with a lot, Ari Marcopoulos.

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Do you see yourself as a tape digger?

I’m always looking for tapes that aren’t too smashed or warped up. When there was James Brown, there was a Japanese James Brown and a Brazilian James Brown, but things that have just been jumped from the most part. People don’t care about tapes at all, that just shows a treasure trove, the infinite kind of sounds you can find [within old tapes]. With new programs like Ableton you can make those sound current or like anything, which gives you another goldmine of sounds to pull from, change and make into your own.

2016 is around the corner and it’s said that you’re working on a solo album. You have also been busy with Wiki’s record. What can you reveal about those projects, as well as Ratking’s future?

I’ve recently been working with some people like Patrick [Morales aka Wiki] and Novelist. I’ve helped in the mixing and producing of some tracks for Wiki’s project that will come out by the beginning of December [n.b. the first single is out now]. Then I also have an idea around a plan to make an album. It’s not necessarily cohesive right now and I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m trying to plan it well. As for Ratking, we’ll be putting an album out. We’re working on it, but we don’t know when it’s coming out. I’m trying to get the good timing. We will see.

55’5s is out on R&S Records.