ABOVE: G-SIDE IS YUNG CLOVA (RIGHT) AND ST 2 LETTAZ.
In today’s #Occupy landscape, independent Huntsville, Alabama rap duo G-Side might make the most relevant hip-hop music out there. Have a listen to iSLAND, their latest LP released on Bandcamp last Friday (via Slow Motion Soundz), and you’ll find they’re the ultimate rags-to-not-quite-riches MCs. They’re realists in the truest sense of the word: while other rappers rate chicks up to ten (or rather, a dime), G-Side only gives her a 7 (referencing how good she looks in her Seven jeans). ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova adeptly play with phrases like these atop cinematic, lushly sample-driven backdrops courtesy of longtime producers, Block Beattaz, all the while modestly stacking chips via PayPal. Nowadays, who needs a bank account anyway?
While Clova still cuts hair for cash on the side (while listening to himself on NPR, of course), he admits, he’d still like to go “major” someday. And that day may come sooner than later, if iSLAND is any indication. We were glad to chat with the working half of underground hip-hop’s best-kept secret.
MARCUS HOLMLUND: Why do you guys use Bandcamp’s platform to release your music online?
YUNG CLOVA: Dope thing about Bandcamp, and why we keep coming back to it is, basically, money-wise. Since we not a major and we independent, we can get our money quicker. It also gives you the information we need as an independent to connect with our fans. As far as females, as far as who bought it where, who bought it when, you know, really how much it was purchased wherever…
HOLMLUND: It’s kind of like Big Brother, in a way. You can read into where people are buying and listening to your stuff?
CLOVA: Yeah, that’s exactly it—where they bought it, what time they bought it. It’s valuable information that it gives us, especially when we touring. We know where our fans at.
HOLMLUND: Tell me with your last effort you put out on Bandcamp, The ONE… Cohesive. What information did that LP give you?
CLOVA: Probably, that we were getting most of our downloads coming out of places overseas…
HOLMLUND: Why do you think that is?
CLOVA: I mean, I don’t wanna call us “Internet rappers,” but in a way, with most of our albums, the word has spread over the Internet, so it reaches all the way overseas. I think because of that, we’ve been getting big there—people must be searching for a lot of music over in Norway and Sweden or something, because they’re definitely feeling what we doing. We got a lot of fans there.
HOLMLUND: When it comes to your sound, you’ve really made your mark by coining it the “Alabama” or “Huntsville” sound. Why do you think people in Norway and overseas are feeling it so hard?
CLOVA: I would say because it’s more pop than gutter. Or somewhere in between there, really. We bring both sounds together and mix ’em. It’s like if we take a Madonna sample, for example, we’ll slow it down, put some 808’s up under [it], and make it where the pop people can listen to it and the more “gutter” people, if that’s what you wanna call it, can listen to it. It’s kind of fast and slow at the same time, you know what I mean? Both sounds at once. We create a sound that’s probably not like anything you’ve ever heard before.
HOLMLUND: It’s really interesting that your sound, coming out of Huntsville, caught the big ears of some highbrow news publications, namely NPR, which has covered you a lot in the past few years. How did that come about?
CLOVA: They found us, I think, initially, doing music festivals. And with them trying to push us up, we started doing favors back for them. I mean, I’m not trying to say we helped blow them up—they’ve been doing their thing for years, you know—they’ve been around for awhile. But, them taking one of our singles that they heard at SXSW and blowing it up, you know, we had to do things back. That’s probably why we all up on NPR now. [laughs]
HOLMLUND: A lot of people have been asking who does your graphics lately. Like the first album and the second album were one thing, and then for this one [iSLAND] and your last effort, Cohesive, it was something totally unexpected…
CLOVA: Yeah, a guy by the name of John Turner coming out of New York’s been doing ’em. He’s known as a painter and when we were in New York awhile back, we had him do pieces for some other artists we know and it looked real nice, so, he kind of joined our team and has been doing paintings and covers for us ever since. He captures G-Side a lot with his covers.
HOLMLUND: When you guys create and get in the studio, do you already have verses written? How do you write for an album?
CLOVA: Our phones… our phones are our number-one notebooks. We download a notepad [app] and usually write when we get the basis for a track from the Block Beattaz. Our producers, you know, they have a beat’s corpse down—it’s never really finished until the very last minute. We start doing our verses over it and send it back to them and when it comes back to us finished, it’s always big.
