Q&A With Termanology, Performing at PS14 Tomorrow Night
To understand up-and-coming MC Termanology's commitment to the golden age of hip-hop, just take a look at the production credits on his new album, Time Machine. It's enough to make you cry: the Alchemist, Large Professor, Pete Rock, and even the untouchable DJ Premier all lend beats to this sophomore effort. And of course, the Puerto-Rican-extracted MC didn't get to work with top talent out of nowhere.
As a teenager in his heavily Latin hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts, he started his climb to the top in the traditional way - through a series of underground mixtapes. Luckily, he became closely associated with a fellow Lawrence native, the DJ/producer Statik Selektah, whose star eventually also began to quickly rise. Eventually, Termanology was scoring appearances on his Hood Politics mixtape series by leading underground lights like Royce da 5'9" and even Guru.
And from Guru, it wasn't such a big leap to work with that MC's partner in Gang Starr - DJ Premier. Primo finally handed Termanology a beat in 2006, and from there came the other marquee names. Termanology does them all proud. His flow is pure classic east coast, able to rock street-ready beats with intelligence, but without the dreaded backpacker's nerdiness. He cites Big Pun as a huge influence - he even declared himself Pun's successor in his underground hit "Watch How It Go Down" - and a local audience will appreciate his occasional Spanish rhymes. Nearly all the best local acts perform at this PS14 show too, notably Garcia, Saheed, LMS, and Alphanum3rics, so Miami hip-hop heads, don't sleep on this one.
Read a full Q&A with Term after the jump.
New Times: Everything written about you talks about you being from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and coming up in the Boston hip-hop scene. But I also read you now live in New York. Why the move, finally?
Termanology: Well, I was out in the Bronx about four years, but right now I'm moving back home to Lawrence. I moved to New York just to get into the music industry. Where I'm from is near Boston, and it doesn't really have record labels, know what I'm saying? It would have been really hard for me to pursue a career out there. I did as much as I could do locally, so then I went to New York.
So why are you moving back now?
I already did all that I had to do in New York. I got my name out there and every record label knows who I am, all the DJs, all the web sites, all that stuff. Now that things are moving along, I'm on tour more than half the year, so when I'm home, I'd rather be home with my family.
What was your hometown like when you were growing up?
It's like 30 minutes from Boston, a little small community, it's only about six miles long, total. It's all Hispanic, Dominican and Puerto Rican; I guess I would compare it to the Bronx. It was tough, it was crazy, it was wild when I was a kid. It's gotten a little better now, but it was more gang-related and wild in the '90s.
And you started rapping really young. At what point did you decide to get serious about it?
I started rapping around nine years old, and actually taking it to the next level when I got a little older, around 15. That's when I started going to the actual studio, and then I dropped my first real single when I was in high school. Then that's when I started going to Boston a lot.
Who influenced you at the very beginning?
Mostly Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, all that. As I got into my teenage years more, then that's when Wu-Tang came out, and Biggie and Nas came out.
That's funny because those first four you mentioned are all California artists, and your sound now is so East Coast.
I think it's mainly because those were the biggest artists at that time. I was a kid, it didn't matter to me if someone was East Coast or West Coast. I just liked the music.
And how did you actually get started?
There were just people around me who used to rap, like my mom's boyfriend. I lived in the projects, where everyone's all outside rapping, playing dice, doing whatever they're doing. And they used to tell me, "Just kick a rhyme, go ahead!" So I just started rhyming, copying their rhymes to teach myself to freestyle. Once I got confident enough, I started writing songs.
When was your first real single? You mentioned you were in the studio at 15, and the single came out when you were in high school.
I can remember the first verse I wrote, which was when I was nine. The first single, in the stores or whatever, I was already 20 -- but I was in high school until I was 21. That single was called "Heat." But that studio, there was this kid named Prophecy from around my way. We were like 15, and I made like 200 songs in his basement. BI can't remember them, and I don't have copies of them or anything. We were just kids trying to get better.
What was the Boston hip-hop scene like at that time?
When I was coming up, Boston was in its golden era, people would drop vinyl singles all the time and you could make a lot of money off them. It was the era of Ed OG, Mr. Lif, 7L and Esoteric, Akrobatik - all that stuff was coming out of Boston. It was cool to come up under that, because it helped me with solidifying my underground audience, because I came from that original core.
You toured with Akrobatik early on in your career, didn't you?
Yes, I toured with Akrobatik, I think that was in 2000 or 2001, and that was the first time I came down to play Florida. I don't remember if we made it as far south as Miaim, though. I was just a kid in a van. I actually left high school for a few weeks to do that. I didn't take high school too seriously; I repeated my junior year and got expelled from one school, so I was on the five-year program.
In comparison, what's the scene in Boston like now?
Those people, they kind of graduated, and it's not the same, just because of the decrease of record sales. The underground was really, really strong back then. It doesn't really have the same core audience now. A bunch of people are just downloading shit now, they kind of grew out of it. I was able to catch the Gang Starr fans, though, because of my work with DJ Premier. So that's how I'm able to tour all the time and keep it moving like that, because people are still really into that.
How did you start working with Statik Selektah?
I met Statik when I was a kid, probably around 14 or 15 years old. I met him at some little club in New Hampshire, when he was throwing a little show. Since I was a rapper and he was a DJ, I got friendly with him, and we got cool from then because I found out he he was from Lawrence. So he said, "Hey, let's come up together."
Is that when you started the Hood Politics mixtapes?
When I did Hood Politics 1, Statik wasn't even involved in my career at all yet. I got cool with him really on part two, when he realized I was diong my thing and he was doing his thing on a commercial level. He was on commercial radio and whatnot. We just kind of teamed up from there.
How did you get Guru, finally, on your mixtapes?
