Ricky Raw Talks 808 Fest, Early ATL Bass Music + The 808 Track
RR: Mhm, I was born in Clayton County hospital, Riverdale - Southside. I live in Zone 6 right now and have for almost 10 years. Once I was old enough to choose where to live, I’ve pretty much been in East Atlanta.
RJ: You said you fell in love with bass at a young age?
RR: Yup, I was a bass player at age 12 when I got my first bass guitar for Christmas. Then I started a band with Nick Weiller aka Bro Safari, at the time he was the guitar player, and then the third member Kerry Henderson. We played our very first gig at Samba Reptile at 14 years old. We weren’t really even old enough to be in the venue, but we played around 2AM and the only people there was the band after us. We planned to start a mosh pit at the end of our last song, so I threw down my bass and jumped into the crowd which was like three people. So I got a black eye by some dudes head smashing me in the face, and that was my first live club performance.
RJ: How did that lead into you getting involved with electronic?
RR: So, when I first started play the bass guitar I was into heavy metal, and that slowly went into punk rock. I went to Independence High School and I got a job across the street at this pizza place with all these Roswell kids who introduced me to drum and bass. And I loved it because before that everything was techno, any type of dance music. And this was in the late 90s so I mean, it really was. It was much more limited than it is today, like 10 years before dubstep existed. So by the time I was 17 I was able to buy turntables, two Technics, 1210s - I think. Then a friend sold me his mixer and gave me a bunch of Joker (not the DJ, the label - which was an old jump up DnB label) and Aphrodite records. So I got into mixing DnB, and then Bro Safari, who was going to college in Alabama, came back to Atlanta to come to some big rave or whatever it was and we chatted again, hadn’t seen each other in a while. He was like ‘I’m spinning drum and bass now,’ and I was like ‘I’m spinning drum and bass!’ When Nick came over, he was just kinda getting into it, and I was transitioning into the darker drum and bass. I spun jump up cause that’s what I had, but I was trying to buy records of the darker stuff. Me and some friends would go every Tuesday and buy all the new stuff at Rewind Records and Satellite Records. And then Nick was more into the jump up stuff so I started showing him more of what I was getting into, and pretty soon after that he started Evol Intent* and then he was a million miles past, production-wise, he just took off. He had Gigantor, and then soon brought on The Enemy, AJ, and made the trio Evol Intent. They put out some great stuff, and we kinda traded gigs. And yeah, that was the beginning of DJing. I started rapping over drum and bass, got into production soon after that, which led to more rapping just naturally as a next move.
*Evol Intent was a hardstep trio that formed in 2000 which included Mike Diasio (Gigantor) and Ashely Jones (The Enemy) - slated to headline 808 Fest on Wednesday under his alias Treasure Fingers.
RJ: So then at what point was Mighty High Coup found?
RR: Mighty High Coup started, in my opinion… So we would all go to this rap battle called Mic Club at Apache Cafe, hosted by DRES Tha BEATnik, and I met a lot of rappers there - a lot of really talented people - but, specifically, Mr. SOS and A-Bomb. They had two completely opposite styles. A-Bomb was the most ‘get drunk, get money’ kinda rapper ever, and then SOS was the most hiphop, had a backpack on every time he was on stage and still rocked a Kangol hat. So, to me, I just thought it’d be really cool to have a group where everyone is different. Cause most groups would have very similar styles, and I thought Atlanta was one of the only places that you would have people who are polar opposities work together on a song. I was making lots of beats, and playing around with verses but I wasn’t writing full songs - I was a battle rapper. But then these guys came in and wrote their verse, so you have three battle rapper verses and it starts to feel like a song. So, that’s how that got started and here we are three albums later. And we have half of a new album recorded with those guys too.
RJ: Oooh, will we get to hear any new stuff debut at 808 Fest?
RR: We’ll see, we’ll see. Mighty High Coup is playing 8.09. We’ll kick off 8.08, it’ll be all DJs, and the next night we’ll have some live performances.
RJ: So, now that we’re on to 808 Fest, looking at where it started and where it is now, does it follow the vision you saw for it or is it taking its own path?
