The Metamorphosis of a GutterflyMay 14, 2007 at 4:04 am | Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment
by ShaBe Allah
Portland, Oregon bred rap duo Lifesavas have survived their Blood and Crip infested neighborhood, and an oversaturated Hip Hop market through consistent studio/grinding sessions to become recognized by Rolling Stone as one of 10 Artists To Watch in 2007.With a history in Portland’s underground that spans two decades, Jumbo, Vursatyl, and DJ Shines get a shot to see if their formula of culturally awakening, golden era-esque sound can win over the ears of a new generation of pseudo gangster Hip Hoppers. Their latest release, “Gutterfly”, is the soundtrack to an indie film of the same name inspired by Black experience exploitation, also dubbed “blaxploitation”. TheSource.com writer ShaBe Allah got a chance to sit down and polly with MC Vursatyl aka Bumpy Johnson about their days of paying dues, the cinematic inspiration of their second project, and how they managed to get some of the hottest duos in the game to team up with them on Gutterfly.
Vursatyl: ShaBe, what’s up, my dude? ShaBe: Ain’ t nothin’, man. Slow motion like lotion, baby. I like the album, man. I’m feelin’ it.. Vursatyl: That’s what’s up, man. Good lookin’..good lookin’..
ShaBe: I’m feeling the concept, the message. Not to jump off track, but how old are you? Vursatyl: Aw, man. You not gonna put that in the article, are you? (Laughs)
ShaBe: (laughs) I just wanna know! Your fans wanna know! You can’t be ashamed of your age, man. If you’re older than me, I wanna get there! If you’re younger than me, I’m gonna show you how I got where I am. I’m 33.. Vursatyl: You said you’re 33? I’m 36.
ShaBe: So we’re basically in the same age bracket as far as the era of the music we were listening to. You’re from
Portland, Oregon, so tell me about the Hip Hop scene over there when you met Jumbo. Vursatyl: For us, it was on full blast, man. As soon as we saw and heard “Rapper’s Delight”, there were rap groups poppin’ up. As soon as we caught glance of it, it was manifested in the town. I always tell people
Portland’s always had a real vibrant Hip Hop scene. When we was comin’ up, as well as all of the dope MCs that were out there, there were cats here that were equally our favorite. They were real dope..like ahead of their time type dudes. So it’s always been a vibrant culture. B-boys, MCs, DJs..We had incredible DJs, B-boys that went on to compete globally..
Portland always had a real, real vibrant culture out here, but where we’re located, you’ll never know.
ShaBe: During what point in time during that period did you meet Jumbo? Vursatyl: Jumbo and I really connected in like ’86..
ShaBe: What was going on in your solo careers when you two came together to form what we know as Lifesavas? Vursatyl: In ’86, there were crews that were already doing their thing. Most notably, there was a crew from here called The Untouchable Crew. They went on to be the first group from
Portland to get a record deal probably in like, ’87, ’88. Jumbo and I were both in groups of our own. Jumbo was in a group called Freshness At Work and I was in this group called The Crew. About five or six different groups all use to record in this one dude’s basement. His name is Bosco. Bosco was like one of the only cats out here with a four track recorder. We all had our different groups and we use to record out of the same basement. That’s kind of how me and Jumbo started having mutual respect for each other. Jumbo was a DJ at the time. Cats that rhymed in Jumbo’s group…out here Bloods and Crips were real heavy at that time. Bloods and Crips were at its height out here at that time. It really kind of took off in ’84, so right around ’86, ’87, it really like reached its zenith with cats just gettin’ deaded all around our neighborhood. My man Big Red, who was an MC in Jumbo’s crew, got shot and killed. Me and Big Red was working on a joint at the time because there were a lot of wack MCs in that crew. The Untouchable Crew went to his high school, ya dig, and we was making this song called “Stop The Madness”, but it wasn’t about stopping gang violence. It was about stopping wack MCs…So he got shot and killed, man. He actually got set up. On the day of his funeral, me and Jumbo was building and was like, ‘ We need to get together and do our own thing.’, but we never really made it happen until about ’90. Then about ’90, me and him got together. We was in another group. I was in another group, we needed a DJ and me and Jumbo started working on our stuff on the side. As that group kind of dissipated, not showing up for gigs, me and Jumbo would kick in and fill in for the group. We would come up and people was lovin’ it. They was like, ‘ If y’all hadn’t showed up, the show wouldn’t have went down. Man, y’all are life savers! Thanks for coming!’ and the name just came out of that.
ShaBe: When did y’all kick off with Quannum Projects? Vursatyl: Well, we recorded an album that was supposed to be released on Warner Brothers in ’93.
ShaBe: Did you ever release that album? Vursatyl: It never got released. It was called “Livesavas Technique”.
