“Letting off many styles of Hip Hop/Holding the mic that I made in wood shop/Forget gold, my key chain was a cable…”
– GZA – “Those Were The Days”
The Art that shares the heart of the oppressed man is furthered by the stories of the common man. Bound by sincerity and guided by its principles of Creating, Hip Hop is an Art created by Black and Brown yet vital for the expression of all young and rebellious. Whom be sufferah shall use it! Yet Hip Hop is dragged down by Pop assimilation the more a great white hope is crowned and overly lauded while the Black and Brown fraudulently frown and wildly clown.
With the heart ripped from its chest, you also must miss the works of a common man. One of these rare men named Woodenchainz, last year told a story of powerful production for Sophisticated Movement, the supreme LP MC’d by Kevlaar 7 of the Wisemen. A fiery soulful Boom Bap that pictorializes one of the deepest minds from Detroit’s inner cities we must study it closer. However, before we track the movement, we must enter it in a sophisticated manner, offering a premiere introduction of its young producer, Woodenchainz.
Woodenchainz, a La Porte, Indiana native, is an hour from Chicago and yet many miles from the entire world. Still, he is miles from most as an MC who articulates with intense and precise sentiments. His crates could serve as mid-America’s Soul museum and his obsession with preparing each track is only outdone by his efforts to bond them together in collections. He is the epitome of the common man, the young, white, blue collar man, for the working, down-and-out families, that honors Hip Hop with his tales of struggle through Artistic triumph.
SUNEZ: How’d you get the name Woodenchainz?
WOODENCHAINZ: It was 2000 and I was indecisive about life. I had been with this woman for 3 years as a high school thing. She was in Ball State and I was gonna try to get in. Basically I was rhyming more than producing then. I went through a hundred names but none of them meant anything. So I’m going through the phase where everybody’s rockin’ chains. And I’m so anti-chains and shit like that. I was rocking like a wooden chain, a bead necklace. My Mom had done missionary work and had spent a lot of time in Ethiopia. She’s a secretary/personal assistant for this lady that does a lot of work in Addis Abab Ethiopia so my Moms had to go to Africa every couple of years. One of the trips out there she brought back this hand made pewter cross. She gave it to me and I’m rocking it on this chain. I’m anti-bling but still fly. I still spent money on shit I shouldn’t have. On the low key I am a sneaker head. I had that chain put it was still kind of meaningless aside from the cross. Even at that point, rocking a cross I still did it but it was kind of hypocritical as I was struggling with my spirituality so much. I was raised in kind of a loose Christian household but as soon as I could get out the house I was doing dirt. We struggle with the guilt from it, dealing with that.
So me and that girl parted ways. I started fucking with all types of drugs. I always burnt trees since 11 or 12 years old. But I started with harder drugs. I was kind of down and out but still rhyming, make music and I decided I got into this philosophical soul searching. I beat the addiction to the drugs on my own. I would sit in the park and watch the fucking grass grow and try to think about the meaning of life. I don’t know if everybody goes through that. I sure as fuck did [laughs]. I had decided as an accountability to just make a wooden chain. I had dark beads and light beads, a bead for everyday that I preserved on something in the positive tip and throw a dark one for every day that I didn’t. The darker one ended up being a lot longer and when I put it on my neck it was heavy. And that’s kind of where the name came from.
SUNEZ: What was some of the work to develop to this point?
WOODENCHAINZ: I’m like any other beatmaker. You talk to any beatmaker that’s been doing it forever—I think I made my first beat in like 96 or 97. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. But since then you just accumulate thousands of beats. Not all of them are gonna see the light of day. An MC wants beats from you. You send a beat folder with 30 or 40 beats on it. He might pick one and the rest of them just go back into the fold. A lot of them —I wasn’t even expecting anyone to rhyme over it. They don’t have the right feeling for a lot of the MCs I mess with or whatever.
SUNEZ: Your music is different than most of your surroundings?
