MW: How do You like the festival so far?
I: I love Hip Hop Kemp! This year it's not as packed as it used to be, but the vibe is still there. When You walk around, You see people celebrating - I always liked it. Hip Hop Kemp is very intimate and real hip hop festival.
MW: How did You discover hip-hop? Was there a particular artist, album or track that made You think "This is what I want to do"?
I: When I was a kid, I was often playing with LEGO at my uncle's house. He also played a lot of music on the cassette tape - this was the late 80's. One cassette he often played was a compilation - it had "99 Red Balloons" by Nena on it, Scorpions - all types of different music. There was one song on it called "The Message". From all these songs, I think this was my favorite. I always fast-forwarded the tape to that song and listened to it over and over again, without knowing if this is hip-hop, pop, rock or whatever. I liked this song so much because it was so different. I didn't speak English then, but I stll kinda understood - the song was called "The Message", so it was basically a message to me. Since that I became interested in hip-hop, unknowingly - my uncle had a couple more records, like Run-DMC albums. That led me automatically to hip-hop. I started listening to it constantly.
MW: When did You start producing Your own music?
I: Five-six years later. When I got a little bit into the music and hip-hop culture, I discovered graffiti, and became little more active on this scene. That's actually where my name comes from - Illegal, because of the graffiti. The music was always there though - in 1992 I organized a party, and the DJ I booked for this show didn't show up. I had a house full of people, but no music and DJ. I had to go home and pick up my collection - I had like 20-25 records. So I just started playing my records, I didn't know how to DJ, so I didn't mix anything, just let the records play.... The party was crazy, everybody liked it. This was the first step in me becoming a DJ. If You go more into DJ'ing and turntablism, You start studying beat structure, beat juggling and becoming more familiar with kicks and snares and everything - programming and so on. From there it was a small step to finally doing my own production. I liked to do remixes - the instrumental on one deck, a cappella on the other. For example - I'll get Mobb Deep a cappella and combine it with Nas beat. One day I decided to make my "own" remix, so I took an a cappella and produced my own beat. From just listening to hip-hop, through graffitti, DJ'ing to producing - everything happened naturally, because I loved it and wanted to do it. One thing lead to another. Even today - I manage the Goon MuSick label, I went more into business, I also like photographing and videotaping - I do my own videos now... Everything comes naturally, I always do what I love, I follow my instincts.
MW: What were the beginnings of the Snowgoons collective?
I: When I started doing my own remixes and producing, I put out a mixtape with my own remixes. I was selling the mixtape on the shows, it was 1997 - that's when I met Det Gunner. He bought the mixtape and he really liked it. We became friends, we called each other on the telephone and wanted to do our own mixtape. Again, one thing led to another. After a couple of mixtapes we were thinking: "How can we be exclusively in Europe"? We liked the big DJ's in the States, they always got exclusive freestyles - like Tony Touch, who lives in New York and can invite whoever he wants. It was different in Europe - it was much further, and in the 90's, there weren't many tours of underground MC's. It was impossible to do an exclusive freestyle for a mixtape. We wanted the exclusive freestyles too, so we started thinking what can we do. First, we started producing more beats. Then, around the year 2000, when I was also working as a tour manager, I got in contact with different artists, like Virtuoso from Boston - he was one of the first ones to rhyme over a Snowgoons beat. That's where it came from - there was no idea of a producer's crew at the beginning, we just wanted to do our own mixtapes. We started working on tracks for a mixtape, but around 2001-2002 mixtapes died, nobody bought them anymore, CD became the next big thing. Even the DJ's started to put their mixtapes on CD's. Det and I had so many songs, so we decided to make an album instead of a mixtape. That's basically when the idea of Snowgoons started. It took us around 6-7 years to finally put an album - "German Lugers". It took a lot of work.
MW: What was the very first international cooperation?
I: As I said - Virtuoso. He was on a tour with Souls of Mischief - I actually met them yesterday, here at Hip Hop Kemp - he was opening for them on their European tour. We met, we connected, and he actually invited us to Boston. At that time, Det's sister moved from Germany to Boston - so we agreed, we visited both her and Virtuoso. When we were there, Virtuoso introduced us to a lot of Boston artists, like Mr. Lif and Illin' P. From one connection to another.
