Hip Hop is everywhere in today’s society. It is used in advertisements, blasted out of a multitude of radio stations and bars around the country and has incorporated itself into a variety of clothing lines.
For four San Luis Obispo residents, it is also the medium for their message and art forms. Rich “Intellektconduit” Ford, a 22-year-old animal science senior, is an MC releasing his third album this New Year’s. Mike “Royal” Childress, 23, is an MC collaborating with Ford on the album and is due to release his own album later this year.
Bryan Armstrong, a 28-year-old electrical engineering senior, is a co-producer of Ford’s album and makes beats out of his bedroom studio. Aldo Lehman, a 21-year-old Cuesta sound engineering student, is also co-producer of Ford’s and Childress’s albums and records out of a bedroom studio.
“Having a strong team is important to me,” Ford said. “Having a strong connection is the most important thing in what I do.”
History of collaboration
In 2001, Ford and Childress met in a hallway in Mustang Village. For the first couple of months they continued to run into each other because they were involved with the same people through putting out their independent albums, Childress said.
“Our passions were so strong that we were drawn to each other,” Childress said.
Lehman was producing beats for both Ford’s and Childress’s albums at the time. Soon they formed a group, Blackout, with a mutual friend. After the direction of the group became disputed, the three decided it would be best to leave Blackout to form an independent group.
Ford met Armstrong in 2004 and decided to collaborate with him on some songs for the upcoming album.
“Look on any CD; nobody has one producer,” Ford said. “I’m not trying to stick to one person. I’m trying to promote a lot of people with this CD.”
Ford and Childress have opened for the Jedi Mind Tricks, the Alkoholics, Andre Nikatina and KRS-One in San Luis Obispo County.
History of the MCs
Ford has been writing rhymes since seventh grade, but discovered his inner performer in 1996 at an open mike event during his ninth-grade year.
After coming to Cal Poly he still wasn’t serious about releasing his music to the public until he met Lehman and the fourth member of Blackout in 2001.
“The first time I came to the studio and saw people making music, I was like ‘I need to be doing this,’” Ford said.
Childress also started performing with friends in 1996 and began developing his rhyme-writing skills. He didn’t get into the studio until the end of 1999.
“I gained my skills before I took myself to the studio,” Childress said.
The summer of 2000 he dedicated himself to writing and recording the first album, which was finished by fall. After the first album, he took a break.
“For me, I wanted to take time off from the studio and get back to the streets,” Childress said. “I went back to the parties and that aspect.”
He returned to the studio in 2001.
“It’s all about the combination of the street mentality and free-styling, and the studio aspect,” he said.
The message of the MCs
Childress is a self-described “versatile artist” who uses everything around him as subject matter, and strives to not leave anything out. He rhymes about day-to-day occurrences from his perspective as a “regular person.”
“Personally, I feel I’ve been a listener, so I know it’s easy for people to listen to me and understand the things I’m talking about,” Childress said.
Ford’s rhymes concentrate on more intellectual subjects and things with a deeper meaning, from philosophical to emotional content, along with environmental and political issues.
“I really started rhyming about intellectual things after coming to college and beginning my academic endeavor,” Ford said. “I thought, ‘Why lose it?’”
He keeps all the notes from his classes to look back on for subject matter. While taking a chemistry class, he wrote out an entire rhyme based solely on uranium.
“To me, it’s all about getting out a message that is strong, getting out those concepts,” Ford said. “When making a song, it’s not just a song, it’s more – a concept, something new.”
Ford and Childress both agreed that optimism is at the core of their messages, both independently and together.
“We do shows that are positive and bring people to the music,” Childress said. “When you’re comfortable in how you are as a person and (think) ‘This is who I am, take it or leave it,’ people will love you for it.”
Looking to the future
Both Childress and Ford agree that they are not trying to make it to MTV and sign with a big record company, but prefer to stay in the underground hip-hop scene in the future.
“We don’t even exist in the underground; we’re other ground,” Childress said. “The underground people don’t even know who we are, but we’ll get there, and when we do that’s where I want to stay.”
Both say they do not want to rush their success and jeopardize the growing process as an MC.
