[RH Interview] Evidence – A Lesson In Thematics

In their 1998 classic, “Intergalactic”, Mike D of the Beastie Boys rapped, “got an A from Moe Dee for sticking to themes.” The brag’s origins come from Kool Moe Dee’s 1988 Rap Report Card, in which he doled out grades to some of the genre’s top artists through a variety of categories. It should be no surprise that Kool Moe Dee gave himself the highest ranking, with stars like Run DMC, KRS One, Rakim, LL Cool J, Heavy D, and many others receiving marks.

Today’s rap scene lacks any kind of formal report card. Critics and fans alike hand out accolades on the daily via podcasts, website lists, and the almighty social media. However, if Kool Moe Dee decided to do a 2018 edition of his infamous report card, Evidence would have a rock solid case for a perfect score in the themes department as well.

Evidence is nothing if not consistent. Since the late 90’s, he has consistently released music through his group Dilated Peoples, his Step Brothers project with Alchemist, or on the production side for a growing list of artists, which has seen him helm entire projects for emcees such as Defari, Planet Asia, and most recently Domo Genesis. But the creme de la creme for Evidence fans is his ongoing “Weatherman” saga that has produced 3 solo LP’s and one EP,  starting with The Weatherman in 2007.

Evidence has used these solo projects to explore his own psyche, and get personal with listeners. Whereas stories about self-doubt, the loneliness of being an artist, and the death of his mother don’t necessarily fit on Dilated Peoples albums (those also relied heavily on sticking to themes), Evidence has used his solo work as an open space for their exploration. And he has done so exceptionally well, mostly over dark and thumping production handled by a tight-knit crew of producers.

It’s been a minute since his last solo LP, 2011’s Cats & Dogs. The long absence was not necessarily planned, and is partly the result of personal struggles. Many of those struggles have found their way onto his newly minted Weather or Not, which was released last week to strong reviews and an open-armed fanbase.

“I’m going through the hardest part of my personal life right now,” Evidence tells me via phone, roughly a week before the LP drop. The final song on the album centers on the birth of his first son and the child’s mother finding out that she has breast cancer while breastfeeding him.  “It’s hard to rap about being great when you’re going through shit like that.”

Evidence worked through the struggles and turned them into a new album, one that will serve as the end of something and the start of something else. Weather or Not is the end of the tightly themed “Weatherman” projects, the same projects that won him fans but also saw him get comfortable in a routine and style of making music. Itching to ditch that comfort and create new challenges for himself, he’s onto the next thing, while he doesn’t quite know what that is just yet.

“A big question mark after this, which is what I need right now,” he tells me. “But to move onto something next, I gotta move into the unknown and either make my best or my worst record. I got to risk it a little bit more next time.”

In this new interview, Evidence speaks in-depth about making his new album, maintaining a “brand”, the response his new music has garnered, as well as the transparency-element in today’s music scene. Check it out below.

Rubyhornet: Do you like doing this part of releasing a project? Do you like doing interviews again?

Evidence: It kind of depends where your life is each time… I don’t mind it, I like talking about it. Sometimes you make a record and get so immersed in it that it’s nice to do shows or do interviews. You spend so much time with the product alone that it’s kind of like going out once in a while. It could be good, could be shitty.

RubyHornet: You have a line on “Jim Dean”, ‘I went from slow flow, to never the same flow, cause doing part 2 ain’t the reason I came for.’ What is the purpose with this LP? I know it’s not a part 2, but there is connectivity throughout your catalog.

Evidence: Yeah, all of my solo releases are involved in the weather theme. The Weatherman, Layover, Cats & Dogs, and now Weather or Not, kind of saying ‘take it or leave it.’ I’m putting it to bed. But in that process – I’m not competing, but I’m definitely competing with myself. You know when you get into a pattern. You know when it’s time to close something. Sometimes you listen to what people say, sometimes you don’t take it all in and maybe some of it is important. For me, just being innovative when I make a beat or do anything creative, I’m not trying to repeat something. It’s kind of a catch 22 that this is a sequel or something that it’s still within a theme, but still trying to keep each episode alive so it doesn’t turn into “Godfather 3”, where it just goes to complete shit. To stay in a pattern with a theme requires focus, to test yourself in that, takes a lot. I’m always trying to push a boundary or try something unfamiliar, even within something as scripted as the Weatherman theme.

RubyHornet: The press release said that this album will conclude the Weatherman Saga, which I thought was interesting. As someone who has listened to your music going all the way back to the The Platform, You’ve been referencing rain, the weatherman since way back, what does that mean “the end of the Weatherman phase”?

