Lets talk about your EP “Situation Renaissance: 1917 Edition” first. The title alludes to the year when much of what we now know as African-American culture was born. So why did you choose that title for your EP?
Truthfully to be more specific, African-American culture was born the second my people were captured, kidnapped, and sold into bondage under the hand of the quote un-quote ‘united states’, really this music that I’m involved in is an extension of something that was established long before my time. As to the title “Situation Renaissance”, it refers to a dynamic occurrence that you actually witness first hand. By definition ‘Situation’ is a state, as in a state of… a condition of sorts. The term ‘renaissance’ encompasses resurgence, a new beginning if I may, in other words a rebirth. This album is a personal ‘state of rebirth’ marking the threshold of what was going on in and around my life during the time, both negative and positive. This album is also a celebration of black culture and it’s contributions as a whole. No longer are the words “I’m black and I’m proud” serving to hold weight as they once did let’s just say a generation before me and my comrades. 1917 represents a period that was a prequel to the actual “Harlem Renaissance”, which in itself was such a powerful movement. A movement of not only the arts, but of social awareness. This year in question also notes a period before oblique depression for a vast majority of ‘amerikkkans’, while at the same time marking keynote events such as the first time a person of African descent was drafted for the war, or even… There is a passion behind the title. With a strong album title like this, it calls for the author to be obligated to touch on a large array of issues and topics in a concise manner without becoming redundant or bottom line boring or preachy. A lot of people have such short attention spans that you have to establish the stronghold early, quickly captivating the listeners attention, which I feel this album does.
You reduced 28 Tracks down to the final 8 on “Situation…”. So is it unfortunate for you that not everything comes out or how do you feel about that?
With a project like this, too much can be an overkill. Trust me, Overflo will co-sign that I bitched and complained throughout the whole process of the album and was originally stern against condensing the album. It took me a long time to agree and start subtracting songs. After a while I realized that he was right; less would actually be more, thereby cancelling out any room for filler. With that being the method, we had to choose the strongest songs to put together a cohesive album. If you look back at some of the noted ‘classic’ albums, you’ll find the track listing is small. Get to the point, short and sweet was the ticket. Look at Nas for instance, “Illmatic”, 10 joints. Out! Or even someone like Fela Kuti or Pharoah Sanders. More emphasis was on quality not quantity. They joints would have like 3 or 4 songs, 10-20 minutes long each! When you do something like this, you strengthen the focus on the concept or theme of your idea. Them cats was just jamming, so the vibe. The energy there is strong and not drawn out, as was the same with Nas on his first opus. I know there are plenty of times you go in the store and see and album with 21 tracks, plus bonus shit, enhanced videos and all that, but out of 21 cuts only 2 of them shits are raw! The rest of the album is a waste of time. That’s the type of shit we toss right out the window, doing 80 mph on the expressway, like “fuck outta here with that weak shit!” My bad joe, I don’t want to digress from my point. To sum it up in a nutshell, I think it is good not to expose all your eggs in one basket, that way you’ll have some nourishment for later. I know one track in particular, “Strictly Confidential” that got pulled from the album, but it will be released on an exclusive 12″ I produced coming out on Hong Kong Recordings via Groove Attack Distribution.
I assume that you have some more tracks you recorded in the past which haven’t released so far. What will happen to these tracks??
Man joe, I got hella tracks! Most of them are instrumental, I’m sitting on a lot of beats, really I rather produce than rhyme, but rest assured there’s more to come. You can’t force it, I would prefer for my material to be released when and where it is fitting. Some things should be released on Birthwrite, some shouldn’t; some shit should only be cd-r joints youknowwhati’msayin. In order to have a proper shelf life and proper exposure, it is important to release material accordingly to its suitors. Def Jam don’t release drum & bass! Finding the best home for each project is really the quest, until then a lot of things you may never hear. But I guess you will since I have a reputation for bootlegging my own shit. I just be trying to test the waters and see what folks are feeling.
What do you think is more important? The production or lyrics?
To me there is no or, it’s more about balance. I’m about making songs really. For a song, an actual song structured needs to be balanced. If it’s a song with vocals then the lyrics are just as important as the music it accompanies. If it is solely an instrumental composition, there needs to be balance as well, that’s where arranging comes into play. Of course there’s always some shit in rotation with a dope beat and terrible lyrics, or vice versa… balance is what I’m trying to maintain. When you present yourself over wax, you want to give the people a full package to digest. No fucking filler!
The production on the EP is steeped in Jazz, Soul, Dub and Rock. Did you produce the EP all on your own?
