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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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SumKid - Sum Kinda Artist
Friday, November 07, 2008

SumKid is the creative genius behind the song “Chuck Norris on Drugs.” A California based emcee, SumKid has built quite the career on being a creative and unique individual. To say he bucks the usual trends in hip-hop would be an understatement. From The Lil Folk, to The Nobody Hole, to “Chuck Norris on Drugs,” everything SumKid does is a multilayered piece of art. This week I sat down with SumKid to find out more about his work, the reason why after years of denouncing the title of “emcee” he now likes to tell people he’s a rapper, and how he plans to take on any potential roundhouse kicks to the head from Walker, Texas Ranger.

Adam Bernard: You range quite a bit musically. How do you define yourself both as an emcee and a musician?
SumKid: I could talk for hours about this. It's funny, I went through this long, drawn out, process where I felt like I had to define myself as something more than an emcee. I felt that way because there were ten thousand people out there calling themselves "emcee" and they were awful, and the shit ain’t feel special no more. Once upon a time, if you called yourself an emcee it meant you were capable of doing something most other people only daydreamed about doing. Kinda like how Lil’ Wayne makes the kids feel now, but if you ask me, Lil’ Wayne is creative, a good student of the craft, but ultimately a weakling. I see no real fruits on his tree. But you didn't ask me about that, so we'll get into it in another interview. So anyway, I started calling myself a songwriter because I felt like I was different than everybody else rappin’, and during that period, that was 100% true, because I was knee deep in studying the craft of what it takes to write songs and I was actually writing songs. More than just writing some verses with clever wordplay, I was trying to understand what it took to create visuals, elicit emotional responses, capture a spirit and stab somebody deep in the heart with a total package of music, lyrics and feeling. I was digging deep into the minds and hearts of people I consider great, songwriters like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Bill Withers, Paul McCartney, Nas, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, people who captured spirits. I wanted to make songs that could stand up next to theirs and also stand up to the test of time with universal themes and timeless music. Once I felt I had a grip on that I started defining myself as a "songwriter." Then the next thing I did was to get deep into the blues, which has always been a part of me.

My family is deep-rooted in the South and Chicago, the second home to the Blues, so it was always playing when I was growing up, but I hated it because it was depressing. I couldn't identify with it because I couldn't understand why people would use their music to wallow in sorrow. I felt like music was supposed to be an escape. Then after a bunch of heartache, harmonica playing and whiskey, I started relating and I started writing more bluesy stuff, which you can hear on my project with Belief, The Lone Wolf. Around that time I added the title "bluesman" to the "songwriter." I don't feel like I deserve that title anymore because of the rich history and tradition of the Blues, it's way deeper than I am, but I do feel like if you really want to understand what's at the heart of American music, and what being an American really is, you gotta come to terms with the blues. I feel like if you wanna understand the riffs in rock and roll, the keys they use in heavy metal guitar, the themes of soul, jazz and funk, anything about music in America, you gotta at least visit the blues. I love hip-hop, but at the end of the day, if you put me on a horse-drawn wagon to Hell to play roulette with the Devil and there was only one kind of music I could listen to nonstop on the way in my mp3 player, put some John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, or Howlin' Wolf on that bitch and I'm straight.

AB: Other than your family, how did you come to investigate the Blues?
SK: A lot of that "emcee-songwriter-bluesman" journey was inspired by friends and people I knew who felt like rhyming was child's play and they outgrew it, so I tried to outgrow the title. But that's foolishness; the depth of the badge you wear is only as expansive as your imagination, so to hell with what they think. I'm proud of my craft, I'm a master of it, and I stand by it. Many of my colleagues get shy, or their voices go down a couple of notches when they have to identify themselves as rappers. I've gotten to the point where I can look an old woman in the face and say "I'm a rapper" like a man, because to me, our craft is just as technical and honorable as swordsmithing, Ayurvedic cheffing, or masonry and we should start demanding the same respect. Our craft draws on mathematics, language, rhythm, technique, imagination, memory and structure, just like playing guitar, but you don't ever see a guitarist backing down from what they do like they're ashamed. I scream it to the heavens now, I'm a fuckin' MC baby, and a songsmith, and I love it. I can't wait to write my next verse. I wake up in the morning hungry to write like I'm 17, but I'm 31. I feel like there's a cosmos of concepts inside of me, and I have to get them out before I die. I'm obsessed with that. Bruce Lee didn't stop calling himself a martial artist just because there was a bunch of half-asses opening dojos. He just excelled, and then created his own style. And that's what I do. I excel at my craft and create my own style.

AB: What corner of the Los Angeles hip-hop scene would you say you’re a part of?
SK: The problem I'm having in Los Angeles is the same problem I'm having with my music career in general, which is carving out a niche for myself. I don't fit in the underground rap scene, the hipster scene, the electro-dilla-hop niche, none of that. It's a problem I've always had. But I'm steadily carving my own niche and it's gonna happen out here in LA, count that.

