Yesterday, you got to read part 1 of ourÂ interviewÂ with Thes One and now we have the second & finalÂ portion of this in-depth conversation with the People Under The Stairs member. In part 2 of my discussion with Thes One,Â the veteran emcee/producerÂ provides some amazing insight thatÂ makes this a must read for fans and artists alike.Â Thes talks about how to make album releases an event once again in the digital age, the instant gratification attitude of fans today, why artists should not put their work on Spotify, his thoughts on Mac Miller usingÂ the “San Francisco Knights” instrumental and gives us an update on his solo album Wonderful Radio.
Justin: With Piecelock, you have a few artists other than yourselves on there like Headnodic and DJ Day. What was the reason behind bringing them in? Was it just your past relationships and how are you going forward with adding more artists, or not?
Thes: Yeah I mean weâ€™re all likeminded, weâ€™re all friends. We have past working relationships and most importantly if youâ€™re a member of this, you gotta work to. This isnâ€™t a situation like a label where you can turn your record in and play Xbox all day long while you wait for it to come out. Dudes gotta be calling the plant, overseeing manufacturing, in charge and in touch with their fans. And so the people that are down with Piecelock right now are those kinds of individuals. Weâ€™re all working together, so we canâ€™t have a weak link.
Justin: One of the things you addressed recently on the Piecelock site was fans were asking about why you werenâ€™t putting the new album on the streaming service Spotify. What was your mindset in not putting the album on there and how do you think that works with keeping your dedicated fan base, but trying to grow it at the same time?
Thes: The thing about Spotify that we just realized recently once we saw the first accounting from Spotifyâ€¦ because we had done a test run, we had re-released Stepfather. We put that up through all the different avenues — we put it up on iTunes, we put it on Spotify, here and there. We obviously didnâ€™t want to release the new record and be flying blind and not know where the money was coming in and how. And I was absolutely shocked to see how little money comes in from Spotify. It was like a .0001% compared to iTunes. So Iâ€™ve told a lot of people I know, friends of mine like say Ugly Duckling whoâ€™s getting ready to release their record, put it up on iTunes or do whatever you gotta do but absolutely do not put the whole record on Spotify. Youâ€™re basically gonna be hemorrhaging money, and my concern is that people can afford to eat so they can get in the studio and make more Hip Hop you know?
Justin: Exactly. Going along with that, so many guys these days are doing the free album releases. The line has been blurred so much between what guys call a mixtape or an album now. You spoke on this a bit, but how do you think this is gonna affect stuff in the long run? Are these guys gonna be able to keep this up without changing the way theyâ€™re working withÂ these releases each time?
Thes: You know, I donâ€™t know (laughs). Like you were saying about the line getting blurred, itâ€™s been blurred to the point now that the problem is the fansâ€™ expectations have been blurred. One of the things that we want to continue to maintain is that the album is an event. Music should be treated with a certain respect and gravity. Itâ€™s not something that you get a link to, you listen to it and then you throw it in your trash can digitally. We definitely are working to try and build up that frenzy.
Itâ€™s funny. It was unintentional that we had all those server issues with everyone trying to download the record at the same time, but it also created a feeling that I havenâ€™t seen in decades. It was like how when people used to wait outside of a record store and then it would open up; they would sell out and the other people couldnâ€™t get it and they were madÂ cause they had to go to a different place. That was like the feeling we were getting those first 24 hours, actually 48 hours, trying to get a copy of the record to everyone who wanted it. It was crazy. So, I think we could possibly be headed back toward that where an album is something to be respected.
Justin: Yeah I think even with a site like ours, we get this constant flow of releases from artists. And some of them, like Curren$y for instance, seems like he releases a new one every month (laughs) and it doesnâ€™t feel like an event. Kind of like you said, someone succeeding right now though is Big K.R.I.T. and heâ€™s made a big deal out of each release. He pushed back Live From The Underground to next year because of that, because he didnâ€™t think it was ready. So everybodyâ€™s all excited about it because of that, so maybe weâ€™ll start to see more of that start to pop up.
