Usually when you’re in this hip-hop space you usually do more than just rap, or just write. In the case of Maryland’s Speed on the Beat he does both. Immersed in the culture for over a decade there’s much to learn from the seasoned veteran. I had a chance to sit down with Speed on the Beat to talk about his journey in hip-hop, his retirement & potential return to emceeing and a hip-hop hot take guaranteed to set the Twitterverse ablaze.
DEHH: For those who still don’t know, who is Speed On The Beat?
Speed On The Beat: I’m a late-20s father of two who happens to write about music and, every now and then, records music. I’m Baltimore-born, College Park-matured, meaning I grew up in Baltimore, but didn’t come into my own fully until college. A late bloomer, I guess. I use every ounce of life experience to inform my decisions (and music), even down to the crush I had on someone ages ago. I’m a huge anime and pop culture nerd, even though I haven’t been able to finish the second season of Attack on Titan or what have you.
DEHH: How did we get here, you’ve done everything in hip-hop, from writing articles and feature pieces , to emceeing, written for a number of places, where did this all begin?
SOTB: I never set out to be a rapper or anything hip-hop-related, for real. My parents, God rest their souls, were old-school, really old-school. I was born in ’88, but instead of being up on Biggie and Pac—who my mom actually used to mentor, according to her—I was heavily into Motown and pretty much everything non-rap. However, I was always a heavy writer. On top of that, I was an MJ fan and a Prince fan growing up and didn’t really get that exposed to hip-hop heavily until I was in, like, third grade. So, imagine an eight-year-old talking about Purple Rain while your classmates are talking about “Who Shot Ya?” I’ve always been one to kind of go against the grain. But, once I got into hip-hop, I got into hip-hop.
I started out singing and got some demos and the like done with family and friends. Even had some super indie labels sign me. However, that never really took off and puberty hit me like a train. But, I kept writing, running a few blogs that were SOTB precursors. Musically, in high school, inspired by an art teacher, puppy love, and all that, I started rapping out my writings. I always kept the aesthetic of lo-fi and DIY not because I was poor or lazy. Now, I’m not rolling in dough and I do have my slacker moments. But, I kept that aesthetic because it was cool to me, since some of my first hip-hop experiences were, like, the ATCQs and the Dillas of the world. Plus, Blu and his entire lo-fi/no-fi thing was amazing and I love me some Blu music.
DEHH: “Get to know the person, not the persona” is the motto on the your website and truthfully I think that fits perfect given the multiple directions hip-hop, what exactly does that mean for you, your business and your website?
SOTB: I like to get to go past the glitz and glamour of it all and get to a person’s essence, what makes them tick. When it comes to write-ups, I try to get past the surface level of a song. I try to get past just “oh, the beat’s hot” or “oh, so-and-so has a hot line here.” I hate that about writing, surface-level crap. It’s the English major and analyst in me, I guess. I want to know why the beat’s hot and why that punchline made you get the screwface.
When it comes to interviews, I’m not gonna just ask the standard “why do you do this,” “where are you from” questions. A fifth-grader can do that. I want to know why, on this song, did you say this line and what were you trying to accomplish? I want to know why you decided to pose nude here and not here for your protest. I want to know if Trump is the root of all evil in your eyes or if he’s the symptom of a bigger problem. I want the answers to the big questions as well as the mundane ones.
DEHH: I ask all writers this and honestly want artists to see as well, how many emails and submissions are you getting a week/month?
SOTB: When I’m writing heavy, I’ll get dozens. The most I got in one week was probably 50 in a week. When I tell people to chill…I’ll still get dozens. Monthly, I’ll probably get 100+. People look to me as a guiding force and a great ear, I guess. If I don’t post your stuff, don’t take it personal. Just know that if I don’t post your stuff, it just didn’t fit with my aesthetic or vibe at the time. I’ll try to word it nicely. Sometimes, however, you’ve got to hurt people’s feelings and rebuild them for this harsh-ass world we live in.
Again, though, don’t take it personal, and I say that for any artist submitting for any site. Writers are people, too, dammit. I listen to everything and listen to every submission I get. EVERY submission. But, everything isn’t for everyone. And people come to my site for alternatives to what they could hear on a Complex or wherever, whether that be opinions or music. So, if you come to me with something that sounds like Rae Sremmurd could’ve dropped it in their “No Flex Zone” days, chances are I’m going to pass on your stuff.
DEHH: Now your Twitter profile says Ex-Rapper, but your last project “Mama Young’s Son” dropped in November, can you tell me a bit about the project and if we really won’t hear Speed On The Beat emceeing again?
SOTB: This is the $20 question everyone wants to know when they talk to me. I think that I’m mostly spent, creatively. I mean, I’ve been rapping in some form since the early 2000s. So, if I get that urge, that will to create more music, I will. The urge comes, and it goes. But, I don’t want to just put out stuff just for the sake of putting out stuff. I don’t want to be the artist with 40 albums and 30 of them sound the same.
Mama Young’s Son is an homage to my mom, who, if you’ve heard any of my albums, you’d know was a motivating force in my life who died in 2015. She died right after I’d finished working on Baltimore Commercial Break, so late-March 2015. Now, I had Unhinged that delved into my feelings about her death. But, I realized I hadn’t made an album that paid homage to her. I used the album as a final “see you later” to her and a thank you for the values she instilled in me. I’ll talk about if I’m REALLY “retired” later.
