proGrammar interviewed by Deena Barnwell for KBOO 90.7 FM's "The Soundbox" Portland, OR 12/27/2003[back to About]
Deena Barnwell Yeah… Back this way, this is where I want you. Right here; aright. Whassup y'all? How you doing? Yo, we got somebody in the house--Already! You--When people find out you're gonna be on the air, and-and you get on the air, then they, like, call you--
proGrammar That sounds nice.
DB --cause then, you're on the air.
pG That's what I want.
DB That's what you just got! You just got a telephone call. That's pretty sweet!
pG (sardonically) Wow.
DB I got pro-- (laughs) Yeah, exactly. I got proGrammar in the studio, y'all!
pG What's going on, y'all?
DB I dunno. What's going on?
pG Portland… The Rose City.
DB (laughs) So, he--he actually is from Seattle; he moved to New York. And I got one of his CD's. And, um, basically I sai--I started talking to this cat, because at the time, like--I had a friendamine that was into, like--she was signing, as well as--she was sign--she signed at the Spearhead show, so she thought, y'know--she was like, "Yo, I'm dope. I sign at the Spearhead show--
DB --and they put me onstage." And, so I--I was talking to you and you were sayin how you signed at that show and you signed at a couple other for a.. host of, like…
pG Yeah, absolutely. Um… Actually, like, the best opportunity for me so far, as far as this music that we're into, is, uh--was with KRS. One time came through to this, uh, college that I was working at, and, so…um, I was working there as an interpreter, so I got picked for that. And, then, um (clears throat) got to meet him backstage, and…uh, so he set it up for me to interpret another show. It was like "The First Annual Hip-Hop…" I dunno what you call it, "First Annual Hip-Hop.. Something" but, you know, KRS was pumping that name as, y'know, Temple of Hip-Hop, and, y'know--
pG --"Hip-Hop Appreciation", and the whole bit.
pG And when he was building that up--so, it was "The First Annual." So, I got to sign at it. And it was, uh, him and Truck Turner, and…some other cats from, uh… from, the uh.. Originoo Gunn Clappaz, and… It was nice, i-i-it went off. It was--it was a lot of fun. (The cats from OGC were Heltah Skeltah, and I forgot to mention Funkmaster Flex was in the house that night, too. -Editor)
DB Nice, nice. So… our favorite hip-hop editor, Charles--how do you say his-"Moo-daad"?-his last name?-- (Deena is referencing here Charles Mudede, writer for Seattle weekly The Stranger. Italics indicate Deena's attempted French accent. -Ed.)
pG I think--yeah, well, a--all my friends say "Moo-day-day," but none of us really know for sure.
DB "Moo-day-day"? Is he your friend--
DB --and he reviewed your CD?
pG I wouldn't say he's my friend… (I was about to say we were old acquaintances. -Ed.)
DB He a--cause, he actually said that--Yeah! He's like, "It'll never make it, but it's--" Cause you're too "soft and intimate."
pG Right. He said I'll "never be popular," so…
DB Yeah. I…What's that all about?
pG You know, I--I've never had time--
DB And, you actually added this to your bio, so I mean--
pG Cause it's the only quote I have so far!
(Deena laughs out loud.)
pG You know?… (Laughs) I don't--Y'gotta do--gotta use what I have--what you got, so…
DB So, this doesn't really describe much about you, though? It's just something that you put in here?
pG Well, I mean…
DB Says you're "worth watching," though.
pG Yeah, you know. I mean, that's--I guess--you know, that's the whole reason I added it is just for that, you know, last there--thought it made it worthwhile, but-- You know? I mean, I feel like it's sorta describing me, I mean…I'm not…I'm definitely not macho, and.. whatever it said, like, you know,just.. "on the typical tip," or whatever, so...
