Friday, May 15, 2009

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: What CeeJay say about East Coast hip hop

School's in: CeeJay teaches you lessons (Photo Credit: Skilled Concepts)

Back in March, I wrote about the group Deep Foundation and their music video "Children of the Son: Remix." As many of you know, the New York/New Jersey crew is making noise, and with their new album, "The First Draft," they are looking to build a national following. Go support and order the album! It is Hip Hop Lives approved! Like CeeJay says below, it delivers dope rhymes, quality beats... it's official.

For now, come kick it with CeeJay from DF as he gives us a glimpse of the East Coast hip hop world, raps about "The First Draft," and reminds us why pinakbet is delicious.

Yo CJ! Where you from?
I lived in New York (Yonkers and the Bronx) until I was about 8, but I've lived in New Jersey since then. My hometown is a suburban town in Central New Jersey called Old Bridge. It's a 45 minute bus ride from Manhattan. Like I hope most people do, I love my hometown. In the late 80s and early 90s, I kind of felt out of place. It was nowhere nearly as diverse as the places I lived in NY. Around the early to mid 90s, I started seeing more people of color. It's probably like a lot of other suburban towns around America. Houses, lawns, some with backyards, some without, a couple strip malls. We played a lot of basketball growing up. A lot of my friends were into hip-hop. We had a few heads into DJing and breakdancing.

What are the origins of Deep Foundation? How did you get involved?
Deep Foundation started as a group of friends who shared the common love for hip hop. In the late 90s, we were spread throughout the New York metropolitan area, but all immersed in hip-hop culture individually. In New Jersey, Proseed and Verbaltek attended the same high school and both experimented with writing rhymes. They eventually started writing and recording songs together. They met WordsArize who lived in a neighboring town through mutual friends, discovered he was writing as well, and later added him to the mix. Around the same time, Proseed met ILL Poetik from Queens who shared the same interest in rhyming, especially freestyling, and his brother Sawnd G during a family trip. Their mothers actually went to the same college in the Philippines.

I was also a huge fan of the music and the culture, had been DJing for a few years, and recently discovered freestyling. I knew Verbaltek, Proseed and WordsArize through friends and we would all talk about hip-hop whenever we saw each other at parties. In the fall of 2000, someone brought up the idea to me about performing at an upcoming show at my school, so I invited the guys to take the stage with me. It was at the rehearsals and meetings preparing for the performance where we all got closer (pause) and started to look forward to doing more shows together. Soon after, we invited ILL Poetik to join us for the next performance.

In the summer of 2001, the New York and New Jersey contingents ended up attending the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in New York City. To no surprise, we all decided to freestyle. A few guys taking turns freestyling turned into a full-fledged cipher with the Deep Foundation emcees, ILL Poetik and his friend Mugshot who was also from Queens. One by one, a crowd formed to watch us exchange verses until, eventually, NYPD felt it was necessary to disperse the crowd (WACK!). Mutual respect was gained and ILL Poetik and Mugshot officially joined the group soon after. In the fall, we had our first performance together with all the current members at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

How did you first get involved with DJing and emceeing?
I got into DJing during my freshman year of high school. In middle school, I had gone to parties where I could actually see a DJ mixing records. I thought blending two records was really cool. I actually saw a few DJs scratch and was like "this is how they do the scratching I hear on the radio?" Shout out to Chris Tamayo who was one of the first DJs I saw spin live as a kid. A good amount of people were into DJing in my hometown. I would see them spin at parties and it just looked like a lot of fun. Shout out to John Vito, Kid Fury and DJ Ollie. After seeing them, I appreciated the art of DJing more. I would listen to Funkmaster Flex on the radio and be amazed. Freshman year, it was like everyone was into DJing. I guess it's similar to how it is with hip-hop dance and dance crews now. Back then, everyone wanted to be a DJ. We used to watch those DMC battle videos. My two best friends and I decided one day that we wanted to take DJing up as a hobby, so we all saved our money for months and bought equipment. We would just chill for hours practicing.

As for emceeing, one day, we were chilling for my boy Jaydee's birthday at his house and we had the equipment on, taking turns spinning. Our boy Mike Intellect, who is now Deep Foundation's official DJ, was there and he suggested that we freestyle. We didn't know what he meant. He told us, you just had to rap, but you had to make up the words on the spot. I had never tried to rap before that. So he went first, Jay gave it a try. Then, I tried. It was cool. I actually came up with a decent line. It was kind of fun. The guys thought I was decent and encouraged me to keep at it. In the months that followed, we'd try it more when we were hanging out. I got a little better at it and ended up freestyling a lot with a few friends. I was pretty much addicted and it became my main hobby while DJing kind of faded away for me. I eventually started trying to write. My first experience with recording was actually my voicemail greeting haha. Remember those free voicemails around 2000?

