"Whatchu' Talkin' 'Bout Wednesday" - Storm Watkins

"Music remains my first love..." - Storm Watkins

I've yet to come across another musician with the prodigious output of Baltimore native and recently appointed CEO of All Gold Kings, Storm WatkinsI've listened to his work for a handful of years now and still feel like I have barely scratched the surface. We spoke about doing an interview with which I was hoping to capture the essence of an independent artist in 2017, and what I ended up discovering was more about the kind of music artists like Storm are creating and why it's so important. I suggest you head to his Bandcamp page and download everything you can whilst you enjoy this interview.

The Interview

Top 3 beat makers?

"Easy..  J.Dilla, Charles Hamilton, Jerrell Lofton"

How have they inspired you?

"Dilla showed me that you can be as soulful as The Funk Brothers from Motown but still be as gritty & hiphop as ever. Charles showed me that there is no limits in music. Period. Jerrell (who taught me how to make beats) showed me simplicity is key. So those 3 guys are everything to me cause they mentored me thru their music."

Where do your beats come from and why are they important to you?

"My music started from me being able to vent about my real life & things that were going on through instrumentals. Every project from 2010-2014 were based on actual life experiences. I didn't make an official beat tape until 2015. I referred to every project prior to that instrumental albums cause they took so much out of me and I was literally living these projects"

Describe a Storm Watkins fan.

"A hiphop head. A music lover. A person who appreciates the soul in music."

What keeps you awake at night?

"The thought that maybe I won't be alive to get the credit I feel I'm due. That shit really haunts me. On a daily basis."

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

"When I'm not working this regular job bullshit lol? Ideas. Creating something new always gets me up super early. I anticipate being able to create"

Can you make a living by being an independent beat maker?

"I feel like if I was out there more & knew the right people, I would be doing that now. So yeah."

What is needed to achieve commercial success, and is that even a goal?

"Honestly, the rap game is so strange that I wouldn't even want the commercial success. Being underground is sort of a rush for me. It makes me want to go even harder each day. So the acclaim from a mainstream standpoint really doesn't bother me. At all."

With your birthday coming up what is different about the Storm Watkins we know in 2017 to the Storm Watkins who first started making music?

"I grew up man. Musically & mentally. A lot of life experiences made me into a man. I always said that when me & music first met, I was just a boy. But I'm grown now. I used to seek a lot of attention from certain people thru my music. My albums were my forms of communication. The new me doesn't mind actually speaking to get a point across."

Can you tell us about how you come to name your tracks, and about your album cover artwork?

"The names of my beats come from the sample. Whatever I hear within the sample I use in the beat, I apply it to my everyday life & create a title. That's how personal my music is. I have a story for damn near every beat I ever made. Every beat has a personal memory. And with my artwork, I just love art. Whatever the name of the project is, I try to capture that in a photo and I just go from there."

Where do you go online to listen to music and why?

"YouTube. So many hidden gems there."

Do you have anyone you've yet to work with that you'd like to still, and is there artist you have a particular infinity with already?

"Charles Hamilton. I have to produce a full length project for this guy before it's all over. And the only person that I feel that the chemistry is infinite, is my brother Jerrell. We can create any day and it will be fire. Every time."

Do you have a favourite beat? (Yours or another artist's.)

"This is the hardest question ever. But hey, ima say a beat I made in 2010 called "Alone". With the Minnie Riperton sample. Made in one of the darkest periods of my life."

Can you speak a bit on originality, sampling and creativity within making beats?

"First off, I gotta say I have the utmost respect for everyone who makes Original beats. I have some of my own so I know it's not the easiest thing. But just because a producer is sampling, does not mean it isn't original. It takes a lot to take a song or a sound and turn it into a complete different identity. I sample cause that's the type of production I'm inspired by. That's the type of beats that I gravitate to. But the way I do it, you have to kind of give it up if you ever heard the sample I used. I take too much pride in my chops man. My craft is everything to me."

Many artists release albums on different formats and even related merchandise. Is this something you've ever considered or is digital the best way to listen to your art?

"I have a project or two that will remain untitled that I want pressed up on vinyl. But when the time is right, the world will have them."

What if anything is the music World missing in 2017?

"Originality. And Storm Watkins production."