AB: Break down the projects you've released and how all of them differ.
SK: The Lil’ Folks: My first and only official release to date. This album is a young, hungry me, blowing my creative wad all over the place. I laid all of my cards on the table, so everything that happens in my career has a seed somewhere on that album. It was meticulously crafted and poured over to the point where I can't even listen to it now, six years after recording started. It was ambitious, but lacked the mastery and focus I have now.

BatMilk: This is an EP I wrote and recorded after The Lil’ Folks was done, and I was tired of thinking about song structure, mixing, concepts and professionalism. All the tracks were produced by my buddy QZR (pronoucned Kway-zar). It's dark, muddy, slightly experimental and pure fun. I shot a video for it called Sloth.

The Lone Wolf: An album wrote and recorded in collaboration with producer Belief. This might be my best work. It's all personal testimonials, folktales and bluesy material. This is being released on Worker B records at the top of 2009. Keep an eye out for the "Rivers/Kakalak All-Stars" video.

The Nobody Hole: An album wrote and recorded in collaboration with producer Badtouch. This is my magnum opus and labor of love. The Nobody Hole is an opera that's kind of like The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Halloween. I flex my storytelling muscle on this project, and go deep into my fantasy/sci-fi chamber. I also collaborated with some visual artists, Doug Hoffman and Jared Rogness, to help bring the characters to life. It's probably one of the most bananas projects I've ever heard. I'm a big fan of The Nobody Hole. I'll probably be working on it for the rest of my life, bringing it to fruition in different ways, through animation, picture books, action figures, video games. Everyday I wake up and push The Nobody Hole a little further in hopes that it can reach the masses one day and show them the awesome power and creativity that hip-hop can harness. I hope that will inspire people to push the limits of what they can do. Every year around Halloween I throw an event for it called "The Nobody Ball," which was in LA this year. A lot of people are sleeping on this project, but once it catches on it's going to be like wildfire. You can listen in its entirety on www.thegoodlook.net.

AB: You also have a new song out. Tell me all about "Chuck Norris on Drugs." What inspired this song and are you living in constant fear of catching a roundhouse kick to the head?
SK: “Chuck Norris on Drugs” was inspired by me listening to that beat and feeling the need to say some shit with substance, but not in a preachy way. I wanted to keep my balls in it. A lotta these rappers wanna speak on earthy affairs, but they feel the need to leave their balls out of it, and it starts sounding all warm and buttery. I wanted to come on some ra-ra. I started thinking about all the ridiculous things happening in the world at the time, and then I was like "what's the most ridiculous thing I can imagine right now?" and my answer to that question was imagining Chuck Norris on really hard drugs. It's ridiculous and dangerous, just like most things I spoke on in the song. The song was also inspired by Billy Joel and The Talking Heads. To answer the second part of your question, I've already caught some roundhouse kicks to the head, so I know what it feels like, and it ain’t that bad. Plus, I'll beat Chuck Norris' ass with spiked bat if he ever comes to my block and tries to kick me in my head.

AB: I know you're always working on a myriad of projects, so tell me about what you're working on now and who you're working on those projects with.
SK: I'm glad you asked me that. Shit is changing right now. The music industry is imploding, magazines are flopping over left and right, many artists getting shine and recognition suck balls. Rappers hate the hipsters, hipsters run the blogs, blogs blow up artists, indie rock runs shit. Hip-hop created magazines like URB and VIBE, and now they won't even give a rapper the time of day unless his pants hug his nuts and he wears a mohawk with horn-rimmed glasses, or buys ad space. It's a big clusterfuck right now. Music is a big golden retriever chasing its tail. Is hip-hop dead? No. Do dickheads who don't know how to adapt to the digital age run the hip-hop show? Yes. There are 450 million new sites out there where artists and fans can connect, where people can push music, discover it, read about it and buy it. LastFM, blipfm, The Hype Machine, MOG, Reverbnation, Ourstage, Twitter, Facebook, We7.com, Thumbshare, I mean, it's getting overwhelming. Some of the sites really care about the well-being of artists, some don't. None of them are run by artists. So, to answer your question, right now, my biggest project is building the structure for my answer to music promotion and distribution. It's a community that's not only going to change the way artists and fans do business with each other, but it will also have a social and cultural impact as well. It's called The Good Look, it's a revolutionary and cohesive movement of artists, writers and fans and it's going to be huge.

AB: Finally, now that SumKid is married, shouldn't it be SumMan?
SK: Nah, we've been together 11 years and I've learned that it's the "Kid" part that keeps her interested… plus "SumMan" sounds like a multivitamin, or like I should wear a cape.

You can find Sum's work at thegoodlook.net

Story originally ran on beyondrace.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 8:45 AM  
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