Subtitle (Part 1)

Place: Fondation Cartier, Paris, France
Date: April 20th, 2006

Hip-Hop Core: There is a topic that can be heard in most of your songs these last few years. You often speak about the very fact that you're in your room recording songs, for instance on 'andhideinmyroomjust…' on "The Lone Path of the Vanguard"… Why did you often speak about that?

Subtitle: The newest stuff that I'm writing, I'm recording less in my own house… But what made the whole idea of it, that was like a "bird's nest" or whatever. It took me a very long time to be able to pay an equipment to be able to produce and record my own material… I fought very hard for it because my parents weren't trying to spend money on me for that, they didn't have it in spare. I couldn't ask a 1000 $ to them to pay my equipment, that wasn't an option. I add to amass piece by piece all my material… So once I finally got everything in a room (my Pro Tools set-up, my wall-to-wall samplers, etc), I was like: "I don't need to leave". So to me, my haven was my room. When I get bored, I can go to sleep and when I wake up, I can make records. I can wake up any time of day or night and make a record. So it was only natural that I speak about it.

If you listen to Madlib, he says the same shit. When he's not playing for other partners or doing some jazz compositions, he's always up here in the lab. Same with Dilla (Rest In Peace). All those dudes lived in the lab, for better or for worse. I'm not that talented but I'm the same breed of person.

HHC: By the way, one can have the impression that you're progressively trying to expand your horizon by being less self-centred… It seems that you're opening up to what's going on in the world a bit, particularly on the LabWaste album…

S: I do. Because by the time we did the LabWaste record, we had already travelled, left the country, left our bedrooms, came back to our bedrooms and left again… So we got a better scope of what we want to do and we saw that there's a greater world outside of L.A. I equate myself to people who are multi-instrumentalist and they play everything by themselves. Like Dntel, that dude's a millionaire but he has all his equipment in his bedroom and he stays recording in his house. It's the same thing for me. I'm not a millionaire of course but all my stuff is very personal. 'Young Dangerous Heart' is about me and my heart. 'Leave Home' is about being able to leave home for the first time. 'Subtalk' is about the 3 subways that I had taken at that day, New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Now, I've taken subways all around the world.

Also, a lot of the topics I spoke about on my last album, I didn't speak about them again on the LabWaste record because they were mine, not LabWaste. That song 'tell her to come overrrr' was intended for "Young Dangerous Heart" but I got pressure from Thavius to put it on LabWaste because it sounded like the LabWaste stuff that we were doing, so I said "Fuck it, why not". But it's a song about a girl at my job, that's not LabWaste, we don't rap about girls! The 3rd of October is the date of this girl that I'm in love with to this very day… It's a consistent topic of many of my last projects. Also, remember that a lot of the material you may hear, by the time you hear it, it's probably like 2 years old.

For me, it's very important to maintain coherence and cohesiveness through all the things I do because I want people to realise that it's all in a straight line. People think I'm a very random person and I just speak off the top of my head and just say crazy things. I do that in my personal life, but my music has consistent themes from 1997 to 2006. I know you guys have been following along, because you just showed me 2 of my old CD's, so you can see where the growth has happened also: from trying to rap like a certain dude, to trying to do whatever to make these crazy things, to doing drugs and making crazier things, to not doing drugs… You can see it while a lot of people got into it after "Young Dangerous Heart" or after LabWaste or even recently since I've been out and travelling around. They're not gonna understand anything about the opinions I have or anything that motivates me to do things but I understand that and I have no problem with that… But I just try to keep it pretty consistent throughout the years, even though I grow as a person.

But I mean, for me, this next record I do for Alpha Pup that's gonna be my last Subtitle record. I'm gonna do stuff under Giovanni Marks on my own label B.E.A.R. (Business Espionnage Audio Recordings) and that will be whatever I want, it won't have to necessarilly be rap or necessarilly be instrumental stuff. It will be whatever I want. For the Alpha Pup record, I'm dealing with a lot of producers. I've got Madlib for a couple of tracks, Paris Zax for 4 tracks, Daddy Kev for a track… But the B.E.A.R. record, I produce it myself and I just have people coming in and playing, like session musicians. I want to get more into music.

