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We squeeze under an umbrella with Evidence to talk about his new album, getting back with Dilated and his unlikely signing to Rhymesayers
words Rob Boffard
Since 2007, Evidence has been navigating the music industry as a solo artist. Beatnik caught up with an emcee at the top of his game ahead of his trip to London in November.Evidence: You (prod. DJ Premier)
Rhymesayers European Tour. Just saying the words causes a little burst of lightning in the happy centres of our brains. What, you’re saying the coolest rap label in the continental US is coming to Europe? London included? Not just one of them, but all of them? On one night? You don’t say. And did our frontal lobes just explode? They did? Splendid. Won’t you help us pick up the pieces? Careful, they’re squishy.
We don’t mean to, er, gush, but the label has given us so many reasons to be fans – starting with the expertly-produced music of Atmosphere and going right through to the powerful raps of Brother Ali and Blueprint.
In fairness, not every Rhymesayers artist is on the tour bill – they have just under thirty artists on their roster, and that’d require one monster tour bus – but almost all the ones you’d expect are there. Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Grieves and Budo, Blueprint. And a man who, when he signed to the label in 2009, caused more than a few raised eyebrows.
The rapper in question is Evidence. The Dilated Peoples MC, born Michael Peretta, had been plying his boom-bap craft for years with his crew, and had recently dropped his superb debut album The Weatherman. Rhymesayers – with its reputation for introspective, complex, difficult rap music assembled in the freezing winters of Minneapolis – did not seem like an ideal fit for Ev’s sun-soaked Venice Beach verses.
The otherwise mellow Ev bristles when we ask him about whether anyone else regarded the signing as an odd move. He’s at his buddy Alchemist’s house when we call, watching Youtube clips, and he was very relaxed before we asked the question. “Why is it an odd move?” he growls. “What about [fellow roster-mates] MF Doom or Freeway? They don’t sound like Atmosphere or Brother Ali either, but they’ve both put out great records on Rhymesayers.”
For the record, while Doom was signed by the label in 2003, Freeway – formerly of Jay-Z’s Roc La Familia, and also a polar opposite of Rhymesayers’ steez – was signed a few months before Ev.
“But I think you’re right,” he sighs – either agreeing or simply deciding not to pursue the point. “There were a lot of people surprised, and with me having done the track ‘Line Of Scrimmage’ [with Atmosphere’s rapper and label frontman Slug] and having put out a press release saying that my new label was one that wasn’t based in LA or New York, people had been guessing it might be Rhymesayers.
“My whole thing is just, I think a great label is built on a diverse roster. I don’t believe that if you find one thing that hits and then you find a bunch of things that sound similar, or you throw thirty things against the wall, and one sticks, that’s [going to work]. I’m not into that. It’s the reason I love Tommy Boy or Def Jam. LL Cool J and Public Enemy didn’t sound the same, but they coexisted.”
However, we should say right now that we’ve eaten our words. While we may have doubted the signing at the time, his first album for the label shocked even us with how good it was. Cats & Dogs might not be as groundbreaking and slick as The Weatherman, but Ev is on top of his game. Clearly, we were a little bit wrong there. Sorry Ev.
Cats & Dogs has some truly outstanding tracks. Our particular favourite is ‘Late For the Sky’, which teams Ev with Slug and Aesop Rock to make a track about, er, running for a plane. It might be a strange subject, but damn, it’s dope. Stoopid dope. Apparently Brother Ali recorded a verse for it too, but was replaced in favour of Aes when Slug reckoned it would make for a more interesting combination of MC’s.
Ev, who has never performed the track live (Ev, Slug and Bro Ali on stage together in London this November – pretty please?) says the genesis of it lay with an old friend.
“Ethan Browne is the son of [singer] Jackson Browne, and he’s one of my best friends, and one of the people that made me start rapping. He’s been in and out of rehab a lot, dealing with his trials and tribulations and he came out, and I was having him over, playing music, and I had a beat from Sid Roams. No samples in it, but it really sounded great because of the way they chopped up the live instruments. I was like, let’s go through some of your dad’s stuff, let’s see what he’s got, and he’s like, he’s got this song where he says something like ‘late for the sky’. And I loved it, and although I didn’t sample the song I still [used it] to write the chorus.
“I sent it to Slug. I was in Amsterdam at the time, and he sent me back the verse and I played it…I tried to get Brother Ali on it, had him do a verse but Slug said, trust me on this one, we should put Aesop on it – it’ll be more interesting and raise eyebrows. Ironically, I was back in Europe, in Germany, when Aes sent his verse. It’s an international song.”
The guestlist on Cats & Dogs is, frankly, intimidating. And while some guests fall out of step (check Krondon on Well Runs Dry), others are perfect – Raekwon, Ras Kass, Termanology, Lil Fame and Aloe Blacc all have star turns. But it’s an indication of his growing confidence that Ev is never out of the spotlight. He dominates each track he gets on, and at the moment there’s not really anybody out there rapping quite like him.
Once he’s got touring out the way, Ev’s next big focus is on a new Dilated Peoples record. It’s been five years since the last one. “Are there going to be challenges? Yes,” he says. “But we haven’t gone anywhere. There hasn’t been a year where we haven’t toured, where we haven’t been chilling. And there hasn’t been a full album where we haven’t featured each other on it. There’s good synergy and energy as a unit. It is a little nerve-wracking and exciting and scary – a lot of capitalised, exclamation point emotions that come to mind when I think of that record. For that reason, it’s either gonna suck or it’s gonna be great! But it has the potential to be our best record, because of the intermission.”
The Rhymesayers collective are in the UK at The Electric Ballroom in London on 7 November 2011. We’ll be there. Come rock with us.
Read our review of Cats & Dogs
Buy Cats & Dogs
Evidence on Twitter