IAME UGSMAG interview
The Pacific Northwest is not known as a hot bed of hip-hop for one reason or another. I mean, we have some great indie groups that people are very familiar like Grayskul, Shabazz Palaces, and of course Grammy blonde thriftier Macklemore, but with such a large span of space, we should have more. Who knows why the lack of broader support locally is not there, maybe it’s the view of the city police here in Portland when it comes to hip-hop, maybe hipsters only like what Pitchfork and Fader tell them to like? Doesn’t really fucking matter because they are truly sleeping on so many talented people who are out here hustling to make a name for themselves. If it isn’t Tope/TxE, or Mic Capes and The Resistance, or the home town hero Cool Nutz still banging it out, it’s various members of X-Force like MC/Producers Sandpeople. You should know who the fuck Illmaculate is at this point if you at all follow the battle circuit, or there’s Sapient who is the man of many deeply skilled hats, and then there’s my dude IAME AKA Wool See. He is not only a founding member of Sandpeople, but he holds citizenship in Seattle’s MASSIVE crew Oldominion (Onry Ozzborn, JFK, Xperience, Pegee 13). I had a chance to talk with him about his crews, his music and his future projects coming for 2015. Check it out, support his music, and his label Heaven Noise Recordings. Let it begin here!
UGSMAG: You hold two firm placements in really well loved hip-hop crews out of the pacific northwest, with in being a founding member of Sandpeople, and Oldominion. How long have you been a part of each, and how did you end up connecting with such an already LARGE, and tight knit crew like Ol’D?
IAME: I’ve been with SP since the jump and we formed in 2004. I joined Oldominion in 2005 but they had already established themselves as a crew by then. I credit Mo-B of Sandpeople for a lot of it because I met most of the OD crew through him. Mo-B, Simple (aka Thndrthf), and I had a group called Redshield before Sandpeople. We released an album titled Paradise Lost in 2003; it was my first time making an album and doing things on a semi-professional level. Prior to that I was just floating around aimlessly.. Mo-B took me under his wing (penguin wing to be exact) and the rest is history. Smoke M2D6 and Zebulon Dak of Oldominion did a lot of the beats and mixing on the Redshield album. We would record songs out in Forest Grove, at Pacific University, where Simple was going to school. We did all the vocals in his dorm room and then we’d go out to Smoke & Zeb’s house in Vancouver, WA to do the mixing. Sleep and Syndel of Oldominion lived in the Vancouver house too and there was always someone else from the crew couch-surfing or some touring act staying over on their way through, and basically it was a big hip hop house/studio/hostel. We would all kick it over there on a pretty regular basis so I became close with everyone. Over the next couple of years, while SP was in its beginning stages, I continued working closely with Smoke and Zeb to create my first solo project. I made this crazy intro one night with Simple and Smoke (and some hallucinogens). Smoke played it for Onry Ozzborn and JFK (Grayskul) and they were buggin out. They started to hit up all the other OD heads, rallying to get me in the crew. Smoke and Zeb were already vouching for me at that point so it was a natural move. Obviously, you can see just by this historical account that SP and OD have been closely related the whole time but I’m the only one with equal footing in both. Between 2003 and 2005 I was just around all these folks a lot and we became family.. My life is way different nowadays and I’m not around nearly as much but those early years shaped who I am and what I create. I’ll always rep those names just for that fact alone but there is still so much dope music that gets created by these people, even if we’re not doing things collectively there is still a lot of quality content being released under the SP and OD umbrellas.
UGSMAG: You’ve been playing local shows, and touring for several years, and to date there hasn’t been someone who’s really REALLY broken out from Portland. Even though Illmac crushes the battle circuit and has dropped some fantastic albums, and Sapient has created some classics as, well. Neither of you, or anyone else has really hit Atmosphere, Sage Francis, or Doomtree status like you DESERVE. What do you think holds Portland back from being taken more seriously on the national map?
