In the wake of the death of indie hip-hop labels and in the pure marginality of others, Topp Boom, a Kansas City, MO producer and entrepreneur, endeavors to outdo his predecessors by aiming towards a broader audience. While admitting its non-commercial appeal, Symbol Heavy, a fast growing new label, isn't seeking to limit itself to an insignificant, art student constituency, but to throw open the doors on all hip-hop shoved outside the mainstream.
The paradox is that Boom is an artist-in the proper sense of the word. Not only has he been traditionally schooled, art runs thick within his family. Bound up with this paradox is the fact that Symbol Heavy Vol. 1, the second release from the burgeoning label, is quite the avant-garde album.
Based upon this reality, it will be a difficult task for the label to realize its hopes, but it might be just enough to go even a little further than those who have tooth and nail opposed any attempt to deviate from its narrow path; which obviously became the basis for their demise, decline, or just general stagnation. Hip-hop sorely needs the vision of Boom. We can only hope that this vision sees its fruition.
MVRemix: So how long you been producing and what got you started?
Topp Boom: Been producing, probably, officially, since, I wanna say í99, maybe Ď98, I don't remember, but basically I've been a huge fan beforehand. I've always been a fan of hip-hop. I really started out MCing and I met a guy by the name of Kool DJ Rebel who basically showed me the ropes in producing. He was the first guy actually that I saw making beats and the first guy that I knew that had a sampler. When I saw that I was like, ďThat's what I wanna do.Ē I was always a record fanatic, always had a love for records. Met my friend Mickey, borrowed his Dad's crate of just really good Jazz and Soul and discovered a lot of breaks on there and that pretty much, really kick started my love for samples. And when I discovered that, "Oh, this where the sample comes from? These records?" I mean I pretty much fell in love at that point.
MVRemix: What kind of production tools are you working with right now?
Topp Boom: Primarly the SP-1200 and the SP-303. Those are pretty much my tools of the trade. Anything else after that is just a random keyboard here and there, you know? But pretty much my whole production is sample-based.
MVRemix: Is that what you came up on? Is that what you honed your skills on or where the stuff prior to that that you've used?
Topp Boom: I used actually the SP-202 Dr. Sample was my first piece of sampling equipment and a shitty ass turntable and I would just mic the turntable and that was how I first started.
MVRemix: By miking the turntable?
Topp Boom: Yeah, I would just put a mic straight to the speaker and loop.
MVRemix: Wow, I didn't know that.
Topp Boom: Yeah it was really bad. Until I had to get a turntable and a mixer and that's when I officially started sampling. I played the bass here and there. I played with my Dad's latin jazz group. So, I mean, I been surround by music my whole life. My Dad's a guitar player, my Mom's a jazz singer. So I've always had a love for music. Hip-hop was something I just gravitated towards because it was just all around me, all my friends listen to it, basically its the music I grew up on.
MVRemix: So tell me about Symbol Heavy, the Symbol Heavy Collective, and the label and the new compilation/sampler that is out right now.
Topp Boom: Symbol Heavy is a title that--basically, it started in Boston when I lived there. I was by myself playing in a Rock band and I did my own stuff on the side. Me being a huge fan of labels and logos I wanted to put my solo projects under a moniker, a stamp, so I made this logo Symbol Heavy.
Nothing really happened with it, for a while, I moved back to Kansas City, and produced for people, met Beat Broker, and he was really hyped off what I was doing and he really liked the logo and he actually thought we should do something with it. So I was like, "cool." He had an idea of maybe him putting out this 12". So really our first official release that had the real stamp on it--the new stamp that I did--is the Beat Broker and Brother of Moses' project which is three songs and three instrumentals and that was a 12" project.
And then, like, maybe two years later, Boyd Pro, a kid that grew up with Drew (Beat Broker), was already a huge fan--I didn't even know him. I guess Drew would play him stuff. Drew kind of kick-started a lot of it, you know? Symbol Heavy was just me, I had my hands full and Drew had his hands full and I really liked what Boyd [Pro] was doing too and I invited him along like, ďYou should be down with the camp.Ē Heís really a business-minded dude, too, and so he kinda took care of a lot of that stuff for us and, really, I owe a lot to him for taking Symbol Heavy up off the ground.
MVRemix: What were some music projects that you were involved with prior to doing Symbol Heavy stuff?
