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Hir-O Interview

January 25, 2011

Hir-O, the self-proclaimed “Super Duper Music Producer Semi-Automatic Beat Machine,” is a mix of humbled confidence and organized eccentricity. His Detroit-rooted mixture of electronic music, soul and boom bamp has blossomed into an undefeated record in Michigan beat battles, and his instrumental album The Voyage Home (Download Here) closed 2010 as one of the year’s best. With placements for acclaimed Ann Arbor natives Tree City and Celsius Electronics, Lightheaded member Othello and various members of his BLAT! Pack crew under his belt, even more even more collaborations are in order for 2011. In a quirky, detailed interview with MichiganHipHop, Hir-O talks about the creative process behind The Voyage Home, clues readers into his future projects, and acknowledges the nunchucks that drape his neck during performances.


MiHH: Fresh from a recent victory at the Bullfrog Beat Battle you released your instrumental album, The Voyage Home. There has been some discussion over the meaning in the title and that if you are a Sci-Fi fan you might recognize that there was a Star Trek movie of the same name.
Hir-O: Right. That was actually not on purpose. There was a Star Trek movie, I think it’s part five or six, called “The Voyage Home.” [Ed. note: The film is “Star Trek IV: Voyage Home.”] I saw it once. It had whales in it, they were randomly on Earth somehow, with…somebody hi-jacked a killer whale or some crazy stuff like that. It wasn’t that good of a movie [laughs]. It was a unintentional Sci-Fi pun, but it worked out just as well.
MiHH:  So for you what does it represent?
Hir-O: The Voyage Home is both a metaphorical and literal description for the state of mind I’ve been in for the past year and a half ever since graduating from college in 2009. I was in Ohio away from Detroit for four years and I was in a place musically where I was doing a lot of electronic-influenced production. I had just been introduced to Flying Lotus around that time so I was really into [his work]. I was really into the Daft Punk, Euro,  trance almost kind of sound. Being At Oberlin College kind of broadened my palette a little bit musically. Coming home to Detroit I was re-introduced  to the soul music that kind of started my whole musical path. You know Detroit’s lineage historically…can be considered by some to be the cultural Mecca of Black America outside of New York or The South, along with Chicago. And in that tradition obviously the music is very rich. That original spark was reignited once I came home, and the album represents my creative path from that electronic place that I was in, back to this more live Detroit sound. You can notice that in the track listing. The songs range from, at the beginning, very electronic very synth-heavy type songs. As you progress through to the end, you got some really soulful, no synths… just straight Detroit raw shit.

MiHH:  With your work that has been released with Doss The Artist, Celsius Electronics, Othello, and some music being featured on the BLAT! Pack releases, you seem to have a very immersive sound. It’s as if your music has a very cinematic quality to it.
Hir-O: That’s one thing that I try to include in some of the work that I do. I don’t want to be a producer that just makes beats that are just moreso there to support the lyrics. As a matter of fact when I first started making beats, I didn’t make beats to have people rap to them; I just made music that I felt was a fair interpretation of what was happening in my mind. A lot of the times, for The Voyage Home for example, I actually changed the title from Voyage Home Beat Tape to Instrumental Album for that very reason; I didn’t want it to be just a collection of beats. I wanted it to be an album that can exist on its own and did not need a rapper or a verse to make it sound complete.

MiHH: In keeping with the cinematic quality of the music, in listening the project it feels like its actually like watching a movie. It’s like an actual story: there are rising and falling actions, there are events. So I wanted to inquire about some different highlights on the project. On the song “Headlock,” with the chops…
Hir-O: Are you talking about the Breakdown?

MiHH: Yes. The visual that I’m getting when I’m listening to the beat is, the ship that you are flying on, as the captain, is experiencing turbulence…
Hir-O: Word. That’s a pretty good description I hadn’t thought of that but that’s fitting.

MiHH: What space was your mind in when you were actually creating that beat specifically?
Hir-O: That beat is actually a lot older than a lot of the beats on there. It may be either the oldest or one of the oldest. I say that to say it’s hard for me to remember. I remember Doss The Artist was with me when I made this beat. We were having a studio session and I had the drum pattern already laid out.  I was trying to make a song. On the sample, she has a part where she says, “I’m going outside to take it all in.” And I chopped it to say “I’m Goin In.” At the time everybody was talking bout I’m going. I figured I’d try my hand just see what it would sound like.

