It’s a strong start for a duo that seeps chemistry, not accounting for the seemingly unassuming acronym for Dimethyltryptamine, a naturally occurring hallucinogenic (no pun intended). But it’s Pharaoh Mac & DMT’s old school rap and tactics that, surprisingly successfully defy the contemporary attitude of quick and, as they tell me, “Euro-shit” and “bubble-gum rap.” Brave is one way to put it. It’s a bold path to pursue for the Milwaukee natives, DMT a.k.a Isaac Chevako, the producer, and Pharaoh Mac a.k.a. Jamahl Turner, the rapper and lyricist, but they’re the modern motivation for a reprieve from the “cookie cutter” rap.
The duo is stead fast with the proclamation of their staying power that has the potential to follow Wu-Tang and Outkast, and I have to admit, the majority of their tracks have been on repeat since I first encountered them. “I am confident that if we can achieve some kind of distribution, our music will sky-rocket. Our strength is our ability to be ourselves. No diss, but it’s just time for substance; it’s time to up the bar in various ways. I agree that there is a heavy force behind this bubble gum cookie-cutter-flow rap that we are hearing day in and day out,” Jamahl tells me.
It’s intelligent writing, interspersed , for example, with personifications of their dream – “So tell me baby, tell me what I gotta do, what I gotta do to get it crackin’ with me and you… cause I’ve been feelin’ it too, tell me if it’s really real, and if isn’t what I do” – that invites us to follow the personal struggle and frustrations of their journey and a yearning to move up from the bottom rung as a hip hop artist. But at the same time, Jamahl is not afraid to gracefully mock the current “cookie cutter” writing about I-love-this-girl/boy that we’re jaded to today.
Rounding off the experience is the rather melodic production of close-my-eyes-and-let-the-music-envelop-me beats fashioned in an admittedly makeshift, “grimy” studio with hardwired, bootlegged gear in a church basement that justifies the intangible value of their debut EP, “Dream Driven.”
Musebox talked to Pharaoh Mac & DMT about Dimethyltryptamine, their move into hip hop, their animosities about the contemporary hip hop scene, and the message that they’re getting across to their fans.
Musebox: Tell me about DMT. Is it an acronym? What you setting out to achieve or setting out to do with the group?
Isaac: DMT is an acronym for Dimethyltryptamine, a compound that occurs in your brain and can also be taken as a psychedelic drug. Jay Electronica actually did a song called “Dimethyltryptamine.” It influences dreaming and when taken externally, can produce intense, immersive hallucinations that some argue are actual glimpses into other dimensions. There’s theories out there that say ancient people had more of it occurring naturally in their body, and were more spiritually inclined because of it. It’s pretty complicated and they don’t know a whole lot about it yet, so Google it. Basically I want my music to take you somewhere else.
Jamahl: You could always Youtube it too, but then again that will probably just confuse you even more just like his explanation did me. haaa!
I: As far as our goals with the group, we don’t mind being indie. We are like the Black Eyed Peas before they got Fergie and sold out. That’s not to say that we don’t want to be successful with our music, but if it’s gonna happen, we want it to be on our terms, and not because we went pop.
I really respect artists like Kev Brown, People Under the Stairs, people that aren’t immediately recognizable to the mainstream, but are making dope music and finding a niche audience. Eventually we’d like to find a label home, because as indie artists, I think you need that kind of support to get out there a bit. There’s no top 40 single, you know? Rhymesayers has done a great job of building a collection of strong artists that focus on making great hip-hop, and eventually we’d like to be part of something like that.
J: Black Eyed Peas for real?…Like really? You seriously couldn’t think of another group? You must me be smoking that D.M.T!
MB: Isaac, you’re a classically trained pianist. What compelled you to make the switch from playing classical piano to attending school for audio production.
I: I was playing classical through high school and then I got a copy of Fruity Loops which got me into making beats. Fruity Loops is….I don’t know. Jamahl messes with FL so I won’t talk too much shit about it haha.
J: HATER!!! Fruity loops is dope and you know it… #DontJudgeMe…lol
I: Haha, anyways, I actually went to UW-Madison for a year and just ended up sitting in my room making beats all day which naturally translated into subpar grades. I decided to transfer and go to music school. I figured if I was doing it anyways I might as well have it count for something. Audio school was invaluable because I could be both the producer and the engineer, and hone the sound that I was going for musically and technically. I used Logic Pro for the first album, but now I’m messing with Ableton Live.
