The other day, Hip Hop actor, writer and commentator Bonz Malone shared this tweet that caught my attention…
“Country after country has enthusiasts that dress, dance, rap, & paint like it’s still 1983. Only in the U.S. is hip-hop misinterpreted.”
I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. After living in Europe for over a decade and then relocating stateside I was surprised by how much more the culture is heralded over there than it is here. Hip Hop heads in Germany, Italy, Poland and France are living the straight up B-Boy lifestyle. The majority of fans here in the U.S., by comparison, are fickle and more focused on the now than the then. That’s not completely a bad thing but if there’s an artist out there that can identify with what I’m talking about it’s probably today’s featured MC, Grand Agent.
This dude has worked and recorded with some of the best that the artform has to offer including Lord Finesse, Pete Rock, Camp Lo, Planet Asia, Hi-Tek, and DJ Revolution. He’s represented the culture as an unofficial ambassador to Germany for two terms – that’s an eternity as rap careers go. I first came across his work on a summer European vacation some years back. At that time, there was a label, Groove Attack that was putting out some of the best Hip Hop available in English or any other language. There was a 2 volume series called Superrappin’ that dropped at about that time and that’s when I first heard Grand Agent. On the strength of that single, I copped his official full length album, By Design. After that, I didn’t hear much from him until this past December. Phoenix played host to a who’s who of Hip Hop artists in its first ever Freshtivus Fest. Grand Agent was one of those artists. Oh yeah, this guy is good!
We caught up with the Philly/L.A./Cologne representing MC and talked about a few of our favorite things. He gave us a recipe that you’re gonna wanna check out (if you’re into eating meat) and shared some insight into what it means to be making music in 2015. Follow for now, and while you do why not stream the project that put this man on the map (HERE)?
Talk about your emergence as an artist.
Groove Attack is a German Headquartered label in Cologne, Germany. How it all got started and how I became involved with them is I went out to L.A. in the late 90’s. I was just bouncing around out there and I met a guy who had a small label at the time. I signed a deal, we did an album called By Design and that album, basically, got transferred to Groove Attack in some kind of deal. So Groove Attack released my first album in 2001. It was kind of in the mix of a really popular indie underground Hip Hop era that was kind of spearheaded by Rawkus and a bunch of other stuff that was going on at that time. It ended up coming out at the tail end of that in 2001. We had a lot of popular producers from that era on that – Kut Masta Kurt, Lord Finesse, Hi-Tek and features from Planet Asia and AG. So it was perfect for that indie Hip Hop market at that time. And much of what happened after that, probably 8 or 9 albums, has been riding on that. Because right after that a lot of stuff happened like Napster and CD’s stopped selling and the internet started to take over. So I kinda got in under the wire to even be able to sell 20 or 30,000 CD’s. And then after that it was like going where the love was so I ended up moving to Germany just to capitalize on the label being there. I toured around for a couple years there. That’s how I kinda came out.
Talk about your experiences in terms of food and music while living Overseas?
Germany has a lot of stereotypical notions circulating about it. Particularly here in the United States because of their role in World War whatever. But actually, the food in Germany is quite good. Everybody knows their specialty is beer and sausage and stuff like that. All of that is great, if you’re a meat eater – which I am at times, but sometimes not. The beer is great because every region and sometimes every city has their own kind of beer and as you move around you can see and have a lot of different experiences with that. Where I stayed there, in Cologne, the beer is called Kölsch – which basically means “from Cologne”, is a very good beer.
Germany also has very good pastries and sweets for people that are into that. Great bread. German potato pancakes called Reibekuchen – the last part means cake, I don’t know what the first part means. And you know, just in general, in Europe, food is a lot less processed. A lot gentler, a lot fresher and just a better quality than what you can typically get in America. I mean, without going out of your way.
And I had a lot of great meals in Austria, in Prague, in Italy…obviously a lot of great food in Italy. Fresh cannoli, ice cream sandwiches, the coffees – I would think that Italy would have the best coffee but actually, I found the best coffee in Spain. It was unbelievable!