WOODENCHAINZ: I live in Indiana, an hour from Chicago. Northwest Indiana. Out here , being so close to Chicago. All the legendary acts come from Chicago. Most of it out here is the trap rap shit. You got your Twista and Do or Die but it’s a whole different type of sound. Everything kind of meets in the middle out here….Our local sound was comprised so much of everybody else’s sound. So everybody says what are doing?! I was into Wu-tang, Common, Cypress Hill. I did what people would call backpack rap like Pharcyde, Styles of Beyond and Hieroglyphics but I never got caught up in the local music, coming out of Chicago, a little gangster. I never got caught up in that movement because that’s not the life I was living. I come from a blue collar middle class family. It was always work for a living. When I wanted to get a little comic book when I was five years old I had to mow a whole lawn. I can’t hustle. I don’t have that. A lot of my people but as far as that life it never appealed to me.
I grew up with constant Motown or lesser known Soul like sweet Soul, like Delfonics, Stylistics, alotta Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. My mom was always playing folk shit like the Carpenters and Jim Croce. There’s always these melodies around me. That trunk knocking shit wasn’t my main concern. I started playing instruments but I wanted to be an MC. I think I started out like everybody. You rhyme with your friends. I didn’t take all that too seriously. But the reason I started making beats was to have something to rhyme to. I had the Canibus “2nd Round KO” tape with the instrumental on the back and me and my friends wore that tape out. We started doing the keyboard beats, the Fruity Loops types of beats. It was all analog even when cds was well and popping. Still putting shit on tape because we had no capabilities for putting it on cd. We was doing the tape thing well into the 90’s.
SUNEZ: And those beat making beginnings?
WOODENCHAINZ: A friend of mine moved onto Oregon and comes back on that—I ain’t knocking it but it ain’t my style—and he on the Rave/Techno shit. He was now a House DJ. It didn’t last very long and he had a Gemini PS-626 decks. It had a 12 second push button sampler, a knob on it. It had 3 ways—you twist it and press record and you play whatever you want. You hit the button and let your loop play out and right where it had to be on the perfect downbeat to loop and you stop it. Then you twist the knob and you could play it as a one shot or play it as a loop. So any Soul song you can think of I cut a loop out of it and put it on a tape. And that’s what I loved rhyming over, love ballads. I eventually got into the computer game. I’m not an MPC beatmaker. I saved tons of dough and got the MPC 1000. I bought it in this hole in the wall music shop brand new for $800. Took it home and made one joint and found out I needed bigger flash media cards which were super expensive at the time. It was a wrap. I’m selling it. I love MPCs for what it does and what MPCs do. MPCs are as crucial to Hip Hop as a turntable. But I just moved right past it so I sold it.
SUNEZ: You didn’t use MPC and let it go. Why is it crucial to Hip Hop?
WOODENCHAINZ: Just cuz I don’t use it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it and know. It takes skill to use it. Just like anything else you gotta get it, learn it, then you can do it. Some of my peoples that use it like my peoples Crucial the Guillotine from Noble Scity and he’s nice on the MPC. The one thing I think the MPC holds over computer based software is when you program your drums on the MPC you can get a pattern cuz you essentially play them live. The patterns are just—they just got this life to them. You could make them sound like a real drummer. You can do that on the computer, I guess, but it’s not the same when snapping shit to a grid on a computer program or whatever. Seeing somebody work with the MPC is just different. There’s an element of life to it especially the drums. It’s essential to Hip Hop.
SUNEZ: How’d u move on from the MPC?
