Blacastan: Building With The Master Builder (Interview)

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The late GURU said its mostly the voice and he was right. The voice is the key to most forms of communication. It’s the thing that grabs our attention and holds us in its grip. That is the case in nearly every area of our lives. Be it from our peers who we hold dear to famous faces we look up to and the political leaders we like or despise. The same is said about the MC’s that we idolised as kids/teens. When you heard those defined tones of Chuck D you knew an important message was about to be told that was both political and powerful. When the GOD Rakim Allah released his calm and controlled flow you knew that knowledge was about to be dropped. The precision and direction of his voice meant that you wouldn’t catch every gem dropped that first time. The power of his voice meant you had to rewind the tape to catch the science he blessed us with. I could carry on naming names but we all know who they are.

The game is full of rappers now flooding the internets with their latest releases/free albums/mix tapes , etc. It becomes much harder to wade through them, even more so in your mid 30’s when every new kid seems likely to be a flash in the pan. It’s harder to connect. Give me a MC with an ill flow, a commanding voice with a message, a raw edge and a direction driving him/her forward. In the last few years I’ve found that in one particular gentleman. I first heard him on Apathy’s “Wanna Snuggle?” album. Since that moment I’ve been a fan. He’s name is Blacastan, his music has enriched my life and if you don’t know who he, is nows the time to do so. In Blac’s own words “Study study”

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Q) I guess the best place to start is at the beginning: When and where were you born?
Can you tell me what you remember about your family dynamic at that time? in relation to that how were the early years of your childhood? Any particular experiences that stick out profoundly?

A) I was born 1980 in Hartford, CT. My family dynamic was not like the picture perfect ideal of a television family unit. I was raised mainly by my Aunts and my Grandmother, my mom was heavily involved in the drug culture of the 80’s. My early childhood was not too stable, it’s kind of hard to find stability when there’s a lack of constance in the living situation and the family unit is broken. I can’t recall anything that sticks out profoundly about my childhood because everybody I knew as a kid had similar situations so it felt normal nah mean.

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Q) As a kid do you remember the time you first became aware of music? If so, what was the record/song? Can you recall the feeling/emotion it created? When did Hip Hop Culture first make It’s self known to you and how?

A) It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I first became aware of music, but as far as I could remember it was always around. As far as hip hop goes it was always in the air walking home from school playing outside hearing cars drive by blaring the latest and greatest hip hop joints of that particular moment. Probably the first tape I ever personally owned was Beastie Boys “License to Ill” my moms had got me a lil’ boombox to share with my older brother and thats what we was bumpin’. I also remember havin’ the LL album when he was standing on the hood of his car on the cover “Bigger and Deffer”. Wow, I remember this like it was yesterday but one rhyme that I knew was really serious even as a kid was the opening rhyme of “Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos” when Chuck D opened with “I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it it said they were suckers” I was like oh shit even as a kid I knew it was crazy insane or even outta this world to dis the government word up,! I thought that was so dope and Flav was such a dope character that made the record doper nah mean,…Pretty much this was my introduction to hip hop this then ushered me into the phase of rappin” in the mirror with a brush.

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Q) Any memory what was the first rap you spit in the mirror? Did you start to pen your own raps after that or did that come later? How did your Grandmother and Aunts view the music? Did they see the connection between rap and the Blues & Soul of their childhood or was it alien to them?

A) The first rap I spit in the mirror was probably LL, “I’m Bad”. I actually remember jumpin’ on my Grandmother’s coffee table wildin’ out like I was on stage. I didn’t write any rhymes until much later though. My Grandmother and Aunts definitely thought I was a crazy lil’ kid but were happy to see me takin’ interest in something music related. They didn’t have a problem wit’ me listenin’ to Hip Hop until I brought “Eazy E” and “N.W.A.” home. I’m not sure if they were able to make the connection between Hip Hop and other forms of music unless they heard an obvious sample from something like, “Mr. Big Stuff” Heavy D used nah mean. I mean my Grandmother definitely appreciated the great crooners like Nat King Cole, and stuff like Ben E. King, Harry Belafonte was another one of her favourites for the most part. Hip Hop was something that represented loud obnoxious noise to them, but something that was very important to me right away.

