For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop


By Khalid Strickland a.k.a. Black Pacino


Spread luv it’s the Brooklyn way…

Although there are flashes of brilliance, much of today’s mainstream rap music is littered with instant, microwavable songs. Creativity is at an all-time low. It’s no surprise that some of hip-hop’s most inspiring material is being cultivated just below the radar, without major label restrictions.

Shabaam Sahdeeq, a talented lyricist from Brooklyn, has been gaining momentum for years with his quality, street-minded music. As an artist signed to Rawkus Records, Sahdeeq appeared on several of the label’s projects, including the acclaimed “Lyricist Lounge” and “SoundBombing” compilation albums. During his stint with Rawkus, Sahdeeq was featured on the remix of Pharoahe Monch’s hit single, “Simon Says,” and also appeared on 12-inch records with Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Kool G. Rap, Xzibit, Lady Luck, Mos Def, Redman and Method Man. Sahdeeq was also a member of the underground rap supergroup Polyrhythm Addicts, which also featured respected artists DJ Spinna, Apani B. Fly and Mr. Complex. Sahdeeq’s career was sidelined, however, when he was sentenced to pay debts to society behind bars. Hoping to ratchet up their street-cred, some misguided rappers would love to have the bing on their resume. Shabaam, however, refuses to play that card.

“I feel like it’s played out, first of all,” says Shabaam Sahdeeq, a.k.a. S-Dub, during our recent interview. “It’s played out to use jail as a marketing tool. I really don’t want to promote that; where I’m at with it, I’m on some intelligent thug s**t. Jail is played out for many reasons. Like right now, I cannot travel because of my jail record. I can’t tour the way I want to. (I can’t) go to Europe so why would I promote that?”

Shabaam Sahdeeq’s first digital album, Relentless, was recently released on Marvial Entertainment. The album, which has garnered rave reviews and impressed fans both old and new, is hosted and mixed by celebrated DJ’s Tony Touch and J-Ronin. The production on Relentless is in capable hands with Khrysis, Belief, Thorotracks, Nick Wiz and others. Some skilled emcees make cameos on the album, most notably Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Steele of Smif-N-Wessun, Sean Price and Phonte of Little Brother. When asked what he wants to accomplish with his latest album, Sahdeeq states his humble goals.

“I want to let people know that I’m back in the works,” Sahdeeq replies. “I got released (from prison) in ’05. I’m trying to make a series of releases so people can see my consistency and see my continuous quality of work. This is the first digital album I’m putting out myself with a company called Foundation Media. Retail right now is real funny for underground rap. Sales being down for a major artist; imagine the sales for independent. It’s crazy… it’s hard right now. So I just want to plug into that digital world and throw some ropes on that.”

Cop that.

Shabaam’s lyrics contain thought and technical skill, two elements that aren’t abundant during 106 & Park’s limited rotation. But S-Dub wouldn’t have it any other way and acknowledges that he is of a rare breed.

“Check the songs that are getting the highlight. There’s really not much put into them,” Shabaam observes. “It’s really tools to make you dance and buy ringtones. To me, music should be something you should relate to. So if you’re talking about cars and jewels all the time… somebody poor, how could they possibly relate to that? They can’t. I did that song ‘Stupid Dance’ because I feel like there are so many stupid dances and stupid sayings on the radio. It’s like, a no-brainer to do it. I wanted to show people that I was able to make a song like that and still make fun of the s**t. My people be like, ‘Oh, you probably can’t even make nothing commercial.’ I can make commercial songs, it’s no brainers to make the s**t. But that’s not what I’m into; that’s not what I’m trying to promote.”

S-Dub has a lot of material circulating right now along with his album. He recently recorded a song with Royce The 5’9 and Skillz for a Coalmine Records compilation album. Shabaam has also collaborated with Sadat X and Nick Wiz for a song on Sadat’s upcoming, yet-to-be-titled album. While Relentless marinates online and in iPods around the globe, S-Dub is prepping another album, tentatively titled The Outcome, on Draft Records. Meanwhile, the digital version of Relentless is currently available on iTunes, Rhapsody, Emusic, Napster,,, and The digital version also includes two bonus songs featuring Skyzoo and Sha Stimuli, respectively.

Shabaam Sahdeeq is living proof that good hip-hop music still sprouts from the fertile soil of the underground. Fans of raw, street-centric rap will be wise to give this man their support.

For more information in Shabaam Sahdeeq visit and

Check Shabaam spittin’ fire on “Freestyle 101 at G4.

