Bronx Slang the duo from (you guessed it) the Bronx hark back to old skool hip-hop ‘purism’. A time where rhymes were enunciated, and lyrical deft construction were king. And while we must be careful about creating a romanticised version of hip-hop from yesteryear there was (and is) something special about that founding period.
Bronx Slang the duo of Jerry Beeks and Ollie Miggs epitomise that era. In keeping with that time, Bronx Slang release their concrete forthcoming eponymous album (released on the Fabyl label). Cuts which transport you to big chains, 8 ball jackets and ludicrously amazing ciphers; Well Well Well a lyrically playful and skilful cut and Run Away Sucker a hard hitting boom bap track where Beeks and Miggs literally spit potent venom.
With their album due for release in May, #itchysilk caught up with Beeks to talk hip-hop nostalgia, Grandmaster Caz and European hip-hop.
While we know how Bronx Slang as a group came about (so to speak) what has made it work?
One thing that’s made it work is that were still a work in progress. Were still growing as a duo everyday but we’ve been a group for quite some time. We’ve done a lot of writing and recording together over the years appearing on each other projects, doing small spot dates here and there so once we became an official group the transition was very smooth to say the least.
Can You talk about your individual journeys to hip-hop?
I started pretty much the same way every MC in the Bronx got started. Out on the block spitting rhymes in the cipher, battling if necessary, just trying to develop that skill everybody thought they had. Looking back, I refer to it as The Bronx Borough Mentality. If you wasn’t rhymin, you was break dancing. If you wasn’t breaking, you was bombing. If you were able to do all three and do them well then, I guess you was a triple threat like a trifecta of some sort.
Miggs was the recipient of the same exposure he was also influenced by underground late night hi-hop radio. Mr. Magic on WHBI before his legendary run on WBLS as well as Red Alert on Kiss Fm. Those weekend adventures up and down the dial led to his involvement with a band name Shootyz Groove which eventually signed with a label and gained notoriety as a steady working act.
Talk about yester-year hip-hop and what made it stand out (that image of buying cassette tapes is wonderful-it screams out that period)?
Yester-year puts it in perspective but at the time it was just part of life. I’m not sure if anything compares to growing up in the Bronx during the evolution of hip-hop. The first time I ever heard somebody rapping was at my grandmother’s crib on Boston Road when my uncle had a cassette tape playing in his box. Now this is before Rappers Delight (1980) and songs like that. But I remember thinking what the hell is that? It seemed impossible to do.
My uncle said, “this is shorty from up the block”. Till this day I’m not sure if shorty was his actual name or my uncle was just calling him that. After a while he got so tired of me asking, he just taught me how to rewind the tape myself. I’ll never forget it. From that point on I was dead. Once it became something you could hear on the radio and buy in stores it didn’t really feel like anything but a natural progression. Maybe if I was older at the time, I could have had a better sense of the bigger picture but to me it was just normal life.
The cassette tape itself played an important part as the staple regarding how crews recorded and distributed their sounds. I was very influenced by the early Cold Crush tapes as well as other groups, but it was Grandmaster Caz who really stood out to me and motivated me to start rapping.
As soon as talk arises about hip-hop the conversation invariably turns to yesteryear producingbetter hip-hop. Does this conversation have validity or is it merely nostalgia for that period?
It’s hard to say. Has the judge and jury changed-maybe? Does, it matter which is better? Perhaps. It seems like the Jordan/Lebron argument, but the league continues to grow. One thing which is certain-the music business doesn’t really have much to do with music. I’m not sure if it’s even a fair comparison.
If you are talking about trap and 90’s hip-hop, they sound very different although still under the umbrella of hip-hop. The tone, the rhythm, the melodies even the attitude to a certain extent. Analog into digital should also be considered within the conversation. One thing we forget is that show business doesn’t always reflect real life. Sometimes the most talented person isn’t always the most successful.
A certain project may not be the most intricate or thought provoking piece available, but people are entertained by it more than others. New hip-hop music will always have a reference point of older generations whether they choose to ignore it or not. There was no reference point for the pioneers. At the end of the day it’s a valid discussion to have because it benefits both old and new.