DB Yo, so, Tribe, right? (Deena references here hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest, whom Charles graciously connected me with in his review. -Ed.)
pG Yeah…Tribe is definitely a big influence, um… Yeah, and he definitely connected me with Q-Tip (A member of Tribe. -Ed.) That was a big honor, but…(takes a breath) Um… He--I mean Q-Tip's a big, huge influence of mine; it was great. But, uh…
DB Nice. So, what's this first song that we're gonna hear? Cause I want, actually, people to hear who we're--who we're speaking about.
pG Well… I was thinking about that on the way down. I guess I'd like to start off with, um.. Ha-u-u-uh--A track off my, um, my most recent release. It's called, "Have Faith." Um.. namea the album's, "My God!" And, um--it's basically--
DB Why is it named that?
pG Um.. Because this is basically, what the meat of the album is about--what's with the, sort of, thematic--it's about my, uh, personal.. religious.. exploration of self. You know, a lot of people… Um, it's--it's not about anybody else's God, I'll say that. It's just, you know.. particular to me, so, it's a--it's a singular experience. I'm just expressing that here about how.. I gotta have faith.
DB Aright. So…what are we gonna listen to?
pG How bout track number nine on that CD there?
DB Track number nine.. And, of course, we do invite you guys to call in. This is "The Soundbox," and the station is K-B-O-O 90.7 FM. In the studio with, uh, proGrammar. Check this out.
Deena plays "Have Faith"
DB Have faith…or, don't. Well, at least have a drink of water or something, man! You know? Or…something to eat, you know? Take carea yourself… Right?
DB Yeah, so… Yeah, I wan--I wanna talk a little bit about, uh.. You were from Seattle, and wha--what were you doing in Seattle? Besides making friends with music editors for The Stanger and Mercury , but…(The Mercury is the "sister-paper" of The Stranger, distributed in Portland. -Ed.)
pG Well, um.. I was bas--I was raised in Seattle, so…
pG …from six months, on. And it's my hometown, and… Other than, so I-you know-I-I-I went to school--went to high school, and uh…went to, um, college at Seattle Central. Word up. S.C.C.C.
DB Did you play any sports in high school?
pG I have no interest in sports, whatsoever.
DB Are-ever; that's cool. Hey… go ahead! (i.e., continue. "are-ever" is a mix, which Deena has here spontaneously innovated, of "alright" and "whatever". -Ed.)
pG (laughs) Um…but, you know, I did other things obviously. I mean, you know, I've been a performer my entire life, so.. um.. I did that, and then, at Seattle Central did the sign thing, so I learned sign language, and-um-eventually became an interpreter, and then.. had no prospects, really, and graduated and then, uh, went down, an-,to a conference, and picked up a job out in Rochester, NY and shipped out there, and started working for that university (Rochester Institute of Technology. -Ed.) where I mentioned that I met K-R-S…and, um, and then, stay- did that thing for three years, did some school..was wor- and, I mean, the entire time I'm just doing music, you know, so…and while I was out there at school, um… it's--I got school for free, 'cause I worked for the university, so I got a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology (laughs at this long-ass ramblin' story he's telling), so that I could put my music out on the Web for free…
pG …as I am currently doing!
DB Talk to--! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Talk about that, talk about that..
pG So--Yeah, so, got that degree in I.T., so I could mess with the Web, and, currently I got my little website going on--had it up for a few years. It's called, uh, "PROGRAMMAR.NET" That's, uh, "P-R-O-G-R-A-M-M-A-R, dot net." And, uh..
pG …just been doing that, and that's where I've been giving away my music for free since 2000.
DB Nice, nice.. So, you also have sign language on the Net, too--
pG That's right.
DB --where you're signing the actual songs--
DB --um, that you, that you produce, and you, you uh, emcee on, so-
DB (laughs)--tell me a little bit about.. a little bit about that, yeah.
pG Well, so.. I had been interpreting for a number of years at this point, and, um.. This album that we just listenend to, for the whole album, basically, I um.. figured out--I--I basically interpreted into sign language, and ric-coror-recorded myself with a video camera, interpreting it, so that I could project it onto a screen when I perform and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people could.. check it out--and it's captions on it, and, so--'cause I figured, you know, it doesn't make sense that I have the ability to do that and I haven't done that, so…
DB Now, tell me about Hip--how Hip-Hop.. affects the Deaf community. Where does, you know?
