Camp Lo Talk ‘Ragtime Hightimes’ Album, Memories From the Bronx, Fashion & Vince Staples’ Artistry [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Every artist would like to believe their sound and style is unique, but Camp Lo certainly fits those characteristics. Hailing from the Bronx, N.Y., the duo -- comprised of MCs Sonny Cheeba and Geechie Suede -- are known for their quality brand of hip-hop, which was first showcased on their debut album, Uptown Saturday Night, with songs like the get rich anthem "Luchini AKA This Is It," as well as their eye-popping style. Nearly two decades deep into their career, Camp Lo remain to be one of the most consistent acts in hip-hop, which is evidenced by their latest release, Ragtime Hightimes.
The album is an array of dope beats and flows and does the longtime fan of Camp Lo justice, which finds them stepping out of their comfort zones. So when given an opportunity to chop it up with the Bronx bombers about Ragtime Hightimes and all things Camp Lo, it was a no-brainer. Sonny Cheeba -- who arrives roughly 30 minutes before his partner in rhyme -- is in good spirits on warm afternoon in New York as he recounts the events of the previous evening, which ended with him laid up with an attractive female, who clearly made a good impression on the veteran MC. "The girl ain't know how good her mouth was," Sonny tells The Boombox, before joking that he's nursing a hemorrhoid at the moment.
In the middle of the conversation, Geechi Suede strolls in and makes apologies for his tardiness before plopping down on a chair. Admittedly a bit hungover from the night before, he appears to be a bit sluggish, yet remains engaged throughout, entertaining with his animated brand of dialogue and impromptu freestyles, which comes when you least expect it. On many records, Sonny Cheeba comes off as the loose cannon of the group, but Geechi Suede takes up that role for the duration of the sit-down, pulling no punches while speaking his piece.
From Sonny Cheeba's days coming up in the Bronx and Geechie Suede's theory on the art of getting fly to what fans can expect from their new album, Camp Lo explains it all. They even share their thoughts on the new jacks in the game that they're paying attention to. Get involved in the conversation.
The Boombox: What part of the Bronx are you and Geechie Suede from?
Sonny Cheeba: 187 Tiebout, 187 & Creston [Avenue] and Suede from 198th or 196th & Valentine.
What sets the Bronx apart from the other boroughs in New York City?
SC: The BX to me is like its own planet. BK has its thing also, Queens has they own feeling, but the BX was the start of it all, so I'm always gonna lean on the BX. It's like [Muhammad] Ali.
What do you mean by that?
SC: It's like Ali and we got Floyd [Mayweather] now. Well, the BX is Ali.
What memories of the Bronx do you have from the '80s and '90s?
SC: Just the feeling, With the Jettas and the Gucci visors and all that -- that feeling. Seeing that whole system. '89, around that time, '88. You seeing cats coming through with the Jettas, the Gucci visors, the purses and all that off the wrist. It wasn't feminine then, cause mothaf---as had guns in the purses, so yeah.
What differences do you see in the sound from the golden era of rap until now?
SC: The thought process has evolved, so seeing it then was fresh and new. So I don't understand the term "old school" 'cause hip-hop isn't older than our flesh. So it's just smarter now, more in-tuned. Pay attention, everybody was open to that new sound. S--- got manipulated, put into a little box. That's not fair. So when you get older, you start thinking about how to open this box back up. Not Pandora's though.
What differences do you see in the neighborhoods from back then in comparison to now?
SC: You not gonna see no cardboard boxes on the floor no more, cats back-spinning and all that. You're not gonna see that same design right now. The essence of hip-hop from the start, you're not gonna see it exactly right now the same way. And you're not supposed to see it the same way, just morph it into something knew. So the youth f--- with it and we f--- with it.
Have you ever hopped the turnstile to get on the train?
SC: The cops ran up on us and all that. They stopped the train, we thought we was safe, like [imitates MTA closing doors signal] we safe. Then they was like "stop it" and we had to get off the train. Of course, hop the turnstile, we used to do the Botanical Gardens and all that.
Which train did you get caught on?
SC: [Botanical Gardens] was on the D Train. When they ran up on us it was the 4 train, the Highline joint.
Any crazy memories from riding the train during that era?
SC: Cats used to get robbed on the train. It used to be like 30 guys on the train once upon a time. And no matter how tough you are, you will get robbed. That was that era. That design is embedded in the guys that make the music of now. We dealt with that, you dealt with that?
SC: With mothaf---as coming through 30 deep [laughs].
I don't know about 30 deep, but I know about 15 or 20. I know about that. What was the nightlife like back then and what were some of the clubs you used to go to?
SC: Cheetah, Flamingo. We used to hit every spot, even the after-hours, when they'd be sniffing coke in those boxes. They'd be like, "Come in, you want a sniff?" I'd be like, "Nah, I don't f--- with that s---, that'll hurt me."
What would you say were your three favorite clubs out of them all?
SC: Flamingo was the craziest spot. The Tunnel was ill. Cheetah was ill, we used to stay in Cheetah too.
You're from uptown, so I'm sure you know about Dapper Dan. Did you ever cop anything from the Dapper Dan store?
SC: Foot copped from Dapper Dan like... [Friend interjects and informs Sonny Cheeba that Dapper Dan was Foot's uncle].
Dapper Dan was Foot's uncle? That's why he always had the velours!? Oh lord. Foot, he from Tiebout, 183rd and Tiebout. Big Foot. And he used to have the velours and you know how they come with the Gucci and the Fendi and all that? He was older than us though.
Watch Camp Lo's "Bright Lights" Video
Were there any spots in particular of your own that you used to hit to get your clothes from?
