Some call it the “golden age.” Some call it “classic.” Some call it “old school.” Whatever you call it, the late ’80s to mid-’90s was the era during which hip-hop began to achieve mass appeal.
To music nerds and hip-hop heads, “boom bap” is a term for the style of rap associated with the genre’s breakthrough success. New Hampshire is home to a number of hip-hop artists who echo the style from 30 years ago, and the “BugNef” EP showcases two of the state’s most established artists remixing the golden-age sound into a modern interpretation.
Bugout (Brian Ladd), co-founder, lyricist, and beatmaker of the rap group Granite State, writes like T.S. Elliot if he had lived through the “Yo! MTV Raps” generation. He constructs his rhymes like a puzzle, with lyrics, namedrops, and tributes extracted from his various hip-hop influences and pieced together with multisyllabic mastery. Bug applies knowledge from the teachings of Nas, Arrested Development, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien to create stories about struggling as an artist, celebrating hip-hop culture, and tackling social issues.
DJ Nefarious (Jonas Perrin, aka Nef), on the other hand, drinks from the same pool as MadLib and J Dilla. The beatmaker, a former Manchester resident who relocated to New York, beds Bugout’s rhymes in ambitiously weird hip-hop, cloaking tender soul with hard-hitting jazz.
We reached out to the boys from BugNef to talk about their new EP, the origins of their collaboration, and the state of hip-hop in the Granite State.
How did you two hook up together? Was this a project that you guys had been planning?
BUGOUT: A mutual friend, Craig Mosher, who runs a hip-hop radio show on WSCA called “The Graveyard Shift,” was the one to introduced us. Nef and I shared a lot of commonalities so we hit it off pretty quickly. Nef had asked me if I needed any beats, he sent a batch over and I think I wrote to almost all of them.
DJ NEFARIOUS: As Bugout played a major role in the hip-hop scene, in New Hampshire, I knew we had to collab together. Craig had talked to both of us many times, and I had tried to get Bugout on my first project and it had just fell through. I remember the first response I got from him like it was yesterday, after I sent him some beats. Bugout says something along the lines of, “Wow, how have we not done music before? I had no clue your beats were like this.” After that it was simple and we started.
What bridged the gap with you musically between Granite State’s album last year and “BugNef”? What inspired you to use these rhymes with a different producer/beatmaker than Granite State?
BUG: The last Granite State album, “A Tribe Called 30,” was actually finished after the “BugNef” EP, but at the time, Nef and I weren’t sure what we wanted to do with the project. I went from my first solo album (“The Unfound Chapter”) to “BugNef” to “ATC30 fairly quickly. I also had a bunch of other little projects going on and a remix album I put together. After a few discussions, we both agreed that the EP needed a good push behind it.
How did you guys collaborate? How easy was it to communicate ideas and build tracks?
BUG: Most of the songs were bounced back and forth via email during the time Nef lived in Manchester. We vaguely spoke about the direction we wanted to go with for this album. It actually just sort of came together organically.
NEF: Yes, as Bug mentioned, this is one of the more organic projects I have done in my career. I would send or even create a new beat and he would finish the song so fast, which, being a producer, is always so refreshing. This was my first experience that I had seen an emcee finish writing before I was even ready with a new beat. Funny enough, it was all back and forth in email even though we lived in the same state, and honestly that was nice because it allowed us to go fast and stay in that organic and creative vibe.
Did Nef have beats already put together and then Bug laid down raps, or did you guys build together?
NEF: It was a little of both, really. I know the first couple beats I had just emailed him a batch of beats, and he ran with it, then we talked about the direction we wanted to see and the influences we were going after. So I would listen to a lot of those styles we talked about, then dig for samples, and actually Bug picked out a sample for one of the tracks and I used that and started making new beats and he would record his vocals at his studio mostly during his lunch break at work. Then we just kept that going.
Bug, what do you feel are the biggest differences between Granite State’s beats and Nef’s beats? Did you experiment with your lyrics or style of rhyming on this latest EP?
BUG: I produced a lot of the last GS album, so it felt so good to just put all my attention (into) writing again. I’m always experimenting — that comes with the territory. As an emcee, you’re expected to have a level of confidence about you, as to sort of get the listener inspired (and) amped up. When it comes to the building process, though, I become extremely humbled and switch to a “student” mentality. I let the beat talk and I sort of just relay the message, like an interview. With that being said, I stay aware of what beats suit the mood of the project. Vibes are everything.
I noticed that the beats are reminiscent of classic “Golden Age” hip-hop, where the samples are from ’80s and ’90s tunes. But you guys put a twist to it, like in “Questions” where you used that Arrested Development song to punch up your point about the Earth’s water supply. Where did the idea for that kind of sampling come from?
BUG: Nef sent the beat and I heard like this rain in the background and it set the mood. It felt like this song wanted to be written. It’s a huge bear to tackle, but I think the approach I took really paid off in the end.
NEF: With that song, I had found a sample that I absolutely fell in love with. The thing was, it had rain and thunder throughout that entire album. I even tried to filter the noise out and could not fully, but there was no way of getting rid of the beats, so I sent it. Then all of a sudden right away, Bug sent the song back and blew my mind with it. This hits home for myself and I hope a lot more, as this is all true and very important. We both really listen to a lot of Golden Era music, so of course that will always be in our music. With that being said, we mixed that up and instead of us saying, “Let’s make a great rap album,” I feel we both had that mindset of, “Let’s take our influence, get creative, and make a great EP with the music that naturally comes out.
How did you guys get hooked up with M-Dot? What inspired you to bring him into the project for (the song) “Depth Perception”?
NEF: So I actually had randomly met M-Dot at a show in New Hampshire, and we both started nerding out about hip-hop and talking that night, grabbed each other’s contacts and really became friends. Even now, the three of us talk all the time and it is way more than the music. I have done a few tracks with M-Dot and have become great friends along the journey.
You guys have been around the scene for a while. Generally speaking, what would say about the New Hampshire/New England hip-hop scene?
NEF: For myself, I think it is great. You would think everyone (in New Hampshire) listens to country or something, but there are a ton of people that are really into hip-hop and creating. I believe down the road it will only increase. Boston has a strong scene these days, and the New England area, I feel, does not have a sound like Detroit, NYC, or other places like that, but it is known for real hip-hop, boom bap, and really just being very lyrical. I have heard in other articles and interviews, it is all “spitter.”
BUG: Music, like any art form, is predicated on trends for the most part. Some people refuse to follow trends because they’re either comfortable doing something a certain way or they firmly believe there’s no better way to represent the product. I try to stay open to everything, but I understand where my strong points are. As one of the first hip-hop artists to come out of New Hampshire, I think it’s important to continuously raise the bar, understand the shifts in the culture, and dance with it. The older I get, the more important it is for me to set an example, like, “This is what you have to look forward to, kid.” The scene around here is great though. (Portland-based hip-hop artist) Ill By Instinct has Rap Night in Manchester, and (Boston-based artist) Uncle Sam is really branding LFOD (Live Free or Die Music). You have a few little surrounding tribes doing their own thing, but for the most part we’re all in this together.
What is the future of BugNef? Will you guys be performing shows? Recording a larger album? Considering this a one-off project?
BUG: We’re currently setting up a few shows around here and NYC, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. And this is only the beginning for us, so yes, we’ll more than likely put out another project in the future, if that’s what the audience wants.
NEF: Exactly what Bugout said. This is just the beginning of our journey. We work so well together, there is no reason to make this a one-album type of project. We will be doing the same organic feel and giving the masses great quality music.
To check out the “BugNef” EP, click here.