WOODENCHAINZ: I had a pirated version of Sony Acid Pro 3 and then I had Fruity Loops 3. It became such a wild factor when they found out 9th Wonder uses Fruity Loops. Half of the people view Fruity Loops as some serious software and then half of the people— maybe because of the name—they think it’s a toy. But I only used Fruity Loops to make drums. There’s a dope little feature in there where you could take a single drum, kick or a snare. And you could open up all the properties for it. Like you could manipulate just the pitch of that drum. You could put effects just on that drum. At that time you might have been able to do that in Acid Pro. I gotta hold of that and found out I could chop loops and even single notes with ease. It was over. I was amazed. Now I don’t have to rhyme over one loop?!! It was like winning the lottery. From there finding out little elements of the program figuring out how to do this, how to do that. To this day when you hear Sophisticated Movement, [Kevlaar 7’s] Die Ageless and any other work of mine it has been created in Sony Acid Pro in some form. I’m on Acid 7 now which I record with. For a lot of people Pro Tools is the standard and probably will always be. It’s kind of a pain in the ass cuz I don’t use Pro Tools as I’m so proficient in Acid Pro I basically do everything in that. I know Pro Tools but I don’t run it so when I exchange sessions with someone it gets tedious. I have to go through it and render out each wave of the project, zip it up in a folder and send it to them. Then have them do that for me. When you get past that it’s all the same really.
“They say he’s really doing something and children gather up when a story gets told…”
A Beautiful View is a producer’s album where a leading instrument is Woodenchainz as the primary MC. His gifts are not in feats of vocal dexterity or charismatic exuberance. Yet, it is one of dexterous exuberance, where there is glory in the story of just everyday trials. To appreciate a struggle is to just let your ears gaze into the haze of introspection and the exuberance of truly relatable detail that Woodenchainz offers.
SUNEZ: Tell us about that soulful, introspective debut.
WOODENCHAINZ: My first one, A Beautiful View, dropped in 2010. I had never dropped a solo album. I had featured verses on a lot of my peoples out and people wanted me to put an album out. Up to that point I had written everything from up to 16 to 48 bar verses. I could sit down with anybody and structure them in a song as raw materials. But as far as structuring and writing an actual song myself it was real difficult for me. I pour everything into one verse and then I got that done. It might be along verse, 30 something bars. But I still need another verse for a song and I don’t even know how to start it. It’s real important when writing a joint and my verses have to coincide. If they’re multiple verses there’ll be similarities between them. It’s a little OCD thing—it has to match. I did A Beautiful View largely over the summer of 2010 in my studio when no one was around. Mostly in the middle of the night so I could take all the time I needed and really focus on it. It’s a stigma I’ve had, an insecurity but MCs aren’t supposed to say shit like this because we’re supposed to be made of brass. It’s a big insecurity to put my verses to shit because I’ve always dealt with heavyweights. I’ve always been around people who’ve been lyrical juggernauts. Whether only ten people know them I know cats out here that can just eat anybody’s lunch right now. I’ve always been around them and produced for them. So putting an album together as an MC it’s just an insecurity for me and I had to be alone to do it to get it out exactly how I wanted to. Some of my favorite shit is someone going off on a track with no drums, the beat never really gets in, it’s like a real dusty loop. That’s a lot of what A Beautiful View is. I made it for me. It’s two joints produced by my man Stone Messiah and one by my man The Problem. He’s not in the game no more but he’s my original ace boon coon. He’s the person I came into this with. He’s made like 5 or 6 beats his whole life and that was one of them.
I think primarily I made everything else. When I put together a project as Woodenchainz and as an MC, 9 times out of ten I have all the beats picked out and laid out the way you hear them. Or I will build songs in the order that I laid the beats out in. Like the Hardly There EP, all those beats were laid out already and I came in. When I listen to an album, if it flows real good and right it’s a winner to me. That’s why transitions and interludes between songs and the way one song flows into another I spend more time on that shit than most of the rest of the album. As far as A Beautiful View, I wrote about half of those songs to air and just came back in and kind of fit them to whatever beat I was feeling that sounded most like the lyrics I wrote. A couple of features from the family and that’s it. I put it out on my own. It did alright and I had good feedback but it was just way underground. I didn’t expect much more than that.
“These is melodies for broken homes and soundscapes for broken dreams…”
-“If Nothing Else”
Hardly There EP is a prelude to an artist reaching another peak. Even more elevated in his painting of the bottom and wording the quest for a better vision, Woodenchainz in this short music portfolio uncovers an intensity where Hip Hop is the forum to dream and being oneself, with all of the integrity and love of family one has, will have to be good enough to stay alive. Musically, he lets archived singers hit notes with him and daringly lets the drums in as a highlighted amplifier.
