by Corbie Hill
May 13th is UNC's graduation date, which makes it an appropriate day for the UNC Beat Making Lab to release its free compilation. These 13 tracks—which draw samples from a wide variety of North Carolina acts—represent the final project from a course on beat-making taught by The Beast emcee Pierce Freelon and Chapel Hill producer extraordinaire Stephen Levitin— better-known in music circles as the Apple Juice Kid. While the compilation will be free, there's currently an Indiegogo campaign set up to send Freelon and Apple Juice to Goma, DR Congo, this summer, where they'll teach the same course at the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF). They will also build and leave a beat studio. This fits within the mission of ARTVSM, a socially conscious art-and-activism company run by the two.
After the jump, read our conversation with Freelon and Apple Juice about the UNC Beat Making Lab and their international aspirations. And while you're here, you may as well hit play on Sup Doodle's "It Doesn't Hurt a Bit," a track from the upcoming compilation.
Independent Weekly: What's the process like of getting a new course on the schedule, of conceptualizing it, running it by department administration and so on? And how long has this class been in the works?
Apple Juice Kid: I presented the idea to Mark Katz, a professor in the music department. We then got approval from the head of the department, Terry Rhodes, and the rest is history. The class has been in the works for over a year and a half now. Mark Katz has a bigger goal of a Carolina Beat Academy, which will encompass DJing, MCing, rock and roll classes, etc.—basically, music courses that don't have knowing how to read music as a requirement. More modern music classes.
Was there a conscious decision to sample North Carolina artists? And what were some acts that ended up more conducive to sampling?
Pierce Freelon: Hell yes. Apple Juice and I are on our local/sustainable/organic shit. Every day before class we have lunch at Vimala's Curry Blossom where they feed us the most healthy and nourishing locally sourced deliciousness. A healthy appreciation for music should start with a similar framework. We wanted students to sample artists that they could go see at the Local 506 or Cat's Cradle. As producers and beat makers, they are about to join a robust North Carolina arts community. They should become familiar with local music. Listen to it, taste it, absorb it, then sample it. It was also an entrepreneurial maneuver. We hope some of the artists we sample will hear their music re-imagined by our students and reach out to the them to provide critical feedback or support.
There was a wide variety of genres/styles sampled—from opera to indie rock. Each artist brought unique challenges to our students. Most of the hip-hop and contemporary soul and R&B songs, for example, were recorded to a specific tempo, so students would identify the tempo, and do loop-based sampling. However, some students sampled jazz and indie-rock that wasn't loopable, so they had to find innovative ways to trigger samples to their fixed tempo. Mixing and mashing samples of different genres into the same song was also a challenge. But these are critical thinking Carolina students, and they leaped over many of the hurdles to create some awesome music.
As for your students, where were they coming from, influence-wise? Who were some of their big musical pillars? And how did that change over the course of this class?
PF: Our students had a very diverse array of tastes and influences. Hip-hop, dubstep, electronica, trance, soul, jazz—you name it, someone in our class was into it. I think we really broadened their lenses, when we introduced them to N.C.'s music scene. Many of them had never heard of The Foreign Exchange, or The Love Language—and I think they were surprised at how much local talent we had.
So what's your vision for the studio in Goma?
AJK: My/our vision is to set up a sustainable beat making lab for a group of people in the Congo to make beats, develop projects, and sell beats to the music industry. We will bring a laptop, microphone, speakers and headphones to leave there permanently, so the skills we teach will last for a long time. We want to inspire and set up a model for music creation and income generation. There is currently a film festival and film making studio there that the beat making lab will join forces with.
Is this the first international effort from ARTVSM and will there be others?
AJK: Not the first. We sponsored an international conference called Switchpoint last month, which had speakers from all over the world speaking about the intersection of global health and tech. The Congo is our first project outside the U.S. We also plan on going to Senegal and Brazil to plant some seeds there as well. The goal is to have beat-making labs all over the world. ARTVSM will be a platform for the music to be released from the labs that we help set up.
I see that not only will there be a studio, but that you'll be taking your curriculum to Goma, too. Can you tell me a bit about what that entails?
AJK: The beat making lab curriculum is 3 parts:
1- how to make beats/ produce songs
2- the history of beat-making/ producing
And how did the Indiegogo kickoff event go on April 20th?
PF: April 20th was awesome. The panel discussion with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, incredible performance from Blitz the Ambassador, and our Beat Making Lab's final beat battle were all very engaging and really exciting for the students. We raised hundreds of dollars for Yole!Africa (the Congolese organization that puts on SKIFF) and really enhanced the profile of the Beat Making Lab across campus.
Another question about academia: how many courses in hip-hop—particularly functional courses, like beat-making—exist that you know of? And do you feel like the intersection of hip-hop and academia is something that's time has come, or is it something that's long overdue?
PF: There are a few courses on hip-hop right here in the Triangle. Durham emcee J-Bully teaches an introductory Hip Hop course at Duke University, where 9th Wonder and Dr. Mark Anthony Neal co-teach a class called "Sampling Soul." At UNC, Dr. Perry Hall teaches a hip-hop class in the Department of African and African American Studies. UNC senior Jeremy Martin taught a one-credit hour class on hip-hop and political ideologies this spring (part of a new program that lets UNC seniors get some teaching experience). Over at NC State, Dr. Derek Greenfield teaches a hip-hop class. Dr. Kawachi Clemons pioneered this whole movement with NCCU's 9th Wonder/Christopher Martin (of Kid N' Play) fueled hip-hop summit in the mid-2000s, before he left Durham for Florida.
This area is ripe with hip-hop-inspired scholarship and academicians. We're in the best possible location in the South to be engaged in this type of work.