BoomBaptist - Interview - 4-29-20Written by Chi Chi Thalken on May 12, 2020
BoomBaptist has been a mainstay in the Austin hip hop scene for over a decade, putting on shows with groups like Applied Pressure, producing for groups like Keeper, and most recently working with Yadira Brown of Keeper as a duo under the name The Vapor Caves. Most recently, he dropped his first solo project in nine years, Boom Shakalaka, an NBA Jam-themed instrumental album. He recently took the time to talk to us about the journey to making this album, the idea behind it, creating an promoting during quarantine, and so much more.
Photo by Angela Betancourt
Scratched Vinyl: You just dropped the new album, Boom Shakalaka, but let’s take things back for a minute. How did you first get into hip hop and making beats?
BoomBaptist: Oh my gosh. My mother was a concert pianist. She played incredible classical recitals and as long as I can remember, she played the piano. She kind of put me on that path, and I started learning pretty early, but I derailed from that because I was growing up in Miami, and a lot of 808s and bass music was making it’s way to Miami. Obviously, Freak Nasty and 2 Live Crew and Ghost Town DJs, all that was making its way. Miami bass. And I grew very interested in the method of making those tracks. Naturally, none of that stuff was extremely lyrical, it was a very specific thing. Shortly after that, someone introduced me to Wu Tang Clan, 36 Chambers came out, which was such a 180 from the Miami bass stuff that I was into. This really rough production and obviously the entire concept of Wu Tang – their philosophy and everything was really intriguing to me. You know, I went to Sam Goody, I picked up 36 Chambers, and I studied it. At the time, I think I was more into rapping. I’ve had a history as a rap artist, under a different alias. I used to go by Thesaurus Rex. I guess I’ll fast forward to that. In high school, I met a group of rappers, and we put together a sort of super group of rappers living in New Mexico. This was 2001, when we made our first rap album. That was when I first got on record, before all this. And when I moved on from that group, I learned production – that took off. But basically my beginning with hip hop was Wu Tang and being in Miami, a lot of the East Coast stuff was making its way down to Florida. So Premier, Gangstarr, Tribe, all that really shaped me before I became an artist.
SV: What took you from Miami to New Mexico?
BoomBaptist: That’s a complicated story. Primarily for health reasons. My mother, she slept in some bedsheets that had been laid out on the lawn, in the back yard. That same lawn had been sprayed by pest control, with pesticides. So she had this crazy adverse reaction to it, and essentially her recovery had to be – she had to clean up her life a lot, you know? She became really sensitive to fragrances and perfumes, all that pollution. And we were in Miami Beach, in the thick of it, so we had to move out of there to New Mexico, which Raleigh-Durham and Santa Fe statistically – I don’t know if it still is any more – had the cleanest air. So we moved there and totally changed our lifestyle. They were in the shrimp industry – both my parents – they ran a seafood company, lived in the city, and were super busy. They kind of had to 180 their life for my mother to recover. So that’s why we left Florida. But I remained – I would say our move to New Mexico was my push to become more artistic. I went to an alternative school called Waldorf School. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. There’s a lot of positives and negatives about that kind of education. I’d say that real world preparation is a little lacking, because that school is very artistic, but I started learning jazz there. They immediately recommended going into a jazz program or any kind of musical or orchestral program. So that’s where I started playing jazz. And from there, the love for music grew and grew and grew. And here we are today.
SV: And then finally, what takes you from New Mexico to Austin?
BoomBaptist: So couple stops before then. I went to New Mexico, then I went to school in Boulder, Colorado at CU, which is where I started the Thesaurus Rex project. And that was kind of like battle rap-style stuff. I worked with some good producers, M-Phazes and !llmind, and all that. And I did that for four years, and then my dear friend who I started the original hip hop group with in Santa Fe said, “Hey, I hear the scene in Austin is wide open and growing, and there are a lot of possibilities and it’s cheap to live there.” Kind of what everybody’s heard in their own industries. “It’s inexpensive and we can go and fuck it up!” I kind of feel like as a musician there’s a bit more of a positive contribution, but it depends on how you look at the whole thing. But yeah, I visited over the summer, stayed with a dear friend, and went to lay under the trees at Barton Springs and feel asleep, and was like, “Wow! Is this the lifestyle here?” And he was like, “Yeah, this is it.” And at the time, that was really intriguing. And now that I’ve been here about thirteen or fourteen years, I both love that and hate that about it. Like it’s such a laidback, cool vibe, but sometimes it’s hard to find mutual motivation or the sort of grind and grit of the city. I claim and love Austin, but I feel like there’s moments where the calmness of it, or the philosophy of being so laidback - the Matthew McConaughey about everything – I just can’t. In my mind, I’m making music outside of Austin, but I’m representing it.