I went to Scandanavia a few times and you can imagine what the pasteries were like there. And the cheese. And The Netherlands with gouda…a lotta good food in Europe.
You talked about being a meat eater “at times.” Where are you at right now in terms of food and diet? Are you a vegetarian now?
I’ve been eating meat again for the past 90 days. I’ve had periods where I was a vegan, periods where I was a raw vegan, vegetarian…I guess I decided and accepted a few years ago that I don’t really need a category. Sometimes I feel like I’m joining a club if I put a label on myself. I just found that sometimes just for health reasons and how I feel, I don’t want to eat meat. And sometimes I get bored trying to find ways around eating meat. I think if I was raised a vegetarian and never had the taste of meat, it might be a different story. I think because I grew up with it, I enjoy it sometimes. And I sometimes get bored with the vegetarian lifestyle. Sometimes I feel that the meat substitutes, soy stuff – some of that stuff is so processed and so hard to digest that it doesn’t feel healthy. That’s where I’m at. I am planning to go off meat again for awhile. I know there’s worse things in life so I don’t beat myself up about it.
Are you in tune to the quality of foods, looking out for non-GMO and that sort of thing?
With the vegetables and stuff I don’t go out of my way to avoid GMO’s because I feel that most of the issues with vegetables is gonna be in the soil and there’s nowhere that the soil isn’t affected. I kinda don’t trip about that. It’s a vegetable, it’s a fruit, maybe there’s some stuff sprayed on it – I’m sure there probably is, I don’t know. I don’t get in my head about that but other stuff like snacks, I try and stay away from that. And I am a snack eater, a cookie monster. But if I’m going to eat cookies I try to get them from a bakery where there’s three ingredients as opposed to ten or eleven. I just try to keep it simple. That’s how I try to keep it healthy.
Let’s switch it up and talk a bit about the television work you’re getting into.
The project that I’m most committed to heavily right now is called One Last Shot. You can call it a reality show but I prefer the term “unscripted” – there’s some elements of hosting in it. It started as a way to promote myself a little bit better than I felt I had been promoted. It started a few years ago as just a little idea and then we shopped it around and got some feedback. I have a full episode but now I need to decide if I want to keep shopping it around or break it up into little webisodes and start promoting myself. But I’m also involved in a project right now with some partners in Philadelphia and New York – actually forming a network, a cable channel. I really want it as a platform to promote myself. It could give me another way to tell stories, basically. That’s the furthest along I’ve gotten into TV. Slowly but surely. But I’m definitely looking to use – not just TV – there’s streaming and all these other ways and I’m looking to get into visual storytelling.
What’s it like being an artist in 2015?
Where I’m at, personally, it’s gotten exciting again. I’m working on a record now that should be out in the spring of this year. I definitely feel that, not only Hip Hop, but music as a commodity is not its own stand alone product anymore. I mean, in terms of really generating income. You gotta have a commercial or a TV show or be out on the road performing. Or you gotta have some stupid amount of clicks on YouTube to get ads to start generating any kind of real income. It’s forcing us to be creative again. I know for me, it forced me to stop having any kind of judgement or opinion on what happened to Hip Hop. It’s like what can I do for myself to keep it interesting and keep having fun with it? That’s another way the TV stuff plays into it. I also wrote a musical called “The Ghetto Ain’t a Place.” It’s about Hip Hop’s coming of age and my own coming of age and it really speaks to that. Taking the storytelling into other media like the theater, TV, movie theater, all of that. It’s the same principle. Trying to tell a story in a different way but the same way I would do on a record. Other venues. That’s what it’s like for me. The challenge of not being able to make a CD for three dollars and sell it for nine. Not being able to do that on a large scale makes me think how can I use this to be of service and not in just a self-centered way. Because I think that’s what happened. I think we got spoiled – the music industry as a whole was getting away with murder for so long. And I think, now, everyone has to me more service oriented and not so self-seeking with it.
