Strong Arm Steady Talks Stereotype, Ghostwriting, and New-School Legacy

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  • Strong Arm Steady_Intro
    Strong Arm Steady Talks <em>Stereotype</em>, Ghostwriting, and New-School Legacy
    <a href="http://strongarmsteady.net/premium/">Strong Arm Steady</a> was and still is a crucial imprint, which molded the current lane of west coast rap that infuses both elements of gangster forte and conscious foresight. The Los Angeles group, originally a collective of producers and MCs, has been definitive force in the west coast mixtape arena, churning out series of battle-tested materials that earned the respect of both underground enthusiasts and west coast OGs including Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. With Xzibit departing from the group as the frontman in '06, Strong Arm Steady has since become a tight-knit trio, with members Mitchy Slick, Phil Da Agony, and Krondon. While their label deal with Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Records momentarily held the group in a stalemate, Krondon reflects upon the experience as "valuable." After releasing a critically lauded collaboration project—<em>In Search of Stoney Jackson</em>—with Stones Throw's maestro Madlib in '09, and the long-delayed <em>Arms & Hammers</em> in '11, SAS has returned as an independent imprint with their latest project with Statik Selektah, <em>Stereotype</em> (<a href="http://strongarmsteady.net/music.php">available now</a>). While members Krondon and Phil Da Agony were recently in New York City, <em>XXL</em> sat down with the now west coast veterans on their new album, showing respect for the younger generation, and the art of ghostwriting. —<em>Jaeki Cho</em> (<a href="http://twitter.com/jaekicho">@JaekiCho</a>)
  • On Creating Stereotype with Statik Selektah
    On Creating <em>Stereotype</em> with Statik Selektah
    <strong>Krondon</strong>: “So once we were done with all our obligations with Blacksmith and did the <em>Arms & Hammers</em> record we had already started working on <em>Stereotype</em> with Statik. The album came out on August 14th this year, but we really started working on it in the fall of 2010.”<br /><br /><strong>Phil Da Agony</strong>: “We just started off doing a couple of songs. We did some stuff with his artist Reks and we were actually out here a few years, did couple songs, before we started the project. That relationship developed to Statik coming out west and saying, ‘You know what? Let’s put together a project.’ Even the Madlib project kind of came about in a similar way.”<br /><br /><strong>Krondon</strong>: “Yeah, well the thing I love about the album is it wasn’t done [via email exchanges]. We were in Statik’s basement and we’ll probably end up there today at some point. Yeah, Statik was actually with us ‘cause he’s a traveling man, so he’s in L.A a lot.”<br /><br /><strong>Phil Da Agony</strong>: “And when that didn’t happen we had a lot of Statik beats with us too that he left when he was there, and we had a lot of new artists that came through. We created studio sessions originally with them as well so it wasn’t like sending verses along with the beats. We created the magic right there in the studio. I don’t look at this album like an email back and forth.”
  • Linking with Indie Imprint Stones Throw Records
    Linking with Indie Imprint Stones Throw Records
    <strong>Krondon</strong>: “After <em>In Search of Stoney Jackson</em> and <em>Arms & Hammers</em> came out, our initial idea was to give <em>Stereotype</em> away as a free project. [Then] we got approached to do another Madlib record. It was something that we had talked about, but we weren’t concrete on it. After a couple of meetings with [Stones Throw] it just came. They have a good system and they’re an incredible label and have been for a long time. Peanut Butter Wolf really felt me and he gave us an opportunity to not just sign to Stones Throw and do a record, but also to create our own situation and bring him projects in which they get behind full force and we come together on a fifty-fifty situation. When we turned in the <em>Stereotype</em> album it was already done. It was completely mixed it was completely mastered. We had already shot two videos. And they’re an amazing team of people that understand music. Not just promoting and marketing, but the actual the curating of the music.”
  • On “Premium” Music Video Directed by Jerome D Hurd
    On “Premium” Music Video Directed by Jerome D Hurd
    <object width="620" height="400"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/rEdpMk5F0HA?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/rEdpMk5F0HA?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="400" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object><strong>Krondon</strong>: “That video, it has a lot to do honestly with [Jerome D Hurd] hearing the song. We always felt the song was trippy, and if you listen to the whole album, I think that’s the trippiest song. So Jerome felt like he needed something that was for the viewer. It was really like a mind fuck and it stayed with you for a while. Creating a wild mirage, it was his idea to bring the song to life. We’re talking about we got flashes, and he just wanted to make it as vivid as possible. Even though we have fly shit on, more concentrating on making us look like five of us [creating] a 3-D effect. We can’t take too much credit for it ‘cause a lot of those were his ideas. I was really happy with the way it was received, I was happy with it when I saw it and I got high. I would suggest watching that video in the dark, high. It’s the best shit ever man. One thing I regret, and I don’t know why, but I would’ve wanted to see more titties and asses. Because as I was watching it, I thought like, ‘If titties and ass pop up right now this is the best shit.’”
