Fans had to wait more than two years before finally hearing the self-titled album by Random Axe—the trio of Detroit staples Black Milk and Guilty Simpson, and New York giant Sean Price. But for Sean P, the hold-up before the group’s conference call with HipHopDX wasn’t touring, other music, or legal matters: it was Twitter, when his thousands of followers offered feedback when an interview video surfaced of him telling DJ Vlad he didn’t like any female emcees. “I said it, so I won’t back down from it. A couple get busy,” he reiterates, giving props to MC Lyte and Rah Digga. “But if I’ve never heard of you before, don’t get offended. Just know that I never will listen to you.”
The rest of the trio’s time with DX had the same free-wheeling spirit as their album, which sees Guilty and Sean verbally working out over abrasive Black Milk soundbeds. Below, read why “Chewbacca” is the consensus favorite song on the album, an explanation of the album’s odd cover art, the difficulties of persuading Sean to make a girl song, and Jimmy the Fish.
That’s only part of the nature of the aptly-named Random Axe.
HipHopDX: Who do you fuck with as far as female emcees?
The Three Years Of Making Random Axe The Album
DX: You guys officially started the group in 2008 or so. What all have you been up to since then?
Sean Price: —and I’m in another group, don’t forget that: Heltah Skeltah.
Guilty Simpson: Definitely, and I’m also in another group, Almighty Dreadnaughtz. We all have obligations to fulfill besides Random Axe. I think that’s how we managed to stay busy, and how there was more time than we anticipated before we got the album done.
Sean Price: Yeah, we had announced Random Axe before there was even talk about Slaughterhouse. But there’s shit we’ve got to do. We wasn’t bullshit, though; we got to it, and it’s better later. So we’re all good.
DX: Was there any period where you recorded, let it sit for a while, then came back a lot later to finish it?
Sean Price: That’s exactly what we did. When I first got out there, Guilty was in [California]. I came up there for a week, and Guilty [Simpson] wasn’t even there. I knocked out some joints, and I ain’t come back for a while. But when I came back we finished it.
Guilty Simpson: Yeah, all in the studio at the same time. When he first came out there, I was in Cali, I think working on Ode To The Ghetto . We put the idea of Random Axe out there before I had even dropped my first album.
DX: Did you notice anything different between when you were recording early, and when you came back?
Sean Price: Guilty wasn’t there when I went, so it was better when I went back and we were all there. The vibe was better.
Guilty Simpson: That actually took away the equation of me having to listen to a verse that he did and put something to it. We were in the lab together. That makes the songs more complete, at least in my eyes, because both of our ideas are right there at the same time.
DX: What are you guys’ favorite verses from each other on the album? Verses that made you go like, “Damn,” and want to rewrite what you had before.
The Group’s Opinion On The Best Moments On The Random Axe Album
Guilty Simpson: Probably “Chewbacca” . Especially how stupid [Sean Price] started. Who starts a rap with the word “Chewbacca?” The beat was on some crazy shit, so I definitely like hearing that verse, and that definitely was a verse that inspired me to push the pen so my verse was up to par.
Black Milk: Ah shit, I think that “Chewbacca” verse Guilty had. [Everybody Laughs] That “laugh now, cry later” line (“I carve a smile right next to your frown, like laugh now cry later”) line was fuckin’ crazy in my eyes. For P, probably the Karate Kid line was the funniest on the whole joint, “Will Smith son, the Karate Kid.” It’s so many quotables on that bitch it’s kind of hard, but those are the first two that come to mind.
Sean Price: That’s what’s so crazy, because I was about to say, his verse on “Chewbacca.” I went in like, “Yes! I got him!” Then this mothafucka said, “Your tough talk, I don’t get it. You wouldn’t fight a ticket. So why recite a lyric.” I’m like, “Ahhh, I took the silver medal, ahhh!” But one verse inspires the next, so it’s all good, shit was bangin’. And I liked “Never Back Down,” when he’s like, “Carnivorous slang / I eat on flesh orangutan…beat on chest, dirtier than Ms. Lewinsky, skeet on dress.” That shit made me want to slap people, word to mother. It invokes violence in me, word to mother. “You get drugged, like CVS / You got no buzz outside your state, MetroPCS.” I want to slap somebody when I hear that verse. My wife leaves the room when I hear that, the Ike [Turner] might come out.