MB: How did Jamahl get into the rap game?
J: My high school days introduced me to the rap game without a doubt, but it was my freshmen year of college when my cousin “Ecko” really set it off for me. I moved to the “brew” (Milwaukee, WI) from the “steel city” Pittsburgh, PA my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I was just a pure outcast that only had skills with the pill when it came to basketball.
But rapping was in, and eventually became my second language. Song writing, battle rapping and hooping were like the only things that mattered. My homies Whaz, Pauly Blackstone, and Henry Nelson were like gnats at a cookout in my ear bugging the hell out of me to start working on my craft, which ultimately I did… 24/7!
One thing lead to another, and I built a make shift studio in my mother’s attic. Ecko took me under his wing, mentored and schooled me with all he knows about spitting and recording on the mouth-piece. I dropped a few low budget mixtapes and been grinding ever since.
MB: How did you two meet?
J: At work.
I: We both lifeguarded for the Milwaukee Rec Dept. at North Division High School. There were some badass kids man, lemme tell you.
J: Ha! …Bad as hell!
I: On more than one occasion, someone took a dump in the pool and we had to close.
J: More like all the time!
I: Jamahl was the head guard and one of the first days he kicked everyone out of the pool and made them sit on the benches while he yelled at them. He actually pulled three kids and made them cover their eyes, mouth, and ears, and made the rest of the kids recite “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” before he let them back in. They pretty much behaved after that lol.
MB: Tell me about the makeshift recording studio that you recorded “Dream Driven.”
J: It was a dream come true man…
I: My mom’s church (and mine up until college) decided to do this music project, so they had people donate random pieces of gear and built a “studio” in the basement. They didn’t do a very good job putting it together. It was pretty grimy, so after the project was over I spent a good amount of time wiring everything and making all the gear work together the best I could. Basically we had some bootleg Chinese replica mics and an old Pro Tools rig to record with. That was about it. I mixed the whole album on Logic Pro in my bedroom with bootlegged plug-ins. You do what you gotta do, and I think it sounds pretty damn good considering.
MB: What message are you two trying to get across to the listeners out there with your lyrics?
J: That there are no boundaries, only a sense of self and originality. I am the most “consistent inconsistent” song writers of all time – probably that only one that over thinks the simplest things way too often. Any and every time I write, I’m trying to influence other people to be themselves and not to repeat the same mistakes I have made, whether they are pursuing the same interest as me or other avenues for success.
MB: I have to ask, what artists do you listen to and who would you want to work with?
I: Production-wise, I love RZA, Neptunes, Timbaland….indie dudes like Kev Brown, Lazerbeak, Black Milk, Blue Sky Black Death….If I had to pick one artist I’d love to work with right now it’d be Jay Electronica.
J: Production-wise, 9th wonder and Pharrell. I Listen to Lupe Fiasco, Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf, J. Cole. Who I would like for us to work with project wise would be Andre 3k, Lupe, Wiz plus a couple local favorites, Prophetic and Haz Solo. I got a crazy state of mind in regards to my creative processor.
MB: Why go down the old school route?
I: Music right now is so saturated with that hip-pop, Euro dance shit. It’s all interchangeable and sounds the same, and won’t hold up over time. Old Wu-tang, or Outkast, people will still be bumping that in fifty years. It’s gritty, it tells a story.
J: Music now-days is that bubble gum rap. It’s losing its flavor. Time for a couple more chews and spit it out. Time to get back to that epic bounce – that “Illmatic” music that we can listen to ten years from now and still be speechless.
MB: You said that today’s rap is “bubble gum rap,” but are you trying to change that image yourselves – it’s a daunting feat considering the heavy force behind it at the moment – but are you afraid that your music won’t pick up or are you willing to keep grinding with the same style until people come to your realization?
I: I think it’s all about the target audience. There’s people out there who genuinely appreciate the kind of hip-hop we are making. I don’t know if it’s about changing the image of mainstream rap music as much as it’s about keeping that classic spirit of hip-hop alive for those who love it. That being said, hip-hop is evolving, and we will continue to develop our sound.
