By Jesse Fairfax
With Hip-Hop enthusiasts constantly obsessing over not only what constitutes a classic album, but the details that go into making their favorite work, author Brian Coleman has just the cure-all. “Check The Technique Vol. 2” makes his third release delving deep into the background of the culture’s legends and some of their most seminal releases.
Covering everything from 3rd Bass and the origin of the term “gas face” to discovering that Will Smith haphazardly teamed up with DJ Jazzy Jeff after another emcee didn’t show up to rock a party, “Check The Technique Vol. 2” takes a close look at how many legendary moments came to pass. Other revelations from the book include the fact that Ice Cube initially wanted to remain on good terms with NWA after leaving the group, that is until the ever so ruthless Jerry Heller vetoed Dr. Dre working with him.
Fresh off of a successful run promoting his latest literary masterpiece, Brian Coleman took time to speak about his love for the art and the occasionally grueling experience of attempting such ambitious journalism.
WatchLOUD: How did you decide the albums you would cover with each book?
Brian Coleman: They’re all albums that I love. People have asked if I’m trying to make a list of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time, and that’s the farthest thing from what I’m trying to do. These are albums that I personally want to know more about.
Which interview was the most difficult to track down and why was that?
All of these chapters are an adventure just like all of these artists are unique. Rakim was understandably difficult to get, he’s not the most public persona but it was worth waiting for. I talked to Boots Riley from The Coup six or seven times because he was on tour and his phone kept cutting out.
Speaking of The Coup, many of the albums you cover use music as the voice of the community. Where do you think Hip-Hop begun to take a turn away from that?
Once Hip-Hop started to become more global around 1992 or 1993, geography became less important. It was like “He’s from New York” and not “He’s from Brooklyn.” In the early days it was very territorial, it was Straight Outta Compton, not L.A. or California. Things started to lose their local geography and I don’t think that was necessarily good except it made people more money. I look at things as art rather than commerce.
You’ve said this might be your last volume. Why did you decide to possibly end the series?
I’ve covered 66 albums up to this point I don’t like to do the same thing twice and now I’ve done the same thing three times. It’s not necessarily my last book, but it’s my last in this format unless someone has a wheelbarrow full of money and can convince me otherwise. I’ve put a stake in the ground with that I wanted to accomplish and I hope other people will do this deep kind of exploration in their own way with albums they like.
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Whether they were included in the series or not, if you could pick your top 5 Hip-Hop albums what would they be and why?
I generally don’t do lists, there’s so many amazing Hip-Hop albums and it just creates arguments. My number one album is Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back because of how complicated and influential that record was when it came out. But all of the albums in the books have sentimental value to me.
Do you have a favorite year in Hip-Hop that stands out in your mind?
Definitely 1988, as a fan I was in the middle of it and it was a really crucial year regarding what had come before and everything that was coming together. Hip-Hop was dope in 1987 but by 1988 it was full blown no turning back. You can talk about Hip-Hop’s history, but the recorded history is a shorter time window. It hadn’t been on record as long and it took a little while to hit its absolute stride, which was in 1988.
One of the more unique people you spoke with was Kool Keith. He’s an enigma on record, what did you make of your conversations with him?
Keith’s an odd dude, there’s no doubt. He’s not pretending to be strange but he’s definitely not crazy like some people think, he’s very intelligent and he just has a crazy imagination. In interviews he fucks with people because he’s bored, if you have a very serious conversation with him he’ll be very serious along with you. He’s one of my favorite guys to talk to.
What were some of the most interesting facts you discovered that you didn’t know beforehand?
There are constant minor and major revelations. The story of KRS-One and his life in the Criminal Minded chapter is a wild one, he was in a homeless shelter and sleeping in a meat freezer where he had to prop the door open. These are people, they aren’t superhuman, they’re not born rich superstars, the chapters are about the journey that brings them to that. Creating music is very rarely a clean and simple process, these chapters explore what people have to go through to create art. Every artist goes through struggles to get their music out to the world.
What would you say was the last album to meet your personal definition of what a classic album is?
There’s albums you love and albums that are classic, usually classics are determined after a certain amount of time. Albums from the past 15 years that make me want to know about their creation are Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Madvillain and Quasimoto, I’m a big Madlib fan.
As a longtime journalist, what has been the highlight of your career?
Just doing these books and having conversations with these artists rather than interviews, that’s the highlight of my career. An interview drags information from people to suit your needs, conversations let you get to know someone’s personality. Having relationships and conversations with people I admire is about as good as it gets. That’s the best thing I can ask for.
What do you want the legacy of the Check The Technique series to be?
People have said they’ve contributed to the history of Hip-Hop. To be a part of a legacy that includes people I admire like Nelson George, Jeff Chang, Dan Charnas and Bill Adler, all I ever wanted to do was figure out a way that I could help add to that.