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Waajeed Hip hop pioneer still breaking new ground

As a regular crate digger down at the legendary Fat City Records in Manchester, it was inevitable that I would cross paths with Waajeed's music.

As a regular crate digger down at the legendary Fat City Records in Manchester, it was inevitable that I would cross paths with Waajeed's music. His work as the frontman of Platinum Pied Pipers for the Triple P album on Ubiquity was a firm favourite in the shop, but it was the two 12" EPs that made up The War LP in 2007 that really cemented his work in my ether. Blatantly influenced by sounds far and wide, seeing him play at club night Friends and Family upon its release was a memorable experience.

Coming out of Detroit, Waajeed cut his teeth with hip hop group Slum Village back in his late teens. He helped form the crew in 1991 with T3, Baatin and Jay Dee, and soon found himself on tour in Europe. He was the first to put out instrumental work from Jay Dee, better known to the world as J Dilla, on his own label Bling47, something which Dilla was skeptical about there being a market for.

Platinum Pied Pipers came to life in 2002 with Saadiq and an array of friends. In 2012 Waajeed founded DIRT TECH RECK, with an ear for showcasing progressive music "from a forgotten city". It's on this homegrown label that his latest dancefloor-oriented works appear. His most recent releases are the Through It All and Shango EPs.

So what are you up to? You strike me as someone who doesn’t sit still. You remind me of my mother.

Oh man, there’s too much to mention. You’re probably right. I’m like your mom. I keep moving. I consider myself a shark. You gotta keep moving or you die. I’m just finishing the final touches of an EP that I’m putting out on Planet-E with Carl Craig, so that’s gonna be a three or four track EP, as well as new material that’s coming out - the next three releases on DIRT TECH RECK for next year. I’m in the midst of finishing, producing, mixing and arranging videos for the next four albums that I’ll put out.

This summer’s single, 'Shango', is very tribal, and in a teaser video you explained Shango is the Yoruba god of thunder. What’s the genesis of that track?

To be honest I don’t know what happened. By definition music is magic. It’s something that you conjure and that people react from. Most times I produce so frequently that I don’t even remember the process of how these things can happen. They just fall in my lap. If it wasn’t me I would think that somebody ghost produced it. 'Shango' was a demo that I did some time ago, and my team heard it and they said, ‘Man, this thing is really brilliant.’

I work a lot but I work fairly slow. I could be sitting on a track for a year, or six months, or maybe two years, then slowly cultivate it into something that it is. 'Shango' was one of those tracks. It just happened very slow over a certain period of time. I had dreams and I had these really intense visions of the title, how it should look, what should happen inside of it. I followed those dreams and man, it turns out I was right on point.

It seems like a very visual experience, from the artwork to your video teases, to the video itself. You seem very connected to that track.

I am. Everything I do is just as visual as it is musical. We talked earlier about seeing it from its inception to its finish. I’m a visual artist by nature. I’m just as handy with a paint brush as I am with a drum machine. It’s kinda natural to cultivate the vision as well as what it sounds like, because in the times that we live in, the visual element is just as important as what it sounds like, if not more.

We talked about attention spans earlier. You’re releasing EPs, not an album. What’s the plan?

I let the music decide whether it should belong to an EP or an entire album, whether this is a shorter or a longer burst of ideas. I let it tell me what it should be, how it should fit and how these things should work. It just so happens with the Shango EP that those songs fit really perfectly together in some kind of weird way, where they have no relation but they all come from the same quilt.

There’s a quote from you that I love about not knowing what genres were until your early twenties. Would you say that open mindedness is typical of Detroit musicians?

I would say. Of course I’m a little biased. We may have a leg up in terms of being genreless. We have an imprint in almost all genres. Particularly myself, I was raised on a radio DJ called Mojo. Mojo played everything. My uncles went to college, so they had a really huge, diverse taste in music. I was raised in a house where there were no boundaries. Except for Motown. You couldn’t play much Motown in my house. Me not understanding genres, commercially it can hinder, because over the 20 years I’ve been producing music the key to consistency and building a career is doing the same thing over and over, and you build that market. Maybe in some ways it’s hindered my career, but it's not hindered my soul. It’s been very helpful to do what the fuck I feel.

You moved back to Detroit a few years ago after living in New York for a while. How did returning affect you psychologically? I think your environment shapes you massively. Am I wrong in that?

Yes and no. I would say that while I was in Brooklyn I became more of a Detroiter than I ever had been. My Detroit aesthetic and Detroit point of view applies everywhere I go. I spent quite a bit of time in California as well. I just became more of a resilient Detroiter. I would never wear a New York hat or a Yankees hat, which had nothing to do with baseball whatsoever, just more like, ‘Fuck this shit, I’m representing my city.’

Back in 2007 you released The War LP on Manchester’s Fat City Records. That was a mixture of old and new, right?

Some of these tracks were tracks that we already had. 'Tron' was a track that I’d done years previously, that was Fat City’s inspiration to relicense Bling47 material. They heard 'Tron', they heard the Jay Dee instrumentals, of which we were the first people to ever put a Jay Dee instrumental out. I’m happy to say that we played a part in the whole instrumental phase of hip hop as it is. There were a couple of tracks that we already had, 'Tron' being one, and pretty much everything else was new.

When you didn't go to art college and decided to go on tour with Slum Village, were there lessons you learned that you carry forward now? How old were you?

Early twenties, maybe. It was the first time I had gotten drunk. I was 25, so between 23 and 25. Straight to Europe, no American dates. They hadn’t come together yet. Straight to Europe and we had no idea where it was [laughing].

No fuckin’ clue. No clue. You don’t expect to make it off the block unless they fuckin’ carrying you away in a fuckin’ bag. So we had no idea where we were going, what it meant. I tend to not think about lessons as musical lessons when I’m learning about the business, the industry, whatever. That information will come and go. I try to learn about things that are life lessons ̶ friendship and business, about assets, being smart ̶ so that you don’t have to make bullshit decisions. I learned that in New York too. I tend to be the same person off camera and on camera. I tend to do the same things. Too many lessons I’ve learned, some at the expense of the lives of my friends, and some at the expense of my own creativity and my own life. Tons of lessons.

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