Scribes Interview

After a long struggle, rapper Scribes emerged to beat the odds and drop a very polished encore to his sizzling debut, Sleepwalk (2007). What Was Lost – a title suggestive of the album’s arduous conception – features a renewed commitment to Scribes’ hip-hop roots that does not disappoint. The album, released February 2nd, represents a significant revival for the Seattle rapper, and offers a more contemporary depiction of the artist, who’s approach has certainly adjusted and developed in the years since his debut.

What Was Lost comes off as being less politically involved than previous releases (EP Summer Sampler 2009, and the revolutionarily charged Sleepwalk), but in it’s place Scribes has portrayed a more personal image – running the gamut from brooding and dejected, to even quite fun and celebratory. The following is part one of a two-part interview I did on March 12th with Scribes at his workplace (Wilcox Boxing), in which he tells the story of the road he took to releasing What Was Lost – and also, what was gained along the way.

MVRemix: Did you grow up in Seattle?

Scribes: I went to school here, lived here, worked here, graduated from high school here. My mom lived in the Wallingford area, and then when my parents split my dad moved to the Lake City area for a while, and different neighborhoods in the north end. Then when I moved out I was living in Beacon Hill for a while, and then I spent some time on Capitol Hill, and now I’ve been living in Belltown for a while.

MVRemix: What do you remember most about coming up around town? Who did you listen to?

Scribes: I don’t know the national scene that well so, I don’t know what is Seattle and what isn’t, you know what I mean? I guess I would just say that the biggest influences for me was: In general I’m kind of like a sponge, so I pick everything up, you know I’m always soaking stuff up in the world around me. But I think the biggest thing in Seattle that probably influenced me was my school experience I guess. Just from the diversity, the teachers, and the different neighborhoods.

The rap scene influenced me in certain ways. I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge fan of all the music that Seattle has produced – as far as rap goes – but as far as the way that I function as a businessperson [in the] community that I came up on. That was like the rap scene that I experienced. Whether I’m a fan of it or not, I was definitely influenced by it.

MVRemix: What influenced your taste in music? What influenced your style?

Scribes: Originally I’d say that, [because] my dad was kind of like a 60’s baby – I wouldn’t say he’s a hippy – but [those were] his years. My mom was like a couple years younger, but about the same time. So, my dad’s musical taste was very much, like, soul and rock & roll. It was a combination of white and black music, but it was very much rock & roll. So, anything from The Temptations, to Little Richard, to even Elvis Presley, you know what I mean – on the whiter side; The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Al Green, Aretha Franklin. So there was that.

And then when I got to be in 3rd or 4th grade I started getting heavily influenced by rap music – I would say black, urban music in general. So, R&B, Rap – I wouldn’t even say hip-hop, because that wasn’t even a word. If I used “hip-hop” it was to describe just the music side, it wasn’t to describe the break-dancing and everything else, because that’s not necessarily what I was influenced by. It was rap music. So, anything from 2Pac, to Biggie, even, you know, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah – artists like that. That’s what I grew up and witnessed. That’s the side of rap that I watched – “The Chronic 2001,” Snoop Dogg, whatever, Nas.

And then when I started rapping it got a little bit different, because before I was rapping was kind of like my middle school phase, and in middle school everyone burned mixes. So, they’d go on Limewire, they’d go on Morpheus, and Kaaza, whatever they’d used to download music, and we’d burn really long mixes of random stuff. So we’d get all these songs – whether it was a pop song, or an R&B song, or a song that people bang in the hood – it was all mixed together. So, I kind of heard a lot of the songs from 2Pac’s album, Nas, Biggie, Eminem, DMX, whoever, but I hadn’t listened to their albums because it was all mixed up. So, when I started rapping – I was about 15 or 16 – I went back and did my research more, and was actually listening to their albums as opposed to listening to all their songs from throughout their career all mixed up into one. So, it helped me put all their careers into perspective; this is when he was doing this – this is when he was doing that. Especially if you take someone like 2Pac: 2Pac’s evolution from “2Pacalyspe Now,” to “All Eyez On Me,” before he died, was [a tremendous] contrast. So, when I grew up I would have a mix and it would have “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” but then it would have “Do For Love?” track two, and those are from two completely different periods of time. So, that was an influence. I would say that in general, I was always influenced by contemporary urban music. And when I started rapping, I went back to learn a little bit more about the golden era, or the golden age of hip-hop, because I didn’t witness that. There were songs that came back to my generation in middle school – even if you weren’t listening to rap in 1993, because I was in kindergarten, you know at I mean, you would still hear “The Chronic,” when you’re in middle school. So, [there’re] songs that you grew up on no matter what. But there [were] certain artists that I didn’t witness, especially on the East Coast because, I would say that my influences and what I witnessed was very much West Coast, because I’m in Seattle. Even though Seattle’s not Cali, for me and my middle school experience, and cats from the hood and stuff like that, they for the most part they were banging that type of West Coast rap.