ShaBe: Whose fault was that over there at Warner Bros.? Vursatyl: (Sighs) On the real, ShaBe, I couldn’t even tell you. At the time, we was being managed by Sir Mix A Lot‘s manager. We had deals on the table from Relativity and Warner Bros. We had gotten a deal for this chick that we wrote the rhymes for her record. She was like a poetess at the time. Right before the neo-soul vibe kinda caught. Sir Mix A Lot was kind of reachin’ out to other artists through this cat named Ricardo. That’s his manager’s name. That’s all I ever knew him by was Ricardo, ya dig? He got us a deal on the table. Relativity was offering, Warner Brothers was offering, but at that time, Lifesavas, as a crew, we was five members deep and they only wanted two of us. So we couldn’t work the deal out right and before we could kind of come to terms, they was like, ‘We not gonna do it. Yo, the deal fell through.’ So we didn’t put the record out because we really didn’t understand the independent game that well, so that’s kind of how Quannum kicked in. We eventually recorded a cassette single. We recorded it in like ’95, but we didn’t have the dough to put it out until ’97. Cheif Xcel from Blackalicious heard the joint while he was out in
Portland diggin’ for records at this rare groove spot called Jump Jump Music. The store owner popped in the cassette, Cheif Xcel heard the joint and he was like, ‘Yo, lemme get that!’ and the dude hit him off with the tape. A few weeks later, I went to a Blackalicious show and I met him and he was like, ‘I was diggin’ for records and this dude gives me y’all tape! It was dope!’ About 8 or 9 months later, he called me and said he was looking for somebody to join the “Blackalicious Live” show. I sent him some stuff. We was workin’ on some stuff at the time..some old stuff. He was like ‘bet’, Fed-Exed me a plane ticket and I was in
Oakland like the day after. I joined the Blackalicious Live show and this was my first tour, my dude. We did about four or five U.S. dates and a few weeks later, I’m in Europe and we doin’ a show in
France at this festival called the Trans Musical. Like musical, but they pronounce it music-CAL. We was hearing about record labels like Stones Throw, at this time, it was a distribution company called New Groove Alliance and all these cats were putting out independent records at the time. Rawkus was boomin’ at the time. Me and Jumbo decided when we go to the Bay,we should start recording something that we could give people. We recorded this song called “Syllable Killer” and while I was overseas giving it away, I saw the Beat Junkies and Tech Chemist from Jurassic 5 and I gave them our demo. Cheif Xcel from Blackalicious and Lyrics Born(Quannum) saw me giving it away and was questioning what I was giving away. They said that they had to see what I was giving away first before I gave it to anybody else because we was representing them. They took the joint on the tour bus, listened to it, and they said, ‘Yo, man, we need to sign y’all to Quannum.’ That’s how it was born, ya dig? The whole time, I’m not trying to press up on Quannum for a deal because I was just tryin’ to find a place to rest my head. I wasn’t tryin’ to dick ride the situation, you know? I was just lookin’ for deals in other places, but when they heard the new Livesavas stuff, they wanted to sign us and the song on our demo became our first 12 inch on Quannum.
ShaBe: Were you satisfied with the success of your debut release under Quannum, “Spirit In Stone”? Vursatyl: We were overwhelmed with the success of it, man. Our goal was to sell about 10,000 records. We tripled that.
ShaBe: What part of the “blaxploitation” experience are you trying to magnify on the new album,”Gutterfly”? Vursatyl: For us, doing the soundtrack, we wanted the people to feel the soul of that era. The Curtis Mayfield soundtrack that he did for Superfly, James Brown doing the soundtrack for Black Caesar, ya dig? It takes real relevant artists of today doing whole soundtracks for classic films. That was our whole objective. How did James Brown approach Black Caesar? How did Curtis Mayfield approach Superfly? They still make music that you can dance and listen to without watching the movie.
ShaBe: Why did you pick Bumpy Johnson as your alias for this album? Vursatyl: Straight up, even though Bumpy was in the underworld, he kind of represented a superhero. He had the numbers game and his outlook was that he was providing jobs for all these people. Look at where Harlem was at the time and the condition it was in and while the Mafia was controlling the rest of
New York, he was holding it down. He took up what the Queen was doing and kind of really became a figurehead for Black people standing up. He had his hustle, but he kind of acted like he was a leader, ya dig? He represented the people on a certain levelin terms of saying we were not going to lay down and be controlled, but stand up and fight back.
ShaBe: Did you get your insight on Bumpy Johnson from watching the movie “Hoodlum”? Vursatyl: I definitely peeped Hoodlum. If you know, Laurence also played Bumpy in “Cotton Club” too. I also did my little research to find as much knowledge on him as I could to understand him a little better.
ShaBe: Did Jumbo produce all the tracks on the new album? Vursatyl: Nah, he didn’t. We reached out to some other producers. it depends on how you want to do it, man. I know we got the whole code of ethics in terms of the track thing, but Jumbo is actually down in the basement right now working on music.
