LEXICON - Interview
Four years after their excellent Rapstars EP, Lexicon’s brothers Nick and Gid Black, supported by the guitar and bass players Erich Schneider and Alex Pauley, finally released an album which fulfilled all of their promises. This made a great opportunity to meet them and know a bit more about the reason for the evolution of the group toward such a rock / rap recipe, and to share some insights about what happened to hip-hop over the last few years.
As far as I remember, the Rapstars EP was released in 2006, and the album this year. Why was it such a long process to have it recorded and released?
One thing is that we didn’t have that many songs at the time of the EP. We just had that few, so it took a while to finish the rest of the album. And the whole thing was about finding the right balance in mixing hip-hop and rock, and doing it in the right way, from a real and sincere point of view. It just took a while to get it right, to get it polished.
Where did you record it by the way?
We recorded it in LA.
I will ask the question that everybody asks about the rock + hip-hop formula. Where does it come from? When did you have the idea of mixing the two of them?
We didn’t think in terms of formula. Basically, we just tried to put together all the types of music we were interested in at a time and that we were influenced by. Concerning hip-hop, we kind of felt that we had done everything we could with that particular genre. We were bored with it. We just wanted to move on.
And what about this interest in music? Have you always listened to both rock and rap?
Our thing was heavy hip-hop when we were young. But at the same time our parents were listening to 80’s new wave stuff. There is a combination of that. Also, in the mid-90’s, we both started to be more aware about rock. This kind of built the foundation. It provided us with a wide range of influences.
Maybe we can come back to what your did before, as you released some other records in the past...
Our first album was It's The L!!. That was in 2001. And then Youth Is Yours, at the end of 2003.
Then you belonged to the indie hip-hop scene that was burgeoning at this time, and you were related to people such as Styles of Beyond. It seems that we hear a bit less about this scene these days. What happened to all these guys? Are you still connected with these people?
This indie hip-hop scene you mentioned kind of broke down. Everyone started trying different stuff, some earlier than others. Some jumped to electro hip-hop. Everyone involved in that scene wanted to continue their careers with something else than what they were doing, when indie hip-hop became too boring.
With us, it is also related to the topics Rapstars is about, girls, life, and all of that. The underground hip-hop scene was just a bunch of guys you know, and we don’t see ourselves singing all that songs about girls to that bunch of guys. We always wanted to be large, we never believed that we had to keep on being underground. And a lot of other groups in the scene just wanted to be large too.
And you asked about Syles of Beyond. Now Ryu has a group with Apathy from the East Coast. And Takbir is in a kind of electro group. They are all on different things.
They released records together until recently, though.
Yes, until 2006 maybe.
It seems that the Rapstars EP was received particularly well in France. It had a significant coverage in big magazines, radios, even on the TV. What’s your explanation for this success in France?
Nothing happened when the Rapstars EP came up. Nothing. At least in France. It started with the song "Junk Food" which was from the Rapstars EP. Two years after. And we don’t have any explanation.
We were in contact with Laitdbac throughout the year before, trying to figure out what to do with the EP, and keeping them in the loop to know how the album was going. To be totally honest, like France is a smaller country, we thought that we could test things there, and if it failed, we could still put it out in the US. It was like a trial round. But now, this is where everything is centralized.
I’ve seen you in a video of Orelsan. How did you connect with him?
Through The Toxic Avenger. We’ve been working with him on different remixes and stuff. And then Toxic’s first single out of the album had Orelsan on it, and we kind of joined.
And did you make any connection with other people here in France ?
Oh, yes. We’ve just got off a five day tour with Beat Torrent. We made a lot of show with SUCCESS. What else ? Toxic Avenger. dDamage. It’s been really nice to join with people from different cultures but with the same mission, or view point. So it’s been really cool.
The album is realased in France. But is it released in the US as well, or not yet?
It’s on iTunes only. Whereas in most of Europe it is available on CD.
I assume that you have already received feedbacks, reviews or things like that.
People are really understanding. A little bit before, a lot of music was kind of changing. A lot of people found it was weird, they didn’t know what to do with it. But now, with the way music evolved over the past four years, Everything is accepted now. When it’s good music, it’s just good music.
Knowing that your previous releases were quite different from what you’re doing now, what’s your judgement on them?
