Back in July, when I spoke with MondreMAN, he announced a collaborative album with Al Jieh titled They Say I Struggle Rap. “You and da people who read dis hear it first. They Say I Struggle Rap. No official date yet, but soona den ya think. I’ma drop a mixtape before dat tho and shit, you know.” Time passed, countless hip-hop albums dropped, and I forgot about the project.
Then, thankfully and wonderfully, the name began to resurface. They Say I Struggle Rap. A new single. A new video. The release date for the project.
Even before the commercial campaign began, Mondre was praising producer Al. “Me and Al Jieh next, man,” Mondre said, “…dis one here like a ‘Stephen King Presents’ and I did the soundtrack for it ahaha.”
I can’t follow-up with a better description of Al Jieh’s production than that, other than he has done beats for DaVinci, Shady Blaze, Squadda, Ammbush, and a bunch of other Bay Area rappers. Remember “Year of the Dragon”? Fire. “Beer Bitches & Bullshit” was my favorite beat by Al Jieh, but this new project with Mondre got me thinkin’. It’s insanity.
Al Jieh’s great compilation instrumental project, Scales, Volume 1, was a producer’s multi-faceted portfolio. Many of the beats reflect the desired glitz and glamour of hip-hop: the walking in a bank in slow motion and withdrawing enough cash for a few pounds.
Al’s new project still contains luxurious instrumentals, but the overall tone of the album is darker, rougher. Mondre is more menacing and haunting. The video for “Intro Shit” has Mondre rapping alongside a murderous clown. The artwork for the album is the grim reaper. One photo shoot had Mondre looking like he was being born from the earth, possibly molding into the Mother Nature, maybe waiting to be buried alive. Although Main Attrakionz are known for dropping projects out of the sky without notice, I’m so glad that Mondre and Al did proper promotion and attention for this project: a cohesive, finely-tuned steady vibe, flying underwater and swimming in the clouds. Okay, I decided, “Ancient Times” is now my favorite beat by Al Jieh. I spoke with the Bay Area producer about the project and about his dreams. Grab headphones.
neonpajamas: How did you and Mondre decide to do They Say I Struggle Rap?
Al Jieh: Just kinda happened. We met, I started sending him beats, and we started recording. We vibed well and shit just fell in place organically.
neon: Your production has been mostly DaVinci/GreenOva and some affiliates. Do you only fuck with rappers that you know personally?
Al: For the most part, yeah. I’m not opposed to working with cats I don’t know, but I just prefer to be in the studio with the artist. And it’s easy to coordinate with the artist when it’s just your folks. I feel like the end result is always better when y’all are in the studio together, creatively collaborating.
neon: For you and Mondre, was the project mostly done through e-mail or did you collab in person?
Al: I love the internet but nothing beats being in the studio together, making music with real people in the room. We recorded that entire album in person at Ammbush’s studio in Oakland (The Nestt) and the Bredquarters. Everything I’ve ever recorded with Mondre has been in person.
neon: What has the response/hype been leading up to this release?
Al: Man, I’m not even sure. I try not to get caught up in that. I hope it’s good.
neon: Do you remember your dreams? Any wild ones in particular that come to mind?
Al: There’s an old Chinese legend about a female ghost sitting on your chest causing sleep paralysis. In high school, I used to get visits from her a lot. She looked like The Ring girl kinda. Really long hair covering her face. And she was cloudy, black smoke.
neon: What was the last good book you read?
Al: The new version of new Mass Appeal is nice.
neon: I saw that you went to Taiwan a few months ago. How was that experience? Was it your first time leaving the country?
Al: It was amazing. It always is. That’s where my family is from, so it’s always a very personal experience to connect with my roots. I’ve been going back and visiting since I was a kid. Most Americans don’t even know where it is, and that’s cool…hidden gem. People always think I’m sayin I’m going to Thailand, but no. A relatively unknown tropical island in the Pacific.
neon: Do you and Mondre have plans to tour in support of your album?
Al: Yeah, book us. I wanna go to Canada and Australia. And Tokyo.
neon: Can you define your label/group SWTBRDS in one sentence?
Al: A collective of friends who make raw uncut music together.
neon: What is 2014 looking like for you?
Al: I really wanna put out some more solo projects, so I might do that.
neon: Do you have plans to drop a Scales, Volume 2?
Al: Yup. Before end of the year. Scales is a compilation of the instrumentals from songs I’ve recorded with the homies, though. It’s my version of Rapper’s Best Friend. Shout-out to Alchemist, that’s one of my mentors even though he don’t know me. But I’m probably gonna be dropping some original beat tapes n’ shit in 2014.
neon: Do you have a dream collaboration?
Al: Holla at Young Roddy for me. Let’s put it out on the Mishka label.
neon: What are some studio necessities within The Bredquarters?
Al: Trees, Netflix, Blu-rays. BYOB/L. I don’t drink, though. I feel like Mondre always got a bottle of raspberry amdam (?) sittin’ around here. DaVinci always leavin’ Rémy bottles.
neon: Have you ever considered rapping or do you like to stay behind the boards?
Al: Never. No interest whatsoever.
neon: What inspires you to create music?
Al: It’s in my nature? Something in me, I don’t know what it is. I’ve been making music since I was four.
neon: Any particular albums you have enjoyed recently?
Al: Hmmm, like outside the camp? DJ Rashad Double Cup. That’s the best producer out right now. I like that new Boldy James and Alchemist album. I was fuckin’ with Bales: Roddy and Curren$y. Other than that, probably Bay Area shit…Bay shit from in and around the camp. Ammbush dropped two ill projects this year. Squadda, Shady Blaze, 100s, Young Gully HM3 is a good one. I still have DaVinci’s XLIX EP on deck at all times. HD of Bearfaced dropped a hard album a few months ago too.
neon: What was the first album you remember purchasing?
Al: Ice Cube Death Certificate and Lethal Injection together in a used bin. I thought the covers were dope.
neon: Other than music, what other loves do you have?
Al: Maxin’ along the coast, at the beach eating tacos and cheefin’.
neon: Do you have any final thoughts/words of wisdom/shout-outs? Thank you!
Al: Make your choices, take your chances. Shout-out to The Neptunes, Jake One, Mannie Fresh, and Alchemist for making a kid wanna make beats once upon a time.