First of all, you’re not well-known over here. Please could you introduce yourself to the peeps in Germany.
Kimani Rogers: Oh I beg to differ. I’m well known everywhere. I’m kinda like Norm from “Cheers”. If you go to downtown Berlin and use my name at any of the bars… you won’t have to wait in line. But for those of you who have been under a rock or not glued to entertainment tonight, my name is Kimani Rogers. I’m a rapper/producer in both The Masterminds, and Roosevelt Franklin both little known, but quality Hip-Hop groups. I also run a small independent music label called “Third Earth Music”. I’m 28 years old, a pisces, I like movies and television, and I haven’t read a book in months. And for the record white girls love me.
How did get into the adventure of Hip Hop and what was your influences when you start rapping & producing? What artists did you like when you were growing up?
It’s been a long adventure. I don’t know how I found Hip-Hop or if Hip-Hop found me. But my earliest memories of it were mostly from listening to it on the radio on the weekends. There used to be this record store around the corner from my house that’s now either a cleaners or a bodega, but the first vinyl I remember buying from there was “Roxanne’s Revenge” “Rappin’ Duke” and some compilation that I only bought cause it had Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” on it. I think around 1983 I had this profile mix tape with “Sucka Mc’s” on it. And I was hooked. Run DMC’s “Raising Hell” and “ll’s Radio” were two of my earliest favorites. Licensed to ill. I used to watch Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels after school on I think channel 31, back before I had cable, and that was the only way you could see rap videos. Me and my friends would b-boy in the living room in our socks. When “The Pee Wee Dance” by Joe Ski Love came on I would lose my shit for some reason. That or “My Philsophy” or “Microphone Fiend”. Anyways I grew up as a big fan of rap. Public Enemy and KRS spoke directly to me, but it wasn’t until I heard “Peoples Instinctive Travels…” by A Tribe Called Quest when I was 15 when I thought that I could possibly do this. But I didn’t take it seriously then. I would write quick raps to leave on my answering machine. And me and my friend David Levin would write some raps. When I looked back at my old note book a few years ago it was fucking hilarious. A lot of sex raps, I mean I guess that’s what’s most on the mind of a teenage boy. But it was really embarassing, so nobody will ever see or hear those things. But I really never shared that with anybody not even my girlfriends who I shared everything with. Around Senior year of high school I kinda wanted to be in like a Rage Against The Machine kinda band, cause I saw them and they blew my mind. And since I loved rock as much as I loved rap I thought that that was the shit. So my freshman year of college I started taking things more seriously. I met this kid named Rasheed, and we had formed a group called Poetic Reality after the Q-Tip line on the Del song. We had a sampler a boss drum machine and a 4 track, and we used to just make demo’s in our dorm room. Demo’s for what? Who knows but we made em. And we would do shows on campus. The next year Tarik came to school. We shared musical tastes. He joined the group, Rasheed left, we were called the Elements for a while, and then we were the masterminds. I started producing more around then. I didn’t have any equipment. I would just know what I wanted to do, take it into the studio and knock it out on an mpc. Around my senior year I had saved up enough money and I bought myself an ASR-10. And that’s what I use now.
What was the reason to start your own label and not signing to another label?
I’m a control freak. I like doing everything myself, so if shit gets fucked up I know who to blame. In 1997 we put out “I’m Talented” ourselves. Took out a loan at college and pressed up some vinyl. We got lucky and Fat Beats picked it up and just like that we had distribution, no radio servicing, no full color artwork. Just good music. 1998 we put out “The Ante”, which Sean J Period produced. Then in 1999 we did “Live From Area 51″. The label says Exodus which was our managers label, but in truth I paid for the pressing out of my own pocket. It was around that time that I kinda got tired of doing everything myself. So we signed a licensing deal to Ground Control/Nu Gruv. They were on the west coast, and had done a great job with the first Jurassic 5 EP. And they had a dope lineup of Project Blowed, Zion I, Cali Agents, etc so it seemed like a good move. I think in the haste to just have someone be like yeah we’d like to do your record, we ignored a lot of things that should have been important to us. And in that we ended up never seeing a dollar, and then they went out of business and it just all around sucked. So during the tour we were doing to promote our album we basically came to the decision that that situation sucked, and when we got off, we looked for a bigger home to start our own label. Luckily Caroline was receptive to us. In the end it’s a lot more work, but you are working for yourself, and you have control over what goes on for the most part so it’s more fulfilling. I can’t see doing it any other way right now. I mean if we had maybe a major backing us, or anybody backing us for that matter. But I would still wanna be in charge of what we represent.
