Exclusive Interview: Uncommon Nasa and Short Fuze
Rapper and producer Uncommon Nasa worked on a slew of early Def Jux releases in the early 2000s. He quickly established himself as an underground hip-hop heavyweight and eventually founded his own label, Uncommon Records, in 2004. These days, he’s mastered the DIY way of doing things—from producing and rapping to handling promo, booking tours and doing his own PR, he’s an impressive one man army.
In 2010, he teamed up with emcee Short Fuze for the collaborative album, Lobotomy Music. It introduced the world to the sometimes dark side of Short Fuze’s mind. The motley duo is back with its second collaborative album, 2016’s Autonomy Music, which revisits Short Fuze’s own personal struggles. In a revealing interview, Short Fuze and Uncommon Nasa dive deep into the album’s concept, where they fit in to the current musical landscape and juggling countless responsibilities. Check out Autonomy Music here: www.uncommonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/autonomy-music and visit www.uncommonnasa.com for more information.
RAPstation (Kyle Eustice): First off—how did you guys meet and what about your styles gelled?
Short Fuze: I first touched base with Nasa in 2004. I used to be in a group called Wastelands and I tapped him for production for a record my group was working on at the time. He wound up producing three songs on that record. Based on that, I approached him about producing a solo record for me. As we started working, we became friends outside of music. At the time, I was running my own label. I was growing tired of that grind, so I signed my last group record and what would become Lobotomy Music over to him. And, the rest they say, is history. We've been down ever since.
Nasa, You mentioned this was Short Fuze’s vision—what was the overall concept of the album?
Short Fuze: Autonomy Music is my personal diary for freedom—whether social, political or musically. This record is important to me because I/we worked really hard to bring that message to life. I struggled with a lot of personal things over the last few years. This album is a culmination of all that just spewed out in a musical perspective. I love working with Nasa because he understands what I do best as a writer, MC and artist. I couldn't have done an album like this with another producer.
Uncommon Nasa: And for me, it's about getting that vision out there in the most cohesive way possible. Since we are good friends, I know most of the things he has gone through lately and I understand the lyrics at that level. So it becomes my job to get the whole song into a state where other people that don't know us can understand what's going on as easily as possible. I mean, it's still art, nothing either of us will do is going to be solid black or white, it's always shades of grey, but you have to as a producer get people comfortable within that grey area.
Can you break down what each of you contributes to the album?
Uncommon Nasa: I produced the full album and I dropped four verses on it, as well. When we work together it starts with Short Fuze and his idea for a track, then he applies that to one of my beats, we record it and then I take it from there. For me in this group, I always try and take the raw vision and push it as far as it can go. Whether that's sitting down and figuring out new elements to add to parts of the beats, vocal samples, guest musicians or just jumping on and adding verses or parts of chorus'. I'm not sure if any of these songs expressly called for me to get on the mic, but I did it where I felt it and we get along so well musically that that was always a thing Fuze liked. It's really easy to work with Short Fuze, he likes what I do and I like what he does and when you are fans of each other, you can do no wrong in a collaboration.
Short Fuze: One thing I will add is, it's fun making music with Nasa. We understand each other as artists. I think we subconsciously inspire each other to push the envelope. We have similar styles and views musically. So it's become automatic. He's produced my best work.
Nasa, I’ve been familiar with you for years and years. You’ve been at it a long time. Where do you think the drive to constantly create comes from?
Uncommon Nasa: It’s sheer will that I'm still here. Apparently I'm very stubborn. I just have to do this, it's a drive that I can't really explain. I'm constantly creating, thinking about creating, telling other people about what I'm creating. And with all of that said, I still want my music to have an impact. I'm not out to prove raw skills; I'm out to write great songs and make lasting albums. The drive to deliver great records and hone my craft on stage keeps me alive.
The album is about to be released. What’s the day before like? Are you nervous? Excited?
Uncommon Nasa: A little bit of both. It’s intense. Right now, I have to get everything lined up correctly for the release to fans, but I also have to work the phones/emails for promotion. At Uncommon Records, I pretty much do it all from the first beat laid down to the last article written about an album. I book my own tours with my tour mates, as well. All of this while holding down a 9 to 5. I said just last night, that my day could easily be filled with 8 hour days just on the music business end of my life and usually is, plus I somehow get 8 hours of dedication in a day for my job that keeps the lights on. It's not an easy road, but it's a road I'm thankful for. A lot gets invested by independent artists, time and money, and I'm not sure how important people that buy our music or cover it and spread the word realize they are to that. It's a lifeline to the next project taking place at all, regardless of what that may be.
