We interviewed hip hop duo Latyrx.
A sixteen year gap between albums isn’t that common within the realms of hip hop but for Latyrx, the timing was perfect to drop their sophomore offering, The Second Album. We caught up with Lateef and discussed what the reasons for the “hiatus” and what we should expect from the album.
Sampleface: Some of our readers might not have heard of Latyrx before. How would you describe yourselves to those who haven’t your first record?
Lateef the Truth Speaker: I would describe us as possibly the best two man rapping team ever.
S: [laughter] That’s pretty good.
LTS: I know how it is out there. You gotta go for the brass ring otherwise why even try?
S: Absolutely, that’s a good one! Okay, it’s been sixteen years since you and Lyrics Born released the debut album. Why was now the right time for you to get back together and record the second one?
LTS: You know, a group out here in the Bay Area asked us to do a show with them about a year and a half ago and the show sold out and the response was so strong that we were like we should do another record and we both had some free time to focus on it and so we made it happen.
S: And why do you think you two work so well as a duo?
LTS: I think because we started working together so young, we were able to establish a very unique and strong chemistry that allows for a creative process that is individual. When we write songs together, sometimes neither of us can remember who wrote certain parts of it because we break it up and we really incorporate it into ourselves so that the song is its own song – it’s a Latyrx song and we are able to relinquish our own personal lyrical ownership over it in order for the song to have its own life and own energy.
S: That’s really cool. How do you feel that hip hop has changed in the time between the albums?
LTS: Oh… hip hop has had about three lives [laughter] I mean when we started, hip hop was more hip hop culture and today, hip hop is much more pop culture. So, I would say that’s the biggest change. Hip hop is no longer dictating to hip hop what hip hop is but is to some extent dictated by pop culture. It’s the reverse of what it is to when the first record came out.
S: I’ll definitely go with that. How did you try to adapt the sound of the new album to suit the version of hip hop that exists today?
LTS: You know, I don’t know that we did. I think that the parts of hip hop today that are forward thinking and creative show up on our record. Emotional vulnerability, which I think is a big part of hip hop today and is very cool. Both lyrically and musically. Some of the trappier stuff, some of the interesting things that are going on with time, double time and slower beats that Lyrics Born rapped over. That shows up on the record from time to time. I think those elements of today’s hip hop show up on the record and I think we execeuted interesting concepts on those themes well. At least, I hope so.
S: I would go with that for sure, I really liked the album. Who would you say is the producer that has had the most impact on Latyrx’s music?
LTS: Well, I would say Lyrics Born is #1, DJ Shadow is #2, who has lent sounds to us as a group that have helped to define us as a group. Our definitive songs were produced by DJ Shadow as well as just the conversations and creative exchange with him over the years around what we do and what it is. I would also say Chief Excel would be a third for input purposes.
S: And when you create a track, do you start with the beat or the words first?
LTS: Usually, it would be a beat. Sometimes it would be a concept and we would adapt the concept to a beat when we hear that come along. But generally speaking, it’s a beat and we’ll extrapolate a mood from that, or in the case of “Close Your Eyes”, we’ll counter the mood so with CYE, the mood was very soft and emotional and kind of lush and so we chose lyrically to go in a very straightforward, hard kind of self affirming direction to create a contrast there.
S: Which of your personal solo projects are you most proud of and why?
LTS: I’m proud of all of them. I will say I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like “wow, I really have tried my best on everything I have done”. I feel like I can kinda say that. I would say in some ways, the work I did with Fatboy Slim I’m really proud of. I felt like I was able to collaborate with a very very nice human being. I mean, I can’t say enough about how good of a person Norman is. I find to be very creative. People forget he plays bass and he’s actually very musical and to be able to make the songs that we made that were both pop and didn’t really compromise was for me something that was challenging and I was happy and proud of. I would also say the Mighty Underdogs record because that was a project where it was a shared responsibility but I took a lot of the executive production and some of the features on there from MF Doom to Damian Marley, were really dream connections and songs I was really really proud of and the whole concept. And from Lyrics Born side, I would say one of his projects I’m really really proud of was the RL Burnside remix stuff that he’s done. I think a lot of people haven’t heard that work and some of those songs are just phenomenal.
S: Excellent. Aside from yourselves, if you could recommend one current artist, who would it be?
LTS: Boy… there are a couple of people I’d recommend. Just for kind of vibe’s sake… I would probably recommend Little Dragon, Toro Y Moi and then as far as young, really good rappers, I would probably say Homeboy Sandman. He recently signed to Stones Throw. I find him to be technically very good… he just needs one producer to shoulder the load to give it a real vehicle to making a classic record. I think he’s very very talented.
S: Do you have a favourite UK hip hop artist at all?
LTS: I like Akala. I met him before so I’m kind of biased. I’ve had conversations with him and I just like him and I think he’s good. I do like Roots Manuva. That guy is very consistent to me and I feel like everything he puts out feels “new”. I like that about him. I always feel like when I hear a track, I’m like “ooh, that’s him!”.
S: Where do you draw inspirations from when writing?
LTS: Generally speaking, from life and conversations that I’ve had with people or observing or things I’ve been thinking about. Relationships with other people, family members. I often find, especially lately, conversations with people that I have never met before make for good inspiration for songs.
S: Which artists would you most like to collaborate with, either as Latyrx or as a solo artist?
LTS: Wow, erm… wow. There’s like a whole tier of cats like Jay Z, Kanye, Eminem. Even Drake and Kendrick Lamar. I always find that working with cats that I would learn from and if I got in the studio with them, it would be something that I would otherwise not experience. I would love to work with Diplo or A-Trak. There are tons of artists that I like… shoot, Stevie Wonder, if we’re putting names out there [laughter]. Let’s get in the room, Prince, let’s do some stuff!
S: Haha, amazing! Moving on from that, what are you most proud of about the new album?
LTS: I’m proud of the fact that it is true to ourselves and the content of the record. There’s stuff that is conscious, emotionally honest and lyrically advanced and pushes not just hip hop as a genre but music in general. Some of the stuff we did with tUnE-yArDs and that Deliberate Gibberish song with no drums on it, I felt we were able to pull it off. It’s also in a weird time; something like 9 bars per loop. The measures are not in 8s, they’re in 9s. Hopefully, you don’t even notice. I like music nerd stuff like that.
S: What music did you listen to growing up?
LTS: Boy, I listened to everything growing up. Just to give you an idea, here’s the first concert I went to (with my mother) – Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, Zapp featuring Roger, Climax, Too $hort. In my father’s car, we’d have Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Darryl Hall and John Oates, Prince, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Al Jarreau. So, even from an early age, I listened to all kinds of music and genres and I really feel like that early Lambert, Hendricks & Ross stuff was the reason why hip hop took to me. I was early onto hip hop too – Mixmaster Spade, cats you don’t even hear about. I was into all of that.
S: What advice would you give to rappers and producers just starting out in music now?
LTS: It’s harder to generate consistency now so I would say that. To hone your craft, study the history… with hip hop in particular, there isn’t a big emphasis on studying the people who did it in the past. Going back and listening to the people who were good at it and seeing what they did well and folding that into your style, repeatedly and repeatedly until you find your own voice. But utilising those tools can really make you a lot better at your craft technically. Go back and study the greats and stay consistent.
S: And finally, when people listen to The Second Album, what would you hope they would take away from it as a record?
LTS: I’ve been saying this today and I’ll say it again, hopefully they’ll come away with the feeling that “wow, I felt something when I listened to that record” and “as far as two men crews go, that’s probably one of the best that has done it”.
S: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure and I am very impressed. Thank you very much and good luck!
LTS: Thank you.