"Most of my favorites from 2016 have been from friends! ialive & Darko The Super from Philadelphia released a project called [Hell Hole] Store, which I picked up on tape. Height Keech from Baltimore has ventured off in a new direction on his Unending Blaze Vol. 1 EP. Local emcee and songstress Anna Notte put out her second EP and used one my of my favorite beats I’ve ever made called "Ppl Are Mean..." Baltimore "teacher, husband, beat-maker & dish washer" John "Jumbled" Bachman wrote within our 2016 published interview. I had simply asked Bachman to name a few of his personal favorite Hip-Hop releases from the past 6-8 months, but little did I know, I would eventually end up working with nearly ALL of the artists he had mentioned (besides Kanye) and countless Baltimore area friends, affiliates, and associates. Height Keech appeared on "Lamplight" from Jumbled's then just-released [I wish it was longer] album along with the likes of UllNevaNo, Berko Lover, Cody Jones (formerly Stillborn Identity), Dwell & salk. Bito Sureiya, Bigelow Riders, and infamous emcee Izaac aka Mick Boche. Since Unending Blaze Vol. 1 EP, Height briefly toured behind EP1 of a planned 3-part series, but soon realized his slightly overzealous Unending Blaze EP trilogy idea wasn't exactly making the same dent in people's minds, as initially intended.
"I believed in the music completely and I was wishing I had a way to release it that was as thorough and exciting as the music itself. I asked myself what would be the best possible way of releasing a record. Then, I decided to just wipe the slate clean and start doing all of those things, no matter how long it took or what kind of sacrifice it took to get it going," Height Keech revealed within a recent statement sent to The Witzard. Unending Blaze Vol. 1-3 EP's were essentially re-envisioned and tactfully morphed into Height's anxiously-anticipated eleventh album, MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN, which will effectively be released Tuesday, April 25th on his own Cold Rhymes Records. Please feel free to scroll down and thoroughly enjoy a rather comprehensive conversation I recently had with self-proclaimed "talk singer" Height Keech; sonically peppered with Height's latest Justin Barnes-directed "Trust No Blues" and Malt Disney-presented "Mind Moves The Mountain," as well as a Boom-Bap-leaning medley/mash-up of recently passed Rock "N" Roll pioneer Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock" & "County Line" recorded with Kate Ferencz from his MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN pre-order bonus EP, which I'm happy to be premiering within this very write-up!
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
On The Keys of Steel
I. Your website's About section reads: "I'm Height Keech. I'm a rapper/talk singer from Baltimore, Maryland..." what exactly is a "talk singer" and how does this phrase relate to your critically-acclaimed 2015 album, Talk Singer?
You know when singers skip the singing part and just talk the song to you? I arrived at a place where I was doing the same thing, skipping the Rap and just talking. At some point, writing a 16-bar Rap verse started to feel like a rote/played-out activity. The album Talk Singer is all based around these very un-Rap moments. I want to opt out of the show-and-prove part of Rap. I know how to rap and I know how to make beats and I want to use those tools to express, not to impress. Everybody knows that a rapper is supposed to rap, but a "talk singer" can do anything because it’s just a term I made up.
II. You and I have talked rather extensively about the connection between Unending Blaze Vol. 1 EP and its since abandoned 2-part EP follow-up and your upcoming album, MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN; however, would you care to briefly explain the storied relationship between the two projects to my readers?
The idea was to put out three EP's and eventually, partner with a label to re-release all the songs as a full-length. Last March, I was sitting alone in a motel room with the flu. I had the realization that no one is ever going to swoop in and help me with this project. I started thinking about what kind of help I would want (a vinyl pressing, tight videos that [would] come out promptly, etc.) I realized I could basically do all of that on my own and that I’d be better off for it. I decided to let all hopes of getting any major help for this project (or with any project) blow away and just figure out how to get exactly what I [wanted] on my own.
III. How does MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN differ from your previous albums–either because of how it may have been written, recorded, etc. or even how the final product ended up turning out?
This is my first self-produced sample-based album. I was the main producer on some of my past albums, (Bed of Seeds, ROCK AND ROLL, Talk Singer), but those were based around me playing live instruments and reverse-engineering it into beats. It’s taken a long time for me to come into my own as a sample-based beat-maker. Since I started making stuff in the 90’s, I’ve been surrounded by hyper-talented beat-makers. (Mickey Free, Shields, Jones.) I’ve been working toward doing my own thing as a beat-maker forever, but I knew I couldn’t half-step. I’ve spent the last couple years pushing to make beats that would be more right than anything anyone else could provide.
IV. What is the significance behind MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN's lead single, "Dead Rider Ride On," which was recently premiered over at Stereogum? It really seems like one Hell of a mission statement/album lead-off track!
When I wrote that, I was thinking about determination and resolve. A lot of my songs tell you to keep going and keep pushing in the face of apathy or hopelessness. That’s because that’s what you have to do, to keep functioning and creating as a small-time working musician. That’s what your life is about, and what you end up thinking about, being in the thick of it.
V. What can you tell me about the concepts behind the two music videos MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN has recently spawned, "Mind Moves The Mountain" and freshly debuted "Trust No Blues?"
"Mind Moves The Mountain" was directed by Malt Disney. He’s done several videos for a Buffalo rapper named Jack Toft, which is how I came to love his style. We didn’t come up with a plan or anything... my only stipulation was that I didn’t want to act in the video. It was basically just about getting out of the way and letting my man do his thing. "Trust No Blues" is by Justin Barnes. He’s a great friend and frequent collaborator. As we’ve worked on videos over the years, we’ve often talked about how we [could] do music videos that aren’t really "music videos" in the traditional sense. This one feels more like an art installation to me. I think he knocked it out of the park.
