Tame One Interview: OG Bobby Johnson

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by Alex Shtaerman

Tame One the Nottyheaded Terror is back again with his sophomore LP on Eastern Conference Records. After a brief hiatus from the game following a falling out and parting of the ways with former Artifacts cohort El Da Sensei, Tame returned to bless us with his first solo project When Rappers Attack in 2003. In 2004 Tame teamed with EC labelmate Cage to drop the infamous Waterworld LP, a concept album dedicated entirely to the smoking of PCP. Now in 2005 Tame One is back again, hitting the fans with the OG Bobby Johnson LP. Hailing from Brick City aka Newark, New Jersey, Tame One has been a champion of gritty hardcore Hip-Hop for well over a decade. On the day OG Bobby Johnson dropped we had a chance to speak to Tame about the new LP, the evolution of Hip-Hop as well as his other love besides rapping, graffiti. As it turns out Tame One was a tag on a wall long before the name ever appeared on an album cover.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your new album OG Bobby Johnson drops today on Eastern Conference Records; how’s the distribution looking?

TAME ONE: It sucks! It’s out today! It sucks.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of times being on an independent label artists tend to get a good amount of acclaim for being creative and making good music; but the distribution isn’t always there to reach the fans – how are you getting the word out?

TAME ONE: Through word of mouth. Me and my Boom Skwad and the Dusted Dons who did production on it is just out there just hittin’ people directly. Through word of mouth or whatever we gotta do, we doing in; we doing it the grass roots way. It’s like I said, the album drops today. If I didn’t have to do press today, I’d be out there pressing flesh and putting up flyers and shit and calling up these record stores and asking them if they got it and if not then why not?

RIOTSOUND.COM: You just came back off tour; what cities did you hit?

TAME ONE: We was West Coastin’ it. We went to Seattle, Washington, Tuscon, Arizona, Oregon – it was great, the crowd loved it. We were shuttin’ ’em down, the shit was crazy. [The fans] were very receptive for me not to have been out for a minute, it was cool, the crowds were really receptive and open.

RIOTSOUND.COM: How did the OG Bobby Johnson album come together?

TAME ONE: Technically, ya’ll weren’t even supposed to have gotten this album. My contract with EC was over with the Leak Bros. Waterworld album. But we sat down at the table and they wanted to exercise the option for the last [album] and I said cool; I still had some songs and had some things I had to get off my chest that didn’t fit the format of When Rappers Attack. The OG Bobby Johnson album is – let me put it like this – if I had an actual recording budget to do this album it would have been so much more. But at the same time I didn’t shortchange the people, it’s a true representation of a Tame One album. It’s more Jerseyed out.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What would you have done differently if you had a bigger budget to record the album?

TAME ONE: The sound quality, not the quality of the production, the production I have no problem with; the actual sound quality, it would have been mixed a lot better. There’s a couple of little errors on there lyrically. Like a little slip of the tongue here, a little slip of the tongue there, where I might have went in and could’ve locked it in just that much tighter, been more of a perfectionist about it. I would have smoothed out a few more rough edges, but not too pretty. I didn’t want it all glamed up and pretty, I wanted it to have that Newark, New Jerseyness to it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I actually wanted to ask you something about Jersey; Hip-Hop is a lot about representing where you come from and New Jersey has always been a unique spot because a lot of times the mainstream might just lump it together with New York. Do you feel New Jersey is underrepresented? A lot of the artists that came out of New Jersey like Naughty By Nature, Artifacts, Redman; many people think those acts are from New York, do you feel Jersey rappers have allowed the fans to think that over the years ’cause it might have been beneficial to their careers?

TAME ONE: Uhm, no, I can’t blame the artists; it’s like you said – being that we’re so close to New York we’re always overshadowed by New York. New York is the hub, that’s where it’s on and poppin’ at. It’s nothing that can be done about it ’cause that’s the home of Hip-Hop right there. I can’t blame the artists so much; for the most part everybody you named, they all represented Jersey to the best of their ability. Everybody got they shout outs and through certain slang words or certain terms Jersey heads know Jersey heads when we hear them. It’s nothing we can do about it. Fuck it man, New York is overshadowing, hey it’s like you said. The groups you named; the true Jersey representatives represented, that’s it man – Redman did it, Naughty did it, Latifah did it, everybody repped.

RIOTSOUND.COM: With rap music today, on one side we see commercial rap dominating the mainstream and many fans are following that trend; but on the other side of it, it seems that authentic Hip-Hop is making a resurgence as well. A lot of artists from the 90’s and 80’s are coming back independent and the fans seem to be embracing it. You’ve released a lot of material over the past couple of years on an independent label, how would you describe what’s been happening?

TAME ONE: Uhm, to me [real Hip-Hop] hasn’t really went anywhere, it’s interesting you said that, but if that’s what your into – like if you’re into underground Hip-Hop, you know where to find it at. So, it’s not being forced down your throat like the mainstream, it hasn’t gone anywhere, it has just been a natural cycle I guess. Everybody has they turns and now its coming back around full circle.

RIOTSOUND.COM: At one point we could hear good Hip-Hop on the radio; when that went away do you think some fans took time to adjust and figure out where they could find music?

