God bless the child that's got his own.
Surely, you say, the hip-hop capital of the world is no newbie to rap's all-encompassing map. And you're right. But among Atlanta's emerging rap underworld filled with hipster-leaning hoppers, 2nd generation ATLiens, and otherwise unidentifiable but objectively fly MCs that original, Dirty South sound had been all but bleached out and forsaken. Until now.
With The 808 Experiment, SMKA accomplishes the seemingly impossible: It bridges Atlanta's slick, hipster-hop derivative with the indigenous, red clay swagger for which the A has always been known.
Beats simultaneously swim in bass-drunk, 808 kicks while dancing between melodic, pastel-colored keys. Even when SMKA dares to sample esoteric pop songs like Sting's "Englishman in New York," the resulting track ["Alien (When in Rome) feat. Jay West, Savage and Gilles] is certifiably stamped "ATL."
Their secret weapon? SMKA producers Blake "808 Blake" German and Kyle "7King" King, along with in-house "hustler" Mike Walberg, are all Atlanta natives. Damn near unheard of in this day and age, right? Meanwhile, the compilation features plenty among the city's rising crop of natives and transplants alike, including Gripplyaz, A. Leon Craft, and Young Trimm ("Caddy"), trio Supreeme ("I'm On Fire"), Wil May ("Sweet Confusion"), and o8o of T!Katz ("Fire in the Hole"). But some of the biggest surprises come from lesser known cats who turn in equally stellar performances, including Double R of Miami, Nuff Sed, J Beans, Dee Rail, Fat Tony, Niko Villamor, Jay West, Rome Fortune, J Young, Radcliff Hyphen, Crysis, Brandon Michael, Toussaint, Alexandria Lushington and Tom P of Decatur. El da Sensei of New Jersey-based Artifacts is also featured.
With only 48 hours since it's release it's impossible to say just yet, but here's hoping The 808 Experiment represents a truly formative moment in what's already proven to be a watershed year for Atlanta's slightly off-the-radar hip-hop movement.
Needless to say, I had to talk to the guys behind SMKA to find out where the heck they've been hiding. Oh, and you'll never guess what SMKA stands for?
DOWNLOAD: The 808 Experiment Vol. 1
Yall seem to have come from out of nowhere?
Mike: Id say thats pretty much right. 7King has been an engineer for awhile, hes worked out of a couple of studios around town. 808 Blake has been producing for about five years since his freshman year in college. And I went to a business school out in L.A. So its kind of a motley crew. But we went to high school together at Paideia, but since graduation we all started doing our own thing and then Blake kinda got us all together and wanted to get serious about it. So it started about four months ago, man, at Chik-Fil-A during lunch, and we just kinda said lets start a company and get serious about it.
What Chik-Fil-A were yall at?
Mike: The one in Colony Square.
Mike: So from that meeting we kinda decided that we wanted to get a project together. We didnt just want to do a mixtape, we didnt want to do what everyone else is doing. So our idea was to showcase the talent around Atlanta, and of course Blake and Kyle King and what they had to offer to music. A lot of baby steps man, it took us three or four months to do this project. With that being said, I think a lot of people could have done it faster, but we had a lot to learn and working with the artists was a real treat, man. Getting Grip and Wil, and we had Yelawolf involved, hes gonna be on the next project . And a bunch of other cats in Atlanta, Thunderkats and Supreeme and every one else on the album.
Now you say it took awhile to do the project 3 or 4 months thats an amazingly short amount of time, right. I mean, are yall working on an alien time table or something?
7King: One thing about it was me and Blake had worked on a couple of projects for a group called the Stereotypes and had done some music before hand. Once we started the album, it literally started from just a compilation of some of our older tracks and then trying to reach out to some newer people that we knew just to get stuff going. And literally within like the day we started the company and the project, within literally like two weeks of that the floodgates opened. All the groups in Atlanta started hearing about it. Its all a tight-knit family, Sean Falyon, Proton, Supreeme, Gripplyaz, everybody knows each other and one person heard. I think Grip was the first one to get on it, Grip and Wil May, and from then on people that they were cool with them just started hearing about it. So it started off with some really small pipe dream and just turned into something really nice right now. So thats what were really grateful for. It went from just artists we knew to artists that also wanted to know us.
