Midwest Broadcast is proud to be co-sponsoring an upcoming album by two artists from Minneapolis, Lipset and Lokes. Their Level Heads LP will be officially released on November 2, and its yet another impressive project to be released from the crop of new Twin Cities talent. But Lipset and Lokes' album truly is something special. The combination of Lipset's thoughtful and intricate lyricism with Lokes' diverse and lush production made for one hell of a debut album. Midwest Broadcast was recently able to interview the two artists, and give them a chance to speak on their musical background, creative inspiration, and more. It's a slightly length interview, but well worth your time. Give it a read, and be sure to purchase the album at your local record store when it's released early next month.
MWB: You two are both relatively new to the TC hip-hop scene. Tell me a little about your background, personally and musically, and, if relevant, how they're interrelated.
Lokes: I was born and raised in the Bay Area in California and made my way out to the Twin Cities in the winter of ‘07. Although I’ve only spent a few years in the TC I’ve made it my home away from home and fell in love with its poetry/hip-hop scene because it has a raw element that many cities don’t have anymore. I come from a culture that’s rich with music. I was raised in a Samoan church and sang in the choir. When our choir director was not around, I used to hop on the drums and piano and before I knew it I could play them. That’s pretty much the same with the guitar, trumpet, and singing, music is just something I love to learn to do.
Lipset: Growing up, my parents always played a wide range of music, from Little Richard to the Grateful Dead, Roy Orbison to Ray Charles, so I was exposed to a diverse body of music early on, which helps me not confine myself to one type of music. One of my brother's friends put me on to the saxophone when I was a kid and I think that's where I get my ill cadence from. After the saxophone, my Mom put me behind the piano (but I'm not that fluent) and then my orchestra teacher put me behind the drums, where I further sharpened my rhythm. I was born between Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the heart of the Twin Cities, but I grew up on the Saint Paul side and now reside in South Minneapolis, so I'm truly a product of the Twin Cities. It wasn't until I heard Muad'Dib "pull insectivorous out of [his] cornflakes" on Small Steps that I began seeing hip-hop as something that I could get into as well. It was lyricism like his and story telling like Brother Ali's, coupled with the stealth braggadocio of heavyweights like Nas, Black Thought, Guru, Pharaohe Monche and the like that truly lured me into working towards lyrical perfection.
MWB: How did you two link up?
Lipset: We actually met through a mutual friend, a teammate of Logan's on the U of M football team, same guy who was my roommate. He and I made music, then he, Logan and I made music, then Logan and I made music and since then, we haven't really stopped making music together.
MWB: Your debut collaborative project is the upcoming Level Heads LP, could you explain a bit about that album for a moment?
Lokes: This album is something we were just driven to do. It’s a personal achievement for both of us and is a goal that we were able to accomplish. Having it done and getting to this step where we're promoting it and doing interviews and stuff for it is dope. Neither of us ever thought something like this would actually happen, but it was something we wanted to make happen and the time, effort and hard work we put into getting it done would really not be done justice if we didn't keep working hard to see it through to the end.
The best way to understand this album is just by listening to it from track one to fifteen, just make sure to keep an ear out for those hidden treasures scattered through the album.
Lipset: The Level Heads concept I think speaks for itself. It refers to an individual or group of individuals who pursues their passion and refuses to let anything or anyone stand in the way of them accomplishing that goal and living their dreams. Outside of the album, it's our family of people who we keep around to make sure we all stay focused, grounded and prepared for whatever comes our way. We know that in doing so, positivity will yield positive outcomes.
MWB: Where do you find your creative inspiration, both lyrically and musically? Are there any artists, stories, experiences that drive your creative process.
Lokes: Lip will tell you, I LOVE SOUNDS. I feel that every sound whether its electronic, acoustic, rhythmic, or soul filled, has potential to give birth to something hot. Just put me in a room full of objects and I’ll find inspiration to make a thumper.
Lipset: I don't think there are any artists that inspire my content, but there are definitely artists that inspire my creativity. I think creative inspiration ultimately comes from within, though, so the more important sources of inspiration are the ones that fuel your content. For me, those people are my family and friends as well as the people that I sit down on a bench in the park and write about for an hour as they walk by.
MWB: What is the dynamic between Lipset and Lokes when you're making songs? Is there any pattern or formula for how you two go about things together?
Lipset: There's no real formula or process in terms of how things go down but there are always a select few things that will happen. Lokes basically will make a beat, and then he'll title the beat, that title will communicate a loose emotion or feeling to me. Lokes will usually also have a rough idea about the topic or cadence for the flow, we'll discuss and grow those ideas, then we'll go smoke the LeLe bowl (which is Samoan for 'herb') and then we'll come back and he'll finish the beat while I write the song.
MWB: What's it like being developing hip-hop artists in a Twin Cities scene that has so much history and an established core group of performers already? Does the presence of these veteran artists/labels that have been relevant for the past decade make it any easier or harder to find your own footing in the local scene?
Lokes: Unfortunately good music doesn’t sell any more and that’s sad to me because there are a lot of good artists in the TC that no one knows about. I was raised in the west coast where the hip-hop culture is very different than the likes of Minnesota. I look up to artists such as Murs who is from the west coast like me and who appreciates the mid west hip-hop seen and gives them the recognition they deserve. I think that when artists/labels listen to the album they’ll hear an MC who has a unique story to tell and a producer who can lace down tracks with real music not just processed samples and beats.
Lipset: First off, it's great coming up in the Twin Cities. In terms of support and availability, you couldn't ask for a better scene. In addition, there are role models for success, which is something that helps someone realize that the impossible really can be accomplished regardless of whether or not it's MC'ing, teaching, whatever. Role models are always helpful. In that sense, the presence of veterans has made it easier in one way, but it also means that there are elders there to check who is paying their dues and who is truly respectable throughout the underground. With regard to other artist's affect on establishing your own footing I don't think it's something any artist should worry about because if you are unique, if your style stands out, heads will turn. There's always room for true music.
While I do love the Twin Cities, I am working towards a world stage where we can reach all walks of life. We’ve crafted a sound that I hope will touch people in many places, so to label us as local artists I think is a bit premature.
MWB: Anything coming up soon that we should be looking out for besides the album?
Lokes: I've just invested in some new toys (the yamaha XS, new electric guitars and bass, and new music software) so I'm in the kitchen cooking up beats to soon feed the streets… thumpers for your bumpers.
Lipset: Yessir, and I'm helping the Duenday kids finish up their new album which should be dropping that next week after ours. Our album's coming November 2nd, release party November 5th at Hell's Kitchen with Mally, Mike Dreams, Duenday, Alissa Paris, DJ Gabe Garcia, Epitome No Question and Lokes and I. Then we've got an interview at KMOJ on Halloween night! It's going to be nuts make sure to tune in between 10 and midnight. Between now and the release party you can catch me out at the venues, probably trying to talk to you.
MWB: Anything else you'd like to mention?
Lipset: Buy the album, spread the word, maybe we can put quality music back on top.