Q) You mentioned that your Mother was heavily involved in the drug culture of the 80’s. Did the lack of consistency in you’re living situation have an impact on you as you grew in to your teenage years in the early/mid 90’s? Was the effect positive or negative or a mixture of both? Did you have a tight group of friends you ran with back then? How did you view school/education back then? I ask because I get the impression from the music you release you’re a well read individual.

A) Yeah, my mom was always around but not playing too much of an active parenting role in my life. My mom was more like an older sister and this relationship definitely effected me coming up. In some ways it was positive, but mainly negative because I was able to make too many choices on my own and in retrospect a young adult/ teenager should have assistance in moving along into adulthood. I made a lot of poor choices, hence me ending up in prison for the greater part of my teenage years. I had a crew back then definitely, and like any other teenager your crew meant everything to you back then thats where the “Ride or Die” mentality started for me! I dropped out of the 8th grade, I remember thinkin’ that education wasn’t meant for everyone thats a pretty foul view of education for a young man to have. I was always a pretty bright student I picked up common sense/street smarts from growin’ up the way I did and havin’ a mother that hipped me to the ways of the “World”. Somewhere along the line I started to have less and less interest in school and more interest in the streets and gettin’ high and hustlin’ I got held back a couple grades and that was it. I did a lot of studying and reading in prison where I eventually got my GED. I remember reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” three times back to back and relating so much to his story, and havin’ the thought that jus’ cause I was in jail didn’t mean I couldn’t make something outta my life,…(word up)

Q) After connecting strongly with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and passing the GED how long was it until you were released from prison? How did you deal with the build up to that day? can you recall the emotions when you walked out a free man?

A) After reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” a couple times and seeing how similar our stories were, I started to dig deeper and read other books. I realised that I liked to read and gain knowledge it was empowering I preferred biographies over fiction. Although I enjoyed titles from Donald Goines as well, In the mix of me picking up books, writing rhymes, and drawing I studied and passed the G.E.D. exam. I couldn’t believed I passed it, this was one of the most positive things I did in my life up to that point word up. My Grandmother was so proud you would have thought I graduated from Yale or some shit! After I got my G.E.D. I still had about 4 years left on my sentence though.

Q) Quickly going back to your time locked down did you stay connected with the outside world via family & friends? I know people who refused to let their loved ones visit, because they couldn’t process the emotions of the situation. Is that something you experienced?

A) While I was locked up my mom and I pretty much lost touch except for the occasional money order for commissary. My Grandmother held me down with everything that I needed until she passed away, it was wild dealing with the death on my Grandmother while I was locked up. My Aunt Rose held me down she was always real supportive and she always let me know that jus’ because I was locked didn’t mean I couldn’t still make something outta my life. A couple friends from the streets would hit me up here and their but nothing consistent nah mean. My family held me down though word up! I didn’t get too many visits though and I respected that cause I understand that people’s lives don’t stop on the outside cause I was locked nah mean.

Q) Having heard “Life Of A Tape” many times over the years it would be wrong of me not to ask the part the humble cassette played in the time you spent inside. Can you break that down for me and the readers? Were you allowed walkman’s & tapes while locked down?

A) Tapes (Cassettes) music in general were very important in doin’ time you gotta have music word up. “The Life of A Tape” was inspired by the Nas joint “I Gave You Power” and definitely in strong reference to the KRS joint “I Can’t Wake Up”. In the facility where I was locked up at that time the music selection was restricted to catalog orders only it was almost impossible to find instrumental albums in those catalogs. The only way to get beat tapes in was through C/O’s, Counsellors, or other inmates who had outside clearance. This is how the whole idea came about, I was listenin’ to “I Gave You Power” and the thought came through if I could take the form of an object what would it be. I couldn’t be a gun that was already done and KRS had already played the blunt roll. Thats when I was like oh shit I could take the form of a tape, so I started comin’ up with lines right away I wrote the whole song over the Nas song words and everything with no instrumental I had no choice. That was like 1998 and there it is “The Life of A Tape” when I was done and I spit it for niggas they was like oh shit thats crazy Blac and thats how I knew the joint was official. 

