I first told you about Shinobi Stalin when I reviewed his debut album Zombie Skool last year (time flies!) and as he is about to release his new project entitled Invisible Man, I got a chance to catch up with him and ask a few questions. The Orlando-based MC and producer, who is part of the Vets of Kin and Civil Mics among others, has quite a few interesting things to say and it is a real pleasure for me to share those with you now. I want to thank him for taking some time to answer my questions, and Civil Mics’ creator Twist for putting me on his music in the fist place. Without further delay, here is Shinobi Stalin, in his own words…
First of all, for people who are not familiar with you and your music, who is Shinobi Stalin? I have to say the name somewhat puzzled me when I first heard it. Any interesting story behind this seemingly unlikely association?
I am just your run of the mill half Black Puerto Rican, Eastside Ozone rhyme spitter, nothing special about me except the fact that I write pretty good. My rhyme name is on some middle school shit honestly. I came up with the first part in like 7th grade. My favorite game on the Sega Genesis is “Shinobi 3″. He wasn’t a typical ninja all in the shadows sneaking up on fools. He wore all white and walked throwing daggers exploding his enemies. I took that, and saw the daggers Jewells dropped and the enemies as the minds of those listening creating the spark and big bang. The Stalin part came as a joke. My homie Kazarian and I used to make beats at his crib, play a game called “Medal of Honor” on the PC, and watch mad WW2 documentaries. We called ourselves the Axis Power Click just messing around and that’s how I got the Stalin part. I took Stalin because he was known to erase his enemies or threats from history. This dude would literally take cats names out of books, take their faces off of photographs, and send cats to Siberia, homie was nuts. 1 + 1 = 2 and the name sounded rather unique so I ran with it.
You are part both of the Civil Mics Movement and Vets of Kin, among other groups or collectives. Could you tell us more about how those came to life and how you became part of them? Is it important for you all to keep this kind of group spirit, as opposed to always working solo?
Well Civil Mics was Twisted Visionz first. This guy who calls himself Twist hit me up on Soundclick years ago about getting on a song with a couple of cats he heard on the site. He took his favorite emcees and producer and made a group where he was all up in the videos, he is like a southern Suge Knight / Diddy who likes to wear Kool Moe Dee Glasses. After Twisted Visionz, the man known as Twist took his networking prowess and started collabing with artists and producers from all over the world. The collective was really deep, then he disappeared (he had a bid to do), came back and thinned the ranks. Now he takes 90 percent of my publishing. I am now in the process of suing him, but if I see him in the streets he is getting the one hitter quitter.
While 2010 was quite an awesome year for Civil Mics, with many projects and singles, I had a feeling it was only the beginning. When I listen to Bomb Run, the latest single from Shinobi Stalin, I am definitely convinced of this. After the release of his first full-length Zombie Skool back in 2008, the MC is currently working on the follow-up, entitled Invisible Man. I am obviously looking forward to hearing the new project, as well as all the solo releases from the Vets of Kin member scheduled for this year. From the very first seconds of Bomb run, I was caught up in the great prod, courtesy of Tek The Intern. The atmosphere of the track is quite dark and moody, almost hypnotic and it was clearly impossible not to nod my head to its rhythm. To complement this beautiful instrumental, Shinobi Stalin’s flow and lyrics are on point. Matching some of the feelings I may have in regards to the state of the world and its future, the words are a mixture between pessimism and realism. There is also a sort of martial feeling to it, which I could already notice in several Vets of Kin earlier releases. To put it simply, I will play this track quite regularly, to indulge in the beautiful darkness of the production and the quality of Shinobi Stalin’s flow and lyrics.
You can indulge as well, by going to Shinobi Stalin’s Bandcamp, or simply by clicking on the link below. You can also download Bomb RunHERE
I told you about the upcoming Vets Of Kin album in a recent post (catch up here) and I am happy to tell you that it is now available (as of yesterday)! I have to thank Twist from Civil Mics once again, first for putting me on their music and second for suggesting I interview AMiAM, one of the crew’s talented MCs and beatmakers. The young artist has some very interesting things to say about hip-hop, his crew and the album and I am quite pleased to share those with you. Without further delay, here is AMiAM, in his own words…
First of all, for people who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself? When and how did you discover hip-hop and started being part of the movement?
