Hip Hop and activism is something that has gone hand in hand since pretty much the beginning. To Mellie Mel’s social commentary of the ghetto on Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, to the activist raps of KRS-One, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers and Chuck D to NaS, dead prez, Talib Kweli, Non Phixion and Immortal Technique and now J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Hip Hop, despite what some have said, has never lost it’s ability to both educate and speak for the have nots in society. Two such artists that are carrying on tradition, are the producer/emcee duo of Constant Deviants. Comprised of M.I. and Cutt, these two have been making music since the mid 90’s, when they went their seperate ways, M.I. linking with manager Mark Pitts and Cutt mixing a lot of music for Roc-A-Fella in their hay day. The two reunited in 2009 and started their own label Six2Six Records, releasing several albums. Their latest album Avant Garde drops May 12th. So for the latest installment of The Whole 9, I chopped it up with them about the album, the title track specifically, them starting their own imprint, their strong ties in Europe and the future for the duo. For more on the group, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and their website. So peep the interview after the jump.
the9elements: You guys have a new album Avant Garde dropping on May 12th. Tell me how the album came about and what we can expect from it.
M.I.: It’s been a few years now since we dropped an album and we felt it was time to release something. This year we spent alot of time in Europe and that in itself was inspiring. This is what gave us the idea for the title Avant Garde. I saw a poster in Switzerland that said Avant Garde and it was so unique it stood out to me. Being that we always like to push the envelope wth our music, we felt it would be perfect because this time around we wanted to stay wth our original sound but also incorporate some of the more current sound as well without losing our core audience.
Cutt: We had been talking about a new album for a while but weren’t sure what the direction was going to be. The trips to Europe definitely inspired the direction of the album. To push a little outside of our zone.
T9E: My favorite track from the album is the title track, which has a lot of political and social messages attached to it, which in the current climate of not only this country, but the world, is sorely needed. Hip Hop has always been not only the reporters on the ills of society, but to comment on those ills as well. When Hip Hop became more viable in terms of generating capital, it seemed to be driven underground. Now we have the likes of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar doing number with more socially conscious music. Is this a sign of Hip Hop moving in the right direction, or just blip on the radar?
M.I.: I think if it’s “Hip Hop” it’s always gonna have that element. That’s what Hip Hop is. Maybe where certain people are from it’s expressed in a different way, but whether you’re talking about the streets or the government it’s all relative. There has always been conscious rap music but maybe the mainstream wasn’t giving it light. In reality the artists you mentioned may be opening up a vein for more conscious mainstream rap, but i still feel they are riding the wave carefully. Most of their radio music is somewhat crossover which I don’t mind at all as a listener. I’m open to more than one thing, that’s what “Hip Hop” is to me.
T9E: A lot of people may not remember but you guys y’all have been making music since 1996 and M.I. you were signed to Arista in 2000. Cutt you made a name for yourself for mixing albums for Memphis Bleek, N.O.R.E. and Beanie Sigel among others. After the history y’all two have had in the industry, y’all then launched a label Six2Six Records in 2009 after coming back together. Why did y’all part ways in the first place, and what did you guys learn in the industry that made this label possible?
M.I.: Really we never parted ways, it’s just that by the late 90s the group thing wasn’t what was the “in” thing. And also having worked together so long, we needed to work with others to grow. We still worked together, even when I was working with Mark Pitts at Arista, Cutt was closely involved.
T9E: The industry back then and the industry now are 2 totally different monsters, but one thing I did learn is that no square label executive can tell me anything about making music. This album is just one element of my expression and contribution to music. Being independent is the only way for me.
Cutt: If it wasn’t Constant Deviants, it was M.I. N Cutt. We were still involved with each other’s music. We were trying to branch out. If I was in the studio recording with so and so, M.I. was there chillin. When M.I. was in the studio with Mark, I was a part of that. We learned other aspects of the business that way. It helped us formulate how we wanted Six2Six to be, and what not to be.
T9E: You guys have dropped three other albums since reuniting in 2009 and in the process, have created relationships with markets out in Europe. I mean your cover art for this album was designed in Switzerland. How did you guys build a following across the pond and what differences can you guys tell between the listener in Europe versus the listener in the US?
M.I.: Most of our fanbase overseas is people that knew us from the 90’s. A lot of record collectors and vinyl djs that still want the physical product. The internet made it easy to tap into that market. The first 2 LP’s were archived stuff from the 90’s that was unreleased, so we started there being that audience is so tapped into that sound. I think overseas people aren’t so influenced by pop culture so they are more open minded.
Cutt: I don’t think I knew we had an international fan base until 2009. Social networking has really opened that up for us now. Being able to reach them was the key. They are definitely loyal fans of the music. Europeans will support what they like and since they don’t have radio and marketing shoved down their throat they are not swayed by trends.
T9E: Aside from the new album what else can we expect from Constant Deviants going forward?
M.I.: As far as Constant Deviants goes, we plan to continue to build our brand together and also work on some solo stuff as well. No limitations at all. We already have an EP in the works right now and also I have my solo album I’m working on MIVMI (Mic’s Illest vs Mr Impossible). Cutt is always working with other artists as well.
CUTT: We stay working. There is an EP that will follow the album, other Six2Six projects as well.
T9E: Thank you guys for taking the time out to chop it up. Any last words?
M.I.: I would like to thank the people that take time to find the music they like and not just what they are force fed. Also people like yourself that give the indie guys a chance when everyone else is caught up on some BS hype.