Tah Phrum Duh Bush isn’t just one of the most talented people in New York City’s underground hip-hop scene, he’s also one of the most important. His unwavering support of the scene, which is evident by his presence at a staggering number of shows, and his willingness to not just share, but encourage proper promotional and marketing techniques, has helped legions of artists achieve far more than they could have ever hoped. Now it’s time for Tah to achieve again, as on August 18th his latest project, Luminous Dark Alleys: The Insomniac Works, will be hitting stores. RapReviews caught up with Tah Phrum Duh Bush to find out more about the project, the real life sickness that inspired it, and the events that caused it to continually be pushed back. Tah also revealed the thought process behind one of his greatest marketing techniques, his giant Tah Phrum Duh Bush sign.
Adam Bernard: You are from Flatbush, Brooklyn, and have been a major part of NYC’s hip-hop scene for quite a while. For those who may not know, how long have you been rhyming?
Tah Phrum Duh Bush: I’ve been rhyming for a long time. A Jesus Christ amount of time. Let’s just put it this way, I’ve been rhyming since the early 90’s. I used to do shows with Red Alert. I used to do shows with Black Moon before Black Moon was anybody. I used to freestyle in the park with Mos Def and Shabaam Sadeeq. I did a lot of stuff with the original Stronghold crew.
AB: Moving from the past to the present, let’s talk about your new album, Luminous Dark Alleys: The Insomniac Works. How on earth did you come up with that title?
Tah: I’m an insomniac and I work.
AB: Are you really an insomniac?
Tah: I don’t sleep very well. I didn’t realize that I had insomnia until two or three years ago, when I started working on this project. I just wasn’t sleeping. People have always said “you don’t sleep very much,” and I’m like “no, I don’t,” so I looked up insomnia and started doing a little bit of studying and I have all of the symptoms and all of the side effects. I have insomnia.
AB: Do you want to take something for it, or are you inspired by it?
Tah: I don’t want to take anything for it. I don’t like taking medications. I’ve never taken any medications, only natural stuff. It helps for a while and then it stops working. It’s kind of scary because I don’t want to be dependent upon medication to do something that’s supposed to be natural. Sleep is something that’s supposed to come naturally to every being on this planet. It just doesn’t happen (for me). I don’t know if it’s conditioning on my behalf, or if it’s just my mind going off on wild tangents all of the time, which I think is probably part of the issue, or the major crux of the issue.
AB: With that in your life, and with you titling the album the way you have, does the theme go throughout the album?
Tah: Yeah, the theme goes through top to bottom, front to back, side to side. The whole album is about insomnia, my experiences with insomnia, and things that have popped in my head as a result of insomnia.
AB: Could you describe for everyone what some of those things might be and what kind of a ride they’re in for with your insomnia?
Tah: They’re in for a ride that’s very dark and very lyrical. It’s a dark ride through the mind of an insomniac starting from the salad of thoughts that appear in your mind when you can’t sleep and progressing to the feeling that you get when you can’t sleep for more than 24-36 hours. You start having hallucinations, you start having physical symptoms, palpitations, your heart starts beating fast, you feel like you’re falling all the time, the disequilibrium, the ataxic walk, leanin to the side, fallin on stuff, felling like you’re drunk when you’re not drinking anything. It gets pretty crazy, but the amount of stuff that rolls through your mind when you can’t sleep is unbelievable. The wheels are constantly turning and it’s hard to grasp on to one thought at a time. It’s a pretty incredible ride.
AB: How’d you go about putting all of that into songs and creating an album?
Tah: I started off talking about incoherent thoughts that I glue together, and one night I did my best to think back to when my thought process began that led me into this whole chain of thinking, the way I think, and I made the song called “The Brain Drain Man.” That’s kind of like my campfire story. You know how kids get around a campfire with marshmallows? This is like a campfire story for adults because I think this would scare the shit out of an adult, thinking about this type of stuff, just realizing that there’s somebody that’s constantly fucking with you, that’s constantly poking you, and I didn’t realize it until I got much older, until I actually examined why I couldn’t have a night of rest. Even when I was younger, my sleep was very unrestful, so I called it “The Brain Drain Man” and I made this whole dark, spooky, story, which Coole High tells me scares him all the time.
