Into the Foreground
For the past several months, one local upstart rap crew has been spending a lot of time and work establishing their name around town. Background Noise Crew is an assemblage of some of the Twin Cities’ up-and-coming producers and MCs – Egypto Knuckles, ToneKrusher Smith, Phingaz & TQD (who work as the duo Green Sketch), Analyrical and Status Reign – who combine a classicist indie-rap D.I.Y. ethos with a tireless hustle and a lot of inter-crew brainstorming. So far their efforts have given us Green Sketch’s debut EP So Long for Now, but there’s plenty more to come later this year. This e-mail interview with the crew outlines who they are, what they’re about and where they're headed.
Listen to Background Noise Crew's "Turn It Up" here.
What sets Background Noise Crew apart from some (or all) of the other crews that are working around the Twin Cities area?
EGYPTO KNUCKLES: Our relationship with crews and the scene as a whole represents our drive to show off the diverse scene and the many different styles that are represented within the scene. My whole production ethic is built from such forefathers as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, El-P, and Madlib. I want to be at that point where every song I make is somewhat poignant and reflective of the thoughts of the specific songwriter at that time. The way a rapper utilizes onomatopoeia or syllabic structure has always been a thing for me, and I certainly want to bring that out of an artist. One thing I regret is not using my DJ muscle to scratch records within my tracks, but that will slowly change within time.
TONEKRUSHER SMITH: The Frugalis McSpiteful album coming out on April 1 is going to be different because the whole album is sick. Literally. The beats are as dirty as the lyrics. The album will make you laugh or wince with uncomfortability.
PHINGAZ: My production methods are unorthodox and I don't fear new territories or sounds. The Green Sketch EP doesn't show that as much as I would have liked it to, but there are sprinkled moments here and there. Looking back on my previous projects I feel like I've pushed myself each time in new creative ways to write music. So of course I will continue to do that with Green Sketch and the rest of the Background Noise Crew. TQD is a little more known for his quieter (pun intended), darker, softer side, while I usually come off as a fool. With time and some growth our vocal and lyrical play can turn into a dual sided mash-up, me tipping the scales toward a more carefree fun loving side, while TQD can keep us grounded in emotions and feelings we all have.
TQD: Since anything can be labeled, I'm sure you can find a pigeonhole for each member of Background Noise, but I think you'd be hard pressed to lump us together as "all sounding the same". Individually, we all make music that sounds a little different from each other, but what ultimately bonds us is the fact that we respect those differences, and occasionally find ourselves somewhere in the middle.
ANALYRICAL: I think Background Noise is the first crew in a while to be extremely innovative and unique with our promotional tools and our live performances. When we put on a show, it involves so much more than grabbing a mic and rapping to a crowd. We support each other so much and really try to make things interactive for the audience. We have sketches, we have props, we have live guitar remixes of songs, and the list could go on and will continue to grow as we get more comfortable and experienced as a crew.
STATUS REIGN: I think the biggest difference between Background noise crew and most other cliques in Minneap right now is that everything that we do is done by committee, and then once a decision is made it undergoes trial by fire. With so many individuals focused in on the "for the good of the team" mentality, more often than not we have very solid plans and directions no matter what the project is, but more importantly we have a group of individuals willing to sacrifice for the success of others.
Could each of you give a brief summary/breakdown of your personality and what you bring to the group?
EGYPTO KNUCKLES: I started out producing the Beat Box on 770 Radio K, and then hosted the show for 7 more years. Aside from that I’ve been working at large, building different friendships within the scene and trying to help network with folks on a daily basis to help the scene build more of a unity. With my production style, I bring more a sense of the good feel of the Golden Era of Hip Hop, which is between 1987-1996 as a whole, where the beats and samples were rugged and overflowed with mood and presence.
TONEKRUSHER SMITH: Egypto Knuckles and I came up with the character Frugalis McSpiteful together. We thought it would be funny to make an album about an anti-hero. Hip hop now is about how fly I am, how fly my girl or car is, so we thought about making an album that was to the contrary.
PHINGAZ: I've been a part of many projects (Sinthesis [just released our 3rd Full Length!], The Mixed-Up Tape, Vividend, Capaciti), they all vary quite a bit from one another. I'm constantly pushing myself to find new and interesting ways to make/write music and to promote it and share it with people. I don't really feel comfortable referring to much of my music as a certain 'genre' because I don't try to write music for any particular one. It all gets blended together into a large melting pot that demands quite a bit from the listener, but it’s usually worth the journey. I'm one of Background Noise's 'in house' producers and I run the studio. I record all the music and mix it. I'm usually joking, but often take things way too serious at the same time. If you get me and Frugalis in a room together, we will rarely say anything worth writing down. Or believing for that matter. Good ish.
TQD: I am probably the most serious of the crew members, personally and musically speaking. I tend to gravitate towards things that are dark and I think that provides a balance to some of the other members of Background Noise who may come with a lighter sound of music and/or personality. I think it's fair to say that regardless of who we all were before forming Background Noise, we've managed to rub off on each other. I also bring record keeping skills to the crew. I serve as the secretary of Background Noise, so I plan our meetings, update everyone on news, and make sure I'm keeping what we discuss and plan to do well documented.
ANALYRICAL: I think I bring a positive sensibility to Background Noise. I love and respect the origins of hip-hop and thankfully Egytpo Knuckles has really helped me tap into my love for the history and cultural relevance. As the rest of the crew would tell you, I wear my heart on my sleeve. There's no doubt about it. I'm a pretty passionate guy and it is reflected in my music and the way I carry myself. Lyrically, I am still wavering in between straightforward honesty and philosophical wordplay. I sometimes just say exactly what is on my mind, then on another song I will bring up questions and ideas, and leave it to the listener to decide for themselves. It's fun and thought-provoking to explore both routes.
STATUS REIGN: As far as my personality goes, I'm a big fan of finding the devil in the details. I really try and be the best at everything I do, and whether or not that ends up being the case, I think my end products show the markings of working toward something specific. I'd much rather cut down from 100 tracks to find 15 good ones than make 20 and keep them all for an album. Right now Case Of The Mondays (consisting of myself and Analyrical) is working on our album for release in mid July. It’s gonna be a collection of jazzy and fun music that goes over well for live shows, mixed with some more serious introspective tunes that shed light on who we are as people. Following that, the release of my solo album Brutally Honest which is more or less self explanatory in terms of content is slated for Nevruary of 2018... proving further more how much I'd like to put into it before I consider it finished.
What's the weirdest thing about you?
EGYPTO KNUCKLES: The weirdest thing about me, sometimes it’s the samples I use and sometimes it’s the way I utilize the samples to my advantage. People in the crew found out recently that I chop everything manually, which earned me a crazy look. That and I probably claim permanent residency at Yafa off 41st and Central.
TONEKRUSHER SMITH: I have a hole in the crotch of almost all of my underwear. I don't know. I've been trying to figure that one out for years.
PHINGAZ: Although I have no relation to Wisconsin, I love cheese.
TQD: For someone who doesn't say a whole lot, I'm rather opinionated.
ANALYRICAL: The weirdest thing about me I can think of is my meticulous cleanliness and organization. My apartment has no posters or anything on the walls. I separate pens and markers. Everything is lined up in a linear fashion. I have all my socks facing the same way in my drawer. I don't know how weird it is to me personally, but every time a person who has never been over before sees my place there is always a comment or two about it.
STATUS REIGN: When I'm on a video game playing kick my basic necessities are narrowed to Vault soda, pizza, profanity and cigarettes.
The Background Noise Crew perform Saturday, March 15 at the Dinkytowner. Doors open at 9pm.