Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Conducting Thoughts with Shames Worthy

I have to admit that this interview is something of an honor for me. Shames Worthy is a member of, arguably, one of my favorite rap collectives ever, The Tunnel Rats. He's also the one member to have remained steadily making music with appearances all over the place, production sprinkled on projects here-and-there, and the most vocal member over their "quiet times." He's been really cool to me and answered even my most ridiculous inquiries about what the TR's have been doing. He took a few years to put in work on the record he just released, "the Album" so, I hit him up to ask about as many things as I could...Well, for the most part, ha, ha. So, I give to you, Shames Worthy's conducting thoughts...

Conduct: I've been listening to the new album and I must say that I'm enjoying it very much. It has a sound that I can say will please fans that have been craving a "Tunnel Rat" record. How do you feel carrying that legacy on as one of the more active members in your crew (Propaganda being the other)?

Shames: Thanks man. I'm just excited overall really. I worked really hard on "the album" and definitely put everything I am in to it. Being active and reppin' the crew is something I'm used to at this point. When you think about it, I'm the only member of the Tunnel Rats who's been on every project that we've put out. Well minus Propaganda's "I Am Not Them". But even tho he put the "7 Series" stamp on it, to his credit, he did that pretty much on his own. It wasn't like he had the whole "TR machine" behind it, I didn't mix it etc. Oh and New Breed's "NINE" originally had a crew song called "Motion Sickness" with all of us on it but we had to pull it cuz the cat who made the beat started tripping off money.

Conduct: Wow, I never knew there was a track that was to be on that record that didn't make it. I'm always slapping my face for not having noticed that you had been on every album your crew has put out over, what, the last decade? Man, that's crazy!
Let's touch on just who Shames Worthy is a bit. You recently got married and, I believe, started a new job. How has life been for you in the last few years?

Shames: I'd say its been extreme. Low lows and really high highs, finding and marrying my soul-mate being the highest. Actually I recently quit the job I had been doing for about 3-4 years. It was hard work and long 16-18 hour days. After a while, it just wasn't worth it anymore. It was the right move tho. I'm blessed...and much happier. Right now life is good.

Conduct: The climate for rap music, it seems, has changed again and really become... stale. Seems like every new song that drops skews along the same lines as the last iTunes single. As someone that's been around the game for awhile, I often like to ask what the thought is on where things are and, more importantly, WHY you think things have come to the place they are currently?

Shames: There's always gonna be quality music AND straight garbage. To me, there's no such thing as "the music business" really...there's just business. Good business is about maximizing profit and making money period. There's no love involved, especially when you're talking about what's on the radio or MTV. "Music" to them is just the product. So you're right, everything DOES go in cycles. When one company sees a model that works and is successfull, all the other companies scramble to ride that wave or trend. Its even worse nowadays with Rap in particular cuz the money from music sales has dried up so much.

Its not just music tho. One year there's 3 or 4 movies about "aliens." The next year its "end of the world" flicks. The year after that its "spy" action films. Right now, everything is in 3D. Then you got Flavor of Love-Rock of Love-I Love New York-Real Chance of Love-For the Love of Ray J etc. Not only is it harder to think of an original idea, its even harder than that to sell it. The excecutives with all the funding to back your idea want to see a proven model of sussess. They want what's "hot".

Conduct: Yeah, if that ain't the truth! It's madness that business has totally bound up music into it's fold to such a high degree. And its been that way for SO long too.
But, moving on a step, I heard someone mention that, well, Is it true that your name, Shames Worthy, came about due to the fact that people would often confuse your real name, Raphi, and would instead call you "Ralphie?"

Shames: Haaaa...Ralphi, Rafey, Rappy, Rapey, Rap-hi, Rolffy, Robby, Rabbi. It can be ridiculous. On a professional level, that's not good for branding myself as an artist either. It kinda just evolved from my verse on "Title Takin" from LPG's '360' album. "Wussup my name is Shame. Lets get better aquainted..." That was in '98. After that, a lot of my buddies started calling me Shame or Big Shame. In '06 I ended a verse "...Big Game Shame's Worthy." That name/term/phrase just sticks and people remember it. If someone Googles "Shames Worthy", the 1st page's results are for yours truly. There's a million Raphi's including that children's musician. Plus you start to get more results for "gRAPHIcs" instead. Same with "Big Shame" being that those are just 2 words regularly used in society.

