dope read. http://pattch82.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/sick-jacken-inter....html#more
Sick Jacken Interview (November 12th 2014)
Sick Jacken is a veteran in the game. After being co-signed by B-Real he dropped the debut Psycho Realm album in 1997. Tragedy struck soon after when his brother and partner in rhyme Big Duke was shot and left paralysed. Since then Jacken has emerged as one of the illest and most well respected MC’s working today. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jacken and put some questions to him. We touched on a lot of different points of his career so far, from discussing his classic project with DJ Muggs at length to his work with Cynic and the possibility of a true solo album.
Interview conducted by Pattch82 ([email protected]
Interview Date: November 12th 2014
PATTCH82: What’s up Jack…
SICK JACKEN: Hey how you doing Chris? What’s going on bro?
P82: I’m good thanks and you?
JACK: I’m doing good man, I’m just here running through the day.
P82: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me…
JACK: Ahh man likewise, thanks for taking the time to do the interview bro.
P82: I wanted to focus some of the questions on the album that you did with DJ Muggs, Legend Of The Mask & The Assassin…
JACK: OK, yessir…
P82: So Muggs had worked with GZA/Genius on the first Vs. album. How did you and Muggs come together for the second Vs. album?
JACK: I’ve known Muggs since we first got with B-Real and signed for the first Psycho Realm album. I’ve been around Muggs for a long time, I think it took a minute for us to connect on a music level but it just came natural. He was at one of the shows we did out here called Unity. Something he was putting together with Chace Infinite of Self Scientific, they were putting it together in honour… kinda like in memory of Bigga B. We performed and he saw the impact that the music had on the crowd that night. I think it was a week after that we hit up my manager Tone and we made it happen.
P82: Were you both in the studio together for the recording of the album?
JACK: Yeah we were both in the studio. We worked on the album in Muggs’ studio so I would go over there and he would play me a bunch of beats or samples or ideas and I would kinda pick and choose from there. Cynic was involved in the record a lot as well with the concepts. Before we even started the record we talked about what kinda record we wanted to do, like the direction we wanted to take it. So the whole concept, the artwork, the music, the bibliography in the album and creating the world of the conspiracy theories was something that collectively we came out with; Muggs, Cynic and Myself.
P82: It is a very cohesive album from start to finish, as you said it’s almost like a concept album itself that takes you in to a conspiracy world…
JACK: Yeah we’re all about the album experience you know. We’re not the kind of artists that just do singles and do a bunch of fillers on the album. We like the album experience so we want the audience to be able to press play and enjoy the album from start to finish. Especially with something like this record, creating the world of the conspiracy theory we wanted every song to play off the one before and the one that’s coming after and it just takes you on a little trip. So that was definitely planned.
P82: The conspiracy theories that you rap about, are these things that you actually believe in?
JACK: We played with the conspiracy theories. We played with things that are out there, things that have proven facts, things that are just way out ideas. Then also we talked about being in the street, things that are relevant to what goes on in the street. So we took it all, from aliens to reptilians to the Masons and the Illuminati and then just on a street level like the cop corruption. We just went all out with it. We kinda picked and chose what we wanted, we also speak on death and afterlife and all that stuff. It was meant to be like a trip and kinda pose a question as well, you know. It poses the question ‘what do you believe in?’ you know.
Sick Jacken, Cynic and DJ Muggs
P82: I spoke to Muggs about the album when I interviewed him a while back. He said what he liked the most is that you picked beats that most other MC’s wouldn’t pick. Were you looking for beats that were out of the ordinary?
JACK: I don’t know, I haven’t pinpointed it yet but there’s a certain type of note or certain type of mood that I look for in music when I pick beats. I produce beats myself you know; I produced 90% of the Psycho Realm stuff so there’s a certain sound element that I look for in music. When Muggs is playing certain things my take is a little different to the norm, I’m not going to pick the songs that are going to be… ummm, catchy I would say. I like the stuff that sounds different, sounds cinematic and dramatic, something that invokes emotion and feeling and already starts painting the picture before I even put words to it.
