This month marks 10 years since Rhymesayers ventured outside of Minneapolis for a full-length album from the also-vibrant Seattle hip-hop scene. Grayskul, a sub-division of Seatlle hip-hop super-collective Oldominion, had carved out their own dark niche of the Rhymesayers catalog.
With an ominous, foreboding and often-cryptic collection of stories and soliloquies, Deadlivers slapped an unsuspecting 2005 indie rap soundscape in the face and has since become a cult classic. Boasting guest appearances from Canibus, Mr. Lif and Abstract Rude, it's one of the most eclectic albums in the Rhymesayers catalog.
We spoke to members Onry and JFK about Deadlivers' legacy, what it was like joining a white-hot Rhymesayers touring roster in the mid-2000s, and how Deadlivers sits with them today.
Do you recall the first time you ever heard of Rhymesayers?
Onry: We heard of Rhymesayers once we became friends with Slug. He was a fan of our crew Oldominion back in the day, from what I remember.
How did you and Rhymesayers officially link up?
Onry: JFK and I were just working on songs and such randomly, with no real plans. Our manager at the time was gonna make a trip out to Minneapolis to shop beats to some Rhymesayers people, so I asked him to show the powers that be some of our Grayskul songs. We didn't think anything would really come of it, more were just wondering what people of their caliber would think about our sound. Upon his return, he brought back the news that not only did they dig our sound, but they wanted to sign us. Our minds were blown to say the least!
How were you received by Rhymesayers fans during those first 2004 tours with Eyedea and Abilities and Blueprint?
Onry: In regards to touring we were received well, but it also went over the heads of a lot of people. Rhymesayers had a certain demographic in a way, and I think they didn't know exactly how to fully take us in since it was so much different then what they expected and/or experienced. I'd say it worked for and against us. 'twas some of the best times of our lives though, that's for sure, and it really put us in the public eye.
It's interesting to look at how Deadlivers featured a diverse list of guests touching all sides of the hip-hop underground. Was that an intentional move or did the collaborations with Canibus, Abstract Rude and Mr. Lif all just happen organically?
JFK: The collaborations for the Deadlivers album were pretty much organic. We, as independent artists and active members of the northwest Oldominion crew, [had] established friendships with all [of the] features on the album even before Grayskul recorded the first song. The diversity between all three artists definitely stretches the range and variety throughout the whole album, which was something we wanted to bring to table in the completion.
What was it like shooting the "Prom Quiz" video?
JFK: The shooting of the "Prom Quiz" video was definitely an exciting experience. The technology involved to create the video at the time was used in the same fashion that visual effect teams in Hollywood would apply to create vast landscapes and environments in big films. Actual miniature models of environments shot in the scenes were about the size of a pool table, where a miniature camera would film from one end to the other behind a green screen. We later would be superimposed into the shot. The shooting of Grayskul's part took three days to film. One of my greatest experiences shooting a music video.
Given how much interaction the two cities' hip-hop communities began having, did you see any noticeable evolution in the relationship between the Minneapolis and Seattle scenes as the album drew closer to release?
JFK: The relationship between both cities had already taken place [within] the hip-hop communities from production, DJs, and artists. Seattle has always been a city that supports independent music, and touring artists not from Seattle made sure that the Northwest was an essential destination to hit in the routing of their tours. The evolution began with the collaborations between artists from both the cities, and the addition of Seattle/Northwest artists [finding] themselves on the roster to Minneapolis' major/independent powerhouse label Rhymesayers. I don't think anyone saw the evolution that has grown and continues to take place today. We're just fortunate and thankful that, in-turn, a lot more eyes are looking onto Seattle as a city with a multitude of talent.
How do you feel about Deadlivers today? Is there anything about the album or its release you would change?
JFK: For some people out there, Deadlivers is a classic album to them; and for that reason alone we have no regrets today about the release. What was meant has been written.
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