Scribes Interview part 2

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 two of a two-part interview I did on March 12th with Scribes at his workplace (Wilcox Boxing), in which he tells the story of how his album was stolen just weeks before it’s release, the road he took to re-recording and releasing What Was Lost, and also, what was gained along the way.

Written by Adam Salazar

MVRemix: Talk about the theft of the album.

Scribes: So, Sleepwalk came out in 2007, and then I started recording the following album, which was with BeanOne from Dyme Def. I wanted to record with BeanOne because I had heard Framework’s HelloWorld and I was like, “Man this is my favorite local album that I’ve ever heard; if there’s one producer that I want to work with for the next album it’s gonna be BeanOne.” So, I started working on the album with BeanOne. [We] demoed a lot of the songs at my house so that I could get an idea of it out of the shitty recording setup – even recorded some stuff with BeanOne – I didn’t find we got the best takes at his studio. His studio got repossessed and shit like that, so I just left those recordings there. And then I took the album to this studio… I thought it was called “In-Flight,” when I was recording there because of this act named “Birdie” which was one of the bigger acts; like the foundation for the studio, but I think it’s called Forever Green Studios – with a guy named Aaron Angus, and the people recording there was One Below from Binary Star, and Grayskul, and a couple other acts. So, I was recording the album there and was really close to finishing it. We were coming close to the mixing phase of it – certain songs had been mixed, certain songs were ready to start finalizing. I was like, “Man, I’m trying to release this one my 21st birthday in February,” and then in November of 2008 I had a studio session booked and I called Aaron up, like, “Yo, just making sure we’re still on for the session today,” and I never got a response so I left a message on his phone, called him up a bunch of times but he never picked up, so I didn’t go to the session that day. I couldn’t get a hold of him for a couple of days, then he sent me an email like, “Yeah, on this-and-this day last week someone broke into the studio; broke the window, climbed in, and stole everything in the studio,” except for . . . I don’t remember totally . . . like the gun I think. But they ripped off everything in the studio. I was backing up on-site. I didn’t have an off-site backup, which I learned you shouldn’t do. We lost the on-site everything. Most of the acts that were in the studio had prior releases – what they lost was stuff that had already been released, or it was stuff that was maybe like their side-project or whatever. I think that me and JFK probably got hit the hardest, but JFK was recording a solo project that he lost – Grayskul is his biggest moneymaker I’m thinking. For me, it was like I lost my “Grayskul,” my main album, so I was ready to . . . lose it. But they had an idea of who they thought it was; they had a pretty good idea of who did it. I wanted to go get into his personal house, you know what I mean, I wanted to get my shit back. I would do what it takes. But nobody else was really willing to go with me, or do that. I was kind of frustrated. No one was organized about it, like no one gave a fuck. I was already at that time, like, “Man, I don’t fucking know how I’m going to even put my album out, because I don’t have the money.” I was really frustrated and dealing with the struggles of life, and then it was like – now the album is gone, and I had just busted my ass. There was a lot of really, really frustrating personal situations to get here and now everything that I had to show for it, to represent that, was gone. And so I’m really down to get into this person’s house and get my shit back – do whatever I gotta do, and no one was really down to help me. And so I waited for a while, like, do I just sit here and wait for some of it to get recovered? Or do I start over? Start spending money [and] start the project over again?

Well, fuck it. I went in to record the Summertime Sampler EP, which a couple of the tracks from that went on the album. So the Summertime Sampler I started recording probably around February or something, and that got dropped in May. I didn’t even drop that to get big off of; I just dropped it to remind everybody that I’m still here. Hella people come back with some mediocre follow-ups, and I’m like, “Nah,” I’m this age now – yeah, Sleepwalk was released two years ago, but I’m still [here]. Not only am I still here but I’m better. I’ve evolved. Just to remind my hardcore fans and political connects that I’m on top of my shit. And then after the sampler was done I was like, “Well, let’s finish this album up.” The album was a combination of stuff that was lost from there, and stuff that was lost that changed. Most everything got changed if it was already on the original, and then there was also some new songs.

MVRemix: How much do you feel the incident changed the final product? For better? For worse?

