MCs in interview often reveal themselves to be the polar opposite of the characters they portray on record. But with veteran lyricist Robust, what you hear on record is actually what you get in reality. This Chicago native, down with Galapagos4 and the Molemen, is laid back yet opinionated—especially when it comes to the recording industry and its unwillingness to recognize “realness.” With his third solo shot, El Foto Grande, Robust contemplates his place not only in hip hop, but in the world at large. IMPOSE caught up with the MC right before his album dropped to discuss his latest release, almost getting signed by Bobbito’s defunct Fondle ‘Em label, and the state of Chicago hip hop. What follows is the finale of our half-hour-plus conversation.
Can you talk about rolling with Galapagos4? It’s basically as much a crew as it is a label. How important is it for you to be working with a label that’s made up of people you’re friends with?
Robust: It’s definitely cool having it be your homies because at the end of the day, it’s not like, ‘I’m just sittin’ with this dude because we gotta do this shit.’ It’s like, ‘this is my guy and I got his back no matter what.’ But also it’s harder because it’s hard to do business with friends sometimes. You don’t want to step on other people’s toes and say the wrong thing. It makes things easier in a lot of ways and it also makes thing difficult too. But it’s pretty dope.
At this point, you don’t seem like the type of dude who would want to be sitting in a major label boardroom in front of really stone faced people.
Actually, I wouldn’t give a fuck if they were paying me money. I’d probably have a manager at that point if it was like that. That’s the other thing—I’ve been trying to think about getting a manager. I can do most of this shit myself, but that takes up my time from doing the music that I want to work on everyday whereas I could have some dude trying to make me money. He’s gonna be making himself some dough too, but at least he’s hustling while I’m working on the music: killing two birds with one stone.
As far as Chicago goes, since you’ve been such a big part of the movement here, how are you feeling about things nowadays?
It’s cool, man. This past year I’ve been doing three shows a month for like the whole year in Chicago so I’ve been out and about not just at them show – I’ve been going to other people’s shows and just checking out the whole scene in general, and it’s seems to be vibing out a little bit more. A lot of people say, “Oh, it’s dying,” but you just gotta go to the spots and there’s heads out there and they’re hungry for the shit. A lot of young cats coming out. I think it’s just a matter of they want dope shit. Chicago’s always been pretty picky on their music. They’re not just gonna settle for some random, mediocre-ass dude. I think it’s been pretty dope this year. It could be better, but it could be worse.
Who are you feeling locally these days?
Let me think… Rhyme Scheme, he’s opening up at my release party. Man, he’s coming with it these days. I remember when he was a little younger and I heard some stuff recently and he’s kind of snapping with it. This dude, Haiku, he’s doing his thing. This crew Diatribe; this guy Mic Logik from Division One is really dope. People sleep on that. He’s mad young, but he’s killing shit. This dude Dream Tech from Uptown. Fools don’t know. He’s a graffiti writer but he’s really ridiculous. He’s different from a lot of cats rapping right now. He comes from back when cats were trying to be different and be dope at the same time. He’s on some cool shit. Who else am I feeling from Chicago? Lupe’s shit was pretty dope.
What about all these new, new cats like the Cool Kids?
I’ve only heard a couple of their tracks, but my boy Vyle, he’s really into that shit. I’m into Vyle too. That’s another dude from Chicago that I’m into. I’ve been knowing him since he was in high school. But the Cool Kids and Flosstradaumus—I go up to their shows sometimes ‘cause Vyle, he’ll get me in and I’ll check it out. It’s super fuckin’ crowded. They got a pretty good fuckin’ scene going for themselves, but I haven’t heard tons and tons of their music. I’ve only heard one song that he bumps all the time. I told him, “that shit’s dope man.” I wish them dudes would have me rock a show. I’d like to do a show with them dudes.
Do you think there’s a division happening between the club rap sound and more lyrical style of people like you?
I think they’re definitely trying to separate themselves [and] not trying to be involved with us probably ‘cause they got their own thing and they don’t really need underground hip-hop. But Kid Sister, before she was Kid Sister, I remember she came up to a Typical Cats show at Logan Square Auditorium like three years ago and she came up with my boy—she was chilling with him. I know they know about our shit, but they’re doing their own thing and probably don’t want to be involved with it. But to me, it’s just all muthafuckers trying to get on and rap. I can do club shit—I can do whatever. Do you think there’s a division between it?
I mean, I just see it like they’re getting all the attention from the press and a lot of early-20-somethings and like you said, they’re going to do their own thing. So they might like people like Typical Cats or J.U.I.C.E., but they’re not necessarily going to…
Reach out to ‘em. The disco era’s going full effect right now so it’s like rock n roll ain’t shit. As far as press goes, I know for a fact them muthafuckers get free publicity from muthafuckers that usually charge like 20 Gs for shit. I don’t have 20 Gs to drop on publicity right now. I would love to get some free publicity, but I don’t know how that works. I swear to God, when I was younger, I thought that all I had to fuckin’ do was just be dope—as long you’re dope muthafuckers will recognize that shit. And to an extent it works, but it only gets you so far. There’s a million dope muthafuckers that only get to that one glass ceiling and they never break through. It just takes time.
What do you think it will take for the masses to get back to enjoying skills as opposed to just image?
I think it all goes in cycles, man. I felt like that back in the day. I knew that when all these guys were blowing up a few years ago— [the] 2001, 2002 era, and fools were starting to make real money and get on, and underground was making dough, I knew that there was going to be certain dudes that would be on top and then there’s gonna be like the little guys that are doing okay. But I knew that the commercial shit was gonna come back. You look back at music eras-—especially my boys who collect records—-you just see the cycles. It always goes through a disco era and then it goes back to muthafuckers [who] just want real people music — the dude sittin’ there being straight with them. I think the underground in two years is gonna flourish again, but it’s not gonna be like tons of money making flourishing, I don’t think. People are just gonna want the realness. Kids are gonna be into it ‘cause they’re just gonna be so technoed out from this shit. It happens to everybody. I feel the shit too, but sometimes you just want some grimy shit and then it will kind of be like ’98 was or something of that sort and then go from there.
I knew back then [in the late ‘90s] that it wasn’t my time when the shit didn’t work out with the Fondle ‘Em [deal]…it just wasn’t my era. I was in the era, but it wasn’t my era to get my props. So I feel like I’ve been putting in work for the past few years and putting in work now for the next couple years and hopefully by that time things will start panning out the way I thought.