Terrence Dixon: Tales of an Accelerated Future
“Leaning hard and fucking with new producers, that’s what we love to do,” says Squadda B of rap duo Main Attrakionz down the phone from his North Oakland home in that warm, blazed mumble that anyone who fell for last year’s ’808s & Dark Grapes II’ mixtape will recognise. While the self-proclaimed “best duo ever”, who are part of Bay Area crew Green Ova, have been putting out mixtapes steadily for years, ’808s…’ was the one that really got people talking. Having originally been issued as a free download in summer 2011, it was pressed to vinyl by Type Records in February this year; a physical bump that further spread the Main Attrakionz word. This month they followed it with ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’, their official debut album on new Brooklyn label Young One Records. From the sublime Supreme Cuts’ produced Love Is Life to the anthemic On Tour produced by Uptown Greg, it’s the record that should see them take their next step up to big player status. But right now they’re just doing what they love to do. Last night Squadda was in the studio with Main Attrakionz partner Mondre M.A.N. recording songs with a new “raw-ass” producer: “I listen to a lot of music so if I hear something that I know is gonna change the world I’m gonna get in touch. That’s how we got in contact with Marlee B who did Chosen for ’808s & Dark Grapes’ – I just heard him on Youtube. That’s usually the approach: I been stalking people and then I get them to fuck with us and then they’re our producers for life.”
“When I started making beats it reminded me of rainy days and shit. I never called this shit cloud rap though, that was what they called us. I can fuck with it.” Squadda B
It’s 7pm in the UK when we chat, which means it’s a rare early 11am for Squadda but he’s cheery and patient, especially when faced with questions on cloud rap. He’s been asked about that a million times, right? “Yes m’am.” For the record, cloud rap is a tag that cropped up a couple of years ago to describe the music of rappers including Lil B, A$AP Rocky and Main Attrakionz and the producers they were working with, most notably Clams Casino who’s produced for all three. Incidentally, Squadda is a producer too and used to make beats for Lil B, and A$AP guest featured on ’808s & Dark Grapes II’. The sonic aesthetic they share is one of delicate melodies that float across and under warped, blurry beats. While, as Adam Harper noted in his excellent essay, sub-genres have had a rocky time over the past few years – often ridiculed by audiences and rejected by artists – Main Attrakionz have seemed to embrace cloud rap. There was Perfect Skies on ’808s & Dark Grapes’ produced by Friendzone, and now on ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’ there’s Cloud Body produced by Grown Folk (“Cloud rap / it’s that shit that you can trust”) and Cloud Life produced by Joe Wax (“I want to show you a view of this cloud life”). It makes sense on a number of levels beyond the slow-moving, shape-shifting nature of their sound. Main Attrakionz work in a swirl of purple smoke – Dark Grapes is a hybrid type of cannabis – and make music for rolling with, dreaming skyward to and, yep, leaning hard to.
“Cloud, cloud…” Squadda softly sing-raps when I ask the inevitable. “I’m glad Mondre turned that shit into an advert man, crazy as fuck. I mean, for me…what is cloud? It’s my favourite weather, y’know what I mean. Everybody know that shit. I love it raining, all that shit. So it reflects with the music and the beats. I don’t know, for me, when I started making beats it reminded me of rainy days and shit. I never called this shit cloud rap though, that was what they called us. I can fuck with it. I’m listening to us while we on planes going over clouds. It is what it is; if you were going to call this music anything, you can call it cloud rap. It’s cloud rap. They were right on point with that motherfucking title. The title might mean nothing to me but the music is real bass-heavy, it’s some shit you could really slap on a rainy day, really loud. Turn that shit up in your car and ride the hood on a rainy day. Really set that mood.”
One of the biggest cloud rap tracks to date is Lil B’s I’m God, produced by Clams, on which his line “move fast / think slow” perfectly encapsulated his approach: ultra-prolific and philosophical. Earlier this year Main Attrakionz flipped that sentiment on The Nite Life, a Jam City track they guested on, to neatly sum up their own perspective: “move slow, think fast”. They might travel at the speed of smoke rings but there’s a complex, quick wittedness at the heart of Main Attrakionz that sets them apart from the rest.
