Interview conducted by Dax-Devlon Ross.
There was a moment in the mid 90s when you could really make a legitimate argument in favor of Boot Camp as the next €˜it €™ click. They had their own signature production; they had indisputable street cred; they had the ultimate €˜get lifted €™ lyrics. And perhaps most importantly, they an identifiably distinct, albeit dark, image that set them apart from everything else out there. Combine these key ingredients with the fact that, as we can safely say now, the mid 90s were a crucial turning point for hip-hop as a whole, and there €™s no telling how high (pun certainly intended) this family of Brooklyn artists could €™ve risen. Without engaging in another superfluous hip-hop history lesson it suffices to say that while in the 90s €˜jiggification €™ became hip-hop €™s modus operandi, BCC found itself in the grips of constant legal and personal squabbles that seemed to always eclipse the pop potential die-hard fans believed they were capable of.
So here we are in 2006, a full twelve years after the release of Smif €˜N €™ Wessun €™s “Dah Shinin €™”, an unquestionably quintessential underground classic LP. Granted, I might be slightly partial seeing as I spent countless nights in my dormroom getting lifted to ‘Bucktown’, ‘Sound Bwoy Bureill’, ‘P.N.C’, ‘Hellucination’ €“ fuck it the whole damn album bumped, especially after a smoke session €“ but I €™d put that album up against anything that came out in its era. This isn €™t to say 1998’s “Rude Awakening” didn €™t have its gems or that with the forced name change to the Cocoa Brovas the duo lost some of its hydro-glow. It is to say, however, styles change, rappers fade, and certain flows start to sound played.
Unless, the artist continues to challenge themselves not only in the booth, but in life. Tek is a prime example of an evolving emcee who has perhaps yet to reach his artistic or commercial prime. Speaking to him you discover that while the grind is still in his gut, there is also a God that guides his path and principles behind his syllables. Although “It Is What It Is” promotes itself as a €˜Street Album €™, a kind of mix-tape meets studio session, it has the heart and soul €“ the fire I should say €“ that is principally lacking in all too many commercially produced LPs. Recently I had a chance to talk to him about the album, his faith, his son and his relationship with the green: the kind you smoke and the kind you spend alike.
Who are you trying to reach with this album? It €™s a street album by which you mean….?
T: It €™s actually not a solo album. It €™s a mix tape of songs I €™ve put together. It €™s really about giving back to where I came from. My neighborhood. Your neighborhood and everybody who followed Smif €˜N €™ Wessun from day one to let €˜em know.
Do you see yourself making a studio album?
T: If it €™s the offer is right where every letter typed, i €™s are dotted, t €™s are crossed. Anything is possible. Before I joined Smif €˜N €™ Wessun Steele was a solo artist. I never even used to rhyme. I was more like security. I was bouncing. I was more in the background anyway. So as far as a solo album is concerned if it can work itself in the proper light and it €™s a good opportunity I wouldn €™t be a fool and say no I €™m not going to do it. I still have my PNC with me. It €™s still going to be there.
I want to throw out a couple of the song titles from the album and get your take on them. Whatever you want to say about the song that €™s up to you. So, talk to me a little about ‘Beautiful Ones’; it €™s one of my favorite joints.
T: ‘Beautiful Ones’. That €™s just something that actually came by mistake. We was just all in the studio one day just talking about some life issues and just how serious shit be gettin sometimes. I just happened to be listening to a Prince CD earlier that day and it was just something about the way he said that line €œthe beautiful ones always smash up the picture € just stuck in my head that whole day. It just happened to be when I was in the studio that shit just stayed with me and that €™s how that song actually came about. I gotta give credit to my boy Prince for making that one happen. Competition gettin stiffer, that €™s just life itself being as competitive as I know I rap can be and people are out in the world just to get ahead of each other.
How about ‘G-Walkin’?
T: ‘G Walkin’ is actually one of the last songs I recorded so that just came out of a freestyle. I was just wondering what my lil swagger would be like over a track like that and a lotta people actually like the song. I didn €™t even know it was going to be on the CD til I seen the artwork and then.
When you think of ‘G Walkin’ you think more west coast; I do at least. How do you think you were able to blend your own lyrical style to this kind of different rhythm?
T: I don €™t limit myself to anything. I think outside of the box as well as inside of the box. It €™s just not a track I don €™t think I can €™t make it do what I do the way I do me. The way I do Tek, Smokey, El-Amin.
‘Treat Me Bad’ and ‘Forget About the Past’ have a real classic feel to them. Was that intentional?
T: That €™s in my blood. I make hip-hop and it makes me. We complete each other. Those songs are really like…I really enjoy making good music period. But there are certain types of beats, the people around you, certain producers bring out certain songs.