I had the interview questions ready from the start, but then Storm came through with some extra on his vocal albums which he really wanted to speak on. I thought I knew what I wanted to say regarding his albums in general, but after hours of trying I can't seem to convey just how and why his music resonates with me the way it does. It's something I'll think on and maybe address again somewhere down the road. Still I tried, and all I can do now is hope you listen and form your own opinion. 

The Instrumental Albums

Storm has created some of the most genuinely sincere and profound instrumental music I've had the pleasure of hearing. That's not to say all of his work is serious and non-convivial, there are many projects that are quirky and fun and his ability to chop up classics like "How Soon Is Now?" by The Smiths on "Storm Need Love Too" as one example shows a creativity and understanding of music that belies his youth. I'd describe his catalogue as an acutely soulful introspective audio elucidation of the human condition through instrumental hip-hop music. 

The Vocal Albums
"Fuck a Platinum plaque, I don't even rap in fact, so y'all can have that back. All I make is raw soul, and I give it to you all gold." - from Golden
I wasn't at all familiar with either vocal album until a couple weeks ago, and on hearing "From The Source" for the first time my initial reaction was damn that reminds me of "Reasonable Doubt". I remembered reading an article on Pitchfork from earlier this year which I revisited and it validated my feelings somewhat. There are definitely more than a few similarities between the two albums, and having listened to it again it's certainly every bit as soulful and equally as honest in it's narrative, minus the Scarface thematic. One of the standout tracks for me is "For The Fame", as poignant a song about rappers today as I've heard from anybody.

It wouldn't be that much of a stretch to also liken much of "Soundtrack Of The Hungry" to some of the more cogitative work by Kanye West. The parallels between the two talented beat makers that can rap as well as if not better than most of their peers is not lost on me. If you need convincing listen to "Personal Theme" and tell me that wouldn't fit seamlessly onto any Kanye album. Whilst I try and avoid making comparisons for fear of doing the artist an injustice, I hope Storm understands these observations come from a place of respect and admiration for a couple of guys most consider to be the greatest in the game. 

"From The Source", the first vocal album.. wasn't intended to ever be heard. I had the opportunity to record & everything I wanted to say just poured out of me. I told everything I wanted to talk about for so long. The darkest truths are on that album. But I recorded it as if nobody would ever hear it hence the reason why on the in the intro I say "My rap career just started & this where it will end.." It wasn't until my close friends encouraged me to upload it that I built the confidence to share it. So, if you want to know anything about me without diggin' thru the instrumental projects, go to that album. 

Now.. "Soundtrack Of The Hungry" was made due to the demand of fans asking for another vocal project from me after hearing From The Source. Still personal as ever. But I made that album with the mind state of a rapper. The concept behind it is me simply telling the rap game to make room for me. It's me telling music, I'm hungry & I want to be heard. Making that album convinced me that if I wanted to rap full time it's possible. Lot of great lyrics on there.

I long ago stopped watching music channels on TV, and only listen to BBC Radio 6 Music when I'm working but I do try and spend some time on platforms like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Mixcloud where I've discovered some outstanding artists. The internet allows you to connect so much more with people and seeing artists I've listened to for over twenty years releasing new music through these channels on independent labels is testament to the changes in the music industry. More artists, emerging and established, are using the internet for self promotion rather than be reliant upon marketing firms and an ageing industry that takes less risks and benefits only a very few. 

I read something by Bob Lefsetz, the go to music industry analyst and critic, about DIY artists that I felt was pertinent to this post - 
"The internet promised independence. But today independence is death. Because you're just another jerk with a megaphone and even if your product is great it's being drowned out by the hype for that which is not. So you need someone who can huff and can puff and can blow the house down." 
So whilst I believe the World is their's for the taking, for those artists without a preexisting global fan base there is still much to do. I'm no expert but I am willing to put in time and effort to discover and highlight artists that I believe in. There are some popular music blogs out there that have listeners just as eager and far more savvy than myself that I hope pick up on this, because with the right patronage Storm can achieve the greatness he's worked so hard for and rightly deserves.

I want to thank Storm for his time and patience, and I also want to wish him a very Happy Birthday today. He's celebrating by releasing a new instrumental album that he's been working on called "Jigga Only". Keep an eye on his Twitter for the link later today.