Memphis Reigns – Interview (2011)
Those of you familiar with hip hop lore may also be familiar with the name Memphis Reigns. He released a very sought after album with his compadre Genelec entitled Scorpion Circles in 2002. Kids were trading tapes (dating myself here) of this album all over the web at the time. Others of you may have just got acquainted with him when checking out his latest album, Frog Hill Legend. Yet still others of you are still sitting in the dark so… Let there be light!
When I reviewed Frog Hill Legend, Praverb The Wyse emailed me and said that he knew Memphis and asked if I wanted his contact information. I took him up on the offer and am very grateful that Memphis has taken the time to politic with me and answer a few questions about life and music.
Memphis Reigns is an incredibly skilled artist and if you haven’t had an opportunity, make sure you check out his music. You won’t regret it. For now, do yourself a favor and read his answers to the interview questions. They are very introspective.
HHD: What was the catalyst for getting you involved in hip hop? How did you make the transition from a fan of hip hop to an artist yourself?
Memphis: I use to answer this question by crediting MC Hammer and his release of the “Please Don’t Hurt Em’” album for leading me into the realm of hip hop. I remember playing and replaying his songs trying to write every word he was saying so I could rap along. This was what everyone was listening to when I was in the sixth grade. I’m not exactly sure if I liked it because that was what was “cool” at the time or if I genuinely did like rap. Additionally, growing up outside of the United States meant that MTV wasn’t available. I didn’t have the luxury of watching music videos and/or have access to good rap/hip hop radio stations.
So to answer your question, the catalyst was more a series of encounters that I had with rap/hip hop. Looking back even way before the sixth grade, I found three that subtlety hinted my appreciation for this music. In the late eighties, I remember watching a Goldie Hawn movie called Wildcats. At the end of the movie, there were guys rapping during the credits. Same story as the previous, I was amazed with what they were doing and tried to rap along. I spent the rest of the week rewinding that portion of the movie burning out my Dad’s Beta Max. Next, was on a 90’s TV show that I was watching in the Philippines. The show featured Filipino rap legend, Francis M showcasing his rhyming and beatboxing skills. I was probably in the fifth grade and I remember spitting all over my parents trying to rap and beatbox. And the last, I credit my parents. Growing up in a traditional Filipino household, you would have probably never guessed that my parents were the biggest Motown/Soul music fans. That was big percentage of what we listened to in the house. Such good times just hanging with the family and listening music. And of course, we all know hip hop and rap samples a lot from this genre. The 90’s sound is similar in a sense with all the samples they used and I was drawn to it. It makes perfect sense to me. The music brought me back to some of the good memories I experienced when I was kid.
From the 90’s and on, it was the majority of the music that I was listening to. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I actually started to dabble hard into rhyming. A buddy and I would pencil verses and recite them to each other in a span of a year in half. The transition became official in late 1997. I met a bunch of people, my freshmen year at UC Santa Cruz who were also experimenting with rap. That year I met A. Almirol (who would later become hypoetical), D. Jumanan (Dan J on Move from the Scorpion Circles album) and J. Palencia (who transitioned into music video production) and B. Bowens (DJ Ology..who is now an electronic music DJ). After countless hours of freestyling, cyphers and open mics I decided at the end of the school year that I wanted to be an emcee. These guys made hip hop fun and I am indebted to them for beginning the journey with me.
HHD: Looking back a few years, talk about the release you had with Genelec, Scorpion Circles. Was that the first record you ever put out? What kind of work went into that project? How did you feel about the acclaim that the project received at the time? A lot of people attach the word “classic” to that release.
Memphis: Scorpion Circles was the first thing I officially put out. The album is an extension of the Lemme Make Love To You EP that we pushed locally when we were at UC Santa Cruz. The EP was something we did over a summer in Genelec’s bedroom. We eventually sent the EP out to a website for review to see if people were feeling the music. We were looking for an honest opinion, since most of the people buying the EP were either friends or friends of friends who were probably obligated to telling us they liked the music. The website, Hip Hop Infinity at the time seemed like the stomping ground for all underground hip hop artists, up and coming artists and fans. The EP received one of the highest ratings for a review, which obviously sparked people’s curiousity. The website attached the song “Elephantightus” with the review, which thankfully received positive responses across the board.
The review of the EP alone was overwhelming. I remember after reading the review with Genelec, we were literally running and jumping around the apartment in complete excitement. I’m sure we would have been fine with whatever was written, but I think it was the fact that we both never imagined the great feedback we would receive from the record. The EP created a buzz and HHI offered us a record deal.
There wasn’t really a mapped out plan when we recorded the album. We both agreed that we would record an additional seven songs to supplement the EP. We recorded the full length between the both of our apartments. We were still in school at the time, so we spent our free time recording. The beauty of Scorpion Circles was how the songs were written. We wrote whatever we wanted, concept or no concept. If it sounded good and we were both individually satisfied with our work, then it was golden and it was going on the album. It was a little stressful at times working against the deadline, but I think overall we managed to keep a pretty carefree attitude while recording the album. I’m sure a little more for Genelec since he was taking care of album production and mixing. Looking back, I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to record the album.