One of the questions I got from someone online was about the songs ‘Number One’ and ‘All Massive’. They seem to both be getting some really solid attention and people are wondering if you would do a full length reggae rap album in the future.
T: Truthfully, I don €™t know. I €™d have to sit down with my PNC, Steele, and see which direction I should go with it. I wouldn €™t say €œno € but I know I would have to bring together a couple other of brothers and my reggae artists that I enjoy listening to in order for that to really pop off like that.
Speaking of Steele, he €™s featured on the song ‘Young Man’. What was the message you were really trying to get across with that cut?
T: They try to label us all types of thugs, hoodlums, dope dealers, conscious rappers, underground, backpack rappers, street warriors, street poets €” ‘Young Man’ as well as ‘G Walkin’ is these songs that are in our blood, that we have to make for people to see a better side of us. We do them for a little brothers or even our older people that look up to us. We not trying to be too preachy and everything. We just want to let you know there €™s millions of things out here in the world besides just weed and the ballers. You can open many doors for yourself as well as other people.
Speaking of that, even building on that last question, what do you find to be the difference between doing a solo album and an album with your PNC?
T: For the most part it was him not being there when I going in the studio. This is mostly me or more of my crew or whatever. Even as my PNC we might not get up everyday all day. He has his people and I have my people. The different was just not having his physical presence or aura there at every session. It €™s still a beautiful thing. I still called him on the phone put the song to the speaker phone, asked what he thought. €˜Are you feelin €™ it? Should I scrap it? €™
How about ‘Double M’, ‘Image on My Mind’ and ‘My Gun’.. All three of those song you make allusions to guns. What is it about guns? Is it a lifestyle thing or is it a metaphor that you throw out there for imagery purposes?
T: I make my own imagery. I don €™t need no type of guns or clothing to portray anyway that I €™m going to be. I don €™t walk around with a gun on me all day everyday. We all have €˜em but it €™s for protection or whatever needs to be done at that time. A soldier has to be well equipped with the weapons he needs to do what he has to do on the battlefield. As far as those songs, that €™s just certain music and certain producers bring certain things out of you. On ‘Image on My Mind’ I just like to tweak joints and add my own shit to get my creative buzz on. ‘Double M’ is just, you know when shit ain €™t clickin €™ right for you. It €™s coming from that criminal mind state where sometimes you got money and murder on your mind at the same time. You gotta pull a caper or whatever you need to do what you have to do, basically. Sometimes my thoughts just take me down that road.
Do you feel like people who are often critical of hip-hop are able to make the distinction between entertainment and people €™s real lifestyles?
T: I think people are smart enough to distinguish that, yes and no. But I think it gets harder in this day and age where basically every other day you turn on the news and an artist is in some type of trouble. Somebody tried to rob him or blackmail him. Whether it €™s from domestic violence to weapons being involved to just hand to hand fisticuffs. People are smart enough to distinguish what €™s real life from the twist that some artist can create for that song. I do think that can get distinguished.
How do you think your music has changed and evolved from ‘Dah Shinin’ to now?
T: I think the music and the time evolved. Everybody was fresh, still in high school. Beatminerz was still coming into their sound of music. It was new to everybody. It felt good to everybody. But as you evolve you start picking up on things. You start changing. And you try to make every person in your life grow with you at the same time but sometimes it €™s hard to do that.
Do you consider that album to be a cult classic?
T: Me myself? It definitely was a good album. But I don €™t know if Smif €˜N €™ Wessun even has a cult following like that. I appreciate the love we get from it. That album helped a lot of people out. We get e-mails everyday from people in college, people in jail sayin it helped them do their bid. I just think the Most High for the strength and the power to make that album.
Back to “It Is What It Is”, on ‘Image on My Mind’ you have a line that goes €œI don €™t do this for the love no more € but as you listen to the lyrics you do talk about who you €™re doing it for from your son, to people locked, for all these different people. Do you consider that a different kind of love? What do you mean by that line?
T: Actually, I was just trying to get that point across exactly. I will always be a fan of my art period, the fact is I €™m still doing it. I don €™t do it for the love. I got this line that goes €œI do it for my niggas get €˜em off of the street and on payroll/ Keep €˜em outa jail and off parole. € That €™s love also. Family first. Whether it €™s the industry or the streets or whoever all you have is family. I €™ve never lost love for the music.
One of the reasons I ask that is because on the song ‘Forget About the Past’ you do say €œI love this rap shit I ain €™t gon front… €
T: €œI love this rap shit daddy I ain €™t gon front/ Y €™all niggas can bullshit around if you want. € It €™s like a double-edged sword, basically. I €™m just happy and grateful that I could be in contact with some of the great minds that been around like Biggie, like Tupac, other people that I came up under. That €™s why I did that song. I can €™t forget about where I come from that way I €™ll know where I €™m at and where I still I gotta get to.
