For years LA's Nocando has lined our pages with numerous releases and breakthroughs happening from the West Coast. Born James McCall, he is the man behind LA's illustrious Hellfyre Club boutique imprint—giving us some top notch releases from Milo, Busdriver, Anderson .Paak, Taurus Scott, Rheteric Ramirez, VerBS, The Kleenrz, KAIL, and E.Super, all while recently dropping his much awaited album, Jimmy the Burnout.
I caught up with Nocando on the Hellfyre Tour bus en route for LA after the bunch played a slew of dates that included playing a crew set at one of Impose's SxSW Imposition showcases at Austin's The Grackle. Our conversation began with the curating his label, discussing the LA music landscape past and present from DJ Nobody to Liphemra, beginning with some eight years back with the formidable beginnings of James' involvement with the Low End Theory nights to the Hellfyre imprint.
“Basically I was signed to the label Alpha Pup that [Daddy] Kev started with an idea of this night club thing,” James reminisced. “And after that it was so long ago it's hard for me to really think about it, that was almost eight years ago and that's kind of crazy to think about. I was recording with Kev for that record deal at this time eight years, in 2006 and July of 2006 we all sat down and started talking about opening a nightclub and didn't open it until October.”
The conversation veered toward toward the LA underground, where James credited Nobody as one of the creative forces in keeping Low End Theory strong for eight years.
“He was the booking arm of Low End Theory,” James said. “And was real involved in all the adapted changes that happened to Low End Theory, and he adapted to all them, he's a creative dude man, and I don't think that the Jimmy the Burnout record would have happened, or would have sounded the way it did, and I wouldn't be as happy with it. I appreciate [Low End Theory], as a part of my career, and a place where I could go freestyle, and as an establishment and as a business and a little fraternity of brothers. But I don't really know how the world sees it outside of that world, because I don't look at it in a romantic way at all. It's not magical, but it is a really cool thing and something I benefited from thoroughly.”
From here we discussed the current and future operations of the Hellfyre Club label, and further exploring Nocando's recent full-length release.
For you as an artist, how do you observe the road that's taken you to Jimmy the Burnout, from releasing various singles, Tits and Explosions, etc?
It took me a long time to get the songs that I wanted for Jimmy the Burnout, it took a while to explain, to really make clear all these songs that I had recorded, what I was trying to say, I don't know, Tits & Explosions, those were all battle rap songs or something. Zero Hour, that EP was like me feeling like an underdog or something, you know? But I really tried to keep all the songs that I kept recording and for the Jimmy the Burnout record I kept all the songs that felt like I felt when I got the idea to put the record out.
But the road to making this record, it was really hard for me to say the things that I wanted to say on the record because sometimes I was scared to say them, scared to talk about them, sometimes I didn't know the exact words, I didn't want to sound too much like an arrogant style rapper, I wanted to keep an open mind about everything. It took me a while to figure that shit out and I know that I don't have a shit load of fans but I know the fans I do have they would write me all this shit like, 'hurry the fuck up, hurry the fuck up,' but I didn't want to hurry up and give them a bad product. If I had the ability to I would have waited until November, 2017, you know, to give them the right product. To get the right group of songs to explain exactly how I felt; this record is about a working man and his family and it's about real things, like I know so many people who have lost their jobs, and for their job they're doing their dreams now, I know a guy who's making cars, I know a girl who decided to start an advertising firm, and I also know that I'm the dude who lost his job and decided to rap about it, you know?
And also, about the heartbreak and the love shit, not to be totally candid but you know, me and my significant other we really fucked up our marriage, our relationship, and I don't think a lot of people talk about that so I had to write those songs without sounding like I was bitching or complaining or sounding like I was an asshole either so it took me a while to grow up past the emotional phase, and the callus phase that comes after the emotional phase then to a place where I am sober minded enough to explain that to people.
