It’s not unusual to hear an artist refer to their album as their “baby.” For CookBook, he not only has a new baby of the album variety, eight months ago he became a father for the first time. “It changes everything,” he says, “it’s a good game changer, though.”
In terms of game changers, CookBook is hoping The Smell of Success will be one for him. It’s a solo effort from the LA Symphony member, who is also one half of the duo Cook and Uno, and the content of it spans the gamut from party music, to displays of lyrical ability, to contemplative songs about the passing of his father, and questions regarding God and faith.
This week, on the heels of the release of The Smell of Success, RapReviews caught up with CookBook to find out more about the album, how he deals with writing about sensitive subjects, and the way he made his CD scratch n sniff. CookBook also discussed his views on success, and how a South Korean audience made him feel a little bit like Justin Timberlake.
Adam Bernard: The Smell of Success is the new album, and it’s a solo effort. What are you most excited about in regards to this album?
CookBook: I’m most excited about finally getting it out. It was a little bit of a process. When I put out the Original Recipes mixtape it was supposed to be a precursor to the album I was going to call Original Recipes. The idea was to put them out the same year. At the time my laptop got stolen. Right after that the label I was on shut down. All these setbacks happened and I had to regroup, but I’m glad I did because I ended up with some really great guest spots, and some really great songs, and it turned into The Smell of Success, which is something more along the lines of the theme of my life. I’m very interested in success. We all want success, but it’s kinda weird, in looking at my career and thinking about what I have been able to accomplish, and what I haven’t accomplished, of my dreams, and goals, I began to really study what success is, and I’ve become very passionate about the subject of success and figuring out how to achieve it and how to help other people achieve it. So I’m excited that message is what’s going out to the world, that idea of persevering to achieve your dreams and really buckling down and making it to that successful place that you want to make it to. That’s the theme that I want my life to be about, and I’m glad that’s the theme and the title of the album, so having to wait and go through all of that was all well worth it.
AB: Staying on the theme of success, give me one moment where you said “wow, I’m really making it.”
CB: I wish I really had that moment. It’s kind of something that I struggle with and I think that’s why I’ve become so passionate about this thing. I remember a few moments early on with LA Symphony where I really was thinking that. Being young and kind of naive to the industry, I remember thinking, we got this record deal, we’re being flown back and forth to all these places to do showcases, all this press was happening, at the time it was the year 2000, it was still amazing to get in The Source, we were in The Source. I remember that was like an “I made it” moment. I was thinking “wow, that was not as hard as I thought it was gonna be. We’re here. We got it. We’re about to do this.” And then, of course, you know the story, the typical industry story that we went through, getting shelved, and kind of getting shuffled around and getting our independent grind on, but that was definitely a moment in time where it was like “wow,” and it really felt like that, bro. It felt real, like man, I’m doing the same thing Black Eyed Peas are doing right now. I would say that was definitely a moment. Nowadays the “I made it” moments are a little smaller. They’re like when I kill a show and I’m like “I know how to do this. I’m good at this.” Those satisfying moments that are kind of just for yourself, when the crowd is eating out of the palm of your hand and you’re like alright, I love this. I’m killin it right now. I think those happen more often than those big…
AB: Grandiose moments like “we’re on national TV!”
CB: Exactly, although I’m not gonna like, when we won the MTVu contest with 83% of the vote, or when you see your video pop up on certain things, you do feel that way, as well. You’re like, it’s another step, another step to success, and you have to celebrate those, because a lot of times we get so focused on the end goal that we don’t see what we have accomplished. I was actually talking to 2Mex about this. He was telling me, “you guys have done so much, you can’t forget all of the stuff that you have accomplished when you’re looking at what you haven’t accomplished.” So you do have to stop and celebrate all the little successes, too, otherwise you’d go crazy.
CB: I would say travel. I don’t think I ever would have seen South Korea, or Europe, at least not yet. I think the coolest thing about being a musician, besides doing the music and the actual feel of performing, is being able to travel and being able to see so many places and meet so many people that otherwise you wouldn’t have met.
AB: Do you have an especially memorable moment from your overseas travels that blows your mind?