P82: Muggs said the God’s Banker track is a particular example, with the African war drums and the fuzz guitar…
JACK: It was such an aggressive beat, the beat was nasty. The format of that song is just one long story, there was no chorus in it. My writing style has always been like that. With my brother when we did the Psycho Realm stuff we were real tuned in to how we wrote the songs. Not just arranging the music and the songs with the drop outs and certain instruments coming in and out during the chorus but we were also conscious that if we write every song different it’s going to sound different. A lot of rappers tend to do a sixteen bar verse, eight bar chorus, sixteen bar verse, eight bar chorus, you know like the traditional rap format. But we try to break away from that as much as possible. On this record, the kinda beats that Muggs was shooting me allowed me to venture out in to that.
P82: The God’s Banker track, where you are telling the story of Roberto Calvi, inspired me and probably lots of others to do more research on the topic…
JACK: That’s why we put a bibliography in the album so people could take it up on themselves and research what we are talking about. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bibliography in an album liner notes before haha. That was actually Cynic’s idea, he was like “we should put a bibliography in the liner notes”, and I said that’s excellent lets do that. Because then if people want to know what I’m talking about or who I’m talking about, it’s important for people to research and gather their own opinions on how they feel on certain topics. So this is our take on the story, but here’s a lead to some other information on this story, go check it out for yourselves.
P82: Cynic is featured on almost every track on the album, did that ignite an element of competition between the two of you lyrically?
JACK: There’s always an element of friendly competition when we’re in the studio. I think it keeps us elevating our style and our potential. When you’re in competition mode it elevates everybody to the top of their game, and that keeps us sharp when we’re writing the songs or in the booth doing deliveries. So yeah there’s definitely always the competition but its friendly competition you know, he inspires me and I inspire him. It’s almost like saying I’m going to take the trophy on this song. That’s always the goal, to take the trophy on the song. It helps the overall quality.
P82: Do you have a favourite track on the album?
JACK: I like the whole record, I don’t think I could dissect it and cut one song out. I look at the album as one piece of music. It’s different sections that we composed that make up this whole piece of art that we created. There are things I like about different songs; the beat on 2012 is ridiculous, Reptilian Renaissance the way the song is written, the track is dope. Reptilian Renaissance was actually supposed to be on the Muggs & Planet Asia album…
P82: Oh really?
JACK: Yeah but I think I beat Planet Asia to the punch haha.
P82: What are your overall thoughts on the album now?
JACK: I feel the same way about it now that I did back then. When you create something you are kinda engulfed in it, you immerse yourself in the project, you’re writing, you’re listening to the music daily, you’re recording it and listening to the mixes. You are pretty much living in the album for that period of time that you are recording it. When it’s released you start performing it, you’re shooting the videos so you are constantly listening to the songs. Seven years later, you’re not listening to it as much and when I go back and listen to it now there’s another level of appreciation. It’s more of a reflection like going back in to our past, like this is pretty cool. What we created was pretty cool.
P82: Were any other tracks recorded for the album? Were any tracks left unreleased?
JACK: Nah we used everything that we recorded. We usually do. I don’t think there are ever any leftover tracks when we work on records.
P82: Are there any plans for a follow up album with yourself and Muggs?
JACK: I’m sure there’s going to be a follow up record; it’s just a matter of timing. You know Muggs is very experimental when it comes to his music. He doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing and repeating himself so he ventures out in to different things. I’m working on my solo record. So I think once we kinda meet up again we’ll talk about it, I mean we’re always talking about it like we need to do another record. It’s just a matter of timing, the intentions to do a follow up record are there, it’s just a matter of when.
P82: You have also worked on some of Muggs’ other Vs. albums. What was it like working with Planet Asia and Ill Bill?
