Tim "ALASKA" Baker (@alaska_ATOMS) and Lang Vo (@langkimvo) are two aging "Rap Dads," I believe, I met on Twitter about a year or so ago. Both Lang & Tim had note-worthy Hip-Hop careers during the late 1990's to early 2000's and then, took periods of self-imposed sabbaticals to get married, have kids, and do other things Rap Dads do. Now, ALASKA & Lang Vo are back in full-force and collaborating as WORDS HURT. Lang met Tim around 2014-15 when the Def Jux vet enlisted the former's skills behind the boards to properly mix his then-latest project, OutKast-remixing ALKAST. ALASKA also had a verse on "Impulse Control" alongside emcee Elsphinx from Lang Vo...Is Just An A**hole. Not long after, Lang hi-jacked Tim's acapellas to make his own remix collection entitled ALKAST:REMIXES, which would soon become the first official WORDS HURT release. What we have here, is the third part in a 3-pronged initiative—a collaboration between The Witzard & WORDS HURT—coinciding with the release of ALASKA & Lang Vo's latest collaborative album, SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS. Part I was The Witzard Premier of WORDS HURT's first single, "World's Worst Life Coach," as well as the SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS album announcement; Part II was The Witzard Premier of "OFF INTO THE DISTANCE" from the SOUL MUSIC album sessions with Lang Vo's Beat-maker Bedrock; and now, Part III is an exclusive, all-encompassing interview with both ALASKA & Lang Vo. SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS is now available to stream or download on WORDS HURT's Bandcamp page.
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Music Writer with "Dad Jokes"
I. You guys first "met" after Lang mixed ALASKA's ALKAST project and soon after, remixed it as ALKAST:REMIXES, correct? But what initially made you decide to run with this whole 90's Hip-Hop-evoking WORDS HURT aesthetic?
ALASKA: Honestly, it wasn’t really something I ever thought about: what it sounds like or any era, really. I think it probably comes across that way because those were formative years for both of us. We are Hella old. It is also when we came up; at least, for me. So, there is something ingrained in the approach, I think. We didn’t intend to make an album that sounds like it’s from a certain era. I don’t know if I see the 1990's in it. It mostly just sounds like what is going on in my head.
Lang Kim Vo: I think we used to talk [through] Twitter for a few years, before that happened, share music, and stuff back-and-forth, while [we] were working. Stuff like that. He even Blocked me, at one point haha. I saw Hangar 18 a few times when they came [through] the Ohio area back in the day, but we never met face-to-face. I don't really feel like we made a 90's-type of album. It definitely has that Boom-Bap, but really we just wanted to make an album that jammed hard and was fun to listen to with subs in your car.
II. How has WORDS HURT's overall sound and aesthetic changed and progressed between 2016's F**k That Pretty Boy Sh*t and SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS?
ALASKA: More than anything, we are more comfortable in who we are and how we create. The first two projects, were us figuring out who we were and what our sound is. Towards the end of F**k That Pretty Boy Sh*t, I think we started to find that groove and fall into who we are as a group. With SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS, there is a lot less [filler] and it is a more raw form of what we do. There isn’t any fear or hesitation left, it is un-distilled us.
Lang: I think, this time around, we were mostly dealing with fresh-ish material, on both ends. We actually made a whole EP and were going to release it for fun, but scrapped it and started over and made SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS. We are still going to release that EP for free soon. On my part, I tried not to go over board with sounds. Didn't make too many switch-ups and didn't make any interludes. I wanted it to have that vibe from like the late 80's, where it was just the producer and the rapper and that was it. And it all still banged and had a message.
III. What are WORDS HURT's typical writing, producing, recording, mixing, mastering, etc. processes like? You two have never actually met on real life, correct?
ALASKA: That’s correct. We have never met in-person. Lang is in Texas and I am in New York and we both have families. So, time is a commodity. My wife’s job takes her to Austin a few times a year, so I may piggy-back on her trip one time and go hang out with Lang and convince him to try beer. As for our process, we take the long way around. I usually grab other artists instrumentals I am enjoying [and] write to them. This time around, there was a lot of slow beats; I was feeling stuff like 2 Chainz's "4 AM" and Rick Ross' "[Santorini] Greece." I loved the mood and space to let the lines hover. So, I record everything over the other instrumentals then send them all to Lang and catch up on TV. Then, Lang makes original beats based off whatever feeling the words give him. He sends those back to me and I re-record my vocals to make them fit his idea. Then, I start cutting out verses and songs that don’t work or don’t serve the song/album. Lang mixes and masters. Then, we give it to the world.