Thes: I hope so. I have an enormous amount of respect for K.R.I.T. and Curren$y for that matter, cause heâ€™s doing his thing and K.R.I.T. is definitely doing his thing. My concern is not what the artists do necessarily, itâ€™s not seeing how affects how the fans view music. We want to get back to the point where people are waiting for a record and theyâ€™re excited to get it and that theyâ€™ll even listen to whole record. Peopleâ€™s attention spans have gotten so short, sometimes they donâ€™t even bother to listen to whole thing (laughs). They download it, they skip through it and then it goes into the trash can, even if the record has some good stuff on it. It just doesnâ€™t feel like back in the day when Iâ€™d buy a cassette tape, Iâ€™d listen to the damn cassette tape cause I bought the damn thing. Even if I didnâ€™t really like it, Iâ€™d try to like it. It wasnâ€™t instant gratification. And some records, I learned to love and then they became my favorite records. Like the first day Midnight Marauders came out was also the day that 36 Chambers came out and I bought both tapes. And here was such a stark contrast between the two tapes, I hated Midnight Marauders when I first heard it. I hated it; I was on that 36 Chambers tip! But then two years later, I was really glad I didnâ€™t throw that cassette in the trash can. And this is kind of what weâ€™re dealing with, what weâ€™re battling against.
Justin: Even with your self-released style, youâ€™ll still see theÂ album leaking on the Internet. How do you combat that? Do you have people at Piecelock trying to get these links taken down or are do you just want people to hear the music and hopefully appreciate it enough to come buy it afterwards?
Thes: Yeah we have Brendan, whoâ€™s a partner here at Piecelock, heâ€™s basically spent half of his days sending DMCA violations to people saying, â€œHey take down your illegal link.â€ But with this record, there are two things at play that are kind of helping us. One is that our fans, the people who waited so long to get it and the people who ride for it, it seems that theyâ€™ve been reluctant to share the record, which is dope. And then on the other hand because of all the file server sites, they usually have a maximum upload of 250 megs, so people can possibly get the MP3 version but they canâ€™t get the HD version. I think this is also helping direct people towards chunking over $10 for the whole album. We feel like weâ€™re being fair with the price compared to whatâ€™s out there. I think people are bootlegging it and theyâ€™re buying it, which is awesome.
Justin: Definitely. I wanted to go back to your solo project Wonderful Radio. Howâ€™s that coming along? Whatâ€™s the status of it? Are we gonna see it before the end of this year?
Thes: I hope so (laughs). Iâ€™m working hard on it. Iâ€™m basically shaking off Highlighter now and getting back into the saddle on Wonderful Radio. That record is a little bit more of an ambitious record for me at least. Itâ€™s more like a producer record, like an Axelrod type thing. Itâ€™s not gonna be a straight aheadâ€¦ itâ€™ll definitely be a Hip Hop record; thereâ€™ll be rapping on it, itâ€™ll be in that sort of wheelhouse, but I wanna do a little bit more you know. I wanna push my boundaries, see what Iâ€™m capable of.
Justin: Ok, so youâ€™ll be rapping on it or youâ€™ll have guests on it? Whatâ€™s the deal there?
Thes: Nah, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll have guests rapping on it. I guess I could, but I donâ€™t really know that many emcees anymore (laughs). All the guys that I knew that I like donâ€™t really do it anymore. Weâ€™ll see. I definitely got guest people playing on it, and it will be dope. You know, I loved collaborating with J-Live back in the day and stuff like that. I thought my beats fit his flow very well, and I would love to do that with some otherÂ upÂ and coming emceesÂ on this record.
Justin: Along those lines, even though youâ€™ve kept it in-house for your albums, you have worked with artists producing for them. Is there anybody right now that youâ€™re working with? Is somebody demanding a Thes One or Double K beat right now at the moment, trying to reach out to yâ€™all?
Thes: I mean, itâ€™s weird man cause weâ€™re not really a part of anything. Weâ€™re kind of just floating. I donâ€™t think a lot of younger, hot spittersâ€¦ I donâ€™t think weâ€™re really on their radar in terms of beats or whatever. But you know, like weâ€™re about to go on the road with Mac Miller. I mean, people have their opinions of Mac or whatever, but we have a tremendous amount of respect for what heâ€™s been able to accomplish. You know, you might see a Thes One beat with Mac Miller rapping legitimately. Not him rapping over one of our instrumental, but a real song.
Justin: Speaking of Mac Miller, he did that freestyle over your â€œSan Francisco Knightsâ€ beat. What was your feeling when that happened? Were you just proud to see one of those buzzing artists do that for yâ€™all?