SV: You do get involved in the Austin scene and help build that up – playing your own shows, and with Applied Pressure. How did Applied Pressure come together, can you explain what that was?
BoomBaptist: Yeah, man, of course! It’s a Cinderella story! I moved here and like I said, I was still a rapper. I met DJ Notion, who’s been doing great things for the underground hip hop scene in Austin forever. And you know, we were doing a bunch of rap shows, he introduced me to other promoters…he started a night called Beat Marauders. And it happened in this tiny little club, it was on West 5th…I can’t remember what it was called. It was so small. I met a lot of the homies that I would become peers with and learn from. This was 2008. I met them at that night, which happened…I feel like it was every Tuesday. Lo-Phi, who became an (iN)Sect Records artist, did a bunch of great stuff…I’m trying to remember them all. There were a lot of really great producers. Obviously Kydd and Harris of LNS Crew. And you know, we started working together a lot, all of us. There was a really good early energy and momentum – we were all inspired by each other. So from that – I stopped rapping and focused on beats, because the first beat tape I put out was the product of me sending it out to rappers. I was sending it out to respected rappers, and one of them from New York – Freddie Foxxx, he goes by Bumpy Knuckles, Gang Starr Foundation – he was like, “These are dope, I’d love to work with you, but you can put out an album. These 26 tracks, they’re sequenced like they’re made for an instrumental album, not necessarily like just for rappers.” And I hadn’t really thought that way. I just thought I was making beats for myself and rappers. At the same time, I was discovering Flying Lotus and Samiyam, and all these producers who worked outside of the brainwork of having a vocalist on their shit. I just had never thought that was an option. Of course it is…but I just hadn’t thought of hip hop instrumentals as standing alone. And so that was a real eye-opening thing, and shortly after that I got to meet Butcher Bear and Andrew P. Brown, who formed Exploded Drawing. But they were booking those acts really early, they were having them over at Club Deville. Baths, a lot of dudes that were at the forefront of that L.A. beat scene. So yeah, Exploded Drawing and Applied Pressure were a definitely a product of early hip hop and instrumental stuff – I had been to Plush so many times and seen Kid Slyce and all these guys, and I befriended them. They knew that I was doing instrumental stuff, and I actually got Kid Slyce to deejay for me a few times when I was rapping. We just had a good flow together. And that crew was all about trying new alternative shit and getting eyes on new acts. So yeah, Applied Pressure started in Plush, and we outgrew that club really fast. Then we went into the bass cave that was Barcelona. That was a lot to handle, sonically. It’s a really extreme setup, to put that much bass into such a small, tunnel-like space. That’s what proceeds that club – dubstep. Those systems - they were working them very hard. Then we started booking acts like Ras G and bass-heavy beat acts, and it was just a whirlwind. And at the same time Exploded Drawing is doing their thing – it was just a great time for beats and electronic acts in Texas. One hand was washing the other. I think of it very fondly.
SV: I met you, I believe in 2013. When I met you, you mentioned that you were working on your debut album.
BoomBaptist: Oh! Pull out the cuts, my friend!
SV: Ha ha, I just want to set the stage. You we’re talking about it then, but life happens.
