Interview with Blockhead

by R4NT

There’s been a tendency in instrumental hip hop towards the epic, the bombastic and the plain tacky, which is why Blockhead is so refreshing. On “Music By Cavelight” the downtown New Yorker with production credits for the likes of Aesop Rock and Slug of Atmosphere, comes through with some of the most sublime, understated, melancholic hip hop you’re likely to hear this year.

R4NT: Blockhead, I’d just like to start off by thanking you for answering some questions for R4NT readers. This style of music (downbeat instrumental hip-hop) is a change for you from more traditional hip-hop roots. Do you see this changing your focus or was this an experimental one-off?

Blockhead: It was a little bit of an experiment to do it but the focus remains the same. I made most of the beats pre-labor days. So the experimenting was always there. It’s just I finally got a place to put it out somewhere. Whether or not my beats are downtempo or straight up hip hop really doesn’t concern me. To me, I just sit down and make a beat. however it turns out, is how it turns out.

R: Hailing from New York, you have worked with emcees like Aesop Rock. Are there any Canadian artists who you like working with/would like to work with/or just generally dig? (Kid Koala – fellow Ninja Tuner – is Canadian)

B: I’d love to work with kid koala. he’s fucking amazing. I think a collaboration would be dope. I’d also like to work with meastro fresh wes circa 93…that’d be cool too…

R: Do you see yourself working with Aesop or other emcees in the future?

B: Sure…I’m already working with Aesop on his new EP. I plan to work with lots of other MC’s also. A lot of Def Jux cats like C-Rayz Walz, despot and whoever else.. I love working with MC’s…

R: What are your biggest musical influences both in genre and an artist in particular? How about non-musical influences on your style?

B: I’d say my influences are not really noticeable in my music. Late 80’s-early 90’s hip hop in general is the most influential thing to me. I’m not really a guy that gets direct influence from things (at least I don’t realize it if I do). every now and then I’ll hear a song and notice a part I like in it and I’ll remember it when I’m making beats but that’s pretty rare. as far as non-musical influences, my family is a big one. I grew up among artists. NYC is a big influence too.

R: Where do you see hiphop going now that there is a firm mainstream component as well as the underground scene? Is it all going mainstream?

B: I stopped giving a shit about underground versus mainstream along time ago. the majority of both scenes is wack. but to be honest, I think mainstream is winning right now. I’ve been bumping mostly mainstream lately. some underground but the time of the basement tapes is over to me…

R: What are you finding the feedback has been like for your latest album – Music by Cavelight? How does it differ in Europe vs. North America?

B: I can’t really tell. I think people are feeling it. I’m really only around my friends in NYC and they don’t really give a shit. It’s kinda nice to not have to hear reviews from my boys.

R: One of the things I find most interesting about your music is the crazy samples (jazz seems to be a favorite) that you throw down, how do you pick your samples?

B: It’s really simple. I sit down at my sampler and play records. Whatever catches my ear is what I use.

R: I have heard your “lo-fi” in that you use basically only a couple of units in studio. Do you think that contributes to your sound or is it just personal preference?

B: I’m just lazy. I don’t like learning new equipment. I figure, if I can make my music sound good with nothing but my sampler and pro tools, I’m chilling. I know way too many people with thousands of dollars of equipment and their stuff sounds worse then my shit burned to CD right of the sampler. Knowing your equipment is the most important thing to me.

R: How do you start and finish a tune? Do you have a goal in mind or is it stream of consciousness and when you’re done your just done?

B: It’s very “stream of consciousness”… I basically let the samples guide me. I wish I could say there was a science to it but there really isn’t.

R: How did the hookup with Ninja Tune come about? Do you have any personal favs out of the Ninja Tune lineup? I personally think your sound has some things in common with Bonobo and Skalpel.

B: I just sent ninja the album and they liked it. I know…I didn’t think that kinda thing worked either…I like Bonobo the most out of the ninja line up. Kid koala is dope. Diplo is really dope too…there really is very little that I’m not feeling from the label.

R: Now that you’re with the Ninjas do you find you’re traveling more? It must have increased exposure for you in Europe – the recent Zen TV Tour must have helped.

B: I did a little touring. Some in Europe and some in North America; to be honest, I could do without it. I’m not a performer or a DJ. I’m a producer. What I do has yet to find its form that translates well live. The exposure is nice though…

R: Thanks again for your time answering these questions. What can R4NT readers expect from Blockhead in the future?

B: Another instrumental album, more work with MC’s and an album with my beats and some singers…keep on the look out!

  • Interview with Blockhead
  • by R4NT
  • Published on May 1st, 2004

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