This Record Store Day, UGHH has decided to celebrate a hand-picked mix of still-active underground legends with recent releases, canonized underground icons and a couple of cult favorites—creating exclusive sale bundles to salute some of the artists who have made a significant impact on the culture. In doing so, we aim to illustrate underground hip-hop’s longevity—as well as its staying power.

There has been a lot of debate about the state of the underground, recently. Some believe that, thanks to internet technology and the power it gives independent artists to reach wider fan bases, the underground has become the new mainstream—while others attest that, as long as a corporate music industry controls the majority of what does and doesn’t become successful on a mainstream level (despite some exceptions), the underground will continue to exist. Although it is clear that exactly what the underground is has evolved since the polarized “Rawkus Era” of the late ’90s, when emcees were either “independent as fuck” (to quote Company Flow’s old motto) or soulless commercial puppets (with no in-between), we at UGHH subscribe to the ideology that being dubbed underground is more than just an indication of one’s financial status or level of notoriety—and know firsthand that, musically, the underground is very much alive and healthy.

 
Speaking of Rawkus Records, considering that it’s funding was actually provided by the son of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, maybe the financial divide between underground and mainstream hip-hop was always a little more complex than once perceived. Regardless, unlike many mainstream artists (who tend to come and go, catering to a fickle corporate music industry that’ll sign and discard talent at the drop of a mixtape), underground emcees and producers often maintain longer, more influential careers. Just ask DOOM, Pharoahe Monch or El-P, to name a few—and try to remember all the one-hit wonders with platinum singles that came and went during the 30 odd years each have been in the game.

In the words of the great DJ Premier, who recently dropped his second PRhyme project with Royce Da 5’9” and remains as influential as ever: “Underground will live forever, baby. We just like roaches: never dyin’, always livin’…”

 

“And on that note, let’s get back to the program…” — Preemo

 

This year, underground Long Island legend Roc Marciano released the sequel to his gritty, soulful masterpiece Rosebudd’s Revenge, one of “UGHH’s Top 10 of 2017”—a contender for one of 2018’s best, as well. Though RR2: The Bitter Dose is only available to pre-order, the original joins his album with former group The UN, UN or U Out, his solo debut Marcberg, his sophomore release Reloaded and his 2013 mixtape The Pimpire Strikes Back in our Roc Marci vinyl bundle.

Having released one of this year’s strongest albums to date, we felt it only right to salute versatile Detroit producer and emcee Black Milk with a bundle. The CD version contains his three most recent joints: No Poison No Paradise, If There’s a Hell Below and, his latest, FEVER—as well as his collaborative project with Danny Brown, Black and Brown! Though FEVER is not yet available on wax, the vinyl bundle includes all of the other aforementioned albums, in addition to Tronic and Album of the Year.

One of the most consistent and celebrated artists the underground has ever spawned, London-born, Long Island-raised DOOM is a cultural icon. With over a dozen albums and collaborative projects under his belt, created using various aliases, the masked super villain has not slowed his conquest for world domination—releasing his most recent collaboration with Czarface this year. In our CD bundle, Czarface Meets Metal Face is offered alongside his fraternal group KMD’s Black Bastards, his solo debut Operation: Doomsday, Madvillainy (his Madvillain collaboration with Madlib), his sophomore album under the MF DOOM moniker, Mm.. Food, and The Mouse and the Mask (by DANGERDOOM, his group with Danger Mouse). In the vinyl bundle, Mm.. Food is replaced by KMD’s first album, Mr. Hood.

What is there to say about Detroit legend J Dilla that hasn’t already been said. Considered the G.O.A.T. by many, Dilla influenced an entire generation of producers—and his signature style has been emulated time and time again. One of the most original, timeless and universally-loved artists hip-hop has to offer, Jay Dee unquestionably made his mark on the game before passing in 2006. Our CD bundle includes his early work with Slum Village (Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1 and Fantastic, Vol. 2), Ruff Draft and his Champion Sound album with Madlib (as Jaylib)—while the vinyl version swaps Donuts for Ruff Draft, and also includes posthumous releases The Shining and The Diary.