Call me AMiAM or Freddy Douglas. I’m an MC, producer, original B-Boy, promoter, and more in the works. (Laughs) I overheard hip hop from my pops playing Kool Moe Dee, or my brother MyGrane playing NWA. I recorded my first rhyme when I was like 6. I didn’t even write it. My brother kind of made me do it. I just wanted to do something cool at the time with big bro you know? Then when got older, I started break dancing real heavy in ’97. Shit turned for me when my brother woke me up on a school night to show me a his first Open Campain album that he recorded with his boy MURDOC. It was called “Suspense”. Yo I bumped that shit for a year! Started writing my own shit in 99, been nonstop ever since.
You took part in several freestyle battles and won quite a few of them. I have to say you’re a very skilled lyricist and have a lot of imagination. Is it important for you to emphasise this aspect of hip-hop and of your talent?
Some days start in a so-so way but then there is something that will make you feel good and put a smile on your face. What happened to me today was this: I was chilling on the net, minding my own business, when Twist from Civil Mics sent me this exclusive track, first single of the upcoming Vets of Kin album. I immediately liked the prod, courtesy of Shinobi Stalin (who is clearly as gifted creating music as he is writing and rapping) and the atmosphere of the track. I already mentioned Vets of Kin in previous posts and I have to say I’m quite happy discovering more from them. The upcoming album will be released as a collaboration between Civil Mics and Domination Recordings and this is unfortunately the only info I have for the moment. But you can be sure that as soon as I know more I will share the goodness. 360, apart from the beautiful production, is also a great exhibition of Vets of Kin’s members talent in terms of delivery and lyrics and had my head nodding from the very first notes till the end. Of course I’m impatient to hear more tracks from the guys but until then I will listen to this one regularly and I encourage you to do the same!
You can now listen to 360 and discover Vets of Kin universe, in case you were not familiar with them. Enjoy and spread the word!
Because I am curious by nature, I did a little research about Vets of Kin, which is like a super group gathering many of Orlando (aka O-Zone)’s best MCs, including Civil Mics members MyGrane McNastee, Unique Assassin, Shinobi Stalin & Word Chemist. Most of their music sounds quite heavy and I can’t really get the image of them being some kind of superheroes or soldiers fighting for the cause of hip-hop out of my head. I will share a video with you, which I found while doing my research on YouTube. It kind of sums up the ‘martial’ spirit I just mentioned and is entitled Ceremony. Enjoy!
If you are as curious as I am, you can find out more and listen to some goodness on their MySpace
I first told you about Shinobi Stalin when I presented his single Spiritual Law featuring his cousin Word Chemist (catch up here) and I have more to share from him. This album isn’t new, it actually came out in 2008, but I think it definitely deserves to be under my spolight and in your collection. Here is why…
The word I would use to describe Zombie Skool is positivity. From the very first notes of YGB to the closing track Soul rap, Shinobi Staling spreads inspiring messages through well-written lyrics and mostly chilled, jazzy productions. Keeping a balance between lighter topics and more personal and ‘serious’ subjects, he manages to come out with a very uplifting and enjoyable album that is easily put on repeat over and over again. It is definitely feel-good music, while staying true to the spirit of hip-hop and ‘educating’ young people and all the listeners. I particularly appreciate the concept of the project and this teaching aspect, which is a reflection of Shinobi’s job and shows how education can take many forms and reach people in different ways.
In the same way as a day in school is made of different periods, some where you need to concentrate and work hard, others where you can relax and enjoy your time off, Zombie Skool enables you to let your mind go through different phases. It can be open to receive some motivational messages and to be fed with interesting ideas but it can also let go and of stress and be relieved from life hardships. The perfect example of the latter is Smoke break, with a very nice and chilled production courtesy of Shinobi himself. This is one of my favourites and it is definitely a great way to relax and to relate to Shinobi’s need to disconnect from the daily routine. The smoke break is taken as a metaphor and I really like the way he played with that, underlining the need to ‘breathe in all the positive energy’ and to ‘blow out all the negative excess’. This relative lightness of subject can also be found in Confessions of a sneaker addict, which title is quite transparent and in SNM, another one of my favourites, partly because of the great jazzy and uplifting prod, where Shionobi makes a comparison between skating and being an MC, stressing the fact that they are both part of him and different ways for him to express himself.