You have a lot of artists in the TEM roster. Even some which ain’t making Hip Hop. What made you including those artists?
The beauty of running your own label is that you can put out what you want. And I don’t only listen to Hip-Hop. And I don’t think most of the people that buy our records only listen to Hip-Hop. I can show you my ticket collection I’ve seen everybody from Fugazi, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Primus, Rage, Jane’s, Bad Brains. You name it I’ve probably seen em. I like to call myself a “Lollapalooza” kid, cause what Perry Farrel created was part of my growing up process. I mean it was dope to be able to see Tribe, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Beasties on one bill, and have everybody love it all. I mean one year they had Rage and Arrested Development on the same bill and it still fit. So what I hope is that there are more people like me out there, otherwise we’re fucked. But that there are kids who listen to a lot of diverse shit and just like good music. I mean it would be great to me if we could do a tour with Roosevelt, Ela, etc just on some Third Earth A Palooza-style. So I just put out records that I like in the hopes that other people will like em too.
What can we expect of Dujeous?, The Others or Sub Conscious? I think they have a great potential and what I heard of them so far, was really dope. Will they release an EP or LP in the near future?
Dujeous?. I’ve known most of those kids most of my life. We went to elementary and high school together at hunter. And they’ve been doing it since high school. For those who don’t know they are a 7 piece live outfit, and they’ve just gotten so great over the years. They’ve put out a couple singles already by themselves, Bobbito used to play the shit out of spilt milk. They’ve been on Rob Swift’s albums. Anyhow there album, well what I’ve heard of it so far is something you should be checking for. It’s gonna be something special. The first single comes out Feb 24th. I just handed it in this afternoon. And the album is aiming for March. The Others I learned about from a demo. Supastition referred them to me. They are from Charlotte North Carolina. Album in May called “Past Futuristic”. It’s Hip-Hop for the love of Hip-Hop. It’s soulful, it’s got big drums. Sub-Con. That’s my homeboy. Weird ass dude. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Honestly he’s one of the best out right now, but since he hasn’t put enough shit out his name doesn’t get mentioned enough. But when he drops his album, I don’t even know if the world will be ready. I haven’t spoken to him in a few weeks so I have no idea how he’s coming along.
Today it’s very hard to make a living of music, especially in the HipHop game. A lot of people download music off the internet and don’t wanna buy CD’s no more. Can you make a living of your music and label?
I can make a living off of it. However instead of living like Bill Gates, I live like a peasant. I’ve got ripped jeans. Scuffed timberlands. I can’t afford that Ipod I want. But yeah we’re growing. We’ve only been in business for a year and half so far. Downloading is not stoppable. And it helps some people who would have never heard of us before to check us out. And maybe a few of those people will like what they hear and buy a record. I mean I’m happy where we are. Every month we make an advance from where we were the month before, so I’m just looking forward to where we’re going. We’ve brought some people on board to help out, people who I think see the potential in what we’re doing, and share the vision of trying to get this little label off the ground and more people to check out what we are doing. Interviews like this help so people can learn a little more about what we do.
Do you think it’s necessary for an artist today, to be present in the internet and to sell music over the internet?
New artists yeah. And everybody realizes that. I mean the internet isn’t gonna help Michael Jackson’s publicity, or Britney Spears so much. But for small indie artists without the gigantic promotional budget to take out tv ad’s and billboards, and the 20,000 full page in Spin it helps. I spend all day on this computer answering email and shit so I’ve learned a lot about small artists through the internet. It serves it’s purpose. If we could only get into the Itunes store then I’d be happy.
Well, let’s talk a little bit about your crew Masterminds. do you consider yourself as some kind of mastermind or what was the reason behind choosing this name?
Well I used to be really fucking smart. Went to school for the “gifted” so yeah I mean can’t you tell by the songs how intelligent we are? I don’t know the name came up over pancakes one morning. The crazy thing is there are a couple other groups with the same name out there except they spell it different like mastamindz, or some shit like that. And that bothers me. If you were truly a master mind you would know how to spell. All in all I don’t think the name is as creative as Roosevelt Franklin.
