Olmeca and BeOnd make up two-thirds of the group Acid Reign, along with Gajah. They recently sat down with us during SXSW to talk about Olmeca’s new single, Acid Reign’s new single, the history of the group, balancing projects, and more.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with your most recent stuff. You just dropped the single, “Define.” This came together over the course of two years?
SV: So what was the original idea, and how did you find yourself taking this musical journey, just in the course of one song?
Olmeca: It was like…I’m always trying to mix two worlds together. And not only culturally speaking, but also music-wise. Like digital and organic. So the heavier synth you use, the harder it is to mesh organic sounds, like drums, skins, you feel me? I had the idea already in my head, in terms of the song, because I figured out that there’s certain rhythms in hip hop, especially stuff that’s coming out now. The tempo is so slow that you can actually – in the same way that you do triplets, like when you rap, the same way you do triplets, there’s a lot of Latin American music that is in 6⁄8, that is technically in triplets. So then I figured, okay, what if I choose to take the drum patterns as vocals, and let’s make a trap beat. So that’s where it started. And from there on, it’s always been about trying to find the right sounds that will mesh together. So that’s why it’s taken two years, because I would take a pause, I will try a guitarist and I didn’t like his pedals, or things like that. I’ll try somebody else, or I would just do stuff on my own, like MIDI controllers. It was an ongoing process, but finally I found the right person in Alex Chavez in Chicago, that’s a musician that understands hip hop. We just made it work, man.
SV: What was it about the idea for the song, the initial musical seed, that made you keep with it, that this was something - you start, you put on the shelf, and then you’re like, “No, I need to get back to this.” Because musicians scrap ideas all the time. What was it about this that made you return to it?
Olmeca: Obssesive-Compulsive Disorder, fool. Nah, I’m just playing. No, it was just important to me, cause the music has to represent what you’re talking about. So if I’m talking about issues around identity and politics and all of this, could you imagine I’m saying, whatever, “You gotta uplift your people” or something like that, and at the same time you’re saying, “Oh, I’m going to scratch my own musical descendance because it doesn’t fit this mold of hip hop.” That’s what society says. “Hey, your Latinidad, or you being Mexican, doesn’t fit this descriptive very segmented, pigeon-holed mainstream American narrative. So if you want to be part of that, you gotta change it.” You see what I’m saying? So why would I be talking against that, and doing the same thing on the music end? Especially when music is so free and liberating, I wouldn’t want to put on those restrictions. I almost felt like it was a hypocritical thing for me to say I’m going to scratch this and not work on it.
SV: Now that you have reached this point where it’s done, you’ve put it out, you did visuals for it, people have had a chance to consume it a little bit, what has the feedback been like? Do you feel vindicated that there is an audience for it? I imagine when you’re getting ready to release it, you had people telling you, “This is too long, it’s all over the place, there’s not a market for that!” Do you feel that now that it’s out, you can say, “People are hungry for this kind of representation?”
Olmeca: The feedback has been all good, fortunately. It’s like everything you said. We treat people like hella dumb, and I don’t like that. I have conversations with people all the time. I’m a very open person, so I’ll have conversations with people on the bus, on the Metro, anywhere, man. Especially people that you would always invisible-ize. Like the workers here, at the convention center. They’re wearing blue, they all look the same, you wouldn’t fucking talk to them – you’ll pass by them, but you won’t talk to them. If they had a badge, you’d probably at least look at them. Those are the people I talk to, man. ‘Cause they also got kids, and they also like music. And I’ll talk to the people with the badges. Fuck, whatever. People are people. So I come from a perspective that people ain’t that stupid. Mainstream America treats people as if they’re stupid – I refuse to fucking do that, so I knew that there was a market for this, because we’re fucking everywhere. It was more about telling the people that think people are stupid, the industry that treats people as if they’re stupid, “Let me tell you how stupid you are. You’re going to watch this, you’re going to listen to this, you’re going to listen to my lyrics, and you’re going to be forced to love it, fool, because everybody else is liking it.” It’s like a slap in the face, and they’re like, “Oh, we love getting slapped in the face.” That’s the response right now.
