Los Angeles is still the entertainment capitol of the world. That looming truth has eclipsed L.A.’s Rap scene since Death Row was pronounced D.O.A. over a decade ago. Coming up in that fickle market has been as easy as one important relative or as hard as, well, impossible.
Aside from The Game, only survivors of the G-Funk era have made significant noise until recently. The shadow is finally thinning. Faces of L.A. complicated and variant Rap artists are being revealed to the general public for really, the first time. It’s perfect timing for Krondon, Phil Da Agony and Mitchy Slick, who make-up Strong Arm Steady.
With over a dozen mixtapes circulating since their formation in 2003 and a vocal component of Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Movement, S.A.S. hasn’t necessarily been off the map either. The group fully got down to business after founding member Xzibit left in 2006. They have been drafting plans for a breakout from L.A.’s underground binds ever since.
The democratization of the web has meant the democratization of music. With the music playing field being bulldozed down, Strong Arm Steady is looking to take the mound. First, they have Stoney Jackson, an LP (the group's first official) produced entirely by Oxnard, California rhythm wizard Madlib. Followed by their Blacksmith debut Arms & Hammers, these projects have the clamor surrounding S.A.S. becoming more of a full-blown following. With a fist full of firsts in hand, the crew sat down with HipHopDX to discuss both LPs, their current tour with Souls of Mischief, the “new west,” and why they feel it’s their turn for an at bat.
HipHopDX: First of all, I want to talk about where you guys are at label wise right now. As far as the Warner situation goes, did Warner drop Blacksmith or what happened?
Phil Da Agony: What’s the next question?
DX: You don’t want to talk about the label situation at all?
Mitchy Slick: Not really.
DX: So is the Madlib album, Stony Jackson, coming out only through Stones Throw?
Phil Da Agony: It’s coming out through Stones Throw, and Arms & Hammers is coming out through Blacksmith. We just don’t know if it’s coming through Warner or if it’s not. We don’t want to say that. We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot. [Laughs]
DX: It’s a reasonable question.
Phil Da Agony: Naw, for sure.
Krondon: It’s just going back and forth through distribution right now. We just aren’t sure.
DX: So what’s the relationship with Stones Throw like for you guys? Strong Arm Steady is up over on their website, that’s new ground for you.
Krondon: It’s funny that it’s working out like that because the Madlib record is our first full record/album coming out. We’ve done mixtapes and things like that, but that’s it. The same things are being done with Blacksmith. We got a blog on the site and all that at YearOfTheBlacksmith.com. It’s a good look doing that with Madlib and Stones Throw, so it’s a good marriage there. As far as doing other projects with them, we're not slated to do anything but I’m hoping that we do. I like them as a label. They are pretty straight up.
DX: How did the Madlib project come about in the first place? I heard something about you guys having 200 beats to choose from or something like that. What was that whole process of working with Madlib like?
Phil Da Agony: I’ve known Madlib about 15 years, man, through Tha Liks [click to read] and all that. We have always been talking about doing records during that time span. We just bumped in to him recently, over the last year and through way of J.Rocc who gave us a lot of [Madlib’s] beats. At that point, we just recorded them and turned them back in to him. He’s a hard dude to get with. We all figured it would be dope to put it out through Stones Throw.
DX: As far as guest spots go, who else is on that record? You leaked a couple joints off of it online already.
Krondon: Yeah, “Money Right” features Res. [Res] is a solo artist but she is also in a group with [Talib] Kweli [click to read] called Idle Warship. She is singing on the hook and Defari is on that record. We just released a record yesterday with Tha Jacka [click to read], from the bay called “Loose Girl.” We aren’t sure if it’s going to be on the album, but we wanted to get that out there. As far as other guests on Stony Jackson, we got Phonte from Little Brother [click to read], Fashawn [click to read], Evidence [click to read], Planet Asia, Sick Jacken [click to read], and Mistah F.A.B. [click to read].
Phil Da Agony: We got a lot of records that we did for it so we are going to be leaking some exclusive stuff along with stuff that’s going to be on the album.
Krondon: You’re going to hear a lot of Madlib material from us because of the influx of material we did.
DX: Any idea on a street date?
Krondon: It’s supposed to come out November 6, we are just trying to finalize the artwork. Stones Throw is known for doing really eclectic covers. Their covers are like art pieces in themselves. But it’s slated for November 6th, that’s why we are leaking records. We got some video blogs coming out online over the next month or so. We just started our tour with Souls of Mischief [click to read] and Deep Rooted last night. We are going to be doing songs from the Madlib record on that tour. It will be out sooner rather than later, I’ll tell you that.
DX: Speaking of Souls of Mischief, those guys, like yourselves, have been around the west coast Rap scene for a long time. Right now, there are a lot of new west coast artists that are getting shine. You mentioned Fashawn, U-N-I, Pac Div, Blu — how do you see the new west? Along with the guys that have been here for a while coming out with new material and these new guys with their material, what do you think of everything?