I did only one song with Guru, I met Guru a couple times, he was really nice. But Premier is the one who cosigned me. I met both of them the same day -- I met them through Krumbsnatcha, because he's from Lawrence, and he brought me to meet them, in 2003. So after that, I got cool with them.
But you didn't get a beat from Premier until 2006. How did you convince him finally to give you one?
I just kept putting out good songs and having Statik bring him the records. Eventually, he figured out that I had skills, and he started playing my records when he would DJ. Still, he wouldn't give me a beat, and I would ask him for a beat every time I'd see him. Eventually, after going to the club so many times and asking him, he finally called me one day with Statik. They just played me the beat for "Watch How It Go Down," and asked me if I wanted it. Obviously, I wanted it, and that was it.
Now you've got this new album, Time Machine, but you're also referring to it as "Hood Politics Part Six." So is it an original artist album or a mixtape?
It is an original album, but that's the way I do my mixtapes. It was more like I threw together a bunch of songs.
But it's all original beats, isn't it?
Yes, so it would be classified as an album. I just didn't want people to think it's my sophomore album, because it's kind of glued together.
The list of producers is crazy. You have DJ Premier, the Alchemist, Large Professor, Pete Rock.... How did you get all of them?
Mainly through doing my first album, Politics as Usual. I had already worked with those producers and more. So back then, I just approached half of them, and the other half approached me. Pete Rock I approached him at the club, and he was like, hey. Buckwild hit me up on MySpace, and I was like, "What's up, let's work together."
So if this isn't your official sophomore album, when are you going to start working on that?
I'm about to start it. It's just that I've been so busy. I made an album with Lil' Fame from M.O.P., and that's what I was working on most. The way The Time Machine came about is because we had to put that album on hold so the new M.O.P. album could come out on September 15. So I said, I'm not gonna go the whole year 2009 without a project, because I got mad fans right now. Now I've done Time Machine, and the MOP album is coming out, so now I can focus on that album with Lil' Fame.
So it's going to be at least a year until your next proper album.
At least, yeah. I still don't even know where to go with it yet. I'm gonna start from scratch.
What's your label situation right now?
I have my own label, ST Records. For the last record we teamed up with Nature Sounds, and they're distributed through EMI. We create our own music, so we really don't need a major's budget or guidance, just distribution. But I guess you can always find a better situation, obviously. If someone major hollered at me, I'd definitely be down. But I'm definitely doing fine on my own.
One thing that really jumps out about your music is that it's so firmly rooted in this sort of classic golden-age style. If hip-hop's gone all over the place and you're bringing it back to this point, then where does hip-hop go from there? How does it move forward?
I don't know, I'm just going with my heart and with what the fans tell me. The music I make, the flows and the rhymes are updated, they're 2010 and beyond, but the beats give you that good old feel, of when you loved hip-hop. I can't say there are too many other artists bringing that to the table.
How are the rhymes updated?
Well, I don't sound like an old school rapper, I'm not like, "I said, hip-hop...." I like to think you might think of Eminem or Big Pun or Rakim. I'd like to think you hear rhymes of substance and thought that are very well put together. They make sense, they've got punchlines. It's an updated thing, it's not like, old-school.
In "Watch How It Go Down," you called yourself the "Holy Resurrection of Pun." That's a pretty bold statement. How did people react to that?
I didn't realize how big of a statement it was gonna be when I said it, to tell you the truth. But I wish every time I thought of a line, people would react to it like that. But it went really good, because people really understood what I was trying to say. I think people really believe that I'm the best Puerto Rican rapper alive today, and that's great. Some people would be like, "Hey, what are you trying to say? You're better than Pun?" But it's like, "Nah -- but I'm the best Puerto Rican to come up since Big Pun!"
What about Fat Joe? He's definitely still alive.
I look up to Fat Joe. Because even before Big Pun, there was Fat Joe -- and before that, coming up, there were no Puerto Rican rappers. What I'm trying to say is, if you're a rapper, you should think you're the best rapper in the world. And if you don't, why are you rapping? So if I think I'm the best Puerto Rican rapper, it has to be the truth to me.
Do you really feel like you are, quote, a "Latino rapper" or a "Puerto Rican rapper?"
Yeah, I have to. That's the way everybody looks at me. I'm proud of it, though. Where I come from it's 90 percent Latino. My whole hood is like that, I'm used to it anyways. I come from a Latin flavor.
I noticed on your Myspace you had one song with some Spanish verses. Is that something you're planning to do more of?
That was just something I did for my Puerto Rican cats. I did it with Tony Touch, the first originalB-boy Puerto Rican Spanglish rapper, the god of that type of music, and he co-signed me on it. I thought it was a great thing to do. The reaction from that record has been crazy, too.
It seems like you were probably trying to get label attention around the time that reggaeton was at its most popular. As a Puerto Rican trying to do actual hip-hop, did that hurt you at the time?
I didn't feel like it was hurting my career. It's just that at that time, I was going for a lot of meetings with major labels. And they'd ask if I rap in Spanish, and I'd say, "I do hip-hop." And they'd be like, "Oh," like that wasn't the answer they're looking for.
So do you have a plan on how to become the next Big Pun?
Like commercial success?
Well, in any aspect -- you put it out there yourself on your song.
I don't think I have any plan, I think I just go. When you get a hit record, you'll know and you'll feel it, and the world will accept it. I'm also trying to do the acting thing right now; I've been going to casting calls. And touring, I'm touring half the year. If I keep going like this, I should be busy for the rest of my life, and if you're busy, you're making money.
Termanology. With Garcia, Saheed, LMS, and others. Friday, September 11. PS14, 28 NE 14th St., Miami. Doors open at 8 p.m., admission costs $10. Ages 18+ with ID. 305-358-3600; ps14.com