Short Fuze is best known these days as one half of the group Guillotine Crowns, alongside Uncommon Nasa. In fact, they just released an album, Hills to Die On, this past April. As it turned out, Short Fuze had a lot more to get off of his chest, which resulted in a new solo album, The Painkiller Boutique. He took the time to chat with us about the album and all that went into it - becoming at peace with his past, learning the lessons, finding hip hop, and finding the right friends and collaborators.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s dive into the album, The Painkiller Boutique, which came out today. You’ve had a long career as a solo artist already, and you’ve done a lot of albums with Uncommon Nasa. What put you in the position to make this solo album, The Painkiller Boutique? What led up to this moment?
Short Fuze: It’s a combination of things. I started working on this album the same time we really started to dig our heels into the Guillotine Crowns record. So I had mentioned to Nasa that I was getting interested in doing some more solo material. As you know, Nasa has his hands in a lot of things himself, including things that we’re going to be releasing towards the end of the year, into next year, and beyond that. So I was asking him for beats for another solo album, and he told me in so many words that he was being stretched thin at the moment. He’d be open to doing it, but he didn’t know how quickly he could get me more beats, because he was already pushing himself to crank out more beats for the Guillotine record.
Historically, I’m the slow writer. But over the last few years, I’ve been writing more frequently, and I joke with Nasa all the time that this was the first time in out working relationship that I was outwriting him – I was getting stuff done faster than he was. In the past, he’d have to chase me down and be like, “Yo! Did you finish this song yet?” And I’m like, “No!” There were times when I just wouldn’t get inspired, or I had other things going on. I was always a notoriously slow writer. That’s what hindered me early on from doing cameos. A lot of times, artists would approach me, and they’d say, “Oh, we should work on something!” And I’d be like, “Well, when do you need it?” Next week, or tomorrow. And I didn’t know if I could write something that quick. Over the last few years, I’ve found this spark with music in general, just because I’m in a better place, mentally and emotionally, after going through some tough years.
So again, I’d been coaxing [Nasa] to do some more solo material, and he was like, “I can do it, but I don’t know how quick it’s going to pan out.” At this time, I was writing a lot of stuff, so I didn’t want to tamper that spark. I wanted to keep rolling with it and see where it would go. I talked to Dr. Khil, who produced most of the album – he posted this beat on IG, which became the beat for “Graduation Day.” I hit him up, and I was like, “Yo, that beat’s really dope, does anybody got that?” And he was like “No! You want it?” And I was like, “Hell yeah!” He sent it to me, I wrote something to it, and he was like, “Oh man, this is really dope. If you need any more beats, let me know.” A couple of weeks go by, and he’s like, “Hey man, I made some new beats! You want to hear them?” “Yeah, send them over!” So he sent me a huge batch of beats, and I was catching a vibe to a lot of them. I asked him, “What do you think about doing an album?” And he was like, “Hell yeah!” He just started sending me more and more beats, and it grew from there.
“Graduation Day,” and “The Chronic (Pain)” where the first two things I wrote to his beats. I sent those to Nasa, and he was like, “This is really dope – you should keep going in this direction.” Those two songs were the catalyst for me to dig deeper, emotionally, and put down things that I’ve wanted to put down for years, but could never find the words to do it. And then, ironically, this is my most emotional album, but I’m in the best place I’ve been, mentally and emotionally, probably ever. So it’s weird how that works. When your brain is at peace, it’s quiet enough for you to gather your thoughts and put them in order. It’s been an experience for me.
SV: So now that you weren’t in the midst of it, you could finally reflect on it?
Short Fuze: Yeah – that’s exactly what it is! You know, like I said, there were things I wanted to talk about on this record that I wanted to talk about since I first started making music. But you know, being twenty, twenty-one, even twenty-five or thirty, I don’t think I had the capacity to reflect on these things. A lot of that stuff I was still going through at those ages. I just think I reached a level of emotional maturity where I could put these complex thoughts together. And to not be afraid to – You know, I don’t own emotional music. There have been a lot of people who have done it, way before me. You have your…El-P’s and Ka’s and countless other rappers. Uncommon Nasa! You could throw Uncommon Nasa into that mix. billy woods. You have all these amazing artists who have done deep reflective music, but what I think what differentiates my music from other music in that same vain is…I talk a lot about my physical disabilities and my issues with chronic pain, and things like that.
And those are thing that I always wanted to talk about, as I got older, but I was afraid to put those down because I didn’t know how they’d be received or interpreted. And then it just got the point where I was like, “You know, let me just talk about these things,” because there might be somebody out there that has dealt with the same type of thing that I have that doesn’t have the capacity to put it into words. And this might help them, to let them know that they aren’t by themselves. ‘Cause you know, a lot of people who haven’t met me, they don’t know that I have a mild case of cerebral palsy. So that gives me a unique perspective.