DX: What were your favorite beats from Black Milk to rap over?
Sean Price: All them shits. I think there were one or two beats we passed on, and if we didn’t like it, he gave us some more. If we didn’t like it, it didn’t make the album.
Guilty Simpson: When I go back and listen, really, on some Black Milk shit, I like the outro beat, man. That shit sounds crazy. That’s definitely what Black Milk was always able to bring to the table. You might listen to a Black Milk beat CD and zone out to the interludes, or something somebody didn’t rhyme to. That’s something I didn’t hear until after we were done, but that was crazy. I’m a fan of instrumentals anyway. I like every track on there, like Ruck said.
Sean Price: Black does that bullshit that [DJ] Premier and Pete Rock be doing. Those little interludes, with those banging ass beats. You know how you say, “Why ain’t nobody rapping to that?” I get mad at those, but a good man. He did the bullshit the greats do. [Laughs] Premier used to do that a lot on Gang Starr albums, and Pete Rock do that shit too. Like, “Fuck, B! Nobody rhyming on this!” That’s that bullshit they be on, know what I mean?
DX: For most of the album, y’all are just spitting. Aside from “Nobody Somebody Everybody,” there aren’t many concepts – just snapping on songs. Was that a conscious effort to not have concepts?
Sean Price: First of all, I ain’t gon’ front. I’ve got Guilty Simpson’s music, I’m familiar with his catalog. He drops some jewels on his records. But if you listen to Sean Price, I do none of that shit. I don’t give a fuck about teaching nobody shit. What I teach you when I rhyme, is, “This is how you’re supposed to get busy. Period.” I’m not trying to lift your baby; that’s on you, nigga. Parents start a household. I’m not trying to drop a jewel; I’m trying to put jewelry on my neck. Fuck all that shit. I’m not with none of that shit, nigga.
I’m a smart nigga, too. I ain’t no idiot. I’ve got a little high school, I’ve got a little college. But you wouldn’t know that when I make my records, because I like writing ignorant, dumb shit. That’s what gets me moving, that’s what I love to do. So when people do what they love to do, that’s what it is. I don’t give a fuck about teaching the black man nothin’ on a record. But I will teach the black man in person, though. If you meet me, and know me in person, I’m a good nigga. But on the record, I’m a bastard, and I love it. And I ain’t trippin’ for nobody.
Guilty Simpson: Just like you said, I’ve delved into concepts more on my solo shit, but Random Axe is what it is. Unapologetic, raw Hip Hop. So we did make a conscious effort to make it like that, because we didn’t want to be like some artists—some try to show so much versatility that they get lost in the sauce with who they are. We know what works for us, and we know what message we want to get across: dumb ass rhymes over incredible production. That’s exactly what we aimed for, and that’s exactly what we gave them.
Sean Price: What’s funny, me talking all the bullshit, I’m the one that came up with the concept for “Everybody Nobody Somebody” shit. Just to show niggas I can do that. I just don’t want to.
Guilty Simpson: Exactly. There’s a big difference between not being able to do something, and not wanting to.
DX: Like you said, you guys are also both part of different groups. How does the Random Axe group dynamic differ from the Heltah Skeltah or Almighty Dreadnaughtz dynamic?
Sean Price: I’ve said it before. This was easier to do than a Heltah Skeltah record. That ain’t no diss to Rock; it’s just that me and Rock got different tastes in beats, so it takes about four or five sessions to get the beats we both like. It’s corners after that. He go to his corner, I go to my corner, we write, and we lay it down. With Random Axe, Black played the beat and was like, “Rhyme on this shit.” I took orders this time, and it worked.
