Progression is vital for InDepth. The hip hop duo from the Netherlands always strives to reinvent itself. Their latest effort, Higher Value? When Hiphop Becomes More Restricted, is one big playful experiment. Carefully crafted leftfield productions and abstract rhymes, by two passionate underground hip hop veterans with an inherent love for DIY culture.
The Find traveled all the way to the Far North of the Netherlands for beats, beers, and banter with N (emcee) and Syah (producer/DJ). A trip down memory lane: from their reputation as ‘protégées of Living Legends’, to working with The Escape Artists from L.A..
You guys have been part of the Dutch underground hip hop scene for decades. Where did it all start?
S: A friend of mine introduced me to hip hop on a soccer summer camp in ’85 through tapes with tracks by The Fatboys, UTFO, Run DMC, Electros, and others. He was a human beatboxer and one day he invited me to go with him to a radio show that did interviews with local hip hop artists. I was already into graffiti, but those experiences got me into beatboxing. Together with emcee Rox I used to bumrush drive-in shows and perform at discos. I joined his crew The Beatfreaks, first as beatboxer during battles, but soon after that I started DJing and making beats as well. In the 90s also as part of crews like L-West Productions, Wrecking Crew, AOK & More Serious.
N: The first albums by Souls Of Mischief, Saafir, Casual, Del, The Pharcyde & Freestyle Fellowship really kicked things off for me. My old skate homie Ricky D introduced me to hip hop in ’89. We used to listen to old tapes in his red Suzuki van while driving to skatespots. Back then I wasn’t really into gangsta rap, so the more alternative energy and originality, toying with syllables, and laid back vibe of Hieroglyphics and The Pharcyde really appealed to me. I always used to borrow instrumental vinyl from the local library, to practice and evolve my freestyle skills. My first group back in 1993 was called BCP.
So how did you two initially meet?
N: Ricky D introduced me to 4LG, who was in the group More Serious with Syah. He invited us to record at his studio.
S: I was pretty broke at that time. Living a thrifty life as a student, but fortunately one of the guys from my crew was a big spender when it came to hardware like samplers and mixers. I was allowed to use it at my place, so I was constantly focused on producing and mixing. I loved to invite guys over who were doing dope stuff, to pass on the opportunity to use professional gear.
N: Me and my friends didn’t have the facilities to properly record and mix our music. Heck, I even used to freestyle in the headphones from my dad, plugged in the mic entry of his stereo installation at home… So for me it was really impressive to see all the production gear at Syah’s place. I was really inspired by him as one-half of Sources Of Specialment, my favourite hip hop crew from the lowlands at that time. Recording at their place? That was like being a kid in a candy store to me.
Can you tell us more about Sources Of Specialment?
S: That was me on production together with emcee Psychic Summit. The rhymes on our first album were 90-95% freestyle recordings. Psychic was insane with imagery, metaphors, and experimental flows for that time being.
N: He’s without a doubt one of the best freestyle emcees from the Netherlands – ever. Sources [Of Specialment] got the ultimate hip hop vibe. It expressed a certain sense of freedom: a casual and confident kind of feel. Psychic has always been a super friendly, enigmatic, elusive person; he kind of disappeared from the scene in the late 90s… but I hooked up with him a few weeks ago. He’s doing well, proud father of 3 children and he still freestyles.
You guys are originally from the Far East of the Netherlands -far from the rise of hip hop in cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven back in the days-, how was that like?
S: I’ve always had issues with the attitude of some people: “those ‘farmer guys’ live far away from Western inner cities, so they don’t know shit about hip hop.” That was a common prejudice. It was a big motivation and incentive to show everyone we did have skills and know-how. There was a movement going on with crews from the North and East like Zombi Squad, Two Out Of Millions, Sources Of Specialment, L-West Productions, and compilations like Exiles From Da Neverlands, Blockbuster & North East Connections.
An East Coast versus West Coast beef in the Netherlands?
N: There wasn’t any disrespect from our side, but everyone felt like they had to prove themselves towards the masses from the West. An urge to fight the prejudices. We’ve always had a huge amount of respect and love for hip hop from any city, from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. It was more like an ‘underdogs from the North East’ type of thing.
“That’s how hip hop is supposed to be: one big experiment.”
Fast-forward to the present: InDepth. What differences do you individually bring to the table to form InDepth’s sound?
N: I’m really influenced by raw music. I used to love Monsters Of Rock concerts back in the days, so old heavy metal is a big source of inspiration. Next to that I can really go ape shit on krautrock, progrock, 70s soundtracks from Italy, ballads from the 80s, the analog synth stuff… I absolutely love filthy drums and dark melodic atmopheres.
S: At first I didn’t know that side of you. It really surprised me that time when after a few beers you went nuts on Whitesnake’s “Slide It In”. [laughter] That isn’t my thing at all. I’m more into jazz, digging for atmospheric -sometimes sweet- samples. Some funk too, but I’m not a big fan of the [distorted] electric guitar.
Jazz meets raw metal influences… isn’t that a match made in hell?
N: It’s not really my thing when Syah crafts clean beats. Then I miss his raw, edgy sampling. But Syah can also create dusty organic grooves; psychedelic, moodier type of stuff. That’s where we find a balance to create a typical progressive InDepth sound.
Speaking of which, progression is a recurring theme in your music. What’s exactly progressive and innovative about InDepth’s work?