SV: Yeah, because as progressive and challenging as that shit it, it also bangs.
Olmeca: Thanks, fool!
SV: So there is that part, where it’s weird, you gotta go on this journey, but at the end of the day, you can just pump that shit up.
Olmeca: You can be at a party, and it goes through five different phases, so there’s a little bit for everybody. People are bobbing their head like, “Motherfucker, I like this shit. I don’t like that fool, but…fuck. I like this song.” I love that. I love when haters go to your shows and listen to your stuff and download your music. That’s what it is, brother. It’s like, why are we going to settle – who are we catering to at the end of the day? With social media, and with so many people having the ability to have access to stuff, it’s like, things don’t have to be spoon fed anymore. You can just give it to them as it is, and they can take whatever they want. That’s my approach to it, man.
SV: You dropped the single – that’s out. What else do you have planned going through the year? You got more songs, tours, visuals?
Olmeca: Yeah, man. Right now, it’s all about production, so I got visuals. I got a video that I started to work on for the next single. It’s called “Solitario.” It’s all about production – making music and making the visuals for it. The way I do it, if I can’t visualize the lyrics – sometimes I take forever with the lyrics, because if I can’t visualize them, then I can’t write the down. The good thing is that when it does happen fast, I’ll already have the video in my head. It’s kind of cool, because when you write the lyrics down, you’re stuck with that visual, so your video has to look that way. Otherwise it won’t make sense. That’s why “Define” – I went to three different cities with the video, because I was like, “It’s gotta have this look that I’m looking for!” Like for example, a person dancing, or video portraits that I really love to do, there’s this one that I kept imagining with a little girl being a boss. And I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find it in Vegas, I couldn’t find it in L.A., but then I found it in Chicago. But that’s how it is. When you got something stuck in your head, and you gotta manifest it. Production – videos, music, also working on the Acid Reign album. I’m editing our video for our first single as well. A tour – I got a tour happening September through November. I’m open right now, for the summer. I leave it open just to see what comes.
SV: Give yourself some leeway to work on whatever comes up.
Olmeca: Exactly. Because September comes around, and it’s like, “Oh, I can’t fool, because I’m on tour.” So summer is that time, where it’s like, I want to take a break, or if someone wants to collab on something, or I got an idea for something, just leave shit open.
SV: Since you mentioned Acid Reign, we’re missing Gajah, but we’ve got BeOnd with us. Can you give us a brief history of how y’all got together?
Olmeca: I battled rapped this fool and I won.
BeOnd: And we had to let him in. That was the initiation. He was the only person who was ever able to beat me. It was because I was asleep and I didn’t know what he was doing.
Olmeca: I battled that fool, and he was sleeping, and everyone saw it!
BeOnd: I had no rebuttal, so I lost. No, how we met Olmeca was that Gajah and I had already been Acid Reign for a couple of years. We had been working on it, developed the name, and all this before met Olmeca. And we had a bunch of homies who could all rap, and so everyone was trying to fit that spot. Some of our best friends, who are part of our label now, that we still do music with. It just didn’t fit – the way Gajah and I fit together, not many people can fit into that structure, of how we do things and how we understand each other.
SV: Right. Y’all already had an established chemistry.
BeOnd: Right, so our friends – it just didn’t work out. So we pushed through and kept going. Then we met Olmeca. Olmeca was writing for Project Blowed, for the Newswire at that time. He had seen us perform and though, “Who are these guys?”
Olmeca: Who are these Mexicans?
BeOnd: Reppin’ at the Blowed! He thought he was the only Mexican there, other than 2Mex, Jizzm, or St. Mark.
Olmeca: That’s exactly right!
BeOnd: Other than the three or four OGs that were there, he thought he was the only one. So he saw these guys and were like, “Oh, they’re young like me!” You know, ‘cause this was a while back –
Olmeca: Flowin’ sick, though! I was like, “What the fuck!?”