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Q) So you’re a free man, back home. What was the next move? Find work? Had you decided to pursue becoming a MC/recording artist full time at that point or was that still a dream? I want to understand the transition from fan to artist. What was the first experience of recording material you wanted people to hear like? Tell me about the CT scene at that time and you’re connection to Stezo & Dooley O.

A) When I was released I definitely was not thinking of pursuing a career in Hip Hop. At that time I didn’t view Hip Hop as a realistic option for me especially after doin’ all that time nah mean. Plus at that time I never personally knew anyone who actually broke through and made it mainstream or underground. My plan at that time was jus’ to get a job, work and make some legal money and thats exactly what I did. I had notebooks full of rhymes that I would breeze through, and occasionally for fun I would write a few bars here and there nothing serious. I ran into a couple homies that I knew from back before I was locked up, and they was doin’ the music thing locally and they asked me, “You still rhymin’?” and of course I was like, “Why, whats good?” then they went into the whole thing about tryin’ to make moves and get on etc. etc. So, we linked up and they had a crew of emcees cats that I knew from back in the days the whole plan was to follow the wave and make music that was relevant to the times. It’s needless to say that I wasn’t the first priority in that situation it was 2003-2004 and I was still rhymin’ like it was 1994-1995 nah mean. There was a couple producers in the crew, that had similar taste in music as I did they listened to underground Hip Hop I spit the first verse from “The Life of A Tape” and they was buggin’ out. After that we started to chill a lot and sometime through that process we started working on the “Me Against the Radio” project. I met Dooley-O later on after that project was already out and gettin’ local attention we got close when we teamed up to do a local tour across CT. I met Stezo through Dooley-O Stezo has always been an Icon for us in the CT music scene he was one of the few to actually have a real record deal and real official releases his video was montaged in the Yo MtV raps intro he toured wit’ EPMD. Dooley-O was directing videos at that time so we teamed up and did “The Life of A Tape” joint and Stezo was excited when I asked him to come through for the cameo he ended up bein’ in the whole video. They mentored me to a certain degree, tellin’ me the stories of how it was for them coming up and things they’ve been through in the “music business”. One story that stuck out the most was how they were the first to discover the “Skull Snaps” break and really didn’t get the credit for that. 

Q) Can you map out for me and the readers how you went from that release to connecting with Brick Records? How did “Blac Sabbath” come about as an album and concept? The label has released some real classics over the years and continues to do so. Did they apply any pressure to the recording/producing process?

A) I connected wit’ Brick through my man TREEZ who was working at the Underground Hip Hop store in Boston, and also working at Brick. The “Me Against the Radio” project was makin’ a lil bit of noise locally and it found it’s way to the internet and started gettin’ bootlegged on a couple international sites. At the sametime I started to take rhymin’ a lot more serious I was doin’ every local Show possible. My man Correct sent out a couple CD’s one of them was to Treez at Underground Hip Hop and told him to listen to it. Later on I found out that Treez didn’t even listen to the CD matter fact he through it in the garbage hahahah. He didn’t pay attention until he came to a show on a weekend visit to CT. I did my set got off the stage and Treez came through introduced his self and was like yo you killed it and later on he went on to manage me for a while and brokered the situation wit Brick records. Brick was definitely a very dope situation and needless to say they had a lot of experience putting out underground rap. They had input in the project and I’m glad I was opened minded enough to follow their lead and take direction because along with their help we ended up with a solid first effort nah mean. BLAC SABBATH came along as a play on my name being BLAC spelled B,L,A,C and obviously the attention factor of the group BLACK SABBATH. 

