January 21st, 2009 | Interviews

dan monick

Download: Exile “The Sound Is God”


(from Radio out now on Plug Research)

Exile produced with Ghostface (on his Dirty Science album for Sound In Color) and Mobb Deep and made a trending-classic record with Blu called Below The Heavens in 2007. His newest is an instrumental album called Radio, sampled completely from Los Angeles-area FM and AM and out now on Plug Research.

Where on the radio did you find the ‘uneducated rapper’?
I wanted to incorporate historic L.A. radio shows, so that was from KDAY—definitely one of the radio stations responsible for getting me into hip-hop. Old recordings of KDAY. I think I pretty much touched everything on the radio. Aside from some AM stations, but I’d use AM as well. All the frequency sounds in the first song—that I got in key with the beat—that’s all from AM.
What kinds of unexpected things did you discover after a year of listening to L.A. radio?
I’ve always been a big fan of Alan Watts—when the Alan Watts speech came up I was really excited for that. I just recorded the whole thing. There were a lot of speeches and poetry that I heard that were really amazing. It’s really deceiving. When we think of radio, we think of the bullshit and the mainstream. But to make this album—there’s an even balance between the commercialism and consumerism and bullshit, which is shared evenly with love and spirituality and politics. If you really take your time with your radio, you’ll find everything you need. It represents humanity—represents what humans think. It’s all there—from good to evil. You’re able to tap into the minds of all different people. When you’re looking for radio on the Internet, you’re really searching for your own bias. Radio offers it all—perspectives you may not be searching for. I got some crazy Christian right-wing speeches and some real liberal things on humanity.
How long did this take to assemble?
2007 to 2008. There was a point when I thought the record was done, and Plug Research wanted to put out the instrumental record with beats they already had. Polished beats that didn’t have the handicap of just being sampled from the radio. They liked the other beats better, and I was like, ‘What? Lemme step back in the lab!’ Always everything had to be from the radio. I wouldn’t cheat. Couldn’t cheat. I got 808s from the bass records that are constantly playing. I’m really glad there was doubt in the beginning. It made me make it what it is now. This is the record I wanted to make. I always wanted to make an instrumental album, and I wanted to make it different. I didn’t wanna just display my skills as a beatmaker—‘Yo, I’m ill! Check my ill-ass beats!’ I wanted a voice to communicate what I’ve learned. So manipulating speeches I agreed with or didn’t to convey a message—convey the evil and the good, and make it apparent those are both there in radio and both there in the world. Everything I’d made in the past had a vocalist, so they were able to communicate what they had learned. I wanted to do that with an instrumental project. The girl on one song—‘Population Control’—is like, ‘Oh my gosh, where did you get those shoes?’ And the sample says, ‘People everywhere…’ Kind of communicates the anxiety of being surrounded by fake-ass people with nowhere to go. And ‘The Machine’—it’s a guy telling the story of being a victim of the Patriot Act. The machine—war, capitalism, all that. And after is ‘It’s Coming Down,’ to kind of battle that. The answer to that. There’s a large spiritual message that I received in there—from a gospel station in Compton. I’m definitely more spiritual than religious, but I’m able to take the spirituality of someone religious and have it communicate what I’ve been through.
So you were sampling sentiment as much as sound?
That’s what I think is dope about an instrumental record. If you listen to an instrumental jazz record, there’s an intellect there that does not have words. You’re able to draw conclusions and feelings. With this record, I kind of have a little phrase that’ll push you in a certain direction of thought. With hip-hop—especially intellectual hip-hop—someone does all the thinking for you. You’re just taken for the ride. With an instrumental record, I have a dialogue with the listener. They’re allowed to converse with me with their own thoughts without me being there.
I thought you’d take a rest after Dirty Science. This seems even more ambitious.
The last one was showing my beat skills, first off, and showing how I can produce a song with other artists—my songmaking capabilities. And showing how I can work with all these artists and make a coherent album. I wanted to make sure it was one coherent piece. I made it exactly how I wanted it made, but I don’t think it made the impact I hoped. But I was able to do that with Blu and Exile for sure. The label is at fault for a lot of things. The Blu and Exile record was sold out for a really long time—selling on Amazon for like $35 and I don’t know why they’re not repressing it. There was a lot of weird stuff going on back then. It was a huge learning experience. Basically we had someone great for giving us a place to record and being really supportive of the whole creative side. But there were a lot of lies as far as the business was concerned. We suffered in a lot of weird ways.
How do you feel about this new movement of L.A. beatmakers?
I love all Lotus’ stuff. I love all the new L.A. beatheads. I’m part of that as well. But I was definitely looking at it like I’d been doing it a lot longer and some of the cats were getting a way bigger shine than me. And I had to transform any seeds of jealousy into inspiration. I had to really sit back and be thankful that these artists exist for the art form. That’s how I look at it now—be thankful for all these artists in L.A. that are really pushing the envelope, and giving me inspiration to do the same. There was actually a time Lotus was asking me about Sound In Color. He was gonna do 1983 with them. Now I’m trying to surround myself with people I really trust. Hopefully I have the right type of—not judgment, but insight.
How does it feel to watch young Exile on the DJ Dusk’s Root Down Soundclash DVD?
