Self Portrait are days away from dropping their second album, Primal Union. This is a classic rap lineup with a lead emcee, a rapper/producer and a real live DJ tearing it up onstage. The new album showcases features from some of the hardest working people in Vermont hip hop, like Anthill Collective maestro Eskae, who juggles a couple hundred hats any given month. He shares a cut with SkySplitter, a prolific producer and one hell of a recording engineer, too.
These lads are embedded, in other words, a central hub of the new hot shit, and a home team a lot of folks are rooting for.
Primal Union is a big step for the Self Portrait crew, but they've been on the rise for awhile because they stay busy. Last year they were featured on the latest A-Dog Day compilation, the kind of honor that doesn't come lightly. Ringtone rap might be making money now, but albums still matter, and Primal Union is a professional product.
I got to talk with two thirds of the team about their sordid past, their violent beefs, and the upcoming HBO documentary. Dig it.
Thirtyseven: How did your crew come together?
RICO JAMES: Me and Trono met in 2007 while living in Plattsburgh, NY. I had just graduated with an art degree and Trono was still attending the college at the time. We hit it off immediately and started designing a clothing company, and writing rhymes together. This was before I even started making beats. I ended up moving to the west coast for a few years, so we continued to create long distance. I started making beats while living out west, so it was only right that we jumped back into the music when I moved back east to Burlington.
I met DJ Kanga through a mutual friend here in town, and we clicked immediately through our shared love of hip hop. I was blown away when I saw him scratch the first time. Right after we hung out, I hit up Trono and told him we gotta link up with this dude and get to work. I was amazed that Kanga hadn't been snatched up yet by another group. Dude is an unbelievable DJ. I sent him some of our tunes, while simultaneously reaching out to some people trying to book a show. We booked our first show in Sept. of 2013, and have been rockin' together ever since.
Thirtyseven: Has your songwriting process changed over the years?
TRONO: The songwriting has changed as my style and Rico's style has changed. Rico has taken a lesser role in rhyming, but when he does, his flow is on point and his one liners are hilarious. He has come a long way building a confidence you can find in his verses.
I have tried to develop my skills by being more concise. My thoughts need to convey the point that I want while also becoming one with the beat. I allow - encourage - beats to take me over, to lead me down the path. Emotions and what the instrumental pulls out of you are what need to be put into words. I need to explore that however possible with pin point exactness when translated onto paper. Its a ever growing process, forcing me to learn myself and to learn from others.
RICO JAMES: The process for the group as a whole is pretty simple. My main focus is the beats. I make the beats for the crew, so we start by sending a batch of beats to Trono. He picks and chooses the ones he likes and can get into and starts writing. I give Trono complete freedom to write whatever he feels. He usually comes up with the concepts and I just step in lyrically wherever it is needed. Trono is the lyricist of the crew. He is the true writer. I like writing rhymes for fun, but he is the true talent with the pen. After we get our songs all layed out, we send rough mixes to Kanga to add his magic.
Thirtyseven: How did you wind up with such an awesome cover?
TRONO: We discovered the artist, Evan Book, through another VT hip hopper that goes by Mycelium MC. He put us on to his work and I knew it would be a perfect fit for our album art. We had the album name, Primal Union, picked out for about a year and knew that was going to be the next album name. We had the concept that we wanted, with the cavemen in a cave listening to records by a fire, have Trono eating another emcee, etc... We through it out to Evan Book, told him the basic idea, and he absolutely killed it. His style works perfectly with what we wanted and had imagined for the album. He is a super talented artist, and everybody should hit him up on FB and check out his work.
Thirtyseven: Approximately how rich and famous do you plan on becoming on Feb. 24th?
TRONO: As rich and famous as I was the day before.
RICO JAMES: I'm hoping for a crispy $20. Will hit those dollar bins hard.