Grand Agent, a Philadelphia native, is an emcee with serious rap skills and can rock over any beat. From Philly, he moved to Cologne, Germany and currently lives there. Labeled as an underground emcee, GA is not entirely happy to be pigeonholed. At first, he was a member (and the leader) of the Philly hip-hop group called Name. Soon, things did not work out. Finally, Grand Agent went the solo route. On Groove Attack Records and Superrapin, he released his debut album “By Design”. Produced by GA, Kutmasta Kurt, Chops, and Lord Finesse, “By Design” was critically acclaimed and spawned classic tracks like “Mingling (With Mayhem)”, “Grand Right Now”, and “5 Minutes”. The song “You Don’t Love Me” was a sad and tragic track about how his father left him and his mother. On the lighter side, the song “2 B*tches” was about the crazy situation of juggling 2 girlfriends at the same time.
While many so-called underground artists find their careers struggling in the US, some artists (like Five Deez, Phife Dawg, and The Lone Catalysts) make deals with European and Japanese labels. Grand Agent moved to Cologne, Germany and has been happy ever since. With both European and American producers, his sophomore album “Fish Outta Water” is a cinematic record that tells the tale of a Grand Agent’s record label problems, romantic situations, and even philosophies behind the African-American way of thinking. The song “Who Programmed Us Anyway?” asks the question “How did our culture and race get like this?”. The song “Skillz Philly” proves to us that even though he lives in Germany, Grand Agent is still a Philadelphia native. Other incredible songs include “Mingling Goes To Church”, “Right Way Street”, and “No Rest”.
Since the start of his career, he has worked with people like The Roots, Pete Rock, Lord Finesse, A.G. and more. From over the Atlantic Ocean, I had an in-depth conversation with the one and only, Grand Agent. We talked about the term ‘underground’, Germany, the U.S.A., problems with his father, his new album, and much more. A true emcee, Grand Agent breaks down the barriers of commercialism and underground by making good hip-hop that is poignant, fun, and always original.
MVRemix: What goes on?
Grand Agent: Right now I’m in Europe to support my new album ‘Fish Outta Water’. This is the tour. I’m on tour with Declaime and Lil Dap from Group Home. Right now, I’m in Warsaw Poland talking to you.
MVRemix: The new album is titled ‘Fish Outta Water’. What is the meaning behind the title? Tell us about the LP.
Grand Agent: I’ve been living in Germany for about 2 years now and most of the LP was recorded and produced there. After being out of the states for a while, the title came to me. You know ‘Fish Outta Water’ means a new environment. Basically, the LP is a little life story told through rap. With the little interludes we have, it gives the album a cinematic feel. It’s just a story about what happened between my first album, ‘By Design’, and this album. I tried to keep it real, real current and exact, in a way that when it came out, it would be a good representation of what was going on in my life. That’s what ‘Fish Outta Water’ is, basically. It is about my experiences as an outsider and being an outsider over here in Germany.
MVRemix: You moved to Cologne, Germany and have been living there these days. Why?
Grand Agent: The first album was with Groove Attack, which is based in Cologne, Germany. I was introduced to Europe and Germany through them when I came over. I liked Germany and came back here a few more times. Then, about the 3rd of 4th short tour that I did, I realized that a lot more was going on here for Grand Agent than was going on in the states. After coming here and staying a few times, I felt that I really didn’t want to go home. Then, when I went home, I found myself just sitting around and there was not much going on career-wise. I figured that any opportunities that would come from ‘By Design’ would come from Germany. That’s exactly how it was. So, I stayed for a while.
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite song on ‘Fish Outta Water’?
Grand Agent: Not anymore. ‘No Rest’ was my favorite for a while. It still hits me in a special way, but right now, I don’t have any favorites. I love the album but I really haven’t heard it in a while because I’m doing it every night live.
MVRemix: How is living in Germany different from living in Philly?
Grand Agent: Europe, as a whole, has a much more relaxed atmosphere than America. So, that’s #1 thing for me. I’m more of a relaxed person. While I definitely love being from Philly and I love Philly and every city, in Germany, you can still have a city-life and a lot more piece of mind. There’s also less aggression than city-life in America. This is something that I found after being here for a while.
MVRemix: What is ‘The Kwaito Credo’ or ‘The Kwaito Technique’?
Grand Agent: A couple of years ago, my mother was in South Africa. She was telling me that ‘Kwaito’ was a word they were using for hip-hop or for the music, or the culture. When she told me that, I was feeling it. I incorporated it into the stuff that I was on at the time. ‘The Kwaito Credo’ is actually a quote from the bible that I put on the title for the opening skit of ‘By Design’.