Evidence: The title’s from The Platform where I said, ‘some think I’m clever, others think I’m the one who makes too many references to weather… or not…’ So, I knew. And I knew on “Mr. Slow Flow” when I said, ‘umbrellas up, it’s raining cats & dogs’ that was going to be another solo record. I get inspired by a line and then make it work. There’s something about safety about that, that I want to shed. I want to move into uncertainty a little bit more. I still feel like, I’m not imitating by any means, but the emulating thing is still there a little bit for me where I care what Premier thinks. I still care what this rapper would think, or whatever. With these records, with the first one it worked out the same way that Dilated did, I didn’t want to make all the beats, because I wanted to focus more on the rhymes. I felt like if I made a beat, I actually made my album. I didn’t just make the album cause it’s mine.

But I found a formula. I’m around the best producers like The Alchemist, Premier, and all these people. It does make it a little safe when you do that. You know you’re going to have bangers. So you gotta be careful with those so you don’t make a playlist record instead of an album. I did my best to do that with this one, but it’s hard cause I’m trying to throw everything against the wall with this one. I’m trying to make it feel heavy.

I want to move away from that idea, get into more of my own production. I don’t know what I’m going to call it. A big question mark after this, which is what I need right now. Because I feel like knowing where you’re going might not be as gratifying. I’m not downplaying my record right now, I think I did great. But to move onto something next, I gotta move into the unknown and either make my best or my worst record. I got to risk it a little bit more next time.

RubyHornet:  The album’s title is a question, and you pepper the album with questions throughout both internally and externally, what were some the biggest questions you had to deal with in making this project?

Evidence: What is a brand? What is a person? I kind of battled this one a little bit. I’m going through the hardest part of my personal life right now, which is what the last song on the album (“By Your Side Too”) is about. I just had a son, and being so excited, and his mom’s trying to breastfeed and figuring out she has breast cancer. Here’s that wakeup. So I had to be home and I’m trying to rap at the same time. It’s hard to rap about being great when you’re going through shit like that. Then I had the questions, if you buy a brand – what’s a brand you like?

RubyHornet: Adidas.

Evidence: Ok, if you’re buying Adidas, you don’t know what the owner’s wife is going through. Adidas is a brand, moving forward regardless, it’s not a human. So I have to be careful sometimes on how to maintain my brand. But my brand is based upon a human that is going through shit right now. It was a little harder for me to figure out this time around. I had to take breaks, cancel tours, do a few things like that. But then sharing, once again made realize that I’m not alone, we’re not alone. Humans are fucking fragile, and we’re all going through something. So then it opens up different stuff.

RubyHornet: Throughout your music you talk a lot about not accepting compliments and issues with self-doubt. That’s present again on this project, but it sounds like there’s more peace with it or you are getting better at accepting the compliments.

Evidence: Actually it’s the opposite. I might have said this in another interview, so don’t get mad, but there was no high-fiving here at mastering or when the label sends you a gift and a notecard.. I’ve made those kind of records. That didn’t happen here. It was taking too long, can’t get this right, can’t get that right. Things aren’t lining up yada, yada, yada. Then it’s done and it’s like, ‘how’d that fucking happen?’ I just worked through it. I stayed working through the problems. ‘Let the fever feed it,’ or whatever they say.

What I am doing is waking up and creating every single day. Maybe that’s what it is. I’m lifting weights so-to-speak. So when I go back to the gym I’m not rusty. In that process, your sword gets sharper a little bit, without even realizing it. I take photos, the same thing happens. I look at photos from 3 years ago, ‘wow, that thing sucks.’ I didn’t realize I was getting better as I was moving on. So if you’re loving what you’re doing, progress comes with it. I do love what I do. This proved it because I do it everyday even under non-ideal terms. There’s maybe only one or two other things I’m good at anyway.

Questions always go out as far as how much to share with the public and how much to keep to yourself. It’s a fine line, and I got to walk that line sometimes.

RubyHornet: You mention the fans in a number of records. What do your fans give you? What do you hope to give them with this album?

Evidence: Fans give me hope to keep going, and fans give me a lot of stress. But I realized that the stress is from a passionate place, and I accept that. If people like something they want to hear more of it, and they want it to keep going. It’s not unwarranted. It’s just when you can’t defend yourself cause you don’t want to share the reason you’re being absent, it gets frustrating.

Then I always got to remember, most people when they make their first record, the majority of artists don’t have any fans. And they made that record because they made it from their heart, and that’s what brought the fans. I try to not think about fans when I’m creating, but be conscious of ‘hey, sorry if I’m being shitty for dipping this long, but it’s not by -‘ you gotta realize this is what I do everyday. So if I’m not out, it’s for a reason. It’s not time or there’s something going on, or I’m working on something. I’m working on a better way to communicate with them, whoever they are or may or may not be.