Short Fuze: I don't envy the work Nasa does. Like I said, I ran a label at one point, and I don't miss it. For me, it's a little different. I've been putting music out a long time but, this is my first project in five years. That's eons in music time so I feel like a new artist. I'm excited and nervous. I'm going to have the chance to gain new fans, but I want my long time supporters to love this record. And, I think they will.
It’s hard to get attention in the digital era—we are flooded with so much information on a daily basis. How do you plan to stand out? Is it more frustrating making music in 2016 than it was in 1996?
Short Fuze: I used to have disdain for this era to be honest. A lot of people treat music as disposable. It's been difficult to combat that at times. I find though, if you put out something meaningful that resonates with people, they'll support to the end of days. I still have people that tell me how much Lobotomy Music means to them. There are more rappers in this era I think, or at least it seems that way. But being that the glorious indie rap era isn't coming back, I can either go away or compete with the youngins'. I choose to compete and teach them or crush them. The choice is up to them [laughs].
Uncommon Nasa: I’ve been thinking lately that maybe there never was an artists’ era. We can look back to 1996 (for instance) and see a lot of great music signed to major labels, a lot higher touring fees paid out, physical merch being made regularly for anyone with a deal, but only a chosen few are still living from that time period today off of that. While all of that was great, there were still issues, the amount of control the label had over your art and your career was far more then it is today. You have good and bad in both eras, but I guess when push comes to shove, I'll take my self determination from this current period over anything else in a previous period.
When did you establish Uncommon Records and what’s going on with the label these days?
Uncommon Nasa: Uncommon began in 2004, so we are in year 12 of the label. I used to run it as mostly an A&R outfit, where I was actively seeking and gathering talent, progressive hip-hop artists that I loved. But I got to a point in my life where I looked up and down the catalogue and noticed I hadn't produced much, and certainly hadn't rapped enough even though I did both of those things. I just didn't have the time because I was pushing the "bigger picture" of the collective. I say it often, when you put a lot of time into one thing, other things will suffer. Me pushing the label so hard made me a label owner that happened to be an artist instead of an artist that owned a record label. That had to change. I enjoy and am proud of what we did the first nine years, but needed to move on. So now the label is what I'd define as a "Producer/Artist label" centered around myself. It exists to put out my own work and the work that I produce for others. It's allowed me to slow down and put out one or maybe two releases a year so that it's all promoted correctly and toured behind. It also allows me the freedom to do projects for other labels and collaborate more, as well.
How do you go about selecting guest features?
Short Fuze: I choose features based on being a fan of the people I work with. I don't go after "names" to boost the profile of the record. I choose people based on whether they fit with what I'm doing. I actually wanted no guests on Autonomy Music at first. But Nasa thought Curly Castro would sound great on what would become “Self Distortion.” He wound up crushing his verse, adding another dynamic to the album. So thank you Castro for coming through and representing!
Uncommon Nasa: That's exactly how I approach it. I know almost everyone I'll ever want to work with, so it comes down to when I hear their voice on a certain concept or beat. If the producer in me hears it, I reach out and try and make it happen, that simple.
What do you have planned for this album?
Uncommon Nasa: I will be out on the road in September in the Eastern United States with Carl Kavorkian to promote my latest LP, Halfway, as well as this LP with Short Fuze. I’ll also be back out in December, likely in the Deep South. Fuze will be out on the road with me shortly, as well. We’re going to be shooting a video for “Time and Space” in New York City.
If you had to describe your music to someone who’s never heard it—what would you say?
Short Fuze: I've always had the opportunity to connect with people through my music. My music has always been about struggle. I speak for my faith, beliefs, views and those who don't have the same platform I do. My music is heavy. I want people to cue it up and angrily speed walk their city or town.
Uncommon Nasa: The music I make with Short Fuze is always going to be heavy, like he said. His voice is so strong that it goes beyond complex technicalities. He doesn’t need that. He just needs you to shut up and listen to him talk to you for about 12 tracks worth of time. It’s my role to give him the best background noise for his points about life, love, faith, and pain. That’s what makes us, us. Connecting with regular people and breaking beyond the rap for rap’s sake BS is something I know me and Fuze are focused on whether it’s together or individually.