Before his untimely death in 2015, Brooklyn representative Sean Price had already become an underground icon in his own right. One of rap’s most consistent lyricists, his tongue-in-cheek wordplay and inimitable, pocketed flow earned him the number one spot on UGHH’s Top 10 of 2017″ list for his posthumous masterpiece Imperius Rex last year. Though he established himself as half of Heltah Skeltah and a member of the Boot Camp Clik, to celebrate his memory, we’ve created a vinyl bundle of his always-stellar solo studio projects: Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Supastar, Mic Tyson, Songs in the Key of Price and Imperius Rex.

Hailing from Connecticut, Apathy is a Northeastern fan-favorite who built a rep as part of the Demigodz crew. In 2017, he released the acclaimed self-titled Perestroika, a group project with D.I.T.C.’s own O.C., and followed it up with a solo offering this year. The Widow’s Son features a ridiculous cast of collaborators including Pharoahe Monch, M.O.P. and AG, as well as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Nottz and Buckwild on production—and both albums join Weekend at the Cape, The Black Lodge, Honkey Kong, Connecticut Casual, Handshakes With Snakes and Dive Medicine: Chapter 1 in our CD bundle, while the vinyl version excludes Weekend at the Cape, The Black Lodge and Honkey Kong.

Elusive, Bronx-bred trio the Juggaknots are true artists’ artists—revered by practically every emcee that arose from New York City’s underground hip-hop scene in the late ’90s. Though the all-sibling group of Breeze Brewin, Buddy Slim and Queen Herawin only release projects every decade or so, their existing two studio albums, Breeze’s starring role on Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves and some sporadic vinyl releases have managed to uphold the group’s legacy—despite most of their projects’ limited availability. Just last year, over 20 years after its release, a reissue of their classic self-titled debut flew off of UGHH’s shelves—so we decided to secure some rare 12″ vinyl singles (“She Loves Me Not,” “New $/Sumday,” “WKRP In NYC/Generally/J-Solo” and “Berzerkowitz”), as well as the even rarer CD mixtape The Love Deluxe Movement, straight from the source and offer them as part of our exclusive Juggaknots bundle.

Contrast is a powerful creative tool, reflected in Black Milk’s very name and impeccably utilized on his latest studio album, FEVER. Emotionally raw, yet melodically polished, the well-balanced LP drops Friday, February 23 on Mass Appeal/Computer Ugly—and could easily be a case study on the artistic principle.

Musically, it is a bit of a departure from the renowned Detroit producer and emcee’s last two solo projects, which were much more somber and menacing in tone. An organically soulful cocktail of jazz fusion and funk-infused rhythms, with a twist of electronic textures for good measure, FEVER is one of the artist’s most fluid bodies of work to date. Lyrically, the project showcases some dismal, sharp and thought-provoking commentary about modern society and the current sociopolitical climate in America—touching on everything from institutionalized education and organized religion (“True Lies”) to “fake woke” misogynists and the emotional effects of social media addiction (“Laugh Now Cry Later”), as well as capitalism’s taxing toll on human relationships (“Foe Friend”) and much more. The result is a complex listening experience that is paradoxically hard to swallow, but somehow still manages to go down smooth.

Hip-hop is full of rapping beat makers and self-producing emcees, but few who are equally as talented on both the MPC and the mic. Even fewer continue to push the envelope in both disciplines throughout their careers, and fewer still have as much to say as Black Milk. FEVER is indicative of his growth, both as a producer and songwriter—and as a man. UGHH spoke to the multi-talented artist about how the energy on FEVER developed, his ever-evolving creative process, social media-induced anxiety and the Random Axe sequel that would have been, were it not for the untimely passing of group mate Sean Price.

YOU’RE GOOD AT CRAFTING A UNIQUE SOUND FOR EVERY PROJECT, WHETHER YOU GO MORE SOULFUL, ELECTRONIC, JAZZY OR WHEREVER WITH IT. WHAT WAS THE VIBE YOU WERE GOING FOR WITH FEVER?

It was one of the first times where I kinda wanted to do a vibe that was I guess a little more laid back, a little more calmer—more vibe-y, I should say, than my previous projects… That was just the natural wave I was on, at the time, when creating the album. Wasn’t any particular reason. That’s kinda what I was trying to go for sonically. In terms of the topic, I named the album FEVER [to represent] the temperature being kind of high, in the climate that we’re in—in the world and the country, with all the craziness that’s going on… Everybody’s emotions [are] on edge. It seems like most people, no matter what side of the fence you’re on (in terms of politics), have anger [about] what’s going on.

