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The Masterminds - conducted by Hugo Lunny  

The Masterminds

June 2000

These are the transcripts of an interview with the Masterminds. The interview was conducted by Hugo Lunny on June 16th, 2000. The Masterminds are a group consisting of Epod, Oracle and Kimani, who all reside in NYC. They recently dropped their first full length release 'The Underground Railroad' on Nu Gruv.

MVRemix: How did you come to become a group?
Oracle: Well, basically Kimani and I met up at Wesleyan University, where we were both people who were into Hip Hop, there's a small Hip Hop scene there. And we both did rhymes at shows, sometimes we both even got on the radio station there and then out of mutual respect and love for Hip Hop, we both got together and decided to form a group, see if we could put some songs together and see what we could do with it. Later on in the process, I don't know exactly what year...[speaks to Epod] It was through Renee that we met Epod?
Epod: Yeah, yeah. I was from Detroit, yeah, well that's where I was from, I'm from Detroit and..
[-other members laugh-]
]-Epod in a seemingly angry, but joking manner-[
Yeah, that's funny. Heh.
So, I met Renee (which is our manager) through one of the DJ's who DJ'ed at the radio station at Michigan State University, he introduced me to the Masterminds and they were looking for some tracks, so I gave them a beat tape and what not, they chose some stuff off of it and ended up using some of the stuff. Then, eventually, they felt that they needed a DJ and they were using lots of tracks from me, so they decided that maybe I should join the group. So I did. That was around I'd say, '98, '97.

MVRemix: What do you think of MP3's because your LP was released in MP3 a while before its proper release...
[group chuckles]
Epod: I'll speak first, it's like a "Catch 22" as far as that's concerned, I really personally do not like it. I'm all for technology etc., but I think it really takes away from the whole. Say, Understand the purpose of it. We're underground artists and we're trying to get seen, it's hard to do that in the big system, but on the downside of that, you have people that's like bootlegging and bootlegging and bootlegging, and getting copies of that. We have to work like seven times harder than any artist with real publicity with lots of people out there, in their corner pushing their stuff. I'm really not for that medium of presenting music to people. I'm kind of old fashioned like that [laughs] as far as music is concerned. I get out there and do shows, promote the product.
Kimani: I half agree, half don't. I think MP3's are useful, I'm just upset when it's taking away from album sales and stuff like that. It was out before it, you know, and I'm not really mad that people downloaded it, and took the time to download it. As long as they go out and buy the record when it actually comes out. I used to go out to get advanced copies of shit too, it's just that now that you've got MP3's, it's CD quality sound, and you don't have to go out and buy the record. You basically have the best quality sound off your computer. I agree with the medium, just not if it's taking money out of our pockets. That's when it becomes a problem.

MVRemix: Can you tell us a bit about your website, I understand you're the first artists to have a official site.
Kimani: Yeah, us and Company Flow are the first artists that Platform have incorporated into their website, actually we're the first first.
Oracle: So, yeah, it's at and um, yeah.

MVRemix: Phil was feeling your production in his review, it sounded different to the normal stuff out there now because it was simplistic but not in a crappy way, can you tell me a little bit about how you come up with your sound, what equipment you use etc?
Epod: Okay, I guess they would want me to speak. As far as the sound, I know, as a whole, we try to go for things that are going to be very unique, but not so far unique that people are saying "Okay, they're way off the page." For example, with the first single; 'Liberty,' I'm a real house-head. So...I listen to a lot of house music and I spin it. And so I wanted to incorporate the whole filtered sweeps and all that stuff into a song, so that's what ended up with that particular song. There are other songs on the album that I feel if you're gonna have something that's gonna be simplistic, it should be very musical in that aspect. I know that when I make a track for somebody, I always make it so that anybody could do something to it, not just someone who raps, maybe someone could sing to it, someone could do "this" to it. I always go into it with that notion.

MVRemix: 'Seven' is one hell of a collaboration, how did that come about?
Kimani: Well, we had a beat, called up five of our friends who actually happen to rap and some people know them. We sat in the studio, and everybody just spit over it. We didn't really want a chorus, we wanted to keep it as raw as possible, so...that's the scenario for touching that type of shit, it came out better than I'd imagined it was gonna come out. Me and Oracle were talking about how everybody had such a different flow on the song, but in all it still came together beautifully at the end.