What are your favorite cities for food and what artists from those cities should we be listening to?
Well, I’ll start with Philadelphia cuz that’s my home. Cheese steaks in Philly and that could be a number of places. Sometimes the most popular places aren’t the best, sometimes it’s just about the best-kept-secrets-in-the-neighborhood type spots. As far as artists, there’s this young guy I used to work with some years ago and his name is Blizzy Trill. Very nasty young kid. He’s probably early twenties now. But since he was 16 he’s been showing a lot of promise. He’s had some notoriety around the city and I think if he keeps that he will definitely make his mark. He has a really well done – I’ll call it an album but I guess they call it a mixtape – but it’s called Blizzianity.
And L.A., my other home. There’s a crazy vegan spot on Sunset Blvd. called Flore Vegan. As far as artists from L.A., I don’t know if this group is still together but it’s these two girls called Gang Gang Sara. They’re these two hardcore white chicks, unbelievable.
A few albums back, Nas had this this ode to Fried Chicken. If you were going to make a food related song, what food would it be for?
(laughs) How about vegetable lasagne.
Do you have a vegetable lasagne recipe that you wanna share with us?
I used to do vegetable lasagne a lot and use carrots, broccoli, 3-4 other vegetables. Season’em, stir fry’em. Put some sauce in there and then just bake it with the noodles, mozzarella and all of that. Pretty standard but then just substituting the meat with the stir fried vegetables. But let me give you this recipe – it’s not mine – it’s something that I really enjoy.
1 gallon peanut oil
1 cup turkey chili
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pale ale
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
1 minced jalapeno pepper
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsps sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
8 Andouille sausages
8 wooden skewers or single copsticks
1 candy thermometer
Fill a large heave-bottomed pot halfway with oil (about 3 inches) and heat to 375 F.
In a blender or food processor, puree the chili with half cup water. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the buttermilk, beer, sugar (if using) and jalapeno. Stir to combine.
In another medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and chili powder.
Add the chili mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just enough to bring the batter together. There should be lumps. Set aside for 10 min.
Pierce each sausage with a skewer or chopstick, set aside.
Pour the cornstarch in the pie plate or casserole dish. Roll each skewered sausage in cornstarch, tapping it lightly to remove the excess. Set the coated sausages on a wire rack, set over newspaper or paper towel.
Is there anything you can share with us that you’re currently drawing inspiration from?
There are several books. The one that I have on deck right now is called Money Is My Friend. Spirituality for me is being in relationship with my God in such a way that I can view everything as moving toward my highest good. Whether it’s uncomfortable or even outwardly appears what people would could a disaster or tragedy or whatever. I’m just really trying to train myself to see the good in everyting. The more I do that the less and less I tend to see travesty or however you want to phrase it. Every morning I pray, I meditate, I read my goals. I have goals for every area of life – financial, spiritual, emotional, physical, mental and I just review them every morning. I have a good road map for the year and following it is a spiritual practice for me. I do a lot of writing and self-examination type of stuff and I have a good network of exceptional people that mentor me. Financial advice and spiritual guidance. Just to be fulfilled. Even two to three months ago I wasn’t as centered in my purpose as I am now. Somehow I had lost track and started believing the hype that you have to work hard and – yeah, I do have to work but for purpose. Purpose makes all those things come about more smoothly. Purpose. That’s my inspiration.
Make sure to head over to grandagent.net and get yourself acquainted with what this man has created and what he’s got in the works. You can stream most of his catalogue and check out any videos that he’s put out while you’re there. I can’t help but root for this guy and hope that he blows up on the same scale stateside that he did while he was living in Germany. Until then, the best help I can be is to share his music, his story and his recipe. Stay tuned and follow us on our other social media as I’ll be keeping you up to speed with what he’s got on the horizon. You can also just follow him directly on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You know I’ve always got you with that good music. Keep listening!