KutMasta Kurt Interview

KutMasta Kurt is arguably one of the biggest hip hop producers in the indie world. Hidden from the mainstream media, he's worked with a who's who of rappers and received much warranted critical acclaim. We spoke with Kurt earlier this year along with Kool Keith when their album Diesel Truckers was out, and now, we speak with him again via telephone to talk about his latest release, Redneck Games. Our interview talked about his career, the labels he's worked with, and the ability of hip hop to send a message. The tone of the meeting was very somber and subdued, taking place days after the 2004 Presidential election. We were both in California, a blue state.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to KutMasta Kurt.

betterPropaganda: Okay, here we are talking to KutMasta Kurt. You've had a really prolific year already. We talked a little while ago when you had an album out with Kool Keith called Diesel Truckers and now you've got a whole new album out. Can you tell us about that project a little bit?

KutMasta Kurt: Yeah, well it's an album I actually planned in '98 and it just took a while to get all the material together to put on it. And I had planned to put it out this year since last year, so it's been something I've planned for a long time. The Diesel Truckers record was something more spontaneous, so theoretically this would have been my only release for the year. But, you know, other things came up so it got to be that way.

The idea for the record was basically that I've been doing a lot of projects with people over the years and I think that sometimes the recognition for myself and my contribution to the project wasn't as immediately recognized. So what I started doing was, when I was producing tracks for artists or doing remixes, and this is a standard part of my procedure, is to make a compilation license part of the agreement.

bP: Ah, smart.

KK: So that's kind of like- for instance- with Linkin Park, originally what we were going to do was a trade. It turned out they just wanted the song and didn't want to do anything else with us at the time, so I said just let me use that song later.

bP: Basically, this album is a bunch of remixes of a lot of people you worked with and you got Blackalicious, Beastie Boys, Mos Def, and so on. This is a big, big compilation lineup here.

KK: Yeah, and I think it's good because if people know of me or if they've heard of me. Some people are Dead fans and into Masters Of Illusion and all the Kool Keith stuff, but I think this gives a broader perspective to what I've done, and who I've worked with, and what I do.

bP: You seem to be in this interesting space. I've listened to the album and you've been able to almost improve on the Beastie Boys "Body Movin'" track, which in my mind is impossible. You've got these super top-shelf production skills going and a roster of bands that are among the very best people doing this, but still you're functioning professionally in the indie world. You know, you're on a small label and not a part of the big TV mainstream, unless I'm missing something. You're in this weird space there, am I right?

KK: Yeah, I'm kinda in no man's land. (laughter) You know, it's like I think I have a lot of respect and fans that are in that area, you know, like platinum-selling groups or gold-selling groups, but I haven't myself been able to transcend that yet. Hopefully this is a step in that direction. My next project could be an album with a lot of these same groups, but brand new tracks. I just need to get a label behind me to put up the money to do it, because I'm not going to be able to get a couple hundred grand together to pay these guys what they want.

bP: So the small label you're on right now has been, arguably, one of the coolest labels of the year so far, Waxploitation Records. They've had the Danger Mouse stuff, Tearglass & Plateglass, I really like them. Tweaker was a good album, something else entirely from what you're doing. What's it like working with Waxploitation?

KK: They also put out the Dopestyle 1231 album.

bP: That's right, you worked on that.

KK: Waxploitation is a good label for me. They believe in what I do and they're putting what they do behind me. And what they do is evident. They're great at getting the word out, getting it recognized, and put in the right hands.

bP: You've probably worked with a huge pile of labels by now, haven't you?

KK: Yeah, I've worked with a lot of labels. I think my first major label remix I did was for Sony/Ruffhouse or maybe (thinking) yeah, I think that was it. So since '92 or so I've worked with every other tiny little label in existence, probably. (laughter)

bP: (laughter)

KK: So I don't discriminate and, I mean, if it's a project that I like and if the money isn't quite what I want, I might still do the project. It's not all about money. I mean, of course, I gotta pay my bills and get paid something. You know.

bP: You definitely look at yourself more as an artist than as a business man.

KK: Well, I think in order to be a successful artist you also have to be a good businessman, or at least have somebody else doing your business for you, which I haven't really been able to find. I think the combination is what balances each other. If you're not a good artist well, just forget the business. There's no business to do, right? (laughter) And if you're not a good businessman as an artist, you career will always be suffering. So I think it's a fine line and you gotta balance it. It's like, you may grow the best crops, but if you don't know how to get them to market and make good deals for yourself, your farm's gonna go outta business.

bP: So does that relate to the tractor picture on your album cover of Redneck Games, your new album? The farm metaphor. (laughter)

KK: Uh-huh. (laughter) Yeah, exactly.

bP: And let's talk about this album title. You had the Man going after you big time. Originally the album was going to be called (beeeeeeeeeeeep)

KK: Yeah.

bP: And then what happened?

