Tuesday, March 31, 2009
HBE Spotlight: Gilead7
Gilead7 has made a name for himself on the Chicago underground hip hop scene with his sharp wordplay, abstract imagery and fierce delivery. In the midst of prepping for his upcoming album, I had the chance to interview him on Inaugaration Day of all days.
HBE: So did you get a chance to catch the inaugaration?
Gilead7: I did actually. Man, it was a great thing. Watching it, I was taken back. I never been through a lot of what he was talking about, as far as the struggles, of course slavery and things of that nature, but at the same time, just hearing my grandparents talk about it, I'm like, "Wow, we've come a long way." I agree, we haven't gotten that far, but we definitely got somewhere. It's a powerful day
HBE: Yeah, it is pretty momentous. I was at work just going back and forth and I just had to sit back and soak it all in.
G7: Exactly. Yeah, same here.
HBE: I'm just more happy for my mom and other old folks who thought this day would never come.
G7: That's real. Exactly. It's not really him, it's what he symbolizes. I mean, regardless of what you think of him as a politician, I mean it's the fact that a person of darker skin color was in there, and that it shows the way the paradigm has shifted. And now of course as I said there's problems with that, but we have gotten somewhere.
HBE: Yeah, it's a little bit. So where did you get the name Gilead7?
G7: Well, that's an interesting story. I had grew up in a Christian school and we had to read scripture like everyday, pretty much we went through the whole Bible every year and we would always come across the name Gilead and my last name is Gill. So, one of my friends automatically associated Gill with Gilead. This is before I started rhyming or anything, and then I say when I was in college, my first year of college, I was DJing at a program, like you did with UIC, so I said I'm gonna think of it as a DJ name, so I called myself Gilead. And it kinda went from there. Then I started rhyming and it kinda got in from there.
HBE: So where does the 7 come from?
G7: Well, the 7 is of course completion and if you look at Gilead in the Bible, it represents a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff, you know, it's people's names, it's cities, etc., and those represent both good and bad. And I think my style is a mixture of both of those things, but the 7 completes it, eventually bringing a positive end. That's kinda why I put the 7 on the end of it. It's to complete all the bullshit that goes on inside of myself.
HBE: How did you get into rapping?
G7: I started, probably like nine, ten years old and I mean it's really cheesy, I hope I don't get dissed, but if I do, I don't care, but I remember the first time I was really like, "Oh" was when I heard "Ice Ice Baby" and that's really dumb as hell. But it was an intro.
HBE: That was a lot of people's first record.
G7: It is. Right. And that kinda made go back and research the Gang Starr, the Tribe, you know, what Common was doing around the time. That's kinda what got me into it. And I wasn't really rhyming at that time, but I was playing around, I'm like, "Well, I'll probably never be able to do this," because at that time, rappers still had vocabulary and this was something that took skill to do. I'm like, "I could never do that. This is hard." Then I kept growing, I kept listening, and when I was about sixteen, I heard this group called Tunnel Rats. They're a Christian hip hop group, but you know they actually were innovative in their time because while everyone was preach rapping, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus", they were battling MCs, they're talking about it on the CDs, and I'm like, "This couldn't be Christan." But it was so good the way it was done. You should grab the CD, it's called Experience, the first one. But it was just really mind blowing. I'm like, "I need to be rhyming!" So I kinda got serious about it at that point and I just started studying MCs. I started putting out tapes a few years later, it kinda just went from there.
HBE: So you consider yourself a Christian rapper?
G7: Not so much. I consider myself a rapper who happens to profess Christian faith. But that deserves clarity too because my definition of Christian is not a common definition of it. It's moreso I guess you could say a metaphorical definition. I look at Jesus for being a great leader and I can pretty much cross reference my faith from that, but not really what you think of when you think Christian.
HBE: What's the name of your upcoming project?
G7: Upcoming project is called Advent. It's me and I.B. Fokuz, he's a producer with a crew called Jyroscope. I don't know if you've ever heard of them before.
HBE: You know, I think I might have see the name somewhere around. I probably seen on a flyer or something. The name sounds familiar.
G7: They do too many shows around here. So many. Well, their producer, we did an album, me and him, he produced everything. He also rhymes on a track. That's the newest release. We call it Advent: A Modern Bible, which covers everything from why sex before marriage is okay, from why Christianity and evolution are compatible, etc.
HBE: Why do you call it Advent?
G7: Well, Advent represents the time of year for Christmas, the coming of Christ. It also represents the "Second Coming of Christ," so it's always about a newness. I saw this thing as pretty much redefining my rhyme style, trying to do something I hadn't done before, trying to break out of some patterns I think I had, so it's kinda like a rebirth of me. It's kinda like my Advent.