MVRemix: Who are some of your major influences?
Grand Agent: Spike Lee, Sade, Sly Stone, Mini Riperton.
MVRemix: When did you first begin to rhyme? How did you get into hip-hop?
Grand Agent: I was about 11. I started writing and just recorded little songs. Then, I forgot about it somehow for a while. In high school, which was around 1992 or whatever, I started up again. In the beginning, I was more private with it. I wouldn’t really do it in front of anybody. But, in high school, I started to let people hear stuff. Then 1994 was the first time I was in a studio and also the first time I performed. 1997 was the first record I put out. It went on from there.
MVRemix: Tell us about your first group Name. What happened?
Grand Agent: Name is the sh*t! I was at this school for engineering in Philly. I met one of the guys there. At the same time, I had this little job at this theater and I met the other guy there. I was doing stuff like recording with both of them. We used a 4-track and we kept on throwing joints and throwing joints. I introduced the two of them and soon, we started doing songs together. This was about 1995. So, from 1995 to 1998, we hit every spot we could. We hit Atlanta, Chicago, wherever. We started to grow a little bit. But, the end of Name happened. We were shopping pretty hard for deals. We just didn’t get one. I think it was probably because we were real super artsy. A lot of ways, I still am. We were so autonomous and proud back then that every time we got somewhere with a label, every suggestion would just offend us. We were 100% artistic and we weren’t being business-minded at all. After a while, we realized that another approach had to be used. From then on, I began my solo stuff in 1999. The other guys are still doing music. I still talk to them. We still plan stuff. I don’t know when any of this stuff will happen but they are recording now. They recently did some stuff with Malik B of The Roots. One guy in Name is a theater director and he’s busy with that all the time. The other guy, the DJ and producer, well… he’s DJ-ing and producing. We have plans but it’s hard now. I never really abandoned the group. I told them about this solo thing and they were like ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ The door was open. It’s not really over yet but we have a certain kind of impression we want to make. We haven’t really found the right opportunity yet. So, in the mean time, I am doing my solo career. Maybe, we’ll find a means to that end. I’m still optimistic about Name really.
MVRemix: Do you have your rhymes pre-written when you go into the studio or do you write then and there when you hear the beat?
Grand Agent: Different songs, different ways. Lately, the best method or process is to just have a theme and/or a chorus idea. These are just things going on at the time anyway, in my head. It happens just walking down streets, sitting in the car. This is the stuff that’s coming to me. Rhymes are always coming too. I have to reach out and scale it down to the essence of it. I like a good theme and a good chorus. Then, when a session comes up and there’s a good beat, I just go through the hooks and themes in my mind. Then, I just write the rhymes to the beat. I put the hook to the beat. For me, at least for the newer stuff that I have been recording, that is the process. Right now, I don’t have so much time just to be writing rhymes like I used to. This sh*t here is getting more busy now. Everything is out of necessity. So, when I need a song, I can find the energy or mental state to get one out. Other than that, I don’t really think about rhymes like that anymore. I think of more song ideas. I record the chorus and see how that sounds. When I hear that, and that is tight, then I work on what should come after that. It makes it a lot easier too.
MVRemix: What group or emcee would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Grand Agent: I don’t know, man. Most of the people who I want to make songs with are outsiders. Like Sade and sh*t like that. That would be something I would like to do. I would like to do a song with Sade. I would like to get her in the studio. Maybe, just produce a song for her, suggest a song she could sing, or write a song she could sing. For me, I do rap in a more traditional way. I like some emcees. I like a lot of emcees but I’m not really crazy about the whole collaboration or featured artist thing because it is being abused right now. On my album ‘Fish Outta Water’, I don’t have any other emcees. The next album, I would like to have someone like Mr. Lif, or somebody else that I really like. His voice and energy is great. I see him as somebody who will be around for a while. His voice is just dope. This is my 2nd tour with Lil Dap (from Group Home) so I recorded some stuff with him. Also, with Declaime. I’m more into doing collaborations with people who I really know. It’s better for me to collaborate with them because I think I get a more authentic feeling from what I do. I’m never like ‘Oh! I want to get this person on my album because he’s hot right now. Go give him some money!’ That’s one way to make a song but my way is more different. I do songs with people who I know. I even talk to them for a few hours or even days before we do the songs just so we can have some kind of foundation of where each other is at.
MVRemix: On the LP ‘Fish Outta Water’, there is an interlude about hip-hop artists doing deals with Japanese record labels instead of US ones. Artists like Lone Catalysts, Five Deez and others have released albums in Japan while some of these albums have yet to be released in the U.S. Why do you think this is happening?