BoomBaptist: For sure. I have no shame talking about this now, because I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. I’ll tell you what’s going on. So, there are multiple sides of the brain, right? Not just one. Not just the creative, not just the business. The promotion thing was a huge focus, of course. Focusing on creating events, on running a company, all that, it definitely takes attention. And like I said before, one hand washes the other, so you can be creative and still do events. This is a big roundabout answer, because I’ve had this realization in the last few days. You know, you put goals and tasks in front of you, you put distractions in front of you, based on where you are at in your life. Like when you’re riding a creative wave, when you’re writing a lot, you feel motivated to cover something, it’s going to come intuitively. And if life isn’t inspiring you, or you feel like you need a new business venture, you need a distraction from whatever you thought your calling is, you’re going to put that in front of you. And I always – in no spirit are we the same, but Dr. Dre, he was talking about Detox. “You’re going to hear Detox. It’s the follow-up to Chronic 2001.” And that came out in . And we we’re talking about that Detox album until he released that Compton album in . And what happened in between that time? Dr. Dre became a billionaire! I’m not saying that’s what happened with me, but you know, he started a streaming company, he started a headphone company, he did a documentary, and you know, he was doing spot production for other people. But he didn’t put out a solo record in that whole time. And for me, what happened is we did the promotion thing, I met Keeper, and I had a great thing going with Keeper – we performed a lot. And BoomBaptist – I was performing a lot around Austin.
SV: Yeah, every time I was in town, it felt like you were playing a show.
BoomBaptist: Yeah! And that puts food on that table. And people think that you’re producing and performing and producing and performing – it’s hard, because when you’re promoting stuff, it takes the love out of creating. You know? The last two weeks, I’ve been having a good time and promoting the whole thing, but the joy of making an album is sealing yourself off from reality and creating this little capsule to make it. And you pull yourself out of it with the business. That’s why labels exist, that’s why PR firms exist, because you start to lose the love and the motivation and what got you into in the first place. I think that happened to me. I explained this whole thing with the arcade, and I know we’ll get there, but I started this arcade at my favorite club in Austin, or one of them, and I totally forgot I was an artist. I forgot that the whole reason that I got into this was because of the music. Of course, like I said, I was doing spot production. I did some compilations between – my last release was in 2011, it was The Creamixes. It wasn’t a full album, it was just remixes. After that, all it’s been is compilations or spot features with Keeper, and definitely my most complete thing was The Vapor Caves, which I put my foot into with Yadira in 2015. So it’s not like there have been no projects, I just turned off the BoomBaptist promo machine. The hard drive is full of stuff, I’m always inspired. I have a well of things I’m going to release in the next few years.
SV: That brings us to the current project. When did the switch flip and you figured out what Boom Shakalaka was going to be? And when did you start working on it for real?
BoomBaptist: There’s an honest and then there’s the promotional answer. Like I said, the arcade became a thing, and the back story – I’ll keep it as short as possible, but I wrote a super long piece on it. Essentially, when I was a kid, there were video mixes – NBA video mixes that were highlights. Early ‘90s is when I really fell in love with basketball. And so NBA Jam Sessions were these mixes that existed, and they would cut NBA highlights to hip hop. And this was the first hip hop and R&B that I was hearing. NBA and hip hop were so intertwined.
SV: Just for any kids that are reading this, you’re talking about physical VHS tapes?
BoomBaptist: These are VHS, and they’re promotional. A lot of them would come with shoes, or if you bought a certain brand of basketball. The VHS would come with it. And typically, it was an NBA-produced…from within the NBA organization, they created these video mixes. And NBA Jam Sessions came out with All-Star Weekend, to recap the first half of the year, to get people excited for the All-Star Weekend, which has always been a favorite sporting event of mine. And so I got this NBA Jam Session, and it’s my first time hearing these tracks. Hearing – at the time it was Bell Biv DeVoe, Wreckx-n-Effect, and like really early stuff. But, it blew my mind, and the way they cut the video blew my mind. It was very musical, and all the edits were on beat. I just loved it. But NBA Jam didn’t actually exist. The NBA Jam Sessions was something that predicated NBA Jam. So when NBA Jam got the license from the NBA, they shared that name. And so the “Boom Shakalaka” thing is a product of the announcer on NBA Jam – same theme – sort of borrowing from an older group, from the ‘70s, Sly and the Family Stone, “I Want to Take You Higher.” They say, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka.” And his musical supervisor was like, “Hey, why don’t you try this thing that Sly and the Family Stone did?” And he did, and it stuck, and the reason that it did was because of the impact of the “Boom,” of the dunk, and the rattle of the rim – “Shakalaka.” So it’s an onomatopoeia of the sound of a dunk. So yeah, on a base level, that’s the back story on the name.