I already introduced many artists from The Civil Mics Movement to you and presented their solo or collaborative projects. There was a name that came back regularly though, one that I thought you needed to be more familiar with. The young man behind the whole idea, usually far from the spotlight, also has some interesting things to say and it is now my pleasure to introduce you to Twist. I want to thank him for taking some time to answer my questions and to tell us a bit more about himself and the whole movement. Enjoy!
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself? How/when did you fall in love with music and what inspired you to pursue your passion? Also, where does the name ‘Twist’ come from?
Honestly I don’t ever think there was a time in my life where I wasn’t around music. This is going to sound so cliché but I grew up with my grandparents and my grandfather kept a lot of records that he constantly played, from all genres. So I was always around music, it’s always been a part of me. Of course me being younger I caught on to hip-hop because that was the music that spoke specifically to my generation.
As far as my name, one of my favorite books during my childhood was Oliver Twist. I kind of felt like I could relate to the character in the book because I was from a broken home. My parents went through a really bad divorce when I was a baby. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the story, but Oliver Twist eventually ends up joining a gang of young orphans with similar situations and they become his surrogate family. I took the name because that was my experience, only my surrogate family was the hip-hop community even though I couldn’t rap or breakdance (laughs). I took the name around the time I met Shinobi Stalin and he just called me “Twist” for short. It’s a name I’ve grown to hate but it stuck so I’m really at the point of no return.
Could you tell us more about the concept behind the Civil Mics movement, and how did it all start? How did you get in touch and connect with all the members?
Well in the beginning it was just me and Shinobi Stalin. I remember hearing a song he did called Soul Rap and another one he did called Blossom From The Tree. This was about 7 or 8 years ago. I was immediately a fan and I remember just randomly hitting him up one day. It was probably one of the most awkward conversations I’ve ever had. Initially I had no intentions of “managing him”, I was really just a fan of his music and couldn’t understand for the life of me why no one had picked up on him yet. So I started doing a lot of networking for Stalin, just helping him push his music in different ways. Eventually Reeplay and Melodiq came into the fold that was my first official “group”. Soon after that more people started to get involved that were talented and that manifested the Civil Mics Movement. The whole idea behind it being strength in numbers. In the 60’s during the movement for racial equality, Martin Luther King and other leaders were able to create better situations for minorities because they worked together and insisted on equal opportunity. That’s what Civil Mics is about, all of these artists are individually gifted and they all deserve the right to be heard. And this is the vehicle that WE created to make that happen.
Many things are happening with different members of Civil Mics these days, whether with solo or collaborative projects. Could you tell us about some of them?
Well collectively we’re all still finishing up The Braille album. I know that’s been said over and over again but everything has to be perfect and I want everyone to have a hand in it. That’s going to be released on Domination Records real soon. Also Sean J and Shinobi Stalin are both working on their solo albums. Those will be out in the near future. We’re also working on a solo project for Wordchemist, the name of the album is Basic Mathematics and that’s going to be coming out this year. FlyDefinition is going to be sponsoring that one. Me and Shade Cobain have a compilation we’re working on as well, it’s going to feature a lot of artists from our extended family and that’s going to be titled C-List Celebrity Status so that’s another priority right now. A lot of things to look out for, I don’t wanna leak too much but there are plenty of things in store.
You have been connecting and working with many like-minded, passionate people lately, thanks partly to social networking websites. Do you feel there is a movement being created, for the renewal of positive values and inspiring messages in music?
Definitely, I was actually just having a conversation with DJ [from Domination Recordings] about that. It’s really exciting to see all these new independent brands come out of nowhere. There are so many out right now, all the artists are talented and they each stand out in their own way. It’s definitely exciting to be around all the high energy.
Civil Mics members are scattered in different places in the States and in the UK and you are collaborating with artists from several different areas of the US as well. Is it important for you to be open and expand your horizons?
That’s definitely important and something that I’m aiming to do. The resources are there, it’s just a matter of utilizing them and putting in the proper work to make it happen.
On a personal level, what/who inspires you? Where do you find the motivation to keep pushing and achieve your goals and dreams?
