Yesterday, you got to read part 1 of our interview with Thes One and now we have the second & final portion of this in-depth conversation with the People Under The Stairs member. In part 2 of my discussion with Thes One, the veteran emcee/producer provides some amazing insight that makes this a must read for fans and artists alike. 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 using 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 we’re all likeminded, we’re all friends. We have past working relationships and most importantly if you’re a member of this, you gotta work to. This isn’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. We’re all working together, so we can’t have a weak link.
Justin: One of the things you addressed recently on the Piecelock site was fans were asking about why you weren’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 Spotify… 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 didn’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 I’ve told a lot of people I know, friends of mine like say Ugly Duckling who’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. You’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 they’re working with these releases each time?
Thes: You know, I don’t know (laughs). Like you were saying about the line getting blurred, it’s been blurred to the point now that the problem is the fans’ 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. It’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.
It’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 haven’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 couldn’t get it and they were mad 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$y for instance, seems like he releases a new one every month (laughs) and it doesn’t feel like an event. Kind of like you said, someone succeeding right now though is Big K.R.I.T. and he’s made a big deal out of each release. He pushed back Live From The Underground to next year because of that, because he didn’t think it was ready. So everybody’s all excited about it because of that, so maybe we’ll start to see more of that start to pop up.
Thes: I hope so. I have an enormous amount of respect for K.R.I.T. and Curren$y for that matter, cause he’s doing his thing and K.R.I.T. is definitely doing his thing. My concern is not what the artists do necessarily, it’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 they’re excited to get it and that they’ll even listen to whole record. People’s attention spans have gotten so short, sometimes they don’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 doesn’t feel like back in the day when I’d buy a cassette tape, I’d listen to the damn cassette tape cause I bought the damn thing. Even if I didn’t really like it, I’d try to like it. It wasn’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 didn’t throw that cassette in the trash can. And this is kind of what we’re dealing with, what we’re battling against.
Justin: Even with your self-released style, you’ll still see the 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, who’s a partner here at Piecelock, he’s basically spent half of his days sending DMCA violations to people saying, “Hey take down your illegal link.” 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 they’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 can’t get the HD version. I think this is also helping direct people towards chunking over $10 for the whole album. We feel like we’re being fair with the price compared to what’s out there. I think people are bootlegging it and they’re buying it, which is awesome.
Justin: Definitely. I wanted to go back to your solo project Wonderful Radio. How’s that coming along? What’s the status of it? Are we gonna see it before the end of this year?
Thes: I hope so (laughs). I’m working hard on it. I’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. It’s more like a producer record, like an Axelrod type thing. It’s not gonna be a straight ahead… it’ll definitely be a Hip Hop record; there’ll be rapping on it, it’ll be in that sort of wheelhouse, but I wanna do a little bit more you know. I wanna push my boundaries, see what I’m capable of.
Justin: Ok, so you’ll be rapping on it or you’ll have guests on it? What’s the deal there?
Thes: Nah, I don’t think I’ll have guests rapping on it. I guess I could, but I don’t really know that many emcees anymore (laughs). All the guys that I knew that I like don’t really do it anymore. We’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 other up and coming emcees on this record.
Justin: Along those lines, even though you’ve kept it in-house for your albums, you have worked with artists producing for them. Is there anybody right now that you’re working with? Is somebody demanding a Thes One or Double K beat right now at the moment, trying to reach out to y’all?
Thes: I mean, it’s weird man cause we’re not really a part of anything. We’re kind of just floating. I don’t think a lot of younger, hot spitters… I don’t think we’re really on their radar in terms of beats or whatever. But you know, like we’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 he’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 “San Francisco Knights” beat. What was your feeling when that happened? Were you just proud to see one of those buzzing artists do that for y’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. They’re like, “You can’t rap over this, it’s not right.” But I thought it was dope. And to be honest, that’s the kind of thing that keeps us alive to a younger generation. The real fans, the people that get behind us, they don’t wanna see us quit. And that’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 that’s important? That the new generation maintains that relationship with the older guys so people don’t forget where it came from, but are also being put onto these new guys with the help of these big names saying, “I’m backing these guys.” Just like you’re gonna be out on the road with Mac Miller, kind of giving your fans a chance to check him out more than they would’ve normally.
Thes: Yeah I think so. I think it’s a responsibility. Like the way in my mind, the idealized way I look at Hip Hop, it’s still kind of like a big family. It’s still a close culture and you pass it on to generations. I know in that my lifetime, in my experience, I haven’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, “Yo what you guys do, it’s dope and we love it.” And then there’s been other people who I’ve tried to reach out to and they’re basically like, “You’re not from New York, you weren’t there. Shut the fuck up!” (laughs). And after experiencing it both ways, I’d rather be the cool Chuck D grandfather and age gracefully with this. Let the kids breathe, but still maintain this culture rather 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. I’d rather be graceful with these cats, bless them.
Justin: I think you’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 you’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: It’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, I’ve worked on some commercials and ad campaigns here and there, and to me it doesn’t change much of anything as long as I’m presenting the same type of stuff. If anything, I’ll look at getting bigger and expanding commercially even as a way to introduce people to the real because I’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 that’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 they’re trying to get into film scoring and getting work on TV? What would you tell them to do if they’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 can’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, “You don’t need beats, you need a score and I’ll do it.” And at the time, I didn’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 what’s gonna keep this feeling good. I love the Golden Era as much as anyone else, but it’s time for everyone to accept where we are right now if people haven’t, move forward and try new things. And always do it from the same heart, from the same state of mind.
Justin: Well it’s been great talking to you. Do you have any last words or shout outs?
Thes: Just if you’re so inclined, to any of the fans out there or anybody who might be reading this, pick up Highlighter. Check it out, it’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 what’s gonna be coming out in the next couple of years is extremely exciting and I’m excited to be a part of it. And thanks for hitting me up Justin, I really appreciate it.