You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who listens to music that isn’t familiar with the seminal rock band Queen. Everyone has a favorite Queen song, one of the most popular being “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was given new life in the early 90’s thanks to the first Wayne’s World movie. Not a lot of people would associate the group with hip-hop, however… until now. Five of hip-hop’s finest underground talents – Jake Lefco, Ryan-O’Neil, Domer, Kats and iLLspoKinN (pictured clockwise from top right) – recently came together to create Bohemian Rap CD, a six song EP where every track features a different sample from the Queen classic. The goal was to make something that was dope lyrically, as well as production-wise, all while sticking to, in Domer’s words, “a real dedication to keeping hip-hop fun.” They also made it available for free.
Kats and Domer, in addition to being artists, are also the co-founders of freeicecream.net, a site where they, and other artists, release albums that have a sticker price of zero dollar and zero cents. They linked up with Jake Lefco, iLLspoKinN and Ryan-O’Neil for Bohemian Rap CD thanks to their established relationships with them through their work in NYC’s hip-hop scene. Ryan-O’Neil, who is one half of 100dbs & Ryan-O’Neil, has been featured on a number of freeicecream.net mixtapes. iLLspoKinN is a battle champion who is also the host of Freestyle Mondays in NYC. And Jake Lefco has made a name for himself throughout the East Coast as KRU Records’ top artist thanks to his two critically acclaimed albums, And You Are? and Missing Trooth.
This week RapReviews scored an exclusive interview with ALL FIVE of these talented artists to find out more about the Bohemian Rap CD project, including why they’re giving it away for free, and what they think Queen would think of it.
Adam Bernard: How did you come up with the concept for Bohemian Rap CD and how much did it alter from your original brainstorm?
Domer: It all started with the name. I thought it was a funny idea, so I decided to make as many remixes as I could of that one song. Kats and I had been looking to do a crew project with these particular guys anyway, so we combined the ideas and things just started coming together. I played a beat or two for the guys and everyone was down immediately. The final product actually ended up remarkably true to the original concept. Surprisingly, it didn’t change much at all.
AB: Going around in a circle, tell me the ways in which the person to your left stands out on this album.
Jake Lefco: My man Ryan-O’Neil is a beast on the mic. He is a well rounded, naturally gifted emcee, as well as one of the most chill dudes I know. On this project, what stands out most to me is the monstrous presence of his voice and his smooth delivery. His deep voice is so ill that I feel like he could just spit off some non-rhyming gibberish and still sound incredible. Of course, he happens to be nice with the lyrics, too.
Ryan-O’Neil: iLL is exactly that – Ill. The first time I listened to him rap he was recording something for Almost Fameless. He said “Ladies tied to the track, a true smut villain. Playing with my mustache muhuaha. I love women…” I almost lost my mind. There were double, triple, quadruple entendres. He said so much in that one line, automatically I was a fan. Every time he steps up to do a verse you know he’s gonna come at the beat with a completely different attitude than everyone else. He’s got a lot to say and it’s always fun hearing it.
iLLspoKinN: Kats is dope! Period… Period. I feel he stands out on the album the most because he has the best quotable on it. His “Mama Mia” verse is butternut cookies… REDIC!
Kats: Domer’s production is incredible. I was expecting great beats, especially following Business Casual, which was also banging, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised at how well he was able to flip the samples and make such a diverse batch of beats out of just one song. His production is so tight, you almost forget that he raps, and kills it, on all the tracks, too!
D: Jake Lefco really shines on this record. He always brings a great flow, but he was especially good about flipping the topics in a unique way. My favorite verse of his is “Mama Mia,” where he absolutely murders it and spends 16 bars building up to that punchline at the end. On the flip side, he was also able to get really personal and intimate on “Leave You All Behind,” which isn’t always easy to do on a crew track. His verses really set the tone for the rest of us on several of the tracks. He also brought some great hooks to the table – that’s him on “Leave You All Behind” and on “Little High / Little Low.” Both are catchy and poignant.