So it mustve been on the respect quotient like artists really wanted to work with you on the strength of the production?
7 King: Ive been engineering for Wil pretty much for about two years now. Weve been working together a lot, and then once I started working with 808 Blake, I brought Wil in, he heard a song, he wanted to get on it and then it went from there. So he started getting some more artists on it.
Production-wise, yall have carved out a really nice niche between Atlantas kinda hipster-driven scene and that homegrown, bass-heavy, classic Atlanta sound. Was that intentional?
808 Blake: Yeah, I grew up with the UGKs, the 8Ball & MJGs, so Ive grown up on that southern swang all my life. And Ive come to really like the movement that [Atlantas] got going on with Grip and everything like that. So I decided, you know, with some of the beats, to mix the two of them together and add different aspects with the space age sound but also put the 808 bass in it. And thats something that I feel like will be a signature of my production.
So as far as the production team, what do the rest of you bring to the table?
7King: Basically, I grew up as a musician. I played jazz trombone for four years in high school and taught myself guitar. Went to school in Southern California and really jumped into the music scene, did the live band thing, I was in jazz bands, and I was even a screamer, like a vocalist, in a hardcore band
808 Blake: Wait, hold up, what? (laughs)
7King: Yeah, so Ive done a lot of different things, so I like to bring kind of a live aspect. So any of the guitar work theres a couple of songs with some live guitar in it, thats me. And I bring sort of a live element, and my roots are kinda based on a mixture of rock and Dilla-style old soul. Just new age drums and different things. I try to push the envelope. Thats why me and Blake have bonded, because we both have the same attitude but we do it in different ways. We still like that bass-heavy stuff, we still like the kicks and knocks. He might have more of an old-school, Southern root, and I might have more of an old-school, Otis Redding kind of root. And we still mix live instrumentation, still mix new wave drums, new sounds, synths and everything else to come together. So we both have the same mindset, but different ways of dong it.
Mike: I basically graduated from school for entrepreneurship, so Im more or less just a businessman. I started a hot tub company in Atlanta called Hotlanta Hot Sauce. Im currently working on a I hate to say it a baby product. So Im all over the gambit. But what I bring to the table is kind of like overseeing the project and then looking for new business connections, strategic partnerships and stuff like that working with a drink company in Atlanta trying to get some other people involved. And just working with these guys cause theyre extremely creative.
808 Blake: We call him the hustler.
Mike: My credits are No shit taken on the back of the CD . In addition, Blake didnt say enough about himself. When people come in for beats, hes got everything from soft R&B tracks to like club bangers to just alternative stuff. And Im sitting here next to him all day listening to him create beats. So its really cool to see how hes evolved, and you can talk to his college roommate and hell probably tell you the same thing.
Take me back to Paideia for a second, Im curious how you all met?
Blake: I dont know if youve heard of Paideia man, but its got about 400 kids (group laughter). Me and Mike have been friends, we were in the same class together . We hooped together. So we stayed friends all the way through high school, and Kyle was two years older than us. So when he came back to Atlanta, me and him got up and started working together. Like Kyle said, he was involved in music in the orchestra, and I was into acting and chorus. And so thats both our backgrounds from Paideia. Paideias a creative place .
I'm curious what you all think about the state of the scene in Atlanta right now?
Blake: I love it. Ima be 100 percent. I love it, because when you come into a place and people embrace you it aint this Who do you know? What is this and that? Everybody works together and its a pretty neat thing to see because everybody is willing to help you out and its one tight little network. I went to Hampton for two years and other places around, its just sometimes you feel like you gotta know somebody to be able to do all that. I came here and within two months we were able to plug ourselves in and meet people just through everybody hollering at somebody they knew. And everybodys trying to help each other. And thats something I really enjoy. And the talent is there. Theres a lot of talented, creative people, which is also really refreshing to see.