VI. Would you care to briefly describe your typical beat-making process for MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN? It really has a great overall feel, which at times, evokes Atmosphere, Johnny Cash, and even French Electro-Dance band Justice!
My strategy is to do a lot of listening. I know beat-makers that can look at a record cover and listen to 10 seconds of the first song and basically, ascertain what kind of samples will be on it and where they are, in a matter of minutes. I think that’s amazing, but I try to take the opposite approach; where I listen to things carefully from beginning to end. It’s good for me, in that I end up getting turned on to a lot of music I wouldn’t really get to soak in, if I was just needle-dropping. Once I find samples and loops that I like, the goal is to try to do something that’s transcendent with them, in some way. I usually find that’s there’s 20 things I could do to flesh out out the beat (adding elements, chopping up the sample in a crazy way, etc.) but there’s one thing I have to do, without which the sample is just a sample and not a real "beat." It’s all about finding out what that one thing is going to be and doing it!
VII. While reading through the Bandcamp-listed liner notes for MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN, I noticed various contributions from Detroit emcee Mister, Mickey Free (from Chappelle's Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Prince sketch?), Jen Tydings, Emily Slaughter, Brandon Lackey, and Eddie Logix. How did all of these talented artists come to get involved in your latest album and what were their assorted contributions?
Mister comes from an excellent Detroit group called Passalacqua. He’s had a banner year as a solo artist, knocking out thorough [collaborations] with people all over the country; from Mega Powers in Detroit to OT Ray Vizza in Little Rock to little old me in Baltimore. He has the lone guest-spot on the album. Brandon Lackey, Eddie Logix, and Mickey Free recorded the vocals. Mickey Free (no relation to Prince's man) mixed the album. He’s been one of my main partners for all my musical endeavors, since we were kids. Emily Slaughter is a good friend, with whom I’ve collaborated on many of my albums. She was part of a great Baltimore Rap group called AK Slaughter. Jen Tydings is a pro-singer/theatre person. She came in and knocked out all the singing parts in one go.
VIII. I recently noticed on your MIND MOVES THE MOUNTAIN Bandcamp page that "VINYL [PRE-ORDERS COME] WITH A DOWNLOAD CODE FOR THE TOP-SECRET STRANGE LOOKS BONUS EP;" would you care to divulge any particular information concerning this mysterious release?
STRANGE LOOKS is a three-song EP I put together as a bonus for anyone that forked over this hard-earned cash to buy the vinyl. I originally intended those three songs to be on the record, but it didn't work out, for timing reasons. The EP features collaborations with two amazing artists... Kate Ferencz and :3lON (Elon.) Kate and I do a medley/mash-up of Chuck Berry covers.
IX. You previously mentioned you and Kate Ferencz did a medley/mash-up of Chuck Berry covers for your STRANGE LOOKS EP, which I'm proud to be premiering here at The Witzard! What initially inspired yourself and Kate to record and effectively mash-up "Let It Rock" & "County Line?" What does it mean to you to have released such a fitting cover (today) in light of Chuck Berry's recent passing?
Thank you for thinking of this. That song was meant as an exclusive bonus for people who pre-ordered the new vinyl, but I feel like it’s only right to make it public now. The thing about the great early Rock "N" Roll is that everything that sets your soul on fire about modern music is all there... the simplicity and the mystery and the insane passion. Everyone that came along since, put their own twist on it, but anyone doing something meaningful with popular music is doing their version of [Chuck Berry's] "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," if you ask me. I think casual music listeners might assume Chuck Berry had a few great songs and that he was just a guy that came up with a certain sound that caught on in a big way—as is sort of suggested in the movie Back to The Future. If you really dig into his history (I recommend the Chess Records Box Set), you’ll hear an inventive musician with a deep catalog of extremely crucial music. As much as his lyrics hammered home the idea of Rock "N" Roll as a new craze, his songs have the ghosts of R&B, Country, Jazz, and Blues in them. It’s really soul-stirring to take it all in and to reflect on how it all came to be.
X. Although I had only started hearing the name rather recently, it appears as though your 2014 album, Versus The Continental MC's was labelled as "Cold Rhymes 004." When and why did you decide to start your own label imprint with Cold Rhymes Records?
I started using that name when I put out my 2012 album, ROCK AND ROLL. Since then, it’s just been a name on the back of my self-released albums. This year, Cold Rhymes [Records] will turn into an actual label that puts out a roster of different acts.
XI. How has your Height Zone World podcast positively affected or inspired your recent albums? Do you have any immediate plans to collaborate with any of the rappers, producers, bands, etc. you've previously interviewed for your podcast?
Every single interview has been an interesting and inspiring experience. Things people say on the podcast stick with me and end up informing my approach to music or to life in general. It’s a great thing that’s come into my life and I try not to take it for granted.
XII. When can we expect to hear some new material from Shark Tank, your Hip-Hop group formed along with Grand Buffet's Lord Grunge and B-Rich? Is there anything planned, currently in-the-works, or nearing release?
Yes! The fourth Shark Tank album will be the next release on Cold Rhymes. Our mission this time was to steer away from the extremely zany/inside joke territory explored on our last album and come with an concise album of straight heat.