In the latest installment of The Whole 9, we chop it up with Swanny River, Billy Hood, I.K.P. and EarthTone, also known as LGBT rap collective The AlliYance. This is our first interview with the group, as we have already interviewed I.K.P. The group has been around since they dropped their video I Be On It back in 2014, with members being involved in Hip Hop individually since 1989. Repping both Brooklyn and East Orange, NJ, the group recently released a video for their track Cake. Check out the interview below, and for more on the group, check them out on their website, Twitter and Instagram.
the9elements: How does being an LGBT collective in a musical culture that is traditionally hostile to LGBT individuals affect your movements and decisions?
Swanny River: Hostile or not, we’re gonna do what we wanna do. We’re not gonna look for their acceptance because eventually, they’re gonna fall in line. They cannot deny good music. Our movement is simply to give the world good music. Who are they to tell us we can’t be gay and do Hip Hop? We do what we do, and when we do it, we do it well. So take a step back and either enjoy the ride or just get left behind. I don’t care about what the hostile community has to say about what we do, because what they’re talking about doesn’t affect me at all. We’re gonna do what we wanna do. Period.
EarthTone: It doesn’t affect our decisions as much as it limits the type of platforms we have access to. We find ourselves frequenting LGBT-specific platforms and venues, not necessarily by choice, but as a result of the current music climate.
I.K.P.: To me it means we have to be extra diligent about making sure the quality of our content meets and exceeds what the mainstream is putting out and that we stay true to our core base. We are already pretty secure in our skills, our body of work, our message, our presentation and everything else it takes to even step to the mic as individuals. It’s just about showing and proving that we can deliver excellence consistently, to the point that everyone forgets who we’re fucking and pays attention to what we’re saying and how we’re saying it, and let all that speak for us. The way we see it, the game is different now. Hip Hop culture has been very open and receptive to different styles and viewpoints and evolving with the times. All we want to do is do our part to help Hip Hop turn the pages and evolve further.
T9E: What motivated you guys to shoot two different videos for Cake?
Swanny River: The track is so dope we HAD to do it TWICE, to give you both sides of the spectrum. We had so much footage, we just decided to make two videos out of it. Can’t let nothing go to waste.
EarthTone: It didn’t start out that way. We originally wanted to created one long story type video along the lines of a Michael Jackson’s Beat It, but it made more sense broken up as 2 different videos after we had looked at the footage we recorded.
I.K.P.: We originally set out to do one video. The concept and the pre-planning just evolved. Then when production happened, the director told us we came away with a lot of good footage. So much that it would have not done either location justice if we tried to put all that together into one video. At that point it just made sense.
T9E: How did the crew come together?
EarthTone: The LGBT music circle is a small one, and after putting out projects separately and carrying on solo careers we each came across each other and different time periods and naturally gelled. We recorded the track I Be On It for what was supposed to be a DJ Swanny compilation and the rest was history.
Swanny River: It was an idea that I had for a group. I already had Billy Hood who’s been down with me for years, that’s my little bro. I know I.K.P. from doing music, helping him mix and master his music and EarthTone hit me up, and when I heard his music, man I was floored! Then I told Billy, “yo listen to this guy” and Billy was a little hesitant. But when he heard him, he was like, “Oh Shit!” Then I told I.K.P. I said I wanna do a song with all three of y’all and I Be On It was born.
We did that song, we shot a video for it. and one day we were at the [Christopher St.] pier in the Village shooting a video for one of I.K.P.’s joints and EarthTone said, “you should do an EP for us.” I was like, “Okay, let’s try it.” We were thinking about a name and I said “The AlliYance.” We had The AlliYance spelled the regular way (Alliance) then I.K.P. said how about we put a “Y” in it. That’ll separate us from everybody else, and The AlliYance was born. We’re like the 4 Amigos. We got each other’s backs. We don’t make decisions unless all 4 of us decide on it.