Switching gears a bit, where do you think you are in your career?
T: Right now it €™s good, but it could always be better. I think I €™ve definitely evolved as an artist. I €™m more comfortable with the way I go into the booth with my work ethic. I think I €™m up to par as far as making exceptionally good music is concerned. I €™ve just learned little tricks of the trade from other artists that you work with you €™re able to do it on your own.
A lotta times people who aren €™t musicians themselves sit around and say hip-hop is dead, it €™s whack, whatever. Do you hear that and if so how do you respond to that kind of stuff?
T: I hear that. That €™s just like a lota people that was brought up on certain music sometimes don €™t allow the artists that they like to change. Once they try to change they find their fans only want to hear €˜em in a certain way so they shy away from the artist. So I think as far as hip-hop being dead hell no! If that was the case we wouldn €™t be doing this interview right now. Hip-hop in general means millions of dollars to people out here. That shit is alive and thriving; it €™s still a baby being born.
Speaking of that, I want to talk about the song ‘Hip Hop’. Quite often there €™s a metaphoric link between hip-hop and street pharmaceuticals. It €™s like the street game and the rap game are very similar.
T: They €™re very parallel. That €™s just…I €™m a product of my environment like a lota people around me. I don €™t feel like I got outa the hood €˜cause I would never leave the €˜hood even if I became a millionaire. I €™d move to a better block, like a tree lined block, but I €™ll always welcome the €˜hood. That €™s the life that people come from people are a part of that. If you don €™t [deal drugs] firsthand you €™re man does. It €™s not actually glorified. I don €™t glorify violence. I don €™t walk around just calling chicks bitches. It €™s just how generations can really coincide and communicate with each other.
Speaking of women and on a lighter note, what you got against fat chicks? I noticed on a couple of songs you call them out.
T: [Laughs] Oh shit! I got nothing against fat chicks! I tell €˜em, €˜look you got nice eyes. You gotta nice smile. €™ Me and a fat chicks, we can be friends, but ain €™t nuthin €™ else poppin €™ off. Fat chicks need love too I just ain €™t goin that route. Like light skin chicks. I €™m not a big fan of light skin chicks either.
Everybody has their preference and their style…
T: I like sexiness. You don €™t have to be a twelve on the Richter scale if you carry yourself well; if you €™re comfortable with your sexuality. It has to do with those things. You don €™t have to be the greatest, just be right with it. The same way females look for that swagger we check for that too. I personally like petiteness.
Where do you think BCC €™s careers would be if the “One Nation” album with Tupac had come out?
T: Wow! Who knows. Who knows. We €™d probably be in a better position than what it is right now. Actually, who knows. It could €™ve been for the better or for the worse. We still doing what we gotta do.
I noticed you go by the name El-Amin. How long have you been practicing Islam?
T: For about three years. Just after the birth of my son. I €™d been thinking about it for a while. It just felt comfortable being that my son €™s name is Jahari. I felt I had to be in the right light that he looks to as a positive role model cause I €™m no one €™s role model except for his. I have to make sure my light was shining right for him. I don €™t even smoke no more. I haven €™t smoked in four years. I got high after the birth of my son and that was it.
Do your fans know this?
T: They €™re finding out slowly but surely. A couple know, a couple don €™t know. After this more will know. I found out that I don €™t really need that weed to go to another state of mind to write my music. It was definitely easier for me to stop. I mean, I €™m still around it; I still catch a contact every now and then. Nothing has changed. I €™m still Smokey, El-Amin, Tek whatever you want to call me. I actually stop smoking before I became a Muslim. I was doing shit I wasn €™t supposed to be doing
Everybody has a certain creative process. Of course Jay Z €™s has become the stuff of legends. What is your process?
T: I can write without music. I can write to the music. It doesn €™t matter. I just have to enjoy the beat. I have to just. The way I write I really like the first three bars done before I even start to write it and then it just becomes easy. Sometimes I write the hook first or do the chorus and then it €™s easier to pen the verse.
What do you think about your own musical direction? Where do you see yourself moving in the next couple of years?
T: I just hope it goes to the top. I €™m not limiting myself. We do joints with other artists. In the past we never did a lot of features with outside artists. We kept in house. Now we startin to venture out. I €™m trying to do it B.I.G.
I was on the website looking at all the things Duck Down has gone through in terms of getting rights having unreleased albums….
T: That €™s what Boot Camp is. It €™s trials and tribulations. That €™s why the name Boot Camp Click fits. I might not be successful to a lot of people but to a lot other people I am. My nieces and nephews love that I do what I do. Everything is good. It could always be better but you €™re only going to get out what you put in.
Thanks, as usual to Dax-Devlon Ross for taking the time out to speak to Tek for Altrap.com. Check him at his own site too: www.daxdevlonross.com