RR: Both. When I started the first year in 2011, it was on a Wednesday and we had a really big year. I got Kilo Ali, it was his first show since he was out of jail, and it was a big deal. We had about 550 people show up to Connect Lounge on a Wednesday. It looked amazing, it was a great time. At that point I thought the sky was the limit. The next year, I did a 2-day thing at the Quad, and it was well-attended, but I learned that people just don’t like to go to the same club two nights in a row. The third year we did multiple venues for one night in East Atlanta Village. The fourth year we did multiple venues on Edgewood and that was on a Saturday. Last year 8.08 was on a Monday so we did Friday-Monday and made 8.08 the closing day and last year was definitely our highest attended yet. And now this year we’re going to kick off on Tuesday, 8.08, and move into the weekend.
RJ: So 808 Fest started in 2011, and The 808 Track came out in 2010?
RR: That sounds right, well the Bassnectar version. Mighty High Coup’s version came out in 2009. That was a cool story, some of my friends were playing it backstage at Bonnaroo all weekend and I guess he was playing that year and then heard the track a few times and started asking them ‘who is this?’ We had just put the video out, and I guess people were watching it around Bassnectar and he heard it and he called me probably a week after Bonnaroo and said he wanted to sample it. It’s not exactly a remix, it’s his song that he made and then sampled Mighty High Coup. His song was definitely its own thing, I wouldn’t consider it a remix at all.
RJ: I’d be curious to hear the original.
RR: Yeah, it’s online, Mighty High Coup - 808s.
RJ: So, would you say that 808s are your most often used drum samples?
RR: Yeah, I use 808s in almost every single song. And there are so many things that kinda qualify as an 808, you know theres sine waves that people would consider an 808. Even though, technically, nothing is an 808 unless it came out of the Roland TR-808. And then, to take that sound and use it in todays music, it takes a little bit of processing. That sound, even though it’s the most raw and true to the 808 sound, you still gotta throw some EQs and properly process and compress. You can use it as it is, but it’s such an old machine. In today's scene, you need a certain level of quality to even be relevant.
RJ: Which 808 sample is your favorite?
RR: The one that’s most famous is the 808 kick drum, specifically the one that has a sustain, a long tone. I mean, there’s a million versions even of that, but that’s what I use. That’s what people think of as the 808. You know, there’s the 808 cowbell, the 808 clap, there’s the 808 this the 808 that. *laughs* And, to get back to that song, I wrote that song as a joke. It was making fun of mainstream rap music, saying all you needed to make rap music these days was an 808 kick drum, an 808 hat, 808 snare drum, 808 clap, 808 this, 808 that, 808 boom and an 808 bap. Boom. That’s it, you know? And when we wrote the song, to me, at first it was so silly - that song wasn’t even going to make it on to our record because it was just so goofy. I like to say that I make pop songs that are making fun of pop songs. I have a song Heady Music with McBeezy, it’s like a heady song but it’s also making fun of that at the same time. Cause, you know, it’s entertainment. I don’t take it too too seriously. But as I played the album to all sorts of people, the 808 song was the one that stood out - it was different. There’s nothing in that song besides original 808 samples and a Sir-Mix-A-Lot sampler, and then some effects on them. But that’s literally the whole track, there’s nothing that wasn’t out of an 808 sampler.
RJ: I just love the way so many different music cultures have become so affected by that sound. I think that’s all I’ve got for you, is there anything else you want to add?
RR: Support your local bass head! Support your locals as much as you support the big guys. Support the people you see have the drive and the talent in the here and now, the culture you live in because that’s where the next big thing is going to come from. Make sure you give them the same, if not more support, as the people who are already there. Some people have the full potential but they’ll never make it anywhere if they don’t get the little bit of reassurance that they need. So, yeah, support your local bass head.
UPCOMING ATLANTA EVENTS
August 14: Beer & Comedy Night [SweetWater Brewery]
August 17: MCBEEZY w/ Briggs Eyeland [Aisle 5]
August 18-20: Atlanta Underground Film Festival [Synchronicity Theatre]
August 25: Underwear Comedy Party [Village Theatre]