DB I--I was like, "Yo..," you know, "…stupid def," all that, but.. (Deena is here using old-skool slang. "Stupid def," despite the way it sounds, is actually a compliment. -Ed.) You wanted to, actually, do.. a, uh, a group… right?
pG For what, like, Deaf kids?
pG Not--You know, not--not Deaf kids so much, but just, like, kids in general, basically, uh, you know, um.. Actually, I had this opportunity recently, um, as an interpreter to work at a, uh, Juvenile Detention Facility, so, um… That was a trip; that was, like, a number of months. And, um, so I kinda.. got.. interested in helping, you know, that particular community of kids out.
DB Wait… so did you have, like, Deaf juvenile delinquints, or just juvenile delinquints, period--
pG It-- Yeah, well, the one that I was working for was Deaf. The one that I was--cau--the reason why I was at the facility.. 'cause there was a Deaf kid there, so.. You know, and I was there for, like, seven months, just--
DB That's a whole 'nother culture, to a lot of people--
pG Yeah, definitely.
DB --really, and, it's really wild that you're working in sound-that's your deal-and you're working with a community that has a hard time hearing it.
pG Yeah, it's a trip. You know, you asked how it--how hip-hop has influenced the Deaf community, and I would say, like, other than, like, you know, some real general, kind of ubiquitous features, like, you know, clothing obviously, hip-hop c-c--in a sense, hip-hop culture clothing--
DB Right, right.
pG --and the styles that came out of it he--are worldwide at this point, and--and that whole bit.
DB Yeah, that's what I me--That's--A lot of it's part of the mainstream, too, so.. You know, I don't even think, you know, that affects, you know, kids as much as, you know, being able to hear Guru, and understand.. what he's saying, and actually get the metaphors that he's spitting out-- (Deena here references Guru of the supergroup Gang Starr -Ed.)
pG For sure.
DB --without hearing them.
pG Well, you know, yeah, and I mean definitely like clothing is the most surface, kind of, aspect. It's not even--I wouldn't even re-u-re-u-really even.. count it, in, like, what I consider, like, the five aspects of hip-hop culture, um, as much as, like, music, like you were mentioning, but, um… they can still read Guru's lyrics (laughs.) You know? I mean, so.. that's one thing. And actually, like, hip-hop music is… A lot of Deaf kids do like it because they can feel the beat. So that--
pG --You know what I'm saying? They like it at the club 'cause--
DB Right, right, right, right…
pG --they can feel it; they can dance to it. Insteada like rock: constantly changing up. Like, hip-hop pretty much stays in the same meter, and it's got that bass and stuff, so they like to dance to it, so…
DB Right… Nice, nice, nice, nice…
pG And that's a big influence.
DB Yeah, yeah. 'Cause, I mean, if I was to read, you know, all--If I was to, say, read Aceyalone's music. (One time member of the legendary Freestyle Fellowship. -Ed.)
DB Um, I would look at it more as a poet--
DB --than-I don't know-what my concept is an-- a-as an emcee, you know?
pG That's funny; I was just listening to Acey today--Yeah, um…N--Definitely, like, cadence is, obviously, a huge part of it.. and voice, the way someone's voice sounds is, like, a definitely huge part of it, so…
DB Really? (Though I did not catch it at the time, the way Deena says this leads me, in retrospect, to believe she thinks I'm discussing here something about how Deaf people enjoy rappers, but I'm actually talking about what I think makes a rapper appealing to hearing people. -Ed.)
pG The-there, you know, they might always miss out on that unless, you know, certain technological advances, whatever, um, allow them to hear things eventually, but--Yeah, right now--
pG --But, I mean…(sucks teeth) So, that's kinda why I was happy to do, basically, second best thing, like, put it into their language and--
pG --try and bring it to 'em a bit, but…
DB So…Tell me a little bit about your lyrics. What do you-you-- You're really, uh…kinda out there, but…
pG Thanks, I-- I think that was a compliment, um--
DB I think it was, too.