For a long time, when I was growing up, my mom made it point to not view myself as disabled, because you know, I was very fortunate in the sense that I could still walk, I could still do things – I played sports. I did things that normal kids did. Whereas people who had more severe cases, they’re wheelchair bound, some people can’t speak. They need constant care, 24⁄7 assistance. I was never in that situation or that position, thankfully. But as I got older, and my back issues began to hinder me and I had to stop doing shows – I can’t really do shows anymore, it taxes my body too much. I used to love performing, but you go through these things, and it just gets to the point where it’s okay to talk about these things and put these things out there, because I’m not the only person dealing with these things. Thankfully, over the last ten years, it’s become more acceptable to talk about your mental health issues, your physical issues, your emotional issues.
For better or for worse, hip hop was built on a tough guy stance, because it came from a tough place. You know when I was twenty-five or thirty, I couldn’t imagine talking about these things and having people be like, “Yo, that’s really dope.” There wasn’t really a space for that back then. Maybe there was, and I just didn’t see it, or have the courage to push. But now that I’m a full-fledged adult, it’s become easier to talk about things and have a support system that nourishes that. Not only familywise, but creatively, too. Nasa was really heavily involved in this project behind the scenes, in terms of bouncing ideas off of him. I bounced pretty much everything off of Collasoul of Gilascope…those guys were my guinea pigs. Like, “What do you think of this?” And they would be like, “Yeah, it’s dope – keep going!” So they were a big help and they deserve a lot of credit for the way this record turned out, too.
SV: One of the things that hit me about this record was just how it was like, “Bam!” Right out of the gate, you press play and you hear, “I was born three months premature/Cerebral palsy/there is no cure.” When did you make that decision that you weren’t going to dance around this, you’re just going jump in and do it?
Short Fuze: I think it goes back to what I said before, about finally having the courage to talk about it and get it off my chest. The album is laid out in a loose chronological order. So when I wrote that song, I knew immediately that was the first song that I wanted people to hear, because I felt like that song represented the beginning of my journey best. Going from being a child into young adulthood. The other component to that is, being a person of mixed race – My father is Mexican and my mom’s white…but, growing up I wasn’t “Mexican enough” for the Mexican kids, and I was “too brown” for the white kids, so I found my identity with my black friends, because I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood. A lot of my friends introduced me to rap music, and that was kind of a snowball effect, and that’s what that song is about. Navigating that world, on top of having a disability.
When you’re a kid, you don’t understand why another kid is different. So when you add that extreme difference in there, it makes it extremely difficult – it made it extremely difficult for me at some points. For as much as a lot of stuff could roll off my back, some of it was like, “Am I really less than? Am I not worthy of certain people’s time? Is this going to be my life for the rest of my life? Am I not going to be accepted anywhere?” So there was a bit of an identity crisis into that mix, because the other thing that came into play was, because of my mother’s relationship with my biological father, she was just so hurt by him, she would tell me that I’m not Mexican. That played into that, too. It was again, where do I fit? If I’m not this, and I’m not this, and this disability doesn’t make me “normal,” who am I? Where do I go?
Rap music was really my safe haven. I could write things, whether it was about my experiences, or whether it was just being a dope braggadocio rapper, dope punchlines, and getting that, “OOOOHHHH!” reaction from people. That was my armor. That made me feel like a superhero. That was the one place that I fit, within rap music.
SV: Speaking of that, I found it interesting, because you’re from Chicago – and there are plenty of references to Chicago – but there are also all of these refences to New York hip hop references, like Wu-Tang, Pharoahe Monch, El-P. When did you connect with New York underground hip hop?
Short Fuze: The beauty of growing up in Chicago is that we got exposed to everything. Not only did we have our own scene here, in the early ‘90s, but we got exposed to West Coast stuff – and not even just mainstream stuff, like underground West Coast stuff. A lot of people in Chicago have Southern relatives, myself included – I had relatives in Memphis and Mississippi, so I got exposed to early Three Six Mafia and things like that through them. And then you got stuff coming through from Texas. And then you get the stuff from New York. I started getting more exposed to indie New York stuff, and New York music in general through things like Rap City, The Box. Then when I got older and had the ability to travel and do shows out of state, just mixing with different indie artists from other scenes, going to places like Scribble Jam, meeting people there.