BeOnd: He was like, “I’ve got to do an interview with you guys!” But ultimately, what he wanted to do was have us interview him to be part of the group. He started playing the music he liked, some of the stuff that he did, telling us all about him. So we wrote an interview on him. No, but that’s how the relationship started.
Olmeca: They came to my garage in East L.A. and shit. We just started talking about the whole interview thing, and started vibing, and started playing music and whatever.
BeOnd: Then we discovered that Olmeca plays drums. And Gajah has always been into involving instruments into our group. He kind of wanted to expand into a band and had all of these ideas. So this could be part of it – Olmeca could rock the drums for us. And that’s how it started. They started building, just creating beats, and then when I would come into the mix, they would show me, “Hey, this is what we’ve been working on!” “Alright!” They would have lyrics, I would add lyrics to things that they were doing, and it became a bigger zoo trying to bring more people in, trying to create the band, right? And so that just sort of phased itself out, but the three that stood were Olmeca, Gajah, and myself. And Olmeca was able to understand the way that Gajah and I worked and be in the middle. ‘Cause we’re three wholly different universes.
Olmeca: And Gajah and BeOnd are like…opposites!
Olmeca: So I’m in the middle, because Gajah, creatively – not that BeOnd doesn’t understand the creative part, but Gajah goes places sometimes where BeOnd is like, “Nah fool, I’m not going to even entertain that idea.” Whereas I’ll be like, “OK, well, let’s see…” BeOnd is more…like a manager-type mentality. “What needs to happen, blah blah blah,” and Gajah does not think like that at all. Case in point! [Gestures to the fact that Gajah is MIA from this interview] But I’m also like that. I fully understand the importance of having things on point, and reeling in ideas also, so that you can be efficient, you now? So it’s a beautiful thing. It’s like a beautiful mixture. We’re very upfront to each other about everything all the time. Like, “Nah fool, you’re trippin’,” or like, “Nah, that’s whack.” Especially with our rhymes. “Oh, you’re slurring a rhyme on the third bar on the fourth count,” something like that. And you get mad, like, “OK – fuck you!” And then you have to do it again. But that’s the chemistry, and that’s how we met, and it’s been like that ever since. With the instrument stuff, it was fun though, ‘cause it was like we’d some…tripped out shit, just for the idea of being weird…
BeOnd: Picture this: We’ve got Olmeca on the drums, Gajah on the accordion, and I’m rapping.
SV: You didn’t say that part!
BeOnd: And this isn’t at some jazz/spoken word speak easy where like, “OK, that’s cool,” this is at Project Blowed events!
Olmeca: Our fucking drum and bass/underground hip hop in L.A. fool, where you have to take a bus to the location, and here we come with a drum kit –
BeOnd: And an accordion!
Olmeca: Like, what the fuck!?
BeOnd: And I’m rapping, so…we weren’t afraid to take these chances. These ideas…I was like, “Oh really? We’re going to present ourselves like that?” But going with it, rolling with these guys, it helped set us apart. So it was a good thing. They noticed. They were like, “That’s different, but…they’re still rapping dope!”
Olmeca: It was the rapping that held it down. The emcee-ing part allowed us to be like, “Oh, you want to talk shit about what we’re doing? Go ahead.” But no one ever said shit.
SV: ‘Cause they couldn’t deny y’all.
Olmeca: That rapping part, right.
BeOnd: They might not understand the rest of it, but they did understand that they’d get swallowed up. And that was me being in people’s faces like, “Yeah? Yeah?” They don’t know that the silent beast, Gajah, if we unleash him, he’ll slaughter everybody.
Olmeca: On the accordion, fool. And I’d probably just fight them, instead of battle them.
BeOnd: But you wouldn’t have to. Gajah would just kill everybody with a couple of raps.
Olmeca: He’s a lyrical genius, fool. Fuck that fool.
BeOnd: He’s too dope.
SV: You’ve been together for a while, but you also all do your own things. How did you come together to refocus now?
