Sometimes, the best way for an artist to reinvent himself is to destroy and rebuild. A fresh start is often needed to reestablish one’s focus on success. This ideology is shared by one of the underground’s elite emcees, Hyp, one third of the brilliant Hip-Hop group Triple Ave. Our correspondent Giovonni Pratt caught up with Hyp as he conveyed the achievements and misfortunes that the group has experienced on the road to transformation.
Peace, Triple Ave how are you all doing this fine morning?
H: What it is? This is Hyp of Triple Ave…feeling some kind of way this fine Sunday afternoon…..a little lit.
You guys have been around the Hip-Hop scene for a long time. Please Share your history with us.
H: I was raised up in Boston MA, Roxbury, on Humboldt Ave (with Ed-O.G.) during the Golden Era of Hip-Hop (the mid to late 80’s). Hip-Hop is an intricate part of what I identify as one of the many “cultures” I was raised with, and me and my older brothers have been all up in this shit ever since. We were all over Boston from the late 80’s to the mid 90’s, doing music “professionally” so to speak. We went from L.M.O-Legal Money Organization, to Exile Society (stupid dumb shouts to my blood brothers Nyambezi and Tranque and my mans L.C.J) All on the radio: WILD (Boston’s Black owned radio station) and WERS, with joints like “Through the Looking Glass” and later as Exile we recorded “The Buzz”. That joint was sold in local shops like Funky Fresh Records down Dudley, on Newbury St. and even in L.Q’s liquor stores. Performing at spots like: Malcolm X Park and the Cyclorama. We used to see New Edition Bobby Brown and them at talent shows back in the day (shout out to Orchard Park Projects)…Ray Benzino and R.S.O/Made Men…all that shit. Our history in Boston is so deep and detailed, that it would take a whole other interview to cover all of it. We did a couple European tours before we finally settled in the Bay. In 95’ we were in Austria, Amsterdam, Brussels, Belgium, Paris, Germany, Switzerland…I actually lived in Basil Switzerland for a couple of months. Ultimately, Exile Society ended up moving to The Bay Area CA, Oakland in ‘96. Dream Nefra, one of Ed-O’s crew, The Bulldogs, moved to the Bay and set up shop. She hooked up with the Hieroglyphics and basically sent out the Bat signal like: YO-this is where we need to be right now.
The scene in Boston back in the day was a little crab ass though. I’m not only talking about some of the artists, but I mean more so the local city government and venues overall attitude towards Hip-Hop in general. Resources and outlets were scarce, so of course cats were territorial over the little scraps we got tossed to us. As progressive as Massachusetts looks today, back in the day (and even now still in some parts of the ‘hood) they had us on some Johannesburg shit. I even saw Nelson Mandela speak in Boston back in ’91 right across from the Mandela Housing Projects on Washington St. in Roxbury. The comparison to Johannesburg is a well known one too and came up mad times during his visit. With partitioning and shit like that. Going off on an ill tangent, but, that’s what started it all. When we moved to Cali we formed Subterraneanz, and did a lot with that crew.
Under the name, The Exile Society, the group created the song “Through the Looking Glass.” This landed you guys a nomination for the Boston music awards. What were you all doing at the time when you first heard about the nomination?
H: On the real? I can’t give the most detailed answer but I do remember this much: My oldest bro (Nyambezi) mentioned it all nonchalantly and shit, because I guess he stumbled across it in the newspaper or something. I remember my Pops being hot because of how blasé blah his attitude was about it (laughs).
During the time in Boston as The Exile Society, the group took Boston by storm. You all opened up for the legendary act, A Tribe Called Quest. You guys had created an underground classic, “The Shady Ones”, and had regular rotation on college radio in Boston. Where there any pressures created from this new found success?
H: Damn-you did the mathematics! Yeah-it was only on the low though. Going back to some of that crab shit I mentioned earlier. There was one crew in specific that had a reputation for being funny style and they kind of tried to play us close when they saw us out in the world. We already knew what was up though and were on some Jay-Z/Barack Obama shoulder dust off shit.