During some of those "low" times that I mentioned, it also was an affirmation. Shame's Worthy of another chance, Shame's Worthy of being heard, Shame's Worthy of being loved, Shame's Worthy of making his own decisions, Shame's Worthy of being happy etc. It's become bigger than me tho. I mean who hasn't been told in one way or another that they're NOT worthy of these things? If you have, then we're the same. "Shames Worthy" represents you as much as it does me. That, and of course Laker connection.

Conduct: That's actually awesome, yo. I really dig the fact that it means more than one thing. Sounds like the kinda stuff I enjoy doing. Making it deeper of people looking into. Now, you have become a skilled artist on both the mic as well as the boards. Was it an interest or a necessity that brought you into doing engineering?

Shames: Definitely both. I mean out of High-school I went to an audio engineering school...sorta just to make my demos sound better. At the same time, I definitely had an intrest in it. Well actually music in one form or another has always been my main interest or passion. I used to break and house/freestyle dance. That wasn't enough so I started I djing (house parties & mixtapes back in jr high and high school) THAT wasn't enough so I started messing around making beats. All the while, I was getting more and more serious with rapping. I didn't have a crew to teach me dance moves or new scratches. I was always good with words as well as rhythms. Plus you could write and rap by yourself. So I didn't get burnt out like I did with the other two.

Conduct: That really makes sense. This new record, "the Album," is an entirely independent release and, I'm sure, there are a good deal of pluses and minuses to doing that. What's the game plan to make sure that "the Album" lives up to all the potential it has, especially in terms of promoting the record yourself? Are there things that people can do to help and, if so, what are the best ways you could see them doing that?

Shames: Yeah, there are pros and cons to releaseing it all yourself...truly independently. No label, staff, manager, booking agent, promo campaign, video, tour, assistant, street team, none of that. So pretty much its only been my bandcamp site, facebook, & twitter as far as "promotion" if you would even call it that. There's been a couple other sites, 1 review, maybe a blog here & there but that's about all. I really wanna tour, especially overseas but nothing's been set up yet.
But really any and every purchase of the CD or songs is key. One of the best parts about putting it out all by yourself is the profit margin per sale. Instead of having to sell 50k just to break even, if you can push 4-5k independently you can live off that. Every little thing helps tho. Every link you guys pass on, every "like", tweet, rating/comment on itunes or other sites you see it on, every subscriber/view on my youtube channel etc. All that adds up cuz it's mostly word-of-mouth at this point. If the folks out there know of tours, clubs, spots looking for opening acts (Hip-Hop) tell them to book me. Oh and I do accept donations via paypal (jk but I really do.)

Conduct: Hopefully the people who love what they hear get that message and invest in you and letting people know you're available. What made you name this project, "the Album?"

Shames: There's a few reasons. So much time had gone by. Fans would ask me "When are you gonna drop another solo album?" Then when I did start writing and recording it was "How's the album coming?" or "When's the album coming out?" Whenever I'd see somebody and they asked me what I was up to, I was forever like "ya know, just working on the album". When I finally did finish, it turned out so much better than I ever thought possible. It was more than just "the album" I had been telling folks about. It had become THE album...my masterpiece. The album that made everything I had been thru in my career (or lack there of) worth it.

Its been over 16 years that I've been rapping on tapes/records/CDs/mp3s actually sold in stores. I've had some great memories & experiences but never really made ANY money. I'm a husband now and wanna start a family. So that's no longer an option really. If its time for me to throw in the towel and do something with my life so I can actually provide for that family, this is "the album" that will hopefully make it a little easier to hang it up. My John Elway victory lap so to speak. OR if this album opens up new doors and provides opportunities to continue on without constantly losing, people will say this was "the album" that changed it all.

Conduct: Whoa, whoa! So you're saying that there is indeed a possibilty that this album here, could possibly be the swan song of Shames Worthy's discography?

Shames: I'd say its a definite maybe. j/k. It certainly is a possibility tho. I mean I hope not. Doing music in one form or another is the only thing I've really been passionate about. (GOD, family & the Lakers excluded) But it's the only thing I love doing. It's the only thing I've ever really been good at. That's not to say I was "a natural" by any means. I wasn't at all actually. But I had a fire of determination inside that made me always want to get better and better and better. I still have that desire 20 years later. I may have a mini set up so I can I get down a verse or song here and there. It IS thereputic for me as well. But the reality is, I can't afford to spend the time & money it takes. I put in full-time hours and for less than minimum wage pay. As a husband (and GOD willing a father someday) I can't drop a few thousand per project on "a hobby". I aint got it like that.

