Exclusive Interview: Ice-T, Mr.X, and the launch of Electronic Beat Empire
Legends of Hip-Hop, Ice-T and Mr. X / Afrika Islam have come together again but not in a way you would automatically think. No, this is not a single release or a special performance, these two pioneers and Godfathers of Hip-Hop have created their new Electronic Dance label, Electronic Beat Empire. EBE Nation is a place of musical confetti, a podium where all music lovers no matter what their taste is can come together. EBE Nation is a cocktail of genres fused into what they so passionately call “hybrid music”.
Take a lesson in music history as these two monarchs of music discuss their past and how it has led up to where they are now and where they hope to be going within the American Dance Community. OneEDM had the pleasure and honor to sit and talk with Mr. X and Ice-T as they share their opinion on music then and now.
OneEDM: What will the combination of Ice-T and Mr. X do for the American Dance community that no one has done before?
Mr. X: Destroy it.
Ice-T: (Chuckles) Hopefully something new. My mother used to tell me if you keep using the same recipe, you gon’ keep baking the same cake. So what we’re gonna do is put different chefs in the kitchen. We’ve got an expert at dance music, Islam has done his Ph.D. in Europe for 15 years. So we not just coming in from the left not knowing anything. We’re gonna sprinkle some different seasonings into this food and see what happens. We can not predict what we gonna do, we’re just gonna do it. We may fail but we got a pretty good success rate if history tells the truth.
Electronic Beat Empire, are you looking to make this more than a record label in the future? What’s the limit for this company if there is one?
Mr. X: Aliens. Extraterrestrial biological entities.
Ice-T: We don’t really know. Islam is actually the president of Zulu Nation. So we call it EBE Nation. It’s like creating a following, creating a group of people that kind of rock with our philosophy – which is fun over everything. Keeping it real, having fun, and letting new people into the game. That’s our philosophy because my whole career has always been the new cat.
You can’t find a record of mine that was produced by any known producer other than Islam. I always use young kids, different people. It’s more fun and more exciting that way. I think when you’re starting something you can’t really predict where its gonna go, you just gotta let it grow. One of my mottos is, “you don’t guide life you ride life”. So we’re just starting the ride. Could crash and burn, could be a disaster, we don’t know but we’re gonna try to avoid that (laughs).
Mr. X: It’s not like I’m a hip-hop DJ coming into it as I want to play EDM all of a sudden. I went to Europe and boxed my way into it and learned from dudes that put it down, the roots, and I respect them for what they did because they were into their music. It was no bull. So now coming back home, I’m coming with a European mentality of underground clubs because that’s where I swam.
Ice-T: Islam is like a guy that wanted to know Kung-Fu and actually went to the Shaolin temple to learn. He didn’t learn it from a school in New York, he went to China (laughs).
On the EBE Nation website, it reads, “you two came together to combine all of your musical tastes into one label, looking to the future by pulling from the past”. Is EBE Nation a platform where fans of various genres can come together to find communion?
Ice-T: You said it. It’s for people who don’t like labels, who don’t like barriers. It’s for people who get on the dance floor and go, that’s good, that’s good, oh this is techno, oh that was some dub, oh wait a minute hold up was that jungle? Oh, I’m still feeling this! And they haven’t left because they are feeling all the music. They just like good music. As soon as you put something that’s on the radio that’s when they walk off the dance floor. It’s for that kind of people. That is the uniqueness of music when I can play a record that you never heard but you’re rocking to it, that’s when it’s that magic.
When Islam decided to come back to the states, I said let’s create a label so that way we can put out music whenever we want. Now that everything is digital, if we wanted to drop an album tonight we can. We don’t want to talk to anybody, we don’t need anyone’s permission, we don’t need an A&R person, we can just put it out. That is why the label was an essential part of his return to the states.
Listening to ‘The Brutal’ EP, you hear a lot of 90s dance vibes, listening to the ‘Hip-Hop DJ’s don’t play techno’ EP you hear a lot of house influence. What will the ‘It came from space’ EP and ‘Dirt Alien Rice’ EP bring that sets them apart from the previous two?