HBE: So how is Advent different from your past releases and how is it the same?
G7: I think it's more understandable. A lot of people have been telling me, like ANG13, she was like if you keep on rapping cryptic you're gonna be in a cave somewhere rhyming with skeletons. I'm like, I don't know what that meant (laughs), peace to ANG, but whatever, I took something from it. I.B. told me too, he said with this one you may wanna work on what you're seeing, you might wanna make it more communicable. So I did that and I think that's what different. It's not simple, but it's definitely more understandable. I think things are the same, I'm still experimental, for people who didn't know me, but just trying different shit, and like we definitely did that on there.
HBE: Just out there, mind bending.
HBE: Okay, now I was a little surprised because I've known you as an MC more than anything, but I didn't know you did a little bit of producing.
G7: Yeah, that's everyone. "Oh you make beats too?"
HBE: I didn't know that. So what's your creative process like writing lyrics compared to making beats?
G7: That's a good question. I would say that when I write lyrics, I'm really more concerned about putting a thought together, I mean, of course the beats are too, but when I'm doing a rhyme, I think I'm more conceptual, not saying I'm not with beats, but I think when I'm writing rhymes my main focus is to try to like craft some sort of concept. I might have a common idea, but I try to address the common idea into something that's real conceptual. For example, I did a piece where I was writing a rhyme about making a beat, and I compared making a beat and a rhyme to building a ship. So it's things like that I try to do. As far as like beats, it's kinda whatever comes to me, and I kinda just do it with what I have. I may just think of a sample like, "Oh, that might be to cool to fuck with," and I get four bars, play with it and see what comes up, so I mean it doesn't start as being conceptual. I think that builds into it as I make the beat.
HBE: What kind of equipment do you use when producing?
G7: I use Acid 2.0, Reason 2.5, Goldwave to sample shit. I just got a keyboard. I usually use a Mac, and a good one, thank God. But yeah, I just use the Mac.
HBE: What producers out there inspire you or influence your beats?
G7: I would say El Producto. Definitely a big fan. Thaione Davis.
HBE: And you've worked with him before.
G7: Yeah, exactly. He's been a big influence on what I do, you know, cause see when I first started, he would give me little pointers here and I'd always talk to him and chop back and forth. It was really good to actually have him on my production, that was real cool. But who else? I would say more of the classics, Pete Rock, Primo. I like Rob Sonic, Prefuse. And a lot of stuff is not even the ones that really make beats, not even really production. I listen to a bunch of Irish folk, like Susan McKeown, Cherish The Ladies, Iona and stuff like that. A big thing for my beats is Celtic. That brings a lot of shit out for me.
HBE: Tell me a little bit more about ReServed Records. I know they put out your recent single.
G7: They've been around since '01. I don't know if you remember the Stowaways crew. You know Overflo, right?
HBE: Yeah, he produced with Psalm One, right?
G7: Exactly. Overflo was a member of a group called Stowaways. And they put a record out for ReServed in '02. Actually, Overflo is one of the people who started ReServed Records. And then he bounced off into the Birthwrite thing and this cat named Deftone was running it for a long time. They did a compilation like '02 that had Mars Ill, Sev Statik, a bunch of cats like that. And the biggest person who got pushed off that was this guy named Wordz, and everyone liked this song he put out, so ReServed put an album out through him. This was in '03. Then we've been quiet for a while, then they picked up me and did my three records.
HBE: How did it all come about? How did you get with them?
G7: You know, I've known these cats since the late '90's. But when I first started rhyming, they were doing shows and battles in the city and I was pretty cool with the owners, but they never paid me any mind as far as the rhyming shit because I wasn't really good back then. So I just kept on chillin'. And I wound up recording one of my albums at their studio, and after that, this was in like '03, I did a record called "Stories of Sorcery" and I recorded that at their studio. Then Deftone was like "You wanna do a record with us?" And I'm like, "Y'all asking me? I've been waiting for y'all to get down with me!"
HBE: So, I was looking at your MySpace page and noticed that Tori Amos was listed first among your influences. I was wondering what is it about her music that moves you so much and how has it affected you as an artist?
