MASTERMINDS - Interview
After some singles and one great EP (Live from Area 51), The Masterminds have finally released one of the good albums of the Summer 2000, The Underground Railroad. A bit curious about this group (Kimani, Epod et Oracle), its album and their impressive guests list (Mr. Khaliyl, L-Fudge, Mr. Lif, J-Treds, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, J-Live, El-P), we tried to know more about them. We've been lucky : Kimani and Epod accepted very quickly to answer our questions.
The first time we heard about the Masterminds was with The Ante, produced by Shawn J Period. What was your past before that? What is the genesis of the Masterminds?
Kimani: Before The Ante we put out I'm Talented... which is now out of print on vinyl. Me and Oracle met at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and formed the genesis. Then around the time The Ante came out we met Epod, and around the time Live From Area 51 came out he joined the group.
How have you met Shawn J Period?
Kimani: I used to do a radio show at Wesleyan, and at the end of my freshman year, spring of 94. Shawn came up with his group down south, and I took em around campus. Then I would see him around at different shows and stuff, and then Mr. Man reconnected us, cause he had done some joints on the Gravity album.
What is the meaning of your album's title, The Underground Railroad ? Is it a way to position yourself as true underground artist or is the meaning different?
Kimani: It's different. To us it's the way out of the underground. I feel the term is very limiting. It's the same way people use to call Tribe and De La alternative, which meant that alot of theire fans were white. It's the same way. I mean we are underground in the sense that a lot of people do not know who we are, but our sound? I mean to me I feel like lot's of different kind of people can dig what it is that we are doing. So the underground railroad to us is a passage to freedom. For us it's freedom from obscurity hopefully, and for the listeners it's a way to free your mind from the everyday shit that you are used to hearing all day.
The guest list of your album is very impressive (Mr. Khaliyl, L-Fudge, Mr. Lif, J-Treds, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, J-Live, El-P) ? How have you met and gathered all these underground big names?
Kimani: Basically everybody on the album we've known and been friends with for a few years now. So it was just a simple phone call.
The name of your single Seven comes from the number of famous NY MC's participating to it. Have you really managed to have each of them in the same studio at the same time?
Kimani: Actually we did it in two sessions. It's virtually impossible to find a mutual time to get seven artists in one place at the same time.
One of your album's best tracks, "2025", is a very strange tale about a kind of hip hop holocaust. Who is the enemy? How did he destroy hip hop?
Kimani: In the story the enemy is fictional. His name is Dr. Ill the evil diabolical scientist who's sole mission is to destroy hip-hop. He realized the power that it was capable of and began to systematically destroy it. He put artists in concentration camps, and continued to murder the leaders. Other artists were blacklisted in a manner similar to the Mc Carthy communist hearings in the 50's. It's sort of what both American presidential candidates seem to be leaning towards.
"Day One", my album's favorite, is a very touching description of racism in the South, one century ago. Is it just a testimony of past injustice, or do you consider this still applies to today (as the verse "The shit don't change, no matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the space, it all stays the same seem" to indicate)?
Kimani: Racism is here to stay. The same shit that was blatant in the past is now a little more hidden but is still here. We could've and might still do a sequal that takes place in present time. It was just easier to illustrate the point that way. In the song it's the family tragedy. My verse is the same family 3 generations later than Oracle's verse, and we can't seem to escape our fate. I don't know if that was clear in the song.
What's the future for the Masterminds? Any single or featuring in the short term?
Kimani: Joints 2000 comes out Oct 3rd. Day One and No Test drops in January most likely with a couple new jams. We are about to start recording the next album within the next couple weeks. I mean we're not gonna disappear you'll hear us here and there on a couple projects before the next album which hopefully will be out in the spring of 2001.
Epod: world domination.
Does anyone of you plan a solo album, or do you consider the three of you are forever linked?
Kimani: I'm not gonna do a solo album. I don't feel like this group is limiting me in anyway from expressing myself. I mean we do other projects, but to me The Masterminds is my main priority. I'm a fan of groups.
Epod: I plan on doing a break beat album with Eminem's DJ Head and I also plan on doing House album in 2001.
Your album can be found in France (at least in Paris), but it's an import (and therefore very expensive). Can we expect the next one to be distributed here?
Kimani: I thought Groove Attack was distributing it there. Little do I know. It's really expensive here to. You can get it from our site cheaper at www.themasterminds.net.
Some solved this problem by downloading illegal MP3's of your album? Does this alarm you?
Kimani: It doesn't alarm me, I'm aware of that. I'm not happy with it, because it makes our job harder. I have no problem with Mp3's as long as we as artists are getting compensated for it. We're working on trying to make the songs available on mp3's from our site for people to purchase and I'm interested to see if people will support that.
I am usually finishing my interviews with US rappers by the 4 following questions : 1) What is on your playlist right now? Which albums do you listen to at the moment?
Kimani: The reflection eternal album, Jill Scott, D'angelo, Common, Slum Village, I'm waiting for Outkast and Mr. Lif joints and Erykah Badu. Femi Kuti, Hugh Masakela, that's what i've been playing mostly for the last few weeks non stop.
Epod: Larry Levan's Paradise Garage, Body&Soul VIII, Materminds' Underground Railroad.
2) Will we have a chance to see the Masterminds on stage in Europe and France in the following months?
Kimani: I don't think anybody wants to see that happen more than us. We're working on it right now.
3) Most of our compatriots do not understand English lyrics. Do you think that they lose something fundamental in your music? Can they appreciate your music at the same level as English speaking people?
Kimani: I mean for instance "2025", or "Memories", or "Day One" probably don't have the same emotional impact without understanding the words, but music is a language all in itself, and I think people can get what we are about and vibe with it without understanding english.
4) What do you know of French hip hop? Can you name any French MC or DJ?
Kimani: I don't know much about French hip-hop. I mean Mc Solaar, and some group i've heard of that have three letters who are supposed to be the biggest**. But i'm not very versed i must say.
Any final statement or message to end this interview?
Epod: stay famous.
*Originally, the underground railroad was a system allowing US black slaves to leave the South for the North.
** IAM ? NTM ? TTC ? Probably the first one...
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