Grand Agent: I know Five Deez personally. When you are at the level that we are at, like Five Deez and myself, we see ourselves like one of those people who deserve one of those spots. But, we also know that creative control is important to getting your spot. It’s kind of tricky. These people in Europe and Japan know about it. There are opportunities for us. I finished ‘Fish Outta Water’ in like May or March of last year. I was shopping it, shopping it, and shopping it. No one wanted to touch it. Nobody. Over here in Germany, the market was going down. As I was finishing it, everything was falling apart. Nobody wanted to touch it. I sent it to this label in Japan and they were like ‘Yo! When can we put it out?!?’ That was it. That’s really when the album got done- done because I was waiting for some money to come from somewhere and Japan came through. There are opportunities there and in America, there are mad artists with mad promotion. You cannot compete with that. You have to find your place where your place is at. Germany and Japan is the 2nd and 3rd biggest Black music market outside of the states.
MVRemix: You released a single with Pete Rock called ‘This is What Is Meant’ (where the remix was on the ‘Flipsides’ compilation). How did you hook up with Pete Rock and what was that collaboration like?
Grand Agent: That was such a gift! I did a song for the ‘Superrapin 2’ album and some people at the label didn’t like the song. Ultimately, the song was rejected. But, because, at that time, I was a Superrappin artist, they thought I should have been on the album. I had to be on the album. At the time, it was the end of the project. Everything was done except Pete Rock’s song. They were like ‘Damn, we’re waiting for this sh*t from Pete Rock. It’s taking mad long. You want us to ask him if he would want to do it with you?’ Pete was with it and of course, I was with it. We hooked up and knocked it out. That was good. It was cool. That was the first time I met him and a person of that kind of stature where it was on some mutual respect sh*t. He knew my records and I knew he knew them. Before we started, I gave him the props he earned. I asked him about industry sh*t too. It was cool. It was real dope. I would definitely do it again.
MVRemix: You have an amazing trilogy of songs called ‘Mingling’. Can you explain to us the concept behind these tracks?
Grand Agent: Yeah, I can explain why they keep going on. ‘Mingling’ was like the first Grand Agent solo song. It wasn’t really but it was the first one released as Grand Agent. I had Name songs where I was the only one rhyming but that was the first one coming out under the name Grand Agent. That was special. I did the new ‘Mingling’ because when I did ‘Mingling’, I wasn’t 100% sure or confident with having Kutmasta Kurt producing. There were some little label politics involved and I went along with it because I wanted to put the record out and get the sh*t done. I wanted to get on with my career so, I played along. So, for me, later, when I was finishing the album, I did ‘New Mingling’ just as my statement of ‘Mingling’. I had my man Mr. Chisum from Name, he produced it and we did the Diamond D thing. That way, for me, it made it my song again. The label was leaning towards the name of Kutmasta Kurt and they were really doing it. They were trying to cash in on that so, I played along. But then, I did ‘New Mingling’ for redemption. Then, ‘Mingling Goes To Church’… that sh*t just came out one day. I guess the whole ‘Mingling’ series has a life of its own.
MVRemix: What was the last incident of racism you experienced?
Grand Agent: Wow! Honestly, man, there’s a lot less of that sh*t going on over here in Germany and in Europe, like, dramatically. I think when people think of Germany, they just think of Nazis and skinheads. That sh*t is here but it’s more kind of isolated. In Germany, they are intolerant about that type of sh*t because of their history and the sh*t that happened with Hitler. When that kind of sh*t happens, they try to weed it out and really deal with it. So, it is definitely over here but not as much. The last crazy sh*t that I remember happening was the last time I came to the states. I think my Mom was going to meet me at the airport but it didn’t work out. We missed each other at the airport. Finally, when we met back up at her house, she was like ‘I went to the airport and they were talking all this strange sh*t. I told them that I was looking for my son and one of the guys ask me if you had a record.’ This happened because when you go out of the country for a while and then, come back in, they run a check on you to see if you have any warrants or other types of sh*t. My mom was like ‘Damn, if I was white, would be saying that out of the clear blue?’ I have to say that was the last thing I remember. It didn’t happen to me but it happened to my mother.
MVRemix: Where were you on Sept. 11th? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected hip-hop? How has it affected Germany?
