Interview April 24, 2014
Shamon Cassette: "Stick 'Em" Video Premiere and Interview
Shamon Cassette, who teamed up with Spoek Mathambo on the outstanding Afro-futuristic hip-hop tape Wave Crusher last year, has graced us with the video premiere for his new track, "Stick 'Em." Shamon describes it as a "straight, gritty New York video," which directors HYSTK™ and Fun Zach filmed on rooftops, bridges and streets of the city. Take a look below: We also caught up with Shamon recently to talk about his longtime collaboration and friendship with Spoek, his fashion-design career, and his new project that he'll be working on in South Africa.

Jesse Brent: Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview! I’m a big fan of the Wave Crusher album and I’ve been checking out some of your recent stuff you’ve been putting up on Facebook. There’s some cool stuff there, too.

Shamon Cassette: Thanks, man. I really appreciate that.

JB: I like the track “Victoria’s Secret.”

SC: “Victoria’s Secret” was one of the songs that came off of the project that I actually wrote a play for.

JB: What was the play?

SC: It was called Keep Following. Basically, I recorded a cassette tape project in Berlin, and we came up with a screenplay that was inspired by the content of the cassette tape.

JB: I read you also do set design for plays sometimes.

SC: Yeah. I do set design. I also do costume design. I’m also drawing a lot of fashion design stuff.

JB: You designed the cover for Wave Crusher, right?

SC: Right right right.

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JB: I love that with the pizzas and light sabers. That’s awesome.

SC: Thanks, man.

JB: You’ve led a really interesting life, I think it’s fair to say. So, you were born in North Carolina, and you lived all over because your mother was in the military. You lived in Japan for a while.

SC: Yeah, I kind of grew up there-- Japan.

JB: So, you speak Japanese?

SC: To an extent, but not so much now because not too many people around speak it, so you lose it as quick as you gain it.

JB: And that’s where you started rapping, right?

SC: Pretty much, yeah. That’s where I really dug my teeth in it.

JB: And you opened for Redman I saw.

SC: Yeah, absolutely.

JB: Did you get to hang out with him at all?

SC: Oh, a lot. A lot. I did a bunch of tours throughout the region--Japan--with Redman and the rest of his guys when I was a kid.

JB: From what I’ve read, Redman seems like a really cool guy.

SC: Oh man, he’s so cool and just open. That’s a cool dude. What kind of music stuff are you mostly into? I take it you listen to quite a bit of hip-hop.

JB: Yeah. I love hip-hop, and since I’ve been working at Afropop, I’ve been listening to a lot of African music, a lot of music from South America, too.

SC: That’s fresh, man. That’s where I’m headed—to South Africa.

JB: Yeah. I want to hear about that.

SC: Basically, Red Bull has put me up and blocked out some studio space for me in the Red Bull studio to record a project. So, I’ll be doing that, and doing some shows, and pretty much developing my brand. It’s a surf-wear brand, so a lot of beach, surf-oriented pieces. That’s what’s next.

JB: So, musically, what are you going to be doing there?

SC: Musically, a bunch of performances. I’m going to do another project that’s very similar to the NSTBK tape. It’s mostly a lot of old analog-sounding stuff, and basically using a lot of really old vintage-era equipment, sequencers, and stuff like that. It’s got a really old sound. And it’s basically a project that concentrates on my experience in war. So, that’s what the whole project’s basically about—war, experiences with war, and things that happen.

JB: You were in Iraq for two years?

SC: Yeah, two years.

JB: What was that experience like?

SC: That was pretty cool. I mean, it was bad, but at the same time just being able to be there was pretty cool.

JB: And what did you take away from that when you came back?

SC: Basically, I came to realize that a lot of things in the military structure are set up to brainwash and break people down. And I wasn’t one of the ones that was easily able to have that done to me, so I was a bit of a problem. I regularly faced a lot of adversity and people trying to get me chaptered out because I wasn’t succumbing to giving up my individualism. That’s what they want you to do. They want you to become just your social security number. They just want you to be a number. They want everyone to look the same, everyone to walk the same, everyone to the same things. But I didn’t do that. Also, at the time I was practicing Islam, so that didn’t help at all being there, since that’s what the Iraqis’ practices were. Pretty much, I was an outcast, even in uniform.

JB: What was Iraq—just the place—like?

SC: Things are so different there. The moon shines different at night. The most craziest thing that I found was that no matter where you’re at the moon is directly above your head. I don’t know how that works. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty peaceful, outside of the conflict going on. There’d be times when I’d be in the guard shack or doing a mission when things would be pretty chill, and those would be times when I could really absorb and appreciate the place itself. But when the conflict kicks in it’s a pretty scary situation. There’d be bombs and everything coming over your place, just on the daily. It becomes every day, a strenuous process trying to survive to the next. Your whole day is based off excreting all this energy to survive into the next day.

