Animal Farm, besides being a landmark book by George Orwell, is the Portland, OR, quartet of Gen.Erik, Fury, Hanif Wondir and Serge Severe (pictured L to R). The foursome have been at the forefront of the Portland hip-hop scene for a number of years, opening for a veritable who’s who of hip-hop, and are now branching out looking to take on the rest of the country. One of Gen.Erik and Serge Severe’s first stops during this nationwide takeover was, where they discussed expanding past the Portland scene, being inspired by the hip-hop they grew up on, and why their videos have healthy amount of humor in them. Gen.Erik also talked about being at one of the strangest parties in recorded history where Q-Tip, Mario Lopez and Bruce Jenner were all in attendance.

Adam Bernard: Gen.Erik, we actually met at a Kreayshawn show in New York City. How did you end up a part of that tour? Does she crash at your place when she’s in Portland?

Gen.Erik: {*laughs*} No, actually a good friend of mine, Cool Nutz, he’s from Portland, he was tour managing. I wasn’t on the tour, I ended up just going down there to kick it with him and earlier in the day we ran into Moe Green who needed a DJ, so I ended up jumping on with him.

AB: That’s a nice last minute hook up! Let me preface the rest of this interview by saying everything I know about Portland comes from the show Portlandia.

GE: Perfect. That’s exactly what we’re about.

AB: How does a hip-hop group go about getting noticed in Portland, Oregon?

GE: For us it’s really tough because, like you said, Portlandia, although it’s blown out of proportion it’s kind of an accurate portrayal in terms of it’s a real hipster scene, it’s a real indie rock scene, it’s not really known for hip-hop. For us, we just try to do some different things that people haven’t seen before. We jumped on the back of a truck and started doing pop up shows around town. We started putting posters of celebrities saying ridiculous things about us all over town. We’ve also opened for pretty much everyone who came through the Northwest for the past three or four years, but at a certain point it’s kind of like that’s as far as it can take you and you have to get on the road. Personally, I just moved to NYC. In terms of trying to expand our name and our brand I felt like that was a necessary move.

AB: Have you had the chance to see how it’s going to work with you being in NY and other members not being in NY?

GE: It’s a new thing, so we’re gonna see, but I know that I made more connections in my first six weeks in New York than I had in the past two years in Portland and that is considering we opened for everyone from De La Soul, to Common, to Talib Kweli. New York is just where the action is and where people are making decisions.

AB: And you can’t throw a rock in New York without hitting a rapper.

GE: That’s true. Well, you can’t in Portland either, it’s just that people don’t know who they are.

AB: Before you guys could go this route you had to become a group and develop a sound. How did you find each other? Are you all longtime friends, or were there CraigsList ads involved?

Serge Severe: I actually met up with these guys, who were doing shows, and we ended up combining our nights to make it the best situation at this small spot called the Tiger Bar. I joined the group later on. They had been grinding it out for a couple years. Basically Erik and I came together and we started recording this project (Culture Shock) about three years ago. We ended up losing members of the group, two of the members ended up figuring it really wasn’t what they wanted to be doing anymore. We had a bigger situation, we were going to get it out on a bigger record label, we were all excited about it, and it fell through. That’s why it took three years from the first album to the second album, we went through some members and had different business situations fall through. Erik can pick up cuz he started the group.

GE: We started it with four emcees and me doing the majority of the production. We added Serge and another emcee named Mic Crenshaw, and we were at six. That was pretty short lived, basically because it’s hard to maintain a group that big and I think it worked out for the best. I feel like we have a really solid group right now and we really have become friends through all this and making music and traveling together it’s become like a family.

AB: Culture Shock is the latest album. Other than the fact that it’s the first song on the album, why did you decide to name your album this? What about it do you feel is a culture shock?

GE: For us, we came up in an era where emcees put time into their lyrics and beatmakers and producers really put time into making their beats and having a soulful, funky, type of feel. These days it seems like people are so rushed to put out songs and try to make a hit that they’re not really putting themselves into the music. Some of the stuff that comes out, it’s really just so ignorant that it shocks us, and for a lack of a better term Culture Shock really worked because beyond hip-hop, just in this world in general, the fact that people are more interested in what some celebrity is doing than the fact that we’re at war in three countries, that’s shocking to us. So for us the title worked within the parameters of the type of music that we’re making and what we’re talking about. We talk a lot about where hip-hop’s gone wrong, or where the world’s gone wrong, in an attempt that hopefully if people talk about it it can be solved.