Grand Agent: Aw, this is crazy. I moved here on about August of 2001 and when that sh*t happened, I was walking down the street with one of my mans who I was doing some music with. Somebody called me on the phone and was like ‘Yo! Somebody flew a plane into The World Trade Center!’ I’m walking down the street, get into the car, and about 2 minutes later, I stop at a bar. I look on the TV at CNN and I saw everything. I was like ‘Damn!’ By then, I was living here already. It was only a few months but I was pretty sure that I was staying. How that sh*t affected hip-hop? Well, for me, it kind of solidified a lot of sh*t that people in hip-hop have been talking about. Think about the Jeru The Damaja’s inside album cover. Everybody knew from America’s behavior and treatment of the world that something would come back on them. When I talked to people over here, people of hip-hop knew that fact more than anybody. People in hip-hop talk about that more than anybody. On the one hand, it was just like ‘Damn!’. I feel bad for the people who lost people and that happened on American soil but then on the other hand, you put that sh*t out and it comes back. I don’t really see how it affected hip-hop. I heard a couple of songs that mentioned the towers falling down but mostly, New York cats were doing it. Okay, but so what? That sh*t is current events. I don’t really live there either so I don’t really know the real, real sh*t.
MVRemix: You have a song on the ‘By Design’ album about your father called ‘You Don’t Love Me’. It’s a poignant and heartbreaking song about the frustration, animosity and sadness of your father not wanting to be in your life. Do you ever speak to him? Did he hear the song? What is the situation like now?
Grand Agent: You want to hear some crazy sh*t? After that, I talked to him. This is what be tripping me out about writing songs about stuff like that. When they be real, they be real. You will live that sh*t out. I just did that sh*t. It was some real, real, real ugly sh*t between him and my mom. It’s pretty much outlined in the song to the point where he just stepped off. In the story, he couldn’t come back because he couldn’t deal with my mom. That’s understandable but 18, 19, 20 years later, you don’t have to talk to my mom and talk to me really after a certain age. Some crazy series of events happened after that. A friend of mine ran into him and let him hear the song. Then, my father called me. So, we met and we talked. I haven’t seen him since then. It was almost like the song served that purpose. Now, I just really wanted to hear his side of the story. I also wanted to know what this motherf*cka looked like. That’s wack that I could walk by him in the street and not know him. F*ck everything else. Relationships fall apart. The fact that I could pass him in the street and not know him is very wack. It’s crazy that after all of this, I had a girlfriend that lives, I swear, maybe 100 feet around the corner from where he had a girlfriend. So, that means, I probably DID see him. That bugged me out. When I went to meet him, I could almost spit to my girl’s crib from where he was at. That was the crazy part. From that one or couple of times that I saw him, it was kind of resolved for me. I mean I called him since then but we never hooked up. I think the song served a big purpose.
MVRemix: Is that song ‘2 B*tches’ based on a true story?
Grand Agent: (laughs!) I can say that it was based on a true situation. It’s a little bit exaggerated but it was a phase in my life.
MVRemix: You were a writer for ‘Real News’ a socio-political journal/newspaper in Philadelphia, what was that like? What kind of things did you write? Will you write in the future?
Grand Agent: Well, I don’t know about that because for me, what I try to do, is hit every form of media. I did the newspaper sh*t, magazine sh*t. Now, it’s the music sh*t. I just have to do a book and movie and that’s it. Maybe, at the end, I’ll have a radio show and just be chilling. That’s kind of why I did it. But, I also did it because, at the time, some people were trying to start a newspaper and the guy who ran this one, my mom knew him. He was a real neighborhood man. He was really big in the hood. He used to work at Newsweek and won awards. He was a real down *ss writer. My mom knew him and I met him, trying to help us with our newspaper. Then, one thing came to the next. I ended up the General Editor.
MVRemix: What is your favorite part of your live show?
Grand Agent: My favorite part is any time that I know I got it. When I get to the point in the show, where I’m feeling open, I can do whatever I want to do. If I wanted to wipe my ass on stage, I could do it. That’s my favorite part… when I feel that I could do whatever I want because I have the crowd. There’s a point you get to, even, when the crowd is not even 100% with you. There’s a certain point where you think ‘F*ck it! I’m gonna ride for myself.’ Even at that point, that’s when you really get them. It’s just on!
MVRemix: Word association time. I’m going to say the name of an emcee or group and you say the first word that comes to your head. So, if I said ‘Public Enemy’, you may say ‘revolution’. Okay?
Grand Agent: No problem.
MVRemix: Wu-Tang Clan
Grand Agent: Ain’t nothing to f*ck wit.
Grand Agent: Intelligent
Grand Agent: Crazy motherf*cker.
Grand Agent: The man. He’s the man.
Grand Agent: Ahhh.. b*tchy.
