It sucks that the second post I’ve made in pretty much forever is another tribute to someone we’ve lost, but recently a remarkable young man passed away and I wanted to do something here in my little space to remember him.
I interviewed Joe Threat in May of 2012. My life was drastically different then, and so was his to some degree. He’d had a bad experience on stage, he was still recovering from a terrible car accident, and he was just getting started.
Fast forward to last month. He was still getting started but he was starting to shine. No longer a diamond in the rough, the many facets and depth of his talent and personality were becoming apparent to everyone who saw him perform live, and everyone who heard his latest album, “Sinister Circus” was catching on to the fact that this guy was the real thing.
I didn’t know Joe well, but my experience of him echoes the Facebook and social media posts of many – he was a kind, genuine, positive-thinking guy who had something to say, knew how he wanted to say it, and was a force of good in the world. Below I share with you the interview I pitched to a local magazine, as it read then, with the picture Joe wanted me to use because I feel crappy it never got published and because I feel like it is a good way to memorialize a guy I liked and respected very much.
Interview – Conducted in May or so of 2012
Two things occurred to me on the evening I interviewed Joe Threat. One – that I was probably the least qualified person to write an article about a hip-hop artist and two – that I was a fool to think I could type fast enough to keep up with a guy who raps. Obviously, the guy has a different relationship with words than I do.
It didn’t take very long, though, to figure out that Joe has a different relationship with the WORLD than, well, anybody. Also, despite my ignorance about hip-hop influences or Richmond’s current club scene Joe was going to make sure I was the most qualified person to write an article about HIM.
It’s nice to learn things about yourself while you learn about other people.
I interviewed Joe at my house. That may seem weird, but whatever. He brought Justin Lewis , also known as Octopus Drummer, founder and operator of Attic Boy Records and Nana Dadzie, owner of KickRocs.com, with him.
You may or may not have heard of Joe Threat. Odds are, if you frequent any of the many venues downtown that present live music, you have. In the last six months Joe has had shows at The Camel, Bonvenu, Balliceaux, The Nile, The National and Baja Bean Company. He recently released an album, Promise of THREAT Mixtape Vol. 1, available on CdBaby for free.
So I’m totally going to jump the gun. My plan was to save the thoughtful question and the topical, relevant question the esteemed Editor in Chief gave me until last. I waited until the end of the interview to ask Joe – but I submit it now.
Q – Joe seems to be one of those guys who sees a pretty serious division between what he’s doing and the more commercially-oriented segment of the hip-hop genre. How does that tie in to the recent show at the National when he opened for A$AP Rocky, and how does that steer his creative decisions?
See, I want to get this question out of the way first, because it’s possible that you went to that A$AP Rocky show. Or, you might have heard about it. Joe didn’t get the best reception. In fact, the reception was flat-out awful. So, even though I asked about that late in the actual interview, I’m going to address it first, because in case it is on your mind I want to get it out of the way. So I asked:
Me: Joe, what happened at The National?
And he said:
Joe: It’s on me. I could have picked a better track selection. I’m true to my art and I want to showcase songs I enjoy but I failed to take my audience into consideration. I learned in AP English to address my audience and got away from that. I should have realized that the crowd was young and they weren’t acquainted with the hip hop I’m married to. They love another girl from the same family, but it’s not the same girl by a long shot.
See, that’s the thing. Ask a younger artist, and they might come back at you with some talk about “haters.” Ask another artist and they might talk about creative differences or blame it on the fact that they’d been in the hospital the day before (AHEM). Not Joe.
There’s a reason people started using the phrase “keeping it real.” Presumably it’s because they wanted to keep things honest, to present information in a forthright and clear manner. Joe? He’s like that. Except he wants all that PLUS dope rhymes and fresh beats. Is that so wrong?
When asked about the commercial world of hip-hop and any disparity between it and what he does, Joe doesn’t mince words. “It would be nice to be commercially successful so that your passion can pave way for your life,” he says, “But….”
But, he has bigger things to worry about.
That’s one thing about getting to meet artists from all walks of life. Every now and then you meet someone who truly does what they do because they have no choice. How do you get to the point in your life where you have no option but to follow your heart and CREATE? Joe Threat knows.
Me: What made you choose the hip-hop genre?
Joe: It chose me. I learned about music first through my Dad’s record collection. We listened to oldies in the car, but I started digging in his crates when I was about 11 and would hear those records when he played them. Initially I liked Pink Floyd, The Animals, The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues. The Moody Blues makes an appearance in my music pretty often.
One day I was in school in Baltimore and I saw an older kid with a Bob Marley patch on his jacket. I got in the car and asked my Dad “Who’s Bob Marley?” When I was doing my homework later that night he handed me a cassette of Live! and said “You have to hear ‘No Woman No Cry’.’’ It was all over for me when I heard that “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” (Trenchtown Rock) I was in. That same Christmas I got a boom box and a Columbia House membership and I got the Best of the Doors (2 CD set), Boyz II Men (they played it at the dances) and Michael Jackson Dangerous.
I was obsessed with The Doors forever. After that, Led Zeppelin. After that I found punk rock. Then I heard Nas’s first album Illmatic. That’s why I chose hip-hop and I’ll never look back.
Me: So you chose hip-hop when you were basically a preteen. Tell me about the time in between then and when you decided to get serious.