What happened to the other part of the Masterminds? As I can remember, his name is Oracle. Are you still in touch with him and do you plan to release a third Masterminds album?
Life happened. I spoke to Oracle the other day. He teaches at public school. Right around the time we dropped “Stone Soup” I had a daughter. And he had his second son a couple months later. Family always comes first so we didn’t do many shows, and didn’t promote much. At the same time with a family to take care of the risk of a start up business isn’t the best bet. We haven’t talked about doing a third album yet. We just haven’t talked much. It’s crossed my mind a lot lately however. I just figure when it’s time it’ll happen.
You released 2 Albums so far. The first was “Underground Railroad”, the second “Stone Soup”. In my opinion your first album was much more like a real Hip Hop album. Stone Soup was not a straight forward Hip Hop album. Can you tell me why the difference between these two albums is that big?
I don’t know exactly what you mean by “a real Hip-Hop album”. What makes the traditional rap record that you expect to be more real then “Stone Soup”. I mean it’s rapping over drums and loops that shit is Hip-Hop. The difference between the two albums is so big because we already made “Underground Railroad”. Most Hip-Hop groups kinda make the same record over and over again, and there fans accept that from them. But the way I look at it is if you wanna hear “The Underground Railroad” then listen to “The Underground Railroad”. I think we shocked a lot of people by going to the left with “Stone Soup”, and in retrospect from a business perspective it wasn’t the smartest move. But from an artistic standpoint it was perfect. Cause really I can do whatever the hell I want without people thinking that they know what to expect from it. All you should expect is that it should be quality and honest. And I think the Roosevelt Franklin album is a perfect example of that. When you heard me and Len were gonna do a record together you probably made some assumptions of what it would sound like. And although we did meet some of those expectations, I think it sound completely different than what even we thought it would have come out like.
The production on your second LP is influenced by a lot of different sounds. 60’s Psychedelic Rock, 70’s Afro-Funk, 80’s Electronica, and 90’s Hip-Hop. Do you like it to mix your production with non Hip Hop elements?
I think every good producer in the history of Hip-Hop infuses non-hip-hop elements into there music. Otherwise it would just sound repetitive. Some producers go into other types of records than normal, but if you ask Primo or Rza, Pete Rock or Prince Paul or any of the greats what they listen to they will all run down a very diverse list. I think a lot of kids who only listen to Hip-Hop think the artists they listen to only listen to Hip-Hop and that’s really not the case at all.
When I listen to the track “September in New York”, it always reminds me of what happened on Sept. 11th. Was it your intention to keep this event in mind if someone is listening to that track?
That song was written on September 12th. It was written with all of the emotion still fresh from what had happened. That was a scary day to be in New York, a scary day to be alive. And nobody had any idea if it was about to happen again, or what was gonna happen next. I remember sitting in front of the keyboard crying when I wrote that song. So it’ll always hold some emotional weight to me. This company called Teton Gravity licensed it for there ski film called “High Life”. I saw the screening last friday and as soon as it came on I could feel a little tingly, since I hadn’t heard the song in a little while.
What was your feelings on September 11th and how has this incident affected your life? How did you explain it to your lil daughter? Has this event changed your attitude to terrorism?
Over here it wasn’t so much that I heard about September 11th, it was more a first hand witnessing. I mean the city was insane that day. You couldn’t make phone calls since the circuits were busy so it was almost impossible to find out how friends or family were. I mean I live in a pretty nice neighborhood but there were shoot outs on the street which doesn’t really happen much around here. My cousin from Atlanta was at N.Y., and had nobody up here so we packed up the car and drove downtown to pick her up so she could stay with us that night. And driving down the city it was like a ghost town, and it was just crazy to see smoke rising up from the ground where the WTC had been all of my life. For weeks it just smelled like death downtown. It wasn’t pleasant. It didn’t really change my attitude towards terrorism. It did make me feel vulnerable. One of the advantages of being an american is that we never really have had to worry about attacks at home. For all the fucked up shit that goes on here, lack of health care, excess racism, our quality of life is pretty good. And that kind of got shattered. But I didn’t fall victim to the media, or take everything as they reported it. A lot of the stories got changed and a lot of shit just didnt make any sense. We live in a strange country… The craziest thing about that song is, I didn’t know I was having a daughter. I mean I had a dream that I was going to, but we asked not to know. I just had a strong feeling. I’m glad I got it right otherwise that would be a lot of explaining to have to do later on…
What’s your opionion on Mr. Bush and what’s going on in the world?