Scribes: I mean it’s definitely better. The thing is this project is so much cleaner – everything from the recording, to my ability as a singer, to my delivery as a rap artist [and] the writing on the new songs. Everything is better than it was. That’s the truth. But the hardest part for me about What Was Lost – and I stand by it a hundred percent like I stand by everything that I’ve put out because it represents a certain chapter of my life – is that the foundation of a lot of the songs on the album . . . [were laid] when I was really young. So, certain songs – three of the verses were written when I was 19 years old, and then the chorus [came later] and it’s me at 23 years old. So, I did my best to make sure that I adapted it to fit me as best as I possibly could at age of 23 – not the 19 year old that wrote some of those songs.

MVRemix: Did it feel strange to retrace your steps on those tracks or did it feel the same? Better?

Scribes: [Better]. A lot of that had to do with my engineer too. Because my engineer – Teal Douville – he was important because he pushed a lot of the songs in different directions than they were before. So we kind of changed them. I realized how filthy Teal was over the course of recording the Sampler, because that’s where I recorded that at, and he made a lot of contributions to “Roll My Way,” and songs like that. So he was big on that. [He] made it so that some of the songs weren’t just straight up re-recordings of shit that I had already done – we made some changes.

MVRemix: How did the theft affect the album financially?

Scribes: (Sighs) So, it was already difficult and frustrating and hard financially, as it was before. Because artists like me – everything has been paid for by me. You know what I’m saying? The only money I really got from anybody was the money from Mike [McCready], which basically paid for the production – so it paid for everything that’s BeanOne on that album. After that, when the album got stolen, had I been like a rock group we would’ve lost everything, you know what I mean, and had to replay all the instrumentation. But since I’m a rap artist and we had production [and] . . . beats, I could go back and get the beats from Bean, so I just had to re-record all the vocals and remix all the beats – so that was cool. But the financial hardship of re-recording it was unbelievable. I thought it was hard before, [but after] I thought that I would maybe break.

MVRemix: The original name of the album was supposed to be Thruourmusic. How about the meaning of the new name, What Was Lost – is that a reference to What Was Lost in the break-in?

Scribes: Yeah, [and] what was recovered, you know what I mean. I guess the foundation of the album’s recording is What Was Lost.

MVRemix: What does What Was Lost mean to you personally? As an accomplishment? As a statement? What inspired you most when putting this album together?

Scribes: I’m very proud of the album. I wouldn’t say that I stood around and listened to it all the time because I’ve heard it a lot (laughing). I’ve heard it a lot, and it’s been a long ordeal. But I’m very proud of the album; it’s a huge deal for me because I kind of forgot what it’s like to ever even put out music, or to have people hear your music for a long time.

MVRemix: What kind of statements were you making?

Scribes: The thing about me – especially now – which is different [is] on Sleepwalk is like, “Okay, I’m going to address these issues.” It’s from the heart, but it was like, “Okay, I see the policies of this in black and white and this is what I’m going to address.” In this album I didn’t really think about it like that because I was in a much more difficult financial situation, and I didn’t always have the luxury to really think about stuff [like that].

MVRemix: So in a way, whereas Sleepwalk was more subjective, this album is maybe more personal?

Scribes: It’s more personal. It’s a lot more personal, and it’s also just like: just say it how it is. This is life. I didn’t think about being politically correct, I just was like: this is what my life is right now. Call it how it is. Say it how it is. That’s why this probably might offend some people – especially in this area – more than my previous album, but at the same time that’s why it’ll probably hit more people in the heart.

MVRemix: What Was Lost has been received as being less political than your previous two releases, especially Sleepwalk. Do you think that’s true?

Scribes: Oh, absolutely.

MVRemix: The track “Forgive Me,” seems to possibly address this perception. Is there merit to that idea?

