There’s truly few artists out there who possess the formidability to see their careers survive through the unpredictability of the past fifteen years in the music industry, however Constant Deviants are a prime example of what real dexterity and determination can achieve. The New Jersey and Baltimore hip-hop duo of lyricist M.I. and producer DJ Cutt are ready to drop what is their fourth album in five years, with the release of ‘Avant Garde‘ on May 12th 2015.
Genuine veterans, Constant Deviants’ story reaches back to 1996 when they released the renowned debut single ‘Competition Catch Speed Knots‘, having already earned early props during their joint DJ and freestyle sessions which kick started a prolific and prosperous partnership. By 1998, the impact of their seminal 12’s ‘Can’t Stop‘ and ‘8th Wonder‘ b/w ‘Hustler’s Prayer‘ caught the attention of manager Mark Pitts (J Cole, Notorious B.I.G.) and in 2000, M.I. signed a solo deal with Arista, with DJ Cutt continuing to provide production on early material. Meanwhile Cutt would go on to engineer several albums for Roc-A-Fella artists N.O.R.E and Beenie Sigel.
As the pair re-united in 2009, the setting up of their label Six2Six Records was the catalyst for what has been their most prolific era of their careers, and their international status enhanced further through working with Switzerland’s SWC Records, Australia’s Debonair P and Germany’s Amazing Maze.
We got in touch with M.I. and DJ Cutt to get an insight into the Avant Garde project and their perspectives on the current state of hip-hop.
You started out as a duo in the 90’s. Tell us a little bit about how you met and when you started recording together.
M.I.: We met at a college in New York that a mutual friend was going to and Cutt would DJ parties there and I was just there to get away from Baltimore. I would get on the mic and rhyme at the parties and that’s how it started. We actually recorded our first demo live at that college on a 4 track.
You both had experience of working with Major labels such as Arista and Roc-A-Fella between 2000 – 2008. As you’ve seen both sides of the coin, how would you compare working in Major and independent environments and what are the benefits of both as you encountered them?
M.I.: Well now the only way to do it is indie. Once the internet took over, majors lost their hold on the music game. Back in the day you had to go after a major deal to get exposure, but now you can do it on your own. Me personally I wouldn’t want a major deal, I can’t stand the so called “music industry”.
Cutt: Being an engineer on many major label projects at the time, I was able to see how the A&Rs had control of the projects. Content and timing wise… Definitely not how we wanted to move.
From your perspective, is the real essence of hip hop culture diminishing or thriving in the era of the internet?
M.I.: The internet allows you to seek out what you like. You’re not force fed what “they” want you to hear. So I believe it’s very helpful.
Cutt: The gift and the curse. The great music and culture is there and more available, but now you have to sift through the garbage to find it.
You set up Six2Six Records around five years ago. You have released other artists on the imprint, so what would you say is the key ethos behind the label in terms of representing hip hop culture in 2015?
M.I.: We like to look at ourselves as the new “Def Jam”… The original Def Jam, not the new one! I would say the key is that we still release physical product. Vinyl, CDs, cassettes… we do it the way it’s supposed to be done.
When did you start making tracks for Avant Garde, and how much time was spent on the album before it was finished?
Cutt: We started putting ideas together about a year before the album concept came together. Once we had a concept solidified, the songs we decided to go with were obvious to us. The last 3-4 months were spent finalizing a “sound”.
This is your fourth album release in five years. Having started out in the late 90’s, and with all the music you’ve produced over the years, would you say you’ve tried to create this album differently to anything you’ve released before, and if so, in what way?
M.I.: I would say we just go make music, we don’t really set any standards when we work. Whatever we feel at the time is what you get. So if there is something different that’s great because it shows organic growth.
Do you find it more difficult to create music nowadays, or be inspired to do so having put so much into your past releases, or does it actually come more naturally from experience?
M.I.: It’s totally natural at this point.
Cutt: Having worked together since the beginning our chemistry is on auto-pilot. I think this allows us to create music more easily now.
Constant Deviants – Breathin’ (Official Video) Six2Six Records
With this album are you intending to reach out to the newest generation of hip hop followers, or rather were you trying to appease the fans who have been down with Constant Deviants since the beginning?
M.I.: We would always like to touch all generations. but we don’t make our music looking for an audience, we just want to allow it to find us.
Cutt: We make music we like. We are always happy when the audience grows. New or old.
M.I., when writing your lyrics, what kind of environments were the majority of the tracks penned down in?
M.I.: I wrote a lot if this album when travelling through Switzerland, France, Toronto, Detroit, NYC and Miami.
Which outside influences have had an impact on the release in relation to its creation process?
M.I.: We work closely with a crew in Switzerland named “SWC Records” and going there and meeting them was very eye opening and inspiring for me. I did an album with them as well named ” Swiss Banks”. They have been a super motivating factor for our whole team.
From your perspective, what are the album’s prominent themes you’re addressing lyrically?
M.I.: I just address life the way I see it. I started out a battle MC… More of a rapper’s rapper, but as I grew I became more of a “reality rapper” for lack of a better term. I talk about what going on in our communities.
DJ Cutt, you of course handle the production side of Constant Deviants. Avant Garde does have some variance in its sound from the traditional boom bap to a more electronic feel at times, was this a specific objective and did you have an approach in mind ahead of making the beats?
Cutt: I didn’t go into the album with a particular sound in mind. I feel that “boom bap” will always be at the core and is the essence but can evolve. Digging outside the traditional crate gives it another dimension.
Can you describe the process of a typical day spent in the studio creating this album?
Cutt: We generally don’t get in the studio together until the body of the album is done. Our creation process is mostly bouncing ideas off each other. We have a few brainstorm sessions, then I’m busy putting beats together and M is busy writing. We rarely do “on the spot” type records. We share the same vision for our music and we trust it.
Aye Wun is the only featured artist on the album on the track It’s Like That. Was there something specifically about that track that made you feel you needed a feature, and what did you feel he would bring to the table above other Emcees?
M.I.: Aye Wun is a artist Cutt has been working with and when I wrote to the beat I felt that it needed three verses and with the flow I was doing it would become redundant if i did a third verse. He had played some of Aye Wun’s stuff for me and I felt he would sound good on it and it would be cool to have his energy on the LP.
Cutt: Aye is a super talented young M.C. from Queens. He definitely brought a certain flavor to the record. I’m currently working on his first full solo album, and we feel that it is important to have a new generation of M.C. that is able to bridge the gap.
Do you listen to much UK hip hop? If so, which artists are standing out to you at the moment?
M.I.: At the moment i don’t listen to much of anything to be honest. This year I recorded three albums so I have been in a personal place.
Do you have plans for an album launch event or an affiliated tour? Do any plans include a visit to the UK at all to promote the release?
M.I.: We would love to come to the UK and bless the stage. Maybe someone reading this will open up the door for us to do so!
Cutt: If they have us, we will come.
Thanks for your time. Have you got any final shout outs?
Shout out to British Hip Hop for the opportunity and everyone else out there that has supported us and will support – we do it for you!
Constant Deviants – The Right Moment (Official Video) Six2Six Records