When I started rapping it got a little bit more complicated because Seattle’s rap scene – it’s not even a rap scene, it’s a hip-hop scene. I don’t feel like Seattle would even want to use the word “rap,” because it’s like almost politically incorrect to them (laughing), which I don’t necessarily agree with [but] I understand their point. But Seattle’s scene influenced me because when I started rapping, I kind of had this edge or this influence, which, if you’ve heard my album is like a combination of R&B and hard, hard bars. And that’s kind of like what I grew up on. So there’s that element, but then when I started actually functioning as a rap artists all of the opportunities in the city, it was a very much different network of rap music and hip-hop; you know Blue Scholars, and Common Market. And some of them produce great music, and you’ve got to give them their props, and I followed it in high school, and I started getting into the scene in high school. That music influenced me in certain ways, [but] they were very much on the KEXP side of hip-hop, and I was very much growing up on the KUBE side. And I have a lot of love for KEXP, but I’d say sometimes it’s a little bit difficult for an artist like me to try and market my sound, or express it through the lanes that might be more appropriate to promote an artist like Macklemore, or Blue Scholars. But you’ve got to give them their props, and you’ve got to give KEXP their props; there were certain artists from that network, like Immortal Technique who influenced me. I’d say for the most part, the acts that came through Seattle were not what I grew up on or what I was originally influenced by, but they still influenced me because that’s the only scene that I’ve ever known about functioning in, or ever promoting my music in. If you ask a lot of artists in Seattle who they were influenced by, they’re going to say a totally different set of artists than I might say – especially the older cats, they’ll be like, “Run DMC,” they’ll be like, “Sir Mix-a-Lot,” you know what I mean, and they’ll hit you with hella East Coast, late 80’s early 90’s cats. You can’t expect a kid who’s – I’m 23 now – you know what I mean, how old was I when those cats were relevant. KRS One, I bump KRS-One now, but I didn’t grow up on KRS-One. He’s on a different coast and he was around when I was too young to even understand what was going on.

MVRemix: What artists did influence you the most?

Scribes: It’s a hard one because, like I told you, I just soak so much up that I’m constantly just taking in information that I think I can use and being influenced by things. I think that any artist who’s doing big things [is] a collage and an evolution of their influences. So, they take everything [and] all the artists that influenced them; they probably made music that sounded exactly like those artists and then, once they developed the actual skills to say, “Oh, I know how to make this music,” then they kind of put their twist on it and made it evolve. So, it’s hard because I’ve been influenced by so many people, but I would say that if there was one artist of like my top 5 rap artists, the one artist that was my model for everything was probably 2Pac because 2Pac was like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X of my age group. And I only really caught him like maybe right before his death [or] right around his death because I was still young – and I don’t know if it was necessarily healthy because there was some disingenuous and corrupt marketing as far as his post-death music releases go. But whatever the case it influenced me and a lot of my peers, and he was like my model for everything, because musically, it was the full package: the persona, the music itself, the political significance, the contradictions in his music – “I Get Around,” talking about what its like to be a rapper and all the hoes on your dick, and [then] “Dear Mama,” you know, the sweet side, then the “Hit ‘Em Up” gangster side. I guess he was just the model for [me]. Which, when you talk about Seattle jams, what makes it sometimes a little bit difficult to try and promote myself in Seattle – not to the consumers, but to the establishment – because a lot of establishments like I said, they probably relate a little bit more to other avenues of hip-hop.

The thing is, I don’t even know if he’s bar-for-bar the best rapper ever, but in my eyes there’s no question.

MVRemix: When did you realize that you had a talent for rapping?