But how it became real to me, is that I started producing at Dub Academy. Learning, teaching at Dub Academy, which is a production and deejay school in Austin. I started there around maybe 2013. And so much opened up for me at that point. This synthesizer instructor taught me so much Ableton production that really elevated how I create music. Then Lorenzo, who’s the head of Dub Academy, who’s become a best friend of mine, he introduced me to Keeper, and Yadira was a part of Keeper, and our working relationship just grew and grew. But Lorenzo and I, in our off time, we’d go and play NBA Jam. We had both grown up playing it, we got the fever again, and we went and found ourselves the actual machine. And it became such a big part of everything. We would host these events and all sorts of Austin musicians and gamers and everybody would show up in jerseys. It was a scene…we did probably two a year, one being on All-Star Weekend, of course. And one of them being closer to the NBA Finals. I loved doing that so much, and…it’s so crazy to explain to people what the last seven years of my life have been. Of course I’ve been producing, but I’ve also been an arcade tycoon. I straight up started three small arcades, paid my bills, then I started a photo booth company, where I’d drop these different photo booths in bars…and it was all predicated on NBA Jam. We found this machine, and then it moved and moved and moved until it finally found a home, then that became a little subculture, and it then became kind of my living, until it couldn’t be any more. Empire had to grow, and deal with capacity issues and create seating, so the arcade ceased to exist in 2017, I want to say. 2018? I sold all the machines, and then immediately, when I sold the machines, it was like my focus just shifted back to music. It was bittersweet. You know what I mean? It’s like I was saying, you put distractions or focuses in front of you when you do or don’t need them, and then when you remove them – it’s the same with bad relationships or bad friendships – you remove them and you just get this laser focus for what has fed you forever. That’s what I felt like happened to me. It’s not like I shouldn’t had been doing the games or focusing on other things, but that’s when it started happening. That’s when Vapor Caves really took off, and I kind of figured out a lot about marketing and how to present a unified front without PR or having to spend money, because…it’s tough! The margins are not much as a musician, and you just have to get more and more creative. With The Vapor Caves, the physical product kind of became our baby. Our performance and the physical product, that got us through. And I’m kind of seeing that now, with BoomBaptist. With Boom Shakalaka, the vinyl and cassette have gotten me through this God damn shelter-in-place. I don’t have income separate of the physical product. With digital, it’s just so little. It’s been a blessing.
With Boom Shakalaka, Butcher Bear, who’s been a best friend forever, he would come over, when we could see each other face to face. Before March. He would come over years ago, and just be like, “Play me your hard drive. Play me your new shit.” He was just so encouraging. And I tell this to every new producer that I chat with online – if you can get one person to encourage you to keep creating, or that you’re doing the right thing, it really speaks volumes. I’ve been doing this forever, and I’ve had some success, but you get in your own head. Even at this point. You get in your own head that eight years later, whether or not it’s worth it to release anything. Any reason or meaning to do anything. That one person who can encourage you – whether it’s music or it’s not – is so vital. And that was him, it was Butcher Bear. And he encouraged me to go submit the project to different labels and get feedback and see what it could be. So Boom Shakalaka wasn’t about NBA Jam when I first sent it out. It was way less thought out. When it sort of tied together is when it dawned on me what I had been doing for the last six or seven years, which was sort of figuring out an alternative-but-related living while ignoring my original passion. It’s just such a convoluted thing, but I feel like this is such a therapeutic way of dealing with it. And it’s fun for people, because a lot of people grew up playing it, there have been reiterations of the game all the way up to 2017, and people still play it. Just releasing it, I’m connected to so many random NBA fans, video game fans, sports fans…it’s kind of like the music is the third most important part, which is fine with me, because like I said, you get in your head.
