MassInflu, a/k/a MassInfluence , was one of the most beloved acts to emerge out of the Atlanta underground hip-hop scene of the '90s. Esteemed beatsmith Damu the Fudgemunk is one of the biggest MassInflu fans around. So much so that Damu has released the group's first single in 10 years, "Morning Breath Chasers," on his label Redefinition Records. AND... he's even interviewed the group for us. How could we say no? Discussed herein: coming back from a decade-long layoff, members Cognito and H2O 's acclaimed work in design and photography (hit up the gallery above for a taste), the history of Fat Beats Atlanta, and more.
Damu: For those who don’t know, briefly introduce MassInfluence. What's the significance of the name itself?
H2O: The definition is actually in the name itself... "To influence or be influenced by the mass."
Rubix: It’s meant to encompass everything, something that big in scope can’t really be held to a strict definition. So we say “To be or influence the masses." Not to be all space-aged.
Damu: Tell us about the new single, "Morning Breath Chasers."
Rubix: It’s a song we had recorded a while ago. John at Redef had "Morning Breath Chasers" in his computer and wanted to have a copy for his record collection. To his surprise there was none to be found! He got on the email horn and reached out to us, we were like, “Bet!”
Damu: It’s great to see a new MassInflu record. How does it feel considering the hiatus? What has everyone been up too since the last 12”?
H2O: Seeing a record on vinyl in this day in age feels about as rare as our previous releases. [ laughs ] It's great to see someone else take such an interest in our music on their own to where they wanna release it on vinyl. Since our last 12-inch, I've continued doing artwork for other artists in Atlanta... and I've made more than a few vocal or production appearances on albums & 12-inches with Collective Efforts, Count Bass D, Dillon Maurer & DJ Pocket. I've also been recording my first solo album entitled, Stupid Little Rap Kids .
Rubix: I’ve been fixing up a batch of the good stuff… as the old new guy I’ve been in the studio cutting songs. It’s something I’ll always do. Have a song on the Talib Kweli record Prisoner of Conscience that should hit the world soon!
Cognito: I've been keeping the creative energy moving in more of a visual realm, but still in the music world. I started a visual design group with my partner Jewell called FROLAB.com where we “Frolaborate” with musicians and artists on photography, videos, web and graphic design for their campaigns. I started documenting Kweli in 1999 for a not-yet-released documentary with my partner, Video Rahim, and have moderated lectures for the Red Bull Music Academy.
Damu: Cognito - what role has photography played in your life?
Cognito: I have a true passion for documenting moments in hip-hop that most would never be able to experience. I've been blessed to travel and document some of my favorite artists like Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (a/k/a Mos Def), DOOM, Erykah Badu, and Bad Brains, to name a few.
In 2010 I curated an exhibit of photos I captured during the making-of and tour for Mos Def's LP Ecstatic . In 2011, I documented the making of the Robert Glasper Experiment's Black Radio album, capturing photos and video, and directing a behind-the-scenes promo clip. This year in 2012 I shot the cover photo and wrote a piece for Frank 151 on my travels as the DJ for DOOM in Australia. You can peep more at CultureCaptureChamps.com
Damu: How do you compare creating and releasing music 10 years ago to versus today?
H2O: We had the Internet back then but it was being used mostly for emailing or sitting in chat-rooms. We had pre-production studio equipment at our Mitchell Street loft, but it was far from a soundproof-ed recording environment. We had digital cameras but they didn't take the greatest pictures and film was still the norm. We had computers but they weren't nearly as fast, intelligent or as inexpensive as they are today. In all... the huge advancement of technology is something we never saw coming this fast.
Rubix: It’s the gift and curse of the Internet as a medium to express your art. If you’re into the blogs that promote music you’re kinda given the same stuff all the time from the same people. Then you have things like social media sites and video sites as a form of promotion. Some of these were around but not to the extent we see today.
Cognito: 10 years ago you had to actually put in time to make your music the best you could. Most people wouldn’t have had the balls big enough to put something out that they just created 5 minutes ago and feel confident about it when 25 “friends” say it is good. Now the second it's bounced down they're on youtube or Twitter thirsty for attention.
Damu. Many Massinflu songs touch on being true to self and examine dynamics in the underground to mainstream. In my opinion, those topics will always be relevant culturally and artistically. How do those concepts fit in today’s landscape?
H2O: In most stories of ambition, people will talk about their rise to greatness or their falls to defeat. It's obvious that no one is guaranteed the successes they dream of but, I believe you can value a loss or a gain the same, if you're being realistic and honest with yourself first. These concepts will continue to fit in every time's landscapes for as long as we have stories of ambition.
Rubix: It’s a funny thing, most anyone making music today would say that’s what they are doing. The most mainstream artist says they have only been doing what they feel is hot. In my opinion that’s showing a desire to “keep it true.” Now whether the music actually is that for their audience is where the breakdown happens in most mainstream music. We literally pull from our day-to-day experiences to fill our content.
Cognito: We can only speak on what we know and what we've been through.
Damu: Physical record stores are dying business. You were involved with Fat Beats Atlanta before it closed. How did the community embrace Fat Beats when it opened and how did things differ when it closed?
Cognito: Because we were one of the first indie labels to put vinyl out and get distro thru Fat Beats, I put it in the air to Joe that I wanted to help open the store. At first we got some hate from local cats who supported the legendary Ear Wax Records, but once I got the green light from the owner Jasz, who saw Fat Beats as an opportunity to help build a bigger and better community in the city, we were greeted with opened arms. I was the college and radio rep for Rawkus records at the time, so we were the home of underground hip-hop in the A. As far as in-stores we had some classic shit happen fro sho! I brought the Lyricist Lounge to Atlanta (the first time they ever had them outside of NY) and we had everyone from Black Star, Dead Prez, Co-Flow, De La, Heiro, and The Beat Junkies. Our grand opening concert was one for the record books with Massinflu, The Beatnuts, J-Live, Afu-Ra, The Arsonists, Non-Phixion, and Gang Starr.
Damu: Any notable southern artists who hung out prior to stardom?
Cognito: Big Boi, Goodie Mob, and Ludacris came through the shop often.
Damu: Hip-hop groups are very rare these days. Most acts are solo artists and I can only think of a few that feature more than one vocalist. How have you all maintained the bond?
H2O: I think the fact that we appreciate each others friendships more than anything else is what's kept us connected. We were all doing things separately during the hiatus but, we still spoke to each other for hours every other day... we never lost contact with each other.
Rubix: We have all been friends for more years than we wanna count. It’s a respect for each other and an honesty for the sake of growth of that respect. Though we may not always speak when we get together it’s like we never had a break. We all are friends more that any other thing and that’s really what works for us.
Cognito: With the good and the bad we never lost the bond that brought us together as a group. We've been thru enough as men to know that being true friends first is what makes the music great. We have examples like De La, Public Enemy, Boot Camp, to name a few who have stayed tru to the vision they started out with and stayed with it.