proGrammar interview with Sean Solo of BeatsAndMics.com, early 2007[back to About]
[Editor’s note: I recorded this interview off of my home telephone. For whatever reason, Sean Solo’s line was very quiet, so much of his speech was unintelligible and therefore couldn’t be transcribed with any reliable accuracy. At such moments, I have inserted the signifier: (unintelligible.)]
proGrammar: So, yeah man, so… Th-thanks so much for like uh getting in touch with me and just being willing to talk about my hip hop, like, the rap music and stuff. I mean, I’m all about that and rarely get chances to do that, so, I’m super psyched to do it, so… So, yeah man, so… go ahead, when… whatever your deal is.
Sean Solo: Oh, you ready to shoot?
pG: Yeah, man. Let’s do it.
SS: Aight, aight… I hope I don’t take too much of your time, man.
pG: No. Please, dude, I mean… I’ve taken enough of yours, you can, whatever, take as long – I mean – take as long as you want. I don’t know if you’re a early riser, you gotta go to bed, or whatever, but…
SS: Every day, yo. You know? what I’m saying? (ykwis?)
pG: (laughs) Yo, today was the longest day of my life, literally. I mean, I’ve just been fucking working my ass off. But I tell you what. Like, I paid rent today, so I’m straight.
SS: Yeah, that’s whassup… At the end of the day, you gotta feel good about something, y’know?
pG: Yeah, man, yeah. Well, this is a, this is a cool way to top it off, though, so…
pG: So, tell me about Beats & Mics, real quick, man. How’d you hook that up? I mean, whadjya -- How’d you get started with that?
SS: What happened, I been doing the, um – I had a magazine – the hard copy magazine on the streets.
pG: Oh, word?
SS: For years.
SS: But, um, basically, um, ran out of money --
pG: Right. (laughs)
SS: due to a lack of advertising dollars, so I was either gonna keep on doing that and either have to keep grindin’ --
SS: or, ykwis, just take a chill pill, and go back to the booth, you know? what I’m saying?
pG: Word. Alright.
SS: Took a chill pill. Some of the people who I met in the magazine biz, ykwis?, while I’m doing the magazine – publishers, y’know? managers, things, they really loved what I was doing, because I hollered at a lot of their peoples, or just underground cats –
SS: And they like, “Yo, yo. Do something, do something.”
SS: So, I said, “If I do it, it got to be low budget, first of all.”
SS: And, um… Y’know? uh, you know?. I ain’t creating nothing new, just creating my own niche, so. So, I said, “Yo. Let me, let me do it like this, and do an audio magazine.”
pG: Oh, that’s the way it works? Oh, so this is being recorded?
SS: Yeah, you gonna be recorded.
pG: Oh, word?
SS: We’ll start it so people actually hear the interview. They start reading about you, they gonna hear about you. So, whatever you talk about it could be on you.
pG: Oh, okay. Word. Word up – I’m down. Hey, man, but I’m sorry, can I ask you to just get up on that mic a little bit? I can’t hear you clearly.
SS: Aight. I’m trying not to, uh, out-do you, youknawmsayin?
SS: Checking out the levels.
pG: And you don’t wanna, like, whatever, have it be all muffled. I understand.
SS: Yeah, yeah. (unintelligible) But yeah, that’s basically how it works, man.
SS: That’s what’s up. So, I just made this move at the beginning of the month, and my Internet line and telephone line it’s all hooked together, so it’s been -- they been over here trying to fix wires and all this type of stuff, man, so…
pG: Word. That’s what it comes down to.
SS: So… Making me look bad, ykwis?
SS: And I been getting on them every day about it, y’know? like, “Yo, this this my business right here, man.”
SS: I need Internet and a telephone, yo? Youknowmsayin? Y’all been charging me…
pG: Right, right. That’s a given. That’s what happens first, is they charge you, and then we can get to your shit, “What do you -- What’s your problem?”, right?
pG: So, what’s up with Cincinnati, man? How’s that out – I never – I don’t think I’ve ever been there.
SS: Cincinnati? Ykwis, it’s… it’s a big city, man...
SS: Big city, big dreams. But… everybody want to be first.
SS: Ykwis? To sum it all up...
SS: Support factor, man, really ain’t here. People don’t really start supporting til they actually see you on TV, or hear you on the radio –
SS: which, which barely happens. And then when that do happen, everybody feel like, like that person who they see on TV or hear on the radio should be just jumping off the roof to help them out.
pG: Okay. Sounds, so, sounds pretty much like every other city in the scene…
SS: Basically. For me, talking to a lot of people in different areas –
SS: … everybody got the same story…
SS: … just a different city, different state, different name.
pG: Yeah, man.. So, like, what’s your deal? You ha- you, like, make beats, you write rhymes?
SS: Nah, I do it all, man.
SS: Youknawmean? First of all, I’m an artist. That’s how I got started into this whole she-bang right here.
pG: I figured.
SS: … by dropping my own songs. Trying to get the local publications around here to do some write ups and interviews on a brother.
SS: And they was acting like, “Yo, who are you?” Ykwim?
SS: They acting real flaky, man. They have their lil’ favorites. And, ykwis, if you the media, you know?… “Go do your job.”
pG: Mm-hm. Right.
SS: A lot of these cats tell you to tell somebody, “Yo, ykwis? You need to have a (unintelligible) that’s gonna support people.” Ykwis?