Lang: No, not officially haha. Sometimes, I watch him sleep from outside his window, but that's just because I heart him so much. Our "typical" is like no other. Especially, for Rap music. He writes and records demos over other music he is feeling. Then, I take that demo and make a beat skeleton over what I feel over his words and then, he takes that and re-records to match the energy of the energy I was feeling for the energy he was feeling from the vibe he got from the beat he wrote to haha.
IV. How did you initially come up with the title "SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS" and what exactly is it meant to evoke to the common listener and Hip-Hop fan?
ALASKA: A lot of what I write addresses the hypocrisy of us Americans. Especially, us self-proclaimed Lefty Progressive types. So, F**k That Pretty Boy Sh*t was all about consumer culture and how people directly place individual value on the things they consume. I find it disgusting. You can’t have conversations with people without it turning into where they are eating these days; or what f**king podcast to listen to or which TV show they consumer; which over-priced designer they buy. There is nothing interesting there. It is all value on material. With SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS, I have been rather disgusted by our smug know-it-all patronizing discourse. The virtue signally... the showing our a** for some Likes or Retweets... the know-it-all nature of who we have become as a society. We have no soul. So, I felt that this was really my attempt to pour out my soul and frustrations for these soulless pricks. I guess, my hope is that the few people that hear this album might, at least, take a moment to think about how they interact with the world and whether or not they are actually making things better or showing out. That was what I have been wrestling with throughout the process. Most times, these songs are me wrestling with the behavior I exhibit that disgusts me in others. In a way, it is my therapy.
Lang: I let Tim name everything haha. Also, I don't think he writes for Hip-Hop fans or the common listener. I don't think anything is themed for music, in general. It's mostly about living life and all the sh*t that comes with it.
V. Now, I know you two aren't exactly new to The Rap Game, but where do you draw your greatest sources of inspiration and influence from these days?
ALASKA: I mostly find it in the world around us. There is so much sh*t going on and so much stimulus that there is an endless trove of ideas and content to pull from. I don’t listen to music the same way I used to. Now, I tend to listen more as background, while my brain is going 100 miles a minute. I appreciate dope sh*t, but I guess, I'm at an age where I don't really need it anymore. There are other things that fill the space that was once dedicated to music. Now, I mostly listen to hear what people are doing and the kinds of techniques they use and the directions that things are going in. I try to draw influence from that, on the musical front.
Lang: When I'm working on a Rap album, I generally don't listen to any Rap music. When I get down to mixing and mastering, I can't listen to ANY music because that process kind of burns you out hardcore. I think now that we are older, we don't draw from much other, than the era that shaped us and the ability to not care anymore. Plus, Tim [ALASKA] is open and honest, when things are or aren't working. So, the influence these days is just us being old fat dads that need a place to vent.
VI. Unlike your previous collaborative releases, why did you fellas decide to go with absolutely NO guest features for SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS?
ALASKA: I think, it goes back to the earlier answer; we know who and what we are now. Honestly, I don’t see WORDS HURT ever having another guest appearance. I think of this in some way, as a sacred space. I think it is my most personal form of musical expression and that being the case, I don’t want it to have other voices. Plus, Eric B. & Rakim never had any guests. I’m not putting us on any level close to them, but I like being aspirational about WORDS HURT haha.
Lang: My favorite albums are just one producer and the singer or rapper or group or whatever. It makes for a nice, focused sound. No one really knows how to make an album, these days. No one has the confidence to just co-sign themselves.
VII. Can you please talk a bit about "OFF INTO THE DISTANCE" (recently premiered at The Witzard) which isn't appearing on SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS, but does stem from the same sessions? Thanks again for letting us run the premier!