Once I discovered Company Flow and MF DOOM, in like ‘99-00 – me, I’m curious, so if I stumble upon something, I want to know where that particular thing came from. So then I would go backwards and learn the history of where it came from. Then, once I figured out where Company Flow came from, where DOOM came from…at the time, it was mind blowing. I was like, “This dude is from KMD? That’s crazy!” ‘Cause it felt like two different people at the time…there were levels to it. Same with El-P. He opened doors for a lot of people, myself included. Then the Internet made it easier to reach out and connect with people, and that’s how I met Nasa, because I reached out to him for beats for my old group. That turned into a working relationship and then a friendship. Then he would start putting me onto to stuff, and vice versa. ‘Cause there were things that he didn’t get exposed to in the Chicago scene that didn’t make it out to New York, and vice versa.
I feel like I came along at a good time as a fan, because Wu-Tang was a huge influence on me, to start a group. To even pick up a pen and start writing. Then you have albums like Illmatic and Ready to Die…I was always into stuff that painted pictures. Stuff that I could relate to, because I’d hear this music and feel like, “Man! These guys are dealing with a lot of the same shit that I’m dealing with!” You just feel that connection, emotionally and mentally, to certain things.
SV: It particularly hit me to hear you reference “Stepfather Factory” on your album. Even before you specifically said that phrase, as I was listening to “Hell’s Moshpit” for the first time, I was thinking to myself, “This song has a direct forefather in ‘Stepfather Factory,’” and then you said it, and I was like, “There it is!”
Short Fuze: And that’s the thing. Like I said earlier, I’m not going to pretend that I own emotional music. You know what I mean? And I’m a big proponent of paying respect and homage to influences. That “Stepfather Factory?” When I first heard that song, that blew my mind, because I knew exactly what he was talking about, and what he felt, because I was dealing with that with my own stepfather. And then the song that was the precursor for that song, which was “Last Good Sleep,” that song hit me even harder! ‘Cause I completely understood where he was coming from, because I had those same experiences. So when I wrote that song, I was like, “I gotta put a little nugget in there,” to pay tribute to El, because those two songs hit me at a certain point when I first heard them. And then years later, I write my own story, so it was automatic for me to do that. So I appreciate you catching that.
SV: We touched on a lot of major themes of the album, but there is also an ongoing theme on the album about your evolving relationship with religion, and organized religion in particular. Was that also something that you had to be at peace with to be able to talk about it?
Short Fuze: Yeah, because…I’m not going to project my experience on everyone, so when I say this, I just want to make it one hundred percent clear that I’m not disparaging anyone that believes in religion or is religious, because I think in the right context and used the right way, it’s a beautiful thing. It helps a lot of people to have faith, and it helps people in their moments of weakness. But for me personally, growing up, it was very much weaponized. My parents, and later on my stepfather, they would use it against me, as a fear tool.
Growing up, my father was Jehovah’s Witness, and then I had various members of the family who were Lutheran and Catholic, so I was exposed to a lot of different things, but early on, it was like the worst parts of it were what was verbalized and taught. Like, “If you do this, God is going to be mad at you!” “You’re going to go to Hell!” Then, when I was a teenager, I actually converted to Islam, because my stepfather was Muslim, and he got me into it. And at the time, I was like, “I need this. This is a good thing to have because it teaches you self-discipline and self-accountability.” But then, even he would start to use religion to control me and make me feel guilty about certain things. Because when you’re a teenager, you do teenage things. You chase girls, you might slack off in school, you get into trouble, doing stupid shit. But for him, he would use religion to make me feel guilty about being a kid and a teenager. In some ways, it pushed me to do more stupid shit, because it was like, “If you’re going to accuse me of doing these things, I might as well go do them!”
So for a long time, by the way I grew up, I was kind of angry with God. I had a stepfather who was constantly pressuring me to be a certain way, my biological father was abusive towards me and my mother. Even as a teenager, I was navigating how to be a person with a disability and being different, and not fitting in. As a teenager, you’re even more self-aware. So all those things being mixed, just made me really angry at this supposed higher power that’s supposed to be loving and caring. So it’s like, “If he’s all these things, then why am I stuck in these situations?” You know what I mean? But then when I got older, you start to reflect more, and you start to realize that you can’t put those things on whatever this higher being is. Some of it was me. Some of my issues were caused by me acting out and doing things that I shouldn’t be doing, and getting myself in situations that I shouldn’t have been in, because I was making bad decisions.
