The music industry is a treacherous place. Littered with pot holes. And pit falls. And Fight Night-type power punches. Polluted with false promises and contractual choke-holds. Talent and temperament aren’t enough to successfully navigate such a terrible terra belle. Luck and opportunity must be in the atmosphere. A keen instinct must be in the holster. Patience is a must. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid...hopefully. And should an artist improbably bob and weave all the way to the promised land - that place where financial security and artistic integrity unite like Wonder Twins - then a new battle begins: the battle to stay relevant; The Battle To Not Fall Off.
Inevitably, some of the most talented artists become disenchanted with The Game and step away before entering their initials. Its a common theme down the journey to success. A dream deterred. A guaranteed hit unheard. Some passengers decide on a different course, a different land of promise. Only leaving behind an under-heard catalogue and a handful of longing fans. Its unfortunate. Or as Hezekiah stated after his incendiary performance on Night 2 of the Rock The Block Fest, “its a shame.”
In perhaps one of his last interviews as a performing artist - producer, singer, guirtar maestro, Emcee - Hezekiah opines on a frustrating lack of progression in the music industry, getting chased by the Ku Klux Klan, Conscious Porn, and hanging up the mic for good. Microphone check, check, check, check...
TCM: Right off the bat, you are a hella talented individual. You are all aspects of the sound you put out. You produce music. You emcee. You sing. You play the guitar. Is there an aspect that is more difficult from a creative standpoint when putting everything together?
Hezekiah: The only time its difficult is, usually when working with other artists. Sometimes. Sometimes its like a battle. You know? Its not a battle. Its more like the compromising thing. And you know, sometimes you just go through that working with producers and artists. And you know, just doing things with other artists and sometimes that becomes difficult. But um, from a producers standpoint thats the only thing. But the outcome is always good because they teach me as well as me teaching them. So I can use certain things that they show me in that compromise. Sometimes I learn lessons, so I can use them in my projects.
TCM: From your point of view, being that you have a diverse interest in music all together - is there something that you try to put out there thats not necessarily received the same way from a producers standpoint? Because you shop beats - you work with G-Unit, for example. You work with artists all over. But is there something that you feel is missing from what you’re hearing and that you try to provide that is not received?
Hezekiah: Yeah. Progression. Progression. Every time I shop to some people like G-Unit, I got a slew of commercial beats. See, I do all kinds of production from like soul stuff to like street stuff. And um, every time I shop beats, I throw like seven beats in - and then like two of the beats would be like progressive beats. You know what I’m sayin? Some old weirdo shit, and I just try to slip it in there. And, um, I think that, um, the progression in Hip Hop - I feel like Hip Hop isn’t growing and I just want to add to it instead of sustaining it and being content with what we do. You should never be content with your art because then you will eventually fall off. And you will be...pigeon held.
TCM: I think one of the things that stands out about you, at least from your creative influences, is you’ll site UTFO at the same time you’ll site Kool G Rap. And then you’ll site country music. So what’s your favorite country music song?
Hezekiah: Um...um...um...Willie Nelson got that song called “Country Boy Will Survive”!*** Yeah, thats my jawn, yo! [starts singing] “We say grace and we say ma’am / if you ain’t into that we don’t give a damn.” Its like country got some hard lyrics, you know what I’m sayin? So, there it is yo...
TCM: But at the same time, country music is real story driven. You tell a lot of vivid tales in your music as well.
Hezekiah: Thats from my father, man. My fathers like straight from Kentucky - Huddy, Kentucky. And like, I was raised on like Blue Grass, dog. Yeah.
TCM: Being from Delaware, you don’t hear Delaware rep’d too hard on the Hip Hop landscape. How did your upbringing influence your music? We know you’re diverse [musically], all over the spectrum - but did Delaware have a specific influence?
Hezekiah: Well my mom was from...well my family is from Chester, Pennsylvania. Which is like, I was born in William Penn Projects in Chester, Pennsylvania. So I’m a project kid up until the age of like 14-15. Then my dad, you know, got a promotion then moved us to the suburbs in New Castle, Delaware. So...and my family was like real musical. You know what I mean? So, me moving to Delaware balanced me out, you know what I mean? I always had like, in the household be an individual and don’t follow other people. But, being in Delaware balanced me out. It made me less of a hood kid, more cultured. And more accepting of other cultures, you know what I’m saying? So, yeah man, being in Delaware really leveled me out and kind of humbled me at the same time. It really, like, you know what I’m saying, made me appreciate other people. You know what I mean? Like, even from the racist rednecks. Just how to deal with the extreme racism. You know what I’m saying? My next door neighbor was like a KKK member, you know what I mean? Like, stuff like that. Just...it really, like it was a crash course in like...life.
TCM: Thats interesting, though. Did you have any run ins with the redneck neighbors?
Hezekiah: Yeah, I was chased by the Klan like two times.
Hezekiah: Yeah. Before our development was developed, it was next to a farm named Quiggley’s Farm. It was farm land and woods...
TCM: That sounds like a KKK name - Quiggley’s Farm.