AB: So you’re probably not going to invite the Kardashians to one of your album release parties.

GE: I would love to.

SS: He’s a big fan of Kim. That’s his celebrity crush.

GE: It’s out there. I was at a party the other night and it was crazy because I showed up and they were filming the Kardashians and I’m like dope, I’m gonna see the hot Kardashians, then it was just the husband, so that didn’t work out for me at all. What was weirder about that party was Q-Tip was DJing and AC Slater was there. I was like they would have never been allowed in the same room in the early 90s.

AB: That is the greatest party story ever. You can’t make up a joke like Bruce Jenner, Q-Tip and AC Slater walk into a bar…

GE: That’s what I’m sayin and that’s what’s so crazy about New York. I went out knowing I was going to a party and I had no idea what I was in for.

SS: Speaking of AC Slater, how does he look exactly the same?

AB: He cut the mullet.

GE: Yeah, it’s true, but he looks exactly the same besides the mullet.

SS: The man has not a blemish. I’m really jealous.

GE: My boy was gonna go up to him and be like “I almost went to Bayside,” but he figured he probably gets that a lot.

AB: I’m sure he’s heard every Saved By The Bell joke in the book. Speaking of humor, you have two videos off of Culture Shock and both clips have a heavy dose of humor in them. The incorporation of humor can be a tricky thing in hip-hop, with so many artists wanting to remain 100% serious. How did you know what would work and what wouldn’t?

SS: I don’t think we did. That first one (“Pop Music”), we just wanted to have fun with it. you’re right, everyone takes themselves really seriously, or they’re the street thug rapper of the year, or the pimp of the year. We just wanted to be ourselves and capture some of the stuff in Portland that people know around here, some of the street performers. Besides my planned scene in the club, we’re kind of mocking a lot of the videos we’ve seen. We wouldn’t be the first ones to do it, but a lot of that goes into ourselves and we have a lot of fun, especially when we’re performing at the shows and interacting with the crowd.

GE: I think the normal thought about us is that we’re just so tough that we just had to show a different side to ourselves.

AB: To keep the cops off your case?

GE: Yeah, you know, it was getting a little bit sketchy, it was getting hot on the block for a while so we just had to “we’re just making joke songs, it’s all good, don’t worry about us.” In reality I think that hip-hop has lost a lot of what made it great in the first place and that’s having a good time. As an emcee your job is to move the crowd, your job is to rock the party, and I think that a lot of people have forgotten that. Now it’s just about how hard you are and how you’re in the club and how many girls you can pull and how much money you have. How hip-hop started out, and what we were influenced by, was about having a good time and rockin the party. I think when it comes down to it that’s the key point. If you’re gonna go pay $20-$25 for a show and someone’s gonna stand there and rap over their own lyrics and stare at their sneakers you’re not getting a show. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on, really putting energy and time into our show, and we feel like we have a show that can compete with some of the best acts that travel across the world.

AB: Speaking of your shows, you mentioned you’ve opened up for everybody. Close this interview out by telling everyone your favorite, and least favorite, experiences from all of those shows?

GE: I did like a top five worst show experiences for a blog and they were pretty bad. There was the time we were opening for The Game in Eugene, OR. It’s all learning experiences. We took some shows trying to get our name out there not realizing that that’s not the best crowd. We might as well have been playing for a Clint Black crowd.

SS: (The Game’s audience) likes a blunt to be smoked or a gunshot.

GE: Right, if you just get up there and smoke a blunt for ten minutes they’ll applaud you. We got up there and did our normal high energy call and response stuff and it really wasn’t working. Some dude was texting in the front row and Hanif threw a water bottle and hit him. That started a little bit of backlash. Then from there Fury got even more frustrated and as we were leaving the stage he just flipped off the crowd. That, obviously, didn’t have a very good response. That would probably be my least favorite show.

SS: It’s tough being the opening act, but we’ve had some great moments.

GE: We’ve had some incredible shows and oddly enough one of the ones that really stood out for us, not as a fan, but for the fact that there were thousands of kids going crazy, was when we opened for LMFAO on the Dew Tour. That was nuts. People were just jumping up and down and it was dope. For me, personally, opening for Common and De La Soul and Talib Kweli, that’s been really rewarding because those guys had a big influence on the type of music we make.