In between a tour in the United Kingdom and shows this week at the Austin, Texas-based music festival SXSW, Portland hip hop legend Cool Nutz sat down with The Skanner News to talk about his music, two upcoming albums and the difficulty of marketing in Europe.
Cool Nutz released the first video in early March off his upcoming album "COOL NUTZ =S DOPE" (view it on The Skanner's YouTube Channel), which is due out May 10. He's also putting the finishing touches on a yet-to-be-named album with Kenny Mack and Maniac Lok, due out in April or May. Cool Nutz says the album took on extra importance with Kenny Mack going to prison for 90 months at the end of the month.
The Skanner News: How's Kenny Mack's impending incarceration affecting the work on the album?
Cool Nutz: We all came up together and we're all a close knit circle and we're doing something that we can push while he's gone, in two weeks his life is going to change dramatically. Being out, able to enjoy your freedom and then having to hand yourself over and say, 'here I am.' …
Being in the studio is always thought provoking because he's the only person I've been around in that kind of situation. I've had friends of mine go to jail or prison, but it's like they just got picked up and they were just in jail, not like they were out and 'I gotta go in on this day and I'm going to be gone for five or six years.'
TSN: How's Kenny Mack taking it?
CN: He's like a workforce, he's like 'I gotta do as much as I can before I gotta go do that.'Thinking about how there's people out there who've done worse than him who've done less time. You think 90 months, it's not like he shot up a store or something. They say they found a gun on him, well they found it near him. In the scheme of things, he's 30-something years old, you don't think he'd learn his lesson by doing three years?
TSN: Let's talk about your upcoming album "COOL NUTX ='s DOPE." You've produced a number of albums over the last five years or so. What inspires your music and how do you balance that with the business side of your career?
CN: For me my music it comes in waves, in terms of how I feel about stuff. It directly relates to how things are going in the scene or my career. The new album COOL NUTZ ='s DOPE, I get a lot of credit for like the whole pioneer and stuff, a lot of times I don't get the credit musically, in terms of the critical acclaim from the press. People look at me as more of like a business man, not all the times, like, part of the reason he's such a good business man and he's in this position is his artistry, cause that's where this came from. So that was the whole point of the title. It means Cool Nutz basically is dope. A lot of times I don't toot my own horn. I think one of my short comings has been not being arrogant enough, or not being conceited enough to be an artist. I think sometimes people come in the room and their demeanor or the way they carry themselves in an arrogant way is perceived as star quality. People are like, 'oh look at that, he's walking around being a jerk!' I feel like for myself, sometimes I can be too modest at times for people to feel … I don't walk around and throw out a lot of the stuff we're doing, throw it in people's faces. I don't feel there's a need for that. I feel like my actions speak louder than words. But at a certain point I want that critical acclaim -- I want that appreciation for what I do musically. Nowadays I'm at a place musically where I'm better than I have been. I know how to convey my message. Convey my history and my life. Not only is he a dope businessman, he's a dope artist.
TSN: It seems like some of your success might have been earned because of your good character. … Do you find it harder or easier as an older artist to produce new work?
CN: I find it easier now, because I got to a point where I'm comfortable with what I'm trying to do. With a lot of these younger guys, a lot of their music becomes an emulation of what's popular now. To me, it's like, I pay attention to what's popular now, of course you always have to adapt to that climate. But I also maintain being Cool Nutz. My stuff isn't based off of being a hit single … my music is based off of, you know, like you were saying, good character and not coming to an interview and being like 'suupp?' I'm comfortable with who I am and what I'm creating.
TSN: Tell me a bit about the UK tour you just concluded.
CN: It's a great opportunity to see the whole different culture, how they treat hip hop and respond. I think as Americans we tend to think we're so hip that when we get overseas that these people will be slow and won't be as up-to-date with what we're doing. You get over there and you see these people are just as educated on the culture, they're putting on shows, they're bringing the biggest artists from the U.S. over there. Some of them are just as tapped in as we are, so it's always good to see that and experience being five, six thousand miles from home and have these people like what you do, be into what you do. It's also a blessing … I never thought that doing music would have got me overseas … that was my fifth time. So, being able to go overseas multiple times, and regularly every year, saying I've been able to take a free vacation to Europe is dope.
TSN: I've always dreamed about journalism taking me overseas, but so far that hasn't happened yet. Do you have a big following in the U.K.?
CN: We're building and cultivating that. Having business relationships with people like Illmaculate, so we end up going over there for his battles, and be able to book shows based off what I'm doing with my business relationships, so we bring it together. Bosko's doing records with the biggest rapper in Denmark, so we end up doing shows over there, or going to Norway, based off of relationships working with producers from over there, so they end up bringing us over. … The way they get information is completely different. They have artists over there who are popular. One of the rappers that we work with in Denmark is L.O.C. – he's like the biggest rapper in the country. But outside of Denmark, he's not big because he raps in Danish. They'll have their own distribution, like Virgin Denmark, Virgin UK … so these countries are broken into different sectors. So when you touch down in one place you're building there, but you go to another place, and they haven't even gotten in tune with what's happening over here. In the U.S., you hit a couple of channels and you're tapping into everything.
TSN: You're performing at SXSW in Austin on March 16. What's the scene like down there compared to up here?
CN: For me, it's not so much about the show or the performance, It's about networking and being in the mix, because almost everybody is out there. So being able to rub elbows with the booking agents, the record label people, just being present and visible is good for your career. Last year we did a showcase, we did Mistah F.A.B., Tha Jacka and it was a HipHopDx and SMC records showcase, which was good. There were record people there, but it's a big festival atmosphere with people cycling in and out.
TSN: So you get a lot of exposure.
CN: Yeah, like last year, we got out there really promoted "Incredible." It's a good place to be because everyone's coming from everywhere. Even last year, they had a UK contingent, where they're pushing music from the United Kingdom. They had this book that had all these contacts in the UK, so I was able to use it, even that book was valuable in being able to contact people.
TSN: How's your record label Jus Family Records faring in these times? Do you have any new artists you'll be bringing under the fold?
CN: As a label, I feel Jus Family Records is really myself, Bosko and Maniac Lok, and I have artists that I manage and consult, which is, Illmaculate, Mikey Vegaz, Double OO and DJ Fatboy. In terms of the whole label side of things, it's not like it was. It used to be you sign an artist, put him in the studio, record the album, put the album out, press the CDs, distribute it. Nowadays, you sign an artist and you put him in the studio or they might already have a record together for you, and you do digital distribution or something and put him on the road. Now it's like you don't, with the state of the industry, it's not like artists are guaranteed success or to sell a number of records or see a certain amount of revenue. I used to know that every album I put out, even locally, at a minimum, we're going to sell 2,000 records. It's not like that anymore. Now you'd be lucky to sell 200 to 300 copies of the CD.
TSN: Is it because of the ease that many people can download the music without paying for it?
CN:That's a lot of it, but a lot of people aren't fans anymore. You gotta lot of people who want to be artists and a lot of people who are separated with the music they want to hear. …