JACK: Man I respect those guys musically, artistically and just on a personal level. So it was great working with them. Every time I work with Bill, that’s somebody that always challenges me to try to do better because he’s such a great MC, a great writer. Getting a chance to work with them over a Muggs track was amazing. Planet Asia is super dope. To work with people like that it’s more fun than anything you know. You are creating with people that are very creative, it was dope. The Troubleshooters track with Sean Price and O.C. was to me a classic.
P82: When you hooked up with Bill did that lead to you working with La Coka Nostra on their album?
JACK: We did some stuff with Bill before that, for Terror Tapes Vol. 1, we did a song called Ten Wheel Drive. I did some stuff for Bill for a couple of mixtapes that he did and him and Slaine did a song that was out on a mixtape. Every time we come around each other we are working on something. There are a lot of songs out there with me and Bill and I think there’s going to continue to be. I’m on one track for the new La Coka record; I think I’m jumping on like two more. I’m going to be doing some stuff soon that I’m going to need him on. We’re just constantly working, I think me and him just like working with each other for some reason.
P82: There was also the P.C.P. project with you, Muggs and Necro. Did that ever get off the ground?
JACK: That never got off the ground man, I think the scheduling just wasn’t there for it. It was a great idea, I think it would have been a great record I just don’t think the scheduling was there. Muggs was doing a lot of things, I was in the middle of a few things and Necro is always busy so it just kind of evaporated you know…
P82: I read a while back that you were planning on doing a new Psycho Realm album with Duke and B-Real?
JACK: Well it’s difficult for my brother you know, the bullet wound left him a quadriplegic so he’s on a breathing machine so it’s hard for him to talk like me and you talk, let alone rap and be in the vocal booth and all that. He’s still trying; he tries to figure out ways. He’s been talking to a few people to see if he can kinda manifest something and make it happen. Until then I don’t think there’s going to be a Psycho Realm record because it’s not Psycho Realm without Duke you know. What we are working on, there is a bunch of unreleased tracks with me and my brother that never came out so we are getting those together and we’re going to put that out as a full length unreleased album. We’re going to be putting out some animated videos and stuff like that. He’s helping me on my solo record. I’m working on a solo record called Psychodelic right now, Psycho-delic. He’s co-writing some hooks with me so he’s still involved in a lot of the things that we do, but it’s just more behind the scenes for now.
Sick Jacken and Big Duke
P82: Is he still producing?
JACK: Yeah, he produced the Disciples of the Sick album that just dropped a few months ago; he produced something for my Stray Bullets record. He’s working on a project where he’s trying to get a bunch of veteran MC’s and get them on a project that he produces entirely. He’s got to let out his creativity somehow so I think it’s the perfect vehicle for him to do that.
P82: You also make beats, what kind of equipment do you use?
JACK: Right now I’ve been using Reason because it’s more convenient, it’s portable, it’s on my computer. I can play a mini keyboard and chop things up like that. For the Psycho Realm record I used the SP-1200, for the other projects I used the MPC. For Terror Tapes 2 I used Reason.
P82: On Terror Tapes Vol. 1 you were spitting over some Wu-Tang beats amongst others. Were you a fan of Wu-Tang when you were coming up?
JACK: Yeah I was definitely a fan of Wu-Tang but that’s not why we did it. The concept behind Terror Tapes Vol. 1 was this… a lot of people know Psycho Realm the name, they’re not familiar with the music. There’s a following of people around the world that have the gas mask logo tattooed on their body, but some don’t know the music. So our goal for Terror Tapes Vol. 1 was to get your favourite rappers beats and rap over them so you can compare our rapability to theirs. Just to try and introduce people to what we do. Then Terror Tapes 2, me and Cynic produced that entirely ourselves so it was to show people that we can rap and produce. That’s why on Terror Tapes Vol. 1 you hear us rapping over Madlib, Wu-Tang, over Beatnuts, trying to give people a taste of what we do.