Topp Boom: Iíve had my hands in a lot of things, nothing that was really, really crazy that went national or anything, but, like I said, I started in my Dadís band, I had a group called Writers Inc. That was actually my first group with Kool DJ Rebel and Brother of Mosesóback then he went by Aqua the Opaque, I think. But actually it was just me rapping, him rapping, and Kool DJ Rebel producing. We kinda, being kids, we all went our separate ways and the group just fell off. Then I just did production here and there for people. I would produce for Scoe. I would produce for Aaron (Brother of Moses) occasionally and then me and Aaron did this Land Mind project. It was Brother of Moses and TalltaleóI was going by Talltale at the time. That was a project I put a lot of heart into, but I just didnít know enough about mixing down and doing EQs. So its an album I would probably never release again, but it was definitely a learning experience; it was something that I worked on.
Since then itís been cool. Iíve been producing stuff for Approach and more future projects for other people, but so far its been working with my friends.
MVRemix: Who do you respect right now thatís doing music MC-wise, production-wise, group-wise; what are you banging in your car right now?
Topp Boom: I really like Ghostface and I like--the reason I like Ghostface is because, the way when he MCs a lot of people canít understand what heís saying, but that doesnít really get to me at all because I kinda know what heís saying. Heís a slang artist and thatís street, its just slang. Youíre not necessarily supposed to get slang most of the time. Itís supposed to be entertainment too. Heís really the only one thatís rockin over old soul samples which Iím a huge fan of.
Iím all over the board too. I like everybody. Iím a huge fan of the whole down South movement, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Young Jeezy; I think heís dope.
MVRemix: Whatís next for Symbol Heavy? What slated for the future?
Topp Boom: I hope a lot, man. Whatís next is, basically, Negro Scoeís solo album and my solo album which is pretty much the thing Iím going to put a lotta, lotta work into. And hopefully we sign more acts because I want it to be a legitimate label, I want it to be like Cold Chilliní, I want it to be like First Priority, all those old hip-hop labels that were classic and they just put out these groups. Eventually I would like to go down as a Marley Marl who produced so many people. Super-producers have been around. We think of Neptunes and Dre, but you canít forget Prince Paul and Marley Marl, those dudes produced a lot of dudes. Iím ready to take chances too at the same time. Thatís why Iím not opposed to putting out a punk-rock album or a rock album oróprobably not country, because that is something I just do not know anything about. I couldnít do it right.
MVRemix: And on that note, what is the Topp Boom sound like? What is your schtick?
Topp Boom: The Topp Boom sound in particular is like a cross between Captain Sky and Andre Simone and if you donít know those dudes, they were 80s producers who did their own music and vocals too. But its pretty much like electro, funk, hip-hop, and disco probably mixed in a stew. Thatís Topp Boom. It definitely has that sound of the 80s, but thatís my whole point because Iím a product of that era. Itís real glitzy, itís ďglamouryĒ, but in an ironic kinda way.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hopís role is? A lot of people say that hip-hop is a vehicle for change and then you have some who say that hip-hop reflects the change thatís already happening in society. Do you think hip-hop has a role?
Topp Boom: I think, the thing about hip-hop, this is probably a bold statement for me to make, but its probably the least pretentious form of music out there in the sense that weíre throwing our influences out there. Always. Whether it be me sampling, you can call me out on what I used. Thatís cool. I threw it out there. I wasnít ashamed of it. An MC will just speak directly to you. Why do you think kids are into it so much? 85% of kids buy rap music because it speaks directly to them. Itís not like punk rock where you have to throw a mosh pit or anything. Of course, hip-hop is gonna have its violence, but every form of music has violence. Itís nothing new. Every music gets exploited with money. Money didnít just ruin hip-hop its ruined rock, itís ruined a lot of things. We gotta quick thinking in terms of hip-hop dying in that sense. In that case, then all music genres are dying right now. Thatís always been my take.
And hip-hop can change. Hip-hop actually made a good impact on me. I wouldnít be making music if the music never existed. I was the kid watching Yo! MTV Raps at my babysitterís house because I didnít have cable and I was just obsessed, completely obsessed. And it just really reflected what I felt. I didnít grow up in the harshest of ghettoes, but I totally understood. It got to me. Me being a minority too I was definitely feeling their anger. Public Enemy, the first Ice Cube album, those albums; they made a huge impact on me. Of course, money could totally get in the way and filter those views a lot, but I mean nobodyís perfect and weíre all gonna succumb to something bad. It happens. But hip-hop can definitely have a huge impact on society.
MVRemix: What do you think of the Hyphy movement of the Bay Area? How do you feel about that music?
Topp Boom: Iím just getting acquainted with it, but Iím a huge fan already. I like it. E40 kinda pushed it into the open--but little do people know, Iím a huge E40 fan. I had E40 Federal on tape and I still got it! The Hyphy movement, it got labeled that, but itís always been around. Itís nothing really new to me and I can probably say that just Ďcause Iím an older cat. The kids love it nowadays, itís one of those things. I think thereís room for it. Hip-hopís one of the music forms that can do that.