SS: And plus, just letting cats know, like, “Yo, this really ain’t hard to do, man.”
SS: It ain’t even hard to do.
pG: The whole, yeah man, the whole… Just that whole game, y’know? where everyone’s trying to just get up on everyone else’s back, and stuff, it’s… Whatever, I mean, that’s definitely, like, I mean – I dunno, I mean, like… Competition is good, and I definitely support competition, but on the other hand, like, when it gets to be to the point where people are just, like, totally soulless -- have no soul about it -- like, that’s, that’s just where it’s just, like, weak. It’s no good.
SS: I agree, man. I mean, y’know? we all got egos, and ego where y’know? fellas having an egos being competitive.
SS: Now, it’s one thing when you just don’t want to see nobody else survive.
SS: It’s another when it’s like, “Yo, man. He’s surviving. That means I gotta keep on surviving just to keep on…” Y’know?! It’s a friendly competition thing, man, just like... I view it like a football game.
SS: You know? I’m saying? It’s like in the days leading up to the game, you gonna be trading off filthy looks… You know?’m saying? Like, getting hard, getting that game face on…
SS: And then, when game day gets here, we gonna battle, and then after that we gonna shake hands and smile, like, “Yo, you did your thing.” Yo, this, that and the third…
SS: You both walking out with a (unintelligible)
SS: Basically, youknawsmayin, doing what you wanna do…
SS: And I like living doing what you wanna do, man.
pG: Mm-hm. Hey, ma – absolutely. I’m all about that too, man. Yeah, I mean that’s why – I’m sure that’s why you are – you’ve been sticking with the underground for all this time because that’s where that happens, y’know? That doesn’t really happen in the major label scene.
pG: You know?…
SS: Yeah, man, I mean, you know?… We, we – I I speak to, um, major artists. You know?m saying?
SS: A-and, they in the same – they in the same struggle, man.
SS: It’s just that they got a little bit of exposure now, you know?. It’s like a millionaire could become broke the next the next day.
SS: When you get that exposure, you gotta be maximizing exposure, cause it’s basically an investment.
SS: And lot a cats don’t -- they don’t take care of their investment, man, they just sit up here and blow it.
SS: Ykwis? And to me that’s the difference between, uh, underground and mainstream cats. That’s just, mainstream cats taking care of their investment, a-a-and, to where they can make it happen themselves, or they – Y’know? a lot of underground cats, get up here and try to make mainstream music and do mainstream things and you don’t really have a budget for that.
SS: So, stick-stick to your budget, man. That-that’s the whole key, when I be talking to cats, man, “Have a budget, have a plan, and stick to it.”
pG: Dude (laughs) you be-you be-you musta been in this game for a minute, to t-to be talking bout business plans and shit like that, man… I mean, I know that’s the reality! but that’s just –
SS: Yeah, at at the end of the day, at the end of the day, you know? what, man? At the end of the day, whatever game you in… It-it’s all the same lingo, ykwis? It comes down to the same things, but it’s just different terminology.
SS: Ykwis? When it’s in the music, you’re talking about publishing, points and royalties.
SS: (laughs) YouknowI’msayin, I – when it comes to different, to other stuff, y’know? like just a regular job it comes down to how much you getting paid on the hour? Youknawmsaying?
SS: At the end of the day, it’s just business, man. And-and if you-you just sitting up here expecting, like, “Yo. Somebody’s gonna” – For one thing man, when you just an employee you gotta realize you ain’t never gonna get paid more than your employer.
SS: And a lot of cats in music say, like, “Yo. How, how, how you getting paid more than me?” “Because the boss-man is the one spending the money; you ain’t spent no money.”
SS: Now, when you go out here, spend your own money, then-then you sit up here and put your--ykwis?, negotiate a little bit harder and a little bit better. And say, “Yo, I can do this on my own…”
pG: Well, and that’s why, like, the model of the independent artist has gotta be: Rule Number 1 is, “You don’t put your own money in.”
pG: For sure. I mean if you’re trying to just be, y’know? work for hire – hired gun out here – that’s-that’s-that’s your trade-off is like you get to shine, but you don’t gotta put any skin in, so…
SS: Right, right, right! A-a-and don’t be crying about it when you don’t-when you don’t get your money that you feel like what you can. The boss didn’t. Don’t be crying about that.
pG: So, sound like you been in a managerial position, too. You been running it, too.
SS: Nah, nah, I ain’t do—No, I ain’t did nothing, man. I just be listening and just be watching.
SS: (laughs) YouknowwhatI’msaying?
pG: Like the same time, wh- when I came to the conclusion, thinking about the reality of the situation th-the a- th-the um… the average contract that-that most cats would be getting out there is like uh… like fucking them, right? But I mean, the fact of the matter is, like, look at the apparatus that you’re attempting to tap into, right? These dudes are gonna put their necks on the line, and it’s a financial investment from their per—It’s basically, like, signing with a major is just like signing with a bank that happens to have the ability to press records, right?
SS: Exactly, man.
pG: So… Yeah! So, it’s like-- Especially now a days – especially since -- even historically best rates they were getting on return was like 85% of their artists they knew weren’t even gonna break even.
pG: 15% success rate and then probably only like 5% of really the total is really making them any real money.
pG: So, y’know? most-and most-most ppl out there do not know that that’s the way -- that’s the way the numbers break down and um. So, y’know? of course A&R’s gonna get in your business—
pG: and like tell ya -- dictate your image and all that shit right? cause it’s an investment.
