“If it wasn’t for Hip Hop I wouldn’t have a career today, because it gave me graffiti and through graffiti I found graphic design and that gave me a career path — and I’m able to use the things that I’ve learned through Hip Hop and graffiti and apply that to graphic design. That’s created my career working for Nike, doing logos for Gatorade, working with other music artists and different brands; so it’s had a huge impact and it’s been from day one.” New York based graphic designer, Upendo Taylor explains that Hip Hop has had an influence ever since he heard Run DMC; his co-collaborator on Fuzz, Freqs and Colors, Black Milk, explains he fell in love with hip hop when he heard Kris Kross for the first time. “I kinda hate telling the story because it makes me seem real young”, Pen laughs but Black continues also amused, “When Jump came out that was, you know, our shit cause we were about Kris Kross’s age at the time. After that you know, you just have a love for listening to Hip Hop — but when I first decided I wanted to get into Hip Hop or start creating music and found I had an ear for making music and beats and a gift for writing lyrics, that was my junior senior year of high school.” Now, the pair are developing a collaboration project titled Fuzz, Freq and Colors. Released under Black’s independent label ‘Computer Ugly‘, the first project (out of five) titled Synth Or Soul was released on Record Store Day, 25th March 2013. Listen below:
HH: How did you and Pen come together to make Synth Or Soul?
B: Back when I got [put onto] his art I was digging it and you know, me and him started connecting and he was already familiar with what I was doing on a music tip. We kind of just went back and forth creatively, artistically, and I was reaching out to him to do art for certain projects I was doing at the time; I had an idea of doing instrumental projects and I wanted him to be a part of the art process —later down the line it kind of came to, ‘you know why don’t we just make it more of a collab project’, versus me on the music and him doing art. We wanted it to be more of a group thing. That’s how we came up with the Fuzz, Freqs and Colors.
HH: What was it about Pen as a visual artist and person that inspired you?
B: I’ve put out a number of projects and worked with a number of different art designers. I was kind of getting to a place where I wanted to do more art design that was more like illustration versus just taking fonts and text that were already out there and anybody could get. I wanted to have more originality with the stuff I was doing. And Pen was one of the first cats I got introduced to and like I said, I seen what he was doing, and he had the real, raw style, you know what I’m saying, and I just messed with it. I figured out a way to have his style incorporate and complement what I was doing.
HH: Were you guys introduced to each other in person or via the internet?
P: We were introduced through a mutual friend and just hit right off. You know I’d been a fan of his music and [I was] drawing a lot of inspiration from that. So once we were introduced, we just clicked. Everything just kind of rolled out real naturally and organic. Black is one of the illest art directors, I feel, some of his directions have been fantastic so it’s fun to work with. He’s not a problem — which I’ve had with other art directors and stuff like that. It’s real easy, super mellow and fun.
HH: For me it’s a new kind of idea, I’ve not known other people to do it, have you guys found that as well?
B: Yeah I haven’t really seen it too much either. I mean, I guess you haven’t really seen it too much in Hip Hop and definitely with two people taking the essence, putting forth an actual concept and presenting it in that way.
HH: What is Computer Ugly?
B: Computer Ugly is basically – I wanted to kind of create a brand. You know what I’m saying, I’ve done my thing independent for a while now and I wanted to actually make a brand outside of the Black Milk brand, that I can not only put my solo work through, but actual projects of other people. So it’s some what of a record label, but I really don’t want to put it in the box of a record label. Right now we’re just using the term ‘creative house’ — whatever goes, whether it’s music, art, or whatever we feel. I just wanted to create a brand where I can have the freedom to do whatever I want to do, or release whatever I want to release.
HH: What else can people look out for to come out of there?
P: Well I do an apparel line, Leroy Jenkins Limited so that’s something that’s going to be dropping real soon — Black is the unofficial/official poster boy for that and then just tying the rest of these projects that we’ve sat on… I think it’s five other ones that we’ve done.