I want to represent music as much as I represent rap… Rap is treated like a game and I'm tired of saying "no, it's not that at all". I want people to know that I do know how a play a lot of instruments. I don't want to end up being somebody like Dilla who had to die for people to understand how much of a genius he was. He was making these songs for fucking 15 years! You know, that's my fucking patron and his picture hangs at my fucking studio but I don't want to be that dude. He had money, notoriety, the whole nine and he did what he want to do, but people did not appreciate like they should have until after he died. I don't care about being a legend, I just want to make my records.

HHC: You were just speaking about a future Giovanni Marks record. But I remember that 3 years ago you were already speaking about releasing some records under your real name on Marks03 Recordings. It never came to fruition. What happened in the mean time?

S: Marks03 ended up turning into B.E.A.R. and I ended up doing "Young Dangerous Heart" and travelling around so much… And I have so much material at my house that by the time I got home from the last european tour, I had a whole different idea of what I want to do. I went back home and started to work and I had all these little situations that happened to be around that stimulated me into making more music. Like I ran into that girl I told you about in the beginning and I did that song 'Black Horse', that's basically about her. And in Christmas time, I was at the marina hanging out with my girlfriend watching boats walk by and then I wrote 'Dark Boats'… Then, hanging out with this guys like Wajeed or Dalëk got me into the instrumental stuff again. So different influences came in and I didn't want to do the same album, in-my-room album, because I wasn't in my room when I was doing all this stuff. I've been all over the world at this point…

HHC: Is it because of the fact that you've travelled around the world that now you're trying to open up also in terms of production, by calling outside producers to come into your realm?

S: That's what it is, because you grow up. You realise it's not all about you and your own personal things, and people don't necessarilly need to hear about you all the time. Like you listen to a Too Short record, even now, or twenty years ago, it's about him pimping. The end. There is no deviation from the norm. I don't want to be that dude neither. Los Angeles is a metropolitan city, so therefore people come in and go out of there… It's not like I live in Saskatoon, Canada, so I can't talk about stuff like I don't got anything to do! You know, you start seeing LabWaste on the covers of some magazines and I can't pretend like I'm making 4-track records anymore. I'm not, and I'm not intending to. With that responsibility comes the idea that you have to respect some of the other musicians.

You know, it's one thing to do stuff like Dalëk, like he's breaking down things in his culture, things from the world around. It's another thing when you just talk about yourself, like "I'm at home, I'm smoking weed, I like this girl, I'm at home, I'm smoking weed, I look at my watch, 8 o'clock, I smoke some more weed, I'm hungry, I'm underground, I'm at home". That's why Anticon started doing instrumental albums. Because dudes weren't in their houses anymore, they didn't have anything good to talk about. And not everybody's Dose where you can make a puppet turn into an epic story. For me, my intelligence's limited. I study all kinds of stuff and I'll go and talk about so many things today, but they don't have to be about me!

HHC: We were speaking about your favorite topics a little bit earlier and during this show, I noticed that in most of the songs you played, tobacco was a recurrent theme… Could you tell us a little bit about this obsession?

S: It's just because it's a very addictive drug that's been sold to the people as a non-addictive drug. Up until very recently, they had commercials for it, they had it in movies and everything… It was something that was perpetuated, like "let's go and smoke a cigarette". Seeing it in movies is a very suggesting thing and because of that a lot of people smoke. It really does you no good. I smoked for quite some time. I only smoked to impress the girls at first and then got hooked to it. I quit for a few reasons, like I was losing breath control. Since I try to talk a lot, it's very important in my line of work, I can't not have breath. Also, I had a problem with my teeth and everything, and I had to get them taken out because we were too poor and our health care system in America is bad. I didn't want to speed up anymore infections by smoking nicotine.

Because tobacco nowadays is like designed to kill you. It's got gunpowder in it, arsenic, so many different chemicals and poisons that are given to you in a finite dose. In America, the cigarettes are so expensive anyway, it's 4, 5 or 6$, even 8 if you live in New York, it's crazy that people are lining up to pay so much money to kill themselves quick. I was so disturbed by the idea that I was killing myself slowly and willingly so it became a big topic of debate in my own life and in my songs… Also, a song like 'Smoke is Smoke' is centered around the idea of smoking weed and nicotine.