While the popular hip-hop from the US appears to have morphed into elements of mumble rap,countries like France, the UK, Germany and more seemed to have kept the quintessential old skool elements of hip-hop. What is your opinion?
I think the key word there is ‘popular’. When it comes to Hip Hop it seems like authenticity is more prevalent outside the states. I think its oddly refreshing. I’m not sure if the mind set in America hasn’t be influence by an over saturation of availability and marketing, forcing tastes to change almost against their own will.
Outside the US I think there is a grand appreciation for the entire culture which continues from older to younger generations. The music, the art, the fashion, the language, the history is all preserved with more vigour and respect possibly because of the early lack of access. That however could just be an excuse for the more frivolous American hip-hop fan. But with that said, I wouldn’t put all the apples in one bunch. I’d rather just celebrate how Europe does hip-hop instead of wondering how America does not.
And lastly on this note your bio states that people are screaming out for that golden age of hip-hop purism. Do we need a return to that type of hip-hop and indeed how do you define this purism?
It was more about a certain standard. You couldn’t just choose the mic-the mic chose you. It wasn’t the way to just throw up some wack tag or go to the yards putting up wack burners. You had to have some style to your art. There was a certain attention to detail that you had to apply to your craft in order to be accepted (not necessarily around the world) but more importantly around the way.
I’m not sure what that standard is currently with music. I just think things were taken more seriously with more emphasis applied to creativity because cultural sustainability was at stake. Maybe hip-hop pioneers had a sense of the moment and realized they were building a house for future generations to live in while the current tenants may be more interested in subletting.
So, with your album how do you shine a light and explore hip-hop purism?
The range. Our ability to write is the key to our existence. We take pride in what we say and how we say it. Some artists take that microphone for granted. We’ve checked each other in the past as well as the present about feeling like whatever we do is going be dope and people are going love it cause it’s us. We’ve gotten a nice positive reaction to our first two singles so it would be easy to get trapped in that cul-de-sac of indifference. But we refuse. Your only as good as your last rhyme. That’s our approach. There’s a lot that needs to be said and we want to say it. So, for us to have the opportunity not only to say it, but for it to be heard is a task we do not take lightly.
We love the idea of Black Captain America. Explain the track’s inception and what were you trying to convey?
It’s a commentary about America not meaning the same for everybody. Our experiences are different. Now if you are not on board with one thought process then it seems like you can be run over by a car or attacked in the street and even detained at the airport. Why should I be part of your patriotic landscape when you view people of color as part of the problem and not part of the solution. So, don’t expect me to be your Black Captain America.
In this current political climate not only in American but other places around the world people have extreme views and depending on who you are sometimes based on your race and class distinction you are expected to be a team player. I can work here without being a company man but some of the policies in this corporation need to be changed before I do that. So, I’m my own superhero, not yours.
The latest single Runaway Sucker epitomises your lyrical dexterity and word play discuss your lyrical constructions in the track and throughout the album.
Two and pass. Puff pass. Spit your shit and pass it over. Everything we do in some way shape or form comes from the cipher. That balance of dexterity must be done with a sense of savvy built in the performance. We constructed Sucker from start to finish on the spot. The key was to pay attention to the last line each one of us said. Don’t leave me flat footed so what I’m picking up increases in weight and don’t drop the mic either by saying something less impactful. Let’s keep that same fire tone throughout. It all comes from experience. We’ve written and recorded hundreds of songs with different vocal arrangements and formulas, so we have a keen sense of what works and how to design it to fit the track and tone of the moment.
And lastly, talk about the production of the album the challenges and the personnel behind the album?
It’s all Jadell with Fakeblood producing a couple of tracks. We have an extensive history with both producers so it’s all like family involved. Not only are they both incredible beat makers but their ability to mix tracks is top notch. It’s what true producers do in our opinion. The biggest challenge was to agree on the process by which songs were selected for the album. Nick Faber the label owner had a certain vision about what he wanted based on his devotion to the material and experiences in music while we may have had a slightly different outlook at first. Although there are 12 or 13 tracks on the album, we recorded close to 30 songs. You could easily have drawn an argument for most to be included in the LP.