  • Molding a Lane for the Current Breed of L.A. Rappers
    Molding a Lane for the Current Breed of L.A. Rappers
    <strong>Krondon</strong>: “A lot of these records on <em>Stereotype</em> were developed early on. Especially the feature records. And in those processes we were catching [younger] cats before they’re known to the world. And no disrespect to the generation before us but unlike them, we’re the guys, speaking about Phil Da Agony and myself, we’re at Dom Kennedy’s first show at the Roxy. We’re bringing him bottles, congratulating him. And Casey, some of his first shit he’s done with us. Skeme’s first project, I recorded. Like I said, respectfully they understand, why there’s a lane for that. And I think that more so than any other region the west coast is bringing out more fresh and new talent because of that duality. We’re catering to both of them. Inside of one entity, inside Strong Arm Steady, inside Black Hippy, inside Casey Veggies, inside Dom Kennedy, inside Problem and Bad Lucc. You’re getting those things. It’s just a beautiful to be early in that vision. We came up at a time when we weren’t getting looked at by Cube or Dre. And those things we leaned from that, we persevered and got the respect from the [artists coming out now]. It’s important for us to embrace this new generation.”
  • On Ghostwriting for Other Artists
    On Ghostwriting for Other Artists
    <strong>Krondon</strong>: “A lot of writing for Xzibit, but not anymore. And of course Snoop Dogg, which is to me one of my peaks. I’ve written a lot of hooks for a lot of artists and some single hooks for cats like Talib Kweli, The Clipse, Raekwon. I don’t want to say too many more; I’m just going to say the ones that actually don’t mind me saying it. <br /><br /> “DJ Khalil, you know my brother [Phil Da Agony] here, cats around me that really believed in me. Talib Kweli and all. You see Snoop, and how much confidence he has in me as a writer for him to tell the world I wrote for him. I thought that was the most powerful thing. It was better than any check he ever gave me. It’s God and my team, and they believe in me.”
  • On Ghostwriting in Hip-Hop
    On Ghostwriting in Hip-Hop
    <strong>Krondon</strong>: “This music of hip-hop, or rap is the only genre where it’s only people who do it. But the fans of it, the media involved don’t consider it actually an art form. It’s a skill, it’s a talent but it’s not an art form. It’s not an art; the genre is not respected, ‘cause if it did questions like this would not create such a wave because all art is inspired from something else. Everything! When I first started working with Phil Da Agony, I was 19 years old, and Phil Da Agony had this line that he said, “Analyze the weakest link, so gangster I could wear pink, it’s all in the way a nigga think.” That was a part of his verse. And I’m in the studio, Khalil working on my 12-inch and came with this crazy fucking beat. I’m working on this record and I’m loving [Phil Da Agony’s] verse and I need a hook for this song and I think I called him up and said, “Bro, I want to use a piece of your verse that you said as the hook.”<br /><br />“Now, not knowing at the time that he wrote the hook! That’s the name of the song, “The Way A Nigga Think.” You see what I’m saying? I didn’t know this then. [Phil Da Agony] wrote the hook. He’s the ghostwriter of that hook. At the time I just wanted to make a good song. I think rap is the only genre where it’s about how big your chain is, how fly your car is, but it’s not about how good your song is. All this shit with Nas…R&B is okay, rock is okay, pop is okay but with rap its kind of…”<br /><br /><strong>Phil Da Agony</strong>: “It gets to a point where it don’t even matter. Once you get over that then you can get back to appreciating music. Like I bounced off of people that don’t even rap. I just hear what they saying and I’m like that’s great. Everybody is a ghostwriter in that sense. You hear a Beyoncé song and you say, Ne-Yo wrote that. You know? Whoever. Rap is still not as mature. They got to get used to that. [If] somebody has a ghostwriter they’re great enough to be able to let you ghost write. They’re comfortable in their artistry to bring other people in. Like Dre or Kanye or anybody. I don’t second-guess Kanye because he works with other producers, and he’s one of the best to ever do it. But we were lucky enough one time after the awards, Kanye won like a Grammy, I think one of his first Grammy’s, too. We were in the studio because Kweli was checking up for some beats. You would think [Kanye West would] be popping champagne, or celebrating, but he was in the fucking studio, going through beats, working. His work ethic isn’t to be questioned. Even though you might hear he went by Madlib’s studio and picked up some records. But he’s just in tune with shit. He’s not selfish with his music.”
  • On Staying Independent
    On Staying Independent
    <strong>Phil Da Agony</strong>: “We had one project that we did with Blacksmith, which was the <em>Arms & Hammers</em> record. And that record was out and that was sort of a one-off deal. The label deal was under Warner Bros. Record, and that fell into something else.”<br /><br /><strong>Krondon</strong>: “We were with our deal with Kweli for like a year via Warner, and then that moved over to Universal and then we came out of there. So that was a major label fuckery for us to experience and enough to last a lifetime for as long as I’m concerned. I mean you never know and never say never. We do enjoy being independent at this point. Even though you’re independent the one thing about DIY, which is you know, do it yourself. You got to be BYT and that’s build your team. So even though you’re independent you’re never really independent. You know you’re independent of bullshit. That’s what the complete statement is when people say “You’re independent?” You still have to deal with other people and other things and create other entities. To use a line from my brother Dom, “Use other people’s money and take things, resources and sources that you can to get to where you’re trying to go.” We’re just working right know. Strongarmsteady.net is kind of like our label."