G7: I think one thing, just the way she writes. The way Tori gives you a concept and the way she gives you a song, for example, "Blood Roses." I was researching the song a few weeks ago, and just what she did, she made a whole bunch of cultural stuff converge in this one song. She had references to Alice Walker, references to female circumcision. Just the way she describes how a woman is powerless, she just combines a bunch of anachronistic stuff and just merges it all together. And it all makes sense in a way, and I always like that about her. Then of course, the piano playing, the great voice, good arrangements, and her instrumental stuff is really good too. I've actually sampled stuff off from the choirgirl hotel, just rhymed off it because it's like breakbeats and shit. So yeah, that's a big influence on me.
HBE: So what's your favorite album? The only one I have is Scarlet's Walk and it's okay. I've been meaning to get into some of her other stuff.
G7: For me, it's a toss-up between choirgirl hotel and Under The Pink.
HBE: Who are you listening to now?
G7: A lot of drum 'n bass right now. A lot of Red Eye's. Bee Cee & Lomax. Cats like that from the U.K. A little bit of Klute. But as far as hip hop, I'm really bumping my own crew, like Skech, Jyroscope, people I surround myself with, I'm listening to their music, as far as hip hop, more than anyone else right now. And I'm always on my Thaione and G4 [Galapagos 4] kick. Always got some Qwel and Robust in the mix. Well, old Robust I'll say.
HBE: Well, I was going to ask you who some of your favorite Chicago MC's were, but I guess you already answered that for me, but who is someone you really admire on the Chicago scene?
G7: I would say Vakill. He's a great writer as well, metaphors out this world, good battle rhymer. Thawfor, and nobody talks about dude no more, but dude is dope. He worked with The Opus a lot, and he got a single released with them here, an album released in Japan, his stuff mostly came out in Japan, but he's been doing shit here for a while. I think he's really dope. Of course Lord 360, people like that always.
HBE: So what's the best thing about the Chicago hip hop scene and what's the worst?
G7: The best thing I think is that there's a lot of skills here. I think a lot of people here are great at what they do and then I think that goes into the worst part of it, because folks here are so talented, their egos are humongous. So it's like nobody wants to work with anyone because it's like, "I'm too good for this person. I'm too good for that person," so nothing ever happens. It's not like New York, where I was telling somebody this, where you have an underground and a mainstream community between both. That's why in New York you can get a Ghostface with an MF Doom, because these egos to a certain degree aren't there. Even though they are, they aren't. People check those things aside to do projects. I was looking at an interview that had Canibus, Big Pun, DMX, Mic Geronimo, etc., and they were all in a restaurant talking about rhyming. We know from what they say on record, they've got big egos and they probably don't like each other's shit that much, but they were together to discuss the state of hip hop and actually work together on shit. But we don't do that.
HBE: Do you think more collaborations would be better for the Chicago scene as a whole?
G7: (pauses) That's a good question. I think it would be, but it depends on what the outcome would be. You know, would it be us getting together as a collective union and presenting ourselves elsewhere? I guess it depends on what you look at it as being. I think it would be good, but I guess the bad thing too is you have people who may not really feel somebody creating with their work, which I think is one good thing about here that doesn't happen all the time. But I think it has to be some kind of compromise between what you like and what you don't like and the business sense of the whole thing.
HBE: What's your favorite hip hop album of the past year? It could be local or national.
G7: I would have to say I.B. Fokuz's solo album. It's called Spitting Glands. He really went off the deep end with it. He kinda sounds like a mix between Cannibal Ox and Aesop. And he produces everything. He's also a sick ass rhymer. I mean, he covered everything from the social issues to MC skills to creativity. He has this one song called "Too Def to Scream" on there, and he has three MCs, members of Jyroscope and their friend PJ, and what they do, each verse they take the word "def" and do something different. One words talks about "deaf" in the sense of not hearing. One person talks about "death" in the sense of dying, so it's really good the way they converge thoughts together. I think it's an outstanding record, Spitting Glands.
HBE: On a final note, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
G7: Advent, of course is gonna be out in like March. The single is out now. The 7" is out now. You can buy it anywhere. It features Skech, Thaione, GQ. For the rest of the year, I'm doing a mixtape right now called BeCome, which is kind of a spin-off on Common's Be, but I'm just jackin' beats through the whole thing, and I'm jackin' beats, trying to, in a sense, give my take on styles I really appreciate. I do a Big L track on there, I'm gonna do a Mars Ill one, I did a Fat Joe one. Me and Skech are actually doing a D.T.I.C. track. I think me and Jyro are gonna be doing Typical Cats' "Easy Cause It Is." So yeah, just a whole bunch of stuff, paying homage to folks who inspire me.
HBE: Well, I want to thank you for coming out.
G7: Thanks for having me.
You can listen to tracks and keep up with Gilead7 at http://www.myspace.com/gilead7