“You gotta be patient and let time take you,” Childress said. “You can’t rush it. If you rush it, you’re not even learning.”
Ford plans to continue his pursuit of knowledge to include in his rhymes, both in society and through people’s experiences.
“I want to keep bringing in that knowledge by staying up on current events and seeing how people feel,” Ford said. “I want to grow to that point when I can talk in the second person.”
They are trying to overcome the stigmas that some businesses have because they are a hip-hop group and the crowd that music brings. Currently, they are planning some local shows at various small bars around the county.
Technical part of producing
Armstrong’s studio equipment consists of a Sonar Sequencer, which consists of two keyboards that are signaled by a computer to press a particular key and hold it for a given length of time. One keyboard is used for samples while the other acts as a mini piano.
Armstrong also uses a condenser microphone, which is phantom powered and delivers a sound of higher quality than the ones used during shows. The Wave Lab program is what he uses for audio editing and mastering a track for the CD.
Lehman’s studio consists of a turntable, a keyboard and an MPC drum machine, which is especially useful with sampling. He records instruments in a collapsible booth that took him around four days to build. This is also where the MC records his rhymes.
“I don’t care for computers because if you don’t know them very well, they can hold you back,” Lehman said. “The computer can’t put the feeling into it; that groove comes from me.”
Both Lehman and Armstrong attack an album one song at a time and refuse to leave a song half-finished. It takes about five to six times to get the song right, which takes around two hours to complete, Ford said.
When the producer is satisfied with their beat, the MC gets on the microphone to record the lyrics. The first recording is a technique recording, in which the producer records the MC’s voice once hard left and then hard left to pan the voice.
The producer then records mono, in the center, and adds the panning effects described above. An ad-lib is then recorded, which allows the MC to repeat a line from their lyrics to emphasize on the final track.
History of the producers
For three years Lehman has been making beats. He worked with a friend with sound equipment and began developing his own style and progression with his beats.
“I have always been into music. I got to San Luis Obispo and I wanted to start making my own stuff,” Lehman said.
He has worked with 10 to 15 artists in town, and most were students. Currently, he is working with two.
Armstrong has been making beats since 2002. Last year, he tried to start a Cal Poly club demonstrating how to make beats and produce music. He rented out a room for 100 seats, but only a few students showed up.
A small team of artists is currently working with him now.
“I like finding a use for what I do,” Armstrong said. “If no one hears it, it’s like it didn’t happen.”
The styles of the producers
Armstrong and Lehman not only differ in the equipment they use to make their beats and to record the tracks, but also in their influences and sound.
Armstrong looks to composers and a variety of music genres to find inspiration for his music and incorporate those sounds.
“I have total respect for any composer. Recently, I’ve been more into learning how to make beats sound composed,” Armstrong said. “I’m always looking for that next level.”
Lehman doesn’t look to outside sources for influence in his music as much as Armstrong. He prefers listening to the beats and samples as they are being made and recorded.
“I just like a beat that has feeling. I have been more into using samples that are moving and have motion to them,” Lehman said.
Armstrong strives to move away from a particular style when it comes to the music he produces in his attempt to be able to work with a diversity of music.
“I see a beat as a big bunch of clay that you mold,” Armstrong said. “In the end you end up with this piece of art, this statue.”
Lehman is more directed towards developing his particular style so that people will recognize the beats and tracks he produces by their sound.
“I’m finally discovering my own sound, I have progressed a lot,” Lehman said.
When it comes to working with the MC, Armstrong said a balance needs to be formed so that both visions are conveyed through the music. In his case, it is 70 percent producer and 30 percent MC.
“I know what my equipment is capable of,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want to rule out what the artist is feeling, I really didn’t used to be that way.”
Both agree it is important that the talent of the MC matches that of the producer.
“If you’re gonna come on the mike, you gotta come real,” Armstrong said. “As a producer, you want an MC just as equally good.”
“Producers are a rare thing, especially here,” Lehman said. “People seek us out. I hear artists out who approach me. I’m not gonna wanna say ‘that’s mine’ if I don’t like it.”