P82: Vol. 1 does seem like a mixtape because you are rapping over other peoples beats, whereas Terror Tapes 2 feels more like a proper album…
JACK: Yeah exactly. The original concept for Terror Tapes 2 was to get samples that had been used by producers and flip them our way and show them what we could do. But then we just said let’s make it an album and that’s why we did it the way we did it. Terror Tapes 2 is definitely more of an album. Terror Tapes Vol. 1 is very much more of a mixtape.
P82: I was going to ask about one of the samples on Terror Tapes 2. There’s a track called I Witness that Cynic produced and he uses a Beatles sample. Do you worry about putting stuff like that out or do you hope it goes under the radar?
JACK: I think we’re too far under the radar for anybody to care what we’re doing. And also, it starts with the sample but we build off the music and we bring in musicians so there’s a lot of bass on there, guitars, keys. So it sounds like we sampled it directly but it’s more like building off of it, building off of the original idea of the sample. But yeah, I think we’re too far under the radar where no body cares, it’s not generating enough money for anybody to give a shit.
P82: You also mentioned the Stray Bullets compilation of guest verses and tracks you did with other artists. Do you plan on releasing more volumes of that?
JACK: Yeah definitely. Stray Bullets 2 I’m probably going to put out next year some time. It’s pretty much a collection of songs that I’ve done feature-wise with other people and I just put them on one record so the fans can get those songs if they haven’t yet heard them from the other artist. They can just get the whole collection on one disc. There was also some original music on there, on Stray Bullets 1.
P82: You were recently featured on the Apollo Brown/Ras Kass collab. I like hearing you on posse cuts like Drink Irish and Troubleshooters, it seems to make you even sharper. Is the same friendly competition there when you’re jumping on posse tracks?
JACK: Always. Especially when I’m jumping on songs with quality MC’s like that. It always makes me want to step up my game, and that in turn helps me when I’m doing my own music because it brings you up to a different level, you feel like you’re at a different skill level. You’re cleaning up, polishing the rough edges with your style. An artist never stops growing, you never stop maturing. I’m always looking to get better. I’m always looking to change things that I don’t like about what I did on the last record. So when I do features like that I do feel like I tend to come off sharp because I’m jumping on a song with other artists that are dope. Apollo Brown is so sick too man, that beat was so easy to write to.
P82: You also had a Spanish language album in the works too, is that something you are still working on?
JACK: Yeah as soon as I’m done with the Psychodelic album that’s the next project that I’m planning. I’ve been kinda putting it off for a few years actually but I think it’s about time that I do it. There’s nobody from here putting out Spanish language albums with the calibre of music that we do here in the States. They have their own scene, their own MC’s and producers, and there’s a lot of talent out there in Mexico, Central America, Spain, but I want to just bring what we bring to the table. I want to do it in their language, it’s my language as well because it’s the first language that I spoke. I want to bring it in a language that they understand completely. They follow the songs that we did in English, they rap along to them, but they don’t really understand them and they’ve got to translate them. When I give them songs like El Barrio they explode more, energy-wise, when we’re at the live shows because they understand it completely. So that record is definitely going to be in the works in 2015.
P82: Do you find it easier to write rhymes in English or Spanish?
JACK: It’s the same to me. In Spanish I just feel like its wide open though. In English it’s like everything has been done. In Spanish I don’t think that a lot of shit has been done yet so it makes it easier for me to experiment and do different things.
P82: Is there anything you can tell us about the Psychodelic album that you’re working on?
JACK: I’m producing the whole thing myself; it’s the first album that I’ve produced entirely since the Psycho Realm records. I have no features on it. Actually the only feature I’m going to have is Cynic from Street Platoon and that’s out of tradition. Usually when we do our projects we rarely do outside features with the exception of Terror Tapes of course. It’s a great record man, it’s coming out good, a lot of live instruments. It’s going to let people see what I bring to the table as far as the Psycho Realm collective goes. It’s going to be a true solo record.
P82: When do you think that will be released?