And then some of it was that I had parents that just didn’t know how to parent. I didn’t realize this until later because I went through therapy – in my late 30s, I went through therapy – I realized that my mom had me when she was really young, and she didn’t know what the fuck she was doing. She was a kid raising a kid – raising kids, me and my brother. Obviously, you want things to be different, or you wish they could have been different. I wish my mom would have stood up for me and my brother a little bit more at certain points, but she didn’t know any better because there wasn’t anybody there to teach her. So she was just doing the best that she could. When I became a father, I was like, “Okay! I know what things worked for me as a child, and I definitely know what things didn’t work for me as a child!” I made a conscious effort at a very early age that whenever I had kids that I was going to break that chain. That’s what I’ve been working hard to do.
SV: You made this album, and you put all of this stuff that you’ve been working towards into it. How are you feeling now that it’s finally release day?
Short Fuze: I feel good, man! It’s exciting. I was a little nervous – I was up realy early this morning, because the excitement and nerves were getting me, and my body was just like, “We’re not sleeping anymore. Time to get up.” I got up, did my routine, checked the release, and I was excited to see that people were feeling it. People were streaming it and buying it. It’s a good feeling to see that people understood what you were doing and to vibe with it, on top of it. Thank you for understanding it, and appreciating it, and just getting it. It’s a good feeling when you have people who understand what you’re doing and they support it. They genuinely like it.
SV: I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be an album that snowballs a little. I know the first the time I listened to it – I’m a runner, so I’ll load up some music and go for a jog in the morning. I think I got halfway through the first song before I was like, “No. I have to sit down and listen to this and just absorb it.”
Short Fuze: I appreciate that. That’s cool.
SV: I think people will keep listening to it, absorb it, and then pass it on to others, but it is something you really have to spend the time with and let it all sink in.
Short Fuze: And part of the reason that album is on the shorter side, even though it’s fourteen songs, is because I knew people would have to sit with it, but also I didn’t want to beat people over the head with my emotions for longer than forty minutes. I felt like if it was any longer than that, people would check out, and I didn’t want that. I just wanted to tell my story and connect with people as quickly as possible, and then they’d think, “Damn, that was short! Let me listen to it again.” So, yeah. That was another part of it, because I didn’t want to get to the point where I was preaching or crying on record.
SV: You mentioned that you’re physically not able to do shows and tour. Do you have any other things in the pipeline that people should be looking out for?
Short Fuze: Nasa and I do Flashback Sessions. We talk about the early 2000s, late ‘90s indie scene, so leading into his experiences with Def Jux and after we get through that chapter, we’ll talk about our own contributions to the scene. ‘Cause, you know, for a long time, and you’re taught this as an artist, because that’s always the way that it’s been – when you put out albums, you gotta wait for the writers or somebody to cover you. We’ve been fortunate to be covered and exposed on different levels, and we’re super thankful for that…and it was like, man, it would be cool if somebody could [cover this era] for us. But then you’re realistic with yourself. Even though Nasa and I have names, we’re nowhere near the level of someone like El-P or somebody like that. So we don’t have people knocking down our door like that to tell our stories in longform. And I’m not saying that with any bitterness, that’s just the reality of what the situation is.
So then me and Nasa were like, “Shit! Let’s just tell our own story!” Who better to tell our own story than us? Then it’s not watered down, and it’s from a first person perspective, and you can really break it down any way that you want. That’s how we got the idea for the Flashback Sessions. We have another thing we’re doing called GC Talk, where the first episode we did I talked to him about his experience making Only Child. Then in the coming days he’s going to talk to me about my experience about making The Painkiller Boutique. After that, we’ll do other episodes pertaining to projects that artists have that are coming out on the label. It kind of kills two birds with one stone. It gives us the avenue to tell our own stories, but it also gives us content for the YouTube channel. It brings people there to see that there are other things going on, ‘cause we’ve seen it where people drop in for a Flashback Session and then go buy an album. So it’s really cool that we can connect everything and tell our stories in different ways and not feel left behind, so to speak?
SV: Where can people check the Flashback Sessions?
Short Fuze: The Flashback Sessions are available on the Uncommon Records YouTube channel under UncommonRecordsNYC.
SV: Finally, if there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Short Fuze: One would be DOOM, Rest in Peace. The second would be billy woods. The third would be Ka. Those guys are just phenomenal with their pens, and they do things with the English language that I only wish I could do…I don’t know if people know this, because it was early on in both of our careers, but I was actually on a song with billy woods back in 2007. It’s a song with myself, Nasa, Cirrus Minor, Zesto, Centri, Masai Bey, billy woods and Tracy Jones – it was a posse cut. But that was pre-“Peak Powers” woods. I want to do a song with “Peak Powers” woods. It would be a different experience now, because he’s a completely different artist than he was back then. It’s been really cool to see him grow into what he’s become and carrying the underground torch for a new generation.
**To find more info and listen to The Painkiller Boutique, visit: https://uncommonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-painkiller-boutique-2