Guilty Simpson: When I rhyme with my group The Almighty Dreadnaughtz, we’ll do anything. I don’t want to say anything, but we have more of a set concept on who we are. I’ve been rhyming with these guys since I first started rhyming. With Random Axe, these are three distinctive artists. You have Sean P who’s his own artists, Black Milk who’s his own artist, and I complete that. Having our three distinctive, separate sounds. And with the world, not trying to take away any importance of what I do for Almighty Dreadnaughtz, but these are three artists with three separate deals on three labels, getting together to do a project. So it’s a bigger forum, because you know exactly who I’m dealing with, and the world knows too. Nothing we’re doing seems corny or forced, and my knowledge of Hip Hop and who both artists are makes the biggest difference.
DX: It seems like people from Detroit and Los Angeles work together all the time, but in my opinion, there’s enough of Detroit meets New York shit. Both areas can have that hard, grimy sound, but they don’t collaborate enough. Have y’all noticed that, or is it just me?
Guilty Simpson: I never really thought about it, but now that you mention it, I can see that. But at the same time, I work with Madlib, and I don’t mind working with Sean P. I don’t think about it in terms of region or where it’s from, I just think about it as music in general.
Sean Price: I feel the same way. I get busy with whoever. I got beats from niggas all over the world. It’s not a New York thing, it’s not just a Detroit thing. Whoever’s got that heat, we getting busy.
DX: On this project, some of the songs were a lot older. Your MySpace Beat Tapes from 2008 had the beat to “Chewbacca” and a snippet from “Random Call.” Your sound changes in one way or another for everybody project that you have, so what is it like for you as a producer to leave a project for a while and then come back like that?
Black Milk: I’m an artist, so I wanted to change everything. If I had enough time, I would’ve changed everything. Certain joints like the “Random Call” , even though that beat was from like 2006, years ago, it still had a vibe to it. I was like, “Man, let me at least mix it and make it sound like a more up to date version of what I’m doing now,” and it was dope. That’s how you know you’re doing the right thing, when you can make timeless music like that. Some of those joints we did years ago, and some of them joints are brand new. But it call came out dope at the end of the day, no matter what time period.
DX: I asked Hex, but he told me to ask you, Black: what the hell is up with the album cover?
Black Milk: That fuckin’ cover, man. [Laughs] Of course, Hex [Murda] wanted to throw some crazy death-kill shit on there, which would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t dope enough. I wouldn’t have minded the death-kill shit as long as it was dope, but it wasn’t dope enough, man. We went back and forth about that for three weeks. I felt like the cover it is now, like you say, people see it and don’t expect it, and get niggas talking. Versus it being a death-kill cover and niggas don’t say shit, because it’s obvious. This project has a whole personality of our solo projects, so let’s make sure that the visual is like that, too. I know that cover’s crazy and threw niggas off, but I think it’s a new thing.
DX: So is there a concept or underlying meaning to it?
Sean Price: Hell naw! It means absolutely nothing. It’s random! Random Axe!
Black Milk: It’s random, nigga. It was moreso just doing it visually. I didn’t want to do anything that had a crazy, deep-ass meaning. I just saw the picture my man Upendo sent to me, and I said, “That shit is fresh.” We just put a visual we thought was dope. Niggas like it, they hate it, but it’s got niggas buckin’.
Guilty Simpsion: It’s abstract art.
Sean Price: A [Jean-Michel] Basquiat! [Everyone Laughs]
DX: Black, you’ve done albums with different emcees before: Bishop Lamont and Fat Ray. How was working on this different from the others?
Black Milk: All those dudes you mentioned have the same vibe. I only work with cats that are easy to work with, and it’s effortless for them to do what they do. With [Fat] Ray and [the] Caltroit [project with Bishop Lamont], they’re dope ass emcees. It was easy to work with Random Axe, because sometimes, rappers be on Rap shit. It was easy to work with Guilt. …
Plus, we went into this album to not have no crazy concepts either. Just straight raw. The one concept we were going to have, we threw it out the window—well, P threw it out the window. That was that. That made it even easier, because we didn’t have to think hard. It was just great beats and dope verses.