JACK: I’m hoping that it comes out first quarter of 2015. I’m just waiting to hear about how we’re going to put it out, who is going to distribute it, if we’re going to do it independent or if we’re going to go to a label.
P82: Going back to the early days of Psycho Realm, what are your memories of when you were first getting in to the rap game? Was it harder for you and Duke being that you are Latino and coming from Pico Union?
JACK: When we came out with the first album, they automatically tried to put us in a box because we are Mexican-American. I think we made it a point to not be boxed in the category of Latin Hip-Hop or Mexican, Chicano rappers. We wanted our music to be put in the same category as the Wu-Tangs, the Cypress Hills, and the Big Puns. For some reason East coast artists never get put in that box, they do that mostly to West coast artists. Cypress Hill did a really good job of not being contained in that box and we wanted to do the same. I think we were pretty successful because our music definitely poured out around the world and transcended any kind of box or stereotype that they tried to put on us.
P82: You are now well respected not only as a Latino MC, but as a dope MC period.
JACK: Yeah it’s a lot of hard work but I think people do consider us a dope Hip-Hop group, an original Hip-Hop group. We made it a point as well to not follow any trends and not do what anybody else is doing. From the beginning I remember when we were coming up with the name Psycho Realm. Me and my Brother were having a conversation in the apartment building where we grew up, I told him we were thinking about a name. Everybody was using Tribe, everybody was using Posse and Crew. I told him I liked the word Realm because nobody was fucking using that word haha. The first word he came out with was Psycho, he said he liked Psycho, Psycho Realm. The reason we liked the name Psycho Realm is because you don’t know what it is when you hear it. What’s a Psycho Realm? Is it a rock band, is it a movie, is it a book, what is it? So from the beginning we always wanted to be different and out of the norm. Right down to our music, the beats that we picked out, the concepts, our voices and the way we rapped. You suffer because you don’t become part of the mainstream or the popular music flow. But at the same time the payoff is that you have this following of people, this audience that like original stuff and they tend to stick around more and support you more than the mainstream fans. People kinda stick around and they enjoy that originality and they’re like man, I wanna hear another record, let me support you, let me buy a record, let me go to your concert, let me buy a t-shirt, because they want you to keep making music.
P82: It’s definitely a dedicated following that you have…
JACK: Yeah I’m grateful man, I’m very grateful for that. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
P82: Are there any of your projects that you wish had gotten more shine when it dropped? Any that you feel were overlooked at all?
JACK: Not really. All of our projects have been independent with the exception of the first album. The Muggs record was distributed by Universal but that was through my record label RMG, Rebel Music Group. We’ve always been independent so I think the fact that people stumble on to our music or people hear it from somebody, it keeps that air of mystery like it’s something brand new, like I just discovered something. I think that adds to the legend of Psycho Realm as opposed to there being a big peak and then a big drop. I prefer the steady rise.
P82: What would you consider to be the high point of your career so far? Are there any achievements that you are particularly proud of?
JACK: Nothing in particular, I’m just glad that we’re still around and relevant after all these years. Our first record dropped in ’97 and we are still here, we’re still touring the world. People are still looking for it, people are still discovering it. It became a movement in itself. To me, that’s the best thing about it. There’s nothing better than when people come up to you and tell you that your music changed their lives in a positive way. To me, that’s the greatest accomplishment: that people listened, they got the message, and it helped them in a positive way.
P82: You said that you have the Psychodelic album and the Spanish language album in the works; do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
JACK: For now that’s it. I have a couple of ideas for things I want to do after the Spanish album but nothing developed yet. I’ll just wait until those start developing before I start talking about them.
P82: I’m pretty much out of questions, is there anything else you would like to put out there?
JACK: Just look out for the Psychodelic album coming soon. Anybody that wants to reach out to us, I’m on all the social media, hit us up.
P82: Thanks again for taking the time man…
JACK: I appreciate your time brother, you have a great day.