“Latvian Connections” on meie uus seeriapostitus, kus Jānis Lipšānsi alias Pikaso tutvustab meile kõike tutvustamist väärt, mis toimub Läti hiphopis. Pikaso hingab, köhib, elab sealset hiphopi kultuuri. Värsked artistid, albumid, filmid, üritused – kõik see, mis on meile nii lähedal, ent ometi nii kaugel. Estonian-Latvian connections, baby!
Been trying to meet up with Ingus Šusts for some time, but there’s always something that comes in our way. The strange part is that we actually live really close to each other, in the same hood. A walking distance.
Ingus carries a stage name Punkts uz I, and I struggle to find an accurate translation for it. The internet gives me all sorts of adaptations of the name. I would go with a simple – finish it off – version. As a noun.
I hereby give you the first interview of this year and this one is with a Latvian rapper and producer.
How did it all begin for you – rap music?
I reckon it was just like for many others – by becoming a thorough listener at first – one in particular I may give credit for that is Eminem, but of course there are others to share the blame. I was about 12-13 years old and simply got carried away listening to this music, up to the point where I started to write my own stuff in English. I mean, it was never recorded or anything, just scribbled it down on the notepad.
After some years as a devoted listener, one day I had a chance to get my hands on a microphone – just around the time when internet connection came to my housing block. I searched on how to record, got a handle on the techniques by myself and the first demos were made. Long story short, after having spent my time in a solitary confinement for some years, one by one I got to know others who were around and connected with them. We were all sending beats and vocals over a two way street to each other back and forward.
Slowly but steadily my connections grew, we would share those recordings with our friends, and just kept coming back to the studio to record more and more.
At one point though, me and my friend (we had formed a group together) used an opportunity presented for a proper studio time, and that’s where it really kicked off for me. Slowly but steadily my connections grew, we would share those recordings with our friends, and just kept coming back to the studio to record more and more. Not that those songs were topping the charts or came even close to being heard outside of a closed circle, not even sure if one would be able to find any of those recordings nowadays, but every other good feedback we would get and the time spent working on recordings with many others definitely contributed to our dedication to become better and better.
Now what? I can say that it’s 100% my thing and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else – it
runs deep in my heart.
It obviously takes time for production to develop and to reach your own sound..
No doubt, at first you need to find out how you want to sound and what you like. I’d say it is rather hard and it took me plenty of experiments – successful and unsuccessful.
How many recordings have you released altogether?
Let’s see…there was a mixtape to begin with..
Was it the first thing you released?
No, there were around 20-30 songs before the mixtape, but I hope they are nowhere to be found now. I guess they are somewhere out there and if one is to look via DC++, there’s a big probability that they will stumble upon them. Altogether there could be around 200 recordings – mixtapes, albums of my own and collaborations. The majority didn’t even make it to this 200 and were killed off before anyone heard them.
Could you reflect on what is important to you when writing a song – is it the storytelling or do you focus on the skills of rhyming?
It depends on the song, because at times I rely on the storytelling, but I will focus on emotional expressions, improvisations and the flow of the rhyme while recording something else. And it really comes down to how people’s perceptions work – some are left untouched by it, but others gravitate towards this or that and I get people telling me how much the very same things mean to them, and how it is the best song they’ve ever heard.
I remain true to my belief that whatever I record and what I’ve chosen as the core aspect of the recording – it has to make sense for me, my inner world. There are times when I am write and speak about pretty personal things that some simply may not be able to relate to, those references won’t mean a thing to them, even though they mean the world to me… I simply try to write in a way that it all adds up for me.
I sense that it is never the listener who makes the rules…
Maybe at the very beginning there was a little attention deficit, but that’s history, and I concentrate on making as good of a recording as I can, to challenge myself, to surprise myself. I like the song, next thing you know, once it’s released – it’s no longer there for me to meddle with, and I am on to the next one.
The time invested in producing one song – it takes a lot from me, especially for the recent material, and at one point when I’m not even finished working with it, I almost start to hate the record bit by bit, because I’m already done with feeling every high-hat, every snare of it, full “out of body/into the beat” experience, if you know what I mean.
Would it be fair to say that you are a full range producer for the material?
Yes, that would be accurate – from coming up with the funding of the record in order to support the idea that has come into my mind, that little sketch I’ve been working on, to the point of taking care of the architecture and sound design, orchestrating the whole thing, and managing the process by booking studio musicians to finish off with live touches on the bass, trumpet or whatever it is that I need.
Have you thought of going abroad or are the obstacles way too big to climb over them? What are you planning next and is rap music limited to its own perimeter?