AB: And I hear Luminous Dark Alleys: The Insomniac Works is more than just an album.
Tah: Yes, it also comes with a book. It’s a full book with a chapter per song and it’s definitely deep, very reflective of my inner thoughts, of my inner chaos, and it’s super personal.
AB: It has been a while since your last album. Sunshine or Pure Shade came out in 2005. I know you had a few extenuating circumstances, but why the long wait? Was some of it intentional and some of it not?
Tah: No, actually, I was supposed to do a follow up called Black and White vs. The Gray Areas, but things got in my way family-wise, there were a tremendous amount of issues, including living situations, moving back and forth, and last year my house burned down.
AB: If you don’t mind, let’s talk about that for a minute. What happened?
Tah: I had some people renovating the bathroom in my house. They pulled out the whole bathroom down to the bare walls and they were what they call sweating the pipes. That’s when they use a propane torch to heat the pipes to weld them together, and they’re supposed to wet the wall down behind the pipes so that the wall doesn’t ignite, and they’re supposed to have a fire extinguisher handy. They did neither. They set the wall on fire and instead of calling 911, or having a fire extinguisher handy, they went outside and got the garden house and ran it through the entire house to get upstairs to try to put the fire out. By that time the fire had taken over the whole third floor and started burning back down to the second floor. It was a pretty ugly deal.
AB: Did you lose a chunk of the music you were working on?
Tah: I lost one of my drives that had a good amount of stuff on it and I had to re-do a bunch of stuff. It was pretty grimy. Most of the vocals were cool, but a lot of the music was lost. I had to re-do some of the tracks. All of my mixes were gone. One of my backup drives was saved. The fire department was real cool. They saw the drive and one of the fire guys was telling me they kicked it under the table so the water wouldn’t get on top of it when they sprayed the place down. Before that, when I had the album just about ready to go, my hard drive crashed in my studio computer. I said OK, I have a backup drive, but my backup drive crashed, too. That was probably eight months before the fire. I also got invited out to the Czech Republic to tour in Europe, which was very cool. That’s not a bad circumstance, but it put things on hold, as well. I’ve been out in Europe three times since early 2008. In 2009 I was there for three months.
AB: Europe always sounds like a good time. Finally, I have to ask, the infamous Tah Phrum Duh Bush sign you carry to shows, what inspired that?
Tah: I’m very much into guerilla marketing and in order for people to remember you your name has to be seen by them at least six times, that’s what they say in marketing, so I figure a big sign being watched over and over again, being seen different places, it’s only a matter of time before people remember the name, or get inquisitive and start looking it up, or see a flyer for Tah Phrum Duh Bush and say I’m gonna go check this guy out.
AB: Have you ever gotten any flak for bringing it into a show?
Tah: Yeah, I did. At the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival two years ago a guy walked up to me and told me “that shit is weak. Who’s that? That’s you? That shit is weak.” He got up in my face while KRS was on stage staying please let’s leave here in peace. He figured he was gonna start some shit with me, so I dropped my bag, because the guy was posturing, and I said look man, you really don’t want it. His boys were like yo chill, cuz he was kind of drunk, and then the security guards came and snatched him up and they dragged him out of the place. It was kind of cool that I didn’t have to whoop his ass. That’s about the only flak that I’ve gotten stepping into venues with it. Other than that people are cool with it. They laugh. They think it’s real funny that I’m carrying something around. A lot of cats won’t carry their CDs around to sell and here I am carrying a big bag full of merchandise, flyers, and a big ass sign.
AB: And it works. There isn’t anybody in the city who doesn’t know who you are.
Tah: Hey, that’s a good thing, man.
AB: Is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself or the new album?
Tah: For all those people who’ve been asking me for personal interviews, and I really don’t give them like that, Luminous Dark Alleys: The Insomniac Works is super personal. People are gonna be like wow, and if you can’t sleep you’re definitely gonna be able to relate to this.