Originally I was going to, since I produced my first album “Progress” (pro 2.6) on Hong Kong Recordings, but since I knew the album would land with some international circulation, I reached out to some of my favourite producers in the windy. I got my man Kenny Keys (ya’ll recognize that real shit!!!), 5ifth Element (my man got crazy soul, dave ruffin style and shit), and Overflo (Birthwrite CEO/In-house producer) on that joint “Airplane”, which seems to win very well with the people. You have to understand, it’s crazy producers in Chicago. We got that shit that you don’t realize you’re missing. The Chicago sound creeps right up on you. Very mature, nostalgic and refreshing at the same time like some ‘brand-new old shit’. The calibre of soul coming from the Midwest is unprecedented. Look at somebody like N.O. ID (Chicago) or Jaydee (Detroit), these are only two, the list is too long to go into detail, I just refer to them because they have championed a mood, a feeling pioneering a sound so often imitated. Chicago’s roots in music (all genres) run very deep… don’t sleep!
Lyrically, what are the topics that are most important to you?
Whatever you can see, as well as what you can’t. Physically someone that’s blind can’t witness a person being shot, or how a bullet burns and rips through flesh, so you have to be a keen writer to make whoever listens visualize, and understand what you are talking about, you have to place them in the moment. There’s no point of talking to just be talking… shut the fuck up! I just try and touch on the everyday struggle of life and all it encompasses, both good and bad. Certain things I can always talk about: life, love, liberty, music, change, people, places, things, rhythm and culture. Hopefully I don’t bore you, as these things constantly evolve and re-invent themselves daily. Really I can always do a project with these 10 elements as a basis.
How did it come up with the deal with Birthwrite Records?
Well you may be familiar with my involvement as a member of Nacrobats… Birthwrite Records put out the first ‘official silver-bottom’ cd. After we disbanded everyone was re-adjusting and plotting their next phase. I mean we did so many shows collectively, consistently shutting shit down! Anyways after the break-up, I was approached by Birthwrite about releasing a full length album. Coming of the success of my previous release “Progress” (pro 2.6) out overseas, Birthwrite wanted to pick up the domestic side of things. Since we already had a relationship and I knew their capabilities, it really wasn’t a hard decision. That’s pretty much my home label, meaning I actually push and support the label both as an artist and as staff. It takes a whole team to push a boulder over the cliff, so that’s what we’re trying to build at Birthwrite. Overflo and I are actually constructing a Birthwrite compilation featuring some pretty heavy hitters on both the mic and on the boards. Soon come.
Your album “Pro 2.6″ has been released on the German label Hong Kong Recordings. How did that happen?
I have always gravitated to the international influence, so connecting with HKR kind of fell in place. In 2000, I packed up my bags along with 500 cd-r versions of “Progress” (then only an ep), and I hopped on a plane to Europe to plant seeds, smoke good, and expand my cultural catalogue. In a span of 2 weeks, I went from Germany to Brussels to London, to France, to Amsterdam passing out cds, just on some ol’ mars or bust type shit. I wound up sneaking into venues and clubs to perform and was just on some real live, “I’m 4000 miles away from the crib, whatever happens, happens” type shit. I mean I was out there rocking on the river in Paris with Roots Manuva and all types of crazy situations. To make a long story short… something actually happened?!? Hong Kong Recordings contacted me about a month after I returned to the southside, talking about they were feeling the ep and would be interested in releasing the full length on double vinyl. I’m thinking to myself how sweet that would be for my first ‘actual’ album to be on double vinyl, released by a German label, and distributed by groove attack. I wanted to take advantage of taping into a market that most people from Chicago don’t pursue. You know how the underground scene works. Well out here in the states it’s like you’re taken more serious by overseas cats. Far as having a healthy career you can tour, and travel the globe on some overseas shit, rock crazy shows, get paid a substantial amount, and build relations with so many new entities it’s ridiculous. I’m just following in the footsteps of those before me. Look at somebody like the Roots. They did the whole overseas bit hella long time ago. They opened a lot of doors you know. Even people like All Natural, Bahamadia, Seven Heads collective, the Opus, Galapagos4, Living Legends, I could go on and on. Look at Foreign Exchange… these individuals focused on an un-saturated market and it has proved to be successful. You could be ‘John S. Boo Boo the fool’ out here rapping and producing, but if your shit is tight you could actually exist across the water. It seems to me the appreciation for ‘music’ is in higher regards out there, as opposed pumping out trendy bullshit. I grew up in a hip hop culture where it was strictly bad form to sound like or come like somebody else. Now a days you get signed on some ol’ he sound like so and so… shit is stupid. Better believe Chicago ain’t no joke either. There’s no outlet here. There’s no industry. We live in a city where we literally ‘import’ so much music, but don’t parallel and ‘export’ or own. With that, sometimes you have to just branch out to get to where you’re trying to go.