Take new album ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’, the idea for which grew from the opening track of ’808s & Dark Grapes’ and was originally going to be a double sided album exploring the polar behaviours: “Bossalini is being a boss. Fooliyone is being a fool.” These two states pull the album in two directions, illustrating twin desires: on one hand to make it any way they can – be it rapping or hustling – and on the other to reach for something higher. Where did those names come from? “This nigga Spice 1 used to say that bossalinis shit but for me, I didn’t really take it from him but he did say that so I gotta give it to him,” explains Squadda. “C-Murder was the first to say fooliyone in my eyes. He said that way back then, in 03 or 04. The concept of ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’, what we wanted to do was have one side a Bossalini side and the other side a Fooliyone. But once we started recorded it was, damn – we both. There’s no way we’re just a boss, no way we’re just a fooliyone. We always got to be both – so we got the idea, fuck it – it’s all ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’.
I totally get that because there’s that parallel through the album. You’ve got Love Is Life which is the deepest cut on the record. It feels like you’re saying that a higher consciousness is more important that dollars.
“We’re Green Ova which is money over everything but at the same time, there’s a reason we’re here to even touch this money.” Squadda B
Squadda B: “It is, it is at the same time. I got people around me who don’t believe in God and who don’t believe in certain shit and we’re Green Ova which is money over everything but at the same time, there’s a reason we’re here to even touch this money. You gotta believe in something, you gotta know where you’re going, you gotta know where you came from. I don’t know – to be fair with them atheist niggas, I don’t know if there’s a real God but I know all this shit I’ve been through and all this shit I’ve seen, this shit ain’t coincidence. This is not coincidence. Somebody’s making this shit happen. A$AP Rocky, I click on this video, leave the house and come back home and he’s in my email [telling him he’s going to do a song]. If that’s not God, I don’t know what it is.”
On the flipside, I love Bury Me A Millionaire, which is about making it. So I kind of see that mix between…
Squadda B: “Exactly. Bossalinis & Fooliyones. Sometimes we wanna live, sometimes we don’t give a fuck.”
“And these streets, I swear they got this shit get so shady
That’s why I keep this blaze around me lady
Real shit, you don’t know my real life
You just hear me when I get in front this fuckin’ mic
But when I’m back to the sinks, I mean the ice
It ain’t nothing nice, ain’t nothing nice”
From Love Is Life on ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’
While Squadda and Mondre M.A.N. both turned 21 this year they have two decades of rapping between them. They met in math class when they were 12, or rather when they skipped the lesson together. Squadda laughs as he explains: “Me and Mondre cut class and from the moment we cut class together, the first day we met, we just started talking and I found out he rap, and he found out I rap – I’m like, what? I met his rapping partners, we start flowing and shit – they liked what I was doing and that’s when we clicked. But once I started going to his house, we were 12 years old and he has a karaoke machine and once we started recording on his little karaoke machine, that’s when we knew. Making real mixtapes straight to tape, we were like, man, we can really do this, me and you. That’s how it happened.”
Picking up one of your lines from Chosen from ’808s…’ – how did the game choose you?
Squadda B: “Because it never let us go. At the same time we chose the game cos we chose to rap in middle school but y’know, after middle school it came like it was possible – it just kept coming back. We got to be chosen, it just kept coming back. Lil B came to my house and shit through my nigga Deezy D and shit, I did some songs with him and started making beats for him. It’s just the same way Danny Brown came to us. The game chose us. These rap niggas be coming to us and shit – I love it, I love them niggas, I love everybody who ever gave us a little co-sign cos they real for that. You ain’t gotta co-sign nobody, so… If it wasn’t for rappers and producers and all the people inside the industry, shit I don’t know if we’d still be doing this shit right now. So that’s how we’ve really been chosen: people chose us.”
I feel like there’s this positivity in the face of adversity that runs through the music. Where does that come from?