Scribes: I was always a pretty good writer; so, I think I remember it was in like the 5th grade I started writing poetry and started writing more, and started to realize that I kind of had a knack for writing. But I’m kind of the type of person where I always had to have some type of skill. So – I think it’s even in this book over here (gestures towards a nearby boxing book) – there’s this line [from] Mohammed Ali where he’s like, “Boxing was nothing, it was just a means to introduce me to the world.” So, I think ever since I was a little kid I’ve been trying to develop a certain skill to establish a platform to say something from. So, I was always trying to develop a skill, and, writing was just one of the skills that I developed. And I don’t know if I’m naturally talented in general at many things, or if it’s just a certain confidence that I developed when I was young to get off the couch, kind of, and pursue a talent or skill, because a lot of people don’t have that confidence – they just have this feeling of failure so they don’t necessarily pursue a talent and they don’t put their heart into it. And don’t get me wrong: there’s thing’s you’re going to be better at or worse at. I was a good basketball player, but I wasn’t as good of a basketball player as I was a boxer. But I did have a knack for writing and it kind of showed early, like elementary school, middle school, and I kind of let it grow while I was pursuing other things; I was doing boxing and basketball and other sports and this and that. And it came back when the war was going on in Iraq or whatever, and I just remember being really heated and frustrated, like, it was just a combination of political frustrations, teenage frustration, frustration with my family and things that were going on and it was just like, “Man.” I remember seeing freestyle battles at my school and being like, you know, maybe I’ll be a hip-hop artist. Because before that happened, I was always like, “Man there’s no possible way that you’re ever going to be a rap artist,” you know . . . part of me always pictured myself being a rap artist, but . . . “You are white,” you know. I grew up on pre-Eminem hip-hop, so there were no white guys doing it, and then I also experienced post-Eminem hip-hop, and I was just like, “There’s no way you’re going to be that.” But then, I remember seeing a bunch of freestyle battles and, you know, I got into it for whatever reason, and that was probably sophomore year in high school or something, and I started recording projects and after I had gone from freestyling and messing around for like a month at a time, I started recording with producers in my high school, laying the stuff on wax, and I was like, “Yo, let’s record an album.” [I] did an album over the course of three or four months, and by the end of the album – which was like the beginning of my junior year – I was just like, set on being a rapper, and after that everything came second to it.

MVRemix: Was that Sleepwalk or Pre-Sleepwalk?

Scribes: Well, pre-Sleepwalk I went by “Prophit,” so it was like a combination of the two words, and that was in like 2004 maybe, that I released that. You know, I wouldn’t go out and promote it now (laughing), you know what I mean, and say that I made the album because it’s not something that I necessarily stand by as like, “Check me out,” but given the circumstance I’m definitely proud of it as an accomplishment. And after it came out everything came second – schoolwork – everything. And Sleepwalk was the following project.

MVRemix: Who are you listening to right now?

Scribes: I probably get most of my music from YouTube. Music has changed so quickly, you just pick up stuff from random sources all the time; I don’t even know how you get it. You might see a link on Facebook or something, you know what I mean; you might see something on a blog or whatever. I’d say that I was kind of ignorant to the blogs up until this fall of 2010 when my video came out and it started getting posted on the blogs, and [then] I started following blogs more.

As far as rap music goes: Nipsey Hussle, J.Cole. I feel like I bump old school music for the most part. Aaliyah. Whatever else.

MVRemix: How do you know Macklemore?

Scribes: I think the first time I met Macklemore was probably in the 90’s, because my dad started dating a woman named Laurie – they had just started dating – and she was a family friend of Macklemore’s family. So, I remember meeting him – [we] didn’t really talk, I had met him like once. I had always kind of heard about him – not as Macklemore, but as Ben – and his mom would kind of keep me posted on what he was doing, and this or that. But we never really talked; he was like six years older than me, you know, so, they were just kind of family friends. And then when my album – my first little CD in high school – came out [and] I started working on another one I was always doing free recordings. And I realized, man, free recordings is not the truth, that shit is whack as fuck, because when your doing a free recording your always feeling that someone doesn’t really want to be – for the most part – recording you. So, you know, you’re kind of like on their time. You’re always sacrificing something to pay for that. And I think I was a senior in high school, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’m going to invest some money in recording,” and Macklemore has a studio, and I just knew him from around and we were family friends I guess. So, I went and started recording at his studio and did the whole project there, and [did] shows together. I went back with him, I knew him for a while.

MVRemix: How did you meet Mike McCready?

Scribes: Here actually [Wilcox Boxing]. Mike was one of the people training, with his wife, I was one of the trainers working, and we just became friends before anything else. I knew him; we would kind of talk music, and I would keep him informed on my career, but [it was more] friends than a business connect. But then he said that he wanted help to finance the album. He said he just wanted to help me out.

MVRemix: Had he heard your previous work?

Scribes: Oh yeah, Sleepwalk had already been out, I had given him the album and he was, you know, blasting it; giving it to all his friends and contacts. They’ve always been really supportive – him and his wife Ashley. Ashley, I think said, “We should help him out,” and they did. They’ve been very supportive.

MVRemix: Did you know who he was when you met?