SC: The get-fresh at the time was Bloomingdale's on Tiebout Avenue because we had a guy who used to boost and sell Polo and Tommy Hilfiger to us on the block. We can't really blow him up, but it was Ju, just call him Ju. He used to get us right. That was our main store [laughs].
You came in the game in 1997, that's the year that your debut album dropped. How did those times that we were just speaking about, how did they factor into the making of the music on that album?
SC: The purest form of the music is from the BX all day so we gotta instill that, plus influenced by the '70s at the same time. So you in the '90s influenced by the '70s. You don't wanna walk down the block with the hoodie on and the baseball hat with the baggy jeans falling off your ass at that time. So you're morphing all that into one project. So loving the essence of the music like a Marvin Gaye, a Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, a Earth, Wind & Fire. Don't have it feel like it's old school, it's no such thing. So morph that into hip-hop. Even Disciple-Tots, my pops was was Disciple-Tot. He was a Disciple, the Tots were the younger Disciples.
What made you both name the album Ragtime Hightimes?
SC: Ragtime Hightimes in a Padded Room With Pink Elephants Playing With Spiked Mushrooms. That's the full title.
So that's the full title?
SC: Ragtimes to hightimes is where we come from. Ragtimes, that's what we know, we're comfortable with rags. But then we go to hightimes. When I was talking about counting the roaches on the wall, ain't nobody supposed to be counting no f---ing roaches on the wall, you know. That's ragtime. And then we take whatever we discovered at that time and make it higher.
So what makes Camp Lo decide that you're ready to make a new album? Is there a certain spark that happens or do you just go in and do it?
SC: Sometimes you gotta put the Martini to the side and say, "We've done that and now it's time to do this."
Geechi Suede: And what is that exactly?
SC: We gonna f--- the film game up crazy.
So which one of you are usually the one to come up with an idea first?
GS: He [Sonny Cheeba] has ideas all day.
Did you make a conscious decision to not have any features from other rappers going into the making of the album?
SC: Usually when we rock with [producer] Ski, we kinda keep the component to just that so he can actually deal with us sonically. We don't wanna do too much switching up going on and all that so we don't really do features too heavy.
GS: Also we had just came off 80 Blocks [From Tiffany's Pt. II], which had a bunch of features. Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, M.O.P., Talib Kweli. Shouts to everybody that participated in that project. So we pretty much had just came off a project that had had several features so we thought that it would be better to keep it just us.
What's the one song on the new album that you had the most fun recording as far as being in the studio?
GS: I would have to say "Cold." That was probably the most organic song, Ski just sitting there tapping on the drums, we just going back and forth rhyming.
SC: You came out of nowhere too.
GS: We tried to lay down the song before the car service was gonna arrive. 'Cause we had called already and we heard the beat and was like, "Let's get something in right quick."
If you ran into a fan that never heard of you or your music, what are the three songs from Ragtime Hightimes you would play for them?
SC: Prolly give em "Bright Lights, "Black Jesus" and "Award Winning."
GS: Definitely love "Bright Lights, "Time" and "Power Man."
What is it about time that makes you touch on that subject in your music so much?
GC: That's one of my favorite concepts in life. My initial acronym was Thinking. It. May. Not. End.
Watch Camp Lo's "You" Video
What's the difference between working with Pete Rock and working with Ski Beatz?
SC: It wasn't too much drinking and smoking with Pete, it was only breakfast in the morning and the studio. Sleep, breakfast in the morning then the studio. Don't leave the place, just keep rocking. As far as Ski's concerned, he's basically the third member [of the group] so we're comfortable with him.
GS: The way producers dig for vinyl is the way we dig for fashion.
When did that start?
GS: My mother. She was running a little late, I was getting ready to graduate to third grade and I was in the auditorium and I was about to get called onstage to get my little diploma and I'm sitting there with a T-shirt on. She came in and she took me to the bathroom and when I came out I had white and bucks on. I had black ankle socks, and I had a white oxford shirt, a red and blue wool vest with a black bow tie.
SC: Fashion is the whole thing about getting snapped on on the block. 'Cause if you come outside incorrect, n----s will snap on you and it'll last hours and hours.
GS: Not to be on no bulls---, but that has a lot to do with why our youth is dropping out and not going to school and not fully applying themselves. And I'm happy they switched it to the uniforms 'cause you don't gotta worry about getting picked on and if you didn't come with the latest, which made you didn't wanna come to school. School was never about that, it was to come to learn. A lot of kids 'til this day is still not going 'cause they feel like they can't compete with the next kid that got this that and the third.
SC: 'Cause the kids that got it is gonna snap on ' and the whole crew gonna snap on 'em and they gonna be looking crazy coming to school and that's not right. We're here to learn.
Are there any up-and-coming artists today whose style you admire?
GS: I feel like anybody dripping style right now is disrespecting they body because they got stylists. Like I said, my moms was my first stylist. And I think with [Sonny], I think his parents had something to do with it too.
SC: My mother used to sell leather and suede tailor-made clothes at Jerry's Den. See, people not gonna know about Jerry's Den unless you're from uptown. That was on 130th and there was another one uptown, but yeah, Jerry's Den. We used to play pinball and my moms would come, "What you need? Let me get your size." They used to set cats up and sell clothing to them, leather suits and suede suits and all that.
Are there any rappers that you're feeling or artists in other genres?
SC: I like ya man Vince Staples. There's something about that kid I f--- with. Earl Sweatshirt, I f--- with ya mans too. There's a couple dudes I f--- with. I like how they bring it across. It's aggressive sometimes and still got that abstract s--- attached to it at the same time.
GS: Jazmine Sullivan and Action Bronson.
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