B: Yeah that’s kind of how we started off. Before we did the Synth Or Soul project, I’d already sent him about three or four instrumental projects that I was kind of planning on releasing…I was giving it to a select few people, but we’re definitely going to do some more instrumental projects under the Fuzz, Freqs and Colors brand. We’re just trying to think of some more concepts for the release of the actual project. We don’t want just beats and art thrown on it. We want to continue to think of fresh ideas to have the music make sense — I know there’s so many producers that are doing instrumental projects these days. I don’t want to be the one to just throw a whole bunch of random beats on a project. I want it to make sense. It’s kind of like how we did with Synth Or Soul, half of it was soul sampled records and the other half was more electronic-type sampled records. And the art went with the theme — it was art that tied it all together.
HH: What are the aspects fo Synth and Soul, like the contrast between them that inspired you to do the project?
B: I feel like it was a good way to set the whole beat thing off— the Fuzz, Freqs and Colors theme. I feel like sometimes I get thrown in the box of doing one type of style of music; so I wanted to come out the gate with a small instrumental project that’s just 12 tracks. [ I thought] I’m gonna do some stuff on the soul side, I’m gonna do some stuff on the electronic side…Everybody know I can do the regular boom bap-type stuff, so I want to go even more left – a little more electronic, a bit more up tempo. Fuzz Freqs and Colors is just freedom for me and Pen to do what we do, like he does a lot of doodles and stuff that he probably wouldn’t do probably for the corporate world, and I get a chance to do some of the stuff I probably wouldn’t necessarily turn in to a record label.
“So the Fuzz Freqs and Colors concept is just us having that artistic freedom to do whatever we want to do.” — Black
HH: Are you both hoping it’s going to snow ball?
P: Oh definitely. Once we get it to a place that we like we want to start possibly traveling with it and having some type of events centered around the releases of these projects.
B: Me and Pen have already talked and brainstormed a little bit about what we could possibly do; like actual live shows and trying to figure out how we’re going to bring that together. He could be there, doing something with the art and I could be there doing something behind a drum machine or something musically. So yeah, we’re kind of putting that all together now. Like I say, one step at a time, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We want to make sure everything is right.
HH: In the track ‘Piano Moog’ on Synth Or Soul there was a sample about cultures having their souls stolen from photographs. Can you elaborate on what you guys were trying to say in that?
B: I mean, it was like, putting the project together I’d found like one, two sound bytes that kind of fit. I wanted to throw it on an interlude of the album and then I was like, I should see if I can find some more dialogue that kind of touches on what soul music is and what electronic music is. So I was just kind of digging around and finding cool little sound bytes here and there online and on vinyl… I feel like where I placed it just kind of made it all glue together.
HH: Visually it looked like it was on the synth side of the album, was that intentional?
B: Yeah. That was intentional. Some of that was actually about the guy that make the Moog keyboards. So I found audio of him just talking about electronic music, and like you said, he was saying this crazy stuff about how people back in the 50’s and 60’s when electronic music and electronic keyboards were first introduced, it was kind of like scary to people — which is crazy to think about.
HH: Is the whole project a celebration of technology or more a comment of how things have developed?
B: I’d say what it is, is an appreciation of both. You know an appreciation for both styles of music. It’s like I said, showcasing what we can do, musically and visually, and not putting myself in the box — especially hip hop. I feel like hip hop fans are kinda getting tired and underground hip hop fans in particular get tied down to one sound and one style of hip hop music. They love the boom bap stuff and I love the boom bap stuff too, but I’m from Detroit so…There’s so many different kinds of music going through that city. I like not only the hip hop stuff but the crazy electronic stuff too. You know the ghetto-tech stuff to techno stuff, like all of that. I try to showcase that as much as possible. Me and Pen feel like Synth and Soul is kind of just a taste of what’s to come, to let people know that there’s going to be some versatile, innovative type stuff… I feel like that was a perfect type of project to start with — where it wasn’t too left, but it was getting people prepared for what’s coming.
P: Definitely the big part that spoke to me with the project was the duality of the concept. It has the audio component, but it speaks to me as a designer and as an artist too. The Synth Or Soul type of thing — whether it be picking up the pencil first or going right in and designing right on the computer.
B: Awww! That’s crazy you said that, cause I never even thought about that part of it! [laughs]
P: Yeah, yeah man!