MiHH: Shout out to rapper jargon…
Hir-O: [laughs] Right, exactly. It end up turning into what we have here with “Headlock”.

MiHH: I noticed obviously that there are samples on the album. You can make out what is being said with relative ease. Then there are instrumentals on the album that
actually have vocals on them. What made you decide to add vocals to the project?
Hir-O: “Leap Year“ is just one of my favorite joints. I tried desperately to find an a cappella for the Drake and Rick Ross song “Aston Martin Music,” and apparently, it just simply does not exist. I thought that’d be a cool little Easter Egg to throw in there. So I decided to hit up my friend L05 to have him just re-sing it, and he did a hell of a job. In my opinion it sounds a lot better than if I were to get the actual Drake sample and throw it in there. The same thing for “Voltron’s Heartbeat.” If you have a wonderful singer like Yellokake who’s on your team and can help you do this project, why not use her as opposed to the artificial choir synths that I was using in her way?

MiHH: Another interesting highlight on the album was a song by the name of “Outer Blue.” What were you thinking with this track here? In my mind, this is the point in The Voyage Home where there is a female companion on the ship, and there is a random sex scene.
Hir-O: Ah. [laughs] That’s something I didn’t quite think of, but is easily applicable. The thing about “Outer Blue” is…when I first did The Voyage Home, it looked a lot different. There are several beats that aren’t there anymore, and a lot of new beats. This is one of the beats that wasn’t originally on it. The sample is notable, it’s “Do The Astral Plane” from Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma. When I first heard that song from him I was like “Yo, that’s the most ridiculous sample I’ve ever heard.” And he flipped it he flipped it amazingly, obviously, but he didn’t flip the way that I would have flipped it had I gotten to the sample first. I thought it was just a cool opportunity to just try to flip it and take that idea and do it a different way. … It kind of marks a point in the album where things start to get a little more soulful, a little more mellow. It’s still got a little bit more synthy spacey sound to it but its still kind of…if you go to like a club on the Moon, that’s kind of where its at.

MiHH: So with this one Instrumental that I literally describe as “The beat I can never pronounce the name of, so I don’t try” [Ed. Note: the song title is “Ankh Ujaat Seneb.”] yeah it’s probably my fave — favorite beat on the tape.
Hir-O: [Laughs] We’ll just call it “Ankh” for short.

MiHH: Yes! “Ankh” is what we’ll say. It has a very momentous beat transition. I want to know exactly where the name came from and the idea for it.
Hir-O: The idea was pitched to me by my cousin Ronald Blevins, shout out to Ron Blev. He had pointed out The-Dream’s song “Fancy,” which was the sample I used [on this song], and how dope it was. I was in total agreement and I thought it was just a phenomenal track and I wanted to sample it. That was an exercise in how to cleverly hide the sample, because I knew people wouldn’t expect me to sample The-Dream, and I wanted to try to make it so that they’d never know until the end when I expose it, like “Ah-Ha! I been fooling ya‘ll.” This is what it really was the whole time. That was cool getting that response, because people are usually like, “Dog, that’s what the sample was?! That’s cool.” As far as the title, it actually means “Life Health and Prosperity.” It’s an ancient Kemetic [saying], Kemet being the name for Egypt, before Europeans. It’s a proverb from that culture from that language that I thought was dope. I don’t claim to have any expertise in you know Egyptology in or anything like that. I really just thought it fit so I used that name, was all.

MiHH: The next very notable highlight is “First Idol.” In keeping with the theme from “Outer Blue” that I found, this appeared to be another scene in The Voyage Home where there’s a woman involved. This to me described the moment where you realized a chick who might have been your road dog is really the woman that you love. For you, what does this beat represent in the voyage?
Hir-O: The original scheme for The Voyage Home was to have like a bunch of synthy tracks, then an interlude, like a bunch of mellow tracks, then a interlude and a bunch of soulful tracks. This is like the second interlude. If I had to map out a point in the voyage where this is, this is like exiting the worm hole into like our sector of the galaxy in the home stretch; almost back home. At this point in the album things start to get a lot more soulful. Things start to become reminiscent of some really Detroit like, Ruff Draft straight off the muhf– cassette type shit…

MiHH: Yeeaahhhh!
Hir-O: So that’s where that song is in the whole scheme of the voyage.