SS: Yes, indeed. You know? I tell people, uh-uh-uh, “This music industry, a music contract, ain’t nothing but a bank loan slash credit card” y’know?
SS: If you think, ywkis? You get a credit card, might be, $50,000 limit. Now, if you out here spending $50,000 on a whole bunch of BS. Ykwis? You cool… for a few years, (laughs) ykwis?
pG: That’s it. That was--that was your rent right there.
SS: Til they want their money back. Now, if you go out here and say, for instance, you go out here and back something that’s gonna make you some money.. You knawmsayin? Boom! They m—they getting their money, you get your money and it’s –
SS: everything isall good. Now, you wanna be able to hold onto this credit card, it’s all good because, y’know? you making money now. And you decide, like, “Yo, I’m bout to rip this credit card up because now I’m doing this on my own, flipping my own money, and I’m doing it right,” ykwis? Got your business savvy going – going on, then-then you got that right to do that.
SS: Ykwis? Me, personally, ykwis, as far as business-wise, I like what The Diplomats is doing.
pG: You like what who’s doing?
SS: The Diplomats, Cam’ron…
pG: Mm. Oh, Dip-Dip-Dip-set.
SS: Yeah, Dip-set. They ain’t worried about no major exposure. Because at the end of the day they getting paid more than Puffy to be on the record--
pG: For real. And, in addition, just like Cam, you know?... It’s funny – I work with some kids, y’know? I do a little volunteering with some kids with (coughs) um, with rap music and they – I mean, I, of course, I had heard of Cam’ron before –
pG: heard a couple rhymes, but they really turned me onto him for real, and I gotta say, like, that dude is straight up brilliant. I just -- (laughs) The more I hear from him, and just his rhymes and stuff is; he’s smart as hell, no doubt.
SS: Yeah, I mean they ain’t no stupid dudes, man,
SS: cause stupid dudes, ykwis?, they be broke or whatever, sitting up here trying to jump from label to label, youknowwhatImean? Like, “Yo, man, this label ain’t promoting me right,” like you hear a lot of these cats saying. “But, dog, you-y’know? you done dropping -- y’know? 5, 6 albums, you got millions of fans, and you still worried about the label promoting you, dog?
SS: And, plus you sit up here talking all this funny stuff, how you a hustler. Stop talking and start walking, man.”
SS: You knawm saying? “You don’t impress me with that (unintelligible), yo.”
pG: They’re like--they’re like--it’s like--it reminds me of the move that the Wu made back in the day, when, When they first started getting on and started expanding, being like a family thing, then, like… They got -- What they did was so brilliant cause they put each of their members on a different label…
pG: to the point where they were fully saturating, like, multiple – y’know? so, it was like, really -- in a sense it was like investing money, cause they just made sure that their investment was a stable profile.
pG: Any one – any one label doesn’t come through and it’s like “Whatever. We got 16 more family members currently signed an-an-and producing shit right now with all these other labels” is straight.
SS: Right, right.
pG: I love that.
SS: Yes. Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.
pG: So, let me ask you man, Where—How—Where can I hear your stuff? Like, where is your stuff available?
SS: My music?... Or, as far as what?
pG: Yeah, yeah! Like, anything you made?
SS: Actually, man, I’m in the process of getting some things taken care of, man.
pG: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
SS: So, I’m in a recording stage… Far as the old album, ykwis? I ain’t really got it up on the website for sale, or nothing like that, or to listen to, but I could get you a couple joints to check out the flav, knowhatI’msaying… What exactly do you do?
pG: (Inhales) Well…
SS: Cause, it -- I ain’t gonna lie, man, it’s been a minute since I read about you, for real…
pG: Yeah! Let me ask you, man. How’d you hear about me in the first place?
SS: (pause) Just doing what I do, man.
SS: Through websites, or if I see something wrote, if I see… Y’know? whatever, man. Websites, something wrote down in a magazine or whatever, whatever.
pG: Right, right.
SS: If there’s a little contact on there, man, I hit it up.
pG: Yeah, man. I mean, I— cause I -- it’s funny cause, like, just over time, I-I- the stories I get to hear are so interesting about, like, “How in the hell did you” – y’know? cats in Japan and stuff – I’m like, “How, like, how did you come to know about it?”
pG: and it’s just – but it’s basically, yeah, always the same answer: It’s just kinda out there. Y’know? it’s just kinda whatever’s circulating. But, yeah, man, um… So… my thing is, like, that I mean – I grew up in a suburb of Seattle…
pG: Y’know? so it’s like white-bread and just middle class and it really just kills me that hip-hop music even made it out to me in the first place. Um, but it did like when I was… 5 or 6 years old, there were a couple really strong events that I think one of which was, um, the ’84 Grammy’s… Mixmaster DM--DST, was it? Was on there with Herbie Hancock and they were doing – nah, I’m getting things confused. It’s not “Planet Rock”, right? No, that was, um – (sucks teeth) that was uh… [ed – Grammar is thinking of the track “Future Shock”.]
SS: I know what you talking about, man.
pG: But yeah but it was [imitates the beginning of “Future Shock”.]