SONICALLY, IT’S A LITTLE MORE… I DON’T KNOW IF THE WORD WOULD BE UPBEAT, OR JUST REAL SMOOTH… I WAS WONDERING WHAT KINDA HEAD SPACE YOU WERE IN WHEN YOU WERE CREATING FEVER, AND HAS IT CHANGED AT ALL SINCE YOU DROPPED IF THERE’S A HELL BELOW?

I think with every album, especially with a person like me that drops albums every two or three years, it’s more so just always a reflection of where I’m at personally, at that time. It’s the same with this new album. It’s just kind of reflective of where I’m at in the world I’m living in at this moment—’cause this world is different than the world we was living in, or the world I was living in, three years ago… This album was kinda made with the new president [and] the new government that we have [in mind], and … [with] all of the issues that’s going on right now in the world, so that’s why the vibe of the album is kinda like up and down sometimes.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT STRUCK ME WAS THE JUXTAPOSITION OF THE CONCEPTS AND THE SOUNDS, ’CAUSE YOU’RE DROPPING REAL HEAVY BARS OVER … ETHEREAL KIND OF BEATS.

Yeah, a little more feel-good type… [Laughs].

YEAH. WAS THAT BY DESIGN, OR DID IT JUST KIND OF NATURALLY HAPPEN THAT WAY?

Yeah, I can say honestly man, I started the album before a lot of these issues and this new presidency kinda came about. I started the album before everything happened, a little over a year ago, so when I originally went into it, yeah, it was kinda … like, “I’ma make a feel-good album.” You know what I’m sayin’? “I’m gonna make something with feel-good vibes on it, ’cause I feel like my last two—Hell Below and No Poison—those were more dark albums. I’ma change lanes a little bit and do something with a little more feel-good vibes into it.” Like I said, the weight of the world pushed me into a whole other space. I kinda was forced to still talk about some things that might have a darker tone to it, so that’s why you kinda get a mixture of some of those good vibes with some of those darker vibes—it’s just ’cause that was my intention, originally, but the world just didn’t allow me to stay on that [laughs].

LISTENING TO “LAUGH NOW CRY LATER” FEELS JUST LIKE SCROLLING THROUGH MY TIMELINE ON SOCIAL MEDIA… YOU REALLY CAPTURE THAT WEIRD COMBINATION OF DEPRESSION, ANXIETY AND ANGER AT THE STATE OF THE WORLD, MIXED WITH MOMENTS OF HUMOR AND ENTERTAINMENT—AND IT’S LIKE FLIPPING THROUGH EMOTIONS LIKE TV CHANNELS. EVEN SONICALLY, WITH THAT FRENETIC, ALMOST DIGITAL SOUNDING BASS LINE AND THE EFFECT ON THE VOCAL SAMPLE, YOU WAS REALLY DOING SOME WORD PAINTIN’ THERE. WERE YOU TRYING TO CREATE THAT EFFECT, WHERE THE BEAT MIMICS THE CONCEPT?

Yeah, that particular song started with the beat—and the actual song concept, the lyrics, kinda came from a conversation I was having with one of my friends about that particular subject… Man, do people really realize the kinda emotional roller coaster that they’re on when they’re scrolling through social media, [or] just being online in general, on a daily basis? … I don’t really know if people really are aware of how they’ll be furious about one topic one minute, and then just see a meme or something about that same topic that will change their entire emotion five minutes later, you know what I’m sayin’? … That’s where the concept for the lyrics came from.

WHEN I FIRST PEEPED “LAUGH NOW CRY LATER,” I COULDN’T HELP BUT THINK OF THAT GUILTY SIMPSON LINE FROM “CHEWBACCA” OFF THE RANDOM AXE PROJECT. WAS THAT AT ALL INTENTIONAL? WAS THERE ANY BEHIND THE SCENES CONNECTION OR INSPIRATION THERE?