I would say for me personally just other people that are like-minded and striving for the same things. The people on my team are constantly working so that’s encouraging. Sean J and Shinobi Stalin are both amazing artists and they’re always coming up with new ideas and putting out new music. The other brands really motivate me to do what I do as well. Like I was saying before there are so many new brands emerging right now and that’s really exciting to me. From Above Ground Magazine to Uncommon Records to MUTANT EMCEES, the list is constantly growing. I definitely wanna shoutout DJ from Domination Recordings and Terell Strickland who runs FlyDefinition. They’re definitely an inspiration, they’re both ambitious and are constantly putting things into motion. It’s people like them that power this movement.
When you are not busy promoting Civil Mics, what are your favourite ways of spending your time? Do you have any other interests or personal projects you would like to talk about?
Well when I’m not promoting music, most of my spare time consists of listening to music from other artists, especially independent. It’s always enjoyable to discover new artists… I guess the short answer to your question would be that I don’t have much of a social life.
Anything else you would like to add?
First and foremost, thank you Carminelitta for giving me this opportunity to build with you. I also want to take this time to give a shoutout to my immediate family (Civil Mics) Shinobi Stalin, Unique Assassin, SoyReal, Diverse, Sean J, MyGrane McNastee, Kendall (Green Fiend), Melodiq, Reeplay and WordChemist. All the artists in our extended family: Shade Cobain (my older brother), Unselftitled, Nena, Jon Quest, AmIAm, Crew 54, MUDKIDS, Divine Seven, Vets Of Kin, Geechie Suede (Camp Lo), Grey Matter, J Biz, Edgar Allen Floe, Sean Boog. All the brands that are fueling this movement: Mutant Emcees, Domination Records, Above Ground Magazine, FlyDefinition, 808Shirts, FTG, Can We Kick It (my cousin Demarco), Apocolypse Clothing, Carminelitta’s World, SHRUGLIFE and ThemFightingWords .
If I left you out it wasn’t intentionally so don’t take it personal. Much love and respect to everyone that’s a part of this movement right now. Fists Up!
Twist from Civil Mics told me about Shinobi Stalin months ago, but I didn’t really get to listen to a lot of his music until recently. And this is one of those cases where I was wondering why I had been sleeping for so long… Fortunately, the saying ‘better late than never’ is true, and I can now make up for my lack of reactivity. If you’ve never heard of Shinobi Stalin before, here is a little something that should convince you of his talent and make you want to hear more!
Spiritual Law is the first collaboration between him and his cousin Word Chemist and is not featured anywhere for the moment, but it’s a very nice introduction to their universe. The production, by Abbott, is very chilled and has this old-shcool feeling to it that makes me nod my head and relax at the same time. What I really appreciate is the very smooth and natural delivery of the MCs, as well as the interesting lyrics, that once again make me feel quite confident about the present and future of hip-hop. I’ve heard so many talented MCs in the past months that I wonder how some people can still claim that it’s a lost art…
Shinobi Stalin is currently working on several projects, including the highly anticipated Civil Mics album, as well as his next album, Invisible Man, with Domination Recordings and Vets of Kin. While waiting for all this goodness, you can listen to Spiritual Law below.
Every time I receive an email from Sean J I know it is to announce some good news. As if it was not enough giving away two appetizers (DILLIGAFand Do better), FTG (Flip Them Guys) aka Sean J & Soy are now offering a last treat before the release of their WTF (Who The Flip) mixtape very shortly. This time, it’s not an exclusive track but it’s a great way to discover more from the very talented MC and his producer. One step from greatness was originally a bonus on the Internet version of Sean J’s album A Tree By Itself (if you haven’t heard it yet, you can check out my review here) and features Civil Mics member Shinobi Stalin and Hawaiian MC Daewon.
Once again, the prod is amazing, as are the delivery and lyrics. The three MCs, who are even joined by producer Soy, giving a shot at rhyming, spread a motivating message, acknowledging that they’re ‘one step from greatness’ but keeping on pushing and doing their thing. This is exactly the king of track that makes me feel confident about the future of hip-hop, as I realise that these young people are carrying the torch with brio and encouraging the listeners to think and appreciate the message.
All I have to say now is that the WTF mixtape should bless your ears very soon, and remind you that it is mixed by DJ Sureshot and presented by Reign Clothing Boutique. You can listen to One step from greatness below and you can download it here. Feel free to check out Sean J‘s website and Soy‘s blog as well for more goodness. Enjoy!