Since then, I've quit. Except for every time I come to Europe, because Europeans like to smoke indoors or while you're on stage, blowing smoke on you. It would be insulting in an other place, but here that's what people do. That's why I smoke out here. But if it was up to me, I'd rather not smoke. The human lungs are not designed to inhale smoke. If you want marijuana, you can eat it in a damn cookie! If you want cocaine or some crazier shit, you can put it in your nose or, even worse, in your veins. You don't have to smoke anything. The American fascination with smoking is a whole ideological culture… You don't have to roll a blunt. It's something that's been so supported in hip-hop that I've always talked about it, in reaction against it, because that's something that shouldn't be perpetuated…

HHC: Like a french writer said "Smoking and drinking alcohol are little suicides"…

S: Yeah, they're both things that are very bad for you. When done in large quantities, you get sick. While everyone's looking for some change of mind of some sort… You know, drinking may help you escape a lot of stuff but then when you come back your problems are even worse than when you left. Smoking is just like passing the time. But it's just like a glamorized suicide and an unglamorized suicide.

HHC: To what kind of reactions are you sensitive when hearing about your work?

S: It's so strange because, for me, I'm so thankful that people even like it at all! The thing that touches me the most is when people tell me "I hate rap, but I like you". Because, as abrasive as that sounds, you turned a person's world over! Hip-hop, for better or for worse and for lack of better terms, is a fake lifestyle. People want you to believe that you gotta go buy all this shit, you gotta smoke this, you gotta wear this, you gotta say this, but that's not true! You could do whatever you want to do and just understand the rules of it like anything else and operate by those rules. Like you would operate by classical music rules or by rock rules, not the lifestyle, but the music itself, the body of work. Then you're making hip-hop. People don't understand that because it's too much of a closed-mind system. That's why when I hear a person tell me that they hated rap and they don't like it but they like me, it's very gratifying to know that I touched them somewhere… And now they may open their head and listen to something else.

The comments I don't like are the ones where people are presupposing what I do. Not the ones, like when I'm in France and people tell me that I'm rapping too fast, I can't be mad at that, because that's what I do and there's a computer voice warning you that I'm gonna be doing that before every set, you're prepared… The ones that get on my nerves are the ones where people tell me "What are you talking about? What are your songs?" I'm like "You can't fucking listen? You don't understand english?" If you don't understand english, that's cool, I'm not mad at you. But if you understand english linguistics and you understand my themes and you still can't listen up to hear what I'm saying, I have nothing to say to you. Because it's right there, I shouldn't have to explain anything. This is the kind of comment that affects me.

HHC: Do you still listen to rap ?

S: Yes, I do. I listen to it all the time. That's not all I listen to as you obviously know but I've been listening to it more now than ever. It's funny man, for a lot of years, I've been listening to Jay Dee's stuff and after I met him, we became cool and I put him up on rock records and shit. For me, having any kind of relationship with that dude, that was very important. When he passed out, I was very very sad, as was everybody. I went back listening to all of his stuff after that… Since November, I've been bumping "Donuts" the whole time. That dude's a fucking genius. Anybody dealing with him is a genius. You know, they may not rap about things that I rap about, because I went to school for a while and studied fuckin' science, but to each is own.

Hanging out with Dalëk and Oktopuss also affected me a lot. They're like the first hip-hop dudes that I'm really cool with and we're all on the same page. We can talk about rap all day long, except about who the gay rapper is (laughs). We come from different worlds and different shades of hip-hop but that doesn't mean we don't listen to it. Like I listen to Low Profile and WC up to this day. And whenever it comes on the shelves, I'll listen to Sa-Ra all day long because those dudes are destroying the R&B game and hip-hop beats too.

I don't listen to much underground stuff. Busdriver, Murs and all those dudes, they're my friends but as they talk about what I talk about, I don't really need to listen to it. They still talk about themselves and I'm perfectly alright with that but I can listen to myself talking about myself all day long, I don't need to listen somebody else talking about themselves all day long. I'm trying to discover new ways to write, I don't wanna discover a new way to write about my homie. I might have to listen to Easy-E one damn day! (laughs)

HHC: How did you meet Dilla exactly?

