Tanks shooting lasers at giraffes. This is some of the imagery on Earmint’s ev Records debut, Another Early Evening which stars a long list of notable MC’s including Murs, Longshot, Roc C and Illogic. The combination of the surreal artwork, top notch guest list and funky production stylings made Earmint an artist I wanted to interview. Recently I got him on the phone and he spoke at length about his production style, linking up with Murs, and how the skateboarding community is helping bring quality Hip-Hop back.
Adam Bernard: Give me the Cliffs Notes version of your history; where you’re from, how you got into Hip-Hop, how you ended up messing with MPC’s and keyboards and all that.
Earmint: I was always into it and probably halfway through college my older brother and I just started seeing how it was getting more affordable to buy home recording equipment and we’re like alright let’s get a sampler, a keyboard, a computer and all this stuff. It’s a lot easier to buy this stuff if you’ve got someone else splitting the bill with you. The problem with that was he would end up buying all this stuff and I would never really get a chance to use it. As that grew increasingly more frustrating eventually, when I was in college, I just completely hated what I was doing and was having a meltdown with it I convinced my parents into buying a computer for me “for school” and I borrowed some equipment from my brother. I don’t even have an MPC, I just have this old program on an old Mac that I still run called Studio Vision Pro and I basically just sample directly in. I learned through trial and error it was kinda cool doing it that way because with an MPC you sample your stuff and eventually you’re like I have to take it somewhere and track it out whereas with a computer I immediately had a finished product, no matter how shitty it sounded.
AB: It was ready to go.
EM: Yeah and I just kept going from there and that was probably in 2000. I’ve been doing it since then and doing things very wrong because I’ve never had any formal training in it. Now I know what I’m doing.
AB: So does your brother now throw the old equipment at you?
EM: Kind of, yeah. He’s sold a bunch of it because he’s married and he’s just got a laptop and he doesn’t really work on music.
AB: So where did you two grow up?
EM: I grew up in Elmhurst, which is just outside of Chicago. It’s a very Breakfast Club, John Hughes kind of town. It was a pretty standard suburban upbringing.
AB: So which member of The Breakfast Club were you?
EM: Probably somewhere in-between the Anthony Michael Hall character and the Emilio Estevez character because I did play soccer but I was kinda nerdy. But it was a really standard high school upbringing where you got into Hip-Hop just because everyone had MTV and everyone saw Yo! MTV Raps and I always skateboarded and gradually skateboard culture and Hip-Hop culture became intertwined where they’d have an ad for the Del album and you’re just very impressionable and you buy the Del album.
AB: It’s funny you mention that, recently I wrote an article about how skateboard culture is going to save Hip-Hop right now.
EM: You know I think it’s because the kids are really open minded out it. I think they see something and they trusted the magazines so much that OK, whatever I see, that it’s like I see Da Lench Mob, well I’ll buy Da Lench Mob album and I can go back to any of those records and I was happy with what I got.
AB: And if they like the album it becomes hardcore fandom.
EM: Yeah. I mean nowadays I think they’re getting that with the Rhymesayers stuff, which a lot of it I’m not that crazy about but Murs and some of that, that’s awesome. For a kid that when MTV, all they’re showin him is Young Jeezy then Murs comes along and he’s a dope lyricist, he’s got good stories and he’s positive without being corny.
AB: Yeah. Personally I see the changeover with mainstream becoming skate because you’ve got Lupe Fiasco with “Kick Push,” you’ve got Pharrell’s album, which is phenomenal.
EM: That to me is exciting and being in Chicago it’s like all the skate shops around here, those kids listen to Hip-Hop, they’re not feening for the NoFX album, no they want to hear Lupe Fiasco and they’re excited that Rhymefest is coming out with shit and they’re up on it, too.
AB: So how did you end up linking up with the many artists that are on your album?
EM: What’s weird is a lot of this almost seems like a pyramid scheme, you hook up with one person and it’s like “oh you did a track with so and so? OK,” then immediately someone takes you seriously.
AB: So who started out your pyramid?
EM: It was Diverse. I met him through DJ Sapien who was his touring DJ and I had known him for a little while through his crew Phonograph Scientists and with that he hooked up the track with Diverse, Diverse heard the stuff and was like “that’s pretty cool.” That was like the first track I recorded, after that Murs’s collaboration happened. That one was so lucky. I was working a crappy retail job and one of the dudes that I worked with was a promoter and one of the guys that would spin there was Anacron and Anacron’s in a group with Murs and he’s probably one of the most personable people in Hip-Hop you’ll ever meet. “Yeah, Murs’ll do a song with you. When he’s in town we’ll get ‘em together.” Murs came into town on a Def Jux tour with Aesop and Lif and Anacron’s like “just give us some money for tonight because we’re going to the strip clubs and that’s all you gotta pay him.” So the Murs track ended up costing me only $150 for lap dances for Murs. It was just this crazy evening where I’m kind of star struck to be hanging out with people and I end up in all these seedy white trash strip bars in Indiana with all these dudes, it was really weird.
AB: With the album, other than the guest spots, the album’s artwork really struck me. You have four very distinct pictures. What are you trying to tell people with these images?
EM: I think a lot of the images are just really contrasting, kinda how I would see my music. I think certain parts of it are really pretty and really beautiful and not something you would necessarily hear on a Hip-Hop album and then some of it is pretty raw and just ridiculous, a juxtaposition of that.