KK: Well basically, The USOC sent a cease and desist letter saying that they owned the word "Olympics". And we challenged them on that. We said "hey, how do you own a word that the Greeks made up"? And there's a special provision that the Supreme Court passed which gives them this over-the-top, unheard of type of right to the word Olympics, Olympiad, all these phonetics. If it sounds too much like Olympics, it could be misconstrued or whatever. (laughter) Like I wanted to call the album "Illympics", but they're like no, that's too close.

bP: That's crazy. So you're like able to license tracks from like Motion Man, Beastie Boys, and Linkin Park, no problem.

KK: Yeah.

bP: And then some jocks, which has nothing to do with music, shut you down.

KK: Yeah, I think it's pretty funny, actually. (more laughter) Because it's like I really have nothing to do with them at all, it's just a joke. They just need to lighten up , see some humor. I'm not hurting anyone. I'm not hurting them. Whatever, I don't even care at this point. It's just good publicity.

bP: So let's talk about the role of hip hop in sending messages out there. We just saw a presidential election go down and obviously, in your body of work, you haven't been super political with the kind of music you put together. What do you think, going forward, as we see all these messages going out- even Eminem's video wasn't enough to turn enough voters off to the President. What kind of role do you think hip hop is, in general, going to take in these next four years?

KK: Well, just to kind of explain my theory on the election...

bP: Okay.

KK: Basically, what people don't realize... when I heard they picked John Kerry to run for the Democrats, I knew he was going to lose.

bP: Mm-hmm.

KK: The reason I knew he was going to lose is 'cause he's not a redneck. And if you understand politics, if you study the history of politics, the last unredneck Democrat that won the White House was John F. Kennedy, and we all know what happened to him. Lyndon Johnson was a funky redneck, you had Jimmy Carter, and even Bill Clinton. So, if the Democrats ever want to win, they need to get a redneck to run. Because, as you saw on the chart, the whole middle of the country, the whole red area, basically are rednecks. So they want someone that they can identify with. And George Bush is definitely someone like that. Although he went to Yale, he still comes off as a simple... redneck. So the only way they were going to win is if they got more of a redneck to run than him.

bP: So you think Edwards wasn't enough of a redneck, or he might have...

KK: But he wasn't the front man, and he wasn't enough of one. It's all about the man, the main guy. I don't think Edwards is more of a redneck than Bush. They need to really get another peanut farmer out of the woodwork or something to really do something, if they're ever seriously going to win. Either that, or they can try the movie star route.

bP: The movie star route, yeah, Oprah Winfrey...

KK: Yeah, something, the celebrity or movie star might be the only option. To get back to the other question...

bP: Let's just talk about hip hop. What about hip hop and the ability to send a message out to an audience? Did you catch that Eminem clip?

KK: Yeah. I mean, Fahrenheit 9/11 was the number one movie in the country, but it doesn't matter. None of that stuff really matters. In the mid-80s, when we had Ronald Reagan, that's when political rap really started, because of what he was doing to the country. You had Public Enemy and all this other stuff happening, but he still won, it didn't change anything, and Bush still won after him. It's good that people want to say stuff and they want to raise issues, I think that's a good thing to do, and it shows the power of the voice to a degree, but honestly, it all comes back to the redneck, it really does. The majority of this country, the middle of the country is ignorant, and they want someone they can identify with.

bP: They like good beats, right?

KK: Yeah, man, it's all about the bass. A lot of people don't listen to music unless it has the bass, so it's like the same comparison. It's like your bass has got to be the redneck base.

bP: Were you thinking of that when you made Redneck Games, yeah?

KK: Yeah, of course. Being a white guy in hip hop... used to be very uncommon, when I got into it.... People used to like... I used to DJ all-black frat parties, and be the white guy DJing and people would be like "Who... What's going on here?" (laughter) you know, playing black music and stuff. So I sort of became what people were calling me anyway.

bP: I'd say hip hop's gotten incredibly diverse at this point, there's all kinds of ethnic groups of folks making hip hop. You could argue it's actually the most racially diverse music genre out there. Couldn't you say that?

KK: Yeah, well, like for instance, in a country like Germany... their music there is very limited, but their hip hop scene is huge. I work with a guy there named Kool Savas. And he's one of the biggest guys in Germany. Of course, the market's smaller, but... you know, it's accessible to people, people identify with it. He's a Turkish guy, and the Turkish people are the working class repressed people in Germany, so they gravitated towards hip hop. And I think countries like Japan, they eat it up. The problem is that it's just become so pop and jiggified that, in a sense, it's hard for artists in a sense doing something more true to the form or different, to get the same kind of shine as these other acts that are just- more or less- exploiting.

bP: So, I want to get a sense for what's coming up next for KutMasta Kurt. You've had a big year with releases already. You're going to go out and play a bunch of shows behind this new release, yeah?

KK: Yeah, I'm trying to get that all sorted for the new year. I'm going to be in Thailand...

bP: Awesome.

KK: In January I'll be in Thailand and a few other Asian places around that area, hopefully... maybe India. In the new year, I'm looking to hit Europe, England and stuff like that.

bP: Are you going to go out there and play redneck country, all those red states?

KK: That's the goal, really. I think I'd like to just get a tractor and drive around through the fields and do a promotional tour on my tractor.

bP: (laughter)

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