Do you think that when “Pro 2.6″ came out, you were better known in Europe and Japan than in your home country?
Yeah that’s crazy. I mean I got a little status on the circuit on the ‘go ill’ because of the radio show I host (Ctaradio on WHPK 88.5fm, Wednesdays 9pm-12; along with Pugslee Atomz, Dj Verve, and Cosmo Galactus), or from the record store (Dr. Wax Records), but on a national level… not even. I still don’t exist, but soon come. I kinda like it like that, you know being under the radar and all.
“Pro 2.6″ was your first album but you grabbed the mic when you was 6. Why didn’t you drop an album much earlier?
Here’s the deal: Fact, I’ve been breaking since I was six. Not rhyming. I didn’t start actually rhyming (like for real) until high school, back in the early 90’s. As a shorty we were always rapping in the neighbourhood, but those were the novice days… with that there was a process to develop and get them bars up! The reason for not releasing any rhymes before then (aside from my mixtapes- yes I’ve been spinning since ’93), is because I never really fathomed doing hip hop on a large scale. I mean even if I wasn’t putting out shit now, I’d still be creating shit and pushing for that next level sound. Production is therapy for me, everything else is secondary. I can drop an instrumental album anytime really, but when it comes to an vocal album, I prefer to take my time and marinate on it. A lot of folks don’t know this, but I’m real self-conscious about the way I sound on the mic. I never listen to none of my recorded shit. You know how Guru from Gangstarr says “it’s mostly the voice”, well I don’t think I have that… you commanding voice. I can write don’t get me wrong, but I’m more confident when it comes to the beats.
“Zenyatta Mondatta” by The Police was the first record you heard. Can you still remember what you feeled when you heard their music?
That was such a long time ago, I can’t say that I have a clue. I just mainly remember the cover of the album at an early age… that was my pops record, he used to play it all the time when we were on the military base. That album feels so good now-a-days. I guess you could say that record gave me my first taste of dub.
From the beginning you were into all elements of hiphop. Every element seems to be a part of hiphop but is it really so? I often hear people who do graffiti say “hey, I never ever listened to rap” or breakdancers who don’t care about djing. So what do you think about the 4 elements of hiphop?
All the elements of the culture are equally important because all of them are vessels for communicating. Whether you consciously realize it or not, anytime you participate in these elements, you are expressing an idea or a feeling. It just so happens that to ‘emcee’ requires one to be vocal. I will say this though, each element has a strong unspoken code of ethics, principles, and values. Mostly only the true hip hop purist adhere to these. Growing up on the southside, hip hop was my only alternative to gangbanging, so I just grew with all the elements. I started breaking at an early age, from there I got into rhyming, graffiti, and deejaying respectively. I might have a different outlook if I was only into one element, but the culture in Chicago at the time embraced, if not motivated you to expand your skills. Hip hop isn’t one dimensional, I perceive it to be parallel to the element water, how it takes the shape of it’s container. Hip hop adapts to any and every environment. Look how dominant the influence we see in everyday advertisement (another vessel for communicating). I mean they got cell phones breakdancing on television. Cats doing there thing out in Sydney or even Cuba should be given the same respect as somebody out in a New York City or Los Angeles. As long as you stay true to the essence of the culture, respect is universal.
You also host youth open mics in Chicago. When you talk to the kids, what do you they say about their opinion on the current state of hiphop?
These kids don’t directly express their views on the ‘current state of the culture’. I mean you can’t just ask them that question and expect for them to give you a direct answer and break it down. These younger cats make their contribution almost oblivious to the larger scale. You can hear the frustration in these kids raps as well as the influence from a lot of t.v. shit as well. Anybody doing this at one time or another has mimicked their influences. Glorified hood rhymes may sound good, but if you don’t live, or haven’t been through that lifestyle, please don’t speak on it. Television… the media… well the ‘NEW’ media is sculpting a lot of young minds, making them feel like they gotta be harder than they really are. It’s a lot of poisons out there confusing these kids and dissuading them from being who they really are. Trends are a mutherfucker, lot’s of folk get caught up in them. When I’m dealing with the kids, all I can do is be straight up. Never no bullshit. Whether it’s positive or negative, I try to express a balance to them. Just like hip hop was the balancing ‘positive’ to my ‘negative’ surroundings. Chicago is wild man, no joke. The same for a lot of other cities as well. These kids just doing what they gravitate to… it feels good. So it’s really still pure with them. Once they get a little more matured and can differentiate from the real and the fake then we’ll see what their true ‘opinions’ are on the state.