Joe: I was in high school in Richmond and I went to shows at Twisters with kids that were older than me that skated together (Asian gangster kids, punk rock kids) and they loved hip hop and punk rock.
Skateboarding really broadened everyone’s horizons and made things the way they are today. I felt constrained by sports – skateboarding made it so an active kid could be artistic. That world exposed me to art.
I started writing rhymes. I wrote in my notebook for 3 years before I realized what I wanted to do. I was a freshman at VCU and it was fall of 99 or spring of 2000. That’s when I decided to grab a microphone and spit out rhymes at people while they’re drinking alcohol.
I didn’t get serious until after the car accident. I made an album in spring of 2009 (Torchlit Passages). The accident happened on June 26, 2010. Everything changed. I was in a coma for three days, and the first thing I realized was that I almost died, and I knew I had to do what I was supposed to do. I was like a molecule bouncing around in a pot of water. I had nothing but a mountain of trouble in front of me – legal woes that would make a celebrity worry- all I had was a bottle of Percocet in front of me and nothing but stasis.
Justin kept me together. I couldn’t use crutches. My left arm and right foot were injured and I hopped around on my left foot for months. That flipped the script. Justin was taking me to his house where he has his studio and that’s what we did for 8 hours every day. I couldn’t even tend to my legal or financial woes but I was sitting on the front porch of Attic Boy studios. Usually I would be like f&%k that cop and f&%k that car wreck, but now I have to believe that all this happened for a reason.
I still have to believe that and live in this new life – and sitting there with a pen and a pad and letting my body heal and being so productive got me to where I am now. It just got brighter and brighter.
Me: What’s it like, specifically, to be a hip-hop artist in Richmond?
Joe. I just try to be a hip-hop artist.
(Justin chimes in): It’s not a great scene. It’s a weird scene for all music. But for what Joe is trying to do it is especially different. There are not a lot of people doing what he’s trying to do.
Joe: It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s a challenging environment. Francis Scott Key wrote his big song during a battle. I’m trying to write my life through verse, and it really doesn’t matter what’s going on around me. I am out to do what I’m supposed to do and it doesn’t matter what the “scene” is. I’m not worried about whether or not I am “commercial.” I just want to make good music.
Me: How have you chosen your collaborators so far?
Joe: Latitude and longitude. Timing is everything. Over all it’s been very organic. It hasn’t been mechanized at all. I never really saw to create something in particular, I hung out with musicians and enjoyed that music and we made music together.
On Octopus Drummer: I helped Justin move, and he would pick me up and we would chill in his studio and we would collaborate. I like underground, unique stuff. Justin’s freshness was an inspiration. Justin always brought newness, he’s self-taught and it’s very organic. I’ve always liked that organic sound, bluegrass, or whatever, and at the time I couldn’t walk. I feel like the words had a lot of meaning and those meaningful messages were synonymous with his organic sound. The process of making the music was fun and he forced me to be a better rapper.
On Scolaro: I met Josh and gave him a demo that was 10 minutes long – 5 songs with no blend by DJ Manifest (aka Dr. Data). Josh busted out some of his old recordings and was like, “I am going to make your album.”
Josh’s familiarity with music made the creation swift and I can hum something or tap something – however rudimentary my communication process was to him, and he interprets it so soundly. He’s very receptive to my vision. He’s open to a lot of s&!t. He is a virtuoso.
Me: What’s next?
Joe: The mixtape that just dropped is pretty raw. Justin and I did that together and I hope to release other things like it in between bigger projects. I don’t want to be one of those hip-hop artists that makes like 20 mix tapes, but it’s fun and I really enjoyed this last one.
I’m working on my second “real” album. The first one finally hit iTunes and I was like, “OK cool. Next.” It’s going to have a bunch of my favorite musicians and producers on it. I have two songs I’m using from what I’ve been doing with Josh, two songs with Justin, one with Dr. Data on the photo synthesizers, and my boy from Divine Prophets has a track on there that he produced.
I’m going to keep going. I’m going to keep updating my crazy website. I’m going to keep writing raps. I’m going to keep going out there and performing. I will never stop.
The rest of my notes fade as the discussion continued. Throughout this entire conversation Justin, when he wasn’t charming the grumpy feline, was softly playing one of the guitars that lives in my house. Someone asked Joe if he was going to rap at all, and Justin picked up the volume on the guitar. Joe free-styled a little, we all ate some dinner, and then Joe, Nana and Justin left to have a REAL Friday night somewhere.
And I totally had the warm fuzzies from talking to someone with passion for what they do. Because strip away genres, subcultures, community lines and spheres of influence – at the end of the day if you end up talking to someone who does what they love because they simply must…well…that means it’s a good day.
END OF INTERVIEW
I post this in the hope that you’ll go listen to Joe’s music, because it’s out there. I post it in the hope that you realize that it is possible to follow your dreams without reservation, without fear and without doubt. Because Joe did. To read a stunning beautiful tribute written by Justin (aka Octopus Drummer), visit atticboy.com, and contact Justin at justin(AT)atticboydotcom to contribute to Momma Threat, Joe’s mom and biggest fan.
Justin will have a bandcamp page up soon, and I’ll update this post with the link.
Rest in peace, Fearless One.