Interview with Mad Squirrel and Blake9 of The Acorns
by Lady Glock
The Acorns is one of DC's best underground collaborations. Appearing on the scene two and a half years ago and made up of MC Mad Squirrel and DJ and label founder Blake9, The Acorns recently released their album Dropping From the Trees on Candlewax Records. The album is lyrically refreshing, with beats that are simple but completely funky. Some notable tracks: “Woodpecker Nemisis”, “Party in my Neighborhood” (which took me back to my Mr. Rogers days), “Those Who Know Network”, “Six Years” and”Five She”. The album also features some other MCs who you should know about: Comel_15 (of Nine:Fifteen), Pasha da eMcee, PreGo 35 and Stylus Chris. For DC Hip Hoppers, this is definitely an album you want to add to your collection.
How did both of you get into the music scene?
Mad Squirrel:Well, I???ve always been a rhymer. It???s funny, when I go back to my mom???s house in Massachusetts sometimes I???ll be going through old stuff and find folders or notebooks or pads full of rhymes. All sorts of shit. A lot of them are actually quite good, but definitely of another era. Then I was out in San Francisco doing ethnographic research for my Ph.D. in anthropology, and I was working at Amoeba Music, and I met Feller Quentin who was also working there. At the time he was doing hip hop with his roommate Eddie Vic. They were called ???the Latter.??? So we started hanging out, and he knew I used to write rhymes, so he was like ???let???s make an underground tape together.??? At the time, I was also hanging out with a lot of dope Bay Area underground emcees, especially folks who used to get together at the Day One open-mics at the Rockin??? Java coffee shop on Haight Street. Because I was there doing research, at first I was a little hesitant to start rhyming. But one thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was rockin??? the open-mics and doing songs with Feller. Our first Forest Fires Collective stuff was so off the wall that fools didn???t even know. I didn???t even know if people would be feeling it. But Eddie Vic and Feller decided to put it out as a CD. Originally the FFC was Eddie Vic and Feller on the beats, Eddie Vic doing most of the cuts, and Feller (going by the name Smif C) and me and Prego and Sim the Drunken Owl rhyming. I still look back and think, ???damn! We had a tight group of beat-makers and rhymers.??? And my friend Gavin (aka T.Root), who is one of the dopest emcees I know, came through and did a track. And we also had Dr. Lester, our sonic Minister of Information, contributing a track. I knew that the first album had an underlying dopeness to it, but I was actually surprised at how many people were feelin??? it. I mean, for a while it seemed like every new person I met had just picked up the CD. I would go on chat rooms and people would be talkin??? about it and shit. I had also been doing open-mics for a while and a lot of people knew me from that. That???s about the time that I felt I had arrived in the music scene.
Blake9: I have always enjoyed listening to music. From age 7 until I was 16 I played the drums and percussion formally. I took a break from playing music and focused on athletics when I was in high school. I started djing during the summer of 1997. Then shortly after that I met MC Jihad (Isreal) of DC hip hop group Defined Print who introduced me to Stylus Chris. From there Jihad introduced me to others doing hip hop music in DC and so on and so on??? I???ve been making beats since 2000. I put out the ???Say What??? record in 2001. I continue to put out records and make music. The rest is just details.
How did you two get together?
Mad Squirrel: I met Blake out in the Bay. I had just got there. I don???t even think I was rippin??? open-mics yet. He was hanging out with this guy Big Ant, who is also down with the FFC. There was this Freestyle Fellowship show that Big Ant didn???t want to go to, so he told Blake, ???Why don???t you go with Mad Squirrel.??? So we ended up going. It was a weird night. There were all these strange girls I was sorta into who were sorta sweatin??? me. But Blake and I ended up having a good time at the show. A year and a half later, when I was going to an anthropology conference in D.C., I contacted Blake to see if I could crash at his pad. He was like ???cool.??? While I was there we started thinking about and working on music. Then when I moved to Virginia we started recording songs and doing shows together. I mean, we???re really not that close. I???m in Southwest Virginia and he???s in Arlington. But I get up there and we put it down.
Blake9: Yes, Squirrel and I met through Big Ant. I pretty much know all my friends from San Francisco through Big Ant. Mad Squirrel and I went to see the Freestyle Fellowship. That was pretty much my first introduction to real west coast hip hop. I didn???t hear from Squirrel again until he came to DC a year and a half later. We just started doing songs, continued doing songs and some shows. Then, all of the sudden we had some dope tracks to put on CD. I???ve also gone down to the valley for a performance or two as well. It???s a bit of a travel, but it???s fun to record and do shows with Mad Squirrel. I???m looking forward to making some new tracks with him.
What would you say are some of the differences between the West Coast underground scene and the East Coast? More specifically, how does it feel to be in the DC hip hop scene?