TAME ONE: From where I’m at, territory wise, yeah for sure. I mean, since the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito show [went off the air] and there’s no more fuckin’ Pete Rock and Marley Marl In Control; man radio sucks. I mean I would love to have everyday top 40 rotation and make my publishing check to go up. But radio nah, I don’t go to the radio for my music, fuck that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For those that have not heard it yet, can you explain the Waterworld album with you and Cage; you’ve previously described it as “a soundtrack to get high to”.

TAME ONE: It was a concept album, it was an album dedicated to the use of PCP [angel dust]. Not glorifying, not glamorizing it, it was just a concept. And who better to talk about it than two people who went through it and got first hand experience. We compared it to – it’s like Red and Meth on dust. It’s like the Blackout album on dust. Another Cheech and Chong type collaboration, you know what I’m saying – two minds that think alike putting it down on wax, that’s all, it was just a concept album.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Were you happy with the way the Waterworld album came out?

TAME ONE: Oh yea, most definitely; even with the bad press and the bad criticisms – like how could ya’ll do a whole album about dust?! We did it artfully, we did it tactfully, we didn’t beat anybody over the head with it, we went through different avenues and through different emotions with it, different situations – we covered a lot of bases and I am happy with it 100%.

RIOTSOUND.COM: If you were an MC that was first coming up now; would you still seek a major label deal like you had with Atlantic in the 90’s or would you want to be independent right off the bat?

TAME ONE: Well, of course you are going to go for the bigger buck and the bigger exposure. I mean I love the underground because you get to put out your music faster as opposed to waiting for the “machine” to blow up your project. The turnaround is quicker plus the payoff is quicker, everything is quicker.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Knowing what you know now about the music industry, would you have done anything differently as far as how you approached the whole business side of your career earlier on?

TAME ONE: Oh yea, I definitely would have took more time to cover my back and not just go in as fast as I did. Even when I was in Artifacts, that was still in a way underground. We weren’t signed directly to Atlantic, we was on Big Beat in Atlantic, a subsidiary. So it was still an underground path.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What’s your relationship like with Eastern Conference Records, are you going to be releasing any more material on EC?

TAME ONE: Contractually it’s done. I’m happy with EC; my complaints with EC – I reserve those for the distribution. I’m not happy about people not being able to find the product.

RIOTSOUND.COM: With the Internet the way its is today do you feel its helped a lot of independent artists reach more people and help with distributing the albums?

TAME ONE: It depends on what you’re really in it for. I mean, it helps and it hurts at the same time. It reaches more people, it reaches people faster and more people have access to the music that are looking for it, so that’s a plus. But as far as the illegal downloads and all the other shit that I’m not getting paid for and all that, it definitely hurts. But it gets the music out there; I can’t front on its availability.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your name Tame One came from you being a graffiti writer and you still continue to champion the artform today; in your opinion has graffiti stagnated or grown over the past ten years?

TAME ONE: Again, it’s a territorial thing. When I was coming up with the Artifacts, technically the graffiti scene was already supposed to have been dead because the trains had stopped. But the artform never stopped, it branched out, overseas it’s crazy. Me personally I got too many priors to be as active in the artform as I once was but it never stopped, I’m still piecing; I’m not bombing as much as I used. But graffiti is like roaches man, it ain’t going nowhere.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Where can people go to see some of your work?

TAME ONE: They’d have to go to – we call it Bedrock – down on Avon and Clinton Avenue, it’s a playground where NRG and LTD crew practice at. But the city of Newark paints over it so quickly. It’s an abandoned tennis court and handball court – if we paint something Tuesday, by Friday it’s gone.

RIOTSOUND.COM: But you go back though right?

TAME ONE: Oh yea!

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides the OG Bobby Johnson album, what else should fans be looking out for as far as your upcoming projects?

TAME ONE: The Weathermen album, I’m on Cage’s Hells Winter album, The Sa Smash album, I’m supposed to be on that; The Dusted Dons Slow Suicide Stimulus album, that’s an album between the group The Dusted Dons that did mad production on OG Bobby Johnson and myself. The producers of the Moccafella joint on my album, Xing and Fox, we got The Spazmatik album, it’s a whole album exclusively produced by Xing and Fox.

Still trying to get my crew The Boom Skwad on the map; trying to get on Yak Ballz from the Weathermen’s album, he got an EP coming out on EC so I’m tryin’ to be on that. I’m on the Vast Aire album, the new one that he’s doing with Mighty Mi and I’m currently talking to Ruck of Heltah Skeltah trying to do a joint with him. I’m trying to holler at Psycho Les from The Beatnuts, me and him are supposed to get together on some joints; I’m just trying to stay busy and get an enormous music catalog like Prince.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When can we expect the next Tame One album to drop?

TAME ONE: If we can find distribution, the Spazmatik LP with Xing & Fox, that should be next on deck.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Any shows coming up in New York?

TAME ONE: I have a show coming this month, I am not sure on the exact date but I’ll be doing some of the Spazmatik joints this month in New York. Damn, I’m real bad with that, I’m supposed to have that right off hand but I don’t have the date right in front of me. But definitely this month the show is at a club by the Williamsburg Bridge; damn, I can’t even remember the name of the club, I’m all fucked up (laughs). I’m going to be doing all Spazmatik joints, no EC joints, no Boom Skwad joints, I’ma just be doing Spazmatik.

Editors Note: The show is on Friday March 18th at Club RoFrithko, 116 Suffolk Street, between Rivington and Delancey on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tame One will be performing with Xing and Fox; admission is $5.

For all info and news on Tame One stay tuned to www.Tame-One.com