Fundamental Elements Interview - All in the Name.
Rap acts are named carefully in full respect of it reflecting every aspect of its product. With Fundamental Elements it’s a case of doing what it says on the packet. For Brisbane-based emcees Pleura and Species, evoking elements from New York’s hip-hop ‘Boom-Bap” era is of paramount importance and highly prevalent in their recordings. Rip Nicholson speaks with the guys about their affection of DJ Premier. In response to this, Species made it clear “Premo is easily our favourite. His style is consistently on point and so well crafted that it’s a major influence on our production & musicality in general.” And their next product The Prerequisite EP, (available here) gouges a third notch for the ten-plus year vets and solidifies FE’s signature styled on the elements of boom-bap.
What began on Brisbane’s Northside ten-plus years back for Pleura and Species was built up from the bricks and mortar of Brisbane’s independent scene. With a stronghold on the north side, Fundamental Elements are a formative act for Clockwork Records that begun in the early noughties with Velvet Couch Clothing, staunch supporters over their careers. Their debut EP Living Secrets dropped in 2010, putting to work their vision to recreate the classic boom bap soundscape that was carried into 2013’s The Homecoming EP which gave ‘The Homecoming’ single solid rotation on Triple J’s Hip Hop Show (with Hau) and 4ZZZ. This upped their live game and over the years FE have featured on bills with international headliners, Eastborn (UK) and Immortal Technique (US) and alongside a slew of domestic hip-hop acts. Five years from their first release and FE’s vision is growing to a fanbase recently stretched as far as Russia’s online hip-hop traffic.
Fresh and compressed, The Prerequisite had been sent over a secured Drop Box prior to this interview. Once unzipped, it was played in the cone of silence. As it turned out, The Prerequisite is full of heavy-treaded beats in desert-coloured Timbs. Like winners in a post-game conference, Pleura and Species were open on everything from the EP’s production, deciphering the samples beat up in the process, certain lyrics decoded and even geeking out over drum machine models used in the process. Here, everything they say comes real. This is Fundamental Elements delivering as promised in the name.
(At the time of this interview going to print Fundamental Elements had been added to the support slot for the Brisbane leg of New York-based act Mobb Deep’s 2015 Australian tour.)
PLEURA & SPECIES interviewed - Monday 23rd February, 2015
For Ozhiphopshop.com / Rip2Shredz Print
RIP - Heard The Prerequisite, the new EP. Every joint is neck-snapping and reminiscent of a childhood in the early '90s listening to the best years of hip-hop. Really enjoyed it. When can we click to buy this new FE-hiphop?
PLEURA - Cheers man. Yeah, we have always really dug that '90s style, breakbeat hip-hop. That boom bap ish, ya know?
The intro is a trip through a lush sampology of a boom bap period and sets the atmosphere for the EP. Clearly you boys hate cops and love sampling. Was this a conscious effort to go balls out from the intro and set an early pace for the rest of the CD?
P - Yea definitely man, we hooked up with local producer Soley Sole for that one - an OG on the MPC 2000XL & Akai S950 for that '90s boom bap type shit and he killed it straight up. I think it does exactly what we set out to do which was grab the listeners attention and set the mood with the right samples.
The Prerequisite title track jumps off right where the intro left off. Rich samples in melody very Premo-styled. How does the basic sound start from the point where you say, ‘that’s the beat’ and it finds you snatching for the pad and pen while it loops?
P - I think that energy is always a bit different, but with this one I think as soon as we heard that beat from Leaf, we knew it really set the tone for rest of the EP. It was literally the Prerequisite for the rest of the EP – we did have a lot of other tracks already in the works but after we heard that beat everything just bounced off that really.
And I say DJ Premier specifically, over say Pete Rock, J-Dilla styles, you guys, even on older releases seem to gravitate towards that Gang Starr, almost Jazzmatazz dusty New York ‘92 soundscape complete with the short vocal grabs for hooks, as opposed to looping drum breaks that were huge in production then. What is it about that style you and Species have always preferred?
SPECIES - I think it’s simply just the style we have naturally gravitated towards. We love all of those producers but you’re right, Premo is easily our favourite. His style is consistently on point and so well crafted that it’s a major influence on our production & musicality in general.