[Laughs]. Yeah, definitely! After I had the conversation with my guy about what we was talking about (that gave me the idea for the song), I don’t know why that phrase “laugh now, cry later” came to my head. Of course we all know it’s a popular phrase—it’s been around—but when I thought of the phrase, I naturally thought of Guilty because, on the flip side, that was my favorite bar of the entire Random Axe album. That’s like one of my favorite Guilty Simpson lines ever. “I’ll carve a smile right next to your frown, like laugh now, cry later.” I love that line, so I naturally thought of that line when I thought of the title… [Laughs]. Guilty definitely was in mind when I put the record together.

IT MAKES SENSE, TOO, ’CAUSE THE RANDOMNESS OF SCROLLING THROUGH THE TIMELINE AND SEEING ALL THE DIFFERENT STUFF KINDA GOES IN LINE WITH THE IDEA BEHIND RANDOM AXE.

[Laughs]. You’re right. Exactly!

SPEAKING OF WHICH, I HEARD A RUMOR THAT RANDOM AXE WAS WORKING ON A SECOND ALBUM BEFORE P’S PASSING. WAS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THAT?

Yeah, definitely. We definitely was on our way to jump into that. That’s why I had the Random Axe feature on my last album, If There’s a Hell Below. I can’t think of the song title right now, off top, but it was the song with Random Axe on my last album… That was supposed to be the planted seed and the spark to get everybody excited for the Random Axe project, ’cause that was literally the next project that I was gon’ work on after Hell Below dropped—but unfortunately P passed, so we ain’t get a chance to get that project done.

THE SONG WAS “SCUM,” I THINK.

Yeah, “Scum!” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DID YOU GUYS RECORD ANY MATERIAL FOR THAT?

Nah, that record was the newest record that we had recorded. We didn’t get a chance to record anything after that, after Hell Below. That’s pretty much the last official Random Axe song that’s ever been recorded. I know P had a lot of verses that he recorded, but it didn’t feel right just trying to put something together and it not being the actual process with all three of us in the room. I didn’t wanna make it low budget like that, just for the sake of having another project.

YOU’VE DROPPED SOME [OTHER] CLASSIC COLLABORATIVE ALBUMS, [TOO]. ANY THOUGHT TO WHO ELSE YOU’D WANNA LINK WITH FOR A FULL PROJECT, IN THE FUTURE?

Not really anybody in particular, but I definitely wanna do more collaborations. The last couple of months, I’ve been getting in the studio with a few different artists and producing just records and songs. Hopefully those records will come out.

ANYONE YOU CAN NAME?

I want to, but you know how that goes… [Laughs].

YOU KNOW I HAD TO ASK, THOUGH [LAUGHS].

Of course! I been gettin’ in the studio with names people are familiar with—a couple of newer artists that’s on the up-and-coming that have pretty good followings, right now—so hopefully some of them records come out. Right now, that’s kinda been my thing (besides doing my own solo stuff), is trying to make more of an effort—’cause I didn’t make too much of an effort in the past—to do more collaboration work with different artists.

MIKE [KING], THE OWNER OF UGHH, WAS WONDERING WHY YOU AND BLU HAVEN’T DROPPED A “BLACK & BLU” PROJECT.

[Laughs]. I know, man. It’d seem like the obvious. Me and Blu actually talked about that a while ago, a long time [ago], but it’s just one of them things where we just never got a around to it. The idea was always there… Me and Blu got the chance to work on a few records together, but never got the chance to do a full LP.

[BACK TO HELL BELOW], ON “WHAT IT’S WORTH” YOU SAID YOU “NEVER WAS ONE TO GO TO ANOTHER ONE JUST TO FEEL VALIDATED” IN REGARDS TO “WORKIN’ WITH THE LATEST OUT.” … IS THAT WHY YOU CHOSE NOT TO FEATURE ANY OTHER EMCEES ON [FEVER]?

Not necessarily, man. When I went into the album, I really didn’t have any features in mind—and by the time I got around toward the end of the process of the album, I kinda noticed that, “Damn, I didn’t really put any features, especially rap features, on the album.” But I was pretty much done, and I feel like I got my message and point across … without having to have any features disrupt that, so I was like, “I’ll shoot for that on the next album, and be more conscious about it.” It wasn’t on my mind at the time, actually. I was just writing all of the lyrics and not even thinking about features. I didn’t really realize it until I was done at the end, like, “Damn, I didn’t even really put no features on this joint.” [Laughs].