SS: Right, right.
pG: That Herbie Hancock joint, right? That, and “Beat Street”, um… “Beat Street” was on television for some reason, and I caught that. And, y’know? I’m talking, like, single digits, and—and, um… [ed- Grammar is referring here to the age he was when these events occurred.] I just remember first thing I got some parachute pants, I got some – I got a-a-a frickin’-a refrigerator -- a cardboard box for a refrigerator and broke that shit down and started breakdancing.
pG: Like, right away, just in my living room just cause I thought it was the dopest shit.
SS: That’s whassup.
pG: and was down, pretty much down like that and just… So, it got to me, and you know? it -- And, it’s funny cause I remember looking back, and, whatever, like, majority -- overwhelming majority of people where I was at that time were like Top 40 and, you know? what I mean?, like Duran Duran and the whole shit.
pG: And I was, like, “Whatever, I mean, this stuff’s cool, I guess,” but like I just – it just never really hit me the same way and I just was like feeling it from the get-go with rap music and was just like, “This is the fucking shit, hands down.” And then it was like… So then it was, y’know? it was more than just on the periphery for me. It was like, I was like into it, but sorta not at the same time. Like something about it, I was just like, “Man,” I just – I guess I felt, y’know? like I was, like, tryinga -- or like, didn’t wanna be a poseur or whatever?
pG: So, I wasn’t really trying to approach it. I was just like, “Damn, this is the shit,” and then--and then—and, like, y’know? I mean, things were in my consciousness like NWA, Public Enemy, these kinds of things, but, like, I was just like, “Man,” just something about it was like—was just so foreign from my experience up to that point that I couldn’t really get with it?
pG: And, of course, for me it took a cross-over artist, it took, uh, it took Fresh Prince to really, like, finally, like, put me over.
pG: And I’m like, “Alright, so…” For me, I mean, as corny as, whatever, looking back on that -- that may now seem, I’m like, “Yeah, man, I mean the thing that he did was, like, he connected with my viewpoint at that time with that ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ shit right?” I was, like, perfectly primed for that. That was, like ’88, right? (laughs)
SS: Yeah. Word.
pG: I’m 10 years – I’m 10 years old and it’s like, whatever. I mean, I flipped my lid first time I heard that on the radio. I was like, “Shit! Like, that’s--that’s so dope just the way he put it together.” In a f—and, y’know? a rap that I could really, like, f--feel, like, connect with and stuff, so.. Pretty much, then I gue -- I was hooked, and then the 90’s for me were I think -- were a very typical story for a lot of people from my background, whatever, just, like, Native Tongues kinda got me into it, you know? and then get more into, like, Public Enemy, and – I’m sorry, if this is too much (laughs) too much exposition on the historical. But, anyway, I’m just --
SS: Nah, it’s all good, man. Matter fact--matter fact, it’s all this stuff could be getting taped for real, for real. [ed – Grammar thought here that Sean Solo had said, “All this stuff is getting taped for real, for real.”]
pG: Oh, okay. Word, word, word. So… so this is the way things had, and then I had – l-luckily I had people in my life like my brother and my next door neighbor, my best friend at the time who were more-more adventurous than I was, right? So my brother actually started putting on Public Enemy CDs in the car and stuff and I was like, “Okay…” y’know? The fact that my dad could drive us around and not trip and, like, y’know? I mean, like, Fear of a Black Planet and that whole movement and stuff and um y’know? my boy (Tim Perrty – ed.) got me into Tribe and… He was actually -- He was like -- He had some esoteric tastes from from the get-go to the point where, well before they blew up he was all about Cypress Hill?
pG: He had their first album on on on vinyl? and their first album on wax was just fucking sick as hell, I mean that was-- that that blew my mind.
SS: Right, right. I agree with that. Yeah…
pG: (laughs) Y’know? And like so many hip hop artists just, like, an incredibly dope first album and then, like, whatever you’re taking your chances sometimes with the rest of the shit, but… um I mean not with Cypress. I mean they had some other shit that I was definitely feeling. But, anyway, so Cypress. He actually had me on some Ed O.G.
SS: I bumped that right there.
pG: (laughs) Yeah! Ed O.G. and the Bulldogs, right? I mean, um… So I was – yeah -- and I was then it just kind of whatever kinda went from there and yknow the more people I knew got me in deeper whatever onto Master ACE, onto Prince Paul more expansively y’know? just anybody associated with the Native Tongue universe, I was definitely down, and then got into Wu very heavily, um, in the mid/later 90’s. It’s funny cause I didn’t catch Wu at first. But anyway, this entire time, I’m writing, right? So, the very – let’s see – so the very first thing I did was beatboxing back when I was single digits (meaning he was under 10 –ed.) and then the next skill that I picked up was probably beatboxing (Grammar means to say “breakdancing” here.-ed.) Right? So, I start beatboxing.
pG: And, um, I’m at the point where I’m pretty happy with my beatboxing skills, so I been working on that for a long time. And then the next thing was writing So I started writing. After I heard Fresh Prince I started writing like a fiend, right? Just started writing raps and stuff and you know? like a lot of dudes, I have like books and books and books and books and books that I’ve written in at this point, right? So, that. And then freestyling and then battling which I’m not really such a fan of. Battling is not -- I mean, whatever I’m happy to do it -- I love to do it, it’s fun, y’know? I love to battle. But as far as like getting up on a stage and doing and uh uh um participating in contests and shit where a crowd judges you is definitely not my style.