B: That’s quite ill. [Chuckles]
P: You know, and that’s how a lot of the exchange of the art and the music was being done. Sometimes I would just do something right into the computer or straight pen and paper, so those are the big things that spoke to me. Even the design on the cover was done right into the computer and then the other side was all hand done.
HH: Oh, so you intentionally did that. That’s really cool…
B: Yeah I guess you can say that. I didn’t think we were doing it intentionally. But when you really think about it, it could be kind of what you just asked us about, we’re in an age where things, you know, everything is on your desktop, your laptop and a lot of the hands on element of just creating the art is definitely, is gone. So it’s definitely not how it was in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, everything came from a human hand… now we don’t really need a human being to do anything, you can do everything on your computer.
HH: You guys don’t even live in the same city.
B: Right. Yeah I guess you can say that.
HH: So with the process of going back and forth via email, did you guys like it or did it have its barriers?
P: I like it. I love it. It works, you know, because it’s instantaneous. A lot of times I’ll just snap a sketch or something or a doodle right on my phone and send it to him [via] text. Technology is a big part of it and it’s keeping us connected.
HH: Was there a specific track or day where you both were like, yup, this is going to really work?
B: I think when Pen sent me the art, the sketch of the two hearts, I think that’s when I was like yeah, we’re definitely headed in the right direction. I feel like there’s something about, when you see a visual while you’re actually listening to music or listening to whatever audio you’re listening to, there’s something about; it does something to your brain where it kind of makes the thing you’re listening to sound even better. So yeah once he sent me the sketch of the two hearts I was like, yeah man, this is gone be dope.
P: For me, we go through so many iterations so that’s the funny thing, and the fun thing about it. You guys don’t even know how it started and the evolution of that — once we landed on the hearts it was like, yeah this is it. And that duality really spoke. But there was some other great pieces that were created before we had got to that point. So I love the process; then to have Black orchestrating as an art director and go, yeah ok, and really pulling all of those elements together — I’d send him stuff and he’d go, okay, well let’s take this piece here and put it with this piece here that you created, and then we’ll have a final product. Kind of how, now, I know how he puts his music together; pulling samples and different drum sounds; it’s like that process is the fun part. Then when you get it and it’s sounding great and it’s looking great, that’s the best feeling.
HH: So, even though it seems like this amazing concept, the beginning of it was just you guys jamming, is that right or?
P: I would say so.
P: Because I mean, there’s some abstract stuff. [Both laugh.]
HH: Would you say you’re abstract artists anyway or is it more an offset of your creativity?
B: Oh, yeah I mean, Pen is an artist in the truest form and I feel like I’m an artist in the truest form, to the extent where you know, if we wasn’t making money doing what we do, we would still be doing it. This is a way for us to get away from the record labels and get away from the corporate world. So yeah, this is art and we can be as free and as crazy and as left, or as simple as we want to be. It just depends on what we feel like. We did a project actually, before this Synth Or Soul project called ‘The Practice’ and Pen had already had done art for it; the music was basically done — it’s crazy because I know I go through that part of my artistic brain sometimes where, if it doesn’t come out, like in the first period of time after I’ve finished it, I’m probably not gonna want to put it out. I’m probably going to move on to the next and start a whole new one. I feel like I’m always in the lab kind of working on my craft, trying to work towards getting better at what I do at all levels and I know Pen is like that too; so if we get something done and the people we be working with, talking about the record label, if they don’t get it done then I start feeling like, man, scrap that project let’s do a whole new one.
P: Yeah, yeah keep it moving.
“If it wasn’t for hip hop, I wouldn’t have a career today because it gave me graffiti.” —Pen
HH: And for Fuzz Freqs and Colors, will we hear Black rapping at all on future projects?
B: Probably not. The Fuzz Freqs and Colors stuff is strictly instrumental and I did that because my Black Milk stuff is me on the rhyming, spitting — messing with other emcees. But the Fuzz Freqs and Colors stuff is…I always wanted to do some instrumental stuff, I never really had a lot of time to get around to it. You know, I been doing the Black Milk thing and traveling and all that. But finally….I was always trying to figure out a way so I could do it differently to how other producers are doing it. How can I make my own thing? So when I finally figured it out, I was like, oh ok, I got the Fuzz, Freqs and Colors thing, I got Pen on the art — I was like ok, now I have a place and a space where I could get all these instrumentals that I be doing at home and let people hear em. Yeah, so that’s strictly instrumental stuff.