WELL, YOU DO HAVE SOME DOPE MUSICIANS INVOLVED—LIKE CHRIS “DADDY” DAVE AND DARU JONES ON DRUMS. HOW’D YOU LINK WITH THEM?

I just started kickin’ it with Chris recently, bein’ out here [in L.A.]—bein’ in similar circles. Me being a fan of him as a musician, and [him being] a fan of me as an artist, we’ve been gettin’ in the studio lately, just working. It was just one of those things where I had him come through and play on some stuff—and then with Daru, I’ve just known Daru for a long ass time, man. You know, he played on my album Album of the Year, which was back in 2010, so it was good for me and Daru to link back up for the first time in like eight years… I [also] had one guitarist playing all the guitar parts you hear on the album, a young up-and-coming musician named Sasha [Kashperko] from Detroit. All of the [keyboard] parts you hear is this cat named Ian Finkelstein, another young, really dope keyboard player out of Detroit. Those two were kinda like the glue for the entire album. There was me, of course, doing what I do with production, and having Ian and Sasha do what they do, as musicians … adding that additional musical element on top. I gotta really give it up to those guys.

I WAS WATCHING THAT VIDEO YOU POSTED—THE “FEVER STUDIO SESSION” JOINT—AND I WAS WONDERING ABOUT YOUR PROCESS. I’M SURE IT DIFFERS A LITTLE FROM TRACK TO TRACK, BUT A LOT OF THE VIDEO WAS YOU KIND OF DIRECTING THOSE MUSICIANS INVOLVED—AND I WANTED TO KNOW, ARE Y’ALL ESSENTIALLY CREATING YOUR OWN SAMPLES TO CHOP UP?

For the most part, with me, my process always still—from the beginning all the way to this day, I should say—is always built from records… Just digging. Diggin’ for dope records, and dope music and dope artists (stuff that’s untapped). A lot of the times, I either go chop it up myself in the drum machine—make a beat out of it and maybe have some musicians [play] on top of it—or there’s other times where I might just hear something and I might just have the band totally cover it, you know what I’m sayin’? Cover what I’m hearing or what I like—a melody that I might have caught on the record—and be like, “Yo man, listen, let’s do something like this. Let’s build on this, right here.” I might either leave what they did alone, or I might even take what they done and chop it up and make something crazy. Yeah, it could vary… There’s tracks on the album, for example a track like “True Lies,” which [are] entirely live. I didn’t take anything on there [and chop it up]. That’s all of them guys just playing straight through. [Then there are tracks like] “Laugh Now Cry Later,” or you could say something like “Will Remain,” where you hear the beat and you could hear the extra live guitar sprinkles of beat on top. It just varies.

I NOTICED YOU’RE USING A TOUCH NOW (THE MPC TOUCH). HAVE YOU STOPPED USING THE 3000 ALTOGETHER, OR DO YOU USE DIFFERENT MACHINES TO ACHIEVE DIFFERENT SOUNDS?

This album was entirely [made] programming on the MPC software, inside the MPC Touch, and working in Ableton, as well—and Pro Tools. That’s kinda been my production foundation for the past year.

HOW DOES CREATING BEATS THE WAY YOU DO NOW, AS OPPOSED TO TRADITIONALLY SAMPLING STRAIGHT FROM THE RECORD INTO THE MPC AND JUST PUTTING IT OUT LIKE THAT, [EFFECT YOUR WRITING PROCESS]? DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT CHANGES YOUR APPROACH TO SONGWRITING, AT ALL?

Somewhat… I’ve never done away with any of the stuff that I used to do, totally. You could still hear elements of what I used to do maybe on my first album, Popular Demand, all the way up to now. It’s more so about just me adding extra layers on what I’ve started and just keep growing… With each album, you’re gonna get a little bit of something that maybe reminds you of something from the past, but it’s gonna still be something fresh, and new and progressive… I still dig for records, I still chop up samples, I still work with musicians—and I’ve been doing that for a while now. Definitely my songwriting has probably changed more than anything, in comparison to my production. I take that way more serious than I did probably when I was younger, on my first album—’cause at this age, and with all the stuff that’s going on in the world, I feel like I have way more to say.

Follow El Scribes on Twitter: @ElScribes.

BROWSE AVAILABLE BLACK MILK PRODUCTS IN THE UGHH STORE.