SS: Right, right, right.
pG: Y’know? Just just too much of the mob mentality, and I feel like, um, you gotta kinda go for like the lowest common denominator …
pG: and just like a lot of punchlines and it’s just-- It’s just not the way I roll you know? that to me is not impressive and whatever trying to whatever just please the crowd I mean -- I totally I appreciate people who can really do that and really rip it up and I have to give it to them cause there is you wanna talk about that’s your ego getting over and you’re tryinga, like, make the fullest representation of yourself I really do have to give it up for people who can do that successfully but just -- And probly also cause I just (laughs) whether I got dissed myself on stage a few times, so y’know? I’m like licking my wounds or whatever, right? But, anyway, freestyling (laughs) freestyling, writing, lyrics, beatboxing. Obviously, I don’t –
SS: Yeah, yeah, proGrammar. Yeah, we gonna take it from the top again. Let people know the story about proGrammar from the beginning all the way up to right now, is that cool?
pG: Start the whole— Start the whole– the whole story I been telling you so far over again?!
SS: Yeah, yeah.
pG: Oh, how’s that? Why’s that? It was not recording?
SS: Cause I wasn’t recording nothing at first, man, knowmsayin?
pG: Oh, snap!
SS: (Unintelligible) for a second.
pG: Nah, nah, it’s cool, it’s cool.
pG: Well, listen alright, well I’ll just tell the story from a different perspective, basically
pG: Basically, tell you skills-wise –
SS: Lemme, lemme, lemme um get this started, man. And, and set the intro off and then we’ll jump right into that, dig?
pG: Oh, oh, oh. Alright, alright.
SS: Alright, here you go… You in New York right now?
pG: Yeah, well, yeah. Uh, I’m in Manhattan right now as we speak, yes.
SS: From Seattle to New York.
pG: Yes. Yes.
SS: (pause) Whassup, whassup, everybody? It’s your man, Sean Solo. Beatsandmics.com. All the way from New York. Well, he’s in New York right now. Um, recently -- not recently but now living in, um, New York, all the way from Seattle, Washington, my man proGrammar. What’s the deal, homeboy?
pG: What’s going on, man? What’s doing down?
SS: You got it, you got it. Tell us a little bit about yourself, man.
pG: So, yeah, man, as you mentioned: from the Seattle area. Um, definitely been representing New York for a few years, or trying my best, though some would uh choose to disagree I’m sure, so – (Grammar here is thinking of that line from that Gravediggaz track “Graveyard Chamber”, “How dare you try to represent New York fucking City!” – ed.) yeah, man, just out here doing my thing. I’m like, uh, own my own label, make all my own tracks, write all my own lyrics, so – yeah, proGrammar.net, that’s uh P-R-O-G-R-A-M-M-A-R dot net.
SS: That’s what’s up. So how you -- how you make your move from Seattle to New York? Why why why why move to New York, man? Seattle’s been making some noise for real for real on the on the underground tip.
pG: Yo it – I know, and I know that’s true and a little bit yknow sometimes a little bit back I wonder if I um if I made a mistake there y’know? But I -- to this day I have found no reason to um to feel bad about that move. It was definitely the right move and basically what it comes down to is most people would say-- anybody who lives in the 206 will tell you is that, um. Certain kinds of music basically rock, instrumental music you’re doing good to stay out there but not for rap and hip-hop. So, I just kinda had to peace it out and, y’know? a lot of ancillary, side reasons too but basically: Growing up and being a hiphopper from long ass time ago um just had to come out here. Just had to come out here -- had to come out here and, and um kinda, like, fulfill that dream of being being in New York City where it all started, so…
SS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, how you how you get your start into hiphop, man? What made you wanna get into hip hop music?
pG: Well… It started -- For me it started from way back like uh very first thing I remember getting caught like when I was 5 – early – 5, 6, 7 years old was with Beat Street and um and Herbie Hancock had that joint that came out that had me trippin and then just kinda went from there um into y’know? A whole bunch of different artists you name it, um from, y’know? Fresh Prince to Public Enemy to Geto Boys to all over the map and just kept getting deeper and deeper into it and uh, yeah, that’s kinda where it all started was with uh, with Beat Street on TV.
SS: Now you said you started breakdancing first, correct?
pG: Yes, yes. Yeah, started out with the breakdancing, and, um, and that was the very first thing for me was uh w- the first thing I had to do was get some parachute pants and start and start just like spinning and trying to lock and pop and just do the whole thing.
pG: Get myself a little grafitti, um… Y’know?. Come, come to know uh uh certain artists over the years, I started writing. Uh, I started beatboxing and pretty much just trying to develop myself in all aspects of the culture, um, the further I went on and got got deeper into it, and got more of those touchstones, y’know? um. From, whatever, Style Wars over to, y’know? MF Doom over to, whatever, like uh Rock Steady just the whole, the whole nine. I been trying to I been trying to really keep the whole history in my head from y’know? some would say mid 70’s even some some, y’know? some people put the birth at ’75, ’77. I was born in ’77 um and pretty much just trying to stay current with it eh from the old to the new and the whole thing. And, um, yeah to the -- to the point, y’know? I mean I got turntables I got I produce my own beats so pretty much I’m trying to just inhabit and acquire every skill that I can with the with the 5 elements of the culture. 6 elements, I guess.