pG (laughs) Thanks. Yeah, um, definitely, um, I think my lyrics are pretty unorthodox, um.. and that's a concious effort on my part, and, definitely…taken a lot of work. You know, it's much easier just to copy somebody else, obviously. Obviously bite somebody else's style or something, but, um--
DB You use a lot of big words.
pG I like big words. That's, you know-- I think, I was appropriately nicknamed Grammar, for sure, like, you know my girl--
pG --that my girl--
DB But your what?
pG My girl bestowed that upon me back in the day, so I think it was appropriate, you know…
DB But it's spelled proGrammar, right?
pG It's proGrammar now, right. After I got that I.T. degree I was doing, like, programming, so I wanted to expand it out to proGrammar. But, it started out as Grammar just when I was rhyming before, like, before I started producing my own beats and programming the beat, and stuff, so…
DB Nice, nice.
pG Yeah.. I was really happy with that, you know…development, evolution, whatever…
(Deena and Grammar laugh.)
DB Let's go into the next track.
pG Alright, let's see here. Let's do…Let's do--I'd like to do a song that's, like, my, um manifesto, so to speak, for hip-hop music, here. Track number 12. I call this one, "Music". And, I hope y'all enjoy.
Deena plays "Music"
DB Ye-uh. Aright, aright, aright, aright--
pG Yo, Deena!
pG Just saying, "What's up?"
(Deena and Grammar laugh.)
DB You--You're, like, lusting-I don't know-six feet away from me? Looking right at me. "What's up? Hi."
DB Um…yeah, Let's talk about, uh, New York. So, you moved to New York--
pG That's right.
DB --Um.. Can you tell me about the differences on your creative, uh.. on what actually moves you in New York versus what moved you in Seattle?
DB Did it make a big difference for you to move--
pG It does.
DB --as far as your creative endeavors were concerned?
pG Yeah, absolutely. I mean.. you know, physical space; the space that one's head in's definitely a big part of the.. creative process, and, um... It's nice, you know? For me it was sort of like a homecoming, and it was a long time coming, and, you know, I was--
DB Hollonaminit--Hold on one second.
Man's Voice on the Phone Hey.. Who is this?
DB This is Deena.
MVP Deena, this is Mic.
DB What's going on? I got you on the air.
MC Um, when?
MC You--You're playing me right now?
DB Yes.. you're on the air right--I'm not playing your track, but you're actually live on the air.
DB You're talking to me on the air. Could you hold on for a sec?
MC Oh, I gotta go in just a sec. But you know why I'm calling, though, Deena?
DB No, why you calling?
MC Because I was in the car, and just got this (cuts out) just, that was, like, bomb, and I'm tryinga (cuts out) --gure out what it was. I had to get out the car. There was a, some w-- It was like a duet, it was like… Sick, sick, sick…
DB When was it?
MC (cuts out) Five minutes ago? (Neither Deena nor I understood this at the time.-Ed.)
MC Forget it.
DB "You're breaking up," that's what I'm saying.
DB So, it's proGrammar who's in the studio, we've been listening to his music tonight.
MC (silence. sound of phone hanging up.)
(Deena and Grammar laugh)
(It is my belief that Mic was referring to my cut "Music" which we had been playing about five minutes earlier and sounds very much like a duet. -Ed.)
DB I don't know if I should ever do that again. You hear that? Actually, I cannot wait for this year to be over, for some reason, I just…I can't wait for 2003 to be done. (sings) Done-doney! Whassup for you next year?