JB: After you came back from Iraq, that’s when you started doing the fashion design stuff?

SC: Yeah, after I came back from Iraq, I hopped back into the music. I was in a group called Vertual Vertigo. We met in Iraq and created this group, so once I got back to America we jumped in and started touring, recording a bunch of projects. I had a couple one-off deals, put out some vinyl pieces. And then, once the recession came, things got kind of crazy with everything, so I had to figure out a Plan B. And, at that time, I took up pattern-making and got into school and figured out how to really, really get in--maximize my abilities as a designer. That would probably be around 2011, when I started to take the fashion stuff really serious.

JB: You’ve got a pretty unique style. Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with that?

SC: Mostly, my biggest inspiration--as far as where the style comes from--is a lot of blaxploitation films, as well as Coming to America--the fashion and the costumes in that movie inspired me in a lot of ways. Also Afrika Bambaataa, Parliament-Funkadelic--the whole Afro-futurism, the whole spaced-out thing. It’s all in relation to space and blasting off and futurism. I do a lot of pattern-based things and figuring out ways to put together things that wouldn’t normally make sense, to make them naturally work.

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JB: So you see a big connection there between fashion and music.

SC: Oh, completely. And the whole mission for me to get into fashion was because I went through this thing a lot where people say, “Man, you need to stick to one thing.” But in my head it was a constant conflict because I couldn’t stick to one thing even if I tried. I like fashion equally as much as I like music. And then when I really started to become more into it and really design things, I took it on myself to present it as one. You know, so people no longer feel like there’s a separation in it. And that’s when I created the whole wave about “fashion rap.” I call my genre of music “fashion rap.” It’s cut from the same cloth and I want people to see that. The play that I did was my way of presenting that to the world. That’s why I did the costumes and set and wanted to do all the sound design. So it was just an all-out way of saying, “Here’s my work. There’s no separation in it.” It’s music, it’s fashion, it’s life.

JB: When did you first meet up with Spoek and how did the Wave Crusher project start up?

SC: Spoek and I met and we were talking a lot in message boards and chatrooms around 2005, 2006. He was a fan of mine, I was a fan of him, and we became really good friends. We talked a lot and shared a lot of music. And then, there was a group called Colorado that was working on a record at the time. They had Spoek on the record. I didn’t know that they knew Spoek and they sent me the record to put lyrics on. I put the lyrics on the record and when I got back the final mix, Spoek was on it. And they didn’t know that Spoek and I had a connection. So, that naturally was our first project or first piece of music that we worked on together. Then, from that point, we started to send music to each other--vocals and tracks we were working on. We started to build up this catalog of music that we were doing together. Then, one summer, I was touring Europe, and I happened to be in Berlin, and Spoek was also touring. He had a two-day stopover. I think he was headed to Hamburg, and he gave me a shout and we linked up. So, the first time we actually physically met was probably about 2008. From that point, things became more in alignment. Then, 2010 was his first time coming over to America. Around that time we got our first deal together to do a project. We decided to really get going with this stuff. So, last summer I went to Sweden and spent a good part of the summer there, and we recorded the whole time, like boot camp. We recorded, brainstormed together, went back and forth with things he was interested in, things that I was interested in, and figured out a way to create this melting pot. It took a while to figure out what to call it. And then it naturally came when we started to talk a lot about genres, and metaphorically, genres became these waves. People would try to pin us in to certain areas, and pin us down to certain kinds of genres of music, and we didn’t feel like we really belonged or felt like we should be pigeonholed to one sound or type of genre. So, what we did is we came out with the name Wave Crusher, which was a way of metaphorically saying that we always keep things extra wavy. We surf amongst all these tunnels and all these pipelines of waves, of genres. So, Wave Crusher became this big brand from that point. That also inspired the clothing line, which was a spin-off of the project. We used the cover art and comics from the songs and it became this all-out branding thing. It all started to make sense.

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JB: So did your interest in going to South Africa come from doing that collaboration?

SC: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Because Spoek was like, “Man, you’ve got to get over to South Africa.” At the same time, I’ve always wanted to go to South Africa. His family was really cool. They invited me over. When I first got to South Africa, I was with his family for almost two weeks before he even got there. We had this brotherhood. It was seriously a bond. His family knew we had a really strong thing musically, we had a friendship. I went there and that was during the time he had his deal with Sub Pop, so I worked on some stuff with that, and then, a video shoot for one of the songs there in South Africa. I got to meet all the people and all the inspirations that he had obtained while living in South Africa. And honestly, I felt naturally a part of it all. The reception that I got from all the people in South Africa was like everyone already knew about me, so I didn’t have to explain anything. I didn’t have to sell myself because everyone already knew and everyone was really, really open to it--naturally so. I naturally felt at home.

JB: Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot about South African culture?