ShaBe: A couple of my favorite tracks were “Double Up” and, of course, the first single, “Dead Ones”. Vursatyl: My man Oh No produced Double Up and I produced the Dead Ones.
ShaBe: How did you hook up with Baraka Feldman and how closely was he involved with the music side of the screenplay he put together? Vursatyl: The whole thing about Gutterfly was simply us just taking the vision of a movie. There was no back and forth with Baraka Feldman. The idea for Gutterfly was there and we just took it and built on it. It was laid down that simple. That whole thing was our vision.
ShaBe: How did you get rock legend Fishbone on the album? Vursatyl: With us, living in
Portland, you gotta reach out and connect with cats when the opportunity is there. Fishbone was coming through
Portland and a friend of ours knew them. We reached out and my man Norwood Fisher who plays the bass and core member of the group, he was a fan of Lifesavas. Norwood is a Hip Hop head. He hooked up with Angelo, they came to Portland and just came through the lab. I went to the store, brought snacks…it was burning up that day..before you know it, we was in a conversation about dreams. They had already been conceptualizing on doing a song about dreams, ya dig? I wanted to do a song about people giving up on their dreams. For what ever reason, either couldn’t pursue their dreams because they were locked down, got caught up in the struggle, whatever, and left their dreams alone to go on to other things. We put these two things together and I wanted to call the joint Dead Ones. That had been on my mind. I wanted to dedicate it to them as a lullaby, ya dig? It came together. They was wit’ it and magic just happened. It was one of those moments that you’ll never see again. It just happened right there on the spot.
ShaBe: One joint that I personally took keen interest to was “Freedom Walk”. This track features dead prez and another rock n’ roll trailblazer, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. How did you bring him into the fold and what was his particular influence on the content of the track? Vursatyl: From the gate, this is a joint that my man Jumbo produced. We was in Istanbul, Turkey. Jumbo said to me, ‘When we get to the hotel, I got something to show you.’ He let me hear this joint and we was vibin’ and everything and he was like, ‘Man, before we do anything, this is a song I would love to do with that cat Vernon Reid.’ Before we could even conceptualize the song, he wanted to get down with Vernon Reid to help make the musical vision come alive. While we was there, he penned his verse. We got home, we flew into New york and while we was in New York, we called somebody we knew that knew how to get at Vernon and called him. We shot him the joint and he was all over it. We really couldn’t make it happen because of his schedule. It took 7 months for that to happen, but once he got down, we sent him the joint and by that time, we had stic.man and M1 on the joint and he just fell into the groove. He showed up at our show in Brooklyn. We performed it live at Southpaw in Brooklyn.
ShaBe: I know it’s a story how you got hooked up with George Clinton. Tell me about that. Vursatyl: He came through Portland and he had to a show and my peoples in the studio said George Clinton was there. He wasn’t trippin’ on money, he wasn’t trippin’ on nothin’. He just wanted to catch a buzz and whatever. We threw the track on, he got on and just started blessin’ us.
ShaBe: What was the medicinal formula when y’all was puttin’ that down? Vursatyl: I’m gonna tell you like this. My man blow so much weed, you ain’t never seen it before. It’s extra with my man. He’s a genius. Basically everything that he did was a keeper.
ShaBe: All of the songs on the soundtrack have a movie at the end of it. What’s your favorite scene on the album? Vursatyl: I guess for me, it’s probably the joint with George Clinton on it. “The Night Out” just because that joint is still like a movie. If you listen to it, you hear cars screeching in the background, people screamin’..we’re talkin’ about real stuff that’s goin’ down, ya dig? The whole drama really culminates in that moment. That’s not the first dramatic, cinematic piece on the record. It’s kind of a centerpiece to how you want it to make it feel like a movie and at the same time deal with stuff that brothers is dealing with on a regular. Like racial profiling..I got pulled over with my seeds in the car, dog. You got my hands locked around the side view mirror in front of my babies. That’s how it went down and I put it down like that on the track to a tee.
ShaBe: Rolling Stone said that you are one of the Top 10 groups to look out for in 2007. How did that feel to get that response? Vursatyl: It blew me away, dog. I just had to sit down on that one. It was something that you couldn’t plan for. A publicist couldn’t drum that up for you. That just happened to be honest from them and that’s how they felt when they heard the joint. Just knowing that it hit ’em like that and out the artists that could’ve got picked, they picked us, that was a moment in my career that I will always remember. Having toured alongside Hip Hop enthusiasts/artists, Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious is a surefire method for thier concoction of fucked up beats and third eye opening rhymes to gain national noteriety they are on the road with Strange Fruit Project and DJ Marc Sense on tne Gutterfly Urban Tour which is scheduled to touch 30 cities.New jacks to the fame? Yes. New jacks to the game? Not by along shot. Don’t think these brothers are going to stop making albums if they’re not nominated for a Grammy. Most real MC’s don’t.