MVRemix: Like the east vs west rivalry there is now a battle going on between real independent vs 'hot' Hip Hop (DMX, Jay-Z etc), what do you see in this and where do you think you fit in?
Oracle: What I feel is that you can't really label us as independent or mainstream. I know some artists that, well, I know since you've listened to the album you can tell that our music can't be defined on realms of being independent or mainstream even if it comes from an independent source. We just want our sound to be known as Masterminds, and that's how we come out. So, the mainstream is always going to be as it is, like the mainstream, the independent scene is really just trying to be mainstream it's just in the beginning stages or whatever you want to call it, so no matter really what source we come out of, even if we were on a mainstream label we're still gonna just stay true. Whatever's goin' on in the Hip Hop scene right now, it's all for the money and it really doesn't mean anything because it comes down to the dollar in the end.
Epod: I really love doing music and I really love being in the group, and I would do it for free. But I'm not gonna turn down if someone's gonna pay me for something, but [emphasizes] I know I'm gonna put my best efforts into what I do. I don't go into the studio with anybody I work with, if I worked with someone who you would consider mainstream, I wouldn't go into the studio thinking "Hey, I'm gonna make this radio friendly track." I just go in there and try to come up with what I feel is good material.

MVRemix: You gonna produce for anyone but yourselves soon?
Epod: Well, there's a couple of artists I'm producing for from Detroit, right now I've just really been focusing on the Masterminds stuff and I've been working on some other side projects like singing groups and stuff like that. And I've been working on a House album, so...
Kimani: But the stuff these guys got man, you hear the beats, it's like I want them to just make it for Masterminds, make it for me straight up. [All members laugh] But no, for real, the world deserves to have these beats because it's a totally new realm of music that our Hip Hop needs. So I would say that people would really like to hear it in other groups besides Masterminds. But me personally, I hope it just stays with Masterminds.

MVRemix: Why didn't your cover of the Pharcydes 'Oh Shit' make it to the album?
Kimani: Well.... we.... we didn't want to get sued first of all.
Okay [group laughs]
We gave it away on MP3, you can get it from our website. We wanted to give something away just as a promotional thing, so basically we didn't want to get sued and we just wanted all original shit on the album too instead of doing a cover of an old song. It was some shit that we just did just for the hell of doing it basically.

MVRemix: What's the situation with Nu Gruv ? I didn't notice any promotion for the LP...what are your feelings regarding this?
Kimani: Our situation with Nu Gruv is we're signed with a distribution deal over there, and, you know, they're wonderful people over there.
Oracle: We're friends with everybody over there, it's just with any artist, we think that we could get more than what we're getting now. That's just basically it, it's like..
Epod: The album basically got dropped without a lead in with promotions to it, so now it's really on us to let people know that it's there and go pick it up, you know.

MVRemix: Is this your third release?
Epod: This is our first full length.
Well I mean sort of like the third EP/LP release..
Kimani: Yes indeed.
Where do you see yourselves going from here?
Epod: To the top.

MVRemix: Who do you want to work with in future projects?
Epod: Oooh, wow.
Oracle: We was just talkin' about that. I would like to work with Slum Village, Talib Kweli, I would like to work with Common, Roots, De La, a lot of people. There are a lot of dope groups and dope emcees that I would like to work with.
Kimani: I'd like to hear a Masterminds collabo with like 2Pac and Biggie. Those are the greats, you know what I'm sayin', but, obviously we can't. There's so many emcees out there and I feel that we're gonna be doing a lot of collabos with all the people we want to do collabos with, so...
Have there been any recorded that haven't come out yet, or...?
Epod: Um, hmmmm
Oracle: I don't think so.
Epod: Don't think so.
Oracle: Nope.
[Epod chuckles]

MVRemix: If you could change one thing about the way your careers have gone so far, what would it be?
Epod: I think I would have stayed in engineering school ! I would have more of an aspect of the technical side of things, I mean I do have that but when you don't have a piece of paper saying you really know what you know, certain people look at you like "Uh, you're not shit, you can't do this." You have to then really show them, but at the same time they don't want you to upstage them. That's the only thing I would have changed. Oh, and I would have moved to New York sooner.

MVRemix: Do you plan on doing any touring?
Masterminds (in Unison): Yeah !
Oracle: We plan on doing it
Epod: Whether we do it is a whole 'nother story.
Kimani: Yeah, that has a lot to do with how things could be different in our Hip Hop career. I wish a lot more things would go smoothly as planned or as promised. But that's what you deal with a lot when you're not dealing with, major, I don't even wanna say major labels, just with us. We've had to deal with a lot of promises being made and 50% of it not coming through. Also, you need a lot of patience. Touring is definitely something we wanna do, go we'll see.

MVRemix: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans that we haven't covered?
Epod: Um, go buy the album.
Oracle: Yeah, check it out.
Epod: Check out the album. I think people will really like it and be on the lookout for
Kimani: [interupts] Volume 2. Yeah, we're about to start on volume 2.

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