Though it sounds paradoxical, the Living Legends crew works in a world that is as much business-like braggadocio as it is flat-out keeping it real. With the majority of the eight-member group involved in a number of reputable projects (including the CMA, the Underbosses, 3 Melancholy Gypsies, and releases on Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers Entertainment, and their own Legendary Music), the collective has established itself as a consistent West Coast force. With the release of Classic earlier this year, the Living Legends have proven yet again they are one of hip-hop's hardest working crews. Before a highly energetic show with Jedi Mind Tricks and Pigeon John in Vancouver, Prefix's Josiah Hughes sat down with founding Legend Luckiyam.PSC in the group's tour bus to talk about the crew's DIY standpoint and how Classic came to be.
Prefix Magazine: What projects are you involved in right now?
Living Legends: At the present time, I'm involved with helping promote and push the new Living Legends album, Classic. At the same time, me and Grouch are still promoting the new CMA record, All Over. Besides that, I deal with helping run Legendary Music, our record label and distribution company. I'll probably start working on my next solo album in the summer and a project with Murs (the Underbosses) at the end of the year. PM: What's your role in Legendary Music?
Living Legends: I help book the tours and stuff. I'm the liaison between the big agent, when we're doing U.S. and Canadian tours, and spot dates, when people call if they want Living Legends to do separate shows outside of that. I also book for our international touring. PM: From the start, the Legends have always taken a do-it-yourself approach. What inspires you to maintain that ethic?
Living Legends: That mantra we adopted, it goes beyond music: it's in life. Look at our country. The United States is basically a corporation, or a bunch of corporations, acting as a free country or government, and we think people need to learn self-empowerment. It cuts down on corruption, and you don't get cheated because you're not going to cheat yourself. No one can work as hard as you can work for yourself. We figured we should adapt that kind of thought into the music we want to put out, so it can't be twisted, so it can't be controlled. Someone's not pimping us. We don't have to answer to or fit into a cookie-cutter format for the things we want to do. It's good for us in that sense. We can make more money off it and we have more quality control. But since we're not signed to a big corporation or big label, a lot of doors are still closed to us. PM: Does that mean you would never sign with a major label?
Living Legends: Well, I wouldn't say never. If someone gave us the perfect deal, of course we would run with it. But, those companies are interested in milking things, and I think we're too smart for anybody to give us the kind of contract that we want. PM: It really seems that the distinction between underground and mainstream hip-hop is really getting blurred anyway.
Living Legends: There's so much stuff that can be thrown into the category of "underground" these days that I don't even like calling what we do an "underground" act. I would say "independent," but then "independent" makes a big ol' category. I don't even know what to call what we're doing at this point. You're right: it is blurred. How are you gonna call Atmosphere an underground group when they sell more than a lot of people who are signed to major labels? It's about the amount of money you have behind what you're doing -- I guess that's where people try to distinguish what's what. But then, there's a lot of stuff that's in the mainstream that's crap, and then there's a lot of underground that's garbage too. It's either good music or it isn't. PM: With such a rigorous tour schedule, what keeps you from becoming jaded?
Living Legends: The people who come up to you and truly express that something you wrote about or a song or a feeling helped them with times in their life. When they really related to it on that level, beyond it just being something that's popular at the moment. Plus, some of us have that bug where they're just road warriors and they're constantly touring. I'm one of those people, and the other guy that's like that is Murs. Most of the Living Legends, they only do like one big tour a year. Last year I toured the Northwest with the Legends, then I went out to Maui with them and made Classic. After that I toured Europe with Atmosphere, then in the summer I toured Japan with Eligh and Murs, and then in October I went to South America and did stuff in Peru and Brazil. After that I toured Australia with Murs at the end of the year. The year before that I did three U.S. tours. I just think I'm made for this kind of life. It's not for everybody. It's not recommended for the weak at heart. PM: You never wake up in the morning and dread the fact that you're on tour?
Living Legends: You know those travel cases that you carry your toiletries in? When I'm at home, that's hanging up in my bathroom. I don't even take my shit out! PM: What brought about the decision to record in Maui?
Living Legends: We had a meeting about Legendary Music business, and then we were talking about doing our next crew album. We had never really had an experience of recording all together on one project, and we used to always say things like, "Man, wouldn't it be nice if we could just go to Hawaii and just stay out there and record an album." We were finally in the position to be able to afford it, so we voted, and were like, "Okay, let's go to Maui and get a house. Go out there, stay for like a month, and do an album." That's how Classic happened. PM: Is that something you'd do again?
Living Legends: Yeah, the next spot is Costa Rica. PM: What was the dynamic like with everyone there at once? Was it difficult to stay organized?
Living Legends: The dynamic, it was dope. It's different than doing a solo thing or doing the CMA with Grouch. It's kinda easier, because all you gotta do is come up with a sixteen-bar verse or an eight-bar verse and input on the topic of the song. And then you have so many ideas flowing around. It's a good-natured sense of competitiveness, too, because you wanna come tight. Before we were out there we were like, "Yeah, tight raps on the album. We're going to the island. It's nothing but tight raps." It was way different than we've ever done anything. In the past, we would let people do whatever they wanted, and even if we didn't really like it we wouldn't say anything. But we went out to the island and it was strict. Some people had to rewrite verses and stuff. If you listen to Classic, you can tell. We definitely stepped up our rap game. PM: Why did you decide to call the record Classic?
Living Legends: We wanted to call it Never Falling Down after that song on the album. But then Murs was like, "You're gonna jinx yourselves saying never. You should never say never." So at rehearsal we were trying to think of names, and somebody was like "All-stars," and then, "Classic." "Classic" was the original name of the song "Blast Your Radio," because when the sample says "blast your radio" it sounds like it says "classic." That was why the whole rap was about things we consider classic. PM: Who came up with the baseball theme for the album art?
Living Legends: Our manager, Todd Mumford, who's not in Canada because he's a felon. Side note: he's a felon; got denied entry. He's inadmissible to Canada. He came up with the idea that it'd be tight to show a whole teamwork theme. Then we made it look kinda old, like an old Negro League team photo, except we let two white dudes on the team. PM: What records do you consider to be classic?
Living Legends: The Pharcyde's Bizzare Ride II the Pharcyde, Ice Cube's Death Certificate, Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Nas's Illmatic. There's a few classics out there. We feel that it's a classic album when you can just put it on and let it go and don't have to skip anything. Another thing about calling the record Classic: already, some people are like, "Living Legends? Yeah right." So we're like, "Okay, Living Legends, Classic. [Laughs.] Take that."