I love it! I love that I’m on that—happy to be part of a wonderful piece of history. I’m trying to take my live set to another level. Equal parts live stuff to stuff that is not live.
Does that explain your recent series of MPC acrobatics videos?
I come from a pretty long lineage of musicians and I’m trying to do what I think my father would want me to do. Trying to figure out how to make the MPC a live instrument. I play drums and all that—I plan on making live records in my lifetime. Sooner if not later. That’s what’s missing from what I do—the live aspect. When you’re at a show, that energy is communicated to the audience. They can feel it and I can feel it. Basically it’s a rebirth for hip-hop music to me—connecting on a live level. I’ve been practicing with the MPC as far as freestyle-type jams. I’m using it basically like a percussion instrument but also with knowledge of notes and where notes fit. And DJ Day is playing it like a straight-up piano. It’s a mix of being a musician and a beat juggler—some of it is like back-in-the-day DMC videos with the X-Men. But we’re trying to make it something people can still dance to—or they could sit and watch.
What’s your favorite mistake you’ve ever made?
On my MPC—before I even started making the Radio album—I always get these weird Spanish evangelical people yelling. And the radio isn’t even turned on! One time a song was playing really distorted, and I decided to sample it. It’s the outro of the song ‘In Tune.’ ‘Static,’ and that’s what that song is—radio frequencies that magically came through my MPC.
Is there still that magical aspect to radio?
Definitely. I listen to an interview of Chico Hamilton speak from his heart about music—I’ll tell you this—I pray and I’m not a real religious person. I pray for spiritual things. I prayed I’d be able to communicate the message of love or whatever quote-unquote God is through this album. I’d sit and listen to Chico Hamilton speak his heart about what music is to him and I’d definitely have spiritual moments just listening to the radio and manipulating it. ‘The Sound Is God’—I cried tears when I made that song. It’s an amazing thing, especially for non-live music. I really shared a moment through the radio and the MPC with that song. Listening to an artist speak their mind is wonderful. I had great experiences.
What kind of things do you think your dad would have liked to see in your music?
As a youth he played in a band called the Lost and Found—they released a record in Phoenix. I can’t find it anywhere. I always had music around me. He was experimenting with drugs a lot so he wasn’t in my life, but just enough to show me his love for music. He taught music at a little shop—Al Manfredi Guitar and Drum studio in Garden Grove. A lot of my ancestors were artistic—my father and grandfather—and it does pass down to me through blood and spirituality in some magical way. I also have painters in my family tree, and I’m a graffiti painter. It’s wild how it came to me. On my mom’s side—I found out I have Mexican blood in me. Family in Agua Caliente. Some of my ancestors went down there and had some kids. One of my great grandfathers lied his way into royalty. He was caught stealing money at the post office and his father disowned him. ‘Ok, I’ll change my name’—my mom has his name to this day—‘and become a great man and you won’t get any credit!’ So he charmed his way into meeting all kinds of royalty from India to Africa. He had all the weapons he got from these journeys. He got knighted! There’s a whole museum dedicated to him in Australia. Sir Oliver Bainbridge. I should find the name he used in Australia.
What’s the best thing you ever lied your way into?
I can sneak into the movies with Jedi powers. I walked up to the ticketer and just pointed and walked in without saying anything. I snuck in my mom before, too. I’m good at sneaking in. And I can do pizza scams. ‘I got a pizza and it’s overcooked.’ And boom—a new pizza just appears!
What did you think when Mobb Deep asked for one of your beats?
Blu was there when I was making that beat. It was still during the Dirty Science part of my career, and we were like, ‘We should get Jeru on this!’ I have to give Blu credit for getting that project together. He had an idea of how to flip the sample. He sang it out. I just had that beat for a while, and Aloe had sung to it before, and eventually Mobb Deep just hit me up.
A childhood dream fulfilled?
Definitely. I used to practice scratching and I’d set up a daydream in my head where KRS-ONE was on stage and Kenny Parker—his DJ at the time—was sick. ‘Is anybody out there who can scratch?’ ‘I can, sir!’ And then I’d start practicing scratching as if I were on stage with KRS-ONE. Later I made a few songs with him. I’ve been on stage with him. I almost DJed with him. Blu got on stage and KRS-ONE shouted my name. My daydream in 8th grade and it manifested to some degree in my late twenties!
Who is the speaker monk and where does he come from?
This is probably a larger story than you want. I have a video I directed for Radio—a stop-animation video! I always had the image of the speaker cross tied in for the cover. So I have a video where I’m sitting around making beats and I hear a knock at the door, and a speaker peeks its head in. I tell it to come in and twenty speakers gather around me, and I start making a beat and I accidentally blow a speaker! And they get scared and run—‘No, come back! I didn’t mean to!’ They’re outside and the TV comes up and tries to use their fear of me to join them in getting revenge on me. So they join him—and you see the speaker cross built in the video. It rises and has the TV in the middle. He’s the manipulator. So the monks try to get me to praise this cross and I’m fighting. I break free and grab the radio and it put it over the TV, and all these electric rays shoot at the monks, and then I’m willing to praise the cross once the speaker is attached to it. That doesn’t answer your question but the speaker monks are just like mysterious monks from a mysterious planet who worship radio and sound. That’s the best way I can describe it!