IAME: There are a bunch of factors at play here but as far as Portland hip hop, I think it’s only a matter of time before someone really gets it popping. I’ve seen it grow in the past 10 years and I think we’re in a really good place right now.. Tope could blow up.. He works hard and works smart, and his music is accessible. I really like Vinnie Dewayne, I like Myke Bogan and the whole Soar Losers camp, Load B is dope, and The Resistance dudes are dope. All of these artists are making music that could be big outside of Portland but historically, it’s a weird and small market. Portland is kind of small, it’s definitely become this huge, gentrified beast but that doesn’t mean much for the hip hop scene. There are plenty of things holding Portland hip hop back but that’s a topic that could be discussed for days. Bottom line, the more artists we have who are making quality content and putting on for Portland, the stronger the scene is going to be.. The main hurdles I see are the crabs-in-the-bucket mentality and city officials/Police trying to shut down hip hop events and clubs. But the former will always be an issue and the latter is a problem that has been discussed a lot in the last couple years and has even resulted in some good publicity for artists who have been affected by and/or worked hard to raise awareness on the issue.
In the more personal sense, I think that there are plenty of reasons why I haven’t exploded into mega stardom or even medium-indie stardom; Portland doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. I have my share of weaknesses and things that I works towards improving but there are something’s that I will never be great at.. I feel pretty good on the mic so that’s all that matters (smiley face emoji). I don’t necessarily deserve more than I have.. I have a pretty good life and a lot to be thankful for.. I’m just sort of slept-on. Some of it’s circumstantial, some of it’s my fault. It’s probably mostly my fault.
Whether or not I receive any recognition for it, I do think that the work I’ve done over the past 10 years has helped pave the way for some of the younger Portland artists.. and I feel like we’ve made a positive impact on the scene as a whole. Plus we have a reach that extends far beyond Portland so some of the people that listen to us just think of us as American rappers or West Coast rappers.. Portland’s not holding anybody back but just look at Seattle right now; the more a scene grows, the more it will help propel careers.. But there’s still dope shit that gets slept on in Seattle.
As far as Illmac, he is one of the best battlers of all time and his music just keeps getting better too.. Sapient is a DEY (do-everything-yourself) mastermind who is continuing to spread his reach. It ideally would’ve already happened, but I think that both of them are going to eventually reach a much larger fan-base. And I’m friends with them, so hopefully I can just ride coattails to victory!
UGSMAG: You just dropped a sweet ass EP under the new moniker WOOL SEE for Christmas 2014. What brought that about, and what should people expect from you as WOOL SEE this coming year?
IAME: Yes! This is where most of my focus has been lately in terms of my solo stuff. It’s actually the most “solo” music that I’ve ever made because I do all the beats and vocals.. I record and mix most of it too. I look at WOOL SEE as a one-man-band, albeit for no good reason. It’s a way different creative process for me.. I’ve done a handful of self-produced songs in the past and I’ve been making beats for almost 10 years but it was always sort of off and on. It was never too serious of a pursuit. Rapping has always been my main interest and I’ve been doing it for over half of my life.. I’ve got like 18 years invested at this point. But I always wanted to produce as well, it just kept getting pushed to the background. In 2012, I got really burnt out on everything – I had put a ton of work into my label and my album Lame$tream, only to have a bunch of plans fall through – and I needed something new to put my energy into. I started working on production every day and I eventually set a goal to produce a full project for myself. I now have way more than one album’s worth of material in the works and can say that this will be an ongoing project with multiple releases. Last year, I decided I’d give it a different identity because it feels different than my previous stuff. I’m doing more experimenting with my vocals.. There are even shitty attempts at singing. The idea thus-far has been to keep everything as isolated as possible and try to make the best of it.. It’s a weird way of doing things but it’s a fun challenge. I might switch it up at some point to really focus on making the best possible-product but, for the most part, this will be the general spirit of WOOL SEE. It might not be the greatest, but it is the most ME that I can offer (musically at least.. you can hit that IAMescort.com if you need something more fleshy.. Just kidding, going to that website is probably a bad idea).