Sean Price On Refusing To Make Songs About Girls
DX: Sean P. threw a concept out of the window?
Black Milk: Yeah, he wouldn’t do the girl song. [Laughs]
Sean Price: Nahmean? I was with all this stuff, but I don’t do bitch records, man. I’m not going to do a bitch record. I don’t do bitch records. I have a daughter, and a wife, so I’m not going to do no bitch records. I don’t want my daughter listening to me talk about whores, or having to make a whore record. I’m not with none of those bitch records, man.
Black Milk: But for the record, Ketchum, nigga, we could’ve went anywhere with the girl record!
Sean Price: I don’t want to talk about no bitches, period. They don’t deserve no airtime.
Black Milk: He just didn’t want to talk about a female, period. I had to sneak Melanie Rutherford on that shit.
Sean Price: When I heard the album was done and I heard homegirl singing on the [“Jahphy Joe”] record, I was like, “What the fuck?” Nahmean? That shit’s banging though, but I had nothing to do with that.
Black Milk: He couldn’t deny it, because the shit was dope.
Sean Price: I couldn’t deny it, it was official with homegirl rocking the chorus. It was official, but I had nothing to do with that shit. And if he would’ve asked me, I would’ve shut it down. So he did the right thing by doing it on his own.
DX: It would be hilarious to hear y’all do a girl record though!
Sean Price: That shit would be wack.
Black Milk: To tell you the truth, me and Guilty didn’t want to do a typical girl record. We wanted to do something in the vein of the old Sean P shit, like “Heartburn.”
Sean Price: I don’t want to do that again. You my man-a hundred grand, I just don’t want to do it again. I’ll knock somebody out for both of y’all niggas, I just ain’t doin’ no bitch records. If somebody messes with Black, I’ll put him on his ass, no Bruno, but I ain’t doin’ no bitch records.
DX: This is for Black and Guilty. Fatt Father has been doing his thing in Detroit for a long time now, so what was it like to get him on the record, as opposed to acts like Danny Brown or Roc Marciano, who people may expect?
Guilty Simpson: That was real important to me. We came up in the same era, especially in Detroit Hip Hop, going to open mics and really, our Hip Hop family. He came from a squad called The Teamsters, and I was in Almighty Dreadnaughtz. We’ve been cool for years. That’s one of the highlights on the whole album to me, for someone like that to work on a record as important to me as Random Axe is. That’s a victory for him to have some bars on it.
Sean Price: My wife just came in with my daughter, she went up the block to get some fish food. My little man got a fish named—what’s the fish’s name? Jimmy. They’ve got a fish called Jimmy, so we had to go buy some fish food for Jimmy. Jimmy’s eating now. He wasn’t goinig to make it through the night, he didn’t have no food. Jimmy’s eating right now.
Guilty Simpson: Jimmy the Fish.
Sean Price: Jimmy the Fish. You fed Jimmy the fish? [pauses while listening to wife] She’s getting ready to do it. My wife is great, nahmean? My little man got one bullshit-ass goldfish in a cereal bowl with water in it. [Everyone Laughs] He walks by like, “Jimmy! Jimmy!” Who the fuck is Jimmy? “My fish!” Jimmy the Fish.
Guilty Simpson: Jimmy the Fish.
Sean Price: Word. Sleep with the fishes. Sleep with the Jimmy. Pause. She bought a little $16 tank and all that!
DX: That’s that come-up.
Sean Price: It’s got food in it too? And gravel? She bought a little kit!”
Guilty Simpson: Oh, he’s good money then.
Sean Price: Oh Jimmy’s got a little Section 8 home then! Even poor fish got a place to stay, nahmean?