What are some of the differences you see with hip hop (with Filipinos and in general) on the East Coast with that of the West Coast?
In terms of hip-hop, I would say both coasts are pretty comparable because they're so diverse within themselves. On both sides, you have battle emcees, mainstream... political... underground... street... religious? Each region has its own flavor, but you can even have people doing different styles or subgenres within one city. But if I had to point out specific differences, the obvious ones would have to be accents and lingo. Just thinking of examples, the Bay has hyphy which we don't have over here. On the other hand, we have groups like CNN and MOP over here whose style I'm not sure you can find out west. Oh, and another thing. When you're in NYC, you see cats in the street trying to sell you their CDs, a lot of them basically harassing you. During my short visits to the west (The Bay, LA, SD), I didn't see that. Thank God! I mean, hustling to get your music out there is one thing, but straight up harassing people is another.

As far as East Coast versus West Coast Filipinos, it's tough to speak on a whole coast. The first thing is numbers. On a daily basis pretty much anywhere in NJ or NY, you're bound to see a few Filipinos every day. In the areas with higher concentrations of Filipinos like Jersey City and Woodside, of course you'll see more. But out west, it just seems like they're everywhere...or WE're everywhere I should say. Speaking on the actual people, in the NY/NJ area, people are kinda more reserved about showing love at a show for example, especially to acts that are new to them. The first time DF went out to Cali to perform, I remember getting mad love (or should I say hella?) from folks we've never met and who probably have never heard our music. Shout out to Maganda @ UC Berkeley!

Describe the process of making your new album, "The First Draft."
It started with the search for beats. We were talking to almost everyone we knew who produced, and for a while, we struggled to find tracks that fit our style. It's not that the tracks weren't good, (well, some of them actually weren't haha.) It's that a lot of the beats just didn't go with our sound. To be honest, it got pretty frustrating. Luckily, our boy Hydroponikz put us onto a friend of his, Jay Chen aka Smooth Criminal. We checked out his beats and copped our first batch from him. We continued looking for beats and didn't get too far. Again, Hydro came through for us and linked us up with another friend of his, Incise from Toronto. Incise ended up making most of the beats for "The First Draft". At the time, Hydroponikz was really getting into the zone in terms of his production, so we were fortunate enough to have beats from him on the album too. We have two tracks produced by Illmind as well. We met him back around 2001 and have been cool ever since. We hadn't worked together until this project, so it was awesome that we could finally collaborate. He's really one of the top producers in the game right now, so it's an honor to have him on our album.

Back to the process... As we got beats, we took time to listen to them individually. Then, when we saw each other or through email would trade ideas about how we would approach the song. Guys would also just start writing and present what they came up with to the group for feedback. If we agreed one of the guys came up with a cool concept, we'd run with it and write with that theme in mind. We'd send out our verses to the group for feedback or try them out live. We'd give each other constructive criticism on the verses or suggestions for changing or improving the verse. Once we were done writing, we'd record at ILL Poetik's home studio. We sent everything to DJ Phillee Blunt for mixing, we'd review the mixes and go back and forth with Phil until they had the sound we were looking for. Shout out to DJ Phillee Blunt, not only an ill DJ, but a dope engineer. Our album wouldn't be what it is without the quality mixing and mastering he did. I could go into detail about how each song was born, but that's pretty much what the process was for "The First Draft".

What do you want people to take away after listening to "The First Draft"?
I want people to take away that it's a dope hip-hop album. Quality beats. Dope rhymes. Here's a crew that took their time to craft the best album they could. Not just throw something together, rushing to get it done. We took the time to carefully choose the best beats, pick songs that would mesh well when put together as an album, come up with a concept, and produce creative album art that reflects the theme of the CD and represents the work we put into it. Shout out to Choz Belen for doing the album art. We put a lot into this whole process. I hope people take the time to check it out. If you like it, please cop it! Every sale counts and enables us to keep doing what we do. You can order the physical CD at our MySpace,, or on CD Baby. You can also purchase the mp3s on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and CD Baby.

What's the best Filipino meal you've ever had?
I love Filipino food. I have a long list of favorites. I love pinakbet. Might it be cuz I'm Ilocano? I can't think of the best Filipino meal I've ever had, but if I could describe one, it might go something like this. I'll start with some Lumpiang Shanghai dipped in the ill vinegar with the hot peppers in it. Then, I'd have some really crunchy lechon kawali with Mang Tomas sauce of course. I just got into Bicol Express recently, so definitely some of that. I'll take some pinakbet for the veggies. And I would be in Boracay, so I could get a cold fresh mango shake right after. There are so many awesome Filipino dishes out there that this scenario could play out another way, but I'd be the happiest man on earth with this meal.

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