Olmeca: We’ve always been together, dog. Even if we’re separated – there was a time when Acid Reign got signed by Alpha Pup Records. Like a big deal. Well, my ass left to Mexico. But we were still Acid Reign. The album was Gajah and BeOnd, ‘cause I wasn’t around. Other times, this fool would do a solo project with other emcees, but he’s still reppin’ Acid Reign. Gajah does fucking twenty albums a year…
BeOnd: He puts out albums all the time!
Olmeca: ‘Cause Acid Reign is not just a crew. It’s a family. We’re brothers.
BeOnd: We don’t want to hold each other back, ‘cause as a group, in order for the group to be successful, everybody had to be on the same page – ready, available, together. And it’s just the way our lives have been, we haven’t always been ready and together. But we don’t limit each other because of that. We still support each other, and when we are able to come together, it’s that passion, that drive is still there. That creative energy, that thing that keeps us different from other groups, it’s always still there, so it doesn’t matter how much time is in between project, not matter what people may think, or how it may appear. We’re always building, we’re always talking…
Olmeca: Like I would send verses, for example, these fools, like “Let’s record them.” For some other project, “What do you guys think?” “Oh, that shit’s dope.” Or whatever. I was in a band called Slowrider, almost the same time I got with Acid Reign, and so I was always juggling both, but it was real easy to tell the band, “Alright – stay on that riff real quick…” and they would be like “Why so long?” And I’d be like, “I got my crew! Watch what’s going to happen!” And I’d bring Acid Reign into the band situation, and we’d perform that shit a lot.
BeOnd: Almost every booking that Slowrider had, there was always availability for Acid Reign to do two or three songs with them. Obviously, we couldn’t go to every show…but the open invite was always there. That was a dope thing. That was good for all of us.
Olmeca: To grow, musically.
BeOnd: I learned a lot.
Olmeca: Like, you see me, you’re going to see Acid Reign in the shadows. It’s going to be like that all the time. That’s just how it is, man. We’ve gone through shit, fool. As a band, as a group, together where we don’t mesh, or we dislike each other over some bullshit, or something like that, but it’s easy to just come back real quick. And the music always brings us together. We’re not going to find people that we like more as emcees than ourselves. I’m Gajah and BeOnd’s biggest fan, and likewise.
SV: You just dropped the single, “Sosa.” Was that the first part of an upcoming project?
BeOnd: That’s the first release from our upcoming album…Albums and projects, we like to take our time with. The album that we’re working on right now, Acid Reign with Duke Westlake, he’s producing all of it…it’s going on two years, two-and-a-half years in the making. Olmeca has a spot in Vegas where we go and record. Gajah and myself will get a bunch beats, make a bunch of raps, go to his studio, and just lay them down, spend a few days, maybe the weekend, and just vibe out. Create what we’ve written and just build off of that. And this is one of the first songs that we really, really liked. We have a couple, but this is one that we really like. Because we were going to be out here [at SXSW], this seemed like the perfect time to be have something fresh to promote. People need something solid, something new from Acid Reign. With Duke Westlake a part of the mix, everything just came together really well. So we’re really excited. We have a lot more music already recorded, so most likely we’re going to get the process going sooner rather than later, start releasing single after single. That might be the better approach, so that we can focus on each song individually, run campaigns around them –
Olmeca: That was my idea, fool.
BeOnd: It’s his idea now, but I’ve been saying it for the past five years. Anyways…
Olmeca: Ten years!
SV: So you’re thinking a series of singles, and then an album at the end?
Olmeca: Right. Normally, you do a single or two, then drop the album, but we’re just going to keep bringing out songs and videos and shit.
BeOnd: These days, people’s attention spans are so short, that dropping an album and a single are essentially the same thing. You’re going to hear it, and then next week, what’s new? So I think it’s a good way to extend our music. People just vibe to the one song until they’re done.
Olmeca: These fools will write three songs in one day, and record them the same day! And I’m not like that at all. That’s why it’s taking so long. I’m just…I don’t know. Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. I just take my time with shit, like a lot. And with the video, too…the same thing with video. I want it to be very specific. I’m very meticulous with that kind of stuff.
BeOnd: We’re all very hands on, so that drags out our process as well. We’ll bring in other people to start doing stuff, but then we’re all like, “Nah, nah, we gotta fix this. I hear something different that needs to be changed.”