S: That we’ve reached a point of no return where we’re so ‘in depth,’ that we don’t know what in the hell we’re doing anymore. [laughter] All jokes aside, I think our music is progressive because we never think or reflect about who should or could be our listener. We don’t have a target audience. There’s no such thing as “The stereotype InDepth fan.”
N: We will always experiment. That’s how hip hop is supposed to be in our opinion: one big experiment. Try to reinvent yourself on every song and don’t let your voice, flow and sound become your trademark.
How does that affect your beats and rhymes?
S: We’re constantly striving to evolve. Figuring out new gear and instruments, learning new tricks… it’s basically a journey without a target or goal. Most InDepth productions are little puzzles. During our get-togethers and recording sessions in the weekends, it’s all about the vibe of that particular moment. We have never liked standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus 16 bars structures.
N: As far as lyrics are concerned, it’s the truth wrapped up in how I feel. It can be dead serious, funny, abstract, offending, but always fucking real. We’re aware that our music is no easy-listening. We want you to think and have no thoughts; only feel! To most people that’s too much to ask and they walk away. That’s cool, it explains our small but dedicated fanbase. I remember performing on a small stage on Queensday [a Dutch national holiday]. In the middle of the set I decided to spit some spoken word. Social criticism, a straight-forward delivery; really heavy shit. After our set a couple of 60-somethings approached me to ask if I could please never do that ever again – it was way too heavy for the sunny celebratory occasion. Classic InDepth.
“Control your own destiny, nobody is going to do it for you.”
Living Legends and affiliated artists are featured on quite a lot of InDepth projects. What’s your relationship with them?
S: Around 1995 we got in touch with Mystik Journeymen, Murs, The Grouch and Bizarro through shows in the Netherlands, and they used to spend time in our studio during tours. Several hip hop blogs and magazines dubbed us “protégées of Living Legends”, that really helped us to get more fans in the US. Even though we have always been more experimental than the Legends, we shared the same passion for DIY culture and musical progression.
The first InDepth album was a collaboration with Moonrocks, a crew of Living Legends and Mystik Journeymen members Bizarro and Nebulus, respectively. Our second album got released via Access Hip Hop in 2003 through the owner, Mark Onstad. He was also responsible for the official Living Legends website, back in the days of dial-up internet connections.
N: That time period was awesome for us. There was a really inspiring indie scene emerging with European artists like Caveman Speak (Belgium) and Stacs Of Stamina (Sweden), and USA-based collectives like Anticon, Shapeshifters, Project Blowed, Bored Stiff, The Cuf, and Low Pressure. Getting in touch with Living Legends really helped us to be part of that movement. We’ve been really inspired by their independent state of mind: Control your own destiny, nobody is going to do it for you.
S: I didn’t even have a proper microphone when I first met the Legends. But I always brought my video camera to shows with me to record acapella raps on the spot. I’ve used those Living Legends sessions in my sampler on several projects. The first Sources Of Specialment album, Free From Expectations, includes three Living Legends features.
N: That’s the origin of our focus abroad. Our fourth release, Red Sprites And Blue Jets, featured The Escape Artists, an amazing indie crew from L.A. The album includes guest appearances by L*Roneous, Awol One, 2Mex, and others. Looking back, it’s kinda ironic that on an independent level we’ve accomplished more abroad than in our own country.
S: We’re evolving on our own terms and make music for the long run. Only a few people know us in the Netherlands. We consider ourselves to be the slept-on influence of your favourite now-school artists. We’re aging, but we always try to make timeless music. It’s never too late.
Speaking of aging: how do you guys, as true vinyl and tape lovers, feel about the vital necessity of promoting music on the Internet in this day and age?
S: We do try to get our music out there by promoting it on the Internet, but that’s not the fun part. Way back in the early 90s I thought the Internet would change the world for the better, really. No more record labels telling you what to do, but being in control yourself. That turned out to be far from today’s reality – when you’re an underground artist, I mean.
N: What it means to be a musician has changed a lot. People stopped buying music and anyone with a laptop can make songs these days. Even when a track is unfinished, it’s already on the social media for free… Rappers and hip hop are Instagram accounts, views, likes, shitty Twitter updates, and hits nowadays. The Internet did not make music more democratic. Blogs only wanna post what will drive traffic, what drives traffic is accessible. I mean, it’s a day job, even if we wanted to keep up with some sort of scene we would go nuts. We don’t have that time.
What does the future hold for InDepth?
N: We started a new group called Shut Eye Horizon, with an emcee who goes by the name of Mr. Moodswing. We released our album on vinyl a few weeks ago. Mr. Moodswing is almost twelve years younger than us, but he’s on some next-level type of stuff – way outside of the box. Next to that Syah is working on some electro stuff, and I’m working on solo material. Lately I’m also recording a lot of features for others. I would love to finish the album with beats from myself and XCzircles (of The Escape Artists). That’s collecting dust in the vaults for way too long now… Oh, and we’re working on a new InDepth EP.
S: We’ve already recorded a few tracks. We’re trying to freestyle everything, and we attempt to alter, extend, and break down every convention of what we’ve already done. More improvisation and “in-the-moment” recordings.
N: We’re thinking about releasing it on cassette. Cassettes are back in vogue and that should be encouraged. That’s why we founded Limited Item Lovers in 2005. It’s an underground hip hop label and store for rare, homemade, limited edition, and out of print releases. Vinyl, cassette tapes, apparel, goodies, collector’s items, all that jazz.