Scribes: [It’s] funny, “Forgive me,” more than anything was about my frustrations with the Seattle scene. And don’t get me wrong, it runs parallel to that of like the bullshit that you’re going to face trying to break into the national scene as well, like trying to make it on Clear Channel, you know, as opposed to making it on indie-radio or the indie scene. It was my frustration with just seeing everything from behind the scenes, and seeing how people conduct themselves and how they behave, and what business transactions actually lead to promotional opportunities, and the way that certain artists – and I’m not going to say any names – put themselves out there on stage or what they do, and what actually happens behind the scenes. There’s like a contradiction . . . And that goes for commercial artists, sure, but I spent so much of my time disliking commercial artists when I was doing Sleepwalk, and before Sleepwalk, that after Sleepwalk I saw the contradictions that existed on the end of the political artists. I started seeing artists who were quote-unquote “conscious,” or “not commercial,” and “indie,” and artists that were supposed to be so focused on improving the community, and I saw their contradiction, and I was like, “You know what? I really can’t fuck with this.” That’s also a part of what made me less political . . . when I started to see the climate in which their music came out of, and the community that it came out of, and the self-righteousness. It made me like, “Yo, man that’s why the hood doesn’t bang your shit, you know what I mean? That’s why people in the hood don’t want to hear your rap [they] don’t want to listen to that.” I see it now. And again, I’m not taking shots at anyone when I say it, because there’s certain artists in the community that I have a lot of love for. But I definitely got exposed to the bad aspect of the business.

What are you reinforcing? Because there is, like I say, “The Devil Machine.” There is [this] overwhelming machine that everybody reinforces – [well] not everybody – but the large, large majority of people reinforces. And that’s really a negative, or evil machine no matter what network of people you’re functioning in; whether that’s a counter-cultural leftist group, or a right-wing Bible-belt group. There’s going to be some type of really fucked up value that exists on their list of values. That’s just how it goes. And I’m the type of person who really [tries] to kick it with everybody and try to be open to everybody, and kind of drift between cliques, because I kind of like take the good things out of those cliques. But I always come across the value that everybody follows just because everybody else is following it, you know what I mean? Everybody is down with it because it’s on that set of values. It’s like, “Man, I can’t see things so black and white anymore.” And I guess “Forgive Me,” is about like: Are you going to reinforce that evil, or are you going to sit there and fight out of the corner and try to beat it? Are you going to be like everyone? Is it possible to beat that systematically reinforced evil? Are you going to try to fight against it? Is it possible to fight against it?

MVRemix: There seems to be a few references to estrangement from friends and family on What Was Lost, specifically on tracks like, “Moving On,” and “Pass You By.” Would you agree with that?

Scribes: (Sighs) Yeah, I mean, “Moving On” is a tough one for me; it’s definitely pretty personal. I tried to leave it open-ended so as not to cut ties with people, because there’s people that I care about that fit that song, you know what I mean, and I don’t want the [relationship completely cut]. My relationship with my direct family right now is probably better than it’s been for a long time. We’re cool. We hang out and talk more. But, a lot of the songs – this is where I go back to saying that the foundation for those songs were me at a young age. A lot of them were written – “Pass You By,” for instance, song like that – when I was staying on Beacon Hill [when] I didn’t talk to my family at all. I would exchange phone calls every once in a while, but – it wasn’t because they weren’t reaching out to me. There was problems that I didn’t really want to talk to them [about]. So it was a lot of isolation from them, which took its toll on me and came through on the album.

And then also, “I’ll Be Gone,” is specifically the combination of the rap grind – the hip-hop grind; trying to survive, stay afloat; the financial struggle of it all; the multiple jobs to support it. But then also at the end of the day, being disconnected from the family, not having people necessarily to rely on; holding it up yourself.

And then, “Moving On,” is really just specific to friends. For me, a lot of people went off to college and went and got their degree in certain things. For me, I didn’t get to experience that. I went right into this. A lot of people go off to school and would get to experience all these things and go to class or whatever and they would come back after months and months of being away, and I would be sitting there – having been forced to grow up and whatever – and they would come back and assume that I was the same person that I was in high school, and they didn’t spend enough time around me to know that anything had changed. And I don’t blame them for that, but they would go away and they’d come back, and this was the case up until they graduated and they come back and stay here for good. So I’m 22 years old now, and you still think that I’m that 18-year-old kid because you are closer to the person you were when you were 18 because a lot of them didn’t necessarily have to develop the financial independence, or the professional independence that I had. And that’s all on a college tip.