HH: What other things inspire you to make music and art, aside from music and art?
P: So much, you know, just life in general. Not only having this connection through the music and art but just speaking as a friend and meeting up…The chances that we get to have in New York or something like that and just hanging out, you know, are great inspirations for me… That’s where I pull a lot of my inspiration from — is just that connection with people, and my friends.
B: Yeah and it’s so dope to find other creative people actually doing dope shit with thier art. I feel like, at least for a person like me, it’s hard for me to get inspired by other producers, other rappers and just you know art and visual artists in general. So when you see that person that’s like super talented or has something special about them in what they do, whether it’s visually, whether it’s beat wise, rapping, singing or whatever — it inspires you to want to go work with that person; or you know, take that inspiration you got from them and try to incorporate something that makes you better as an artist. I think with me, it’s just more that search, to finding dope artists, not just an artist that does music, but artists in general, at all levels.
HH: And the name of the website is when did you fall in love with hip hop, so if it’s cool can you each sort of answer that please?
B: [Laughs] Go ahead Pen, you got that one.
P: When did I fall in love with hip hop? Oh man, from day one. I mean you know, I’m a little bit older than Black so you know, my beginnings of hip hop were at the beginnings of hip hop… That was before hip hop, there was really just soul and funk and stuff like that. But then when hip hop came for me, that was a wrap. I think, I can’t even remember what the first hip hop song I heard, it wasn’t Sugar Hill Gang it was like… it was Run DMC and when I first heard that, you know, just the beat and rapping, I was like, this is it for me. It just evolved from there. I got into graffiti and everything else that came along with it that just made my lifestyle — if it wasn’t for hip hop, I wouldn’t have a career today because it gave me graffiti. Through graffiti I found graphic design and that gave me a career path you know. I’m able to use the things that I’ve learned through hip hop and graffiti and apply that to graphic design. So that’s created my career doing work for Nike, doing logos for Gatorade and all those other music artists and different brands, so yeah it’s had a huge impact and it’s been from day one.
B: Probably, it was definitely early 90’s for me man. When I was like in elementary school, so you know, I kind of hate telling the story because it kinda makes me seem real young… I don’t know [laughs]. But yeah one of the first groups that — it was Run DMC for Pen, but it was Kriss Kross for me. And I remember walking to school with my friend from across the street, you know, we used to walk to school all the time; and when ‘Jump’ first came out, it was like our shit; because we were about Kriss Kross’s age at the time. So you know, that shit was the best for us. That’s kind of my earliest memories and after that, of course you have a love for listening to hip hop, but when I first decided I wanted to get into hip hop or start creating music, I kind of found I had an ear for making music and making beats and kind of had a gift for writing lyrics; that was kind of like my junior and senior years of high school. And just being around all of my older cousins who were all rhyming; some of them had they’re beat equipment set up at their home and they used to make beats. Just being around them all the time on the weekends, I kind of just gravitated towards it, and yeah, got into it. Started messing around with it and my interests in making beats kind of outweighed my interest in rhyming. I found myself producing and making beats more than actually writing lyrics. I got into buying my own equipment and putting my music out there locally, running in groups, and kind of, the rest is history.
HH: Cool well that’s all I’ve got, is there anything you think I might have missed?
B: Ah, you can put shout outs to Rosalinda.
P: Definitely shout outs to Rosalinda. Cause you know as artists you can get into your space and keep working, keep working and then you know [laughs] you’re like ‘oh, well I need to put out something’ and I think Rosalinda is definitely that glue that connects the dots.
B: We can definitely be on our artists shit a lot of the time so she’s kind of like the person that keeps everything together and makes sure, you know, we keep them deadlines because artists are the hardest people to keep deadlines. We could be difficult sometimes but she holds it all together, so definitely put shout outs to her.
Synth Or Soul is available to purchase on iTunes HERE.
The second project draft has been made available here: