SSMG – Five Years Later
If you've ever spent any time on the scene in Chicago, you know that 95% of the people you'll meet will tell you that they're a music producer, rapper, or both. If you spend a little more time, you'll find that most of them are in fact neither of those. Any longer than that, and you'll find out our dirty little secret; half of the one's who are left actually do produce music and rap, but they're not any good.
However, if have the heart (patience and real interest) to look a little further, and little deeper, you will find a few hidden gems.
5 years ago, this little blog discovered one of those hidden gems. SSMG had a new project out at the time with one of their label artist's B. Starks (B. Starks - "Shed Some Light").
I hadn't really heard much from them since, until I interviewed another Chicago Artist, Doc Mananoff who released a couple tracks a month or so ago. Turns out that the sexy production on Doc's “Addiction Dos” track was none other than Riot One, the musical mastermind behind SSMG. And I thought to myself, he's still making music? Cool!
His schedule has been cray busy, by the time I was able to catch up with him, he had a new EP called “Son Of Du Sable” coming out with one of the original SSMG Label artist's, Darchorse (pronounced as Dark Horse) Riot is a really cool and humble type guy, more than happy to remain behind the scenes and do what he does best, create music. This kind of person is rare, especially in Chicago, where everybody thinks their mediocre (at best) talent should have earned them tremendous amounts of money and fame, after rapping over their own vocals at a show or two, but I digress.
Now that that has been addressed, back to the matter at hand, SSMG and Riot One. After having to give me a guided tour around his neighborhood (so I wouldn't get lost) looking for the nearest coffee house, we got all caught up on what he had been up to for the last 5 years.
This time around, I wanted to know more about him and how SSMG started. He wanted to focus on promoting the new album by Darchorse, “It's always about promoting the artist” he says. “I really want to see them do well and be successful'. I agree in part, being that the artist becomes the “face” of the music if you will, I personally feel that equal credit, if not more, should be given to the producer. The best words to ever be said would easily be ignored without good music production in the background. Honestly, I'd probably give the work between the artist and the producer a 65/35 split to the producer's side. I've listened to and liked many a song with the most ridiculous lyrics because I liked the music. I don't think it's ever worked like that in reverse, not for me anyway. Maybe that's just me?
Riot One was born and raised right here in Chicago, and he doesn't seem to be looking to move any time soon. I asked him where and how this all started for him. “It was the summer of '88, when life was good, simple, when music meant something. He didn't say those exact words, but he did say the
year was 1988. He was a graffiti artist at the time, and he used to paint t-shirts in a part of the city that is now long gone, but back then, we called it “Jew Town”.
It was flea market of sorts, filled with vendors selling damn near anything you could want or think you could want, and everybody was looking for the best/coolest/most interesting items for the best price. People would spend hours upon hours walking around looking at everything from every vendor. “Jew Town” is gone, but as it turns out, Riot will still create a shirt or two when the mood strikes him, but of course, that's not his main focus anymore.
He transitioned from focusing on his graffiti art and making music to DJ'ing, which he also still does if/when he chooses, but it's a rare occasion. His main focus is all about creating music.
As fate would have it, we share many of the views about the music scene in Chicago, etc. We each shared our own personal “my issue with Chicago is” rant and then we got back to SSMG.
In 1994, he did some emceeing and a good majority of the production on an album entitled “Making illinoize ”. He kinda got into rapping for a bit, but production is really his thing. I asked if he ever considered trying his hand at rapping again and he quickly answered “No”.
Over the years the list of artist's on the SSMG label has changed, but two the original artist's are still with the label; “Darchorse” and “Seerz Tower”.
I asked what he thinks is the most important part of the relationship between the artist and the producer. He explained to me how the “chemistry and the energy” between the 2 is at the top of the list. “When the artist is in sync with the producer, there's no limit to what can be created”.
We talked about the difference between rappers and emcee's. “See, rappers are all about trends, what's trendy. The don't have a style, not an original style because they replicate other artist's. So, this is hot, so I'm gonna make a song that sounds just like this. Emcee's don't do that. They don't care about trends or what's hot. Their focus is on their own voice, their own talent, what they add or bring to the art.”
EACM: Do you think that's what's causing the lack of good music today?
Riot One: Yes! Main stream artist's don't have any originality or ingenuity.
EACM: Are you willing to work with those people who are just looking to make something trendy?
Riot One: Yeah, I'll work with them. And if they're really serious about it, I'll do anything I can to make their track sound as good as possible. But if they're just looking to make some money and don't really care about improving their craft, I offer my studio and production services and send them on their way. Why spend time to trying to help someone improve on their skills or their music if it's not really important to them?
There are a lot of guys that come into the studio, nothing written down, no lyrics at all, just looking to say a few words over something that sounds just like every other song you hear on the radio. Those guys aren't serious. They just hope that somebody will hear this one track and they'll be instantly famous. If that happens, good for them, but if that's all they wanna do, I can't really help them get any better because that's not what they want. So, I let them record what they wanna record, and I mix it down for them, give them their copy and we're done. I'm still professional, but just like I have respect for other people's time, I respect my own time too, and I know you can't help anybody who doesn't really want my help. Especially when they don't think they need any.
EACM: Do you do production work in other music genre's?
Riot One: I've dabbled in a few other genre's, but I focus on rap and hip hop primarily. But I like all kinds of different music.
EACM: Who would you say has influenced your musical style the most?
Riot One: Well, Stevie Wonder of course. Then there's Jimi Hendrix and The Cyrkle. I like a lot of early 60's psycho rock type stuff, and jazz. Jazz has influenced me a lot too, along with stuff like 45 King and Mantronix.
EACM: At this point in your career, I'm guessing you've worked with most of the rap/hip hop artist's in Chicago?
Riot One: I've worked with quite a few. In addition to Darchorse and Seerz Tower, my label artist's, I've worked with Ang13, Uneq'ka , an R&B artist, Griot Baba Biko, the creator of “Diary of a Tribesman”, Docillah, and the list goes on....
EACM: You offer full production services?
Riot One: Oh yeah, mixing, mastering, everything.
And as a side note, if you catch on the right day and in a charitable mood, he'll help you with album/EP art work too! I've some of his work and he's equally talented in visual art as well.
EACM: If you could give something back to music, what would it be?
Riot One: If I could music something back, it would be originality and ingenuity. The music industry has put a lot of work into “dumbing” music down and dumbing-down this generation of kids in general. And the worst part, is that the people who are making the kind of music that actually has something to say, a real point, real meaning, don't have the money, resources or both, to really promote their music the way it deserves to be promoted, so that it reaches the masses, the same way and just as much as, all this mainstream bullshit music does.
I think he's absolutely right and I couldn't agree more! It's nice to know that I'm not the only person who feels that way. It was also nice to know that there are still people in the music industry who still put some integrity in their work.
EACM: Do you think you'll ever get to a point where you won't want to produce music?
Riot One: No. I'll never stop making music. Not until I die!
So, what's been up with SSMG for the past 5 years? The same thing as before, making good worthwhile music; worth your time to listen, the price of admission to see/hear it live when those opportunities come, and the cost of the album/EP to buy it and have it in your collection forever!
This is a non-inclusive list of SSMG / Riot One music:
Seerz Tower – “Affordable Luxuries” Available NOW on ALL Platforms
Docillah: “Lessons in Life” Available NOW on ALL Platforms
Doc Mananoff: “Addiction” & “Addiction Dos”
Soon To Be Released Projects:
Darchorse: Follow-Up to the “Son of DuSable” EP – “Garage Sale” a collection of unreleased tracks that have been re-worked
Watterr: Hood Popeye 2
Docillah: New project (Album name TBD)
Threez: Producing next project/ Currently finishing a new EP
Sub Zero: Finishing a new EP
Surge: Working on a new project
Doc Mananoff: New tracks from the “Addiction” series
Previous Works from SSMG/Riot One:
Griot Baba Biko - "Diary of a Tribesman"
Uneq'ka - Music Info and Track Links