For me the other set of people I’m left around are people who are in the town. And a lot of people are in the town not because they are trying to have a rap career, but they’re in the town because they’re not doing shit with their lives, you know what I’m saying, because they are stuck on the couch. They’re like behind the speed bump you have to hop over to get momentum. Like when you’re a kid when you’re sitting in the bathtub and it starts getting cold, you know, and you sit there and rather than hop out and get clean you’re like, “How can I just not move and get warm,” you know what I mean, and me, I’m like “Man you got to get the fuck out of the bathtub,” (laughing) you know what I mean? And you’re just sitting there, and you’re freezing your ass off, and it keeps getting colder and colder but you don’t want to get out because it’s going to be hard, you know? It’s like that in life. You’ve gotta step out of your comfort zone. I know that you don’t have any momentum, it’s hard as fuck right now, but the longer you stay there the harder it’s going to be to get moving. And the people in the town that I’m with – they are so, a lot of them are just like stuck doing not-positive things, and were not able to get over that speed bump and do positive things, and that’s what’s frustrating. The fact that they’re drowning [has ended] up pulling me with them, and it’s very frustrating to be financially taking care of myself, running a rap career, [and] for the most part not being able to have a consistent, functioning relationship with a woman because of how chaotic my life is. There’s always women because of this business, but it’s difficult to hold down a relationship. A lot of times [you have] to be kind of out of contact with your family, and then to have your friends be not even on a parallel wavelength – totally out of touch – some of them even drowning and pulling you down, it’s a lot to handle. There [was] so much shit going on at once when the album was recorded. I don’t know. It all kind of made sense; one problem happens and it causes a domino effect of other issues, you know what I’m saying? I think that it made it into a reality with that album.

MVRemix: It sounds like on one hand you have some resentment towards some of the people this is directed at, but on the other hand you may be reaching out to them with some of those songs. Is that accurate?

Scribes: That’s the thing, with a lot of them – some of them are so far out of touch I don’t even know how to like try to [reach out to them]. It was basically me being passive a long time ago when I was young, and then the problems grew to a place where it’s like now, you know, we’re so far out of touch I can’t even . . . I don’t even know why I would even to talk to you anymore, you know what I mean? There’s so many of you that have this fucking problem, that have something that [has] like totally separated you from me that I don’t even know how to say it except for to put it in music, you know what I mean?

MVRemix: Do you think those people will listen to this album and hear the message?

Scribes: I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see, I don’t know. The thing that is hard is [that] there’s certain people that definitely are and definitely aren’t [going to hear the message]. And I know that some people might hear things about them – and it’s not about them. And then some people might hear it and think that it’s not about them, and it is about them, you know? And some people – that’s the thing with the album because once it comes out, it’s not like a music video where everyone watches it at once and it’s like, oh, now it’s right in your face. It’s like, “Nah, this is track 8 on a 12-track album.” Who knows what they may even listen to? You know what I’m saying? So I don’t know what’s going to happen, it was definitely worrying for me because I didn’t want it to feel like I was going behind people’s backs – it wasn’t like that. I didn’t even want people to think that the conclusion of it was like, “Fuck you guys,” you know what I mean – dissin’ people. But it was just kind of like, “Man, some of you guys really need to get your shit together, but at the end of the day I care a lot about each and every one of you.”

But I can’t handle the negativity, you know, “You have to make some changes in your life, because I don’t want the same shit in my life.” So, we’ll see.

MVRemix: There seems to be a lot of (deserved) criticism of the mainstream, and the mainstream recording industry on the album. Can you talk a little about your thoughts on that?