pG Next year, um, is, um, more albums, um... I'm trying--I'm trying to work with-like I said-I'm trying to work with these kids. Um, teach 'em.. how to make rap music--
pG --and, um.. (sucks teeth) And, just help 'em out in that way; I wanna get that started. I got some funding for that, so… And there's are some-like I said-some kids who're locked up, um, which is a messed-up situation to be in, so… I know that hip-hop is big, too, to a lot of kids in that system, so I'm tryinga bring tools to them, let them, uh, express themselves through, um, a much maligned and much abused and, uh, exploited artform. Just tryinga to, basically, make a end-run around, um, capital owners, and-like I said-put the tools back in the hands of the kids it's like, um, who's culture it's their--it's theirs to, uh.. sort of, take on, as their thing, so.. That's my--that's my main thing for the next couple years and then, like I said, just making more music. I'm trying to…do a lot of writing. Um, an album, strictly instrumental, just of noises that I hear in the city.
pG And, other things. Uh--
DB Actually, let's listen to some of your earlier work.
pG Ok.. Y--I was just thinking about how--
DB And, actually , this is PROGRAMMAR.NET
pG Thank you. Yeah, I meant to say, um--
pG If that--If that was a compliment from..Mic, right? Who just called in.
DB Mic Crenshaw.
pG If he was trying to compliment me, and not just refer to some earlier work, he can get everything that he hears while I'm on the air at my website, he can download it for free, just like everybody else, um--PROGRAMMAR.NET, that's with two "A's." P-R-O GRAMMAR.NET, um… So, I don't have a track list for this other CD, but, um.. If it's not too jarring can we listen to, um, you can skip--figure--around do what you need to do with it, so.. just uh..
DB I'll just play a track--
pG Just hit the "Play", yeah.
DB I'll play a track from this one. How long ago was this?
pG Well, everything I have on the site is, pretty much, from, like.. mid-90's, like, 'cause I put a lot of old work on there. So, I got, like, six albums-worth of material on there right now. So, this is anywhere from, you know, in the past few years, to…
DB Well, check it out. This is proGrammar's earlier work; this is who you're listening to. And this show is, uh, "The Soundbox." The station is K-B-O-O 90.7 FM…
Deena plays "Matthew Shepard"
DB What were you using back then? What type of…
pG I been, um, I been pretty much on the same system the entire time, um, which is a..Korg X-3.. that's my sequencer, and, uh--
pG --hooked up to a E-mu ESI-32 sampler.. And then, um, I throw all the stuff, for finishing, onto a Macintosh, think it's like a G-4, with Digital Performer--
DB Nice, nice…
pG --and, that's been the slow build, over the years. Just, you know, steadily building up the equipment starting out. I started out five years old.. watching "Beat Street", and--uh, on TV, I think--and just, kind of, losing my mind with.. just how dope it was, and… Got into breakdancing through elementary school, middle school… grafitti, and.. writing raps, and then..o-you know-obviously, beatboxing along the way. And, then--
DB Yeah, we have this CD over here. I don't--
DB --I don't even wanna get in-to it, you know? (Deena is here referencing my next album, "Somaphone 2: Grammar Sings the Classics." I had played her a sample earlier and she was none too impressed. -Ed.)
pG Yeah, it's probably--I don't think--
DB Is it on your website?
pG Not yet, no--
(Deena laughs out loud.)
pG --'cause I'm working on it right now. But it will be, it will be.. But, it's definitely--
DB It's the future.
pG It's the future, and it's--it's scary. It's kinda scary.
(Deena laughs out loud.)
pG No, it's chill. Naw, I mean… (in a creepy voice) You'll see. You will see.
DB Yeah, definitely, definitely..
DB Um, tell me about the top, like--what are, what are the Top 5 records that you rec--that you could recommend for this year.
pG (exhales) Th--man, this year I would not be the person to ask about that stuff, honestly. As far as.. modern stuff, I'm not--I heard one of 'em earlier; I heard that El-P. Was that..this last year, or was that 2002? That was last year.
DB No, that was 2002, I think.
pG Oh, my God. See how out of date I am? I don't know anything now, honestly… Um, I'm not--I'm not really up on it much--I was actually thinking on the way down here: My golden era is, like, the '90s, you know? I was paying.. pretty close attention for the '90s--
DB Right, right.
pG --but, then, uh… recently, not so much. I don't know, I--I mean there's people who I still like, you know? I mean, M.F. Doom--Actually, M.F. Doom. There you go. Perfect example. He came out with a lot of stuff, that was--
pG --actually, he came out with three albums this year, at least.