So you all just returned to Atlanta over the past year or so?
7King: Yeah, to me its interesting because like I said, I spent four years in Los Angeles jumping into a bunch of different projects, and people always ask me Well, why did you move back to Atlanta? And one of the main reasons was because of the music scene. In Los Angeles, the scene is kinda set up. Its almost cookie cutter. You gotta know X, Y, Z. You gotta do this. In Atlanta, its much more and this goes above musical taste its much more of an entrepreneurial mentality. If you wake up in the morning and say, I wanna do this today, you can go out and achieve that. In LA, its kind of a different story. But I love that about the scene here: Its new. Its fresh. Its entrepreneurial. Everyones self-promoting and still working with people like a tight-knit family. And thats what I appreciate about the music scene here.
Yall got some really great performances out of some cats. Who was it the craziest recording with for this project?
Blake: Thats an interesting question (laughs). I think the funniest person to work with I mean, it didnt work out for him to be on it but working with Yelawolf was definitely interesting and funny. It was real funny. Its like they have an eclectic crowd of people there, drummers and fiddlers, you name it. They got a whole bunch of stuff going on in that house. So its like hes recording his verse while you got like a dude drumming in the other room, some dude doing whatever in the other room. It was just a lot of stuff going on there. It was funny, but they were real cool, real inviting. Yelas a real cool dude. But that was definitely the funniest experience we had recording.
Mike: Yelawolf is a serious artist. That dude is so serious about his style and what comes out of his mouth that if hes not a hundred percent about something, then you gotta sit around and basically wait to find out when it is. But hes mad talented. It was fun to work with him, but because of that reason its kinda interesting that we say Yelawolf because he didnt actually make the project. But thats because we went back and forth. But we plan to work with Yelawolf, and we plan to work him on the next one for sure.
Blake: Hes a real cool cat and a crazy talent. Within the span of an hour, he had two fire verses. And not only were they good, they were two completely different verses.
So why didnt his joint end up making it?
Blake: He was supposed to be on the Caddy song. And I guess he wasnt, as an artist he wasnt happy with it. So, you know, its no ill feelings about it and I definitely want to work with him again because hes that much of a talent.
I like Gripplyaz' performance on that song.
Mike: I think that song was perfect for Grip. Grip and Kei, I want to give them credit, they kinda championed that song. They took it under their wing and they got A. Leon Craft on it. And maybe Im a little overboard, but I thought A. Leon killed that. That last verse on that song really kinda and that was the last verse we got for the whole CD, man. That was down to the wire, cause Yela jumped off at the last minute. So we kinda, I started running around the city like Yo , whos an MC? Like, cmon, who can spit? Cause both him and [Young] Trimm both killed it. And when A. Leon jumped on it, it just took it to a whole different level so.
Blake: And Trimm got on it, because we did an Obama showcase to raise some money with Wil May, Grip, Trimm and Supreeme. And thats how we met Trimm.
There are a lot of artists on the compilation that Im not familiar with. Are these Atlanta people, like the Heartbreaker song featuring Tom P?
808 Blake: Yeah, hes a cat from Decatur and hes got crazy talent, man. Hes been doing his thing in Decatur, doing shows and really rocking the crowd in downtown Decatur. Ive knowing him for years cause when you go to Padeia youre friends with everybody from Decatur, Grady, all those surrounding schools. So Ive known him for years, and he jumped on it. He killed it. I look forward to definitely working with him again. Hes definitely a talent in Atlanta. I feel in a few years people will definitely know who he is.
How about Double R? He was on a couple of songs. He stood out.
7King: The people like the Disciples, Double R and J Bean, those are basically guys that I work with over at a music company called Haze Music, LLC. And when I initially moved back to Atlanta, thats who I was working with. J Bean and a couple of the guys went to Emory. Thats how they knew Wil. We all worked together closely. So thats how I met them. Double came up from Miami and he was just a firestarter for their project. He came and he was like, Im ready to rap. Hes got crazy talent. Right now hes back and forth trying to make some moves down there. But J Bean is on the Cant Give In song and Ive Been Drinkin. To me, hes like what I think is the future of Atlanta. Were gonna hopefully do a solo album with him pretty soon. And hopefully Double R will make a lot of appearances cause theyre in the same camp. So thats what the whole Haze Music Company is, those guys. They have a lot of clout around here, doing underground shows, strip clubs and stuff like that.
