While visiting the various vendors at WonderCon, I came across the stand of rapper/artist Super Ugly (real name John Williams), who proceeding to talk me into buying the album Brokedown Palace by his band Unified School District. The CD, which he sold me for a measly $5, was a fantastic blend of geekiness and funkiness delivered through underground hip-hop. As a hip-hop head with a serious case of love-hate with the genre, I was courted by hip-hop of the Unified variety (Kool Keith, MF Doom, Grayskul, etc.) much more than the gangsta variety that has all but killed the genre's artistic credibility. Unified delivers it.
Super Ugly agreed to an interview with WYP, and provided some insightful answers to my questions. Read up.
How did Unified School District get formed?
Unified was built from spare parts in a garage in Reno back in 2001. I met Ecto after we had already put the "band" together. He came in to do the recording on his eight track, and was a real young guy, around 18. After we laid a couple of tracks Ecto played me a couple of beats and I was hooked. I could not believe what I was hearing... the samples he was flipping and the level of his scratching.. I knew our tastes would work together very nicely. After awhile we phased the other guys out and became a duo. We have been roomates and friends for a long time. He's a grown ass man now, painting signs over at Madeforglorysigns.com But we are heading back in to the studio to work on our fifth album this summer.
Why the name "Brokedown Palace" for your last album?
because that is the perfect description of music right now..I knew the movie and not the Grateful Dead song..but felt it just says so much about how we feel about music. The cover, the title, the songs inside all live up to the name Brokedown Palace.
Have you shopped yourself around to labels like Rhymesayers or Def Jux?
We are admittedly the worst hustlers in music today.. we have sent packages with our Info and music to most indie labels and heard not a peep.. true we could've pursued the labels more, called and harassed but that aint our thing. we are lazy composers. it would be nice to have someone who could help guide our sound into more ears, but we are truly blessed if even one person hears it. ITunes has been good to us, as has the podcast.
How did the comic book crowd at WonderCon respond to your music?
I do not push a ton of music at conventions. Bu the people that do buy it always give us a good response. That's the thing with Unified music, its not easily definable after one listen.. or two..or a hundred. It works on many layers and brings a different view with every listen. I want comic kids to listen though cause I define a lot on a level they can appreciate. humor. darkness. obscure references. But we also don't short you on that raw classic boom bap hip hop.
Whose idea was it to sample video game themes?
Ecto is a musical genius. He has compiled a long list of video game sampled tracks. Games such as Castlevania, Punch Out, Metroid and Tetris liek on the track "Action Figures" on our album. He sat there with the OG nintendo, sampling straight from the TV. On Mike Tysons punch out he actually had to play the game while sampling to get the right sound effects. It is his Magnum Opus, he's calling it "Coin-Op" and it should be arriving in cartridge form soon...
How did you end up getting Prince Po on your album?
Prince Po is one of my idols in music. Organized Konfusion was a big influence in my younger days. We played a show with Po in SF and ripped it in ususal Unified manner. After the show he was real cool, saying he was into what we were speaking on. Of course we were on cloud 9.. We got the chance to play with him again and when he saw us he told us he was excited to see he was playing with us again. So we felt it would be fair of us to ask him if he was interested in being involved with the album. He was more then willing and picked out one of Ectos favorite beats. Which is an amazing sample from the Dumbo soundtrack. I know, he's crazy. Po killed, Ugly killed it. It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
How do you feel about the state of hip-hop? Is it dead, like Nas said?
Music is dead.. screw hip hop. It really is in a state of transition, the old guard is dying and the new mediums are the ones choking them. downloading is something the big business cant wrap their head around. Hip hop has some bright lights, and in each state there is a movement but it is really small compared to the glamour and glitz. And why would it be? the dumbing sdown of music has been in full rage for ten years. Hip hop loves the ignorance, which is truly bliss. Getting dumb is very infectious. But things come around, for every hair band there was a Kurt Cobain. For every MC Hammer there was a Dr Dre. I am dying to hear what the next revolution will be and hope we can be a part of it.
What's your chief objective right now: music, art, podcasting?
Truthfully it is all three. I podcast once every week, I draw in my free time and like I said earlier am about to start on the new album "Chasing Ghosts". I am working to get a couple of Gallery shows and am travelling around the country doing comic conventions with Dave Dwonch of spacetimecondo.com and the podcast.I also have an almost full time job and a beautiful wife so I manage my time fairly well for a weed smoking fat kid. I also am in the outline stages of a new graphic novel "The Dry Season" and want to knock out a childrens book. whew! this is a good life.