Feenom Circle

3 MCs

A few months ago we received a CD at the Wiretap office from a Bay Area Hip Hop trio called Feenom Circle. We liked what we heard and Johnnie decided to ask them a few questions about their music. As it turned out they had a lot to say. Here they sound off about their label, about their cultural backgrounds and their thoughts on the media's favorite new term, "Hip Hop violence."

What does Feenom stand for, for those who don't know? Who came up with the name? And your names: Side B, Rawj, Oatmeal?

Rawj - A circle of phenoms. The idea for the name was extrapolated from "Ego Trip II" by De La Soul. Rawj is short for Roger.

Oatmeal- Feenom is a standard, whether we achieve it on every song or not isn't important.... I think it's important to aim for something beyond expectation, even beyond what you expect out of your self. Oatmeal is actually my production name...its a reminder to me to keep things basic and then spice things up here and there to make a full meal.... my mc name is Toper short for Chris-toper.... the whole name is "Toper Apostrophe s"

Side B -- Feenom is short for phenomenal. "Side B" symbolizes a side of me that people don't really see or know about, my creative and emotional side. 'B' also short for my first name (Ben).

How did you guys meet? How long have you been doing this?

Rawj - Oat and I met in Junior College. He introduced me to Bee. Slowly, Oat and I hooked up and started experimenting in the music room at school. The Feenom Circle was actually a collective I started in 1993, that later disbanded. When Oat and I got serious, we re-instated the name, slowly amassed some equipment, got lucky and met Boog, who had his own home recording studio, and starting making "Prescriptions," our first release. Midway through "Prescriptions" Bee got onboard. Then Boog, the cat who was letting us record at his home studio, got onboard. We had a team.

Do you think there is an underground Bay Area Sound? And have you guys been compared to artist's like Souls of Mischief, etc?

Rawj - I don't think there is a particular sound for the Bay Area "underground," but there is certain sameness with a lot of "underground hip hop" in general. I say it with quotations because sometimes I'm not sure if cats are making music to be making music, or if it's just for attention. A lot of music that is devoid of any craftsmanship seems to get praised, while things that are more musical get written off as mainstream within this "underground" vacuum.

Side B -- The word "underground" and even "Hip Hop" has always been very touchy for us...because there seems to be so many different interpretations...some use it in a musical sense, some even use the term to describe how an artist is marketed (or not marketed). The Bay Area has always been a very influential region for both of these (music and the business)...from the DIY dirt hustle ethic, to the bass-heavy production. These are just the popular symbols of Bay Area underground and music, but there's really a lot more to it.

Do you think it's profitable being independent?

Side B -- I'll assume you are talking about being self-managed, making and promoting your own CDs, etc. This definitely can be a profitable way to survive as an artist, but it is also the most work. It comes down to whether or not you can manage to be a musician and a businessman simultaneously... it's not for everyone. When you're doing it on your own, profitable doesn't have to mean making a CD for $5 and selling it for $10, or going double platinum. The biggest profit of being an independent artist is the knowledge and experience you acquire along the way and that's something a lot of major label artists are deprived of. But don't get me wrong, we'd like to be financially profitable as well.

Does your cultural background shape the music you make or influence it?

The biggest profit of being an independent artist is the knowledge and experience you acquire along the way and that's something a lot of major label artists are deprived of.

Rawj - Well my first culture was hip-hop. It definitely shaped me. Learning about my ethnic culture definitely contributed to my own story, and Feenom's story as well.

Oatmeal - I think to a certain extent, which is good. But it can also limit you. I try to keep an open mind and remember that not everyone is gonna identify with my background. I'm first generation Filipino American so there wasn't a whole lot of support when it came to the creative/hiphop side of things....parents usually want their kids to be a doctor instead of rockin the mic or throwin' up a burner on a public wall, which in my case made me wanna do the whole hiphop thing even more. Here in the Bay Filipinos are known to be DJs and bboys. I think it might take a while for people to swallow the whole Filipino MC, but that's part of the challenge. Sometimes I enjoy watching people's reactions

Side B - I'd like to say yes. As an artist, my music should be an accurate reflection of my ideas, beliefs and the ways I identify myself, which I'm sure my culture had a lot to do with. Hip Hop is more diverse than ever...so the fact that me and Oatmeal are Filipino and Rawj is Indian is probably a little easier to swallow now than it would have been several years ago. Nonetheless Hip Hop has always been a voice of the minority and the urban community, so either way we are part of it.

Being a Hip Hop musician, the hardest stereotypes to deal with right now are not those that pertain to our color and ethnicity, but rather those that associate Hip Hop with crime, and violence. I was watching the news yesterday and there happened to be some violence and a tragic death that occurred after an Usher concert over the weekend. The reporter freely referred to this as "Hip Hop violence." First of all, Usher is an R&B artist not a Hip-Hop artist. Secondly, crime is a result of sociological problems and ineffective government, not Hip Hop or any other genre of music. It's these kinds of misconceptions that are affecting us and other local musicians the most right now.