You’ve worked with a slew of beatsmiths to cook up previous records. This time the credits go to you and Leaf Dog. Why did you cut down on outside help, and how did he contribute in the kitchen?
P - I think it was just that I had an arsenal of beats there ready this time. I’ve been spending a lot of time on production the last few years really trying to find my groove so to speak. This EP has definitely helped to shape that for sure, so I have a fair bit there to choose from.
Species and I basically went through hundreds of beats from myself, Species, Leaf and producers from all over the place and had enough fresh produce in our own pantry plus what we grabbed from Leaf and Soley. After listening to literally hundreds of beats we settled on one of Leafs to be the main focus for the EP. We bounced back and forth with him until we had what we needed and the rest was left up to our homie Sneaky-T to make it sound the way it does now.
S - We made a conscious effort on this release to not settle for any beats that were sub-par. Fortunately Pleura’s production has really stepped up recently and we had a big range to choose from, but we’re also saving some of the gems for the LP so there’s still hope for some Species production.
‘Y’all Been Warned’ - about the most head-nodding shizz out right now! Who is to credit for such dopeness on the beats?
P - Thanks bro, I’ll have to put my hand up for that one. That beat and track is actually a re-make in a sense. The beat was a pretty old one I had sitting there, that we used to for a live version of our track Yáll Been Warned (Wu-Tang instrumental) on The Fun Not Fame Mixtape Vol2. I re did the drums and bass and fattened it up a tad and we tweaked the verses and added a hook and bam! Music.
S - Yeah man, that’s a banger, it was never going to be on the release initially, but once P was finished with the beat, we started playing around with cut ideas & after Johnny Love murdered it there really wasn't much of a choice…
It makes for a lyrical fire. Both MCs bolted right out the gate. That slamming beat had to have really made the energy in your lyrical approach go up a level or two? I can feel it from both of you.
P - 100% man, that beat definitely brings out the best in both of our styles and helps keeps everything hyped.
S – Yeh it’s just a good track to rap bout rap, can’t go wrong with that…
On the same record you rapped;
“If you play the sport, wear the uniform, if you conform to the norm, y’all been warned.”
Are you frustrated with some of the hyped and overrated acts queue-jumping in the local scene? Or, is this a lesson of the game, to put your work into the scene before overreaching with major deals.. and failing?
P - Definitely, but we just do our own thing and don’t really play into all the wank of it all. We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now and I’ve seen a lot of crews come and go. These days as the scene is gaining popularity, there seems to be lot of dudes who don’t seem to pay the respect (or even know how they should be) when it comes to hip-hop music and the cultures that surround it. They come out just wanting to sound like something that the last guy made popular and then have a cry when they get 5 likes on their Soundcloud page. I believe in making the music sound the best you possibly can with your own twist to keep it fresh. If you claim to be making hip-hop music then you need to understand it, respect it & live it!
On ‘Independence’ (from The Homecoming, 2013) Species, I think, rapped;
“Unknown tracks, man album ain’t out yet / Still rocking a crowd of five people and a sound tech.” - How’s that debt of respect that you’re paying back to the scene? In other words, how important is being an independent artist?
S - For us, being independent means a lot. Artistic freedom aside, we’re not in this for the money or fame & by sticking with an independent approach, I think it keeps us grounded and allows to focus on what we love most – making rap music. We take our time, do our own thing, and hopefully that comes through in the music.
For all of us, that’s gotta be like paying back Australia’s foreign debt, for all that we get out of hip-hop. Does it ever end, the giving back to the scene?
S - I’m not sure it ever could, there will always be a scene wanting more... For us, we’ve been grinding away for years now and just doing our thing with releases & gigs in between the normal distractions of jobs, life & all that… We may not be the biggest name around but as long as we put out a solid product that we are 100% happy with, I’m a happy man. Any heads feelin' our shit is a bonus.
What’s one great piece of advice you have for young MCs and beat makers honing their craft who are looking for the most respectable and responsive route into the ‘scene’ or industry?
P - Find your own groove, don’t bite any bodies style, study other emcee’s, producers, history and apply that to your own life and music. Learn how to sample records, study breaks and always keep your shit relevant.
S - Find your creative side & be yourself!
