Strong Arm Steady

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Breaking down stereotypes from LA cops to third record expectations.

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Blake Gillespie | August 21, 2012

Krondon and Phil Da Agony took time out of the studio to discuss their latest record. Produced entirely by Statik Selektah, Stereotype is out now on Stones Throw.

Strong Arm Steady

Photo by Mathew Scott

When I first called Krondon, he was out in New York. Even in his greeting, I knew his voice was shot. I asked if this was normal, he joked of, what sounded like saying, “I’ve been showing off”, but his usual rasp was reduced to the sound of manipulated air in my receiver. A few questions in, we agreed to reschedule once he recovered.

A week later, we’re on the phone again. Krondon is in traffic on his way to the studio in LA, but as he explained the strains that he puts himself through, against his better judgment at times, he interrupted the interview once again, with a “hold on, bro.” I remained on the line, overhearing the following:

I’m doing a job interview right now. I’m so sorry, sir. [Muffled voice] Yes, sir. [Muffled voice] No, I’ve got to get one though. I’ve just got this thing here. [Muffled voice continues] Thank you, man. Thank you! [Krondon starts laughing] Hey, you’re the coolest cop I ever met. By far. Have a good day.

He returns to me, relating the scenario that transpired. A patrol car pulled up next to him at a red light, taking notice that Krondon was not adhering to the cell phone laws in California. The cell phone being their primary concern, they took little notice to Kron’s lack of a seatbelt or the pit-bull in his lap. “The police officer gave me a rubber band and showed me a trick how to rubber band the phone to the visor of my car, so I can drive and talk to you, “ Kron said. “So now my phone is rubberbanded to my car, thanks to the Los Angeles police Department. That was very cool.” It surprised Krondon to a point that when he referred to the officers as “pigs” recounting the event, he took it back, declaring them undeserving of the title.

The encounter bares similarity to Strong Arm Steady’s process in crafting their third record Stereotype. Strong Arm Steady would prefer their listeners not typecast them; the group’s record with Statik Selektah is the “cell phone rubberbanded around a visor” of rap albums. “Every time we bring an album to the table, it’s going to continue something different,” Phil Da Agony said. “It holds that Strong Arm Steady stamp of approval, but it’s about the place and time we were at in making those records.”

With Krondon’s raspy voice intact, we began discussing his techniques in protecting his investments as a rapper and ghost-writing for the industry.

So what happened to your voice the first time we talked?

I was coming down under the weather a little bit. I was pushing myself a little harder than I should have been, honestly bro.

I’m a one man band in a lot of ways, bro. Don’t get me wrong, my guys do rap in the group, but that’s what they do. They rap. There’s much more to this than just rapping. I get thrown to do a lot of shit.

Are there tricks you’ve picked up to keep your voice strong?

What I didn’t do before doing our interview, is I definitely drink a lot of tea and honey. I try not to yell at people, if the lord allows me. I smoke a lot of marijuana. I don’t know if that helps or hurts. Keeping that undecided right now.

Mixing in a vaporizer here and there might be beneficial, I hear.

I do. I have a trippy stick that I keep in my pocket and I smoke blunts.

Are you still doing a lot of writing for people?

Yeah, doing a lot of ghost writing. I’m in the midst of doing a bunch of ghost writing.

How do you get in the mindset to write for others?

I think you have to be an open person. You have to be humble. You gotta at some point be confident in not only who you are but what you are in your field. I think that I feel privileged to be a ghost writer in this industry, to be respected as one, and known as one. It’s humbling to know that great artists trust you in your craft. Don’t let nobody fucking lie to you, Blake. Anybody that’s a ghost writer aspires to be an artist themselves.

[We took a break once again to add Phil Da Agony on the line]

Well Phil, would you like to start your contribution by explain why eating dark meat is a way to diss people.

Phil: Well, there’s nothing shaming about it. Initially, I rewrote that verse because that was one of the songs we started on when we first started working with Statik Selectah. With that being said, I wanted to rewrite that verse.

Light and dark meat, in a sense of eating… people usually go for the light meat and dark meat is the cheaper version and shit. I actually like dark meat though. I’ll go for the legs sometimes or the breast. In the rhyme’s sake though, I was just differentiating between this and that. It was hilarious though.

You guys appeared on Snoop Dogg’s Internet show recently. How do you feel about his alias change to Snoop Lion?

Phil and Krondon: I love it.

K: I think it’s progressive. I know he’s catching a lot of flack about it. I myself, as an artist… the Krondon you see today is not the Krondon that started in 99-00. It’s not the same guy. When I was independent, putting vinyl out at Fat Beats, I’m a completely different person now. I’m glad to see this Snoop Dogg because I know the Snoop Dogg I grew up on in ’91. To see him now, be who he is is wonderful. Much like you saw Andre[3000} during Southernplayalistic wearing ADIDAS jackets and house shoes, and you never saw him wearing feathers and all the crazy shit he wears. It took years, writing and playing guitar to get to that. As artists we can’t stereotype ourselves and obviously Snoop Dogg does not stereotype himself.

