Serge Severe wants to break out.
With his new album, "Back on My Rhymes" out and an album release party set for Feb. 18 featuring Manimal House— a live, nine piece funk band – as his back-up band, it's not hard to see that he means business. The Skanner News Video
The album, produced with Universal DJ Sect, is Severe's second solo record, a work that features some of Portland's best and most accomplished hip hop artists – Destro, Braille, Gen. Erik, Illmaculate, Luck One, Cool Nutz and Theory Hazit. The Animal Farm member is pushing his music career into overdrive, hoping to break out of the Northwest into the music halls across the nation.
Set against the backdrop of 60s and 70s soul and funk – from Universal DJ Sect's private collection — Severe says the samples Sect provided have helped inspire "Back on My Rhymes" to form a self-reflective album about life and the current state of hip hop.
Severe's release show takes place at the Ash Street Saloon with additional performances from Mic Crenshaw and Destro & L Pro.
Severe sat down with The Skanner News to talk about his influences, his father's legacy, finding fans in Portland and the DJ that has inspired his best work yet.
The Skanner News: Tell me a little about "Back on My Rhymes" and the work that went into it?
Serge Severe: It mainly starts with my DJ (Universal DJ Sect), who is the producer, he produced my last record, "Concrete Techniques." He has a really deep collection of vinyl that dates back and is heavily focused on funk and soul records. He has thousands of them. He's providing the soundscapes for me. I write in a number of different ways. I'll have some rhymes already there and they'll match up to the tempos and beats or I write on the spot if the beat is speaking to me. There's a couple of different ways we go at it.
TSN: Are there any specific artists who influenced your work on this album?
SS: We're really into the '90s hip hop… I'm really into the DJ/Emcee combination. One of the first tapes I had was Pete Rock and CL Smooth and so that was a big influence. "Get Started" with DJ Premier and Guru, and Guru just passed away, actually. Dr. Dre and Snoop. Stuff like that.
We're just really trying to focus on … people try to label it the "real hip hop" and stuff, but we're just trying to do what we're into, what we think sounds good.
TSN: Do you get much say in the beats and samples Sect gives you?
SS: Yeah, he'll have a rough draft of it, then I'll come in and help co-produce. He'll have the loop or the arrangement, I'll say like 'Can we move the beats over here, so we can actually get a whole song out of it?' He's finding all these dusty old samples and looping them up and I'll have some ideas, like, can we make that be the chorus melody, and this can be the bass, and maybe some scratching would sound good here.
TSN: I thought the use of funk and soul along with your verse really made the album pop. It really works together. Fantastic musical choice. I dug it.
SS: Yeah, I give him (Universal DJ Sect) all the credit. Without him … I mean I know other beat makers and stuff, but the material I've done with him, people have been really responsive to. He did the last album ("Concrete Techniques") which is similar to this one but with a darker edge to it.
TSN: What do you like to talk about in your songs?
SS: I like to talk about hip hop and what's going on in it today. I figure if you always speak about what's going on in the culture you're involved in, then it won't ever really die. There's a lot going on in hip hop culture that is not exactly true to the form it was started in … I'm not saying it has to always remain a certain way. I think one of the best things about hip hop is that there are so many different styles, but the main ingredient was bringing people together just to have a good time. That's what we try to do with live shows, to present the best skill representation of DJ and Emcee, which is only two elements of the culture.
When I think about writing rhymes, I like to touch on autobiographical stuff, especially on the song Rose Blood, which is one long verse, which is all true things that have happened, and on the last joint, which is "Eyes Open," talk about societal and not necessarily political, but stuff that goes on and there's not much change that does happen even though a lot of leaders kind of preach that what's gonna happen.
TSN: How do you say that the local scene influences your music?
SS: I don't think the local scene influences me too much, specifically. I think there are a lot of good hip hop artists here, but I wanna be heard on a bigger scale. I do pay attention to what is going on. Everyone on the album is a local emcee, and I feel they are the best representation of emcee coming out of Portland. You'd be surprised how many rappers are here.
I obviously know them all after doing shows here for a long time. It's hard to get a fan anymore because so many artists are hitting them up. We'll do a show and half the of the people in the crowd looking at you will be rappers. And it's not like they're going to be there really wanting to buy your music and support you. It's really tough.
For example Braille, he's on my album, he's been doing things for a really long time. He's really done it and made a living off it. He toured the world with James Brown.
It's good to get the respect of local guys. That's what I really wanted to do on this album. Do what we've been doing and known for with this sound, but get people who I really appreciate and involve and who are willing without having to coerce them or pay them or anything. They just wanted to get down.
I guess that kind of contradicts myself saying I'm not influenced by the local guys, my initial thought is I'm trying to think outside the local scene. There's only so much you can do here. I kind of think that you have to get respect outside here before the local people will really jump on board.
TSN: Are you planning any national tours?
SS: We've done stuff here and there. Going back to SXSW in March. Third year in the row we've done it. California runs. Up north to Seattle. It's about connecting contacts and who you know. I think I know I want to tour smarter, make sure it's worth it. …
TSN: How do you go about making the national scene? I guess that's a million dollar question.
SS: Yeah. I feel like I have got some national press. I send out my album and get reviews. I've gotten reviews form URB magazine and Okayplayer, which is a big company in partnership with great artists like The Roots and others. I don't know the big secret. It's hard work. Just keep pushing at it. I wish I had the answers. I just do this because I really like to do it.
I feel like it's something that's inside of me. My dad is actually a musician … he's from Nicaragua, I'm a first generation American. Hearing his story and everything he did to make it to the US just to be a musician, he's actually a Latin and salsa and jazz musician. He's played with a number of big people throughout his career. I see the really cool story to it and then I see … it's cool that he gets to do what he wants to do, but he's had to sacrifice a lot as far as having security and making tons of money.
TSN: Are you willing to make those same sacrifices?
SS: I'm really willing. I'm just hoping to find success. I think my music speaks for itself.
Check out Serge Severe on Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, CDBaby and Reverbnation.