by Alex Shtaerman
RIOTSOUND.COM: End Of The Weak is the world’s longest running weekly open mic. How was E.O.W. originally established? Looking back on the success you’ve had, did you ever think it was possible for an open mic to gain this much momentum?
PROPAYNE: End Of The Weak started in August of the year 2000. Vice Verses and myself were already a group called I.2.I and we had a whole crew. We connected with [Big] Zoo at local bars and shows; he also had a group called Solid Group. We all started frequenting the same bar, it was a spot called Bob’s on the Lower East Side; there was this DJ there, his name was Joey Tide. And what would happen is, like MCs always do, we’d have a couple of drinks and we’d just start rhyming over records crazy, all night long, just spitting. We were kicking impromptu freestyles the whole time and Joey Tide recognized the chemistry.
Joey Tide got a venue, which was Baby Jupiter, and he put together the idea for the open mic. The night that the open mic actually started Joey Tide wasn’t there. We heard that he had gotten sick but we really didn’t know the circumstances of it. To make a long story short, we did the open mic with a fill-in DJ who happened to be DJ Scram Jones; he’s [since] done a lot of beats and a lot of cats know him now but at that time he was just on the underground with us grinding and he became our DJ. Eventually we found out that Joey Tide had cancer and he had to move out of state and [sometime later] he passed away. End Of The Weak is [Joey Tide’s] living legacy, it’s something that he never really got to see but it was his brainchild.
The shit was dope, MCs were coming from all over the city and from the outer boroughs and out of state. It was BYOB and it was a real loose atmosphere and definitely the culture of Hip-Hop was in the house every Sunday night. We also felt obligated to Joey Tide’s memory to carry the flag and carry the torch for him, so we kept it going Sunday after Sunday and it got bigger and bigger. I think it gained a little bit too much momentum for the club at that time because they ended up deciding to shut it down and not wanting to do Hip-Hop [events] any more. Basically the club sold out and became another trendy spot in the East Village, just a gentrified little spot.
We ended up moving End Of The Weak to Pyramid and Pyramid has been our home for the last five years. I don’t think we ever knew that us freestyling in a bar with our homeboy who was DJing would turn into the world’s longest running weekly open mic with franchises in Paris, London, Germany and Spain. I didn’t think it would ever gain the momentum that it gained but I think since it was inspired by true Hip-Hop and it came out of a real chemistry and started off on the right foot, we’ve been able to grow it and maintain it.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Along with Big Zoo and Vise Verses, you’ve hosted the Rock Steady Crew Anniversary each of the last four years. How did the relationship with Rock Steady originally come about and what would you say have been some of your fondest memories hosting the annual events?
PROPAYNE: The relationship with Rock Steady really came out of Q-Unique from the Arsonists. He had come to E.O.W. a few times over the years and he was impressed by the way we put it down. One night we did an MC challenge and he brought [Crazy] Legs with him. [It turned out] to be one of the classic E.O.W. nights that we’ve had over the years and I think Legs really felt it. From there it was a wrap. They put us on the first year and – when you first start a new job you don’t know how to do your job 100%, but by the time you saw it this year it was just bananas, it was the best Rock Steady Anniversary that we ever got to host or be a part of.
Talking about fondest memories – Q-Tip DJing, Crazy Legs break dancing, we on stage rocking the crowd for all these people and everybody’s feeling it, everybody’s connected, there’s that oneness. That’s Hip-Hop and that’s the spirit of Rock Steady and that’s the spirit of End Of The Weak, it’s one and the same. It’s pushing Hip-Hop and just trying to be as honest to our culture as we could possibly be; because if we don’t do it the media and big business is [definitely] not going to do it.
RIOTSOUND.COM: After teaming with Big Zoo and Vise Verses on the 3 Kings LP, how would you describe the direction you’re taking of your new solo album, Deep Blue?
PROPAYNE: Deep Blue is exactly what it is. It’s a deep album and its Blues. I like to call it Hip-Hop Blues and Soul. It’s a little bit more grown; the production is a lot of laid back production. There’s a lot of cool out shit on the album but [at the same time] it’s very introspective, it’s very personal to me. After doing the 3 Kings and shinning with my team and putting together a solid conscious progressive Hip-Hop album, I wanted to do something that was more personal to me and I wanted to paint some pictures lyrically and loosen up the vibe a little bit. So Deep Blue is basically the Hip-Hop Blues and Soul low-key chill vibe; something you could light an L to or light some incense to and really just listen to a man’s story and listen to the life of a man growing up.
RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of the production on Deep Blue reminds me of that classic early 90’s Beatminerz era; it has that dark and eerie feel to it.
PROPAYNE: The early 90’s to me, that’s when I really came up. I was a young teenager at that point already, so I was being influenced by the music around me. I think that bringing that lyricism back [is important] because I feel like we kinda got lost in just listening to the glamour and the glitz of production and it’s gotta come back down to where the lyrics and the beat are more cohesive in creating a mood and a feel. So I went dark and I went into myself because I feel like some cats might be intimidated to talk about real life issues and just regular shit and day-to-day things. I wanted to touch on that and show people that it’s alright to just do you and express [yourself] no matter how you’re feeling.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You also got another new CD out called Sue Me; what’s that about?
PROPAYNE: The Sue Me shit is a couple of records that I recorded after the album was already done. I was still in the studio and I had a lot of good material that I wanted to put out there. I’m a fan of electronica music and alternative Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop music. I feel like a lot of cats, they’re not really listening to that or they haven’t been exposed to it. So I really wanted to shine on some shit that I listen to when I’m zoning out, taking the subway to work or whatever. [On Sue Me] I got some DJ Shadow, some RJD2, Massive Attack. Nothing is sample cleared ‘cause like I said – Sue Me. That’s the title and I’m flying with it.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Can you talk about your experience growing up in Alphabet City? Generally speaking, would you say the borough of Manhattan, with the exception of Harlem, has been somewhat underrepresented as far as Hip-Hop goes?