Conduct: How did you manage to get legendary Project Blowed member and independent icon, Abstract Rude on your album? Have you known him for awhile?

Shames: Yea we went to high school together. Different classes, he was a couple years ahead of me. We had talked about working together on something for years but for one reason or another it just never panned out. I think I might've even hit him up when we (Tunnel Rats) were doing "Underground Rise" but he was on the road at the time. The song we did for my album is super autobiographical. Our verses really just tell the story of how it all went down...like exactly. My verse talks about how I got into the LA Underground scene back in "the good old days". Pigeon really did take me to the Goodlife the 1st time. The Goodlife Cafe was really a health food store on Crenshaw & Exposition that would host the legendary open-mic on Thursday nights. I did meet LPG at the original Hip-Hip Shop owned & ran by OG graff writer HEX.

Abs verse is the same way. Our school was on 18th St. I used to always bring a boombox to school to dance and rap during nutrition & lunch. Not only would I bump Hip-Hop but also Motown/Stevie Wonder/James Brown etc. He makes a reference to a verse I spit at the Life with the "Warriors..come out and plaaay" from the movie. When I heard him say that line I was really trippin' cuz that was one of the first raps that got me some love from the crowd. I was surprised he even remembered that. His 2nd verse is like a roll call of a few cats and crews that we have had conversations about like "Whatever happened to _____?" Even some of the fallen soldiers like Bigga B who threw the legendary UNITY clubs in L.A. and Yosef Afloat from The Nonce ("I Used to Sell Mixtapes") who also passed.

Conduct: That's so amazingly cool. Some people may not know how the Hip Hop scene is in LA, especially in terms of the community and how people there have known each other for years. It kind of trips me out that several of the names you guys mention and the places you make reference too were so furtile with that many artists. Would you say that the scene is still as vibrant and full of close connects like it was back then?

Shames: I guess it depends on how you look at it. On one end, I'd say no because the scene isn't really as poppin' as it was back then. There used to be weekly spots to go bust at 4 nights a week. There was a also a few different monthly spots. So you almost had somewhere to rap every night of the week. It wasn't like they were all open mics but even at the monthly clubs, there was always cyphers in the parking lots as well as inside. Both dance and rap battles were always randomly jumping off. Now if you start a cypher somewhere you're gonna get a lot of looks like "wow...really? these cats are trying a little too hard." That is, unless it's at like a Blowed or Grind Time Now type event.

On the other hand, for ME at least, I get a lot more love & respect than I did in those days. I was sorta kept at an arm's distance, never fully emraced. See I wasn't rocking Cortez, a wife-beater & Dickies nor was I rapping in spanish. So (at that time) I might as well have been Vanilla Ice. lol. Back then, we took it all so serious. It was our lives really. Plus, it was very hard to impress people and get props cuz the skill level was so high. You really had to be original and come widdit. You couldn't get by just on your "swag"/grind/look/beats like cats do now. But today, generations later, dudes like me who were sorta kept on the outskirts get veteran love from the OGz. They respect that we were some of the few who were paying our dues and putting it down even back then.

Conduct: Its no huge secret that you and Jurny Big have a longtime friendship both on and off the mic. You've done a lot of work with him on solo and group projects, shouted each other out at a moments notice, and always bring a cohesive sound when you collaborate. What is it that makes your friendship so tight and what do you see as being the best thing about him that maybe people don't realize?

Shames: We just clicked from the jump. A few weeks before we even met, Pigeon who I went to church with at the time gave me an LPG demo cassette and I couldn't stop playing it. His charisma and delivery on the mic stuck out to me immediately. At the Hip-Hop Shop where he first heard me spit, he saw potential cuz he quickly introduced me to Dax. Being that they were older and already recording stuff in a real studio, I just hit the ground running. I saw tangible proof that maybe I could pursue this rap thing as more than just a hobby. From that point on, it was usually the two of us going to all the open mics and rep'n.

