Sapient is a hip hop artist and producer from Oregon, USA, who has been in the game for a while now. He has persevered as an independent artist (and a proud papa) for ten years or more and is now ready to release Slump, an album that is hard to categorize. It’s a meld of hip hop, indie rock, and pop that is extremely easy on the ears. We were able to converse with Sapient via email recently. Here are the results.
Layabozi: Can you tell me a bit about the Pacific Northwest hip hop scene over the past decade? Who are the major players and what has been your interaction with them? What has changed and what has remained the same?
Sapient: In the Northwest, there are a lot of artists. Portland, OR has been a mecca for bands, homing a mass exodus of musicians from all smaller cities within a few hundred miles, yet Portland doesn’t seem to have any hip hop artists that have had success like Seattle’s. There’s a lot of music in Portland, and quite a bit of hip hop, but the sad thing is – most of it sucks, just like most of your run of the mill hip hop everywhere else, but there are some talented folk up here as well. In Portland, the mega-crew Sandpeople (which I’m a member of and a fan of all the emcees as well) is a rare beast in that there are so many talented folks in one crew.
LYBZ: What prompted you to branch out from hip hop to a more indie rock sound for the new album Slump?
Sapient: I have been making this type of music for years, most of my albums contain a final track that is “indie rock” (for lack of a better term), where I don’t use sampling, play all the instruments and sing, but it is still mixed like hip hop and you still get the head nod factor. In 2008, fellow NW artist Onry Ozzborn was really diggin’ my singing and featured me as a guest on a few albums, after that he convinced me to make a whole album like those songs I did. They seemed to be people’s favorites, so I did. Hell of years later after revising and revising and searching for a healthy home for the album, here it comes finally, Feb 19th. I’m hyped! There’s not really a specific genre that it falls into, it is hip hop, but there’s no rapping on it, it’s rock, but you don’t feel like calling it that when you listen. It’s definitely not R&B. People call the music “beats” still, even though they are composed tracks with instruments. To me it’s just some music I made.
LYBZ: You have said that this album has been, “a more musical sibling to indie hip hop. You could think of it as a more functional little brother, who learned from his elder brother’s mistakes.” What does that mean?
Sapient: I meant that this music is something that grew from hip hop. Most rappers don’t push musical boundaries and challenge themselves to have a deeper relationship with the actual composition. Even well seasoned beat makers can be at the top of their skill bracket and not know how to play an instrument. I’m not saying being a rapper is lesser, I just feel like this is where my musical learning and experience has taken me. I still love hip hop and definitely am not quitting rap.
LYBZ: Have you been influenced by the dominant indie labels from the Pacific Northwest, like Sub Pop, Kill Rock Stars, K Records, etc? Any others?
Sapient: Absolutely, I love all three of those labels, and what they’re doing. They have some of the best talent out here (and worldwide) on their roster, as well as in their label staff. Particularly Sub Pop Records, what they do is definitely inspiring.
LYBZ: What process do you take when making an album? Do you work at home, spend a massive session in the studio, or otherwise?
Sapient: I have a home studio. I have made albums that way since 2002, and will continue to do so. I wrote all the music, did the engineering, mixing, mastering, album artwork, and played all of the instruments, except a couple guest drummers, a couple licks from a trumpet player, and my mom dropped a few violin riffs. It was an intense experience working on this.
LYBZ: Who was indispensable in the process of making this album?
Sapient: My family. I have a wife and two kids (and another on the way!!). Without their inspiration, I would never have become the artist I’ve grown to be.
LYBZ: I spent my late teens and early twenties in Olympia, WA, where I participated in a hip hop crew called Saints of Everyday Failures. Do you have any recollection of that name? What is your free associative reaction to Olympia (first thing that comes to mind)?
Sapient: Haha, I remember you guys. I played several shows with you with my crew Sandpeople. Small world, eh? The thing about Olympia is that I’ve never had a good show there. I think I said something about it sucking on twitter and people got offended. I like Olympia just fine, I just don’t think I’d miss it if I never went there again. The first thing that comes to mind is Olympia brand beer. I used to not be a big fan of it, but these days it pleases my palette nicely.
LYBZ: Is Slump an attempt at crossing over in any way? Is this just something you wanted to get out of your system or does it represent a step in a new direction?
Sapient: Hmm, I don’t think it’s really an attempt at crossing over, because it’s not any particular genre that I’m looking to cross into. It’s still the same Sapient music that people have grown to love, it’s just evolved to be more musical and melodic. It was definitely more challenging than any other project I’ve made or been a part of, and I learned so much that I never would have if I had just kept making beats and rapping. When I first starting making hip hop, I know I had an ear for harmonies and melodies, but never pictured myself a singer, but here I am.
LYBZ: What can you tell us about your time spent with the Mystik Journeymen? They are kind of personal heroes of mine, so I would be interested to hear any fantastic anecdotes.
Sapient: I’ve only really spent time with Luckyiam from Mystik Journeymen/Living Legends. I don’t personally know Sunspot Jonz very well, but Lucky is my super bro. He and I are in a group called The Prime. We released an album back in ’09 called One Uppers. We have some more music in the chute ready to launch soon. I love that dude.
LYBZ: You are about to go on tour (or are already there.) Tell us about your typical tour experience. What goes on from city to city?
Sapient: Touring is hectic. Handling all the booking myself and all of the practice with these new songs, ordering merch, planning routes and timing everything, while planning this release and balancing it with the family has been crazy. Touring is work. I love it, and it’s an amazing experience, but it’s really hard on my family having me gone like that. I miss them like hell when I’m gone even for a week.
LYBZ: What are you working on right now and what is coming in Sapient’s future?
Sapient: Right now, I have a lot of different projects in the queue, including a new Sandpeople album, The Prime album, and Eaters Vol. 2., plus some bonuses from Slump. The biggest thing that I’m working on though is preparing for a new baby, my wife is pregnant with our third, and it’s most important that I am home for that.