CB: Yes. I’d say South Korea. We didn’t have a fan base, per say, in South Korea. We got the opportunity to go because there were some rock bands that had been going over and touring over there, and breaking ground over there, for their scene, but because South Korea has such huge hip-hop fans, they were like we want to take a hip-hop group over there. We got selected for that tour. Nobody knew us, but just because we were a hip-hop group from America they embraced us so crazy. We had like eight shows, and every show, I’m telling you dog, you see those old videos of when The Beatles were getting off the plane when they were coming to America and girls were like crying and passing out? That’s how it was, dude. I remember we did this show in a soccer stadium. I think there were 8,000 people there, and when we got off stage at least a thousand of those people kind of rushed us. That was the first time I was like this must be what N*Sync feels like, or something. I was kinda looking around for security like dang this is overwhelming. They were running up on us and screaming. Even the guys. And we weren’t coming over there like Jay-Z’s coming, or somebody who’s very well known, it was just they loved the fact that we came, and they were really into us. After the show they loved what we did and it was just an incredible moment. I was like man, I feel like a star right now. I feel real good.
AB: When you showed up and you saw that soccer stadium was any part of you thinking “do they know we don’t draw that many people in the States?”
CB: Yeah. You do think that, like I hope these rock bands have a good following. But they came. There was a ton of people and it was incredible. We had two nights at that (stadium).
AB: If you sold out that place twice, that’s the equivalent of selling out the Staples Center.
CB: Yeah, bro! Let’s just call it that. Let’s just say I sold out the Staples Center, but the South Korean one.
CB: It’s become a lot easier to write about my dad. The most painful thing I’ve ever gone through is the death of my father, and (writing about him) has been very therapeutic, and it actually feels really good to me, it’s like keeping him alive a little bit. The song about God, and the questions that not only I, but we all have, it wasn’t so tough to write, but there was definitely some thought that went into “do I put this out or not?” There are a lot of fans that may not understand that (song). They may look at it and say I can’t believe this guy doesn’t believe in God. Fans may not understand where I’m coming from, but I feel like that song, I feel like a lot of people, whether they admit it or not, have those questions. We all wonder, whatever our beliefs, or backgrounds, are, we all wonder, “what is this?” I was raised Christian, and I was raised with certain beliefs, but you go through things in your life and you’re like OK, I need to ask some questions here. I like to keep it as real as possible, and I know a lot of people ask those very same questions and they don’t like to admit it because it seems weird to say. They don’t want to actually question if God is real because it just doesn’t seem right. The more I thought about it the more I was like you know what, I love the song. I like the beat, I like what’s being said, I like the challenge of this song, it’s challenging me and it will challenge other people, so at the end of the day, although it might have felt a little weird to put that song on the album, I said I want to do it. I like to be able to have those types of songs. It keeps (the album) more well rounded. It’s not just fun party stuff, let’s get down to some nitty gritty stuff, too.
AB: You do also have some feel good songs, and one thing all of your music has in common is there’s no cursing. Why is it important to you to keep your music clean?
CB: I just started from a place where, with LA Symphony, we were trying to do an alternative to what was out there – make really great music, but make it accessible to everybody. So I think I’ve maintained that always. There are a lot of ways to say different things, and there are times when I want to just cut loose and say some things, but I think because I’ve gone this long without doing it, it just feels normal to me. It just feels like that’s how I do music. Although on “Anthem for the Damaged” I was feeling really passionate about what I was writing about, and the last line I kind of took it from Slum Village, and there was really no way to say that clean. The line is “fuck this rap shit, I’ll listen to classical,” and it’s me expressing my frustration with what I go through with the career and the ups and downs. There’s really no way to say that like “forget this rap stuff” and still depict that emotion, and also that would kind of kill the fact that I’m paying homage to Slum Village, so I just said it and I edited it out later because I still felt like I wanted to keep it clean, but I wanted that passion, so I said it with the passion of what I was feeling and I just edited it later. That’s just my choice, how I like to do it.
AB: Finally, for fans of the physical product, the CD is actually scratch and sniff. What gave you the idea for that, and how’d you pull it off?
CB: The guy who was designing the cover had the idea of making the cover look like a scratch n sniff sticker. I loved it. I was on the phone with the CD manufacturing place and while we were talking about making the CD they put me on hold. On hold you either have music, or some companies are like “here at CD Makers…” I got the latter, and it was saying, “really impress your clients, try our new rub n sniff CDs where you can pick any scent.” I was like I can’t believe I’m hearing this right now. There was no way after hearing that was available that I wasn’t gonna do it. I’m like why wouldn’t I do such a great idea? The album already has a scratch n sniff picture, and here these guys do scratch n sniff CDs. So I started asking, and it did cost more, of course, but it was still worth it. It gives that extra bonus for people who want to buy a CD, or who are wondering “should I get it from iTunes, or should I get the CD?” Well, here’s an extra little thing that may make you want the physical product.