On ‘6 Feet Deep’, you guys profess a passion for this love of hip-hop being life-long. How connected is Fundamental Elements to the fusion of classic Boom-bap beats to Brisbane rap? Could there ever be FE hip hop with a different soundscape?
P - I think FE has really only just started to hone in on its sound with this EP. As for a different soundscape I think this sound will really mould the FE album, but who knows what’s in store for solo projects coming in the future also.
S - This sound is what FE is about – heavily sampled beats, done the old way. I’m sure future releases will bring some different sounds & themes but this is the sorta sound you can expect. We do dabble in side projects though, so you may hear some solo shit in the future which is on another level.
I spoke with Nuggy Gee recently, and asked him about his collabs, and whether there was friendly competition between verses. He emphatically said no to competing when he joined you for ‘The Sickness’ record. Hard to imagine a booth full of hungry MCs wouldn’t try to snap each other’s heads off over a beat or two?
P - I don’t think anyone actually whipped their cocks on the ruler in the studio, but I think when you jump on a track with dudes from around the traps you respect, then it really helps to push everyone to get the best out of themselves.
I imagine cartoon-style pack of salivating wolves all snapping at each other, vying for attention. Maybe that’s reserved more for a VC commission posse cut?
P - Haha, the VC posse cuts are very similar in that respect, you definitely get the best out of the crew when you put them all next to each other to flex. But there would never be any beef or anything like that the come from it.
FE has always been too cool for collabs. Very few on previous releases. How did you make the connection with Nuggy Gee for the FE closer, and with Insideus, also?
S - Ice cold son! That track just came about as a lot of collabs do –drunken shit talk with the fellas about linking up on a track one day haha. We finally decided to work on a track, Pleura laced up the beat which turned out fuckin dope, everyone was feeling it and so we came up with the concept and the track came out great. Just like Y’all Been Warned, once Sneak-T was done with it we thought it was too killer to not feature on the EP.
FE hip-hop is steadily building a catalogue of records. Do you ever sit back and take a broad overview of your work or indeed examine the growth and change of styles in each?
P - To be honest, I tend move on pretty quickly once a project is finished. I always want to be working on something new and better than the last thing.
S - I do look back every now & then. We’ve got a slew of unreleased projects which, together with the official releases, you can see massive changes & progression over the years as we have honed our skills & shaped our sound. It’s good to check back on, but sometimes a bit cringe worthy haha.
When’s the next date to sort a designate driver for a messy night out for a live FE show?
P - We’re sorting out the final details now for a dual launch show at The Milk Factory @ West End on 18/04/15 to also celebrate the release of the Fun Not Fame mixtape vol 3. DJ Backlash on the 1s & 2s for the night, Upryt, Nuggy Gee, Master Wolf, Prophet Rayza, Verbill & Fundamental Elements launching The Prerequisite.
I always like to ask rappers this one, when I can. You guys have never been afraid to provoke thought on deeper issues on global politics, even expressing views on local politics. Some fans will love the sound of a rap record without taking in the lyrics. Does it matter to you if a fan loves your music but doesn’t pick up on the message?
P - That’s a tough one! I think if someone is feeling my music I’m going to be happy either way, but if you’re not picking up what I’m putting down then you’re missing a big part of the music.
S - Of course I’m always happy if someone just like’s it for the musical side, but I’m a rapper and I love examining other MC’s rhyme styles, techniques & words. So yeah, understanding not only the message but also the technicalities is a big one for me.
Anything else the Fundamental Elements need to get off their chest? Say something nice to the kids out there, Pleura! Tell ‘em to stay in school and learn more about this thing of ours, hip-hop!
P - Word! Fuck school, study breaks, study hip-hop & do your own thing and don’t stop until you perfect it.
S - Buy some sh*t from our store, brother gotta eat!
DOWNLOAD AVAILABLE NOW AT OZHIPHOPSHOP
GET YOUR VINYL, CD USB CARD & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD NOW
DOWNLOAD THE NEW VC & CLOCKWORK RECORDS: FUN NOT FAME VOL 3 MIXTAPE FROM WWW.VCCLOTHING.COM
PEEP THE NEW CLIP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAzdXo81zgs
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK- www.facebook.com/fehiphop