SUNEZ: Tell us about the Hardly There EP?
WOODENCHAINZ: The Hardly There EP, the first song is nothing else was supposed to be for the next album I’m working on. My man Ed-G produced that. He hasn’t been in the game too long. It took me years, close to a decade to get nice. These guys, Ed-G and Stone Messiah, just three years and they’re smashing it. Ed-G played “Nothing Else” and I had to beg him for that. The 2nd actual track, “Blessed” was a real personal joint. I’ve had those verses forever. I never really put them on the beat. It had refreences there. My grandfather had recently passed away from an aneurysm and I think I was a freshman in high school and I was real close to him. “Back before leukemia started leaking outta Ernie’s bones…” That was my other grandfather. That’s where I got my love for music. He was a big fan of Jazz. I still have most of his tapes. When I was younger I’d stay out there and in the afternoon he would go down to the basement where he had his recliner and a turntable. It was mandatory. They had to go down there and listen to Jazz for an hour or two. As a little kid I was bored and I wasn’t into all that. As I got older it became a thing we did and I really appreciated that. A very big inspiration to me. That track almost didn’t make it because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put all that out there.
My man Science B.O.R.N. who was on a track with me on A Beautiful View. He’s a real, gritty street dude from the neighboring, Michigan City, right on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. It holds the same story as the small cities and towns out here and grew up on these projects called Harperside. They built a casino across this little lake channel from Harpers side and tore everything down because it was a so-called eye sore. Michigan City is just horrible. We linked up through music and had different life paths. The true measure of a person is 99% of the time not what you see on the outside. He once told me, “You know what I like most about Woodenchainz? You don’t ever try to be anything else but what you are.” It’s a simple statement and it meant a lot to me and all I could ever hope for as an MC. There are just certain rules you gotta abide by since the foundation of Hip Hop. You ain’t supposed to bite. You gotta be able to hold your own. And you don’t front. Just don’t fucking front. Anytime you hear anything about my daily struggle that shit is 100 percent true.
SUNEZ: And about that ill free beat joint, Coffee & Cigarettes?
WOODENCHAINZ: That’s like my J-Dilla Donuts type shit. I think every beatmaker wants to do that. Just put out a little of what you got. I just love listening to those. I put it out free and anybody can take them and rhyme over them, whatever they want to do.
SUNEZ: What are your upcoming works?
WOODENCHAINZ: Right now as far as production work I got a load of work on Shake C’s new album, American Income. It’s real politically charged. Sophisticated Movement is a pinnacle in production for me. I’m fortunate enough to work with Kev and Shake. A lot of the people I’ve worked with intimately allow me to be a producer. Not just a beatmaker but actually produce a track. And there’s a lot to that. You gotta be a coach and a motivator. You gotta think on your toes. You gotta bring so much more to the game than just a beat for an MC to put their lyric on.
Beside Sophisticated Movement, Shake C’s joint, American Inc., probably getting close contention as my best work. It’s just ugly. It’s gonna be the only thing I’m concerned about. You could put this next to any of the great albums out or any of the last fifteen years. The only thing it might suffer from is underexposure. You know how this game is so over-saturated. That’ll be coming soon in the next couple of months.
My sophomore album working title is For Tomorrow. I been working on it for a couple of years. It’s probably 70 percent done. Gotta couple of joints with Kev. Got something waiting for Bronze. It’s taking long because I want it thorough. Being a full album as it could be my last album as an MC because I get so much production work. I’ve always put my family first—my real life family and my music family—so it leaves little time for anything else. I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of beats I went through that were in contention for my album. They’ll be playing when someone’s around and they want it. Or I’ll just be playing it and I hear Kev or Shake or Ed-G or one of the family on it and I’ll ship it off…
SUNEZ: That sounds real peace.
“This is way back when a song could take you through it…”
– “Getting Old”