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By Khalid Strickland a.k.a. Black Pacino

Photos by Eric Russ

AZ and me at The Volstead

The 5th Annual VH-1 Hip Hop Honors hit NYC last week and on the eve of the massive event, there were parties jumpin’ off all over The Apple. A bunch of heavy-hitters were in town for the ceremony and excitement was in the air alongside the smog. I was lucky enough to receive an invite to one of the pre-HHH shindigs and it was tighter than J-Hood’s du-rag. GoodGirl PR and the TLAPR Agency, in association with VH-1, held a “Back to the 90’s” gala at The Volstead, a classy joint that wouldn’t let a hooligan like me enter on a regular night. The party’s other sponsors included Sony BMG, V2 Vodka, XXL magazine and DJ Nickiee (a.k.a. the Princess of the Techniques) and DJ Shogun (four-time Justo Mixtape Award nominee) spun timeless rap records that kept the packed house live.

The evening was monumental not just because of the Hip-Hop legends in attendance at The Volstead, but also because I finally showed up somewhere on time. I picked a great night to ditch my beloved C.P.T. because an hour after I arrived, the bouncers were corralling a horde of people heaped up at the door. But we weren’t in Brooklyn, so folks were orderly and not a shot was fired. It was around this time that my wingman/photographer, E-Boogie, showed up and squeezed his way through the constricting mob to join me in the club. Fortunately for E, the crowd was padded with voluptuous honeys. This was a proverbial “red carpet” affair, so when celebs entered the spot, they’d stop in a designated area and bathe in the photographers’ flashbulbs. DJ Premier was there rocking a t-shirt emblazoned with memorable lyrics from “Time’s Up” by O.C. (“I’d rather be broke and have a whole lotta respect…”). Well, Primo’s definitely respected, and though he never flaunts a piece of jewelry, I seriously doubt he’s hurting for cash.

Another legendary producer, Easy Mo Bee, made it to the party. Like Primo, Easy Mo Bee contributed beats to Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die and it was an honor to chop it up with the greats. AZ the Visualiza was there rockin’ a frozen gold Jesus piece and videotaping interviews for the local TV shows. Longtime friends Teddy Ted and Special K, the revered DJ duo known as The Awesome Two, were also in the house. The WBO Light-Heavyweight Champion, Kendall Holt, made it to the party with his actual championship belt in tow. I spotted ex-Roots member Rahzel, the beat-boxer also known as “The Godfather of Noyze,” posing for pictures with fans.

Me & DJ Premier

Alize was one of the party’s sponsors, and pretty ladies holding trays of free Gold Passion liqueur sashayed around The Volstead. I didn’t get as smashed as usual, though. I’d like to believe that this was due to my iron-willed discipline; I had to interview Scarface the next morning and didn’t want to be hung over. The real reason was that whenever the Alize girls came my way, folks would swoop in like vultures and leave me with an empty tray. I thought I had the freeloadin’ game all sewn up but I must be getting slow with age.

The party was dope and I have to thank Tafia from TLAPR for hooking me up and being very efficient. Not only was “Back to the 90’s” nostalgic, fun-filled and loaded with beautiful women to creep with, I also networked with plenty of movers and shakers. And anytime I can drink, politic and hear rap music other than the five records that loop endlessly on FM radio, it’s a good night.

For more pictures of the “Back to the 90′s” party at The Volstead, visit the FLICKR PHOTO SET.

Special K & Teddy Ted a.k.a. The Awesome Two, with their homie.

Kendall Holt, WBO Light-Heavyweight Boxing Champion

Best shot of the night ;-]

see more pics of the party at THE FLICKR PHOTO SET

For more work, stories by Black Pacino visit and

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“Do Not Give Way to Evil” by photographer Lisa Kahane provides an interesting view into a period of Bronx history. She does this through the pictorial documentation of the New York borough during the late 1970s to the 1980s. These images depict a time of extreme urban blight. The images are sadly reminiscent of the type of urban sprawl that is associated with third-world countries. However, to those who romanticize that era, the pictures are nostalgic. Either way, the photos present a captivating visual study of despair and beauty.

Regardless of the desolation visible within the dilapidated buildings and trash-laden streets, human spirit is evident throughout the book. This is the environment that is responsible for inspiring inner city youths to express themselves in a way that has forever affected style, music and art in society globally. Although this book is about society and not Hip Hop, it would be a challenge for anyone who knows the history of the genre, to not acknowledge the circumstances presented within this book that ultimately gave way to the birth to the dynamic culture. Because of this, “Do Not Give Way to Evil” should enthrall Hip Hop aficionados.