Mad Squirrel: I don???t know if I can say exactly. I can tell you that my FFC stuff is West Coast and the Acorns stuff is East Coast. Lately I???ve taken to representing Southwest Virginia, which is a long way from the coast. But the stuff I do with Blake is definitely East Coast ??? ???Blake makes beats on the SP and we wrote the recipe.???
Blake9: West coast scene is full of ???do-it-yourselfers???. The independent music scene seems a bit more organic to me. Also, the people listening out west seem to want to hear good independent music. They seem to like more of a classic style of hip hop. More breaks and samples, less keyboards. The east coast is just grimy. DC has a healthy amount of dope artists. No doubt! DC seems to be ignored as a place for independent hip hop. It???s a healthy scene. Personally I wish the pulse of the scene would be stronger.
After the release of your album “Dropping From The Trees”, where do you hope to see the album go? What's your next move? Any up and coming projects?
Mad Squirrel: Well, we put out 1000 CDs and they???re pretty much all gone. At least we don???t have any more. I???m cool with that cause, truth is, Blake and I live so far apart that the Acorns will probably always be on some sub-underground shit. We might do four to six shows a year or something, but no more. I mean, if future releases blow up, that???s great. But I like the idea of being a little more exclusive. Candlewax has got a lot of dope shit going on beyond just us. If you don???t know, you should. As far as next moves, Blake and I are still making tracks. He???s supposed to get me a new beat CD one of these days. I???ve also got some other stuff going on down here in Southwest Virginia. I???ve been doing a lot of anti-Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining benefit shows. That???s a serious issue that more people should know about.
Blake9: I want to sell the remaining copies. I would like to continue doing shows and recording with Mad Squirrel. I???ll continue spreading the word about our records and projects. Just keep it moving really.
What would you say is your favorite track on the album?
Mad Squirrel: You know, a lot of people like ???Five She.??? It???s probably my favorite. It???s funny, I???m usually the guy to like some more obscure shit. Not the crowd favorite. But that???s just a great song. I also like ???Comcast.??? Prego got me all liquored up the night before. So when I woke up with a headache, him and Blake were like ???Yeah. Recorded it now. Let ???em feel your pain.??? When I listen to it, I feel the pain.
Who or what are your influences?
Mad Squirrel: Greg Nice and the DOC. I also like the Forest.
Blake9: Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, Time Machine, People Under The Stairs, really too many producers and mc???s to list. The people listening influence me.
Blake9, how did Candlewax Records come about? Where do you hope to see it, in say, ten years?
Blake9: Well, that???s quite a story really. For the long version, check the Candlewax interview on UKHH.com. The short version is??? I used to put out records on my previous label Irish CarBomb Music. I did three seven inch records on that label. The first being somewhat of a cult classic ???Say What??? with Comel of Time Machine. That was the beginning of our group Nine:Fifteen. I did 2 other records with Jaysonic and Stoerok of Time Machine as well. In 2003 I decided to change the name because I thought it was inappropriate and started putting recordings out on Candlewax Records. We have put out 6 releases to date. In ten years, I would like to still be making music and putting out records. Hopefully have a few more artists we put out and I can finally make a living off of the music.
I saw that your album is selling over in the UK, France and Japan. Any plans of doing a world tour?
Mad Squirrel: I would love to go on a world tour. Blake, gas up the Candlewax Jet!
Seriously, I???ve toured the country before, and that was a great experience. I???d love to go overseas. We don???t have any immediate plans at the moment.
Blake9: No plans yet, but I???m excepting offers???
Mad Squirrel, I've been told you're a professor. How do you balance your time between teaching and music?
Mad Squirrel: Teaching takes a lot of time. But I think I feel the tension more between music and research. Independent research, which is expected of a professor at a research-one university, is undefined time. Working on music is also undefined time. Classes are more structured. You meet at certain times each week and all your responsibilities revolve around that. So I feel the tension more between music and research. How I use that undefined time.
What are the top songs playing on your Ipod/MP3 player/CD player/ITunes at the moment?
Mad Squirrel: Actually, I still rock the cassette tape walkman. I like cassettes and I own a lot of cassettes. Old, rare cassettes ??? like Full Force. But these days I mostly listen to: A) Ash Devine. She???s an amazing young folksinger originally from SWVA but now living in Asheville NC.
B) Jun Dax. Who is probably the best unknown emcee I know of. I snatch up everything of hers that I can find. C) I???m also really feeling the new Perceptionist album. I was in the Boston scene for a very short winter. I also toured the country with Fakts One. I???m really feelin what those guys are up to.
Blake9: I???m still getting used to the whole MP3 thing. I either listen to cds in my car or vinyl in the studio. In my car, Count Bass D. has been getting a lot of play. In my house I have a lot of records on rotation. The new Stick Figures 12-inch on Galapagos4 is dope. I???ve been listening to the Felt2 album, Time Machine???s new 12-inch and whatever dusty grooves that fined their way onto the turntable.
You can buy Dropping From the Trees here.