During that period you guys opened up for Sade. What was it like, and what kind of emotions were running through your minds as you guys performed that day?
H: Ohhhhh Shit! That was it! Actually, that wasn’t the whole crew…..it was just me! I was already living in the Bay and I did this song with this Acid Jazz crew called 5 Point Plan. They were opening for her at the Concord Pavilion CA and I rocked with them. It was on a side stage, on the way to the main stage-(where Sade and India Arie performed). Still though, that was kind of the end all be all for me. I could rest peacefully after that…..for real! She was (and is) so fuckin’ dope. I mean this woman moved like some sort of Egyptian deity fam! I was like “Is this Maat come down from the Heavens or what?” My face was stuck on perma-grin, type Joker style. I remember wanting to hurry up and be done with our shit like “Yo, umm, I mean what’s really good?!” It was a bug out too because, I ended up seeing her three times in a matter of like three months; twice in Cali and once in Boston. You know how she only fucks with the U.S like every 10 years or whatever? I guess I was on some stalker shit (laughs) Nah-it was a coincidence, but there was no way in hell I would’ve been like “I’m cool”. I already seen her once. I always said if I had a dying wish, it would be to do a joint with her. Sprung!
Ok, since everything was going great with the group, you all decided to move to California. The team picked up two new artists, a soulful singer and a rapper from St. Louis. A new group was created as a result of the move. Please tell us about the group, why was it formed, and its accomplishments.
H: Yeah Subterraneanz was an experience. Shout out to my fly Pinay partner Lorna Lopez aka Locana from the Bay Area. She held down the vocals and brought the female energy for the crew. Louie Da Saint reppin’ of course, St. Louis came with the smooth/club shit. That Midwest perspective was dope too. He holds it down for the black demographic out there.
Subterraneanz did a lot, too much even. We were signed to this indie label called Above Records and the cat running the label had us perform at the “Bammies” (Bay Area Music Awards.)We toured Austria in ’99 and recorded the hell outta some music over the years. There’s a lot of unreleased shit by the Subz. There is an album called “The Stash”. Some people consider it our best album. It was never released on a large scale. I thought this one website was selling it, but get at us on the Triple Ave MySpace page and I’m sure someone can lace you up with a copy if you’re interested. It is a sick ass concept album-for real. It should probably be re-released.
We were on a lot of compilations and did some chart climbing and shit too. The song “My Crew” was all over the place. I think we outsold Bjork in St. Louis, the same day both of our albums dropped. We were on that Hip-Hop TV show on the W.B. in ’95. As Exile Society, we used to rock with a full band, but as Subz we actually picked up the instruments.
How was Triple Ave formed? What does the name mean? How many members remain from The Exile Society and The Subterraneanz?
H: I’m from MA, North East, Saint is from MO Midwest and Gypsy Love is from Northern West CA. [That’s] three different hoods, three different magnetic directions on the compass, hence the name Triple (three) Ave (streets.) We’re kind of the last of the Mohicans so to speak. Saint and I were in Subz together and Gypsy Love actually picked up the gun (I mean mic) where Locana left it towards the end of the Subz career in ‘01. Gypsy Luv came with the subtle soulful singing, but also came with some real urban plight shit when it comes to spittin’, capturing the Latina street experience in The Bay. Personally, I really dug that and related to it. DJ True Justice, a stalwart here in the Bay, holds us down on the one’s and two’s. This cat is a classic Golden Era dude. Straight rider.
Subterraneanz broke up because, on some real shit, there were too many of us with too many different ideas and more importantly too many different issues. There just seemed like no way we could continue on. Now maybe if we had some major backing, shit would’ve been easier for us all. I kind of equate it with what I was saying earlier about the lack of resources in Bean back in the day. Or more like a struggling family that has to separate for the good of the whole.
Triple Ave makes for a fly, almost unexplainable balance that just seems to work somehow though.
As Triple Ave, did the group take off as fast as the group expected, or where there a few mixed emotions?