HOLMLUND: So, your producers don’t give you a finished beat beforehand to write to? They just hand you a small piece…?
CLOVA: They usually give us a skeleton. The skeleton ain’t got no heart. It ain’t breathing yet, it ain’t got no skin—it’s like a rough, rough copy—something that’s still real, real dope that we can kick it and write to, but ain’t a finished track. We spit over that and since I got a studio at my house, I can spit on the shit at home, and put it in the Dropbox and the Block Beattaz’ll get it and take it from there and build the finished beat around our vocals and make it sound real major.
HOLMLUND: What are your days like these days? You wake up…
CLOVA: ST wake up and can’t eat until he blaze. I get up, I’m a religious dude, so, I do my prayers. I got a job, so, I got to go to work. And then after I get out, it’s time to make music, you know.
HOLMLUND: You have a job outside of recording and touring?
CLOVA: Yeah, I cut hair. Haven’t been doing it much lately, though, ’cause of the tour and recording schedule we keep.
HOLMLUND: What can we expect to hear on this new album?
CLOVA: This time we actually tried to make music for us to perform on stage. We always touring, so, it was important to us to make music that sounded good performing [it] for an audience. We realized over the past three years that going city-to-city building our fan base, we needed music that get the crowd moving. We’re not into pleasing the critics. We’re more about performing our shit well and giving people a good show. This album’s all about high-energy, music that gets the crowd interacting.
HOLMLUND: I know your producers, the Block Beattaz, are your family… are there any new people involved with this project?
CLOVA: Parallel Thoughts we did some stuff with last week in New Jersey. It’s cool ’cause every new producer brings something new to the table—you know, they bring they vision to how they want our flow to sound or whatever. You gotta work with their mindframe. Everybody got their own style.
HOLMLUND: Any beat you wish you guys could’ve had?
CLOVA: Hm… I’d have to say “Niggas In Paris” off Jay-Z and Kanye’s album. I love that shit.
HOLMLUND: Kanye and Jay-Z have both shown their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. How do you guys feel about the whole thing?
CLOVA: I’m happy. We feel good. I mean, as I said, we just some country boys and we never thought we’d be in the kind of position where our business was out there and getting put in magazines next to these CEO’s and stuff. It’s like a dream come true. But, yeah, the Occupy stuff is cool. Keep it going…
HOLMLUND: Tell me a little bit about the title of your latest, iSLAND…
CLOVA: Huntsville isn’t a big, big city. It’s our home, and it’s our music. We wanted the title to reflect how our city is basically an island where there’s all this big stuff built around us—you know, Atlanta, Nashville and all the cities that got the major labels—we right in the middle of it. You would think that ’cause we in the middle, that we could get the music scene bigger than it is and make more noise. We want to show that we versatile. That we can spit over any sort of beat and make it hot. We want people to take more notice of our city. We out here on this little island by ourself, we ain’t got no major’s, and we trying to make it, so, that’s where the title comes from.
HOLMLUND: There are other artists coming out Huntsville that have been getting noticed by big names like Diplo, namely the PRGz…
CLOVA: Yeah. And we got nothing but love for them. Them the big homies. We always see them out grinding… we always looked up to them when we first met the Slow Motion crew. They some of our favorite artists.
HOLMLUND: You’re still independent and you talk about the major labels in other cities around you… would you guys ever be interested in signing to a major label deal?
CLOVA: Yeah. We have no problem with the major labels… all we ask for is creative control and that they treat us fair. We’ve got a sound and a feeling that we like to do, so, we don’t want our albums to come out sounding like somebody else. Just to be treated like we humans, not robots.
HOLMLUND: Anyone you’d love to collaborate with at that level?
CLOVA: I could name a lot of ’em, but, I’d have to say right now—Lady Gaga.
HOLMLUND: Lady Gaga?
CLOVA: Lady Gaga, ’cause she dope. She be on some whole other, other shit. She’s kind of like how we are in the rap game. We do our own thing and we be on some whole other, other stuff, too. We’d do a dope track with her. She ain’t even gotta say much… have her hum on the track or something and we’d flip it, man. Make it real major.