SS: No doubt, no doubt. So, so. What, wh -- What made you call yourself the proGrammar?
pG: Ah ha! You know? It’s funny, man because growing up right? So, a lot of cats would be like, “Yo! I’m this that and the other, right?” and “This is my name this week!” and shit, right?
pG: And – I mean – and I love – Trust me, like, that’s one of my favorite elements, I think that’s so dope, right? People come up with names and shit, right. Like, and, a lot of it is legit and stuff, but y’gotta be, y’gotta be real about it. You can’t just be like, “This is my name, and, you know? People if -- If people aren’t feeling it, they won’t, they won’t call you that. They won’t take it on, right?
pG: So, so you know? like -- (laughs) (Grammar is remembering here how he went by the stagename Moby in HS before the other, “real” Moby showed up – ed.) Like a lot of kids, or whatever I switched around from name to name but it just turned out to be that being that my my my real, my given name is Graham, right? G-r-a-h-a-m and, um, so my girl at the time, when I was-uh a senior in high school she, uh, j-just started joking with me and, um, cause I was always correcting her English, right? Cause I’m a word nerd from well back, which is why obviously I’m into rap music in the first place is cause it’s all about vocab.
SS: Yeah, no doubt.
pG: So, I’m a word nerd from hella back. You know? I mean, I’m the first dude to break out a dictionary and check out the meaning and the whole shit, so I used to correct her on her shit and she started um calling me Grammar, just as a joke, right?
pG: So, Grammar sorta became my nickname and whatever people started calling me -- I was like -- Ah, like — That’s the fuck-- that’s the freshest right there, right? That’s what it is? Y’know? Cause I had tried out other names I was like nah, like, that’s that’s the fucking one, so I was, y’know? I started going by Grammar just writing rhymes, just beatb -- whatever -- just beatboxing freestyling, whatever. As usual, at that point I did not have equipment yet. I didn’t have equipment to make a beat so I just went by Grammar and came out to New York to go to Rochester, NY for a minute and was working out here and um was actually going to school for, like, uh Information Technology right? With, like, computer shit?
pG: So, so, I started programming, writing programs right? So I’m writing programs. And, then, at the same time I started to get my equipment together, I got my first little keyboard and my first little sampler and shit, so I’m like Oh, shit! I’m the fucking proGrammar! Right? See, you add just the “pro” on front with the Grammar and then that was it. I started, cause I started programming my own beats. But then, like, other people would like expand it, too, and like break it down to me, be like, “Oh, but, no, pro’s short for proper” right? So, proper Grammar it (laughs) right? Bringing it back to the beginning to where I was always correcting my girl on that proper grammar, and I still do that I correct people on it and um, so that’s kinda where that name came from just pro -- proGrammar, proper Grammar or just, straight up Grammar, so…
SS: No doubt, no doubt, man. You brought up an interesting point, man, cause I know when um… In my younger days, man, y’know? cats used to really, really, y’know? like you said, y’know? really really be on the vocab tip…
SS: Hit the dictionary. Making sure, y’know? when they do say something, man, it makes sense. A-and cats don’t be like, “Yo, what you talking about?”
SS: Ykwis? Like,”Yo, that don’t really make no sense!” Lot a – to me, man -- A lot of – A lot of that’s not going on right now in the rap game.
SS: Cats just saying whatever
SS: And, it’s like, “Yo, you doing rap, but you really ain’t making no sense.”
pG: (laughs) Mm-hm.
SS: You know? What you feel about that?
pG: Nah, yeah, it’s it’s like, each dude has his own slang even within a crew that also has it’s own slang.
pG: Right?soitslike, And it’s just the expectation is on you as the listener that you’re gonna give enough of a fuck that you’re gonna spend the time -- invest the time to figure out what the fuck they’re saying, right?
pG: And, I mean, that’s true and it’s funny cause that’s a very stylistic kind of thing, right? So, earlier like earlier when we mentioned the Dip Set – that’s perfect example. Cam’ron and all those cats y’know? it’s just like they they got their – I mean, whatever. Everyone’s popping off their own crazy slang but it’s just like, “Damn, man, they just leave it up to you, whereas like, back in the day, you want, you wanna start with um… Whatever, like the… the the the most prominent example would be Rakim (Despite the fact that he knows it’s pronounced Ra-kim (Grammar still insists on pronouncing the master’s name like “Rakeem” for some unknown fucking reason – ed.) for example, right?
pG: Who, he definitely embodied that whole vocab shit to the point where like he would just -- he would just destroy you cause it just sounded like a dictionary just fell on your head, right?
pG: And and it is such a interesting, crazy evolution and the fucking thing -- the thing that I hate so much is when dudes will rhyme the same line with the same line?
pG: Right? They’ll say something and then repeat it the next time?
pG: And that’s a fashionable thing, and on the one hand I can’t really have a problem with that, right? Cause it’s just like, “Alright, I mean, that’s a stylistic choice you’re making just to rhyme the same line” and, like, the point is, like, “Duh. Obviously you know that that’s supposed to be a faux pas, like a bad move? but the fact that I just did it with style, you’re supposed to just accept that, right? And, it’s like, I’ve always had a hard time accepting that, cause, like, as stylistic as it might be it just kind of feels like a cop-out, ultimately, right?
