Artist Spotlight: Serge Severe (2012)
Usually when I hear an artist for the first time I am rarely left with an impression. I would say less than 20% of artist submissions wind up on HHD nonetheless stay in constant rotation in my iTunes folder. Serge Severe does both…constantly.
Serge Severe is the epitome of consistency when it comes to not only bringing quality rhymes, but also quality music. He has come out with project after project of dope material yet I feel not enough people know about this man’s talent.
He agreed to answer some questions for this feature and I hope you take the time to read it and peep his music. The man is a great talent…
HHD: The Pacific Northwest is a hot bed of dope talent when it comes to producers and emcees. What has it been like starting your career in music in Portland? Did you have anybody in the local scene that helped guide you or did you have to learn the ropes yourself?
Serge Severe: Starting my career in Portland hasn’t been very easy. There are a number of talented emcees and producers, but there is a shortage of actual fans. Not to mention the fact that the police have been known to interfere with Hip Hop events in town. The only way to combat that is through doing shows outside of Portland and getting your music out online. Portland definitely deserves more respect. My friend and MC/DJ/Manager/Producer, Gen.Erik, has certainly helped me along the way. He moved to NYC last year and we’re still working together.
HHD: When I see older publicity (ie blog and magazine articles) they refer to Back On My Rhymes as your “latest” album. Did you have a few projects out before that album? What did Back On My Rhymes do for you in terms of bolstering your career?
Serge Severe: Yes, I put out an album in 2008 called Concrete Techniques. It was produced by the same producer of Back On My Rhymes, Universal DJ Sect. It was a really funky and soulful project similar to Back On My Rhymes and contains a song we still perform today called “Bring The Horns”. Back On My Rhymes is definitely my biggest selling and most critically acclaimed album to date. It was rated as a top Hip Hop release on HipHopDx for 12 months, so during that time period I got hit up from people all over world that were checking it out and supporting. Not bad for a Portland rap cat. I think that’s when I really realized the power of the internet/website can have.
HHD: You’ve got two EPs already this year, Service Without A Smile and the recently released Silver Novelist. In your own words, how do those EPs differ? How did you approach each project? Describe the contrasting styles of Terminill and Zapata behind the boards.
Serge Severe: Yes, they definitely differ, but I never want to prepare the exact same plate of food as the last. When I work with one producer it’s because they have their own flavor to put in the mix. Service Without A Smile was a metaphor for the shady music industry we are in. It has a bigger, louder, and more in-your -face -style to it. I rap a more aggressively on it as well. Silver Novelist has a deeper perspective and more conversational style to it. The beats are sample heavy and a bit abstract. Both of them are really talented. My approach definitely differs from the mood provided from each producer’s soundscape. I enjoy all types of beats.
HHD: You have a Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and a blog, all with your name on it. How important is it, being an independent artist to have all those social networks functioning on your behalf? How much of your time goes into marketing and promotion?
Serge Severe: I think it goes without saying at this point. We’re all in the digital age and everybody is online at home, or right on their phones. Those mentioned networks are the most populated, so you kind of have to be on them. Being independent we don’t have a choice. We don’t have a six-figure budget to market the masses with, so it’s important to utilize those social media sites. Way too much time goes into it. I honestly couldn’t tell you, I need an intern or something.
HHD: If someone says they are a “fan” of your music, what do you, as an artist, expect of them as a “fan”? Or better yet, do you think the term “fan” holds any weight these days?
Serge Severe: I believe it’s someone who shares your music with others, or simply just tells somebody to check you out. That, in its essence, can actually change your life when you think about it. Shout out all the people that are still fans of music.
HHD: What are the sacrifices that you have made in your life to pursue a career as an artist?
Serge Severe: The biggest sacrifices are time, money, and stability. I really don’t view them as negatives because music is something that I was born with. My father is a career musician on Latin percussion and has played with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Barretto, Ruben Blades, and Tito Puente. After being influenced by that as a kid, I don’t know what else I would be doing besides music.
HHD: What so far has been the pinnacle of your young career or most exciting part? What, in turn, has been the lowest point or most frustrating part of being an independent hip hop artist?
Serge Severe: I don’t think I have reached my pinnacle but some standout moments include playing shows with legends that influenced me like Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul, Talib Kweli, and Method Man & Redman. I also did a NW Tour with Ghostace Killah who is one of my favorite emcees of all time. Doing shows is always the best part for me. The most frustrating part is witnessing the decline of emcees with true lyricism be put on the back burner.
HHD: Here’s my favorite question for an emcee: How are you going to define success for yourself as a hip hop artist? What is the biggest obstacle to achieving that “success”?
Serge Severe: I believe through making music and writing raps that stand the test of time. The music that people will be seeking out as years past and the art form continues to get watered down. The biggest obstacle is the fact that lyrics and content don’t get as much praise anymore.
HHD: If you’re not honing your own craft, whose music are you listening to? Anyone in the Portland area that you think heads ought to be checking for?
Serge Severe: I am always checking out new and old Hip Hop I may have never heard. As of lately, I have been listening to Pharoahe Monch, The Doppelgangaz, Slaughterhouse, Elzhi, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and the new Nas album. Also, I have been revisiting all of the Wake Up Show freestyle sessions. Those really inspired me when I was growing up. I think any rapper wanting to get into writing and rapping should listen to those sessions. I like all types of music, so outside of Hip Hop I have been listening Lee Fields, The Black Keys, and classic rock. Yes, check out my crew Animal Farm. We put out an album Culture Shock last year and it features Talib Kweli, Abstract Rude, and DJ Rob Swift.
HHD: You have released the two EPs already this year. Are you done releasing projects for 2012 or do you have something further in store for your fans?
Serge Severe: The plan was to release 3 EPs this year with 3 different producers on the boards. I should have another one for people by the end of the year. They have all been with Portland producers as well.
HHD: Any other thoughts for our readers?
Serge Severe: Go get that Silver Novelist on ITunes. It’s Hip Hop music you need.