In December I released a 4 song EP titled Winter Worn. I really just got inspired at the beginning of the month but, before that, I had no idea when I was going to release anything as WOOL SEE. I always figured I would just work on an album and start to figure out the rest of the game plan when I could see the finish line. But then I hit a wall where I had a ton of song ideas and rough drafts but only a few finished joints that I was happy with.. I’ve been plugging away but there was no end or game plan in sight. And then it was December and I started thinking about this Xmas song I did with Taco Neck a few years ago (“Lame Xmas”) that turned out really dope. It was a fun song to make because there are references for days and, despite how people feel about the season, you can’t escape it so it’s somewhat universal. This time I wanted to do a song version of a Christmas card.. Something just to let friends and family know I’m thankful for them. I threw some holiday cheer in there but it actually gets kind of heavy.. There was just so much going on with the Ferguson protests and crazy social media debates.. Something about all of that juxtaposed with the holidays put me in a weird place, so I made some weird music. It turned into a few songs with a winter/cold world theme. I actually rushed to get it out before Christmas so I guess that’s how I’m introducing WOOL SEE. I thought the game plan would be more thought out until I realized that I don’t really care.. Most people also do not care so there’s no point in over-thinking it. As far as reception, it’s been a slow-burn with heavy doses of melatonin. I’m sure some people who have checked it out don’t care for it but it seems like others really dig it, so I’m pretty happy overall. I would love to see the project get out there more but my hope is to no longer be pushing a winter-themed project in the spring. My goal for this year is to release another EP at the very least.. Possibly some one-off singles as well. If I’m really killing it, maybe I’ll get a full length done, but I don’t see a need to rush it. I like the EP approach for that reason. I also have some other cool stuff in the works for Heaven Noise Recordings so it should be a good year for those who dig what we’re doing.
UGSMAG: You were recently apart of the really stellar compilation album produced by your long time collaborator and fellow Ol’D member Smoke M2D6. What’s it about his sound and style that draw you back to him over and over again? And tell us a little about that compilation.
The compilation is All Your Friend’s Friends – it was released by the legendary indie-label K Records. K is based out of Olympia, WA, which is where Smoke has been living for almost a decade now. They’ve released music from a ton of obscure artists and some well-known acts like Kimya Dawson, Modest Mouse, and Beck. Smoke has cemented his place in the Oly scene as well so it was only a matter of time before he crossed paths with the label’s owner, Calvin Johnson. Basically, K opened their vaults for Smoke to sample whatever they owned rights to… He took his time with it and made a batch of dope beats. He then reached out to his friends in the Northwest to make an album (an incredibly cohesive album, considering how many artists are involved). Like I said before, I’ve been friends with Smoke for a long time and he’s always been a good dude.. Easy to work with and he’s great at what he does. As far as his style, he definitely puts his own signature spin on things but I feel like his sound has elements from all of my favorite producers. He’s kind of like a secret weapon; he’s in demand where he’s at but if he was in a bigger market and really trying to “play the game,” he could have easily had some hit records by now. Smoke’s sound is just so versatile and I think the AYFF compilation is a shining example. He taps into some Danger Mouse on “Evolve Away” with Xperience.. He gets on some grimy, RZA ish on “Trial by Water.” Elsewhere on the album he crafts some weirdo trap.. There’s some boom bap.. It’s all there but it’s all got his sound to it. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re still reading this (and thanks for making it this far, you patient and wonderful human being).
UGSMAG: So with the appearance on the AYFF and the new WOOL SEE record end of last year, what’s on the horizon for you this year? I hear a tour is coming?