Mr. X: Well, It came from Space has the remix of “Colors” and it sets the trend. 90’s, house, you were right. I’m a New York house head, South Bronx. But as I was playing all Hip-Hop at The Roxy, I was also going to the GARAGE to listen to Larry Levan and listening to Dave Mancuso at The LOFT. So that’s in me, you can’t mess with it. So going to Europe and playing real hardcore techno, coming back I’m just dropping the influences. Next will be me and him (Ice-T) from the 80’s and dropping electronic parts on it because that’s what I did.
Ice-T: Also the records we are working on now, Islam is making in his lab in Germany. Once we set up tour format out here in the states and Islam moves back home, we will then make our records out of NY, which will then give us access to so much more from different angles and different people who can get in on our projects. So what we’re gonna do as far as music is, Islam will set the track, the base first. It’s like we’re making a sandwich, we will lay it out and then you or whoever will come in next and will be like, “Yo I got this Oprea chick, we gon’ bring her in”. Then I will bring in one of my Rock and Roll dudes to do his guitar solo. Busta Rhymes could pop off and we bring him in, etc.
We’re gonna make some gumbo….techno. It’s gon’ be wild! When you look at influences in the past, for example, Kool Keith was put on Prodigy, all he said was “Smack my bitch up” and that shit went BLAM! So that experimentation on outside influences works. Its just having the courage to do so. We’re not here to make rap records. We are from the old school rap era, we understand the philosophy or rap but it doesn’t mean we won’t bring DJ Premiere in and tell him to touch this track. We could and then see what he does. You just don’t know what a Hip-Hop producer will do to a track until you try it.
Would you encourage artists of all genres to experiment with hybrid music? Could that create expansion within themselves and the music community?
Ice-T: Well you know what, I’ll say it like this, there is a guy that just went and talked to the president of the United States and because he went and did something like that he thinks he’s a genius. You’re not a genius, you’re just experimenting and that is when you create great things. Black kids that are stuck into one lane end up hearing “Power” and say omg what is that? Then you get called a genius, but we already been done that. It’s what we were doing.
Forget all genres, if I come in and I put Garth Brooks on this and it sounds dope then that’s just what it is. We don’t have boundaries. You have to create music in a room with no rules. There can’t be rules, it’s not gonna get creative like that and that’s where we are from. The way Mr.X spins is very unique but think about how Hip-Hop started, the breakbeats, everything that leads up to the breaks? That’s all he plays, it’s like an avalanche and no DJ’s spin that way.
Mr. X, you are known for your legendary 50-60 track setlists. How do you approach a mix with that many songs in a limited amount of time without the mix sounding, rushed, incomplete, and random?
Mr. X: I practice for four hours to make a one hour CD. I approach it like Mike Tyson, young Mike Tyson walked into a boxing match not trying to box, he walked in trying to kill you. So when I’m playing I’m sizing up the headliner. He’s playing twelve tracks and he has his hands up in the air half the time. He makes 12 mixes and plays with the FX all the time. I want to make people forget him in two minutes and the only way to do it is to knock him out the box. So if I’m playing with 12 other DJs, I’ll play all their shit, but the best part of their shit. So by the time they build up that six-minute record the crowd already heard it from me twice.
Ice-T: Mr. X is bringing the competitive of Hip-Hop to it. When you’re rapping everyone is trying to outdo each other. Yea we cool but I’m about to bust your ass. He is bringing that energy to Electronic Dance, that’s why we got the wrestling belt. We are not afraid to trash talk, we bring it. I think it’s unique and I think it’s cool. If it’s not fun we’re missing the point. Even though it’s competition we’re not being mean about it, we’re just trying to be the best.
Mr. X: When I went to Germany to play, I knew techno from Detroit, and House music from Chicago. So when I went over to Europe and sized up all these other DJs I was wondering why were they getting a million people and in New York you couldn’t even fill a club. In Europe, I was a student of the game and I sat and learned and waited my turn and acquired records. I then realized ok I really don’t have to play 6 minutes of that record. I can get the same effect if I put all these records together. DJs would come to see me and say “oh he’s gonna run out of records”, no man I won’t because I practiced for four hours.