H: Most definite there were mixed emotions. But I think we had to get over shit quick. It was like “Yo, this, this, this and this happened and now we know not to do this, this, this and that. We wallowed over the break up for half a second, hopped off the trail of tears and jumped on the motherfuckin’ Ave….quick! We had to! We formed in 2005 and one of the main things we did was say, “We’re going to try shit we would never think of doing as the Subteranneanz!” Shit….it’s been aight.
Many famous groups go through their personal problems. Many have broken up because of personal problems never to be heard of again. As a group, how do you deal with these problems and remain together?
H: Good damn question. Again, on some real shit, we are like fam, but we aren’t exactly blood. Feel what I’m saying? It’s like when you beef with your peoples, you all are coming from different experiences, but you’re peoples. What you have in common is more general. It’s easier to work through issues, but, when you beef with blood, it’s called “It’s a Wrap”. Yall come from the same shit so, it’s more difficult to sort through the issues. Some of [those] damn issues might be rooted in the same shit, so it’s even harder to work through. I think that’s the difference here. Don’t get it twisted though: we beef like blood sometimes (laughs).
Let’s switch gears and talk about Triple Ave’s music. For those who haven’t had a chance to listen to your music, and want a description, what do you tell them?
H: The funniest shit someone ever said about us was calling us “the light skinned Fugees.” That shit had me dyin’. It’s real. That’s a good comparison. Our lyrical content is forward thinking and progressive, but rooted in some hood shit. Musically though, our shit is all over the place. Eclectic if you will. [There’s] lots of live instrumentation on the last album “True Working Class Heroes”. We have upright & electric bass, guitar/sitar, keys and I even play the harp (a little 19 string harp) on our last album. We mix samples with live instrumentation and turntabalism. It’s a trip to see live. I do the production for the crew and my influences, together on a list, don’t make any sense. I mean Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Cesaria Evora, Duke Ellington, Chick Corea, L. Subramaniam, I’d like to say Portishead but, they took their cues from Hip-Hop so…..But yeah, ummm… Moody Blues? Shit-Thelonious Monk, Tricky. I mean, what is all that?! As for the Hip-Hop shit, it makes more sense. Big Pun (one of my favorites of all times Bless His Soul) Nas, Jay Dilla (Bless His Soul), Pete Rock, Black Thought (one of the most under-rated), Kool-G [just] to name a few. Right now we call our shit Progressive Hip-Hop for grown-ups.
Touring has been a big part of Triple Ave’s success. Name some places you have toured, and what lasting impressions did they leave on you all as a whole?
H: Over the last 4 few years we’ve been in Long Beach, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Utah, Idaho, New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and of course ATL. Now, let me say something about Hotlanta. I have fam there and a few of my peoples have either lived there or spent some time there. So, I don’t know if it’s the connection I have with the city or what, but I love the shit, for real. I was just talking to one of my cousins out there the other day, talking about getting back out there this summer. I’ll also say this, the Hip-Hop heads we met while we were there were the kind I could relate with 100% and I’m telling you, it ain’t always like that around the country! That’s my word. It only made sense to me though, that it would be this way.
New Orleans touched me deeply. [I] can’t wait to get back there! N.Y.-Even though we (Bean) have beef sometimes…..I’ll gladly rock a I love N.Y. t-shirt. Seattle is my shit too. They really appreciate quality music up there. Ummmm: Spokane? I’m good. Utah?! I’m good. Boise, Idaho was cool though. They had some real cats. I was actually in India last year fuckin with some music shit too and they be going through some of the same shit we do over here. Self sufficient/indie=struggling at times. Their Hip-Hop scene as a whole is damn near non-existent. Its wild [and] incredible out there though. You can peep some pics on our MySpace [page].
Hip Hop music has changed significantly. In the group’s eyes, has it been a negative or a positive change? What do you miss the most from the golden era of Hip Hop that’s not present today?
H: We’re usually pessimistic, so I’m sure we’d all say negative off top (scoffs)! But personally, looking at it holistically, I think it’s the nature of growing pains. The same reason Islam has such a bad rap right now. Out of the 3 major world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) they are the youngest. The same reason the U.S looks (and acts) so ridiculous on the world stage. We’re a young nation. Hip-Hop is growing pains. It is naivety. It is having something to prove. It is subject to corruption, usually by way of money. It is also virile, young and strong. Spirited. Still open to change and flexible. It’s most definitely global, which is a positive and negative. What’s fucked up though is other nations (usually 3rd world) be reppin’ our shit better than we do sometimes. Check out the two African artists M.C K’Naan and the soul singer N’Neka. The Golden Era shit that is missing today seems to be authenticity. And I don’t even mean only on a mainstream level. Even the “underground” or alternative artists [seem to lack authenticity]. Shit be seeming too contrived. Also, there’s this elite-ism that exists now, that didn’t exist as much back in the day. I mean, it’s easy to see in the mainstream but, even these “underground” or “real Hip-Hop” [artists] dare I say even the “conscious” Hip-Hop [artists]. They be too damn cliquey and cliché! People used to hold each other down back in the day and now, no one is trying to hold anyone up-feel me? Plus the music industry as far as popular music is concerned is just flat out flooded! Like my older brother says, “It’s on some let me try, let me try-shit.” It might be called fam…it might be a done deal-with downloading and all this shit too? Muthafuckas better start getting creative or something. Or paid performances……
I usually try to end shit on a positive note though so let me say this: at least with all the shit happening in the industry, it will force some real creative and dope shit to shine. Unique shit is where it’s at.
Let’s have a little fun. It’s an old school rap battling contest, and Triple Ave needs a representative that’s not affiliated with the group. And for the sake of argument, let’s just say the only two M.C.’s left are Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick. Which M.C. would you pick, why, and what will be the line that gives this artist the edge in the contest?
H: Hell yeah, let’s do it! Aight so, personally, I be on some spitty shit. So I would be reaching for Kane first. He was on some Five Percent Science too so the God would have to rep it right with the flow/lyrical skill level and content. But if, Saint was here, I think he might have to say Rick because Ricky D was one of the first to popularize the story telling shit. He was funny as hell too-and he might come with some punch lines that will have everyone rollin’. Dude really is Slick. Kane might have you like: Oooh! But Rick will have you on your ass, it seems. Gypsy wouldn’t be able to call it because she grew up on both of their music and probably has them on mix joints back to back. So it all appears seamless, especially if you’re woppin’ it out, like I’m sure she was.
What do you guys do on your time off?
H: I stay travelling-globe trotting, reading, and writing. I be out here politicking with my peoples and such. I be block huggin’ from time to time…just not pumping. Going to live performances. Getting up with fam, chillin’ with my Wiz. Fishing till like 4am in the morning and shit, sometimes the whole day. Saint be raising his seed, watching ill horror flicks (every single horror flick on the planet), politicking with the peoples, writing. Gypsy be getting her travel on too. Raising the fam, writing, recording (yeah, even on her time off). Big ups to Jesse Lisa and The Leveebreaking committee. Also big ups to Mic Crenshaw, a real cat from up that way.
How can fans stay in contact with the group?
H: Get @ us on the MySpace. We actually respond to that shit in real time!
Is there anything you want to talk about that hasn’t been covered in this interview?
H: Rest peacefully all of those on the other side. Jax from Binkis Recs, I know you all here in Atlanta are missing his physical presence. Our mans Giovanni Pratt (any relation to Geronimo?), big up-for real. Right the hell on for holding down true Hip-Hop to the fully. We need more like you. I’d also like to say, blessed be the Ancestors who brought us here and continue to watch over us. Amilcar Cabral, my Cape Verdean revolutionary martyred 3rd cousin. Nathan Benjamin Young co-founder of FAMU (Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University), all of Mary (Gypsy Luv’s) Cherokee relatives who remain one with this landmass, this continent. Thank you. No You, no Us.