Brooklyn's Boot Camp Clik established its classic New York underground hip-hop credentials starting in 1992 with Black Moon's "Who Got Da Props?" and went on to rule the '90s underground rap scene with its signature raw and grimy sound. Comprised of Tek and Steele (also known as Smif-N-Wessun), Sean Price and Rock (together known as Heltah Skeltah), OGC members Louieville Sluggah, Starang Wondah, and Top Dog, and Black Moon member Buckshot, Boot Camp Clik has gone on to release four albums, including 2002's The Last Stand, which featured well-known singles like "And So" and "Think Back." For much of Boot Camp Clik's career, rap culture was defined by the sometimes violent East Coast versus West Coast rivalry, but the crew set out to bridge these differences by working with the late 2Pac on the One Nation LP. Members of the group recently spoke with All Shook Down about reuniting, their Duck Down Records label, and the possibility of a fifth album. All members of Boot Camp Clik will perform at Mighty this Saturday, March 31, with Triple Threat's DJ Vinroc opening.
Boot Camp Clik has a history of reuniting, going separate ways, and then coming back together again. But after the latest reunion, it seems like you guys are here to stay, with rumors of a fifth album in the works. What made this time feel right?
Buckshot: Boot Camp Clik will always be family. There are times where the individual artists focus on their careers as well. For me personally, I released a collaborative album with KRS-ONE called Survival Skills and also an album with 9th Wonder (as part of our series) called The Formula. Smif N Wessun had the opportunity to connect with Pete Rock for a full-length album, called Monumental. Heltah Skeltah released D.I.R.T., and Sean Price joined forces with Black Milk and Guilty Simpson as Random Axe. This enables the groups to tour and stay relevant, while still reinventing themselves to a new fanbase. Boot Camp Clik then becomes the true collective, where the artists can use new momentum to put that into an effort to see a larger project be more successful.
How do you think your rumored future album will reflect the history of Boot Camp Clik?
Steele of Smif N Wessun: To Buckshot's point, as the solo groups branch off to focus on individual projects, there tends to be a growth in how we deliver our content. As we mature as veteran MCs, I can see the material not being so much a backwards thought, but more a continuation of our evolution. If and when we get together to start a new project it'll have to have one continuous flow, especially when you're putting eight MCs together.
How has being in a group contributed to your solo careers?
Tek of Smif N Wessun: Boot Camp Clik is family, and it's one of those things that you can always count on. Fans enjoy seeing the package of all of us together. In that sense it helps to propel our solo careers. Even on individual albums, we'll feature BCC members. There is also that support system from a promotional standpoint. If General Buckshot is doing an interview to promote one of his projects, there is a good chance he's going to also mention what Smif N Wessun has going on.
Buckshot, what ultimately led to starting Duck Down Records in 1995? Did it give you guys a sense of liberation to be on your own label and manage your music?
Buckshot: Duck Down was born from the fact that if we were doing all the work and it was our content, we should control how it's distributed and see the benefits of what is sold. We've always operated with an indie mentality, and it's allowed us to move quickly and be aggressive with our decisions. There is strong value in being able to set your own terms and also do good business. If you're on Duck Down and you put a record out and that project sells X amount of units, you'll be paid for what you produced. It's an exciting time at Duck Down to see what's next in terms of new talent.
What types of artists do you look for when signing new talent?
Buckshot: You need to be comfortable onstage. Nothing is harder than getting up and performing your craft in front of a live audience. We'll visit the show of artist who is showing some potential, and we need to be excited about what we see.
Buzz online, while obvious, is definitely essential. I'm not just focusing on your Twitter or Facebook stats, but what content are you releasing and how organized is your team. We're too busy to hold any new artist's hand, but if we like what you're doing we can be very effective as additional staff to your cause. We like to think we learn every day from the new artists emerging.
You guys are known for your large contribution to the underground East Coast hip-hop sound. What defines the East Coast sound versus the West Coast?
Rock of Heltah Skeltah: Having spent some time living out west, there are definitely differences. The west can be laid-back in terms of content and beat selection. There seems to be more camaraderie between West Coast rappers, especially the younger MCs. NYC will forever remain the mecca of rap, though, and the saturation can make the sound feel watered down.
When working with the late 2Pac, how did you guys approach producing a sound that would appease both the East and West?
Buckshot: That was never a real discussion between Pac and BCC. The goal there was just to get into the studio. That alone was bridging the gaps. Our style and sounds were both aggressive, and that shined during those recording days. We must have made 10 songs in a few days. Pac was a master at working quickly and efficiently.
Why have you guys chosen to stay close to the underground sound, instead of aiming for something more mainstream?
Buckshot: Our sound is what we know best. We take chances though, to push comfort boundaries. For the People was mostly live instrumentation. Underground is a position that people may box us into, but that is mostly attributed to what people view as being successful. If we went gold with our sound being what it is, you'd still call it underground.
What do you think of mainstream rap today?
Sean Price: There is a place for all raps. I rock with Lil' Wayne, but I'd prefer to listen to MF Doom. The perception may be mainstream rap is selling out, but that is mostly poor rappers angry that they aren't getting checks.
You guys have collaborated with numerous hip-hop legends. Who is someone you guys would like to work with in the future?
Buckshot: I have respect for all the legends and new talent we've been able to work with, but for Boot Camp Clik albums, trying to get eight MCs distributed throughout an album in a cohesive way is hard enough (laughs). No features necessary on a Boot Camp Clik album, although a hook from Bilal could be interesting.
Will we be hearing any new stuff on this West Coast Tour?
Sean Price: Mic Tyson. That is all.