"If it's dope, it's dope; if it's wack, it's wack," vented Encore via cell phone from California's cultural cradle. Sounding tentative compared to the confident flows of Layover, his most recent contribution to the dusty shelves of underground hip-hop record stores, the humble emcee described his blueprint for mainstream success: organic collaborations, diverse heartfelt material, and skilled delivery -- not-so-secret weapons for, let's be honest, a not-so-likely industry coup d'etat.
Despite initial skepticism, Encore made us believers after many spins of Layover, his sophomore album, and one scattered Monday evening conversation via cell phone. Weaving his car up and down steep south Bay Area streets, Encore opened up to Prefix about touring with rising Native Tongue-esque stars Little Brother in the fall of 2003, his beef with hip-hop fans, and his hoped-for ascent out of the confines of the indie hip-hop ghetto. If the former Army reservist is lucky, his candor and commitment to making good music will convert you as well. Either way, Encore will be alright. Diamond plaques and critical acclaim will always play a backseat to making good music.
Prefix Magazine: I wanted to start by asking you about the Hieroglyphics Tour, since that was when I, and I imagine others, were first introduced to you. How was it?
Encore: Part One: It was really fun. It was the first time I did the whole United States and Canada. It was like family. And Hiero -- a lot of them cats I've known for a while. It was a good experience for me to get out and touch the people. PM: What about your relationship with Little Brother? How was working with them -- or rather, being on tour with them?
Encore: Part One: Those are my boys. We were in the RV together. You stay in an RV with somebody for that long, you're either going to hate each other or you're going to love each other. Luckily, those are like my brothers; I call them up and every now and then. We talk about some stuff and see how they're doing. They call and see how I'm doing. I'm probably going to be doing something with Phonte and Pooh on my next album pretty soon. It all depends on how things go down. I want to make sure that I don't just have people on my record just to have them on there. I want to make sure it actually fits, that it makes sense to have them on the album. It really depends on the concept of the song and what I'm looking for. PM: How does Layover differ from Self-Preservation, your 2000 full-length debut?
Encore: Part One: Layover shows more facets of my personality than Self-Preservation. Self-Preservation was kind of like the culmination of songs I had put together over two to three years. It was all in one little vein to making sure that I show people that I can actually rap. I don't want y'all sleeping on me or feeling like I can't spit or I can't hold my own weight. People got the idea that's all I do or that's all I'm really about as far as rapping is concerned. On this album, I wanted to show a few different facets of my personality and different ideas and thoughts that I had as I got older. PM: What are some of those different facets?
Encore: Part One: The tempo on the music -- not all of it but some of it -- is a little bit more up-tempo. As far as my personality, I speak on love for family, females, my relationship with God, my struggle with trying to find my way in life. At the same time I'm still showing that I can still spit, still rap and do my thing. I talk about the struggle for black folks in general, the struggle as a human trying to do my thing in society. I try to just have that balance. PM: Where did the album title come from? What's the story behind that?
Encore: Part One: It's like a waiting period. The flight is my direction in music. I don't have a clear-cut idea of where I want to go with my music, but I know that Layover is the waiting period. I'm waiting for a few reasons. Part of it is that I don't have all the tools to give me the flexibility to experiment the way I want to experiment. I don't have the big budget. I don't have the budget to get people who I want to work with. Let's say, for example, I wanted to work with Chaka Kahn or whoever. Right now, I wouldn't have the ability to do that. I might have the ideas on my mind, but I have to wait, which is my layover. It's also kind of like "lay awaiting." We get pigeonholed. If you're on an independent label, you're automatically classified as underground. You're automatically classified as a backpack rapper. And it wouldn't really have a bad connotation to it if people didn't assume that if you do underground music or you're on the underground label, your music has to sound a certain way. To be considered underground, you can't have anybody signing on it; you can't have a hook; it's got to be grimy, muddy, dirty, type stuff. To me that's bullshit. Let's make good music! It shouldn't matter whether you're on a major label or an independent. If it's dope, it's dope; if it's wack, it's wack. You shouldn't be caught up in all these labels. I'm waiting so I can get out of being pigeonholed. PM: How did the song "Real Talk" with Mecca come together? Did you come up with the concept and ask her to get involved, or was it a joint collaboration?
Encore: Part One: It's funny because that song just came up because of the music. My boy Vitamin D, who produced three songs on the album, played the beat for me. The concept came into my head five minutes into listening to the beat. I finished my verse on the flight home (from Seattle). We didn't have Mecca's verse until I actually hooked up with her. My publicist was working with Mec's manager on something. Before I even knew she was working with her on it, I had Mec's Digable Planet image in mind; her whole vibe is what I was thinking about on this track. I had the demo with my verse and the verse I wrote for her, and they sent it to her and she was feeling it. The rest is history. PM: How did the video happen? It's not that common for people who aren't on a major label to get a video?
Encore: Part One: The cats who did the video are called KUAMP; they actually did Kanye West's video for "Through the Wire." Two or three people actually came up like, "We want to do a video for this." KUAMP had the best treatment. We weren't even really sure whether or not we wanted to do a video. Like you said, with an independent label it's hard to spend money on that and take the gamble on whether or not it's going to get played. Domino, who runs the Hiero label, was behind the record. Everybody felt it was a really strong record, abnormally strong for an independent record. Plus, the concept and the fact that it's the cats who did Kanye's video. Kanye's name is hot right now, even though it's kind of silly, because in no way did Kanye do anything with this song. You know how the industry is. It's cool, but its kind of wack in that sense. Plus they work for MTV, so the chances of it getting on are good. So we'll see. It don't mean anything, it just means we goin' try.