It’s proof that it’s not so much what you know in this worlds it’s who you know. He basically cheated his way into election. Pissed off 75% of the free world. Has the lowest approval rating of any president in recent history. But yet he’s still in charge. I voted. They tell you every vote is equal, but fuck that. It’s like what’s the point. You vote, he loses but somehow he still wins. I just hope the world survives until it’s time for the next election. And I hope the Dems don’t fuck it up again.
Your last release was Roosevelt Franklin. Please tell us something about this project.
Roosevelt Franklin was a muppet on “Sesame Street”. His voice was done by Holly Robinson’s father. It’s me and Mr Len. I’ve known Len since like 1996 or so, and we’ve been friends. But aside from doing a brief tour together and him doing scratches on the “Area 51″ EP, we’ve never worked together. But we had been talking about it for a while. Pretty much I had quit rhyming for a while last year. Decided to just concentrate on the label. Rapping wasn’t fun anymore, and shows were getting repetitive, plus Oracle wasn’t there alot so I just got discouraged. Slightly depressed, and plenty insane. Then Jam Master Jay died. I heard about it at a CMJ show where the Juggaknots were playing. And it shook me man. I grew up on him. And I just felt like I had to do something, anything to just like understand the world again, and understand Hip-Hop. So I called up Len, and a couple weeks later we were working on songs. And it was weird at first. Weird cause I was writing all the songs myself. Verses, choruses, no collaborations. But it was good cause I could say and do things that you can’t do in a dual-writing group situation. So alot of personal shit came out that I couldn’t speak on before. Some of the love angst songs are things that happened many years ago, but I never had the opportunity to address them on tracks before. So the album gelled naturally. Len’s weird. And I’m weird. So I could sing a leadbelly tune and he knew where it came from, and didn’t think I was crazy because of it. Basically it was a record where we did whatever the fuck we felt like, and that shit is really liberating. I mean it wasn’t like we were thinking like I hope the underground kids understand Kurt Loder. We were more like fuck it I feel like writing a song about Kurt Loder trying to rob me at Citibank. And so we did it. I love the record. I think it’s really mature for me, and a progression in the right direction. The album is called “Something’s Gotta Give” and it’s fresh. Slug from Atmosphere, my homie Murs, Jean Grae and Science Fiction all drop by. Len even rhymes on the single Muppet Love.
Do you got any plans for further collaborations?
Nothing’s in the works. I’m really happy with the way Insomnia 411 came out. I’d like me, Slug, Len and Dibbs to sit down kind of like they did felt and make a record together. More rock influenced. I think that shit would be fucking amazing sounding. But I doubt that will ever happen.
If you didn’t found your own label and you wouldn’t be an MC, what do you think would you be instead of?
Without question. I would be a star of adult films. I’ve got all the qualifications if you know what I mean minus the drug addiction.
What can we expect from Third Earth Music in 2004?
Good records. Diverse records. But we aren’t going off the deep end. If you’ve trusted my ear until now, continue to do so. The shit we’re putting out next year Sound Defects, an instrumental trio from the midwest, Ela, Dujeous?, The Others and everything else is all quality shit. You’ll get your monies worth. You have my money back guarantee. Just keep checking the website for more sounds and updates.
Any last words that you’d like to say? Any shout outs?
To the people that post on our message board, and sign up to our mailing list. To the people that buy our records, and come to the shows. To everybody who offers to help out on the street team. To Suzana, Shara, Kate, Kem and everybody else who helps me and Jeff out, Shag, Ilango, Nicolay. And to all the artists, I just wanna say sincerely from the bottom of my heart… Thank You. Stay with me next year, and good things will happen. I promise.
We wish you and everyone else on Third Earth Music good luck and we are looking forward to the new releases on TEM. Thanks a lot.
Thank ya for making this interview possible!