Yeah, like take for example, “Lucid Dreams” is so smooth and dreamy and then transforms into that secret track with that hook that goes, “never mind, she was never mine” and it's kind of like your cut “All Over a Bitch”, or “Never Looked Better”, and there's a real humanist and real earnest quality that comes out in that.
That's super observant, because some people would take it as, 'oh that's misogynist, that's misogyny and fuck that I don't want any of it in my system,' you know?
Another thing that is also very present, is that there is a real feeling of unity that's happening here, it's not even a thing to where I find myself thinking, 'oh, that's an LA sound,' but it's like in the beginning of the album where you talk about where you come from, and talk about growing up in South Central but you also lasso in this Bay Area vibe where on the album you unite the sounds of your LA stomping grounds with a lean toward the Bay. I'm curious to hear you own thoughts on the West Coast right now as a creative hotbed?
For one I was living in Oakland for two years, I didn't get out, I didn't rap that much, but also my father is from the Bay Area and I spent every summer of my life in the Bay. But you know I'm in love with California on the whole and I love that dichotomy between Los Angeles and the Bay. I love how like right now, in the Bay, so many party records came out of the Bay, so many party records, also so many raw gangster records, you know what I'm saying? And not like hyper produced records, but dudes just telling stories, you know? But also really good underground records. But then out of LA, LA is really competitive, like way more competitive than the Bay, but not in the way where it's like harmful, there's so many rappers, everybody thinks they're the shit, so you have to put on extra armor and you have to be hyper good at what you are. With my experiences of the Bay and LA, I want to marry those, on this tour I've been listening to B-Legit's the Hemp Music.
Yes! Way back when I once totally snagged a promo release poster for the Hemp Museum out in Alameda.
That's tight, I wish I had that poster, man. I've been listening to that record from a YouTube upload that somebody [sent me] that's the whole album, it's so funky. And I'm just trying to make records that end up like that, true to a feeling, true to a man's story, that whole record is basically a lot of him talking about not wanting to deal dope anymore, not really working man music, but the gangster perspective, but with so much information that it's too deep for it to be hyperbolic.
The whole Sick Wid It crew is like that man, take that E-40 single, “Hope I Don't Go Back / Slangin Yayo”, there is a real down home Vallejo, V-town goodness, no matter what struggles. Again, just super honest, with this we're out here, this is what it is, and it isn't all bad, and isn't all good.
Yeah, this is what it is, and so I love that. I mean, that's what I'm definitely trying to do, I'm not trying to be like hyperbolic, I'm not trying to be hyper-ignorant, I've lived enough of an interesting life and if I were to sit down with you and tell you what I've done and gone through, that would be more interesting than motherfucker's lives you know? [laughs] Or hyperbolic stories.
Also, that's cool that you're working with Liphemra like her appearance on “Little Green Monsters”, her percussion to production, to pop vocals are fascinating. Are you talking about any future collaborations?
Here's the thing, Liphemra shot my video “Hollywood” a long time ago. She was my wife's co-worker for a minute. She's a homie's homie. I definitely intend to work with her. I love her energy, I love her voice, and she's like a perfect example of the youth in music today. Like guys like Milo who I'm on tour with right now, they don't just do one thing. Really all I do is I rap, and then I have a label I guess, which is more than one thing but in terms of art, Liphemra's like, 'I drum, and I sing, and I make my own records, I shoot my own videos,' she's so knee deep in her own shit and I love it. And this summer, I like throwing shows, little shows, and I want to start booking only live bands and I'm definitely going to be booking her for something this summer. We're always talking about music in the future for sure.
Speaking of Milo, we really liked his Scallops Hotel release he did, such a terrific tongue and cheek take on the Clams Casino name. I'm amazed at the level of productions from everyone in the Hellfyre Club camp, I feel there is a real embodiment of some of the greatest productions from the past three, four years, but then there is a real push for what's next and it's really exciting.
