Archive for February, 2011

Celph Titled Interview: Passion of the Weiss

February 22, 2011

A few months ago, Jeff from asked me to interview Celph Titled.   Already somewhat of an icon for his omniscience in the NY underground movement and a cinematically flagrant (yet convincing) persona, Celph’s unsuspecting move to obtain Buckwild’s 1990’s production archives as the backdrop for his official solo debut made the opportunity even more undeniable…

Below are some highlights of the piece, which can be read in its entirety at …

Celph Titled (left) & Buckwild (right)


A lot of contemporary rappers pride themselves in ‘bringing the ‘90’s back’, but they’re not doing much more than just saying it. One of the things I like about Nineteen Ninety Now is it’s more cohesive than simply rapping over vintage (sounding) beats; it sounds like the scratches, arrangement, style of hooks, etc are all made to be consistent with the ‘90’s formula for hip-hop music…

Definitely… Being the first to do this concept, we had to basically pretend like this was the ‘90’s. Now, there are procedures on how to make songs and it’s mostly cookie-cutter: three 16’s and 8-bar hooks and that’s that. [Instead,] we got in the mindset of how dudes made records back then because so many things have been forgotten. Whether it’s cuts, not having a set amount of bars, using certain vocal samples as part of the hook or during the verse to answer a rhyme, or [in general] just being loose with it- all these details that are ignored anymore had to be paid very much attention to. So, our formula was about taking new lyrics and a new outlook, while staying within the frame of ‘How would they have made this record in 1994?’ and following that to a tee.

As a long-time fan of rap music, I feel like one of the main things that’s missing from songs these days- not just in the mainstream but now in the underground as well- is DJs doing scratch segments or sampling memorable punch lines from another emcee’s verse. It’s disappointing, because it’s one of my favorite parts of a good rap song.

Exactly, and who better to do [the scratches] than the world-famous champion, Mister Sinister? He did the cuts on Common Resurrection and all kinds of classic ‘90’s albums, so it was perfect that he was able to do it on my album. Going back to the ‘90’s thing, even the approach of rapping and DJ’ing is different nowadays. Everyone is really stiff. My style is more cartoonish and comical and it worked well since we all took a carefree approach and didn’t try to be so serious. A lot of fans get too superficial with their music. You have a lot of insecure people feeling like ‘I only need to listen to crime shit, hardcore, street rap’ and they’re scared to listen to something like this album because it’s actually fun… There are violent undertones, but it’s like an action movie. It’s like Die Hard, where Bruce Willis will blast somebody and then make a punch line about it- it’s fun.

I first became a fan of your music when I heard the “Chrome Depot Freestyle” with Apathy over DJ Premier beats, which was 10 years ago. So, for me, hearing Nineteen Ninety Now kind of brought things full-circle, and it was nice to basically hear the same Celph Titled I’ve been a fan of. I feel like a lot of other emcees that came up the same time in the late-90’s/ early-2000’s indie hip-hop movement, and gained notoriety as punch line/ battle rappers, have since abandoned that style in preference of alternative, genre-bending directions. Whatever the case, it seems doing a punch line song is taboo, or being regarded primarily as a battle rapper is now insulting for these artists. As someone who isn’t ashamed of that classification, what are your thoughts on all this?

A lot of that has to do with ego and fear of being irrelevant. When you start hearing backlash from people about punch line rap, like ‘there’s no substance’, this and that- an insecure artist who’s effected by that is going to question their shit and try to appeal to that [stigma]. They might convince themselves ‘This isn’t my natural growth. I need to go and make this a sad song with a story’, or just do all this weird stuff they didn’t do before. If you look at the long-standing, successful artists in hip-hop- even if they’re not critically acclaimed, guys like E-40 and Too Short never changed their formulas. They might have updated their production styles with the times, but they’ve always given their fans what they want and they’re still here, making plenty of money. I realize that I’ve created a brand through a certain vibe when you listen to me and I never want to let my fans down, especially because I enjoy doing it. I don’t care what other people think, like ‘oh it’s just backpack, rappity-rap’, because that’s what I like and I have enough fans… I’ve been disappointed by my favorite artists so many times, and what they could have done to have my support and everyone else’s was so simple. Trying to do something totally different makes fans mad a lot of times. It could be why a lot of the guys who came up with me and Apathy 10 years ago are gone, and I think the fact we’re still here doing this says a lot.

Nineteen Ninety Now actually isn’t the first time you’ve done a concept, collaboration album. Several years ago, you dropped the Boss Hog Barbarians project with J-Zone, which can be considered another, yet more comical, homage to early ‘90’s rap music. How was this concept and working with J-Zone different than working with Buckwild on the new album?

In a way, that album is the west coast version of Nineteen Ninety Now. Zone and I are such fans of that era and we both wanted to do something different at the time. He was having some issues where people were pigeonholing him into one sound, like the accordion beats, talking about his infatuation with Lucy Lu and that’s all people wanted to hear. As a growing artist, that would make him mad, so we did ‘Barbarians’ in a kind of rebellious way, like ‘this is what we came up on, what we love, and we’re going to make a very funny, killer project out of it.’ I think it went over a lot of people’s heads; they might have thought it was all a joke. There was definitely a joke aspect to it. We’re not super-serious guys- we like to make people laugh and we know how to have fun, but it wasn’t a whole parody. We really felt that project and there were a lot of concepts on it. We shared the mic duties and I did a couple beats that were my tributes to classic [San Francisco] Bay Area stuff… It was different because J-Zone is a friend of mine, and was a friend prior to making that album. We did the album because of our friendship and our admiration for each other’s talent. We would come up with ideas on the spot while joking around, laughing and being loose. With Buckwild, I didn’t know him beforehand. We met each other in order to do the album and I had to get to know him. We’re friends and we joke too now that we understand each other’s sense of humor and stuff like that, but it’s different when you go into a project already having that kind of personal rapport versus building the rapport while you’re doing it…

Celph w/ Treach of Naughty by Nature, who is one of many decorated rap hall-of-famers on "Nineteen Ninety Now"