Like it was on Day 1, the responses and comments made are still overwhelming. At the time of the release, I was stuck in disbelief. I was so amazed that people would say such things about my music. For the people who call it a “classic”…..all I can say is thank you. I am honored and thankful to God for every person who has shown me love for that album and all my other projects.
HHD: When we exchanged emails previously, I had remarked on how sporadic your releases have been throughout the years. Can you explain to our readership why that is the case? Describe your current relationship with hip hop music.
Memphis: It’s obvious that I don’t do this as a full time job, with the sporadic release dates of my projects. Over the years, blog, websites and the fans figured out that I was serving in the Armed Forces. That’s what I do for a full time job and that’s what I enjoy doing. I love being a Soldier. With that, comes a lot of moving and traveling. For that reason alone, it’s hard for me to sit down and record an album every year. Additionally, if I had to record an album yearly to keep up with the rest of my counterparts, I’m sure it wouldn’t be any fun for me anymore. From the time to time I still get the occasional distribution deal offers but I prefer the way I’m doing things now.
After I released the first Mind Mechanics album with hypoetical, I don’t think I recorded anything for almost six years. During that time, I promised myself I would find some to record when the time was right. In 2007, I took a trip overseas and decided that when I returned I would begin recording again. I met D-Mitch (an east coast producer who is known for his collaborative releases with emcee Spoonfull) in 2008 upon my return back to the US. We got together and recorded a few songs. Eventually, D-Mitch tossed out the idea of doing an album together. I was game and together we sat down and recorded “Skeleton Crew Diaries”. The album was released in 2009 and it led to the European release of Allied Forces, a joint effort between myself, hypoetical and Piloophaz of the Skyzominus Crew in France. Then in 2010 I released, the Frog Hill Legend.
I’ve been pretty fortunate and have spent the last two years doing shows and recording, but it’s hard to say whether my role will be fan or artist in the near future. One thing’s for sure, I am and will always be a fan of hip hop and I’m sure I’ll find a way to stay connected.
HHD: You said now that you are stationed back in California that you are able to work with some familiar faces. Who is that circle of friends that you are working with now and what do they bring to the table when collaborating musically?
Memphis: The most important person I’m working with is my long time partner in crime hypoetical. As you all know, hypoetical is a San Jose producer/emcee and one half of the Mind Mechanics crew. As we chop away at the sophmore album, hypoetical is close to completion of an instrumental album. I am so excited for you guys to hear this album. I’ve heard pieces of the album and you guys are definitely going to be blown away by how much he has matured as a producer. This guy is a walking studio and the RZA of our crew. He can rap his butt off and he’s nasty on the beats.
Two years ago, I was invited to be a part of the Tendaloins, a hip hop collective out of San Francisco, California. With them, I’ve had the fortune to experience what it was like rocking out with a live band. We have awesome ensemble of people that make a very original sound. The bassist (S. Castro), guitarist (M. Bloom) and drummer (M. Cariaso) are some of the most talented people I have worked with. The female emcee in the group, Paris Warr is unbelievable. Hands down, she is definitely one of the best female rappers I have ever heard. She is currently working on an EP. Watch out for her when it drops. The singer, Sesy Basila has an incredible voice. Very powerful and soulful. She featured on my “Last Hello” track from the Frog Hill Legend EP. She’s also putting in some work on my full length “Bittersweet” album and working on a solo album of her own. She’s amazing. Everytime she performs she’s got someone trying to dry hump her leg after the show. Yes, she’s that good. We also feature a few guest emcees during our set. MC’s Senbei and Jeimiel of the Broken Halos and J. Bloom. These MC’s are Bay Area veterans and have a great catalog of music. These intellectual and revolutionary brothers are making big stamps in hip hop. It’s evident in Senbei’s newly released mixtape. Search for his music and be amazed.
I continue to do work with my main man D-Mitch. Last month, I recorded a few tracks with him and Spoonfull. We plan on pushing a free EP in the next month or so. I’m doing a bunch of work with heavy hitter, Bay area producer Remshot. Remshot carries plenty of beat battle championships and is taking a very active role in my next full length. You’ll get a nice sample of his work this year. Look this guy up as well. He’s got several (hip hop and R&B album’s in the works). The one I’m most excited for is the album he’s producing for Grind Time Emcee, Tantrum. I heard a couple tracks and each one is absolute fire.
I recently featured on two tracks on the Non-Combatants, Envisioning Sound LP. See more work between us and them in the near future. These guys are the founders of Stepdown Music in Southern California and make some good music. I have each each individual emcee (Convoy and Profound) lined up to feature on the full length. Profound and I talked about doing a 12 inch vinyl release. The plan is in its early stages but I’d like to see this one come to fruition. They have an emcee who goes by the Analyst, signed to their label. They recently released his “Crosseyes” album which has been constantly spinning on my radio.
I also finished a few tracks with Oxnard, California MC Marlon D. Another cat who just dropped an albuthat you guys should check out. Expect a track or two with Praverb the Wyse and Upwords out of Los Angeles, Ca. There are few surprise guests that are in the works but I’ll save that for the release.