Was it hard for you to grow up in a city like Chicago? What shaped you to the man we know today as Thaione Davis?
‘HARD’… I’msaying, hard is such a relative term. Put it like this; I have NO regrets growing up on the southside of Chicago. From my pops being on drugs, to growing up in the projects, to watching fools loose they life. I wouldn’t change any life episodes. All I know is struggle. That’s the most instilled value I have received throughout my years. That’s what gives me a greater sense of appreciation for the little things. Growing up we didn’t have shit! But I never looked at it like our situation was worse off than the next man. I knew there was somebody else out there who was worse off than we was. Everybody else around me didn’t have shit, so in a sense we had everything. Black folks are a ‘community oriented people’ by nature, so I grew up in a community environment where everyone participated in sustaining a ‘working’ atmosphere. I can’t say I loved struggling but I can respect ‘struggle’ for what it is and what becomes from it. I am a product of struggle. That shit is like fuel. That’s why folk are always grinding. As long as there is struggle and oppression there will be that constant hustle to survive.
Lets switch back to music. I read that you will drop a new album with Infinito very soon. What can you tell us about it?
Fa sho. We got an album coming this fall on Domination Records. I.T. (Infinito 2017 & Thaione Davis) “Low Income Housing”. Basically it’s Infinito on all the vocals, and I’m doing all the music. Actually I’m rhyming on a couple of tracks and DJ 5ifth Element did the bonus cut as well as co-produced the intro joint. We got DJ What (Filthy F. Fingatips) on the cuts; guest appearances by Cosmo Galactus, Fat Nice (of 84), and Mr. Skurge. Oh yeah that’s me and 5ifth cutting on the intro. Sounds good! The theme of the album revolves around ‘edutainment’, kinda like KRS-ONE whole stees. This album entertains and educates at the same time without being over bearing and preachy. We just came together and really completed this project in a span of merely a month. I did all the tracks in about 2 weeks, Infinito same on the rhymes. Took me about 15 hours to record the whole thing, and about 3 weeks to mix everything so it sounds lovely. The album really came out natural, it wasn’t forced at all. Hopefully you can hear the ease and comfort involved. Infinito speaks on all types of issues in the community, the black community as well as female shit, to politics, to self-awareness, a conscious mindstate, and of course wack individuals pumping toxins in our culture. The overall feel of the album is really good, it plays well from start to finish. I think this is the kind of album that one can appreciate out the gate and over time. We’ll see how the people respond.
If you would make a video with Infinito, how would it look like?
Like the 6 videos we already have for the album. Hopefully when the album drops there will be some bonus features. Infinito is a dope film maker and has a crew of very talented staff working with him. Harold Letterman on cinematography, Antarctica Jones on lighting, Biff Standstill (jack of all trades)… Marcellous Lovelace definitely does the damn thing. You know the videos are hella raw, extra gritty, hella urban. We just showing life on the southside, everything was basically shot around the way. You get to see a different side of Chicago, other than what you see on television. Snapshots of the windy. Infinito shot the “Situation Renaissance” videos as well: “Local 181″, “The Connection”, and “Strictly Confidential”. Oh yeah he did the joint for the Nacrobats album, “Git Your Wait Up”, with me and Cosmo.
As a former of the Nacrobats, can you tell me if you will ever drop a second album together?
No. I won’t anything ever again under that flag. I know people like “never say never”, but fuck that.
Who are you feelings on hiphop right now? Any cats you would like to do a collabo with?
My thinking now a days is so far beyond just hip hop. I’m on some just making music shit. Pick a genre. Just call it music at the end of the day though. There are plenty cats like Bugz in the Attic Crew, Dego (4hero), I.G. Culture, Kan Kick, Aceyalone, Tony Allen, Fat Jon, Wiley, Chali2na, Soulive, Apani, Jean Grae, Common, Medaphor, Bahamadia, Mumbles, DJ Krush, Primeridian, Devin The Dude, Yahzarah, King Britt, DJ Dpinna… most of all probably the GZA, I mean the list is long it’s a lot of people I respect doing their thing. As long as there is a respect there I’ll pretty much work with anyone.
Thanks for the interview. Any last words?
Welcome to the renaissance… stay tuned…