P: We love it. He’s been #1 on the Rap and R&B charts, but now he’s on the reggae charts. He was #1 on those charts. It’s a step for him in reinventing himself. I was watching TV this morning and Arsenio Hall is coming back out with a TV Show. He was even saying, you’ve seen the Arsenio Hall Show, but you haven’t seen what I’m doing now. We’ve changed over the years and grow and get better in a sense. I’m looking forward to Snoop someday saying ‘Call me Calvin’ in the next decade, you know.

And with the record being called Stereotype, do you feel as though in making this there was a transcendence that needed to be achieved?

K: I think that’s the point. That’s definitely where we’re coming from. To keep people, the consumer, the fan that follows us from one day one, excited and be constantly unpredictable. It’s also for ourselves.

With the Stereotype album, you really don’t know the millions of millions of layers that make up Strong Arm Steady. The three albums that we’ve released are only three representations of us and they are nothing alike, all three of them.

When you work on records, is there a preferred format; from working with multiple producers as opposed to doing it with one, as you did with Madlib and now Statik Selektah?

P: When you work with one producer, there’s cohesiveness as opposed to working with a lot of different people. It is like a potluck. Potluck’s are great, you know what I mean. Having one cook in the kitchen is great as well. Preferably? I don’t know. We just want to get the product out to the fans. While, we’re making the music we don’t think about that too much.

Once we set our minds to something, once we lock in with one producer, we just know we need to load up on beats from them. Most of the time we have more records done than we need.

You collaborated with Diamond Supply on a T-Shirt. How did that come about?

Nick Diamond has been a friend of mine for a long time. We’d been talking for about a year about doing a shirt and basing it around the album we’re doing. The artist by the name of Upendo Taylor, who is mostly known for his brand Leroy Jenkins, and he did a lot of album covers, like J. Dilla’s The Shining cover, he did Danny Brown’s [XXX], he did the Danny Brown & Black Milk record – a lot of records – he’s a good friend of mine. I pulled him in initially just to do the album packaging.

So I had Upendo doing the artwork and it took awhile to get him and Nick together to make a Strong Arm Steady shirt. After six months I was able to get Nick Diamond and Upendo together in a room to hammer out ideas, go over ideas and agree upon something. Everything came together at the same time with the record and Nick putting the T out.

The last minute, like the day before this thing goes to press, Nick has this vision of doing a picture photo and changes the design, after we’ve been sitting on an agreed upon design for six months. He hits me up early morning, like “I have this vision, man.” At first, I was like huh? But, I appreciated Nick Diamond being so artist about it. It was really an artistic call and nothing else. When Nick said he had a vision, I was on my way to another meeting. But he sent me the design and I loved it.

You’ve both been in the LA scene for awhile. I recall hearing you guys on Beat Junkies tapes and Phil you were on Tash’s solo record and other Liks stuff. Now with these new camps popping up like TDE, Odd Future and groups like Pac Div… what’s your opinion of the difference between the LA you came up in and the one you reside in now?

K: When we came up we were one of a kind, or not one of a kind, but a select few, an outcast of sorts when we started our collective. What we were doing, what Dilated was doing, what Defari was doing was unheard of. We were coming up in a time where you were the only kid on the block.

Now, it’s a time where there are kids on the block. It’s getting some attention on a national basis, because it’s not necessarily a new thing. It’s more of a normal thing within Los Angeles culture. They allow themselves the room to grow. With the TDE’s, the Odd Future, and Pac Div, their presence allows us to understand the perspective we were pushing for all along.

If you look at Stereotype, we kind of showcase who we feel felt are waving the flags we were waving. These are the same cats that are in our position, but not alone. We can lift each other up together.

P: That’s where we at right now. If you look at the track list on our album, you’ll see a lot of those LA artists.

In working with them, did they bring up stuff you’d done previously that they enjoyed?

P: Definitely. It’s funny because Kron really keeps his ear to the street. Kron told me about Odd Future before it was Odd Future and Casey Veggies. When we recorded a lot of these records, these cats hadn’t necessarily blown up yet. I mean, I seen Casey Veggies has 80,000 followers, but I remember him from when he had 1,000 followers. That was around the time we recorded.

It was a real natural thing. It wasn’t because someone had a buzz. We liked the music they were doing and reached out early to a lot of these cats. We didn’t even have an idea necessarily doing a Statik Selektah album yet. Those records came about real organic.

K: When we recorded the record, I had no clue where we were going to take it. I just knew I liked those cats and there was a mutual respect. When I listen to the album, you know unbiased, it was before any of them had any buzz and they rose to the occasion that was set. For example my brother Schoolboy Q, after laying the record 13 or 14 months go by and we’re in the studio and I’m telling him I’m putting that record out. And he’s like, wait I’ve gotten a lot better. You got to let me rewrite. So the verse you hear is actually the second verse he laid with a year in between them. If I was privileged enough to play you both verses, you’d hear two completely different Schoolboy Qs.

Each artist was in different stages of their career. When Casey heard the record after it was done he was like, man I don’t even rap like that no more. That feels good to me. That one he stepped up to the plate and felt like there was a plate to step up to. I take that with a lot of humility. We didn’t go outside the neighborhood if you look at it. Even David Banner laid the shit right here. He lives in LA now.

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