The suggested retail price of this 144 page hardcover book is $35. However, it can be purchased on various major booksellers’ websites for less. –I. Vasquetelle

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Here we go, major artists will start employing indie tactics to get their music out. As predicted in my previous article well-known artists will begin to release their releases using similar business models as RadioHead’s recent “pay-what-you-want” offering. In this case fans can purchase or download for free the Reznor and Williams collaboration entitled “Niggy Tardust.”

On the site, Williams states, “We need no priests to talk to God. No phone to call her. And when you click the link below, i think it fair that you should know that your purchase will make middlemen much poorer…” I can’t think of an artist who is as eloquent as Saul Williams. This should be an amazing display of non-genre specific music. I’m hoping for some hard-hitting soundscapes manuvered by Saul’s stylistic prose. Let the games commence.

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By Khalid Strickland a.k.a. Black Pacino

Pipin’ hot beats made fresh daily…

Nowadays, mainstream rap beats are so sweet they can make a listener diabetic. Dipping into the same stagnant pool, hordes of identical producers wage their own version of the Clone Wars. It’s against this backdrop that Presto, a refreshing producer from Culver City, California, forges his organic, jazz-tinged beats. After releasing a slew of acclaimed instrumental-only albums and singles on Concrete Grooves, the label that he co-founded, Presto has a new LP causing heads to nod worldwide.

Released this past June, Presto’s State of the Art has garnered well-earned praise for its inventiveness and quality. Loading his latest album with versatile and soulful beats, Presto also steps up the game with an arsenal of skilled rappers contributing verses. Sadat X, O.C. and Large Professor team up on State of the Art’s first single, “Conquer Mentally.” CL Smooth, Fatlip of The Pharcyde, Blu and T Weaponz also make memorable appearances as well. To ensure that the music sounds crisp, Presto had a bulk of the tracks mixed by Troy “MixbyMail” Hightower, the celebrated engineer who lent his Midas touch to classic releases by Onyx, Redman and Method Man, De La Soul, Common, Big Pun and a lion’s share of other notables. Presto is making beautiful noise in the rap game and his presence is more than welcome.

In an exclusive interview with Insomniac, Presto detailed how he constructed this crown jewel of an album, and had some words of wisdom for aspiring producers.

Black Pacino: You’ve got an interesting mix of rappers on this album. How’d you choose who would be on it?

Presto: Well, this album started out originally as an EP. The first track I did was “Conquer Mentally” which was a track with Sadat X, O.C. and Large Pro. I finished that track and from there I started doing more tracks and then it slowly turned into an album. So there’s some known names and there’s some unknown names but I kind of wanted to mix it up like that.

BP: Did you tailor each beat with the artist in mind or did they come and adapt to your style?

Presto: Some of the tracks were done where I would send artists some beats and then they would pick one. And then some tracks I would actually make to tailor for the artist. Like the CL (Smooth) track, when I was making it I was thinking of pitching it to him, so I kind of went into that vibe.

BP: For somebody that’s not familiar with your work, how would you describe your sound and style of music?

Presto: I think my music is kind of like a three-piece band. It’s simple but it’s musical… there’s a lot of layers to it. I mean, you have the smooth and the gritty sounds and then it kind of balances out. It’s got a soul and jazz edge to it, you know?

BP: What do you hope to accomplish with this album?

Presto: Well, I definitely want to get it out there to also get more work from other artists and labels. This album is basically something I’ve been working towards through this whole process, you know? So it’s built up to this and then I’m hoping to get more work from this, and licensing as well.

BP: Is production something you always wanted to do? Did you grow up wanting to make music?

Presto: I started off as a deejay when I was in high school and I was playing a lot of hip-hop stuff like A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, De La Soul, Pete Rock & CL… and deejaying was almost like a bridge for me to get into production. Once I got into deejaying, I started learning a lot about how songs were sequenced; like hooks and verses and all that. So then when I discovered beat-making, it was like I carried that ear with me into beat-making. So I kind of knew a lot about how to put a song together from deejaying.

BP: How do you respond to people who say that producers shouldn’t sample anymore?

Presto: I like to mix both. I like to sample but I also like to play live instruments too. So I’ll kind of layer stuff. As long as you’re doing what you do, that’s all that matters.