DB Yeah, he did. He did. Actually--
pG So, there's my Top-- (chuckles)
pG --3 out of 5.
DB Just--Yeah, right? 3 or 4. I don't know!
pG Um.. But, uh, beyond that…(exhales) I don't know. I haven't heard a lot beyond that, honestly.
DB Is there anybody you'd like to work with?
pG Oh, yeah.. um… Prince Paul, just, he's on the top of that list.
pG I just, uh..you know--
DB --Prince Paul is bomb.
pG Yeah, so, that would be a dream.
DB Oh, my God. I think he had a record this year.
pG I think you're right…yep. I wouldn't be surprised.
DB Yeah. Oh! If you wanna call in and talk to.. proGrammar, the number here is 503 231-8187. I guess I should tell people before they even call in that if they do, I'll prob'ly just put 'em on the air or something--
pG Okay. Just like Mic.. Sanchez--
DB Yeah, yeah.
pG Sorry, Cren--Why do I keep saying Sanchez?
DB I dunno. I dunno.
pG (practicing to self) Crenshaw.
DB If you know Mic Crenshaw--I think he's got a album dropping in, like--
pG Sounds like it.
DB --two weeks. Yeah, it's true. H--he works with the Down Band. He's, uh, he's a "down-ass brother." He's, he's pret-ty coool…
pG (chuckles) Word.
DB Aright. So.. let's go into somea your, uh--I wanna play another onea your old tracks.
DB Kinda sounds different…sounds a little different here.
pG Yeah, it's different--different.. production techniques back then, and--straight samples..synthesizers…
Deena plays "Crzy"
Deena plays "Radio"
Deena plays "Triptych"
DB This song is old-school. (Referring to the bed track by someone other than proGrammar then playing. -Ed.)
(Grammar and Deena laugh.)
pG That's the--(laughs) Yeah.. That's the cut.
(Deena laughs out loud.)
DB Shut up!… Oh man, oh man…
pG This is, though.
DB So, I--we were talking about the newer album versus the older album.
DB I said, you know, like, my natural ear is gonna go towards the older stuff--
DB --that you were doing, because of the, uh, of the crispness--
DB --and, uh, you were explaining to me with this.. new album that you have out… uhhh… with this new album that you have out--
DB --that you did a lot of cutting out of live radio stations; static--
pG That's right, um. The way this album worked: Each track I would produce by going on the radio, and with my tape player, hitting "Record", and just going from one end of the dial to the other end, and then back to the other end, and that was a complete "session"; I'd consider that a complete session, and from that session I would get all the sounds for one.. song, and I wouldn't stray out of it, so um… Because I got it straight by--straight off the radio there's a lot of.. little pops and whistles and hiss and all that kind of stuff so it's definitely noisier, definitely kinda, and, uh, um… just noisier and dirtier and, uh I--I've gotten a lot of constructive criticism about what could, what could stand some improving from that sound--
DB Don't you love that?
pG I do love it because, just to hear anything--
DB (imitating a critic) "I just wanna let you know--
DB --By the way…"
pG Well, it's weird because, like, what am I expecting? Like, Why would that be jarring to me, like, like I should expect, you know, some sort of interaction where people just only praise something, you know, and don't have any sort of.. opinions that aren't praise. Like, that's not a healthy mindstate. So, like, that's--that says something about--so I definitely… If it's hard for me, I try and.. make it not hard for me, and just kinda open up a bit more, and just--
(Grammar laughs, then Deena.)
pG --listen, listen, listen.
DB Right on, right on. Aright.
DB So, you have been listening for the past, I don't know, 40 minutes? We've been talking to proGrammar. You can get his music, actually, live on the Web. It's at PROGRAMMAR.NET. And, um, if you know somebody who is a little hard-of-hearing they can actually go on his website and, um, not only feel the beat, they can, um-- (end of tape.)
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