Production wise, I’m getting a lot of support from Keko, a super producer out of Bogota Columbia, Remshot out of Northern California, D-Mitch out of Virginia and Piloophaz out of St. Ettiennes, France. A lot of the things going on. I hope for a big year in 2011.
HHD: In late 2010 you dropped the album, Frog Hill Legend. Talk about this release. How long had it been since you had dropped a solo album previously? How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t heard it? And explain the title, Frog Hill Legend.
Memphis: Frog Hill Legend is made up of chapters from the book of my life. The album was recorded in a year’s time when I was living in Missouri. The album was originally intended to be a 12-15 track album, but as I put the album together it really wasn’t going in the direction that I wanted it to go in. I eventually decided that I wanted it to be a short, sweet and conceptually strong album. I wanted the overall sound to gradually increase in energy. The fans get a small break in between with the “Letter to Sakura” track but for the most part, the album keeps you where I want you to be. This album was preceeded by my 2009 release of the Skeleton Crew Diaries. Every track on this album was pretty much from days in the life of Romelo Delossantos. The songs that made record are the best parts of the story compacted into one. Each Memph Reigns song will always have something that I’m going through or experiencing at the time that I write the song. Some of it for you to know and some of it you won’t understand because of how I ambiguously write the verse and leave it open for interpretation.
Frog Hill Legend…..real funny to me that you ask about the title. Believe it or not, I get that question frequently. As I mentioned earlier, I recorded this album when I was living in Waynesville, Missouri. My apartment was right next to a hill that had a gigantic green frog statue sitting at the top of it. I spent most of the year jogging and driving up and down that hill, in which I’m sure everyone nicknamed Frog Hill. I named the album that, partly to honor the town that re-sparked my fuel to rap and because I couldn’t get the darn frog out of my head. Look it up. The frog has his own website. Local celebrity.
HHD: Have you set goals for yourself in your musical career? If so, what are they?
Memphis: When I first started making music all I wanted was the opportunity for people to hear my music. Whether it was one person or a million, all I wanted was a chance for people to hear what I had to say. Since then, I haven’t had too many expectations or targets that I try to hit. Seldomly do you guys ever see me charge people for my music, so I’m sure you can gather that I do music for myself. It’s my stress release. Music is the best stress reliever.
No goals that I’m chasing at the moment. However, if I have opportunity to become a positive influence in someone’s life, than I will make every attempt to do so. I am thankful to have some very good fans and am truly humbled anytime I receive an email from a fan, anytime someone tells me that they started rapping/making music because of my music or that I’m their favorite rapper. With that, I’ve manifested it into a personal duty. And as I mentioned earlier, if I can serve as positive influence or mentor someone to pursue their goal of becoming an emcee, then I’m going to do it. Especially young aspiring Asian American emcees. Let’s face it, we’re still a minority in this game and would love for more to come out and share their stories.
Bottom line, I’m not saying that I’m anyone famous (I’d be on MTV cribs showing you my boat if I were….) or someone who has the key to success, but I’ve been blessed to get a taste of what its like. I can at the least share my experiences to anyone who asks and let them know what worked and didn’t work with me.
HHD: Where do you draw your inspiration from musically?
Memphis: Personal experience. That’s the only source. Every song I do, concept or no-concept talks about something that I experienced in life, something currently going on in my life, something a friend experienced that I witnessed, or even something I passed and saw for a split second. I’ll do my best to mask some of the stuff that I don’t want you to know, but if you really listen to the lyrics you can probably figure out the double meaning.
HHD: I have always considered Memphis Reigns to be like a whisper in the wind. I feel, that from a fan’s perspective, there is a lot that is unknown about you as a musician and a person. What would you like the readers/fans to know about you that they may not have gathered thus far?
Memphis: There isn’t really much to it. The fans who’ve investigated the Memphis Reigns mystery have pretty much divulged all this boring stuff about me all over net. What I don’t get to do is thank the fans for all their continued support over the years. So to all my fans and supporters thank you for giving me the energy to do what I do. I love every single one of you and I do a song about it on the next album.
My music may not show it, but I’m a very easy/out going guy. On a few occasions I exchanged emails with some of the fans who inquired about some of my shows. This one particular fan drove down to catch me at a show in Los Angeles. He said he wanted to meet me. Later he wrote to me after the show, that he couldn’t find it in himself to come meet me. Funny thing is that he said he was sitting right next to me the whole night. I’m not anyone special, come say hello. I am truly honored and humbled to meet any of my fans. Let’s have a drink and a good time.
HHD: Do you have any other projects on tap for 2011? What can the fans expect from you?
Memphis: I’m slowly tapping away at the Mind Mechanics 2 album with hypoetical, the next solo album and a 5 track EP with D-Mitch and Spoonfull. The Mind Mechanics 2 album will be preceded by an amazing instrumental album by hypoetical. I’d love to give you all a release date for some of these projects, but I can’t at the moment. What I can do is guarantee that they will all drop this year.