Hezekiah: Exactly. Quiggley’s Farm. And, you know what I’m saying, I got chased through the woods. And that made me less like...ignorant. Because I watch a lot of black comedy you can say - I’m rambling on - I watch a lot black comedy. Shit like this got erased from my brain and shit. Like, black comedians would say “look at white people in scary movies, they always running through the woods and falling and shit” you know what I’m saying? But I’m like “black people you always running in the city, the ground is flat! I ran in the woods at night before. The ground is not flat! Theres dips and shit. And trees...you gonna fall!” I fell every couple of steps running from the Klan! I don’t even know how I got away. And by the time I got home, I was covered with mud. So, like being in Delaware put a lot of bullshit out of the way I think.
TCM: That puts a lot of horror flicks in perspective...
Hezekiah: That shit is real! That shit is real, yo! The ground is not flat! [Laughs]
TCM: I’m from South Carolina, I relate to that shit.
Hezekiah: You know! [Laughs]
TCM: Yo, so you got a line - I want to quote you real quick - “So underground / under appreciated / under promoted.” And I look at that line specifically because when it comes to new artists, it seems like the most difficult part is gaining that respect as an artist and the fact that your music is profitable - from an artist stand point.
Hezekiah: Nah, nah, dead real. And you gotta...and convincing labels or whoever, the investor to invest money into you - because it takes money to make money. So you gotta show them that you’re profitable. And I swear to God I never got to prove that to a label. Its a shame. Like, the deal with Rawkus was like, a mess because, like, they didn’t follow through on what they promised they was going to do. So, you know, I’m not bitter or nothing. Its just is what it was and I am where I am now, you know. But...
TCM: Thats interesting because in the Art of Rhyme interview you did in 2007 you were talking about the decision between going to G-Unit and they weren’t really seeing the vision - [but instead] going with Rawkus because they guaranteed a 2007 release. Are you jaded at all by the label game or, how do you feel?
Hezekiah: Nah, nah, I’m really...disenchanted. You know what I’m saying? The album I’m recording now is my last album. I don’t even want to be an artist no more.
Hezekiah: Really. Dead real.
TCM: So this is like your retirement, your farewell tour.
Hezekiah: [Who] I’m saying bye to, like 5 people?? You know what I’m saying? But I’m like out man. I’m just going to be behind the scenes producing. And thats it. As an artist I’m done. I’m tired man.
TCM: Wow. Thats crazy.
Hezekiah: Yeah, real talk. I tried, man. I swung...I swung with my best punches, best combinations. This album right here, I’m just on some new wild out shit for the new album. Like, I don’t give a fuck on this new album, you know what I’m saying. But its a quality album - I got Nottz on the production, Oddisee, myself - and thats it. Eric Roberson’s on it, Raheem Devaughn, Cody Chestnutt, my homegirl TK Wonder, she’s here right now, she’s on the album.
TCM: Whats the title?
Hezekiah: Conscious Porn.
TCM: Conscious Porn? Okay, okay. I like that.
Hezekiah: So its going to be a brand...
TCM: Like Me So Horny...
Hezekiah: Like Me So Horny, right! [Laughs] I mean, I’ve always been that dude, like you know what I’m saying. I’ve always been conscious, but I’ll say some wild shit on the other side. Just real...its not really...um...what do you call it...contradictory. Its just real shit. Everybody’s like...if you say your one thing, you’re lying. I’d rather be real.
TCM: I think at the same time too, contradiction relates to people. I think everyone has an inherent contradiction in the way they live their lives - “respect your mother”, “fuck the girl” you know what I mean?
Hezekiah: Right, right, right...
TCM: But being that you’re also from Philly, and I think Philly has its own distinct sound - obviously has its own distinct sound - but its an interesting paradigm when you have neo soul basically birthed out of Philly but then have some of the grittiest Emcees that come out of Philly at the same time. And it all meshes together and everyone seems to work together. So how do you feel about Philly Hip Hop?
Hezekiah: Its all around. Like, I mean, not only did the soul movement happen in Philly; not only do they got strong street rappers like Gilly, and Freeway, Beans; the Hipster movement started in Philly - Diplo, MIA, all of them...
Hezekiah: Yeah, she’s born and raised in Philly, you know what I’m saying? The whole Hipster movement came from Philly. So...and everybody interacts with each other. I love it, man. You’ll see Freeway performing at a Hipster party. A lot! So...everybody interacts with each other.
TCM: Speaking of Freeway, is he pulling you on tonight? Yall got tracks together...
Hezekiah: I have no idea. I’m like ‘where is this dude at???‘ We’re supposed to do that. We got two tracks together.
TCM: You know what though, tonight’s crowd could be better. But I saw an article in XXL with Freeway rocking to like 17 people in Montana or Wyoming or someplace. So, you know, hopefully he’ll show up.
[Editors Note] Philadelphia Freeway never showed up to the Rock The Block Fest. No specific reason was given by the promoters.
*** “A Country Boy Can Survive” was written and performed by Hank Williams Jr.