Scribes: Well, my boss had told me, or whatever. I wouldn’t say that I grew up listening to a lot of Pearl Jam, but Pearl Jam was always relevant. My dad had always talked about Pearl Jam, and talked about Stone [Gossard] and Mike being like relevant local figures – not [just] because they were in this [huge] rock group, but also because they happened to be active as local people. But I didn’t know Pearl Jam’s music that well, [but] once I was kind of friends with him I started trying to go back and [listen].

MVRemix: Let’s switch gears. What was it like shooting the video for “Roll My Way”?

Scribes: It was crazy. I mean, there was some really fun moments and then there were some really difficult moments. Because, you know, the thing about shooting that video in particular and Jon Jon’s [director Jon Augustavo’s] videos is that they are organic, but they also kind of look like you have a high budget when you do them. The look of them is pretty specific, and it’s difficult sometimes. I wanted to make sure it looked professional like we had a big budget, but I wasn’t working with a budget, you know what I mean, I didn’t really have shit. So, definitely, to establish all that [in the] scenes [it was] work. But it was important. Jon is very much like a freestyler when it comes to his videos. He shows up and just kind of captures. He very much freestyles it and I’m very much pre-composed. Everything that I do in general is very much like my music, very thorough and written out, whereas Jon – he’s just having a good time (laughs). I learned some things from Jon. But it was crazy, because there was multiple, you know, events, parties, and multiple shoots. And generally Jon’s videos are more simplistic and they capture interesting shots or whatever, and I wanted to add some really specific conceptual themes to the video. So, it was definitely hard.

MVRemix: Who’s idea was it to do the video?

Scribes: It was mine. I didn’t know Jon – I hollered at him. It was like spring of 2010 and I was like, “Man, I’ve got to shoot a video or something,” and I was just kind of saying it – I didn’t think I was actually going to make it happen, you know. [But] my engineer was like, “Yo, holler at Jon,” and Jon had only shot like two videos: he shot Eighty4 Fly, and Wizdom and Grynch. And 84 Fly – no one really knew that name yet. People know Eighty4 Fly’s name now in the town now, but no one really knew it yet. I hit up Jon, scheduled it for the summer time, and what’s crazy is that I hollered at him when he had just done a couple videos, nothing big, and by the time my video started shooting he probably released three more videos, and they were like SOL, J. Pinder, The Physics – reasonable names. And then by the time my video was released he had probably done like five or six videos, so my video kind of like picked up the momentum – followed his momentum and his name. (laughing) He was busy this summer.

MVRemix: Was it easy/hard to fund?

Scribes: It was difficult; I mean it’s been difficult to fund this whole of life in general, you know I mean, and its definitely something that I’ve busted my ass trying to [do]. The video was a landmark in my career [because] the album got stolen, and it was just marking a point of, “You’re hitting rock bottom right now.” It got stolen in 2008, and I shot the video in 2010. So, that entire two-year period or whatever was just like me trying to climb out of a hole. There were already problems that existed in my career and I was struggling before, but I had enough momentum not to get fucked with. And so when the album got stolen it was an indicator of [being] at the bottom now. And a lot of people kicked me while I was down. I went through a lot. The whole period of time I was like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever climb out of this. The album might make or break me.” And then the video – I kind of almost lost it over the course of shooting it. I came really close to a tipping point, a breaking point of not even being able to finish it just because of all the work it took. And then I did, and it ended up kind of marking the next landmark, or indicator, like: you’re reimbursed.

MVRemix: Who were some of the people in the video? Was that HAVi Blaze I saw?

Scribes: Yeah [HAVi Blaze]. Most of those people I just grew up with, you know what I mean, freinds from high school, back to middle school. My brother brought some of his friends out from his high school. The barbeque scene [was] some of my friends from high school, people here and there, so it was more like, small groups of people kicking it kind of low-key. The house party scene was like my brother’s friends, some of my friends, some people at one of my shows.

MVRemix: I noticed the chorus covers 2Pac a little bit, was that a shout-out to the “old-school jams . . . [you] miss,” that you talked about at the beginning of the track?

Scribes: Yeah. The whole song is kind of like that because the whole song consists of quotes. Even when the melodies or the lyrics aren’t direct quotes from somebody they convey a certain emotion for me that reminds me of that period of time. Outkast quotes, Devon The Dude quotes, Mary J Blige quotes, 2Pac of course in the chorus. It’s kind of like you have the actual literal quotations that are referencing songs that convey an emotion parallel to that of what I was trying to convey in “Roll My Way,” and then also the chorus and the singing brought back a certain sound or feel that reminded me of a lot of music that I grew up on, which is like I said, Aaliyah, TLC, stuff like that.

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