AB: You have a tank blowing off a giraffe’s head in one picture.
EM: That came about in amusing way because I was making this total dreamy looking landscape and I was doing this at work and people are walking by and they’re like “aw man, I don’t know. That’s way too gay, you can’t do that.” We’re just laughing about it and I’m like well how about I do this and I threw in a fucking tank shooting a laser. I think part of it is that I like things that are quirky and a tank shooting a laser is really stupid and then it taking off a giraffe’s head is even more ridiculous.
AB: I see a lot of skate imagery, as well.
EM: Yeah I was tryna make an image for the inside that is really kind of serene but kind of this post apocalypse, overgrown world so I think it kind of works with the cover which looks like an ex-city and the inside looks like the country as it’s grown over.
AB: Yeah, you’ve got a very Bladerunner looking outside cover.
EM: Definitely. I say the artwork ties in with the music because some of it’s really technical looking and then some of it’s very organic.
AB: Who do you think is going to latch on to this record?
EM: Probably kids that are into beats but I’ve been surprised because I’ve had some rappers that I’ve worked with where all they listen to are Jay-Z and they’re like “man I’ve been listening to the record constantly,” and I’m like really? That’s cool.
AB: You’re like “on purpose?”
EM: Yeah it’s weird because the label will be constantly like “you know what Ear man, I don’t know who’s gonna buy this record,” and I’m like thanks for putting it out. All the feedback so far has been pretty positive and its cool because I end the album on a song that’s this super happy sounding pop song so it’s either gonna really strike a chord with people that it’s just good music for people that like Hip-Hop music and anything sample based and keyboard and weird, or it’s gonna be a whiff. I don’t see a grey area in-between. Hopefully people who aren’t feeling some of the tracks can at least respect that a lot of time was put into it.
AB: So you’re saying it’s either going to be eleven albums sold or eleven million.
EM: Yeah I don’t see any grey area. People are gonna be like this is very current, this is what goes on in people’s brains where you kinda see that with albums by people like Kanye and Pharrell where it is kind of like a pop crossover but it isn’t pop music as how you remember it. It isn’t New Kids On The Block. Pharrell is a dude who openly talks about how he likes Steely Dan and you’ll hear that element on his record. People are just more openly into different music.
AB: If you were trying to describe your music to somebody, first of all could you, and second of all if you could how would you go about describing it?
EM: I don’t know what I’d even reference trying to describe it. I always explain my music to people as a painting collage whereas most people that makes beats, it’s like they have two samples and they’ve got a drum and they just work you forever whereas I do it like I just put one layer down then I put another layer on top of it then I put another layer on top of it, so by the time you’re listening to it and you hear things swerving in and out, like you’ll hear a guitar and you’ll realize by the end of the song that every element that’s coming into it is from a completely different source. So my music to me is like making a photo collage, you’re taking all these different pictures and gluing them together into something eventually when it finishes up it looks totally different, which is also exactly what the cover art is. Everything in the artwork is form Google image searches, none of it is photo or painting it’s photoshoped Google image searches and a lot of time that I probably should have been working on what I’m paid to do at work. I would be working on this and the boss would come by and it would be like close the window quick!
AB: Now I didn’t want to ask this right at the start but I had to ask this eventually. How the hell did you get a name like Earmint?
EM: That was from putting together that would be kind of stupid, like the guy from the Ruff Ryders is Swizz Beats and even Peanut Butter Wolf, just tryin to think of something, real simple, two words that are kind of dumb but memorable. Most people tell me they like the name so when I came up with it I just thought it looked funny together. I imagined the dude coming up with that name would be a guy that takes it really seriously, too, like “yeah man, it’s like mints for your ear, man,” whereas I didn’t put that much thought into it, I was just working words and put the together.
AB: Is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your music, where you’re going, where Hip-Hop’s going, where the cops are chasing you?
EM: The cops are gone, which is good. I’m pretty cool with where Hip-Hop is going because people I think forget that in the 90’s, which everyone considers the golden era, most of the stuff that was popular was really terrible so it’s really not that different. I think that the unfortunate thing about where Hip-Hop is going is that a lot of the labels that are doing really well now independently are doing the same shit that major labels are doing. They put out some really good records and now these magazines like URB and xlr8r are like aw this is so good. Because there aren’t as many major labels out there that are releasing artists the indies are running exactly the same. There’s this false idea of “we’re independent artists.” Well, not really man, you’re getting your video on MTV2, and you’re doing all this shit, you’re catering to these people that in the past you would have been like no way, fuck that, there’s no way I’m gonna try and sell records to these people. You’re making a magazine that used to be about underground culture, you’re having a Christmas section with a flossed out watch. It’s a catch 22 because I like that shit, I’m not gonna be someone who says I don’t want to see a new pair of Pumas because I like new Pumas, too, but we need to find a happy medium. I think eventually it will happen. It’s a battle, like trying to make a living off of your art and not being a really big consumer whore about it and right now I’m totally in that battle. I’m trying to get that record out there but how do I get my record out there without shaking hands with the devil a little bit, if you will.
AB: And if you shake hands with him how can you make sure he doesn’t take your soul?
EM: Exactly, he’s trying to take my soul.