The language could be a barrier to some extent, but that’s a challenge to take on with a catchy production. I take hip hop music as one of many genres we can listen to, it is music, our vocals are instruments themselves. I could understand people saying “oh, it is not real music” – because it’s assembled in a different fashion with samples looped, and all that… but there are musical elements from ground zero on a theoretical level, and at the end of the day, that’s music to me and I look at it as a whole rather than being on the look-out to find inconsistencies in music.
How important are lyrics for you?
Sometimes lyrics aren’t that important, because what really matters is the overall feeling of it, the flow of delivering the words, the emotional pull of that song. For instance, I listen to some foreign stuff in languages I don’t even understand, but I really like it – I hear that the production is tight, it has been polished, the flow is interesting and versatile. I am able to appreciate that stuff even if I don’t speak that language. French rap – I’ve listened to a lot of it, and I know olny two words in French, but I very much like how it sounds on wax.
Have you ever collaborated with an Estonian artist on any level, kicking it rap-wise or producing a beat?
I don’t think I’ve ever hooked up with an Estonian act before. There was once a move made towards Lithuania – a rapper called Ade, I think he is rather known there, at least judging by the Youtube numbers. We didn’t find a common ground concerning the beat we were to use and that flight just never took off. He dropped me a message some time ago, we just might redo that one. Actually, I had a thought of doing a Pan-Baltic project – a single with a video. That could possibly gain some interest – a song not for the sake of it, but with a story to tell something interesting. I think it could fly, at least locally.
You touched on an important subject matter here – the statistics – which to a lot of people serves as a way of bringing their point across and support an argument made – cash is the king and the statistics are the real thing.
Comedy rap is always going to generate ludicrous numbers – statistics don’t mean a thing to me, but for the majority of people they mean a lot. I care for the quality and you can’t measure that only in numbers. Don’t forget to include everything that has been distributed through alternative channels – CDs hand to hand, digital via sharing files – then into the cars and bumping through the speakers all year long. How can you gather that and give me a number of plays? There’s no way! I believe that really good songs are consumed through CD players, car stereos, and such and unfortunately you can’t provide a fair assessment of what the face value is. It only works for short-term, contemporary stuff with a limited life-span. You watch it a couple of times, people have a laugh here and there, but that’s it. That’s the type of material for which Youtube is gonna rush in with credible numbers. They appear from nowhere, blossom quickly and die. Just make sure you don’t apply the “good die young” to this one.
What other music genres do you listen to?
I very much like reggae, always have. Something from neo-soul, urban, for example Miguel. Recently I picked up a Danish artist Lukas Graham, considered pop, but I’d say it’s more “ghetto-pop”. I get goosebumps every time I listen to him. Something a bit aside from rap music, that’s what I like listening to, even though it’s mainly hip-hop I like playing. I respect all kinds of music.
Has there ever been a moment where you just want to enjoy silence?
Sure, it tends to put you in the zone to clear your head, and it may lead to inspiration, but it is still music I like listening to and that really inspires me. I get over the hard times quicker and the good moments last longer.
What are you working on at the moment?
I can’t really tell if this is gonna be an EP or a full album, but it ought to be my solo record that’s planned to come out this year. Simultaneously, there was a thought of another project with one fellow rapper – JeeKaa – we’ll see how that turns out. At the moment I have a few tracks done for this album, but some others won’t make it to the album after all. I might as well sell them to someone.
What do you mean by that?
There are people interested in buying my songs, as in my ghostwriting. There was a time when I didn’t want to admit it, but I got offers coming in every now and then. I suppose they just wanna have a little bit of that shine. It costs a lot, but if the other party is willing to meet my price, I’m all for it. I’ve done some specific material for such an event. It’s basically full production of the recording, but instead of my vocals on the track someone else takes the credit, all inclusive, and I keep my anonymity. I know that some people denounce this practice, and may look at it as a negative thing. At the end of the day I do it to cover my monthly expenses.
How big of a part does a video play in releasing new music?
At this time, I think it plays a huge part – the song on its own doesn’t generate that type of interest any more, a video is massive. At times it is hard to follow my songs, so a video backs me up and helps to translate. All in all, it’s the video that works these days, and helps to understand more. And people like with their eyes, these are the times.
As we wrap up the interview, we go through a couple of new demos by one local guy who’s still unknown – might be the next prospect to watch out for and we agree on that there’s something special about him, even more so that he rhymes in English – the flow and the vocal timbre is appealing. We’ll see about the longevity of it, yet I trust it’s good to have someone like Ingus around to maintain the work ethics.
But as far as Punkts uz I goes, he has stood up to the test of time and there’s more to come.
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