Ice-T: Another thing is you have to separate the two experiences. Listening to Grand Master Flash play is totally different than listening to a record that Grand Master Flash produced.
“Hip-Hop DJs don’t play Techno”, why is that? Says who?
Mr. X: Says everybody that said it to me. When I walked on stage they would all say “hey Afrika Islam what’re you gonna play? Hip-Hop?” That is what these Europen DJs were saying to me. First I was defending it but then I would say Nah man I’m gonna play dance music and they would laugh at me. But after my set, they would say man that was a nice set. Yea I know it was a nice set, that set busted your ass Mr. Headliner.
Ice-T: It’s like when we did “Body Count”, we did “there goes the neighborhood”. Who are these guys with their rock guitars and their fancy cars who let them in the club? Its a play on what you say. So when we say “Hip-Hop DJs don’t play Techno” we mean they don’t until they do.
Can Hip-Hop discriminate? For example, if a Hip-Hop DJ plays something outside of his genre is he no longer considered a Hip-Hop DJ anymore?
Mr. X: No, I’m a legend so it’s a totally different thing for me. I am one of the founders of Hip-Hop. So whatever I do is Hip-Hop, the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I eat.
Ice-T: When you’re playing to a Hip-Hop audience, of course, you’re not gonna play techno. One thing about entertainers is you have to play the room. If I’m in a techno room I’m gonna play techno, if he is in a Hip-Hop room he’s gonna play Hip-Hop. If you come to see Ice-T rap I’ma be in a rap concert, but if I got to a rock concert I can play rock, There ain’t no problem with that, Ice can do ’em both.
He can also act, he might even tell a joke or two. You gotta know what room you’re in. I would never do “Body Count” in front of a rap audience, they wouldn’t catch it, half of them might not even know it. We’re humans we do lots of different things. A DJ is a DJ, what I decide to play is what I decide to play. Also, him being from the Zulu Nation, they created the most eclectic playlist of all DJs.
Mr. X: That was my training from the South Bronx, real Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is all music. I’m from that, I was the first Hip-Hop DJ on the radio the Zulu Beats. I’m rock steady crew, you can’t take those accolades away from me. I understood all music that is why I made it all the way up. And that is how I am able to do what I’m doing, because of my foundation.
Regarding all the beef that has been going down in Hip-Hop the past few months from Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly to Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, will “beef” and defending your street reputation always be a part of Hip-Hop? Or, can we get past it and find unity?
Ice-T: That will always be part of it. Hip-Hop is almost as much as a sport as it is a genre of music. It’s based on, I’m a better dancer than you, I’m a better DJ than you, my graffiti artist is better than yours, you’re a toy, you’re whack, etc. Hip-Hop needs an opponent, it thrives with an opponent. Should the beef escalade? Never. But the trash talking in Hip-Hop is a part of it. Now when it becomes the entertainment versus the music, that’s when it loses me. Like when they ask me “How do you feel about Cardi B and Nicki fighting?” Those are women, I don’t get into women’s issues. They could fight, they could bitch about each other, I don’t care. We don’t want anyone to die or get hurt, we already know where that went.
What every MC in Hip-Hop is saying is I’m the best rapper. That is just part of it. You can’t touch me. That’s just part of the culture of Hip-Hop. I think now that we are in the gossip culture, a lot of press tries to take it further. By taking it into their personal lives, that’s corny to me. That’s blog culture. Source Magazine turned into a gossip magazine, it’s like “Hip-Hop Weekly” where they just talk gossip. I don’t rock with that. If I got real beef with you and I’m making a record about it then I’m a punk. If I got real beef with you why am I in the studio? I should come to see you. Maybe we will create the first Techno battle.
It is clear to see Ice-T and Mr. X aren’t here to waste anyone’s time. They are coming with knowledge, experience, and a sentiment for music that is undeniable. Electronic Beat Empire is a nation, a society, a populace of musical liberty and all lovers of music no matter what they prefer can find a place within EBE Nation.
Make sure to download the EP Hip-Hop DJs Don’t Play Techno from Mr. X on Electronic Beat Empire here.
For more information on Electronic Beat Empire click here.
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