This piece is complementary to “The Milkman Cometh: An Interview with Fringe Radio’s Al-D,” and features the complete Q&A with Al, where the MC and producer discusses his local influences, how he became involved in the Nashville hip-hop scene, and his goals with Fringe Radio.
Are you still hosting Milkshake events?
Al-D: The Milkshake sort of accidentally became an annual event. The first Milkshake was also the release party for my second most recent project (Vitamin D – mixed by DJ Rate at The 5 Spot). I had intended to do it every few months, but it ended up being the next summer before I got around to doing it again. The second one was at the Mad Donna’s Loft and the third one was June 2013 at Boheme Collectif. I am planning to do it again at a fourth venue in 2014. If you aren’t aware, the Milkshake is an open format dance party geared towards funk, breaks, and hip-hop with a few very brief (one song) MC performances mixed in seamlessly (no stopping the music to introduce performers – the DJ just drops the MC’s beat in the mix with the other songs). That’s as opposed to the “Meant for the Milk Crate” events, which are focussed on MC performances with DJs just playing a song or two between sets. Basically, the Milkshake is for the DJs and MFTMC is for the MCs.
Were you born in Knoxville, or did you just live there awhile?
Al-D: No, I was born in Nashville. I just went to school in Knoxville. I started rapping in high school; but I started making beats and doing shows in Knoxville. I also met one of my best friends and collaborators there: S.M.O. We made an album together there that came out in 2004 called Open the Mic. I don’t promote it much anymore; but I’m actually proud of it to this day – especially the production (most of which I did myself). He currently lives in L.A. We make it back and forth every now and then to hang out and make music. I’m pretty sure he’s had a feature on every project I’ve put out since then (and the one before that).
Are you actively working on anything with DJ Rate? Do you have anything on the calendar with the Boom Bap?
Al-D: DJ Rate is one of my best friends and has been since high school. I have recordings on cassette tape of him deejaying and our friends free-styling in his bedroom at his dad’s house. He has recorded scratches on every single album I’ve ever put out and I imagine that will continue to be the case. With Vitamin D, we really stepped up his involvement and he actually live deejayed the finished songs to create the transitions between the songs the way he would if he was deejaying at the Boom Bap (this was after he had already recorded scratches on the songs). This, of course, was not possible before Serato – which enables a DJ to use special records and hardware to manipulate MP3s on a computer as though he had them on vinyl. On Free Delivery, I wanted to step up the DJ side even more, so I really pushed to get cuts recorded on almost every single track before we did the live mix. I even got some guest DJs to do cuts and did some myself (having gotten turntables and Serato myself at the beginning of 2013). The Boom Bap is strictly a dance party and they only book DJs for it. My involvement is just helping them promote and showing up to have a good time. As far as future collaborations, he will be deejaying at a show I am working in January with G.E.D. Soul and my band, Swap Meet Symphony. I’m sure he will be involved with the next Milkshake along with Bowls – as they were both involved with the first three. He’s been involved with MFTMC in the past and may be again in the future – depending on his and DJ Chozen’s relative availability.
There was a lot of positive feedback online surrounding Free Delivery online when it dropped. How did it feel when you released the album?
Al-D: As I said, I really wanted to step up the DJ side. I spent about 18 months writing, producing, and recording it and about six months working on the cuts and turntablism parts – mostly with DJ Rate. It was a huge relief to have it done and the album release party was a blast! I was pretty much immediately full speed working with Swap Meet Symphony on the live band project – which had been taking a back seat to the Free Delivery project before that. The intro to Free Delivery is actually live instruments played by them, by the way.
With all that you do musically — where do you want it to lead?
Al-D: I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing. I am not particularly enthusiastic about touring, or anything.
How did you first become involved with the Nashville Fringe Festival and what was attractive to you about the prospect of hosting the Fringe’s Radio Free Nashville show?
Al-D: You might want to ask Jan Bossing about how I became involved with Nashville Fringe Festival because I’m not sure how she found me. I suppose I assumed it had something to do with G.E.D. Soul – because those people constituted the majority of our mutual friends on Facebook at the time she reached out to me about sponsoring a show. It was around the time I released Free Delivery and she just contacted me on Facebook and said that they were interested in sponsoring a show. That show will be in January (I am currently working on finalizing the date and venue). The January show will be all live band hip hop. Swap Meet Symphony (my band) will perform and there will also be a special performance with The Grips (of G.E.D. Soul) backing myself, E.T., and another MC or two. I believe I mentioned earlier that DJ Rate will also be involved with that event. Hosting a radio show was not something I ever aspired to do. The opportunity arose and Jan asked if I would like to do it. I said that I’d at least give it a shot and see how it went. Well, it has turned out to be a great experience. I have been meeting some amazing musicians and learning more about other genres of music. I have also been able to shine a light on some of the artists I am familiar with who I think are under-rated.
You’ve been tied to the New Block Order, are currently work with the Bohéme Collectif’, and have worked with an unmatched collection of local artists over your last two releases. What is it about collaborating — and maybe collaborating with artists in your own community — that continues to inspire you?
Al-D: The New Block Order is a loose organization of about 30 people – most of whom are MCs, but also some DJs, producers, promoters, and graphic designers. I was one of the founding members. It was conceived of and largely run by 187 Blitz who is an MC who’s been around since the early days of DJ Rate doing public events (i.e. the weekly open mic parties at The Cantina, in Cummins Station, around 2000). I was away in Knoxville for most of that time, but I made it several times and I was here for one whole summer (during which I was there every week!). I believe there were three “blitztapes” that were officially released by the N.B.O and I had verses on two of them. The purpose of the N.B.O. was for us to pool our resources and work together to enable us all to do shows and put albums out. The people I met at The Cantina (who later became the foundation of the N.B.O.) were the first MCs I knew of who were making noise on the hip-hop scene in Nashville. DJ Rate and his partner at the time, Misko, put out a mixtape around that time with several of those people rhyming on it. I knew of some other people doing stuff before that but I wasn’t old enough to get into those events yet. An example would be A7 and the rest of Demented Beat Apostles who were doing things at Club Med. A7 later started the Sound Therapy movement – which went on every week for more than four years and was the main event where I sharpened my skills as a performer. I actually brought several N.B.O people to one of the first Sound Therapy events on Jefferson St. (after having bumped into A7 at one of the first Boom Baps about five years ago). The majority of the MCs I know in the Nashville hip hop scene can be traced back to DJ Rate at the Cantina, N.B.O., and Sound Therapy. More recently I’ve met a lot of people associated with Makin’ Moves and Sneakers and Speakers, as well. Music is absolutely a social endeavor to me. I obviously write songs by myself from time to time; but I am much more likely to write a song if other MCs are around me and it usually starts with having a good time kickin’ some freestyles, or something.
Having already featured Chris West and Justin Martin of the Deep Fried 5, what do you have planned for the show in December?
Al-D: After shuffling around the format a bit, we have settled on having one show per month (the third Monday) dedicated to reviewing upcoming hip-hop events and featuring music of people in the hip-hop community who have events or album releases coming up. My guest for the last show was MFTMC co-host E.T. (who will also be co-hosting the radio show on the third Monday). Our guest on 12/16 will be DJ Rate. The other three or four Mondays are dedicated to checking out music and interviewing guests from bands of various genres who have been involved with Nashville Fringe Festival events in the past. 12/2 will be *repeat repeat. 12/9 will be Oscar Utterstrom and Michael Whittaker. That is as far out as we have booked.