Mitchy Slick: I’m not saying it’s the best music being made of all time, and I’m not saying it's bad either. I might be a little biased because I come from the era that the west coast is really built off of, that real gangsta shit. A lot of the new stuff now has given us a chance to play ball a little bit. You see a couple cats getting on the radio now and being able to make different types of music. Before, the west coast was primarily just one thing. The game kind of switched up now with all the stuff the youngsters are on. All the new cats are coming with music that’s giving us the opportunity to maybe get in the race. I’m not saying its good or bad, I’m not mad at it. We’re sticking to our guns though. We’re making the music from the heart, that’s going to elevate and make us be competitive on the highest level. Some cats aren’t changing. They are still doing what they want to do and they are staying on top. Kanye [West] isn’t changing, he’s doing what he wants to do. While everybody else is on that cookie-cutter shit, there’s still some cats that are really good at their craft and are getting the opportunity to do their thing. That’s what I’m saying about the west coast. It’s cool now.
Krondon: It’s labeled. Everybody puts labels on things, “new west,” “new west.” It’s good but it’s just music at the end of the day. I think what’s happening with all the groups that you named is that they are being more focused on the music rather than the locale of where they are making the music. Cats are working from a different angle and I think it’s a good thing overall for the west coast. It takes a long time, coming from where we come from, in order to break through and get the attention of the masses. MTV, BET, Vh1, those big conglomerates, they haven’t always focused on what’s going on in the west coast. That’s an every day thing. With all the different types of talent coming out, it’s forcing them to do that. It’s forcing them to have to look because no one wants to feel left out. Nobody wants to be the last to know.
DX: That’s what’s crazy about the whole web shit, the twitterverse. Artists are talking to artists and fans are seeing these two artists talk to each other. It really is blurring the lines about the regions you’re coming from and where the music is coming from. People are just looking for good music. Maybe it’s better now, people can see all that going on and become interested in other artists.
Krondon: Exactly. That’s what I was just telling somebody. I got this long email talking all about that, my dog sent it. People don’t buy music now they buy you. People are buying into an artist, into the movement behind the artist.
Mitchy Slick: [But] it’s all popularity now. Whoever is the most popular, that’s who the kids want on the records.
Krondon: Yeah or who can create that perception. And the internet is the driving force behind all that. Through the Internet you can create any perception you want. It’s crazy. All three of us started in the business and there wasn’t any of that. In some ways, I’m proud to say that because I’m enthusiastic about the change. That change is good, I think it’s just creating more opportunity that wasn’t there before.
DX: That’s the big combo, internet presence and touring, which is what you guys are about to be doing. Touring more than ever before. How are you feeling about this tour with Souls of Mischief?
Krondon: We’ve done a lot of tours but we have never actually been billed on a front line tour like that. This is the first time where we’re not necessarily opening up. We’ve got Deep Rooted, which is a dope group from San Diego…where Mitchy Slick is from. It’s a dope tour.
DX: When are you guys finished?
Mitchy Slick: I think the end of October.
DX: Cool. Well, with the second album, Arms & Hammers, where does it stand in all of this?
Krondon: It’s coming out, January or February regardless. There are about three or four songs that we have to finish mixing. We released a record last year called “Can’t Let It Go” which did very well for us on radio and in television, a good look overall. Then all the Warner stuff happened, which everyone obviously knows [about], and that slowed down our momentum a tad bit. But we just released a record with The Game [click to read] about a week ago called “Trunk Music” and we have had a great response from that. We have follow up records that already have videos shot and everything, one called “Make Me Feel” featuring Jelly Roll who is a dope producer/singer/songwriter from the west coast. Also, there is a song with Too $hort [click to read], produced by Terrace Martin [click to read] called “On Point” and that video is done as well. All that stuff will probably come out around December or January after we do this tour, release this album with Madlib, go overseas and all.
DX: You have to be hyped then, you have two LP’s coming out. Since the groups inception it will be your first full-length album and then the second one right after it.
Krondon: Yeah, man very excited, very blessed indeed. The Madlib album is stupid.
Phil Da Agony: Hell yeah, man, having the music out there that’s what we trying to do. It will be nice having two albums out around the same time but they are different albums…two completely different worlds.
Mitchy Slick: That’s what I like about it. We are showing that versatility. I don’t know any other groups that can really throw two pitches like we’re doing. We are giving them the best of both worlds and that’s one of the questions that you’re met with when you put a group together like we did. We didn’t necessarily go “Oh, we are alike, we should [record] together.” We did the opposite. Now we are alike in a whole lot of ways, when the listener hears us. They may think certain people should be on this type of beat or rapping about this type of topic. Strong Arm Steady breaks all those barriers. We’ve been able to pull something major off by doing the Madlib record. I mean come on, west coast cats, street, gangster rap cats rapping on Madlib beats. That’s never been done before, not to my knowledge. Not on this level. That’s what we’re doing, throwing different pitches not coming from the same pitcher. Yeah, knuckleballs, sliders, everything…and they are all striking.
DX: From when you guys first got together a group until now, how has making music with each other changed?
Mitchy Slick: I first started recording with them cats when I was real raw. I didn’t have recorded vocals and to the industry standard. Stuff got easier for me because I learned a lot of stuff being around these cats. You know they’re in L.A., it’s the city, it’s where it’s crackin’. I’m from San Diego. Anything you want to know about Rap, I’m the end-all word of that. Not to knock anybody musically, just as far getting out and hustling music and all that. For me it got easier because I learned about frequencies and building songs and taking your time making songs and perfecting them. That’s what I wanted. Now it’s comfortable. Every time we make a song, it’s a respectable song. We don’t make fillers. When we make a song now I know it’s going to be the shit. We aren’t just shooting jumpers, we are alley-ooping now, off the backboard and shit.