I love them. I always thought that when I would go back to them I would not like them, but I ended up enjoying them a lot. It was perfect for that era, a complete part of underground hip-hop.
We’ll never make the same record twice. Youth Is Yours was completely different from It's The L!!. And now, we are working on a new album, and it will be completely different from Rapstars, even if you can see the progression between them.
I remember we had a debate with Cobalt, a writer at hiphopcore.net, who was considering we were hearing the same band as before with Rapstars, whereas I considered that there had been a dramatic change. We weren’t agreeing on that.
Indeed, on Youth Is Yours we were already singing hooks, every song was about girls. We didn’t have any battle rap songs on Youth Is Yours. If you have always been following us, this has been an apparent and obvious shift.
Now we have two other people involved in Lexicon. What is their background? How have they got connected with you?
Alex: we’ve known each other for a long time, 15 years maybe. We’ve been at college with Gid. He and I met at a music composing class. We played in bands together. We did shows in L.A. with Gid and Nick, who was a kind of drummer, and who was not that good (laughs). We talked with each other a lot over the years, planning to play together, and we started doing it about 4 years ago. Rapstars was a bit more of a kind of Frankestein process, working with a lot of different people, different musicians, and putting pieces together. And now we’re working on a new project.
The next album ?
Alex: yes, but don’t tell anybody (laughs). Don’t play it for people at parties like last night (laughs).
Oh, you’ve already tested it?
Yes, we’ve tested it. We’ve played new songs at some shows. We play probably two at every show. It’s nice to test the reaction before the song has ever been released, you know.
We’ve never been able to do that before. In more normal sampled hip-hop, you can’t really try stuff out, fix it, work with it. Now we look more like a rock band, we can actually test a song before recording it.
We spoke a bit about the independent hip-hop scene, but regarding hip-hop in general, what would be your state of the art? What about hip-hop in 2010?
It has its highs and lows. There are lots of hip-hop artists that are not just looked out as rappers anymore, when they are respected. Like Kanye West, whether you like him or hate him, he’s looked at in ways that rappers wouldn’t be looked at in the past. Like Jay-Z. These people are doing very creative things. But on the flipside there are hundreds of rappers who just follow what other the trend is, and who are totally boring.
It’s not as creative as it was in the nineties, but the people who are good are really good, like Kanye, and Drake, and Jay-Z, and Lil’ Wayne at times. Like Ludacris. They are all awesome, they are great.
Yes, but they are not really new artists.
Drake is new. And they are not just trying to do what they did in the past. Hip-hop is a bit more creative than it was six or seven years ago. It’s less creative than in the early nineties, but it’s getting better than five, six, or seven years ago. They have accepted to do more. Jay-Z can do more, Kanye can do more.
There is not as much restriction as in the past. It’s less about keeping it real. People are allowed to express more. It’s cool for Jay-Z to say that he listens to Grizzly Bear. It’s almost hip for a rapper to know about other kinds of music now. Before, you weren’t allowed to listen to rock music when you were a die-hard hip-hop head. It was blasphemous. It is more open.
Another question I am sure you are used to answer to. Nick and Gid, you two are brothers: does it make things easier or more difficult?
It’s both. We can really get on each other’s nerve (laughs). But was can also be much more honest with each other, say things a little more directly and not to worry about someone’s having his feelings hurt. The same goes with a good friend. You’re not afraid to tell somebody that he has a guitar line that is not very good.
It’s important, as all we want to do is to make the right song. If we would have to worry about somebody’s feelings, that would be just a waste of time. Being able to say whatever to somebody helps a lot.
Anything about this mysterious new album you mentionned? Or your next projects?
We have a side project with Toxic Avenger and Orelsan. It will surely be recorded sometime by next spring. A six song EP, or something like that. And we’ll try to have this next album done in the next six months. We’ll try to package nine to eleven songs. Not more.
It’s a good thing. I think that people are now getting used to record short albums again, and it makes them better. In the past, people felt obliged to record a full CD.
Yes, exactly, and a CD was 80 minutes.
Especially in hip-hop, you had great albums in the 90’s that were too long.
Yes, for sure. Actually all of them. Except Illmatic. The first Wu-Tang, the first Mobb Deep. And all the rest, all the great hip-hop albums had only nine good songs on them.
Pictures by Matteo Carcelli
Thanks to Damien of Laitdbac for having organized this interview
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