IAME: I’m playing a few spot dates with some of the AYFF cast but I don’t have any tour plans at the moment. But, depending on how things go, I might be trying to do that later this year. Goldini Bagwell (Sandpeople emcee & Heaven Noise Recordings artist) is hitting the road in March with Dark Time Sunshine. Since he reps my label, it’s the closest thing to me being out there. I’m playing their Seattle show on March 6th at the High Dive though, so that should be fun. Look out for the Dark Time Sunshine + Friends Tour (all dates at heavennoise.com/events). With AYFF, I’ll be doing some cool festivals like the Treefort Music fest in Boise, ID (March 27th – 29th) and the Seattle Folk Life festival over Memorial Day weekend.. Definitely looking forward to those shows. Recording & release-wise, I’ll be working on new Wool See.. Might release some more stuff as regular old IAME – at least a couple one-off singles. We are in the very beginning of mixing a new McJameson project (Goldini Bagwell & IAME). A small group of people have been waiting on that since back when we were still known as Clockwerk. We’ve had a lot of setbacks as a duo but we work really well together.. I think we are both good at covering a lot of ground as far as concepts and themes, without it sounding forced or unnatural. But the type of people we are, we easily get wrapped up in stuff and overthink things.. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting the ball rolling. That finally happened and now we have something really dope in the works. But I don’t want to give too much away yet.
UGSMAG: After having many projects handled by Smoke, what tips and tricks have picked up from him along the way that you think have effected or helped your own production style?
IAME: I’m still a beginner and Smoke is a wise old sage. I watch him in the studio and give my input when we’re working on things, but I was never actively trying to pick up anything for my own use. The last time we were in the studio together doing any sort of production stuff, was in 2012 when we were finishing Lame$tream. It wasn’t until about a half-year later that I started to really dive into making beats.. So most of what I’ve learned from him has just been by listening to how he does stuff but I definitely hope to sit down with him and learn some new tricks soon. At this point, I’d say that his production has inspired what I do but I haven’t learned all that much in terms of process. My brain wouldn’t even be able to process the information that dude has.. But I think I’m getting to a point where I could sit with him, learn stuff, and be able to retain some of it. A few years ago it would’ve been like a foreign language. I still was very involved when we would work together, but I would think in terms of more relatable areas; turn the volume on that up, add a breakdown or change-up the beat on this part, put in a sound effect there.. That type of stuff. Now I could understand more about the way he was shaping and designing sounds but it would still be a challenge.
UGSMAG: What was the craziest tour you’ve been on? Have any good stories you’ve always wanted to share?
IAME: A lot of stories should not be shared ever.. well, maybe one from a house-party where Sapient might have convinced a drunk dude to pee on a couple that were going at it in a hot-tub. They might have been on molly.. or maybe they were just drunk and ultra-feeling the vibe.. But it was not discreet. And then they got peed on. Pretty much every tour gets crazy at some point. The craziness is out there and one day you just find yourself in it. There was a night in Las Vegas when I was the only person on the tour not on LSD.. Sure it would have been crazy to be tripping, but being the only sober person in that situation is like baby-sitting some very fucked-up kids, and in Vegas of all places. Craziest tour would probably be either one of the first SP tours or the Shapeshifters/Grayskul/Clockwerk tour, just because I was young and apparently trying to kill my important organs with cheap liquor and food. Didn’t work though.
UGSMAG: what were the first hip-hop albums you remember having the most impact on you?
IAME: Well, when I was 6 I had MC Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit album.. it must have made an impact because I had my mom make me Hammer pants. When I was 12, I got really into the Puff-daddy era (around Life after Death). I wanted to be Mase I think.. So I guess Harlem World did. But around that time I was also into the Beastie Boys.. I saw them on their Hello Nasty tour at the Rose Garden (which must’ve been a relatively new structure at that point) and ATCQ was opening. I bought The Love Movement album before back-tracking through their catalog. Obviously, Low End Theory is a classic but Love Movement will always be special to me since it was my introduction to them. I heard Mos Def for the first time on that album, which led me to the Rawkus heyday period: Black Star, Mos’ Black on Both Sides, Pharoahe’s Internal Affairs. Soundbombing 2 mixtape was a classic IMO. Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus. Pretty much any hip hop album I heard between 97-2002 had a huge impact on me though.. Aquemini, Soundbombing 2, Slim Shady LP, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star, Illmatic – these albums made me want to rap.
UGSMAG: who’s your favorite MC out of the PACNW? Putting you on the spot!!
IAME: That’s Easy! NyQwil of Oldominion.