SV: Well, and there has to be something to not only putting out this project after all this time, but for it to be such a fun project. That’s got feel special. Like it’s not some sad, morose hour-long composition.
BoomBaptist: Yeah, you know, man? Even if I had the option to, I don’t think that’s my personality. I do work with people who write serious stuff, and all of that, but most people who know me know I’m usually joking. It’s what I hope to bring to the world. And yeah, the promotional angle, which we can talk about, has sort of been a blast to do, to be honest. It’s both sides. I did the creative side, and now I’m figuring out the creative way to promote it. All this quarantine has led to new skill sets, like learning video and how to apply that.
SV: Speaking of that, the situation we are currently in is unprecedented, and it’s forcing a lot of people to figure things out on the fly. You’re releasing a new album, and now all the traditional tools aren’t there – you can’t go on tour, you can have a release party. What have been some of the things you’ve cooked up in this time?
BoomBaptist: For creatives…without sounding insensitive, it’s such an important time to go all in with what you do. If you’re stuck, if you’re sheltering-in-place, which I hope everybody is…you’re in your studio. And if you’re not inspired by being stuck, you gotta dig deeper. Obviously the timing of this record did not have…there was no plan to release this during quarantine. I think Statik Selektah and Termanology, they came out with something called The Quarantine. And a lot of acts have been really fast to turn around and use it to their advantage. I didn’t do that. This record was done in August and it was submitted to a distribution company, and the whole regular roll out with the vinyl, four months in advance. What did happen is – my promotional plan was centered around the NBA and around video games – when Rudy Golbert came out, or the Utah Jazz, they came out and told everybody that he had it, and he made that joke on the mic and rubbed his hands all over the microphones. The NBA, for lack of a better explanation, was kind of on the forefront of putting everybody on guard. Of course, this had been in front of Trump and everybody in advance, I think as early as January they were having conversations about how to avoid it – but that’s a conversation for someone else to have. But the NBA put it in pop culture. So at the end of February/beginning of March, when he did that press conference, he freaked everybody out, because now you’re seeing a giant, healthy 26-year-old who has this, and you’re taking it seriously. Of course, all the sensitivity in the world to it, and I’m sorry to those who have struggled with it or lost people. But for me, the selfish and personal angle was that I was sad – I didn’t know the implications at the time, and I was sad the NBA was going to cancel the season. I’m trying to figure out how to talk to you about this, because it’s very calculated, but this CNN article came out about the end of the NBA season and this soundtrack that was accompanying it, which was Boom Shakalaka. I had released “Razzle Dazzle,” which was the first single, and it coincided with the end of the NBA season. A lot of people have been saying that this release and the way I’ve been promoting it has been like a love letter, a kind of like broken-hearted love letter to the game, and to the history, and obviously to the end of the NBA season. I don’t necessarily look at that way, but there’s a lot of emotion and love for the game of basketball behind it. So where the promotion led with the pandemic, and of course, as we figured out that we couldn’t perform - this includes Vapor Caves and myself – the livestreaming was obvious, and we’ll probably think of it as overplayed, but it’s the only outlet. To have that exchange. Everybody’s learning it. Not just musicians – every artist is learning it, and you see people on Zoom every day…this is a product of the isolation, and I think that a lot of great things can be created from it. A lot of new skills…I’m seeing a lot of new musicians, and obviously people learning how to stream correctly and well. And what happened for Vapor Caves and myself is that we started getting requests. I’ve heard a lot of deejays who have been getting paid to play a birthday party over Zoom. Or to do live set over Zoom, or what have you. Of course, it’s not the same. You crave loud sounds and crowds, feedback and all that. But we have to evolve and find ways to keep ourselves inspired. We’ve learned a lot by doing it. Figuring out how to engage with fans, and just how to relate to people on the other side of the camera. I think we all have a need to connect during these times. So that’s been a big part of it. Figuring out the streaming. A couple of days ago, I trapped myself inside an arcade – I busted out the screen and put myself behind the screen, and performed pretty much the entirety of Boom Shakalaka, which of course is about the game I was inside of. People just freaked out! They ate it up! And I would have never thought to have done that without being stuck in the house without the ability to perform. There was already a release party planned at a venue, everything was ready to go. You just do a quick 180. These are unprecedented times that are going to create a lot of content, a lot of new records, probably a lot of new babies…you know? You can’t really plan for this sort of thing, but you can try and make the best of it. That’s how we’ve tried to tackle it.