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Q) Since the release of Blac Sabbath you’ve dropped a slew of dope music to the masses. The Master Builder Pt2 was my album of 2012, how did you connect with the mix tape king Doo Wop? Becoming a member of Demigodz & AOTP must’ve been a big thing. How did both situations come about? The recent performances looked like a ton of fun.

A) Since the release of BLAC SABBATH I’ve released “The Master Builder pt.II”, been apart of the “KILLmatic” album with my brothers, and been featured on so many projects I can’t remember. I hooked up with Doo Wop through my homie Mr. Peter Parker who is originally from Boston and now has one of the top radio shows in the D.M.V. area for those who don’t know thats the D.C. Maryland, Virginia area. Over the years through a mutual respect for the same taste in Hip Hop we grew really tight. Around the time I decided to compile all these songs together for “The Master Builder pt.II” project Parker was the first person to come to mind. He’s a real good dude and I knew he wouldn’t front on me he honestly did everything he could to help me make moves. Matter of fact I was featured on a song with Slaine from La Coka Nostra, Special Teamz and Parker was actually the person who set up the session that would spawn the song called “Thru The Rain” which I still perform today during my live stage shows. I was with Parker one night after a show in Boston and I guess knew that Slaine had a studio session planned for that night and he was like, “You wonna go to a session with Slaine?” I was like, “Hell yeah, lets do it.” he called Slaine to see if it was cool and the rest lead to an all night session with Slaine we ended up knocking out a couple joints that night. Anyhow after Parker agreed to hold me down with “The Master Builder pt.II” he said we need a true school DJ to host the project. Immediately we started thrown’ names around and Doo Wop’s name came up like a light bulb above Parkers head. Doo Wop was the perfect person to do this he was a Golden Era Dj that truly understood the kind of music that was going into “The Master Builder pt.II” and on top of that he is an emcee,! Doo Wop was perfect and on top of all that he was already tight with Parker, Parker sent him a couple of my records to vibe off and he immediately agreed to be apart of the project he even agreed to kick a hot 16 bar verse thats DJ Doo Wop rhyming with me on “Castles” the openin’ track on MBpt.II.

Well, the Demigodz thing happened like this, my brother APATHY had a radio show up at UCONN. We actually connected through myspace, he reached out to me after hearing “The Life of A Tape”. He invited me down to be on the show, I came through did the show we hit it off and I ended up becoming a regular on the show. I did the show with AP, Chum, and Ben for probably 3 years straight. We got real tight we ended up working on a record for the “WANNA SNUGGLE” album after a while we got so tight we were like family, so after talking to Celph and the rest of the Demigodz we made the Demigodz thing official and made the announcement I think on twitter etc. It was organic it’s based all on our mutual love and respect for the culture and the music. In that same time frame I met Vinnie and O.S. and after doing the record with Brick we also bonded see Brick, Demigodz, JMT, O.S., AOTP is all the sam fam. So it’s only natural that we make music together and support each other and thats how it all happened. It is a big deal I run with the most talented emcee’s in the underground in my opinion hands down,! The show in Philly was completely sold out and marked the first time that all the active Pharaohs were all on the same stage at the same time. I was happy to be apart of it word up it was a wild night g,…

Q) It’s half way through 2014, what does the rest of the year ahead bring for Blacastan? Anything in particular we should be on the look out for?

A) I already set off 2014 with the “Deep Breath” 12″ feat. O.C produced by DJ Doom b/w “Passive Aggression” on Blunted Astronaut. We got the first of 2 AOTP records that dropped April 22nd 2014 titled “In Death Reborn” Today I dropped the full length LP with Stu Bangas called Watson X Holmes, and a full length with DJ Doom scheduled for this winter also on Blunted Astronaut this is gonna be a crazy year G,…stay tuned !!!.

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