pG: But I mean, at the same time, I mean, “Whatever” you know? it’s funny because you take an idea, like the idea of coming up with your own slang and it’s not really about the idea, right, you can’t just say, “How how does this idea sound to you?” It all depends on execution, right? Like, compare two dudes, one’s the better writer but the other dude’s got the better voice. You’re gonna rather listen to the crappier rhymes because the dude sounds good saying it, right?
pG: Same thing with, like, coming up with your own slang or whatever. A dude like some dudes, those dudes in the Dip Set can pull it off cause they sound fucking fresh saying what they’re saying, but other cats maybe not so much. But, yeah. I mean, personally, I guess I am kinda, if you wanna say, like, old school in that way just because I am, I mean, I just love, I just roll words around in my mouth and I’m definitely -- I’m in this because I love language, and I love the way that, that rap music, um, recognizes and realizes language, y’know? the way that it manifests itself.
pG: I mean, I’m all about that, right? Whereas, it’s the -- that’s what different from singing, right, is, like, you take -- strip away the notes and the dude is just saying something and using words in a particular way, and you know? for me, like, that’s where I like to shine cause I feel like, I love language so much that it’s, like, the-the best opportunity to just be free with it and just do stuff with it, y’know?
SS: Yeah, no doubt, no doubt, man. I mean, me me personally when when it comes to -- To me, some of the dopest emcees slash rappers, man, is cats that know how to say something big in a common sense way.
SS: You knaw mean?
SS: And there’s cats -- there’s cats that’s out there who can say real simple stuff but make it sound real stupid and cats who can say real big stuff and sound stupid. Now to actually say something big or say something little and make it sound real simple and or real common or real fluid for you to understand that, man. Now, to me that’s real artistic.
SS: You knawmsayin? Because -- because a lot of times, you know? as a emcee, y’know? Okay, this word might not fit; it ain’t gonna rhyme, but let me dig a little bit deeper, into the word and some what it mean and how you can really use it and flip it and then that’s how you integrate it into your rhyme scheme –
pG: Mm-hm. Yeah, man, like, y’know? it’s funny cause that reminds me of the whole question of like. When you talk about saying something big or something little the whole question of trying to… speak intelligently about um what’s going on in the world at any given moment, right? Whatever the moment is that the artist is living in.
pG: Right, cause it’s so tricky. It’s so -- it’s like, on the one hand, obviously hip hop music has one of the deepest pedigrees of like sociopolitical activity and just political statement, right? To, like, just where, like, just people have been saying serious shit about, like, what’s going on in the world for them since the get-go. And, like, I think – I definitely think, like, rap music is one of the dopest vehicles ever created for that purpose, right? To, like, get across those thoughts. But at the same time, it’s so easy just to come off sounding like an idiot or just like saying something boring about it y’know? Or just something that everybody knew already or just seems trite, or whatever. And it’s so hard to like really -- to really say something legitimate and like deep, y’know? w/o just coming off like corny and I think really for me the best example of that is fucking KRS, y’know? Just from day fucking one has just -- he’s just been so legit and just said so much, um, y’know? w/o being super like metaphorical and shit, y’know? he just talk-he just talks plainly. He’s just talking to you, but, like. the way he does it is so dope and his voice and, moreover, just his conviction, man, just like, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen – I presume you probably seen KRS perform at least once, and --
SS: Yeah, I have.
pG: Of course! I mean and he’s just--
SS: Down and dirty.
pG: Right. He’s just off -- he’s just off the fucking hook with the conviction and the seriousness of which he delivers and that really comes through and um, so yeah, I think he’s the best example of, like, saying something really big but in plain language and just like connecting so so well, so…
SS: I-I mean, take -- you know? (unintelligible) a little bit more, ykwis? It’s easy for people to sit here and sound good, yknow, with the average cussword, but when -- Y’know? ain’t nothing like basing somebody out, clowning somebody without even using a curse word, you still, yknowimsaying? you get up under their skin a little bit deeper yknawmean? cause they, like, “Yo, I’d rather see you call me a bitch!”...
SS: “Or say, ‘Fuck you!’” youknawmean?
SS: You stand up here a-a-and mentally breakin em down, ykwis? (laughs)
SS: And to me, y’know? i-i-it gets kinda old when you already know what a person about to say, youknowmsayin?
SS: “Hit me with something else, man!” I-I-It’s a lot of times, man, where, yknow, I check for records, and I hear that radio edit then I hear their quote unquote “dirty version”
SS: and I’m like, “Yo, the clean version way liver than the radio edit.”
SS: They shoulda roll with the radio edit.
SS: For the whole she-bang.
pG: No, absolutely, man and um y’know? It’s funny cause I I like to set that oftentimes with uh as a - as a - as a just an internal limit for myself, right? Just like -- Y’know? just don’t, just don’t, obviously, just don’t do the easy thing, right? The easy thing would be throw in a million cusswords, or whatever.
pG: And, um, but and like at the same time not trying to be a prude about it, or whatever or trying to pretend like, “Whatever, I don’t even know what that language is all about.” Cause I obviously, it does serve it’s purpose and and whatever, I’m cool with it, but but um but yeah, just the, like, just to be like – And, and I think that’s always been, y’know? there’s always been this h -- like I would guess I would call it “hardcore” wing of hiphoppers where like to even like just do the simple thing or just to even cuss somebody out would be totally taboo, like anathema y’know? like they’re just gonna go nuts and just, as you said, just break the person down, right? And just use the whole thing as an opportunity to flip and show - show their mental prowess and, like, their dedication to the culture, cause, really -- It’s a funny thing, man y’know? cause, like, the way hip hop started out being this alternative to physical violence, right?