I really like that Supreeme song, I noticed Shaka [aka Dope Pope, Tom Cruz] got co-producing credits on that. How did that come together?
808 Blake: Ive known Shaka for years, man. So like, he might be the only person I let touch a beat. So I gave him it took a lot of trust so I gave him the track, and he was like, Yeah, Im gonna touch it up a lil bit. And he definitely put his flavor on it.
Yeah, I could definitely hear the Shaka in that beat.
808 Blake: Yeah, so it came out good. And I would definitely want to work with him again. Like I said, I have a hard time trusting anybody with a beat. But he definitely did his thing on it.
Mike: Shaka and Negashi and Sam are all good friends of mine and Blakes from way back in like 6th grade. And the cool thing about that is I first approached them about this and I was like were really trying to put some stuff together and get on the map. And I dont believe theyve ever done anything on anything besides what Shaka produced, so that was kinda of a trust thing for both of us for them as well as us. They respect Blake and it was kind of a mutual thing. They were like weve never jumped on anything besides Shakas stuff so we really appreciate them for that.
808 Blake: I produced every other track except for Bumpin which 7 King produced, and the 5 Strings Til Morning interlude.
How are yall pushing the music? I know you released it digitally yesterday, but you mentioned releasing a CD in the next month.
Mike: Earwax Records is helping us push it in Atlanta. And also were throwin g a CD release party/listening party at Cenci on Saturday, Dec. 27. Were gonna press up a couple of thousand copies and distribute around Atlanta in CD stores, your local skate shops, whatever it may be. But that partys gonna kinda be like a celebration for all the people involved , thanking them and just throwng a real crunk party. And possibly having some performances early in the night .
Its just real transformational, man. Sometimes we joke like, remember where we were a month ago? Its been an exponential climb for us. Like you said, youve never heard of us, but now were coming out with all these great artists and working with cool people in Atlanta. Thats how we feel too, man. Its been real transformational. Were excited about that.
What kind of feedback have you been receiving over the past couple of days?
Mike: Its been crazy man. Nothing but good feedback. One of the biggest [responses] we got was from the guy who released Viva La Hova hit me back and I dont know how much I should be talking about this but he might wanna re-release the whole project under Okayplayer. So were in talks. And honestly dude, we released this yesterday. And hes like, I dont even check my email so I dont know how I got this. And we want it to be kind of organic. We want people to tell their friends about it. And thats how we feel about it. If you put out good music, it will grow. You can market it however you want. If youre marketing crap, no ones gonna do anything with it. If you come out with a good product, the winds will carry it. Thats what were hoping for. But we really want the artists to push it, we want the artists to go on tour, were gonna give them CDs. As much as this is for us, we want it to be for them. If someones feeling their song, were gonna help push it. Were gonna try to come out with some videos, maybe for Caddy and a couple of songs. So were gonna do what we can and spend the next three months pushing this.
What does SMKA stand for?
Mike: You want the
I want the real.
Blake: It stands for Super Market [inaudible].
Super Market what?
Blake: (laughs) Super Market Knife Attack.
Super Market Knife Attack? Whats the story behind that?
Blake: Me and my friend
Unfortunately at this point, my damn recorder cut off, which the guys will probably be happy to know since they said they really didnt want the story to get out there. All I can say is, it involved something about them reading a funny newspaper headline that stuck with them. But if you ask them about it, theyll probably give you their standard answer, which is that it's an acronym for some official sounding business name.
Not quite as funny, but their music is no joke either.
The 808 Experiment Volume 1 track listing below on back cover. The SMKA Productions release party for The 808 Experiment takes place Christmas weekend, Sat., Dec. 27. at Cenci, 1259 Glenwood Ave. 404-627-0533.
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