Thes: I thought it was awesome. I know a lot of our fans had mixed feelings about it because they tend to hold our back catalog in such high esteem. Theyâ€™re like, â€œYou canâ€™t rap over this, itâ€™s not right.â€ But I thought it was dope. And to be honest, thatâ€™s the kind of thing that keeps us alive to a younger generation. The real fans, the people that get behind us, they donâ€™t wanna see us quit. And thatâ€™s one of the things that enables us to not quit. As people check out of Hip Hop, we need new people to check into Hip Hop and keep it going.
Justin: Do you think thatâ€™s important? That the new generation maintains that relationshipÂ with the older guys so people donâ€™t forget where it came from, but are also being put onto these new guys with the help of these big names saying, â€œIâ€™m backing these guys.â€ Just like youâ€™re gonna be out on the road with Mac Miller, kind of giving your fans a chance to check him out more than they wouldâ€™ve normally.
Thes: Yeah I think so. I think itâ€™s a responsibility. Like the way in my mind, the idealized way I look at Hip Hop, itâ€™s still kind of like a big family. Itâ€™s still a close culture and you pass it on to generations. I know in that my lifetime, in my experience, I havenâ€™t always felt that from a lot the older generation of Hip Hop dudes. There have been some that have been amazing, that have inspired me to keep going like Biz [Markie] or Chuck D. People that reached out to us personally and said, â€œYo what you guys do, itâ€™s dope and we love it.â€ And then thereâ€™s been other people who Iâ€™ve tried to reach out to and theyâ€™re basically like, â€œYouâ€™re not from New York, you werenâ€™t there. Shut the fuck up!â€ (laughs). And after experiencing it both ways, Iâ€™d rather be the cool Chuck D grandfather and age gracefully with this. Let the kids breathe, but still maintain this culture ratherÂ than get salty and throw in the towel. Or try to be a young kid and make some young kid style of Hip Hop, neither of those things are an option to me. Iâ€™d rather be graceful with these cats, bless them.
Justin: I think youâ€™ve got the perfect attitude on that. One last thing I wanted to touch on was your work film scoring. You did the Street Dreams movie and youâ€™ve had placements on TV shows like Rob & Big on MTV. Are you still getting that work or have you been in full on album mode in these last few years?
Thes: Itâ€™s been tough to switch back and forth, and Street Dreams ending up taking like a year and a half off my life right there. If another full length, theatrical release was to come along, I would know what I was getting into. That said, Iâ€™ve worked on some commercials and ad campaigns here and there, and to me it doesnâ€™t change much of anything as long as Iâ€™m presenting the same type of stuff. If anything, Iâ€™ll look at getting bigger and expanding commercially even as a way to introduce people to the real because Iâ€™m not gonna change my style. So if the fan base gets broader, then even better. Like we were on The Simpsons and we were on there cutting up a record, and I think thatâ€™s a dope way to go out.
Justin: Definitely. We have a lot of producers who frequent the site, so what would you recommend to them if theyâ€™re trying to get into film scoring and getting work on TV? What would you tell them to do if theyâ€™d like to enter that lane?
Thes: I think that we live in an amazing time where education is practically free on the Internet. Granted, you canâ€™t believe everything you read online (laughs) but when it came to the [Street Dreams] score, someone was looking for beats to use in the movie. And I was like, â€œYou donâ€™t need beats, you need a score and Iâ€™ll do it.â€ And at the time, I didnâ€™t know anything about doing a movie score. But I was able to talk my way into that position and then I just learned. Not being afraid to sort of stretch out and push your boundaries is whatâ€™s gonna keep this feeling good. I love the Golden Era as much as anyone else, but itâ€™s time for everyone to accept where we are right now if people havenâ€™t, move forward and try new things. And always do it from the same heart, from the same state of mind.
Justin: Well itâ€™s been great talking to you. Do you have any last words or shout outs?
Thes: Just if youâ€™re so inclined, to any of the fans out thereÂ or anybody who might be reading this, pick up Highlighter. Check it out, itâ€™s an interesting listen. I think people will dig it. I feel really good about where music is at right now. A lot times, I think people are negative about the future. I understand people wanna talk about the past, but I think that where we are right now and whatâ€™s gonna be coming out in the next couple of years is extremely exciting and Iâ€™m excited to be a part of it. And thanks for hitting me up Justin, I really appreciate it.