Can you tell us more about your label? About your decision to take on the production/business aspects of your own music?

Side B - We started our label, "Melatone Music" with the intention of building something bigger and long term, side by side with our artistry...a home for our music and eventually for other like-minded artists. Aside from putting out quality music, we also advocate social and cultural progression. Another reason is that we had no other choice. Nobody took our dreams as seriously as ourselves...so we had to take full responsibility. Nonetheless, laying some groundwork yourself is pretty much mandatory in the current environment, whether you plan on staying independent, or signing on to another label.

Rawj -- Melatone Music is our attempt at having a socially responsible label for a group of "conscious" individuals. Now when I say conscious, I really mean informed, and at best, spiritual, at worst, cynical.

What this doesn't mean is that you'll find all of our political and social views draped all over our music. But they are the forces that craft our concepts and sound, and shape our world. Everything in moderation, otherwise you run the risk of making music that either has no social prospective except that of being wealthy and excessive, or you get songs that are political, finger pointing, but not musical.

I was watching the news yesterday and there happened to be some violence and a tragic death that occurred after an Usher concert over the weekend. The reporter freely referred to this as "Hip Hop violence." First of all, Usher is an R&B artist not a Hip-Hop artist. Secondly, crime is a result of sociological problems and ineffective government, not Hip Hop or any other genre of music.

As a label, we have the task of carving our own fan base. Hopefully, we get the informed listener that can cue into our references or larger metaphors for the problems of the world, but at the same time have listeners who can just appreciate a good song. Balancing art and business is definitely hard. Everything has it's place, but you must realize as artists, our first responsibility is to the music. Our plan is to institute social change more through our label, than our music. I truly feel that the most dramatic changes can be accomplished through the business world. The entertainment industry can definitely use some changes.

Change can come in many forms, our methods of recruiting, future charity events, not aligning ourselves with corporate campaigns, performing at political events, but most of all in trying to find talent that makes stimulating music, music that makes you think, and music that makes you feel human again.

Don't take this the wrong way, I'm very much into politics, finding the truth, and being socially responsible. But I'm disillusioned as well. I have found no point in preaching to those who don't listen.

Rap and hip hop is, often, a way for people to speak out about what is going on in the world. It is often the language of struggle, of battle, etc. Do you guys identify with this as a purpose ?

Oatmeal - we have always been the underdog....we grew up as a bunch of working class blue collar kids who grew up with Hip Hop as our culture. You could say we are the minority within a minority. I think that is reflected in our music... we make hiphop music.. but for those who don't primarily listen to hiphop.

Rawj - I'm just focusing on challenging myself and incorporating as many changes, evolutions, lessons, and techniques as possible. Basically try going to the edges but in a subtle fashion. Make songs that talk about both the micro (emotions) and the macro (the world's problems).

In the past some hip-hop was political, I think the problem was as other forms of the genre evolved, "political" rap didn't. It had less musical appeal. At the same time the music industry saw that certain sounds, topics, and imagery were commercially successful. They invested their efforts in finding as many clones as possible. And we as irresponsible creators of the art obliged with the industry. It's utterly amazing that more political music didn't make waves especially with so much social unrest.

Sadly Hip Hop has become a polarized dichotomy. Where the music is either recycled, and promotes a hyperbolic version of ghetto life, or it's overly political, winy, and pointing fingers at the man (I'm generalizing). In our collective opinion, neither have any relevance. What's the pointing of making formula song just like so and so? What's the point of preaching over a song and alienating your audience?

Side B - Aside from striving to make our music timeless and well crafted, we do have underlying messages in our music. ...but it all depends on what we are all going through at the moment. Sometimes these messages are straightforward and obvious, and other times they are very personal and not as easy to detect. Our first album "Prescriptions" might be a better example of our attempt to speak on socially relevant and political issues as well as addressing certain plights of Hip Hop. On our latest project "Souled Separately", we got more personal, and talked more about common everyday personal struggles, such as working a 9 to 5, relationships, dealing with death, etc. Nonetheless, all of our projects contain a solid dose of positivity, spirituality, and consciousness....so to answer your question, yes we identify with Hip Hop as a medium for communicating struggle, voicing opinions, and instituting change.

Do you have anything else to say to the WireTap audience?

Rawj -- If you made it to the bottom of this article, thanks. Here's the cliché, "as the youth of our world you're the future." The present is letting us all down. There's very little direction provided toward anything different then what the media tells us. Please look further (very X-file-ish).

If you're curious about maybe some recommended reading material, email us. If you want to give our music a listen, check out our website.

Oatmeal - First of all ...thanks for reading this interview....and listening to the current feenom project....keep supporting the local artists and hiphop community...and if theres anything we can do to help out anyone out here you can always hit us up ...one love

Side B -- Thanks. Stay strong, don't give up on your dreams, and never let your schooling interfere with your education. Peace.

Johnnie Mitchell II, is the WireTap technical intern. He loves his 2way and hopes to be a photographer one day. Check out the photo essay he did in march on the Black Panther Legacy Tour.


Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.