SV: Going forward, where’s the best place for people to check for performances from you?
BoomBaptist: I’m learning the art of multi-streaming, which allows you to perform on YouTube, Facebook, Twitch – it doesn’t allow you to do Instagram unless you choose to only perform on Instagram. So for the moment, I’m not on Instagram, but those other three, I’ll be doing stuff. I often do the Shelter-in-Cave thing with Vapor Caves which happens every Tuesday at 6 Central. That’s been really fantastic and a great way to stay inspired and have the exchange. And of course, for the record, BoomBaptist.bandcamp.com. And Fat Beats is distributing the record, so it should be showing up in Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble and all that in the next couple of weeks.
SV: Do you have anything planned that you can announce, or should people just be checking the socials?
BoomBaptist: Yeah, there are a few things. I recently started a label with my friend Bird Peterson called Cream Dream Records. That is a brand spanking new label, and it’s a new home for us to try new stuff and get away from our regular expectations, musically. I think there should be some interesting things coming from he and I on that label, and we’re taking demos from new artists. So that should be pretty cool and a new and different experience. I’ve never run a label, so that will be fantastic. The Vapor Caves have a 45 coming toward the end of summer, maybe September with the label. And that’s a really great record that features some dear Austin friends who are really fantastic. So we’re proud of that. And then I’ve already started my follow-up. I can’t say anything about it except it will be outrageous and definitely an evolution. A lot of Boom Shakalaka, like I said, around the time that I saw you. That 2013 era is largely represented on that record.
SV: Yeah, like I said in the writeup, listening to the album felt like I was at a BoomBaptist show. I was like, “This feels very familiar!”
BoomBaptist: Yeah, you know, I think I’ve evolved a bit, and producing for The Vapor Caves has me more in a songwriting format than a beats and hip hop format, but when I sample – when I go back to sampling, it’s like riding a bike. I love doing it, and both projects are really rewarding to me. I think people can still expect that. Like creating the label, you just kind of create homes for different sounds, and I’m happy to create that style.
SV: Before I let you go, I have to ask – who is your team on NBA Jam?
BoomBaptist: That’s actually really complicated! I did a bunch of research into the history of the game and its origins. I read a book called NBA Jam: The Book. Not a very creative title, but a great book. And there’s a lot of back story about the Bulls/Pistons rivalry. The creator, Mark Turmell, he was involved in the creation of Mortal Kombat - I don’t know if you know, but Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat was actually one of the cheerleaders in NBA Jam. There’s so much incredible crossover and backstory, but he was from Detroit. In ‘91, The Pistons and The Bulls have this epic playoff series, and naturally the Bulls beat the Pistons – and these are the Bad Boys Pistons, so they were just rough and tough. Because he was so hurt by this loss, he programmed it so that the Bulls, their shooting percentages in the fourth quarter would just plummet. This is a real fact, you can go and check it. If you were Scottie Pippen or B.J. Armstrong – obviously, everyone wanted to be Pippen, because NBA Jam didn’t get the license to Jordan, so Pippen was like a god on the Bulls. But if you played as Pippen, you wouldn’t make a shot in the fourth quarter. So naturally, as a man of the ‘90s, I loved the Bulls, but I couldn’t ever win with them. So I grew up in Miami, so I played as The Heat. They had Glen Rice, who could light you up from 3, and they had Rony Seikaly – they were incredible! So I played as The Heat, I went 2,000-0, nobody beat me in my whole life, I’m the greatest to ever play the game, the greatest to ever touch the arcade, and it’s just an honor to be the greatest at the greatest game of all time!
SV: Finally, if there were three artists that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
BoomBaptist: Samiyam, DJ Premier, Pete Rock.
SV: You had that locked and loaded.
BoomBaptist: I’m predictable.
To hear/purchase the album, visit: https://boombaptist.bandcamp.com/