ALASKA: We recorded about 13 songs, I think. "OFF INTO THE DISTANCE" was one of the three that didn’t make the cut. For a while, it was one of my favorites, but it just didn’t fit anywhere. We ended up with a few other songs that had a similar vibe and it was muddying up the waters. So, we had to pull it. It’s one of our rules: if it doesn’t serve the album, it has to go. Doesn’t matter how good it is. That’s what happened with "Florescent Lights" [AKA "This Is Where I Leave You"] with Hemlock Ernst on F**k That Pretty Boy Sh*t. It’s a great song. It just didn’t have a home anywhere on the album.
Lang: I think that song is one of the first songs I started on. And by the time the album started taking shape and I made "Godhead," "OFF INTO THE DISTANCE" just didn't have the same vibe, but we still liked the song a lot... but you know... when something has to go, it has to go.
VIII. Aside from the previously-released singles, what else do you guys have planned for the album's roll-out (later this month?) Any current plans to meet up in real life to film a proper WORDS HURT music video or anyone of that nature?
[EDITOR'S NOTE: WORDS HURT surprise-released SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS Saturday 11/16 ahead of its planned Tuesday 11/28 wide release.]
ALASKA: We are going to drop one more song. We are still figuring out which one it is. From there, we will just put it out and be done with it. Lang and I have this same thing and I think it’s common with a lot of artists: once it’s released to the world, we probably won’t listen again for a good year and then, revisit it from time to time. No point dwelling on the past, right?
Lang: We have been talking about how to make a video for a few years. We are just 2,800 miles apart hahaha. One day, we will meet up and eat and stuff our fat faces with food. We want to get T-shirts and tapes going soon. And then, the album we be hitting all digital platforms in December.
IX. What's the current status of your long-awaited solo "debut," He's The PJ, I'm ALASKA produced by PJ Katz? It's coming out on Pig Food Records sometime next year, right?
ALASKA: That’s the plan. We hope to drop it this Spring. It is an album I wrote back in 2011 and recorded in 2012. I’ve been dying for it to come out. We finally get to unleash it on the world. PJ did a phenomenal job with the beats and this one has guest appearances galore: Elsphinx, GGDT [Giant Gorilla Dog Thing], Gorilla Tao, Moses Rockwell, and ATOMS.
X. Do you have any current arrangements to record new music with you fellow Atoms Family members? I know you briefly reunited with Cryptic-One & Windnbreeze as ATOMS for SANDS & Demo'd in 2014 leading up to 2015 documentary, Adult Rappers; plus, you Cryptic are currently wrapping up your on-going IT 2017 Singles series.
ALASKA: Outside of the IT songs, no real plans. Windnbreeze and I have been discussing working on some songs, but we tend to have those discussions and then, life gets in the way. I found with working with ATOMS it really is best, if it happens organically. Otherwise, it just ends up with everyone pissed off.
XI. What are you currently working on to be released post-SOUL MUSIC FOR THE SOULLESS, Lang? I know you've previously mentioned a second REINFORCED STEEL album with Kwamizzle, as well as a new solo album.
Lang: I just talked to Kwamizzle about [REINFORCED STEEL II] last night. We will be starting that this month. We already have maybe three songs started. My solo thing will be, whatever music and art friends I have that will sing or rap on my music hahaha. It's not fully-formed yet in my head. Everybody is willing to help an old friend out.
XII. Would you care to briefly talk about your relationship with Atlanta emcee Alim Wade? I remember you saying he hooked you up with one-time Das Racist emcee Kool A.D. & Mr. Muthaf***in" eXquire, which led to "RAIDERS FREESTYLE" being placed on 2016's PARADIZA INFINITI. Damn, man!
Lang: He was another Twitter buddy I had. Super-nice guy. We somewhat of a falling out, but we have made up I think haha. But he knew El-P and did a mixtape thing on El-P beats I really liked and told him one day, he and I could make a really cool album together. We never did, but it would have been great hahaha. Maybe one day. Alim is friends with Victor [Kool A.D.] and talked to all these rappers and he always would tell everyone to check my beats all the time. So, they circulated around for a few years and found a home with Tim [ALASKA] haha. I think KOOL & KASS have a bunch of my stuff that may one day pop up.