MiHH: “Welcome Back Wonder” and “The Arrival, Baby” definitely keep with that Detroit sound. I believe it was L05 from which I first heard the term “beautiful mistakes” as being one of the unique monikers that just made the music really interesting and impactful. How do you go about trying to capture this quality in your music?
Hir-O: When I make a beat, rarely does it turn out exactly how it sounds in my head, simply because my fingers just aren’t smart enough. It just won’t work the way I’m thinking that it will. The best example of that is a beat that I made called ‘She’s Crying,” way back in the day. It’s better known now as FowL’s first single “Hello Howya Doin.” The sample that I chopped up, I still think it’s the dopest chop I’ve ever done, hands down, not even a question. I just chopped up some shit like haphazardly, and I listened to it and was like, “Yo this is out cold!” You just gotta know, don’t be so quick to press the Ctrl+Z; don’t be too quick to press “Undo.” You never know if something turns out to be that last bit of secret sauce that makes your beat fire.

MiHH: Finally, the last joint on the Bandcamp version of the album is the bonus track “Open Sees.” It is an interesting play on words of Bobby Caldwell’s song that Dilla sampled for Common’s The Light. What made you decide to put a vocalist in the story?
Hir-O: That was a bonus track, so it’s out of the timeline. I’m not even going to hold you up, that song was kind of just showing off, just because. I felt like now that I’m home, I want to take a song that cats are familiar with and like do it in a way that they never thought they’d hear.  I was actually kind of worried, because I know that’s a very sacred song in the Greater Detroit musical community, and I figured that I was taking a chance. I thought somebody might think that I was desecrating a sacred monument or something like that so I kind of treaded softly.

MiHH: Purists?
Hir-O: [laughs] Right. That’s probably one of my top two or three favorite tracks on the entire album, just because I was very in love with that beat. Also shout-out to Xperiment a producer out in Denver I believe just because I heard a beat that he made that totally floored me and was the inspiration for that beat. He‘s incredibly dope.
For “Open Sees,” the original beat was called Jack Sparrow. That is the dopest name for any beat, ever. [laughs] At first I had no intention of adding lyrics to it. And then I was riffing through it to try to find the last part that I needed for that song just playing a little melody on the keyboard along side of it. And I heard the hook [for “Open Your Eyes”], and I played it out and it sounded sweet.  I hit up L05 and I was like, “Yo you think you could try that? Just humor me. I just want to hear how it sounds.” He did it, and it sounded crazy. So I was like, “Yo, we obviously have to do a song now.” And that’s what it was.

MiHH: So now that you are home, what’s the next step for you in your career?
Hir-O: Musically the next official joint is a toss-up. Either the project featuring myself, Doss The Artist, Doc Illingsworth and L05, or The Kick featuring Red Pilll that I’m solely producing . Both of those will be great albums. I don’t have a favorite at this point. We’re a couple tracks in on both projects and all of [those songs] are out cold. My long term goal is to re-introduce and re-do the project that kind of gave birth to Hir-O. Before that, I was just making beats as Omari. It’s the reason I had to come back home. If you recognize in the intro track it says “My Voyage amongst the stars is almost complete. Now I’m ready to come home.” This project is the reason why I left. … It’s called The Tomorrow People. That project has been done since 2007, but I wasn’t at a place in my career where I could do it as good as I could now. I didn’t have a real fan base. Now, maybe we can do it one more time – revamp it, re-engineer it, recreate and give it its just due. The Tomorrow People, be on the look out for it at some point.

MiHH: So there has been some unrest on the internets and in the different venues that you frequent. When we see you flexing your musical muscles in public, there tends to be nunchucks around… [both laughing] in the general vicinity. What is up?!
Hir-O: Dog, this is the answer that I’ll give you for that [laughs]. Hir-O has nunchucks. Period. [both laughing]. I mean, that’s it. There’s nothing else. Hir-O has nunchucks. There is no why, there is no how. It simply is so. That Hir-O has nunchucks.

Download “The Voyage Home” HERE. For more, search “Hir-O” on MichiganHipHop, or follow him on Twitter at @HiroBeats.

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