Scribes: I definitely don’t hate the commercial world like I used to. I’ve been mostly out of touch with individuals functioning in the commercial world, so I’m sure that once I get down to L.A. and I’m functioning in the scene I’m going to have some frustrations. I don’t know. It’s hard. When you take specifically urban, commercial, black music, there’s a tendency when it comes to white fans – especially music purists – to hate it when it happens and to like it 30 years later, you know what I’m saying? That’s why everybody listens to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and jazz artists – it’s great music, you know what I mean, first and foremost – but they wouldn’t of kicked it with those jazz artists had they been [there] at the time. And there’s a lot of people who hate the commercial world now who will like some of it later. Sometimes people just hate what’s new because when something is new history hasn’t been written yet, so things are still open-ended. It [hasn’t] placed in history, or been written in history as a particular age or period of history that people categorize, so you don’t know where things are going. So people a lot of times hate on shit, but two or three years later, or even later than that it’s like, “Oh, that’s what this is – that’s what The Chronic was, you know what I mean; that’s what 2Pac’s Makaveli was,” you know what I mean, or whatever it was.

But at the same time, there’s a lot of commercial shit that is garbage. And there’s a lot of Clear Channel stuff where they’re just not gonna let anything on the air except for the same songs they put on repeat. It’s weird. An artist like me is kind of in an odd place because I’m somewhere between independent music and Clear Channel, because so much of my influences were Clear Channel artists from the 90’s, and urban artists from the 90’s. In general I want my music to always sound new, but I just don’t want it to be toned down. Basically at the end of the day I don’t really give a fuck about what you’re doing – whether it’s commercial, underground, independent – some alternative network of music – unless it’s good. If it’s good, that’s what I care about at the end of the day. I’m not like a music purist, I would say. But it’s definitely difficult to get recognition like artists with Clear Channel play.

But the thing about the album that I think is pretty tight, not to sound arrogant, but I feel like it’s got the underground edge – you can’t knock it for it’s writing because the writing is there; it’s better than what most artists can produce as far as their writing goes. So you can’t knock me as a rap artist. I didn’t dumb my shit down. The production is somewhere in-between underground rap and commercial rap – a lot of the production – but you can’t knock it either because the beats hit, you know what I mean, the melodies are filthy. And then the singing could appeal to Clear Channel audiences. The melodies, and the sounds can appeal to Clear Channel audiences, and have something that balanced the edge of the raps or whatever. It’s very much still a side of me, it balances the edge of the rap, but at the same time it isn’t dumbed down at all.

That, very much, is what is tight about working with BeanOne, [because] BeanOne just has a really quirky style, because BeanOne is a straight-up hip-hop-head, and he’s a straight up like, graffiti-type. Probably more so a hip-hop-head than I am. I’m a rap fan. I grew up very much influenced by rap as the element of hip-hop, but he is very much someone who is down with all the elements and shit like that. I have love for all of them, but I just don’t know it as well. At the same his time music – his beat style is very, like, quirky; Clear Channel meets underground, type of beat style.

MVRemix: What kinds of thing would you like to see happen in hip-hop? What is your vision for the future of hip-hop? What directions would you like to see explored, and what directions would you like to see left behind?

Scribes: I’m just interested to see where things go. I know what I want to do. At the end of the day I just hope that the other artists out there keep building and evolving doing tight stuff. Like if they want to go in that like straight bass futuristic thing and it’s tight, they have my blessing, you know what I mean? And maybe I’ll even like try and work on some of their beats and see what I can do with it. But if they want to go in a different direction, I don’t know. I mean it’s an interesting time and I really don’t know where things are going to go, and I think that when it comes to the internet, like I just said, I don’t know where things are going to go. If this was the 90’s there would be a much more distinct [path] of things; “This is what’s going on right now.” There’s so many avenues to listen to music and so many different networks of people, and networks of music and followers, you know what I mean? There’s no one radio station. It’s overwhelming.