MVRemix: Gil Scott Heron
Grand Agent: Sad.
MVRemix: George Bush
Grand Agent: What the f*ck?
MVRemix: What is the ‘Year Of The Fish’ DVD?
Grand Agent: That’s something that I’m putting together now where I am trying to show everything that I did in putting the new album, ‘Fish Outta Water’, out and the tour. We’re videotaping mad sh*t now. At the end, we’re going to put it together. It’s kind of like some memorabilia type sh*t. We’ll try to sell a couple. It’s kind of for me too because I wanted to document things. This was like some real grueling struggle to put this album out. I’m just trying to celebrate it and milk it as much as possible. I’m working on it now, getting the footage, shooting shows, and stuff. At the end of the year, I just wanted to go through and do a little segment for each month to show what happened in that month.
MVRemix: What is the biggest mistake you made in your career?
Grand Agent: Whooo! I don’t think I have made any.
MVRemix: What is a major misconception do you think people have of you?
Grand Agent: That I’m somebody who just wants to die underground and unknown representing real hip-hop. That is the greatest misconception for me because, in actuality, what I want to do, is exceed the category. I think the music, if it was not on ‘By Design’ and if it is not on ‘Fish Outta Water’, then it’s definitely getting to a point where I can represent real rap skills to the point where you just know that in my heart, I am a hip-hop kid, period. It’s not like I have to scream on a record. Real rap music and that authentic jingling rap music can be commercially acceptable and accessible and viable without being corny. For me, that’s kind of the ambition. Everybody is like ‘Underground!’. But, for me, underground is just stuff we don’t know yet. It’s just low budget and no promotion. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions I think people have. I think a lot of people now, after such crazy commercialization, kind of wear the word ‘underground’ as a bad of honor. They say, ‘Well, I’m underground’. You know, every underground sh*t ain’t phat. Everything on TV ain’t wack either. That’s what I don’t like. When you say ‘Grand Agent is underground’, you are categorizing me. When you see me at a show throw a N.O.R.E. beat on or a Jay-Z beat on, and you see me rocking to it, you’ll get f*cked up in the head because they’ll ask ‘Ain’t you underground?’ They don’t know that people are really running around, making exactly out of the underground, what they are saying the TV sh*t is just by being so gung ho on it. I just want to make Grand Agent music.
MVRemix: What do you want on your epitaph (your gravestone)?
Grand Agent: I think that I want to be cremated. If there is a little plaque there, I don’t know what’ll it will say. Maybe something like ‘He did it his way’. If anything, that’ll be there. In the end, I think people have to know that I followed my heart. It wasn’t really or always against all odds, but it was in the face of a lot of options to be other stuff. Even when I take those options to be other stuff, I did it because I was ready to and not because the game or some label or somebody forced me to do it. I was just Grand Agent.
MVRemix: How did you get the name Grand Agent? What is the meaning behind it?
Grand Agent: I got it, like anything, it just comes to you. For me, the meaning of ‘Grand’ is like the ego, the Earth, the secular, and the physical. I have an acronym for it: ‘Get Rich And Never Die’. That’s represents the mind state of how I grew up in America. ‘Agent’ is what I see every person and every experience as an opportunity for things to come through. Information and understanding is something we channel, whatever you want to call it, God, the universe, blah, blah, blah. We all change for that. Our actions are like that. You get something out of knowing me and I get something out of knowing you. That’s the agency right there.
MVRemix: What’s next for Grand Agent? What is in the future for Grand Agent? What’s next after you drop ‘Fish Outta Water’?
Grand Agent: After ‘Fish Outta Water’, I’m finishing this new joint, this new album, called ‘Mind Wrestling’. This is something that I am happy about too because this is something that I know it is going to have those people saying, ‘Oh, did he fall out?’ On the music tip, it is so not Grand Agent. What I want to do is get the people into a certain kind of beat, or whatever, and just hit them with the Grand Agent sh*t. For the Grand Agent people, I want them to get out of that f*cking way of thinking that divided rap thinking. That’s kind of what ‘Mind Wrestling’ is. You have to decide if you are really f*cking with Grand Agent or are you not? I try to do that with every album. I try to make people chose if they are down with me or if they are down with the sh*t that’s around it like the producers or whatever. That’s what is next.
MVRemix: Any final comments for the people reading this?
Grand Agent: Listen to the album. When you listen to some Grand Agent sh*t, be patient because it’s deeper than you think.
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"When you are at the level that we are at, like Five Deez and myself, we see ourselves like one of those people who deserve one of those spots. But, we also know that creative control is important to getting your spot. It’s kind of tricky."