J: I am confident that if we can achieve some kind of distribution, our music will sky-rocket. Our strength is our ability to be ourselves. No diss, but it’s just time for substance; it’s time to up the bar in various ways. I agree that there is a heavy force behind this bubble gum cookie-cutter-flow rap that we are hearing day in and day out. It’s only because most people don’t want to think, they just want to feel music. But there are definitely people out there that appreciate quality production and lyricism. We got that heroin, crack-cocaine!
MB: Are you old school in the way you’re planning on marketing your music now that there are musicians out there who take the “new school approach” to branding themselves?
I: That’s a great question and one we’re still working on. You’ve got Lil B and Tyler the Creator engaging in these online campaigns…we don’t rap about raping people or having dicks like Jesus, so the shock value isn’t there for us. I guess we are aiming for putting our music out there and hoping for positive reactions and a slower growth of a fan base because we aren’t eating cockroaches on Youtube.
J: It’s old school in terms of, “thinking of a master plan.” You know, going back to the state of mind of Eric B. and Rakim, Nas and Ill-Will. Duo collaborations - bringing two powerful, creative, enlightened minds together. Pulling out the pen and pad, and taking our time to generate that that epic soulful, mind altering, inspirational, good music! If that makes any sense lol.
MB: What are some successes in your career that you’re proud of?
J: We made a couple mix tapes on the east coast, and also received local artist spotlight on some local blogs.
I: We rocked a show at Mifflin last year that was crazy. It was in the backyard area instead of the stages on the street so we were right at ground level with the crowd. Jamahl KILLED it. He brought his wife and baby, and there was some chick trying to dance up on him. Jessika (his wife) ran out from behind the DJ booth and grabbed the girls face and shoved her out of the way lol. Jamahl kept going though, and the crowd was really into it, so that was fun.
J: *Bitter Beer Face* ouch, let’s not bring that back up lol. I’m still on punishment for that! It was so dope though. Wish we could have played at the main-stage this year, but it’s cool though.
MB: Is there anything that you’re working on currently?
I: Yeah, I’m actually back at Madison getting my bachelor’s, so we’re doing everything by email. Jamahl’s actually doing some production this time… and who knows, I might put a verse on there somewhere. We are going for something a little different this time, a little more street.
J: Yeah I’m trying to stay fresh for more project work with D.M.T but just finished up two mix tapes in the past month. One mixtape is T.B.A – haven’t fully settled with a name yet. But the other is the “Brown Sugar Mixtape Series, Chapter 1: I Used to Love HER” over 9th wonder beats hosted by Corey Holcomb (unofficially).
MB: They way you’re handling the distance reminds me of the Youtube collaborations out there. How does it work? Does Isaac lay out the beats and Jamahl write the lyrics and afterward you compile those together?
I: Yeah for the most part. I’ve been busy with school so Jamahl’s actually been recording rough versions of the songs, and then sending it to me all tracked out to mix and sometimes add parts if it’s his beat. I’m a bedroom engineering wizard.
J: It’s all about a vault full of good music to flood the air-ways with. I’ll generate a concept/idea for a track and the basic skeleton for the beat…hit the studio in the attic and lay down a rough version. Then I’ll shoot it over to D.M.T for approval and EQ’n and whatever else. I don’t know what he does with those plug-ins of his, but you should hear the rough versions compared to the final mixes….it’s crazy.
MB: What’s your Plan B if music doesn’t pan out?
I: Shit, selling out to the man and working in corporate America. Or knocking up one of the Olsen twins. Or both. I’d be set for life.
J: I’m leaning towards pulling a Big Sean, J. Cole, Jay-Z type move… infiltrating some headquarters and going straight to them with our music like “LISTEN DAMN IT”!! Maybe freestyling on the spot for them. I’m confident that we can make this happen and be extremely successful at it given the right opportunities.
MB: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
I: Man, especially for hip-hop artists, and producers in particular: LEARN YOUR CRAFT. I can’t tell you how many times I hear a beat and there will be a dope sample, but the bass line is in the wrong key or something. Hip-hop is music, and to make music you gotta know some music theory. Step your game up!
J: BE YOUR SELF! grind hard, But have fun most importantly! Always remember that your mental temple and family comes first.