“A lot of these rappers they talk about it, man. I can tell whose living it and whose not by how they talk about it.” Squadda B
Squadda B: “Man, we hear this a lot. I guess…I didn’t know we were positive people until we started putting shit on the internet and started hearing that shit. I feel like how our own perspective when we rap and shit, I feel like I go through more that a lot of these niggas. A lot of these rappers they talk about it, man. I can tell whose living it and whose not by how they talk about it. I don’t really wanna do this type of shit, y’know what I mean? A lot of rap is like I’m not happy about this shit. It’s not like I’m going to go out there and just be like, I’m selling dope straight off the iPhone. I ain’t gonna say that even though I’m really doing it, cos that shit ain’t cool. That shit ain’t even a thing to do. These niggas who make hella music talking about struggles and shit that they’re not even living, it’s like – that’s disgusting. Even though we’ve got the right to talk about a lot of shit we don’t even talk about it. First of all, we’ve got moms listening, I’ve got family listening – little sisters, little nephews, little niggas from the hood listening and shit. Some things you can’t even say on records. The people who say it on records don’t even care cos they’re not even doing that shit. Me, I know, if I say a lot of shit on records, the day I go down, the day I go to jail, they’re going to pull all that shit up. They’re going to pull all the Youtubes up, pull up all that shit. We’re different, man. I guess we’re smarter.”
You talk about being a kid, talk about kid brothers and sisters and there seems to be a real desire to leave a legacy.
Squadda B: “Yeah, I mean. I ain’t got no dad, y’know what I mean? I ain’t got no dad. My brother and sister ain’t got no dad so it’s like, I’m just trying not to put shit out there that I don’t want no other motherfuckers knowing. I don’t want anybody in my business like that. Just cos my niggas know what I’m doing don’t mean I need to get on any records and talk about that shit. There’s no need for all that shit. No need, man.”
Just talking a little more generally on hip hop, it has a long history of innovation and reaching for transformative moment. But right now it feels like the mainstream has got a bit a bloated in a way, there’s been a real embrace of pure party, go crazy sound…how do you view that? Are you into it or is it alien to you?
“You know when you watch a reality TV show and you want to see motherfuckers fight and shit, it’s probably because you haven’t had a fight in like 10 years.” Squadda B
Squadda B: “Ah you know, we party. We party and shit. We do everything these niggas talk about, y’know what I mean. I feel like the consumer is the main influence to these rappers because y’know, when I dropped ‘Back $ellin Crack’ with the real rock that we’re selling – selling, not smoking – when do I shit like that, and you can a response from people saying we love this shit – they instigate it, they make you want to go ahead and do it because they’re not living that shit. You know when you watch a reality TV show and you want to see motherfuckers fight and shit, it’s probably because you haven’t had a fight in like 10 years so you want to see a motherfucker fight. People want to see people act dumb, people want to see people do this shit. I don’t have no problem with the party music, the trap music, the stupid and the comedy music, I don’t have no problem with that. I can’t do it. I listen to it but I can’t make it.”
You’ve reached a big audience around the world but what’s the reception like at home in Oakland?
Squadda B: “In Oakland they’re just proud. I don’t be pushing my music on these motherfuckers out here but they look it up. I never tell niggas I’m rapping because it’s like, I’m not out here trying to be a rapper but everybody found out and they love it. I’ve not heard one bad thing about it. They proud. But I never push it on Oakland, I’d rather be a regular person round here. I ain’t no Squadda out here.”
What do you feel like you’ve learned over the last few years?
Squadda B: “Hmm. I’ve learned how to save money, a little bit. I didn’t know saving was important but it works wonders [laughs]. I’ve learned how to not hurt feelings; staying truthful without being hella mean. I used to hear I was an asshole and shit so I tried to be just be aware of girls’ feelings and shit. Not niggas, I don’t give a fuck about niggas. Girls, I try not to hurt their feelings. I never lie, I’m honest but I try to do it in a way that I don’t make them cry and shit.”
I thought it was awesome you put that video online about giving up cigarettes [Squadda has since deleted his Youtube channel, as well as Twitter]. Is it tough, are you sticking to it?
Squadda B: “For me it’s easy as fuck to stop smoking cigarettes, I don’t know why I got so addicted to those motherfuckers. I stopped, it’s been a month now. For weed, it’s another situation. When you’re on syrup or pills and alcohol or shit, that’s gonna make you want to smoke. I still smoke weed but cigarettes are done; I’m done. Everybody should stop with the cigarettes.”
What are you most excited about?
Squadda B: “Shit, getting money man f’real. Dollars. And seeing my niggas all get a little shine. I can’t wait for people to start calling Mondre the best rapper out, I can’t wait till Dope G starts getting some music money, I can’t wait till Shady Blaze gets a Grammy, I can’t wait till Lo Tha Kid got his own clothing line. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see what the family are gonna do and I can’t wait to get money.”