I think that comes from this whole, you know how they're like the guys going 'fuck with us, fuck with us, fuck with us', and then there's those guys that are just like, 'fuck that old shit, fuck that old shit, fuck that old shit.' With us we're just appreciative of all kinds of stuff. I really, really love to see people do new shit and also I have to recognize the stuff I used to listen to as a kid when I was like a pre-teen, looking for it on YouTube, but to be honest, like for me personally there is so much shit in my life going on, and inspiration is one of those things that doesn't come to me all the fucking time. I have to go out and seek it out, I have to stay up all night and listen to this record or go to the studio after watching three hours of Akira Kurosawa. I have to shove it in my brain and then I have to let it process, and then that will turn into a song a week later. I think we're all appreciative of what everybody is doing out there.
Everyone, you, Milo, Busdriver, what you all create is super striking, no matter who it is who puts you all on a mix, you all stand out from the pack, and it's so cool that you have curated this imprint that is so incredibly crucial, it's something else.
Most of us have all been in other crews, especially me, it was like, 'this is my second time, this is my second try,' you know? And to be totally honest, this is not no fucking crew to me. I'm too old to be in a 'rap crew,' this a record label I've started, you know what I'm saying? So like this being my second time around, in my first crew we were young and it was just people that I hung out with on the street corner and rapped with, some people that were friends that I could smoke cigarettes with and chilled out with, and we had that whole homie vibe, so with everybody that's in this collective on this label, the Hellfyre we're just putting out music, and I'm trying to keep it that way.
Yeah, and for instance Mello Music Group that Open Mike Eagle just signed to, they're another imprint that has risen to this prominence, taking the indie underground to the surface. What is you relationship like with Mello Music?
I'm a fan of Quelle Chris, it's so funny I've heard Quelle Chris on [The Passion of the Weiss podcast] Shots Fired a bunch of times, and the whole time dude was like, 'hey, let's work on music,' and I said, yeah, let's do it. So now that this record is out, I'm going to really sink my teeth into some new production, and what I've learned from working with DJ Nobody, I love bringing a concept to the table. I like the help with the arrangement, and we have a meeting of the minds in terms of creating a song, I love that shit. And with Quelle, thank God that Mello Music found him and being a part of why he's out in LA. The way Quelle approaches music, I would never approach it like that, you know, that battle rapper in me is always like 'get to the fucking point,' but he kind of leads to the point.
Yeah, LA also has such a huge industry presence too versus the Bay.
The industries are different because the Bay's industry is tech, and LA's industry is all movies, music and shit like that. I want to say that if you are a part of doing music, you always do it in LA, and if you do music in the Bay, you have a lot of time to live life and then there is this one function that happens once a week, and that's the one crack where you go and see everybody and then you go home. And then in Oakland there is only two or three studios that I know that some people went to, or you got your little home spot. Living in Oakland, I remember wanting to write some songs when I get some free time before my wife gets home and gets off the BART.
With the release of Jimmy the Burnout, and your various Hellfyre Club tours, what is the spring and summer Hellfyre schedule?
I'm releasing videos for Jimmy the Burnout, Anderson .Paak is going to release a project produced by Knowledge this summer, Anderson .Paak is one of the most talented dudes I know, he's a singer, a drummer, a producer, he can play any instrument, and he's a really good rapper too. And then we're getting ready in the fall, I'm hella invested in Milo's first full-length, A Toothpaste Suburb.
Like the refrain on your single, “Where's the Money?”, can you give us tips on how to occupy or crash the VIP?
You know what's so funny? It's really just at this point, I found out that a lot of dudes that work at Hollywood bars and they really hate the Hollywood crowd and they grew up off that underground rap and the deejays are just spinning that top 40 shit because that's the name of the game, but me and my friends, we own that scene, all the guys spinning that top 40 shit, those are the same kids who 10 years ago were out watching us freestyle on the corner, and when we come to the fucking VIP, they tell the owners, 'that guy's cool, give him a fucking table and a bottle.' And we were usually bored as fuck anyway, so we just sit down and drink, so we do it for a lot cheaper than motherfucker's who are spending their rent money on bottles to impress silly girls that paid to be in there with a fake ID anyway.