Friday, April 22, 2011

Rhymes & Life: What the Eff is a Custom Made?

When I started writing album reviews at last November, the second album I was assigned to do was Custom Made’s Hi-Def. I was blown away by this album, and the west coast group quickly became one of my favorites.
I recently had to opportunity to talk with Scoobs of Custom Made for a phone interview. He gave a really great interview, but unfortunately when I tried to upload the audio file onto my MacBook, it erased all of the data on my voice recorder, including my interview.
Luckily I jotted down some notes during the interview, and I have enough to salvage the story:

What the eff is a Custom Made?

Custom Made is an underground rap trio based out of Las Angeles. The group consist of three emcees: Scoobs, Element and Bluff. They have four LPs released on underground powerhouses such as Babygrande, Rawkus, and Coalmine Records.

All three members have a unique style to their rap deliveries and have lyrical content heavily influenced by their L.A. surroundings, Scoobs said. Scoobs, whose delivery has the most energy and aggression in the group handled production, but doesn’t make beats anymore because he wanted to focus mostly on emceeing, he said.

Custom Made features several skilled in-house producers including Abstrakt Soundz, THX, Finesse, and Jayem. Despite being from the west coast, their production style is heavily influenced by 1990 east coast hip hop.

A Las Angeles State of Mind:

The group’s debut album, LA State of Mind took about a year to record during their senior year in high school, Scoobs said.

“We all knew each other from cyphers in our high school,” he said. “Eventually we started to respect each other’s styles, and we formed the group.”

At that point Custom Made was a five-member group: Six, Bluff, Element, Scoobs and Aneek. And their sound was extremely raw and unpolished, but LA State garnered them local buzz and critical acclaim including an 8 out of 10 at one of the most respected hip hop review websites,

The album was released on the group’s own Custom Made Records, a label started by Scoobs that has distribution by IODA. This label was the platform for the group to release their Street Cinema mixtape series.

The Street Cinema mixtapes, along with other underground acts out of LA, helped spark a mixtape scene, that was not getting much attention, Scoobs said. He also credits the mixtapes for getting attention from record labels including Babygrande, which they signed with in 2006.

Taking Babygrande Steps:

Upon signing with Babygrande Records, the group was rushed to release a project to capitalize on their buzz they were making with their Street Cinema series, Scoobs said.

He said that they were forced to release Sidewalk Mindtalk, a compilation of their best tracks from their mixtapes, which was packaged with a DVD.

“We wanted to get out there, we just wanted to release new material,” Scoobs said. “They kept making us shoot these videos (for the DVD) and we had an album’s worth of new material.”

Custom Made’s roster also went through some changes in 2006, as Six was sentenced to four years in prison and Aneek moved to the east coast to settle down and start a family, Scoobs said.

He said that Custom Made is still on good terms with Aneek and Six, and Six even appeared on many tracks on their latest LP, in a “Malik B for The Roots type of role.”

C-Made’s relationship with their label continued to grow sour, as Babygrande kept ignoring the group’s wishes to release an album.

“Babygrande is based on the east coast,” Scoobs said. “So it was pretty easy to ignore us out here in LA.”

When Rawkus Records announced their “Rawkus 50” campaign in 2007, a friend of the group recommended that they submit their album to Rawkus, and that’s how their second LP Truth Be Told was finally released.

Truth Be Told was the album we had recorded for Babygrande,” Scoobs said. “But they didn’t want to release it, and we wanted to get it out there… And that kinda hurt our relationship (with Babygrande) a little.”
After releasing their first proper album on Babygrande, Original Dynasty in 2008, Custom Made parted ways with the underground hip hop label.

“With the knowledge I have now, would I go back and do things differently? Most definitely,” Scoobs said. “But I can’t be mad (at Babygrande). They gave us our start, and I learned a lot (from) our situation there.”

‘High’ Definition:

After leaving Babygrande, the group inked a one album deal with New York-based indie label Coalmine Records.
Initially Custom Made’s fourth LP, Hi-Def was set to be a collaborative album with another group, that’s why there is a lot of guest appearances, Scoobs said.
Hi-Def shows the growth of Custom Made’s sound. The album is a lot more introspective than previous efforts from the group, and it is heavily inspired by drugs. Many songs make reference to drug abuse, dealing drugs and the harm drugs have on their neighborhood.

A Promising, Yet Uncertain Future:

Custom Made has big things in store for their future, Scoobs said. Last March, Scoobs branched out for the first time releasing his first solo mixtape, Trap Star Vol. 1.

Scoobs said he is currently working on videos for his current project, and will likely release the second volume of his Trap Star mixtape series before the year’s end.Element is also expected to release a follow up to his 2008 project, Great Expectations.

Custom Made is also planning on re-releasing their back catalogue in physical format through worldwide distribution, Scoobs said.

While the future is bright for Custom Made, there are many questions surrounding Bluff’s troubles with the law.
Recently he was indicted on 15 counts of wire fraud, and is facing up to 20 years in prison. Bluff is currently on house arrest.

Scoobs said that Bluff is optimistic in getting the sentence shortened and has a good team of workers. He also said Bluff committed the crime many years ago, and that sometimes “crime doesn’t pay.”

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