That's what I like about Hip Hop Kemp - for us artists it's almost like a family meeting. Sometimes You see artists You haven't seen in years. You may not be close friends, but You are music friends. It's good to see them after a couple of years, maybe reconnect, talk about music, maybe do a new song... It's important for us. Kemp is a great festival not only for the audience, but also for us artists to reconnect and build again.
MW: From all these collaborations You've done over the years - do You have Your favorite?
I: After all these years - it's really hard to say, there's a lot of them. For example the Onyx album was special, because I think we really brought back that Onyx flavor - and we're all big Onyx fans. The mutual respect between Onyx and Snowgoons is something I'm really proud of. We're proud of this album, because a lot of people say that that was what Onyx sounds like, that we gave them the perfect soundtrack. But there's also so many great artists we've worked with - like Reef the Lost Cauze, Ill Bill, Sean Strange - that basically turned to close friends, it went beyond music. That was always a big aspect of hip-hop for me - it connects people. We're a good example right now - You're from another country, I'm from another country, and we're talking about hip-hop. That's what I love about this culture. Hip-hop connects people, no matter where they're from.
MW: What's Your creative process, when You work on a beat?
I: It starts more or less from the sample. Snowgoons' music is really sample-based music - we also add a lot of keys, we have beats with no samples too - but the majority of it is all samples and loops. Me personally, I always go first with the sample. I hear something, I loop it, I put the drums on - that's the way to go for me. It gives me the natural feeling of the mood and where this loop goes, what kind of drums I need - hard ones, softer ones, maybe a clap... It always depends on the mood and the sound of the sample. I know people that base it all on the drumset and then add the sample later. I guess everybody needs to figure out what's best for them.
MW: Do You have a dream collaboration, an artist You have yet to record with?
I: Yeah. I can pretty much speak for the whole Snowgoons - it's Nas. Of course, there is a big list of artists we haven't worked with yet, for example - Prodigy, Rest in Peace. We've actually talked with P about a project, because we wanted to do a Mobb Deep album. They told us they didn't want to do a whole album, because they already had one in the works, produced by The Alchemist. Prodigy was still interested though, and he basically offered to do a project with him. We always were big fans of Mobb Deep and Prodigy, so it was a big honor for us. We started to work on the album, put some beats that we thought were good for P beside... But then, unfortunately, Prodigy passed away.
But yeah, the no. 1 dream collabo is still Nas. I really think Snowgoons are able to do a good Nas song, or maybe even the whole project. We could be a great fit for Nas' style and flow.
MW; So, what's next for Snowgoons?
I: There is no rest for the Snowgoons! We're always busy. Sicknature - as he is a rapper too - is working on his solo stuff. He's dropped an EP and a new single recently. We're working on new Snowgoons record that's hopefully coming next year... And of course, there's the new Nine album. I think it's safe to say that we are known for this 90's sound and our work with 90's artists. We want to make good music with artists that we like - that's our goal. For us, it's not important to seek whoever's poppin' right now. We don't care about that. We started working on Nine's album, because we love Nine, his gritty delivery and voice. We knew we had to come up with some hardcore beats, Nine was down for it - it was a natural thing to do. It doesn't matter if we sell one record, or ten thousand - we just wanted to make a Nine album. We wanted to do this for hip-hop and for us - the rest doesn't really matter. We're also working on couple other projects I can't get into now.
We also set up our own merch store called Goonsgear.com. There we will sell our stuff, including music. We need to generate money to make new albums. If I wanted to just make money, I'd be an EDM DJ or something... I want to do what I love - and that's hip-hop. We're thinking of some new ways - like for example selling merchandise - if You buy some merch, You'll get the music basically for free. We'll still have CD's and vinyls for the hardcore fans, but let's face it - it's not possible anymore to sell like 10 000 copies of a CD. Nowadays every vinyl that's coming out is a limited edition. Unless You're a megastar, You're not going to sell much. If we want to have some money, we will probably concentrate on merchandise. A T-shirt You can't download. But if You buy it, You'll get music for free. That's the concept we are going to maybe introduce in the future.
MW: Do You have some advice for aspiring DJ's and producers?
I: Everybody wants to be successful, but ultimately - don't look too much on the success. Keep doing what You love. If You keep doing what You think is hot - every trend is going to die. Don't chase the trends, do what You love. If You keep doing something from the heart, keep practicing, doing it and eventually You'll reach success. Don't give up, stay on it. Be consistent. A lot of people think producing beats is easy - trust me, it's not. You have to earn respect and work hard. And stay on it.