South Florida's Serum is one of the most prolific dudes in the underground hip-hop game. A creative force who has dispensed with the bullshit glitz and glam of mainstream rap, Serum's efforts have been featured within these digital pages in the past but we had not had a chance to speak with the MC about his thoughts on hip-hop and his creative process before.
It goes without saying, that he is part of a generation of local artists who are making a stamp on hip-hop and if you dear reader, have not jumped in on it, well, let's just say that it's better late than never, right? Like all good emcees, his formula works on a careful balance of subject matter, socio-political commentary and a thick and gruff voice that commands attention.
Humble and dedicated, we'd also like to point out that the he generally gives his music away for free, so there should be no excuses on your behalf. Here's what the man had to say on the recent release of his video "Evolutionary Warfare," a collaboration with Virginia MC Oz ARC Raider and Dutch producer Stijn Beats.
New Times: Let's start with your thoughts and opinions on the state of South Florida's hip-hop scene.
Serum:Whaaaaat?!! There's a hip-hop scene in South Florida?!! I kid, I kid...
What prompted you to jump in and contribute to it?
Back in the 90's, the hip-hop scene down was ridiculous. All elements of hip-hop like emceeing, b-boying, graffiti and DJing. For me, I got in with graffiti. At that time there were too many sick crews to even name that were all killing the streets of South Florida. I started writing Serum at the age of 13 to get a piece of the action. No pun intended. I started emceeing around the age of 16 and decided to go with the same name.
The heads I graff'd with used to freestyle battle each other while we would rock our pieces in different parts across town, in cars, etc. You know rank on each other's moms and shit. It all started as fun. We were all proud to rep hip-hop as an entire culture back in those days and were real conscious of the movement we were participating in. Since then it has mutated into full-time emceeing with graff on the side.
You've got a very distinctive voice, how did you feel about your voice before you ever picked up a microphone? And since?
The emcee cyphers down here back in the "Golden Era" were mobbish wolf packs. If you wanted to be heard you had to have skills at projecting your voice. Especially in those no-holds barred street battles. I learned quickly that I was good at that. On stage in a freestyle battle it was the same thing. The mic usually sucked and you had to yell to get your lines out to the crowd. My crew, Pro-Fresh, murdered those circles. That was the beginning.
When I started recording it was a whole different story. You can't just yell your bars into the mic like that. You gotta control and finesse your voice a bit more than that. Find the optimal dynamics in it to emphasize and what not. I dig my voice. My fans seem to say it is one of my top attributes. When I was a kid I always wanted to have a voice like Sadat X though...
Throughout your work I get a sense of numerous different interests in your personal life. What are some of those interests and how do they filter into your writing?
On my spare time I like to build pyramids, do kung fu versus grizzly bears, uncover secret ancient scrolls in Atlantis, help old ladies cross the street, and watch the Miami Heat. I write rhymes while I'm doing all of this.
You're a veteran of the scene down here, what have been some of your most memorable moments in the studio, at a concert and performing live?
I'm gonna answer this question with probably one of the craziest stories of my emcee career. I was probably twenty at the time:
Back one Saturday in 2001 I was in the lab building with Dj Haviken Hayes and Solo-Man Spectrum on our Mekanical Mystik tracks. Haviken gets a call, talks for a few, then hang ups. He turns and tells us his boy "Bambaataa" was in town and wanted to hang out. Not knowing who he was speaking of, me and Solo-Man burst out cracking up like "...uhh, that name is already taken buddy". Haviken doesn't say much and we get in the car and go to meet his boy at the record store.
When we get to the parking lot of the record store there is a tinted-out white van with a couple dudes waiting outside of it. We get closer and all of a sudden me and Solo-Man go speechless. It's actually Afrika Bambatta. Universal Zulu Nation Afrika Bambaataa. The OG of this hip-hop culture. Haviken Hayes is now the one laughing. We get out and are introduced to the legend. After that we all go in the store and go record shopping. After that, we head to the 2001 B-Boy Pro-Am in Miami Beach. We arrive and cut straight through the line, obviously. Then we went up some secret V.I.P. elevator up to the jam. Me, Haviken, Solo, Afrika Bambaataa, & Bambaataa's people. It happens we got there right in time for me to register last minute for the emcee battle that was set in front of a huge crowd of b-boys, b-girls, Zulu's, etc. Bingo...
I was on fire that day and ran through the competition like it was my destiny to win it. To win the Pro-Am emcee battle was huge back then. I was happy to get to show and prove to the legend I walked in with who was now sitting at the judge's panel watching me rip. The hip-hop Gods came down to bless me that day. One of my favorite stories since all this Serum ish started. I got a five-foot trophy from Hip-Hop Elements in my bedroom to remind me of it.
Videos have had a great part in the spreading of your work. How did that come about and what can you tell us about budgets and creation?
Videos are definitely my favorite part of this whole fiasco. And you're definitely right; they have done a great job in getting my name out there. I have been blessed to have worked with some of the most creative minds down here as far videos go. Each director I work with has a great ability to take my music and translate it into a visual that goes hand in glove perfect to it. They go in. Much respect and thanks goes out to Adam Rush, Mupalia Pictures, Hugo Torres and The Mayhem Revolution for taking my videos to the next level. Without them I would be in trouble. Budgets are top secret.
"Rebel Without Applause"
On that note, what are your thoughts concerning current technology and how it has helped or hurt your career?
All the technology that has come out in the past 10-15 years has basically given more power to independent artists like myself and less power to major record labels. I love that. I get to call more of my own shots. To sum it up, I've gotten myself further on my own than any record label has done for me in the past because of all this new tech. Shout out to TyrannoSerumRecords!
Daydream of Nightmares is a great ride, tell us about the process behind the album; samples, beats and lyrics.
Ironically that album put itself together. It happened at a time where I was on various projects and had a lot of tracks piled up. I noticed there were nine of them that were pretty much on the same vibe and would create a dope project on the eerie tip. So I did it. I decided to name the album after the title track because to this day it is one of my favorite tracks I have recorded.
I gotta give it up to Stijn Beats for that one. His production is always inspiring to me. As far as the samples go, they have been something I have been using in my music since day one. We always pick the ones that go best with the concept of the song. Oh and for the lyrics, the beats always tell me what to write.
Earlier this year I dropped a collaboration project called Megatropolis with Virginia emcee Oz ARC Raider (of Vendetta Kingz) and Netherlands producer Stijn Beats. It seems to be getting a decent buzz worldwide so far. Personally, I'm real happy with how it came out. I feel like it brought out another evolution in my writing. We just dropped a video for the single "Evolutionary Warfare" directed by Jason Baker for The Mayhem Revolution. We have a couple more videos in the works for that project as well. Other than that I'm wrapping up my next solo album "P.C.P. (Pre Campaign Propaganda)" which will feature heavy production from Ozny of New Era Recording Co. That LP will be followed by my "Concentration Campaign" album. There will definitely be more Serum & Manifesto and Megatropolis projects coming in the future too. Get ready...
Pick up Megatropolis here. For free!