S: It was crazy! I was in the record store Amoeba talking to this girl then all of a sudden I see Dilla walk by. He was really short, even though everybody's short to me (laughs). I saw him and the girl just disappeared, I was like "Oh, shit! Is that Dilla?" and I ran over to where he was at, like a straight-up fan. He was cool, but then after a while he was like "alright, alright" so I understood and I left him alone. But then I saw him over the rock sessions, digging. And there's a song on his "Welcome To Detroit" album with a great break on it. I'd found what it was and I'd found the record it was taken from and it was the first thing he touched down in the store so, when he put the needle down, I ran upon him like "I don't want to talk to you too much, but what's up with that 'Electric Lucifer' break?" His mouth dropped and we became friends.

Every time he would come in… You know, I wouldn't even see him, I'd just see like a little hand sneaking its way up from behind the record counter and I was like "it's him!" (laughs) I'd talk to him about shit, I'd see him at other record stores in town and he was always real cool to me. And how do you know, a few years ago, DJ Mark Luv at L.A. had a mixtape and he invited me and we ended up rapping over a Dilla beat and I put that on my "Greatest Hi$$" album kind out of a joke like "Beat by J Dilla". But then, a little while after that, I ended up looking for his discography and on Stones Throw website this song was in his discography for 2003! (laughs) So everybody was like "How did you work with Dilla?" and I was like "I refuse to tell you!" (laughs)

But being able to even meet that dude, and talk about stuff and put him up on some records he had never heard of, it was great. I was all happy. But basically, we met over vinyl, because I'm the reallest motherfucker in Los Angeles when it comes to records. I'm not a DJ so I say that with no ego, but I've helped Kanye West buy drums, I've helped Dilla buy fucking rock breaks. But I don't care about who they are, I'll buy shit for everybdoy, I'm about music. I've seen all these producers like Muggs or Jermaine Dupri even and I'm talking about records with them, I don't care about saying "I'm Subtitle, man, I'm coming up", you don't need to know that about me! You'll know that when you go and look in my section and see my 45 CD's… So to make a longer story short, we met over vinyl and we have a cool little friendship until, unfortunately, he passed away.

Matter of fact, it was very ironic that my last day at work was the last time I saw him. I had to quit my job because of my tours and because it was time for me to move one (I didn't want to be the dude from Amoeba)… But he was there with his mom and Peanut Butter Wolf. By this time, I didn't really know how sick he had gotten and his mom was there walking him around the store. He was already very very sick at that point…

HHC: So you don't have a day job anymore?

S: No, but when I go home though, I might work some, just because I'm very bored. I like working. But I've been doing rap full time for like a year. Also, I've been working over at Alpha Pup a little bit, helping those dudes out whenever I can, and I've been setting up B.E.A.R. There's definitely nothing wrong with work. Every rapper that's like "fuck work", I'm like "Fuck you! How do you get paid?" (laughs)

HHC: I know you listen to a lot of different styles of music apart from rap, as you said. I've read that you really liked Imogen Heap's last album "Speak for Yourself" for instance, which happens to also be one of my favorite albums of last year. What do you like about her music?

S: My girlfriend put me up on her and I was like "wow". That album's a great album, she killed it. Her production style is outta control, I compare it to myself as far as she does everything herself… I'm never that good of a singer but I feel like it's the same kinda thing, like taking it to other levels by incorporating electronic elements… What I'm trying to do for hip-hop, she's doing it for rock. So I'm definitely a fan of her music.

But there are a lot of people coming out that I really like. For instance, the Russian Futurists, he's one dude out of Canada who produces everything himself and who's doing fucking incredible music. Or Dalëk and Oktopuss, their new material is incredible. Or Sa-Ra, their music is too good. I brought them to Universal a few years ago cause I was an A&R scout over there and Universal didn't know what to do with them… That's when I quit being an A&R scout. Also, I'll never not listen to Sonic Youth. A lot of these groups, I've been very lucky to be able to meet them…

Interview by Cobalt & Billyjack
Photos by Phara
September 2006

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