A staggering amount of quality hip-hop acts will congregate in the Nomad World Pub's parking lot this Saturday for the much anticipated Hip Hop Harambee. It's advisable to arrive early to catch the innovative duo Up Rock, comprised of Digie and Dundee of the legendary St. Paul crew Abstract Pack. Their innovative, electronic-inspired sound is refreshing and contemporary, even as it recalls the early years of hip-hop. Mixing the loose and fun party rocking of pre-Run DMC rap with dubstep wobble bass and laid-back rhythms, Up Rock manage to both bring their years of experience in the underground rap scene and an ear to the future together to create some truly excellent music. Gimme Noise caught up with Digie and Dundee to talk about the Up Rock sound:
Gimme Noise: You've rapped together for a number of years as part of the Abstract Pack, but how did Up Rock come about?
Digie: Basically, since we were in our crew, Dundee and I have always had this different way of thinking, a different train of thought. There's been a lot of songs submitted to the Abstract Pack project that were just kind of outside the box, out of the ordinary. The only two people that really felt that was us two. We just meshed. We were already family, so we started working together.
Dundee: Everybody kind of started working on different projects, and actually "Hit The Floor", Digie sent this to me years after the Pack project was over. He's like, "Yo man, I'm looking for a hook for this. You write bomb hooks, help me out with this one," I heard the song, I wrote the hook probably the same night I got the track, if I'm not mistaken. We had a couple other songs that we had been thinking about working on, so I'm like, "Digie man, I think it's time, we should just put together a little EP, you know, see what it does...". From all the songs we kind of started toying with, we had about two that we were really, really feeling, then we started to visualize what it would sound like; let's kinda write seven songs, see what it does.
Two weeks we wrote the EP. We had two songs done at that time, "Nice and Slow" and "Hit the Floor". In a lyric, I called the sound "boom-clap with a Zulu mashup", cuz that's kind of what it feels like. It was real deliberate once we had a couple songs under our belt. All of the old-school stuff was super electronic and spacey back then, so we definitely wanted to keep with a real heavy sound and a real electronic influence, but also stay true to our roots. We do what feels right.
Digie: I think that was the key. I honestly think the sound came about because of the feeling. The feeling of hip-hop, when it was hip-hop, people just dance. People just do whatever, move whatever they're feeling; that's kind of what we played off of each other. If we hear something, and we feel it, it's good. We just gotta keep inspiring ourselves. We hear different things in the dubstep scene, the electronica scene, it's inspirational, man. We keep our ears open, our minds and everything open. We see everything around us, even background noise, right now. Everything is inspiration, it helps with the feeling of what we produce. We're both producers, so, you know.
What's the Up Rock live show like?
Digie: An Up Rock show is energy, education and surprise. You have a guy with an MS6 turntable, from Numark, and on top is an MPC, and on the side we have this big 21 inch iMac.
Dundee: I'm still trying to get him to get a laptop [laughs]
Digie: Then, on the other side, you see a snare drum, with an MPC on top of the snare drum, and a bass drum. The initial is like, what is that? Always, it never fails. Everybody's like a deer in headlights. After the first verse, people are moving. That's the educational part, it's like, okay, they're actually making me move! They're not telling me to do anything, it's just, I'm starting to feel it. And then, we start kickin' it up to this big climax of the show, we get up with the energy, live sounds, the MPCs, and when it gets to the point of the beat battle, which we incorporated into our set - he makes a beat on the fly, we have samples in the MPCs, but everything that people hear is just made up on the spot.
Dundee: We definitely wanna just show cats that we do production on the spot, so that's become kind of a huge part of the show that people really like. But we're also incorporating the MPC and live instrumentation, as well as pre-exisiting sequences, sort of all at once, for texture. The short answer is, it's two MPCs, bass kick, snare, turntables and computer set-up, but we're really going for a dynamic sort of sound and visual to the show. We can tailor it to a show. If it's more of a classic hip-hop show, we can just do some boom-bap, something everybody can relate to, but if we're doing stuff with the electronica cats, using some of the beat machines and doing more DJ stuff, we can do more improv stuff for that. That was the main idea, let's do something different live.
How is working on Up Rock material different from working with the Abstract Pack?
Dundee: Um, 100 percent [laughs]. For me, the Abstract Pack, for working with seven people, at it's height, we had a real natural way of working together. I cannot imagine working with that many people that wasn't that crew. We yelled and screamed and did all the band shit, but overall, we knew how to work together when it came to the stage, writing... We were a bit disorganized back in the day, but even for being as young as we were and really just trying to grow up as well as grow up musically, we did pretty good. For me, the most challenging thing is sort of the same thing that's the beauty of it, that you have to go through all these channels every time you want to do something. Just my personality, I like to work fast. I'm not a person that likes to sit still real long. My ideas, not all of 'em are great, but I got a ton of 'em. With the Abstract Pack, it's a collaborative effort always.
Digie: One thing that was cool about the Pack was, we did have this connection. We actually still do. When we won the hip-hop legend award in 2008, we all came through to go over old songs, our big songs to perform live. We hadn't seen each other for years. First time back, everything was spot on. We knew different cues, we knew which words to accentuate... It was like, wow. Back to it. Same old, same old. That connection, it's cool; we all had to get there and it took a little time to get there. With Up Rock, as far as the ideas, nothing's beyond the realm of possibility. Nothing's too crazy, nothing's too odd or weird.
Dundee: And if it is, we know it when we hear it.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at the Harambee?
Dundee: I haven't seen Talib since he was here at First Ave years, years ago. Locally, I'm excited to see Meta, that's our guy from way back. He's always been a supporter of the crew, I'm excited to see him, I haven't really seen him go solo yet.I really wanna see the Audio Perm cats get down too.
RDM: People have been telling me about them too, their stage show... Reminds me of us, back in the day.
Dundee: There's so many good artists, it'll be awesome to see everybody. The person I haven't seen but I've been in love with all the stuff he's put out is Mike the Martyr, for sure. That'll be fun to see him throw down.
Up Rock performs alongside a ton of other acts including Talib Kweli, Sims, Sean Anonymous, and more, at the Hip-Hop Harambee concert at the Nomad World Pub this Saturday. Tickets available here or at the door.