I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, I’d say it’s a trade-off. Because you get some of what you want, like: it’s easy to record music right now; but it’s over-saturated because everyone can record music. You know? You can promote an album for free online, and you don’t need to invest as much money if you don’t want to in pressing up CD’s and this or that, and you can get music faster and easier from places, but at the same time, because that’s the case, everybody is throwing music out there, and from every single dimension of the internet you are receiving music. So it’s like it’s a little overwhelming. It’s a trade-off. It’s a really different business. And I’d say specific to hip-hop it’s interesting because I see things I never thought I would’ve seen growing up in the 90’s. I grew up [and] everyone wore baggy clothes, and everyone had to be hard as fuck, you know what I mean? Even if you were flashy, you had to be on some shit. And it’s tight, it’s definitely tight to see that people don’t necessarily have to fit that exact formula; they don’t have to be gangster; they don’t have to be hella flashy. When I was growing up you had to be a thug, or you had to be a thug who was “jiggy,” you know what I mean, or more “Puffy.” And it’s tight to see that you don’t have to be like that anymore. I never would have thought I would see young black rap fans and rap artists rocking skinny jeans and mohawks, and dyed hair, rolling around on skateboards and shit like that. So it’s tight to see things diversify.

At the same time though, it’s a trade-off because people have to pay fewer dues to the street, and maybe don’t have to establish quite as much credibility as they used to, because everybody is a rap artist nowadays. And so many communities are involved in following, or producing, or making hip-hop music [whereas] back in the day you had to have a little bit more credibility. You had to like, pay more dues, to earn respect. Take an artist like Mac Miller: If you take some of his songs you gotta give him his props because – break down his bars, and his sound is not bad, you know what I mean? He’s got some songs where it’s like, “Oh, that’s dope.” But it’s like, I don’t know what his story is, or what he’s been through, so I’m not criticizing him, but it’s like, well, it appears to me that he doesn’t necessarily have to like, check himself on certain things. And he’s able to have the freedom to do things that he maybe shouldn’t have the freedom to do. That may sound wrong, but I don’t know.

I’m interested in seeing how things will go. I noticed a lot of change when Obama got elected, because I think there was a lot more racial tension in general – and I think there still is – but as far as in rap and hip-hop goes there was a lot more. There definitely still is, but things [have] mixed in an interesting way between college students who follow rap and go to shows, and futuristic black rap artists on that spaceship tip – skinny jeans and tight pants, and you’ve got your old-school, more gangster style rappers, and you’ve got your conscious rappers – it’s a weird, unusual melting pot. I never thought I would’ve seen it. But there’s nothing wrong with that.

MVRemix: Now that you’ve finally captured What Was Lost, what are you excited about doing next? What would you like to experiment with? What are you looking forward to? What can your fans look forward to? What’s next for Scribes?

Scribes: I want to record another project. I want to build a team, and I want to create a team of people where we’re able to produce interesting extensions of what Scribes is – [where] it isn’t necessarily totally me. The recording and the songs and the stuff that’s all like what I do – but videos, interviews, graphic design, whatever else. Building a brand. Seeing where I can take the brand and what I can build.

And also, I want to just record something great again. I just really want to get back in and record something great. I don’t know; I feel like I kind of want to put out something shorter than an album, because it seems like people lose interest. It just makes more sense. I don’t know. It would be tight to record an album that is less than 10 tracks. I don’t really want to put it in a box; we’ll see where it goes. I really want to build a team to establish an interesting brand and see where we can take things. And then I just want to keep recording.

MVRemix: Artistically, what are you excited about exploring to get you to that next great thing that you’re talking about?

Scribes: I honestly would just do what I feel like I haven’t been able to do, because while recording What Was Lost, I felt kind of like obligated and tied to shit that was older. I want to be able to take something and see what I can build with a really contemporary sound. Like I said, whether that’s on the Clear Channel end, or the KEXP end. I want to see what kind of contemporary stuff is out there, and I just really want to make something that sounds…

I don’t want to experiment to the point where I feel like sometimes people get over-experimental, and forget what their foundation is. I kind of hear something in my head; this sound that is like – I can visualize it and hear it and picture it in my head, but I can’t like… I don’t know. I’m kind of like looking for that. So that producer – find producers to work with [and] make it happen.

I see the crowds that I kick it in, and the crowds from my shows, or that are influenced by music, and crowds that aren’t. Anything from the clubs in Belltown where you go out and kick it and dance to the top 100 billboard artists, to next door where you go see some independent artist coming up on tour. I’m just interested in seeing how I can take those different things that are contemporary and make it into my next project.

MVRemix: Where can people download the new album and check in on upcoming shows?


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