I always say he was Jordan and I was Kobe. He was so ahead of his time, doing stuff back then that cats are just now starting to catch up to. I still feel he's one of the best to ever do it PERIOD. He gave me something/someone to study, learn from, try to impress, chase, pattern my game after so to speak. Although he may downplay it now. I probably wouldn't have excelled at it as fast as I did, if it wasn't for me wanting to become as good as him. For the first 2 years especially, I studied his every move, technique, trick etc. Writing, recording, performing all that. Even when he didn't know, like he'd be in the booth and Dax would point out little things Jurny was doing to make it sound cleaner, clearer, so precise. When we'd do sound checks he'd be like "don't hold the mic like that, hold it like this" and would show me the difference in how it sounded. I was always trying to soak up game.

Conduct: You have no idea how facinating this response is. I won't hide the fact that, in this life, in terms of being 'star struck,' Jurny's talent and realness on the mic would make me hesitant to approach the guy. Do you or any of the other cats in the Tunnel Rats experience any kind of ridiculous fans being intimidated by the legendary status like that?

Shames: Intimidated? Naw, I don't think so. But if they were affraid to come talk to us then I guess we wouldn't know. Tho we don't have millions of them, our fans are great and really loyal. There are heads out there that have every single release we've ever put out or had a hand in. But I'm the same way with Freestyle Fellowship, Pharoahe Monche or D'Angelo. So when we meet them and they show us their collection, we're not like "umm stalker?" or anything. We're super appreciative! Its awesome cuz its like "wow you've really been WITH us an this long journey" It reminds you that it wasn't all a waste of time. The music has had an impact in some people's lives.

Conduct: I've always been interested in how tracks are arranged on albums, what choices an artist makes as to where one track fits and where it doesn't. How did you approach that when you were finalizing the record for the listening public?

Shames: MAN! There was like 20 different song orders I had for this one. I even made 2 last minute changes the morning I sent out the audio master. From 'Tunnel Vision' on I was the one who'd put the songs in order. Mainly cuz I would analyze every little thing...from how one song flowed into the next sonically, to vibe and feel, to what the verses talked about, to tempos, to who was on each song and keeping them spread out etc. Then I'd run it by Dert & Dax to see if they had any changes.

I thought this time it would be somewhat easier being that it was pretty much all me on the mic. So I wouldn't have to worry about balancing all the different MCs and just focus on the flow of the songs. It still was tough tho cuz I kept listening to the different orders and 50-75% of the way thru I'd be like "Dang how can I put this song this far back? I gotta put it earlier." But then I'd realize there wasn't an obvious "weak link" to bump their spot further back. I know that's a good problem to have tho.

As a general rule, I usually start off with some of the strongest songs (just like I would when putting together a show set). The mindset being "Drop this heat and let's get in crackin'!" Also there might be obvious choices like songs perfect for the intro or last song. Or, there might be a pair of songs that just sound perfect one after another. Then its sorta like crossword puzzle when you have a few letters already in place...or connect the dots.

Conduct: This is one of the hardest parts for me. I have a tendency to lean toward the order in which I recorded them and then, I kind of start to get lost in the crossword puzzle, as you call it. I can literally count on two hands out of the hundreds of records I have, how many albums came with the tracks arranged how I would have done them myself. I just enjoy asking this question of people to better my own approach to doing it.

So now we're at the "interviewee's revenge" portion where you get to ask me any question and I have to, no matter the question, answer with complete and total honesty. So, what you got for me, Shames?

Shames: Aw man I don't know! uhhhhh ok ok. Out of curiosity, how many of me or my crew's projects do YOU own? And how many of those (if any) did you actually purchase?

Conduct: I OWN everything BUT, Macho and Dokument's EPs. Wait, scratch that...I actually don't have the "Experience" record now, which seems like a cardinal sin to me as a Tunnel Rat fan. I had it but somewhere along the line lent it to someone and never received it back. Since its out of print, I haven't heard it in almost 9 years! I've purchased every single one of the records, though. I've heard everything...including a few things that, I've been told, I probably shouldn't have been able to hear. ha, ha. (Some of the people in your group are really nice and generous with sharing unreleased material. I'll leave it at that)

Shames, thank you ever so much for "Conducting Thoughts" with me.

Shames Worthy's, "the Album" can be previewed and purchased directly from him via: http://shamesworthy.bandcamp.com/album/the-album as well as on iTunes, Amazon, Digstation, CD Baby etc.