RubyHornet: You have a line, ‘Stay elusive, in the process get forgot about.’ In this longer absence you just mentioned, did you have fear that people would not be listening?

Evidence: Yeah. Yeah. ‘Things I never thought about, try to be elusive, in the process get forgot about.’ That’s real shit. You try to be mysterious and you put your trench-coat up, you say no to the photo and you turn down the cameo, you pass this up all in the process of trying to be like MF Doom or some shit and then nobody cares. And then after a while people are like, ‘oh, you’re busy. We’ll move on.’

You got to know the camera’s not rolling all the time. Trying to be this mysterious, mythical creature can be dangerous sometimes in the business of selling music. If you don’t want to be business, you can do that shit all you want. It’s scary. You’re trying to dip. I’m trying to take photos and not do selfies, artistic shit for merit and you realize people are not paying attention sometimes. It could be frustrating. It could make an artist wonder. So, yeah, I just do what I do until it’s time not to. I skated until I hurt myself. I did graffiti until I got arrested. I just keep doing what I do until there’s a sign to quit. Right now people are showing love, and it’s so rewarding taking a little more time off than an artist should maybe.

RubyHornet: Did you expect such good responses from the videos? It seems like people are genuinely excited? Do you look at those?

Evidence: I made a promise not to read any youtube comments this campaign, so I pride myself that on the three videos out, I have not read one comment on youtube. That’s just because I don’t need to put myself in the loop right now. Once things calm down and everything’s out, I will come back to that. But yeah, I’m really happy. I feel like we’re focusing on being us creatively. I feel like visually and the way I represent myself, I’m definitely not trying to even look at the rap game. I feel like I’m way over there, and I don’t even know where this fits. But I know when I show it to people, it resonates as art and they fuck with it. It’s telling me I’m doing something right, and maybe I shouldn’t be trying to fit in so much my whole career, or worry about things. It’s been a big growing couple of years for me. I’m humble, but at the same time I got to be cocky when it’s time and really put it down when it’s time to. There’s a time and place for everything and I’m really learning.

RubyHornet: “Half like Mike, Half Like from Pac Div.”

Evidence: “Half like Mike, plus half Like from Pac Div.” I don’t think many people will get that.

RubyHornet: I was not expecting a Pac Div shout out… I want to talk about the features you have, Alchemist, Defari, Krondon, Rakaa, and then Babu produced the title track. I think there’s something important about collaborating with the same people for roughly 20 years. How does it feel to have them in your corner, when making the project is it a question of when they’ll take part instead if they’ll take part?

Evidence: No it’s more a puzzle piece. I’ve done so much reaching out and so much collabing through the history of my career, I was like, ‘this one is going to be honest.’ From Styles P to Rapsody, everyone was at my house doing shit. Rakaa, Jon Wayne, Slug might have done his verse in Minneapolis but he set it over here and recut it there. This one was just whoever was around, who was fucking with me. A virtue of that is you’re going to see those people, those are my real friends. I think Mach Hommy is the only person I haven’t known for a long period of time. Him and I have become real close in a short period of time, I’m really happy to have him on there.

RubyHornet: The song with Defari is great. He kind of reminded me a little it of Slick Rick in his first couple bars.

Evidence: “My pistol knows…” We just did that one and had fun. I made the beat right there, we wrote the rhymes right there. That was one of the moments on my album where I didn’t feel like I was making it.

RubyHornet: In “10,000 Hours” you talk about not wanting to see your heroes selling verses on Twitter, when you started your music career on Capitol Records it was a like completely different scenario – do you miss that time of MTV videos and selling CDs? You’ve have a unique perspective as someone who started in that era but has also successfully navigated this new one. Do you ever miss that older time period, did things seem simpler?

Evidence: It kind of showed me everything is a lie, which is fucked. Maybe if Twitter was around then I might not have liked half the people I liked, cause I didn’t know much about them. I would know their name, their rhyme, their interview they would give me in a real guarded rap type voice and then they’d fly away with their cape and you’d see them once in a while. I didn’t get to follow them and go ‘fuck, Taco Bell’s closed what am I gonna do?’. Lame. You know what I mean, that’s the fuck part about this new shit. You’ll find out there’s a lot of talented people who are just the kind of people you might not want to hang out with. In that era you were protected. You never got to learn, you could focus on the person’s craft. You never got to find out what they were like in life.

RubyHornet:  This might be a cliche question, but has parenthood changed your creative process at all?

Evidence: Ummmmm, no not really. I’m making time for everything. I have to be prepared to sacrifice other things, so maybe that’s sleep… I feel more inclined to drive to make my son proud of his father and ultimately be able to support him and leave him whatever I can. I found a new motivation to be honest.