Olmeca: Us three is one thing. But when you bring another person into the mix, it’s like you’re fucking with our chemistry here. Even though we want you in it, it’s still something different, so hold up. I don’t know, it’s a a good thing. Who gives a fuck if people don’t like it or if it takes forever…whatever. It’s our shit.
BeOnd: That’s one thing about us – we try to make music that’s not so…We’re not chasing a hit single. We make the music that we want to make. So even if we started a song today, and we didn’t finish it until next year, it’s not going to sound like it was last year’s music. We don’t get stuck in that. We try to make timeless music.
SV: And that’s something a lot of artists today maybe don’t understand – the need to make that conscious choice. Do I want o to put these singles out as soon as I have them and stay fresh in everyone’s social media, or do I want be deliberate, make the musical choices that I want to make, and put out the music when it’s ready?
Olmeca: At the end of the day, when you put out music that’s yours, that’s already an accomplishment. You know what emcees don’t do often, that I noticed? They’ll hear a beat, and be like, “Yo! That beat is bangin’!” But they don’t think, that beat is banging right now because of what’s been out in the world that I’ve been listening to and I’ve been influenced by, that causes me to say that trap beat is really dope. Because five years ago, it wouldn’t have been dope. And five years ago, some other shit would have been dope. Boom bap would have been better, or something. Do you feel me?
SV: And if I hop on that, will I just sound like everyone else on that beat?
Olmeca: They don’t think that shit, half the time!
BeOnd: It’s weird that people don’t hear that they sound like everybody else. Or, because they’re so programmed that this is what the sound is, they don’t realize it.
Olmeca: It sounds dope – because it sounds like that other one. But it’s mine, and it’s my own. That’s about as far as a lot of people go, I think. A lot of artists, I feel. Another trippy thing that I think about with Acid Reign, is like he’ll do his verse, Gajah will do his verse, and I’ll do my verse. And then Gajah will hear my verse, and go, “Oh, wait! I gotta redo my verse!” Then he does it, and then this fool goes, “Fuck both of you fools…I’m going to go redo mine!” We’re always trying to up each other’s thing. Not on some competitive shit, but…fuck, it’s gotta sound as dope as this fool’s. We’re doing that often, and I really don’t think that artists do that often.
SV: With all the new stuff coming up, where’s the best place for people to keep tabs on y’all?
BeOnd: Acidlabrecords.com is the best place, because everything is there. You want to know about Acid Reign? It’s there. You want to know about Olmeca, because you’re a huge Olmeca fan? It’s there. You want to know about Gajah? It’s there. All the artists from the label, but specifically Acid Reign as a crew, and as individuals, all our stuff is there. That’s the best place. It’s too much to say all the different @s. Just go to Acid Lab Records, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Olmeca: Every artist has their own page, with their handles and everything like that. Acid Lab Records is easier to remember.
SV: Finally, I’ll leave you with the question I ask everyone, which is: If you could work with three artists that you haven’t, who would that be?
Olmeca: My shit’s easy, fool. I would like to get production from El-P, I’d like to have Andre on a verse, on a hook, something like that. Nah, on a verse…then Gajah and BeOnd would have eight bars, ‘cause Andre is getting sixteen. I wouldn’t even be on the song.
BeOnd: To narrow it down is almost disrespectful…
SV: Well, he only gave two, so you could do four.
BeOnd: I’d love to do a song with Pharoahe Monch. I feel like I would really push to make that song where it’s not lopsided, too much…as far as a beat goes, I would love an El-P beat also.
Olmeca: Well, I would co-produce that shit with El-P.
BeOnd: Well, I’d let him do his job…I’m going to go with Busta Rhymes. He’s relevant on so many levels…he’s still the mastermind. He can still come off just as dope and as hard as he wants to, and sound contemporary as he wants to. He can go any way. Gajah would probably want to work with Kurt Elling, Bjork, and Portishead.
To follow everything Olmeca, BeOnd, and Acid Reign, visit:http://acidlabrecords.com/