PROPAYNE: What’s interesting to me is that Alphabet City and the Lower East Side and downtown Manhattan [in general] has always been a breeding ground for artists. You had all different kinds of artists; people like Miguel Piñero all the way down to Andy Warhol hanging out downtown and in the East Village. Then you also had CBGB’s. So there’s a crazy music culture downtown and also an art culture. You hear about it more with regard to pop culture and rock and stuff like that. In terms of Hip-Hop, you look at A Tribe Called Quest and [Q-Tip] and all those cats, the “Scenario” video was shot across the street from the projects that I lived at in downtown Manhattan. That was an area that cats were hanging out at; they were hanging out in the Village, hanging out on West 4th Street and [places around there]. This was kinda like a cross roads for people all over the city and the outer boroughs. Everybody would go to the Vil to hang out and chill, but it was mostly cats from the outer boroughs that really infiltrated the music scene and the business side of it, so to speak.
So I think downtown and Manhattan in general, except for Harlem like you said, has been an underrepresented area in Hip-Hop [music] and Hip-Hop culture. For me, I carry that weight on my shoulders every day. I throw in L.E.S. in my rhymes and I’m talking about where I grew up. The Deep Blue album is a portrait of all that, the things that you see downtown. It’s not only crazy thugged out and dudes selling drugs and all the other wild shit. That also goes hand in hand with people that are ridiculous painters, artists and sculptors. We’re definitely underrepresented in the Hip-Hop scene but we out there and we grinding in different ways. You look at somebody like Tru Life, he’s from the L.E.S. and he got signed to Roc La Familia. DJ Silver Surfer, he’s the best blend mixtape DJ out for years and he’s from down the block. So we out there but we just not setting it off and carrying the flag like we supposed to be doing.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve previously said that your mother’s strength is what kept you from succumbing to the streets, can you talk about that?
PROPAYNE: I think that anybody who grew up in a single parent home, whether it be a daughter growing up with a single father or as more likely the case, a son or [several siblings] being brought up by a single mother; I think she’s either going to be that cornerstone and be that rock and hold it down for you or she’s not going to be able to do 100% all the time because she’s but one person. I happen to be fortunate enough to have a parent that was able to always be there and always be involved and always be asking questions. Somebody actually being there to invest time and to be dedicated to raising a person [as opposed to] just having a kid is definitely what straightened out my path when it was going astray on a couple of different occasions.
Whether it was just being young and hanging out drunk or being on drugs or doing all kinds of crazy shit in the street and getting arrested – having your moms have to come and bail you out of jail and shit. I think [one of the worst] scenarios was when I got arrested on some dumb shit and ended up spending a weekend in jail and it was on [my mom’s] birthday. Even something that small and being that ironic, it kind of makes you think about things in a different light like – shit, what am I really doing? I guess now I try to keep myself in a position where one day I can be there for my kids in the same way.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Prolific Wone and ProPayne; why two different names?
PROPAYNE: Well, my name is Omar, my mother gave me that name. My team ended up calling me Prolific and I ran with that for years and now it’s ProPayne because the Payne is in the music and it’s highly combustible. But you know, a name don’t mean shit. You look at people they change their name all the time. They change their image and their gimmick and all that bullshit. So a name is just a way for people to label me. I like the ProPayne right now because I’m just putting out that fire.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve toured Europe extensively and you’re going to be the featured host in an E.O.W. video expose on European Hip-Hop; what would you say are some of the key differences between Hip-Hop in Europe versus the States?
PROPAYNE: Europe is incredible, I think any artist that goes overseas is gonna tell you that, in terms of people showing grass roots support and support for artists that aren’t mainstream or famous in America just on the spirit of Hip-Hop alone. I think since Hip-Hop is a younger culture out there – I mean, there’s some cats out there who’ve been on it as long as we have but in terms of Hip-Hop taking over as a global phenomenon, that’s only happened over the last five to ten years maybe. So [in Europe] they’re relatively young and they’re more open-minded to new shit that they haven’t heard before. They want to be on the brink of the cutting edge shit. I also think they recognize the reality of it; we’re just regular people like them traveling overseas to spread music to them. So there’s no gimmick involved, there’s no company manufacturing it and pushing it down their throat and I think they respect that and they respect people for their artistry.
The expose is going to be incredible. We flew out to Berlin and we filmed some of the most amazing artwork I think I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been to museums and I’ve seen dope shit but when you actually go up to somebody’s home country where they rep – and it’s not just graff, it’s all different kinds of installation art and paintings – there’s just really really really creative people out there. We also filmed lots of b-boys and we linked up with one of the founders of an open mic who’s flying the E.O.W. torch out there. So that’s how we popped it off in Berlin.
We also flew out to Paris where my man Webbafied has been holding it down for a long time; out in Paris and also in London. We actually had been out there about a year and half earlier, so when we came out this time we interviewed fam from out there and we had the open mic and MC challenges going on. We did an MC challenge in London that was crazy, there was a blackout on the whole street in the middle of the challenge and [the MCs] did all their rhymes acapella by flashlight. That’s all going to be on the DVD.
Then we also toured all through Spain with The Rap Soufflé, which is these two unbelievable Spanish Hip-Hop artists and their DJ, Jefe, who makes incredible beats. So we’re really going to shine a light on cats who are like the equivalent of us overseas; been on the grind for years, have their shit together and just haven’t been exposed. Bringing all that together under the flag of End Of The Weak is going to be beautiful. People definitely need to check for it. I got interviews with everybody from the people on the street to famous artists. It’s going to be dope.