I.K.P.: I’m gonna give a little backstory on that. First of all, Swanny was, is and remains the catalyst behind the movement. As far as LGBT Hip Hop is concerned, we’re far from being the only ones. Swanny is connected to at least 80% of the artists that do it seriously, especially now because he runs his own internet radio station, Rollin Wit Swanny Radio. He’s one of the few that gives everyone, especially LGBT artists, a platform to be heard. So that’s a reason why he’s connected to so many people. That means artists hit him up all the time for everything from production and mixing to interviews and playing people’s records. A friend of mine connected me to Swanny about 6 or 7 years ago and I’ve known him ever since. Billy, I think had known Swanny the longest and I believe EarthTone hit Swanny up a couple years back. Swanny has worked to produce a lot of groups before us.
But then he put us together for the I Be On It single. At that point, Billy, Swanny and I all had worked with each other, gotten to know each other pretty well. Swanny, however, showed me EarthTone’s videos for To Whom It May Concern and The Sound from his GMale EP and Swanny was really excited about EarthTone. Swanny had done a lot of work on EarthTone’s EP, so he got to know his sound. Then, E was popping off with his videos, and that’s when Swanny had something to show me. We might be talking spring or summer 2014. Before I knew it Swanny tells me that he had the track for us to rock on. We did the track fairly quickly and not long after that we got together to shoot the video. Even when we did the track, we were still solo acts that just collaborated on that song.
But the response to the song and video was real positive. Then we all did another collaboration called Rush, EarthTone’s record from his New Balance mixtape. Tone invited us to his listening party to get lit and these experiences gave us a chance to connect further. We got to perform Rush and I Be On It a few times and so that’s when for me it started to sink in that maybe we can go all in with this group thing. I believe that’s when it motivated Swanny to start cranking out more tracks for us and the creative juices started flowing. That’s when I think EarthTone said let’s do an EP. We had Sugar Water Pt. 1 in the can for a while now, and decided to call ourselves The AlliYance, as the homage to The Firm, adding the “Y” in there because, why not? None of it was forced. We all just really have fun making records together and being around each other. All of us has what it takes to break the proverbial glass ceiling, and that’s what we’re going to do. This platform is something that stands on its own AND it becomes a credit to all of us in it. It’s a win no matter you look at it and leave it to Swanny to create platforms for us when no else will.
T9E: What have reactions been to the EP?
Swanny River: It’s been very positive. A lot of people in our community follow us like The AlliYance. We also have a bunch of straight people like that we stand for something and we’re not backing down. They listen to us, they love us.
I.K.P.: We’re ready to take this EP as far as it can go. It just came out and because we hit em with the mixtape a month before, we gave our core base a lot to digest all at once, which I don’t think anyone expected. But people fuck with us and there was a fan that hit me up not too long just saying how proud he was that we are humble people and producing quality music without compromising ourselves and that it inspired him. That convo humbled me, because that’s what this is for at the end of the day. Moments when you can affect people in a positive manner.
T9E: You guys released a mixtape than an EP in swift succession. What is your collective process for recording and releasing such a high volume of material?
Swanny River: The process was very easy. It was like magic. You put it out there and the next day it’s done. We work good together and we got each other’s backs, so it’s really easy, really quick. We don’t play no games. When it’s time to get in the studio, we work and that’s it.
I.K.P.: Actually, the EP took over a year from start to finish to do. In that time we just were building our relationship and living our lives doing what we have to do and formulating the right sound the EP. It just so happened we needed to do a song at the last minute. We were gonna put I Be On It to round it out, but we decided against it and bust out the last track, which became Tonic Water. It was the mixtape that was the quickest thing to do because for me, I’m always ready to spit. But that mixtape, half it is stuff we already released on each of our past individual projects, the other half of it is new stuff that we did off the cuff.
We all agreed we wanted to give the fans a taste of what we had to offer before we dropped the EP bomb on em, and for that mixtape, we wanted to just keep it raw and uninhibited. It was just about going off, not worried about a song for radio or anything like that. Really though, it shocked all of us how fast the mixtape happened, because one minute we were planning it, we gave ourselves a deadline because it had to be done in time for #JulYance. Then the next minute it was ready to go. When we did Tonic Water for the EP, we had to do it with the same urgency that we did for the mixtape, and that’s what gives that song a more spontaneous feel, yet still natural the way the other songs happened. So when it comes down to it, we do what we need to do when it needs to happen. That’s how much our creative process is synced. Part hunger, part confidence and experience.