SS: Yeah, exactly.
pG: And I mean that’s just so, like, fan -- that’s just such a fantastic orig -- origin, right? With the roots to be so firmly in that. It wasn’t even like something that came as like a sec -- even a secondary idea. Like, that was a primary idea was, like, “This is a tool for people to use to to to to whatever, to redirect their energy in a in a in a brilliant way, right?’ And then, as it goes on, right? And obviously, to this point, where we’re just so far into hyper exploitation and yknow? gentrification/commercialization of the whole thing, even this deep into it – which has obviously been a theme from the beginning but is just so far gone that it’s just beyond absurd at this point right? There’s always gonna still be this other hardcore of people who are, like, y’know? “The real test is we can talk shit all night long on the microphone, but what’s really gonna happen at the end of the night, like is is some shit gonna go down in a parking lot or something, right? Like, Are you really gonna be able to hold your fire and, like, not get physical with it, right? and just really have it all be all about the competition mentally and verbally up on stage? Y’know? because, a lot of cats would be like, “Yeah, man it’s cool, whatever…” But then turnaround – youknowwhatI – they’re still angry, they’re still beefin’ and they still think it’s about, like, quote unquote like “the real world” or “their real lives” or something like that, right? As opposed to artistic effort… and that just kills me!
SS: No doubt, no doubt, man. Y’know? um -- What, what you got going on right now, man? You got an album out or something?
pG: Yeah, man, I got about – I got a ton of albums out, man. proGrammar.net P-R-O-G-R-A-M-M-A-R dot net is - is pretty much the homebase. Um, I got – I got about I guess 4 or 5 personal albums up for sale on iTunes right now. If you just search for “proGrammar”, you gonna find all my shit.
pG: Um, it’s out there. I’m working on a couple albums right now; I’m always working, man! I got a couple – I got a couple albums – Cause, for me, like, beatboxing has been like, a yknow whatever just a personal passion of mine for a long long time and I was - I was actually trained classically growing up as a singer in a in a choir – I was in a choir when I was really young, so um, I had a little bit of formal training with the voice and so, like, for me I’m tryinga – I’m always – I was tryinga, like, look for a way to do that and it turned into this thing where I would just uh make, like, covers of pop songs you know? by, like - like Stevie Wonder, or like Hall & Oates or some shit, like Nu Shooz and but I -- what I would do is, like, re-create all the backgrounds with beatboxing, right? So, insteada, like, drums and horns and bass guitar that’s all me beatboxing so, it’s all the sound of my voice, and then I’d lay some vocals down on top. So, I’m doing another one of those albums right now. The first one is – the first one is doing – y’know? I’m doing well by it, like it’s not -- Whatever, nobody knows me. Nobody’s never – ever heard of me but, um, but that album has has been selling steadily, so I’m chill with that, ykimean? Eventually, over a 10 year uh timeframe, I hope to recoup (laughs) on that one. And then there’s this other project I’m working on right now, um. This band outta California -- outta Sacramento, California (The Advantage –ed.) -- they do, um… It’s gonna sound funny but they they – This, this, like, instrumental band covers Nintendo songs, right?
pG: So, they’re they’re they’ll be -- it’s just these four dudes, there’s no singing or anything it’s just four dudes who play guitars and drums and shit and they’ll cover, like – their set list’ll be like, “Castlevania” and “Super Mario Bros.” y’know? Right on down (laughs) right on down the line. So, and they do the themesongs from the video games, right? And it’s like, that shit is perfect to rap to; a lot of that stuff is perfect. So, and and also, it’s like some shit to like do some singing to, or vocals to so - so um. So I hooked up with them, and and I went on tour a bit with them a bit late last year um just cause it’s a perfect perfect platform for for writing stuff, but then as far as, like, as far as, like, just straight up, more straight up like beats and rhymes, um y’know? I I have a lot of albums under my belt um which can be seen, most of -- a lot of it you can get for free at proGrammar.net but a lot of it’s coming up, basically. I got, um, y’know? I got - I got a number of ideas, um, for for beats and rhymes and, uh, so yeah, they’re all stewing around there and they’re definitely coming up later end of this year after I wrap up these other two albums, so, for sure.
SS: That’s wassup, that’s wassup.
SS: proGrammar, man, I appreciate you sitting down with beatsandmics, man, to tell the beatsandmics listeners a little bit about yourself and what you got going on you’re always welcome to holler back.
pG: Hey, man, thanks thanks so much. This has been, like, the best -- This has been so fun and, like I said, I rarely get opportunities to talk about my work, so I’m just super appreciative of you reaching out and giving me this opportunity to talk to you about my stuff and I will - I will definitely holler back at you whenever anything’s popping off.
SS: No doubt, man.
SS: Stay safe, bro.
pG: Thanks, Sean.
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