DEHH: “Mama Young’s Son” is actually pretty heavy and deals with a lot of conflict that I feel some aren’t willing to admit they have. Why was “Mama Young’s Son” created and what do you want listeners to take away from it?
SOTB: Mama Young’s Son was an album I’d always wanted to do, talk more about my conflicts with religion, my upbringing, confusion in a world against you, and all that. I’d done things like that over the years, but they had a bit of a Miseducation of Lauryn Hill essence to them; they were steeped in my own youthfulness. So, I wanted to revisit some of those themes as I was pushing 30. I’m still not done growing, but still dammit. I’m grown-up (more) now. But, I’d never really touched on religion that heavily in my music because, while I do believe in God and higher powers guiding us, I’ve never been the super-churchy type. So, I didn’t want my music to feel fake. Like, “oh, he’s talking God, but he doesn’t set foot in church.” Then, I thought about it. My mom was really religious and she never really made a big deal about church. My dad did, but even he stopped going after a while. It was a reminder/learning experience for me.
The album isn’t just SOTB talking religion, though. It’s really a confession that “hey, I’m a flawed, conflicted-ass man. I’m no saint, I’m not perfect. Let me tell you why and let me guide you so you don’t repeat my mistakes and so you can grow from my experiences.” My mom always said I’d make a good teacher. I bet five bucks that she never thought it’d be through music, though. As I mentioned, I’ve always tried to teach people through my music, but this takes those teachings I tried to instill when I was younger and reckless and adds some maturity behind them. It gives the album that necessary weight.
DEHH: I get decently stressed throughout the year with my writing, freelancing and art, but you’ve added fatherhood to the mix, how much does that add to your already full plates?
SOTB: To be honest, with kids? They take up so much of your time. Now, that’s not a bad thing. But, you’ve got to give them your all and it does impact my work on the site or music at times. Sometimes, between kids, my job, getting my Master’s Degree, and trying to be a loving and devoted family man, I’ll let an SOTB submission slip through the cracks for a day or two or I’ll not be as focused on music. That goes back to not forcing anything out just because you feel like you “need to.”
But, that’s just life. I wish I had more time in the day, I do. However, I’ve got to step away and focus on me, or focus on my kids. I made the mistake before of putting the whole SOTB thing before my family and got selfish because of it. I’d work on beats and bars while my woman needed me to be there for her and my kids. Again, I’m not perfect and I know that, even now, I still can grow up and grow out more. But then? Being selfish, that cost me more than I made in any way working as SOTB. It’s kind of another reason why I’m not as active musically anymore. I love being a father, I don’t love writing or rapping as much as my kids.
DEHH: For those looking to get into hip-hop writing what tips would you offer them?
Be humble, be sensitive about your shit, but know that you’ve got a gift. Ask whomever you can to write for them. That’s what I did with Boi-1da.com and DJBooth. I approached the editors, in a professional manner, and asked if I could submit some stuff for consideration. Not everyone can write well about music. That’s why we have so many hot takes and “here today, gone tomorrow” pieces. If you’re going to write about music, especially hip-hop, write from the heart, not from your wallet. Truth be told, I’ve made, maybe, a thousand dollars over the years as a writer. I don’t do it for money, I do it because I want people to think about music in the ways I do and/or discuss with me their opinions.
DEHH: Give me your hottest hip-hop hot take?
Big K.R.I.T. is better than Kendrick Lamar. I don’t know if that’s piping hot or not, but it’s my opinion. 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time stuck with me more than DAMN. Now, DAMN was an amazing album. But, if you ask me “Speed, which album influenced some of the songs on Mama Young’s Son more,” I’d say K.R.I.T.’s. And yes, I recorded portions of Mama Young’s Son in a few days after 4eva dropped. THAT is how much that album hit me in the sternum. If you asked me who influences me more as an artist, I’d say K.R.I.T. Again, that’s no slight to Kendrick. He’s amazing, but Mr. Justin Scott speaks to me more than Kendrick ever could.
DEHH: 2018 is just getting started honestly, what can we expect from you to close out the year?
No clue to be honest. I’m just going to see where the wind takes me. I’m putting the final touches on an album, Papa Speed’s Boys (The 29th Year), which serves both as a sequel to my 2013 release, Songs For… (The Rebirth and Evolution of the Modern Male) and as a sequel to Mama Young’s Son. You’ve probably heard stuff like “I’m a King” cross your radar as much as I’ve talked about it. It’s due out on the last day I’m going to be 29, so August 16, 2018. I guess Mama Young’s Son wasn’t the last you’d hear of me.
Why August 16, though? I’m huge on numbers and dates in my music. Several of my albums had 12 songs, as a reflection of that being a holy number. A few have had 13 because I’m not perfect, and I can sometimes be a little extra. Mama Young’s Son had 11 tracks because it was released on November 11, and 11 was one of my mother’s favorite numbers.
However, I’m mainly focused on getting myself in order. If that leads to dope music in all its forms, great. If it leads to me writing more about other people, that’s cool, too. If that leads to more music, either as a solo artist or a featured artist with my Team DAR brothers (had to shout them out) or someone else, I’m open. Never say never, but I’m mainly focused on getting my own ish in order and seeing where that takes me before I full-on commit to something else.