Haphduzn: I've kind of got a lot of experience with struggle
Haphduzn recently dropped his debut album Whittier Alliance, a collaboration with Wide Eyes' producer Dimitry Killstorm, and it sits comfortably in the pantheon of the Rhymesayers artists with whom he recently got off tour. A brutally honest and personal record, the straightforward raps come from a place of struggle, but with the willpower to break through the cycle. Gimme Noise sat with Haphduzn and Dimitry to discuss their powerful new record.
Gimme Noise: How did the two of you initially come to work with one another?
Haphduzn: We met at an event probably four years ago called Twin Cities Battling, it used to be hosted by Truth Maze, a battle at the Blue Nile, and I would battle there, and Dimitry would go because Sean [Anonymous] would battle in it, and Ill Lab. I didn't know any of them dudes. I started going because a buddy of mine saw the flyer and said "If you wanna be a rapper, this is a good place to start". I'd never done anything like that before, so I was kind of apprehensive, but I went to it and started battling and shit, and sucked really bad at first. I got progressively better, to the point where I was making the finals round, twice the last two years. I became pretty good friends with Illlab, and he was good friends with Dimitry, and he gave me my first beat to rap to.
Dimitry Killstorm: It was probably the first beat that was specifically for you.
H: I wrote a song called Southside, which was about South Minneapolis. Ever since then, I don't know. He lived so close to me in Whittier.
D: We found out after the fact too, like, oh, you live right around the corner from me? We'd both hit Spyhouse pretty frequently, so we'd meet up, trade ideas over coffee. We were just really prolific. I'd give him a stack of five beat and he'd come back with four songs in like a week. Not all of them were good, but "Brand New Nostalgia" was one of those first songs.
H: We kept making songs, and one day we were like, let's just make a project together. I think he was in the downtime on Wide Eyes shit. He makes all sorts of different beats, but because of the ones I was picking, it made it a lot more cohesive than I really imagined it being.
D:A lot of it wasn't just, here's my beat, rap on it; he came with a record and a sample sometimes. I like to make beats that set a rapper up with a topic to some degree.
H: He'd send me a beat, and then the vocal sample, I would write around it. "I Still Love You" is the sample, and I'm kind of talking about how I love the hood, and it's not the greatest place in the world, but I still appreciate the things I learned from it, as opposed to making a love song for chicks.
D: When I first made that beat, I thought it was going to be a love song for chicks. There's another one like that, "All Yours" which is the last track, the sample goes "Do you love me? / I love you", but he's talking about fans. It's another way of flipping a love song.
H: We didn't structure the beat around the song, we lead the sample as opposed to letting it lead me. I think we did a pretty good job of that, in terms of thinking about what should be a love song and turn it into something that can be viewed as a love song but in a completely different context. I'm a super huge fan of sample-based music, just because I'm older and that's what hip-hop was, that's what started this shit. I like classic sounding hip-hop.
You do a good job of introducing yourself and your story on this album, with a straight-froward style that gets your message across clearly. Was this intentional?
H: I get really sick of hearing rappers talk about rapping. It's cool to do it when you're doing it in kind of a braggadocio way; I like music like that too. To me it takes a lot more skill as an MC to write songs about reality. "Have My Doubts" in particular, I tried to write a song similar to that probably 20 times. I just never really got to a point where I'm doing the story justice while also making it sound tight at the same time. That's why it's one of my favorite songs on the project is I was able to take a story that's all factual, that shit really happened, and I was able to do it in a way where I liked it musically and I thought I did it justice, the story stayed true to what really happened.
Over the last six years, I got sober and changed my life around. I haven't been to jail since I got sober. I haven't made a lot of the same mistakes that I did growing up since I did that. I'm not in the street anymore. I was really in the street, I was homeless at times. There was times where I was for real suicidal and shit. Rap music was originally about struggle, and I've kind of got a lot of experience with struggle [laughs] It's easy for me to go back and talk about that, in part because I'm in AA, for real. I bring meetings to kids and shit, kids treatment centers. A lot of that is stuff I dealt with through AA, and trying to make rap songs out of it, it made it way easier.
Human beings are complicated. We're not simple. We're spiritual beings, we're flesh and bones. We have bad circumstances that sometimes lead to good things. Sometimes things we consider good lead to bad circumstances. I wanted to run the gamut of emotions on this one project, and it's hard to do, but in terms of heartfelt, serious incidents and party music, as well as trying to flex my MC prowess, I did a fairly good job. I'm obviously still learning. The albums and songs and artists that resonated with me the most growing up were the ones like Tupac. He could take any topic, and do everything really well. Nas can talk about everything really well, Brother Ali's another dude that can do that. You can't pigeonhole him. He may not be the best at any particular one thing, but because he can do everything so well, it kind of makes him a stand-out. That's what I was trying to do, have the whole spectrum, everything I could talk about from my experiences and have it come across in a way where there's a little something for everybody.
As the relative unknown, how was your reception as opener for Atmosphere's Welcome To Minnesota tour recently?
D: Really crazy, actually.
H: There was a lot of people who would say "You guys were fucking great!", and a lot of them would just say that because I'm on tour with Rhymesayers. You have to keep it in perspective. Obviously I'm thankful for any kind of praise that anybody has, because that's why we make music, to share it. But one particular comment I got was from a middle-aged white couple in Mankato, the night before we hit First Ave. 45, maybe 50; they were older. They came up to me after my set in Mankato, and this lady was almost in tears. She was like, "We don't listen to rap music. We brought our kids here to see the show, and I think you're a beautiful spirit and I wish there was more young people like you,". They bought our album and wanted me to sign it and take a picture with them. To have those kind of fans, people who are fans of music but not necessarily fans of hip-hop be like, that was amazing or what I had to say was important to them, that's why I do it.
D: People's favorite so far has been "Brand New Nostalgia", but "Have My Doubts" is the song that gets the most "holy shit" attention. People come up and talk to us because of that song. I was one of the people who was not sure we should do the song live, because it does kind of kill the vibe a little.
H: That's true. It's also just people who are fans of independent or underground hip-hop will appreciate songs like that more. You don't wanna do that song if you're opening for Lil' Wayne. I'm about what I say. That's not always a good thing. It can be a bad thing. It's been my downfall more than once. When I was younger, all I listened to was gangsta rap. I was around for early rap. In '88 I was 7 years old, watching my cousins breakdancing on the front lawn. So I was there, it was cool and I liked it, but when gangsta rap hit, because I grew up in an environment that was similar, it was easier for me to gravitate towards it. But as I got older, that's like living in hopes of something you can't attain. When you're talking about cars or clothes or trying to keep up with the Joneses, nobody's ever going to have money like Jay-Z.
Not to say it's impossible, but the likelihood of that happening is very slim to none. When I discovered these underground dudes like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and I Self Devine, and they were talking about stuff that is just more realistic, I was like "fuck listening to that other stuff." At 30 years old, I'm not thinking about riding around robbing people or selling drugs to people. I know where that leads. I've been there. I'd rather think about how to become a better human being so I don't have to deal with that shit. I try to make music like that. It's easier for people to relate to that. What good is it to talk about Rolexes I don't own?
Haphduzn is throwing a release party for Whitttier Alliance tonight at the Nomad, with Greg Grease, Mike the Martyr, Illab, and more. 501 Cedar Ave Minneapolis, MN 55454, $10 at the door. 21+
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