AB: What was the working process like?
D: I wanted each song to have at least one Freddie Mercury line to make sure it was really identifiable as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so I listened through the song a ton of times to find the vocal parts I wanted to chop as hooks. We wrote off the concepts in the samples and put one rapper in charge of a hook for each track.
JL: We each wrote a hook for no more than one or two songs so that the project would have a diverse sound, and then went on to write our verses based on whatever concept we had all agreed on, that way we were all represented on every track.
AB: How long did it take to go from concept to reality, and were there any hurdles that were especially tough to get over?
IS: We all have busy schedules so getting us all in one place was tough but we made it happen.
K: It’s a bit tricky to get five busy artists together in the same place at the same time to work on music. Luckily we were able to meet a bunch of times and really work on the whole thing as a collective. I think that made a huge difference!
D: The biggest problem for me was getting the beats made and coming up with creative ways to flip the same four minute song. It took two to three months before I had rough versions of all six beats, as I was also working on Almost Fameless and Underbelly simultaneously. Once I did we got everyone together to talk about what kind of album this was going to be. We put a lot of effort into making sure the tracks were all SONGS, not just rap tracks. We wanted a clear vibe and personality for each one so that it didn’t just sound like five random guys rapping one after another. That was probably the biggest challenge – keeping it cohesive with so many different personalities and styles. Once we’d all talked about it together and were on the same page I sent out the beats and everyone started writing. I recorded all the vocals, put the verses in the best possible order, and then re-worked the beats to fit the way everyone rapped.
AB: Did you ever have any doubts that Queen and hip-hop could mix?
RO: I loved the idea the minute I heard it. I always thought that song had so many parts to it. Once I heard Domer was planning on sampling it for a bunch of different songs I was excited to see what parts he would select.
D: It was a match made in rap heaven.
AB: What do you think it says about your segment of NYC’s hip-hop scene that five artists who, with the exception of Kats and Domer, aren’t members of the same label or crew, can come together for a project like this?
JL: I think it shows how supportive our segment of the NY scene can be. It also shows that our priority is to be openly creative and to make good music, as opposed to focusing on feeding our personal egos and making a quick dollar.
D: I think it shows that we’re all willing to experiment and put our egos aside to be part of something bigger… and that none of us take ourselves too seriously to pose for a Queen-inspired album cover.
IS: At the end of the day it says that our movement is STRONG!
AB: You’re giving away this album for free, as you do many albums on freeicecream.net. Why so many freebies? Don’t you guys have to pay rent?
IS: It’s dope promo and I strip for my rent.
D: Rent is for suckers. Seriously though, we do pay rent and it’s expensive, but I believe that music should be free in this day and age. I don’t need to be paid to make these records, I do it because I love making music and I love when people listen to it.
K: I agree that music should free. That is not to say that artists can’t make money through events, sponsorships, licensing, etc., but the actual music, that should always be free! My goal has always been to be heard rather than to get paid through music.
RO: I think it’s important to get your name and voice out there, however you can. As for rent, I teach kindergarten.
AB: Finally, if you could personally hand a copy of this album to one of the surviving members of Queen, what do you think their reaction would be upon hearing it?
IS: They’d try to make out with me cuz they love it so much.
D: I think they’d laugh. Queen were a pretty playful and experimental band that made serious, amazing, music with a sense of humor. I hope this album sticks to that!
JL: What we did with it is so far from the original sound that I can only imagine that they would get a kick out of it.
RO: Freddie Mercury seemed like a cool enough guy that he’d dig it. I mean, I know he was gay and all, but I love fat bottom girls, both the song and actual girls, and if we have that in common nothing can stop us.
K: I imagine all Queen could have hoped for is to have one of the greatest, most epic, songs ever written made into rap beats and then rapped upon by us. In all seriousness, though, working on this project definitely made me go back and listen to, and appreciate, a whole bunch of Queen records.