SC: Oh, absolutely. Spoek would always share things with me. It would be this educational journey. He would tell me about certain styles of music. He’d tell me a lot of things about different dialects, tribes, the reason why certain things were painted in these colors, or that men couldn’t paint this style. Only women from certain tribes were allowed to paint in these styles and these structures, and things like that. It became a really really deep thing. And that was what interested me the most--the constant learning process. He gave me this understanding. We started to build this gap between America and South Africa through culture and music.

JB: Now that you’re headed there again, are you going to be working more with Spoek, or with different people in South Africa?

SC: I’ll be working with Spoek quite a bit, but this time I’ll actually be branching off and working with a lot of other South African artists.

JB: Who in particular?

SC: I will be working with Richard The Third. Pretty sure I’ll be working more with SiFi. I’ll be working with Eve Rakow from The Frown. And also, I’m sure I’ll be doing some work with OkMalumeKoolKat.

JB: Are these all people that are within the hip-hop genre, or are they in different genres?

SC: They’re all completely different genres. Richard The Third and SiFi are more into EDM, electronic sounds. Eve Rakow from The Frown is more into the pop side of things. And OkMalumeKoolKat is pretty much a hip-hop and dance type of thing. And then, at the same time, I’ll also be doing a lot of fashion work. I’ll be doing different brands, and doing a lot of editorial shoots and styling situations-- furthering my brand as well.

JB: You used to be known as Cerebral Vortex, right?

SC: Right. I used to be known as Cerebral Vortex. The best way to describe that was that it was like Batman--how he’s either Batman or Bruce Wayne. It goes back to people saying, “You can only do one thing. You can’t do music and fashion.” So, Cerebral Vortex does music, but he doesn’t do fashion. Shamon Cassette does music, and he also does fashion. So, to alleviate all this craziness, I was like, “You know what? I don’t really feel like Cerebral Vortex anymore.” My whole outlook on music changed over the last two years with so much negativity, so much music that contained no substance. I felt like--being given this talent--it was my platform to do meaningful things. And at that time it became like, “Look, I don’t really want to use my platform to do destructive things. I don’t want to use my platform to follow any trends that might just die out in a couple months. I want to make timeless music.” And my mission became to make sure all my music contains messages. It contains things that will enlighten people, empower people, make us feel better about ourselves, not screaming about destructive, superficial things, whether they be party things or drug things or any of that type of related thing. I wanted to make music that counts. So, my mission now is to make music and songs that are different. People can go back and dig into my catalog from the Shamon Cassette-era and dive into these things and feel good about the music itself, feel good about the messages. And it’s not anything that’s destructive.

JB: I think that’s a great mission you’ve got. I saw that you were featured on a Brick Squad mixtape, on Certified Trap 2.

SC: Right. Certified Trap. I was working on that EP with “Stick ‘Em.” I was working on some trap-related stuff, but at the time it was really before people started to put the tag that “this is trap.” I just saw it as an electronic form of music. It was inspired by some old sounds, like Fat Boys beatboxing. I always wanted to keep that nostalgic feeling and nostalgic vibe. And as I was working on that, one of the guys from Brick Squad heard the track and they were finishing up that mixtape and requested it within the last two days of finalizing that mixtape. They really wanted it bad, so it made it onto the tape.

JB: Did you have any contact with Gucci Mane or anyone else from Brick Squad like that?

SC: I had contact with Wacka Flocka because I also had some family that lived in Riverdale. I went to Riverdale a couple of times throughout my childhood. So, I had family that lived in the same place as Wacka Flocka. I went back a couple times there. It was good to get the co-sign. It made me feel like what I was doing was authentic, you know what I’m saying? So it’s not like I’m jumping out and doing something that’s not me. Because these songs I’m doing with trap music aren’t anything that’s not me. It’s all part of my life. To me, it’s just about elevating. I’m not an artist that was like, “I was in the trap.” I want my music to portray elevation, prosperity, doing things bigger, trying to make things better, not just sticking around in the trap. So that was cool for me to be able to have someone from that area and from that part of my life, who could relate to what I was doing, and actually encourage and co-sign and put a stamp on it.

JB: Do you have a title for your upcoming project?

SC: The project that I’m working on is called Wardrobe. It has a double meaning because Wardrobe exemplifies my fashion, and at the same time, refers to my Afro-futurism space thing, as in the "drobe." So, this platform is going to be me coming to terms with reality, because it took so long. Nobody ever knew about my involvements with the war because I never really felt comfortable about it. I had my deal with Ultra. They tried to use me as this vehicle, as a gimmick. Like, “Hey, let’s talk about this war. It’d be a great gimmick.” But for me there were some real life things that I needed time to work out, that I was seriously dealing with at that time. This project is me facing it and no longer keeping it in the dark. It’s reality. It’s for me, the realest music, the realest subject matter that I’ve ever written, musically as an artist. Check out Wave Crusher below and look out for more from Shamon's travels to South Africa!