BP: You’ve been involved in Hip-Hop for a long time obviously; you’ve listed some of the favorites you enjoyed growing up. How do you feel about Hip-Hop music nowadays? Do you like what you’re hearing and seeing when you flip on the video programs and such?

Presto: I think a lot of the commercial stuff now is… I feel like it’s missing soul. I feel like artists aren’t putting as much of their soul into it anymore. But there’s still a lot of good music out there too. It’s just that I feel you have to dig for it, you know?

BP: Back in the day if somebody wanted to be a producer, they would have to spend a lot of money to get equipment and go to the studio. Nowadays, with computer programs like Reason and stuff, everybody pretty much has access to equipment. Do you think that helps or hurts the production game? Does it matter at all?

Presto: Well I think it definitely helps producers because you have a lot more channels to get your music done. Back in the day, you were lucky to have an MPC or something. But now you’ve got Pro Tools, you can record and mix your own stuff in your house. You can do everything. For the producer it definitely gives a lot more tools that are accessible. But for people making money off of running a studio, it puts them out of business, you know? But it’s definitely a good channel for a lot of artists to build their craft.

BP: When I used to read Scratch magazine…

Presto: Yeah, I love that magazine.

BP: Yeah, it’s defunct now. Well in that magazine, at the end of each producer spotlight, they would list what equipment they used. You’ve got a lot of overnight producers; people who feel that if they go and buy those machines, they can sound just as good as a Dre or a Presto. Do you think that equipment makes a producer or does it really matter?

Presto: I don’t think it matters what you use because whatever you do it’s your soul coming out into the beat or the song. It’s all about how you use the machine. But I do think you should master one machine first because then you know it inside and out. Then you can kind of build off of that and get other equipment to use with it. But you don’t ever just want to get some gear, use it for a while, quit using it and use some new gear, because you really don’t become a master of that machine. For me, I started off on the ASR-10 keyboard and I’m still using it now. I got that back in ’96, but I’ve bought others since and stuff that I use with it. I’ll record on Pro Tools but I don’t make my music in Pro Tools. I like using outboard gear.

BP: Are there any artists you haven’t worked with that you would like to collaborate with in the future?

Presto: I’ve always wanted to work with Mos Def and Talib Kweli. There’s a long list (laughs). Definitely them and Q-Tip would be dope too, (he’s) definitely one of my influences.

BP: Do you have a “creative process” or do you just go with the flow?

Presto: I usually like to make a skeleton beat and kind of sit on it for a while, then go back and work on it. Once in a while though, I’ll just make a whole song… a whole beat quick. That happens sometimes; sometimes I get lucky and do that. But I usually start with a hi-hat and chop some samples up and kind of build the drums and the bassline around that. Then I basically get the hook done for the beat and then once I have the hook done, I can take the sounds out to the verse part. If I can’t come up with a hook for the beat, then I usually end up using those beats for interludes or something.

BP: I know each song on your album is like your baby so it might be hard to make a choice but… do you have a favorite song on this joint that stands out in your mind?

Presto: It’s hard to answer that but I’d say “Conquer Mentally,” because a lot went into that song; even making that beat. That sample was a really hard sample to chop and I got the beat part down. But getting three different emcees on it, that took a while. Once I got it done it was there.

BP: Why did you decide to work with engineer Troy Hightower and what did he bring to your project?

Presto: Troy actually mixed a lot of songs on the album. Troy is the sonic genius… I mean, he really knows how to hear a song. He knows right where the volume should be and the effects and he’s really good at mixing vocals too. I’d have to say that out of all the engineers I’ve worked with, he’s really great at mixing vocals. No doubt.

BP: One last question. Do you think a good producer tailors his beats for an artist, or do you think an artist should tailor his style to a producer? If you listen to Common’s last project, you could hear a lot of Kanye’s influence in his work, almost down to the rhymes in some cases. So do you think it should be mix of both, or should a producer impose his will on an artist?

Presto: I think it should be a mix of both. I think sometimes you can make a beat and you can bring something out of the artist that they normally wouldn’t do. So that can be good, but you also don’t want to go pitch a beat to an artist that’s too different from what they normally do because it might not work. I think you kind of balance both. I think that’s what Common did on the album with Kanye. I think they kind of balanced both, because you still hear Common but you hear Kanye too. You want to hear the vocalist’s presence and the producer’s presence, not one or the other.

For more information on Presto, visit and

For more infomation on engineer Troy “MixbyMail” Hightower, visit or

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