Back in November, I dropped a blog entry about the launch of a new music label called Beatrock Music. They were local, Long Beach to be exact, with a slew of independent hip hop artists in their repertoire. Heading the label was a producer named Eric Strand, better known as Fatgums, an SF native and medical student on leave. With two releases under Fatgums' direction, (first was the Counterparts, second was Bambu), we were compelled to learn more about the man behind it all. To us, Beatrock stood for community and organization and if that was any indication of the kind of music it would represent, then we were all for it. Originally from the bay, Fatgums began DJing at 13 and made his first mixtape by 19. Then he moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to build his catalog. He'd take every spare moment to do so, even in the kitchen of his then studio apartment. His hustle allowed him to connect with the right people and now with a studio near LAX, he makes music his life. Well sort of...
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE MUSIC SCENE IN LA VS. SF?
Hmmm. My heart (in terms of music) will always be in The Bay. That is where I fell in love with Hip Hop and where the folks I grew up with in Hip Hop still live. So, this response will be very biased. I feel that independent music in general, particularly independent Hip Hop, is better received in The Bay than in Los Angeles. I don't know why this is the case - maybe the hippie communal temperament still bleeds in our generation of Bay Area hip hoppers. You know, supporting a community or a movement over making stars or icons of a few. I feel like if you make quality music in The Bay you will be heard, appreciated, and followed. If you make quality music in LA you might be overlooked. LA is the mecca of entertainment and the population is ridiculous. So you not only have a larger sample size of people who might make Hip Hop music, you also have a higher concentration of people who are really trying to make it as musicians. So, when comparing things like the ease of finding venues or the likelihood of getting your CD on the end cap at a record store, you have a much better chance to succeed as an independent musician in The Bay Area. But, at the same time, if you DO make it in LA, I believe that the likelihood of getting national and international recognition is probably greater than in any other city in the US.
WITH THAT SAID, DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS A PLACE FOR INDEPENDENT ARTISTS IN LA CONSIDERING THE AMOUNT OF TALENT IN THE CITY?
There is always a place for independent artists and independent art in general. Wherever you are. Independent art is art that isn't dictated by an entity disconnected from the artist's community. One good thing about LA is that the communities here are big enough to support their artists, or at least make their artists feel appreciated enough to keep creating.
SO HOW DOES BEATROCK MUSIC COMPARE TO OTHER MUSIC LABELS?
I'm still figuring this one out. All I know is that I want Beatrock Music to be a platform from which community-oriented, socially-aware, and forward-thinking artists can have their voices heard. I want it to be a label that is guided by the artists and the community the artists speak to. I want the label to put out music that influences, motivates, and moves people to take action against the ills of society. (That sounds so cheesy!) But it's true though - this isn't a label that was created to make music for music's sake alone. At the same time, however, I want the label to push creativity and help nurture artists' growth.
ARE YOU GOING TO STAY WITHIN THE HIP HOP GENRE OR BRANCH OUT TO OTHER TYPES OF MUSIC?
I've been a Hip Hop knucklehead all my life. I think the only reason I'm able to make beats is because I know how Hip Hop should sound. I don't know how to play any instruments. I just basically take other types of music and make it sound like Hip Hop. So, even if I tried to make music of other genres, it'd probably just end up sounding like Hip Hop. I'd love the label to branch out, though.
WHO ARE YOUR MUSICAL INFLUENCES?
I listen to certain producers for inspiration. Nowadays it's Exile, DJ Khalil, and Jake One mainly. In the past it's been all types of producers: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Alchemist, Dilla, Da Beatminerz, No I.D., J-Swift, Kanye, Madlib, Just Blaze, Eclipse 427, JT The Bigga Figga, Khayree, Organized Noize, 9th Wonder, Prince Paul, Large Professor, Rza.... the list goes on and on. The producers on ...Paper Cuts... and ...Exact Change... have all hella influenced and inspired me. I got to work a lot with Mister REY on the new Power Struggle record. He hella inspired me. Gammaray has been an influence and inspiration from day one.
IS THERE ANYONE IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU'D LIKE TO WORK WITH?
I've been blessed to be able to work with some of my favorite emcees/Hip Hop heroes already: T-Know of the CounterParts, Bambu (I remember being jealous of DJ Phatrick [Bambu's DJ] for being an East Asian DJ down with him. I recently told Phatrick that hella drunk one night. It was pretty embarassing.), and Geologic of the Blue Scholars (you can also add him to my list of who I'd like to work with; it would be an honor to have him to a Prometheus Brown project on Beatrock Music).
The one specific emcee I want to work with is BWAN. We actually plan to release his first full-length album on Beatrock Music. BWAN is a ridiculously talented rapper. I first heard him on an EP Mister Rey gave me back when Rey, Nomi, and I started to record Remittances. You can hear BWAN on "3 Basic Problems" (on Remittances). I think people are really going to fall in love with BWAN's delivery when they hear that song. Dude is vicious!
There are also quite a few producers I'd like to team up with. DJ Phatrick and I have been talking about doing a record together. I personally want to call it "The Phfats" but we haven't really talked about a name or even what the record will be like at all. 6Fingers just moved down to LA. I'd love to collaborate with that dude. I feel like just being in the same studio with him would probably make me a better producer.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU AND THE LABEL IN 2010?
Well, first was ...paper cuts... by Bambu, then we'll release Remittances by Power Struggle in the Spring, then we're releasing a free mixtape from Otayo Dubb called So Opinionated to get people ready for his solo album, which will hopefully be released in the Summer/Fall. We also have a Mass Movement mixtape in the making that will feature a whole bunch of talented local artists like Aidge 34 of the Aesthetics crew, Broken Halos, The Committee, Shining Songs, Rhythm Natives (hopefully), and many others. There are a few more projects slated for 2010/early 2011, but I can't give it all away yet though! What I can tell you is that we have some really big things on the horizon.
WHAT DO YOU DO OUTSIDE OF WORKING ON MUSIC?
I am a medical student at UCLA. I basically have to study all the time.
WHEN BEATROCK MUSIC STARTED, YOU WERE ON YOUR SECOND LEAVE FROM MED SCHOOL. YOU WENT BACK? WHY?
Well, that was probably one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make. Remember how I was talking about how I want Beatrock Music to be a label that pushes social awareness, action and change, etc? Well, my initial goal when I decided to pursue a career in medicine was somewhat along the same lines. My goal was to become a doctor in order to help serve the under-served. I wanted to open a free clinic in some city and serve folks who can't afford heathcare. To me, being a doctor is one of those professions that enables you to have a direct, hands-on impact on the community you serve. But, at the same time, I feel music and cultural activism can create an impact just as invaluable. So I feel both pathways will allow me to do the type of things I'd like to accomplish in life. So, why go back? Well, music will always be there, no doubt. Med school will not. If I didn't go back now, I would have missed this opportunity forever. Also, I feel like the groundwork has now been laid for Beatrock Music. I feel very comfortable taking a step back and having the artists take the lead. Like I said before, I want the label to be spearheaded by the artists and directed by the communities they are a part of. Also, if I ever do become a licensed physician it sure will be nice to have a disposable income to help fund some of these projects. In the meantime, please send investors our way! Haha.
Though the focus of our e-zine is surveying one's relationship with Los Angeles, I felt that I diverted from that with Fatgums. It's not because of his loyalty for his hometown, or his rationalization of independent music succeeding better there than here, but because I was so engaged in the thought of 'living what you love'. I got that from him. Through his answers, and through his analogy of medicine and music. I never thought those two could go together. But it has, and I'll be proud to say that it's all starting here in LA.