DAR Interviews: Speed on the Beat
As frequenters of the site and of the #DARorNothing/#DARBusiness movement know, Speed on the Beat is talented with the pen and the beatpad. However, he's back in the booth for his solo act. True, weeks out from the release of Speed's Baltimore Commercial Break: From Juke Joints to Greatness, hit up the reclusive (at least in photos these days) but vocal DAR member to talk losses, gains, where he sees himself after this album, and more.
Baltimore Commercial Break: From Juke Joints to Greatness is available for pre-purchase on iTunes.
True: It has been a hell of a 2015 for you so far, how are you holding up?
Speed: Considering everything that’s gone down in the past seven or so months? I legitimately think that it’s a miracle that I haven’t full-on committed to the idea of joining the 27 Club. From losing my family, mostly through my own stupidity, to losing…a lot else, through no fault of my own? It’s a lot. But, hey, at least I got a promotion at my job, the music’s still banging, the sites [DefineaRevolution.com, EyesontheRing.com, and SpeedontheBeat.com] are steadily getting views and new eyes, and it’s, truly, a new era. I got to interview Melody Kush, one of my favorite cam models. I got to see artists such as Raven Felix, Dugee F Buller, and Jay IDK, people I've featured on the site, start to take off. DAR is growing as a movement. So, it’s bittersweet. But, that’s life, taking the good and the bad and learning from all of it.
True: Now, before getting into the music, most of the people are aware that your mother passed away earlier this year. How are you coping with that loss?
|Speed and "Mama Young," circa 2004|
Speed: Figured this one was coming. Thanks for asking like second versus at the end (laughs). But, nah. I have my days where I get that, you know, feeling in the back of your throat. The one where it’s like “damn, if only so-and-so could see this.” But, for the most part, I’m doing well. I think that the hardest part, for real, wasn’t even the fact that she died. It wasn’t the fact I was there as she died, while she died. It wasn’t even the fact that, the day she died, the hospital which tried to revive her, they cracked jokes and let it slip that she had cancer. Yeah, finding out your mom had cancer the day she died was an additional gut punch. But, I think it was the funeral, since they asked me and my “stepfather” to close the casket. That was the hardest part.
It was the first time I’d actually, like, touched her since before she died. All the life, the energy, the joy, that familiar “down south meets Bawlmer” accent. It was gone and she was replaced by a cold slab of a former living person. Now, I know you’re probably looking at me like, “Speed, how can you say that about your own mother?” Well, it’s kind of how she raised me. To be an asshole about uncomfortable things, but to be blunt as possible when needed. To feel your own mother—or anyone close to you, for real—filled with preservatives and the like and close the casket on them, though? Everyone eventually goes through it, but it never really hits you until you have to do it.
But, she feels no more pain. That’s something I take solace in. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, lost both of their parents at an early age. She told me that eventually, it gets better. It still stings, but, as time goes on, it doesn’t sting as much. And, those first couple weeks and whatnot? I didn’t believe her. But now? I’d have to say, “yeah, you’re right.”
True: What are some of your favorite memories and lessons from Mama Young?
Speed: One of my favorite memories, oddly enough, was one of the last I have with her. It was the Friday before she died. She, my stepfather, and I were all in my stepfather’s minivan. For some reason, he friggin’ loves minivans, but I digress. And the subject of pro wrestling and WWE SmackDown came up. She’s going on and on about, while it’s faker than ever at times these days and “aw, you can tell they’re bullshitting in the ring” and whatnot, she still liked watching it.
And I’m, in the back, sitting there slackjawed, like “who knew Mama Young was a wrestling fan?” She then start talking about The Rock, who she had like an old-lady crush on (laughs) and how good he was compared to some of the stuff that’s out there now. So, Dwayne, know that, if you ever have to bash my skull in, my mom’s watching you (laughs).
I could go on for days on some of my favorite memories, but that one sticks out because it’s so damn random, but it captures who my mom is and was in a nutshell. She was blunt, enjoyed simple things, could argue her way out of a duffle bag if needed, and wasn’t afraid to go in on something. Sound familiar?
Lessons, though? Just be good to people. Don’t be an asshole when you don’t need to be—even though it’s tempting. Speak your mind. Real Gs move in silence, since she legitimately was involved in some…wild situations in her day.
True: In spite of the tragic loss, you have a new joy to speak about, your second child, Jeremiah. How does it feel?
Speed: Great. I believe in, like, the law of giving and receiving. For instance, someone may give me positive energy and they, in return, will receive some. Inversely, I then have to give some back to someone else, to continue the cycle. Also, in death, there is life. So, I feel that, in some ways, my mother’s energy is within him. Additionally, he’s just amazing. Pure.
He hasn't had a chance to see how insane this world can be and, as a parent, I'll do my damnedest to keep him from experiencing every ounce of insanity I can--while still prepping him for it, just in case. I'm also, like, trying to keep both of my children off of social media these days. I don't know, it's just something I feel strongly about. Yeah, I'll post a picture here and there, but nothing too deep. I need some things in my private life private, you know?
True: Does it give you new perspective to have this child arrive just months after the passing of your mother?
Speed: Yeah, as I mentioned, in death, there is life. I’m just like “while I’m doing better, I want to do even better than before.” I want to win. I need to win, for my family. Excuse me, but fuck the foolishness. But, on the other side of the coin, it’s made me happier. And we all know that a happy and focused Speed is a dangerous Speed. And he also, apparently, likes to talk about himself in third-person (laughs).
True: I have to ask this, as we always do with these interviews (pauses). How are things with you and Kel, the mother of your children?
Speed: Raquel and I are doing well. There’s nothing really more I can say about us. If it’ll work in the future? As I said on one of the tracks on the album, “who knows? We’ll see. But for now? I’ve got to go and try and focus on me.” If there’s disconnect with one’s self, there’s going to be a disconnect overall with any—and every—one you come across. So, we’re focusing on being parents and friends. If the romantic side of it reignites full-on, that’s great.
If not? I feel that, at this point, both she and I have matured past the “Heartbreaker” era that we’d be fine and wouldn’t be malicious towards each other. For when you’re on that tip, no one wins. You and the other parent don’t win and your child or children don’t win because they can grow up with a sense of “did I push them apart? Are mommy and daddy this way because of me?” People who have kids, for the love of God, try to be cordial with each other, for the sake and sanity of your kids.
True: Now, let's get to some music talk. You've been pretty active this year. First, can you touch on your involvement in the DAR group album Exodus and how that experience was for you?
Speed: Oh My God, yes! This is probably the most active I’ve been since, I don’t know, maybe before DAR re-started in ’11. Because, as people may be aware, I used to just drop random mixtapes from my basement apartment. Most of which were laughably awkward, but there were some gems in there. The point is this: I’ve been moving and shaking, shaking and moving.
With regards to Exodus, I manned the mixing board, sort of, to make sure that everything sounded halfway listenable after it was recorded. We won’t get into how that happened, but I now know how to work Audacity, Garage Band, and ACID in ways I never knew possible. So, that’s good. On top of that, I contributed a verse on just about every song and production on a quarter of the album. Simply put, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Crazily enough, all this was happening while Raquel was pregnant, she and I were having our “feud,” my mom’s sickness(es), moving back to Baltimore for a bit (to give Raquel “space”), dealing with tomfoolery from several people, and so on.
Then on Upper Echelon and COOLIN’ IN AXEL WORLD, I didn’t appear as much lyrically—for obvious reasons. But, my presence was felt on production. Hopefully that didn’t sound too cocky, since I know how I can sometimes come off like a self-righteous ass when we talk about music (laughs).
True: With the momentum of DAR, how does it feel to see everything finally start to fall in place?
Speed: In the words of Tony! Toni! Tone!, “it feels good!” Now, while I don’t have old-looking white women moaning in shades and a one-piece suit-thingy, it’s a good feeling to know—see what I did there—that all the work and energy we’ve put into this, it’s finally paying off. Let’s keep it going and keep the new wave up and moving, and we’ve got ourselves a great legacy even after The Originators walk away.
True: You have your upcoming album Baltimore Commercial Break: From Juke Joints to Greatness arriving on August 17th. Tell us about the concept and how it came about.
Speed: The concept has been something I’ve played around with for, probably, the past ten years or so. I always said “before I ‘grow up’ completely, I’m going to get out there, take some of what makes Baltimore unique and add my own twist to it.” I’ve done that through the Baltimore Supplier mixes and everything and even through random “club mixes” of my own tracks. However, there was something missing.
So, around 2010, I flipped a news promo. I think I made mention of that in one of our last discussions. It was a cool track, but it didn’t really say much. So, I sat on the idea of taking those news themes, those commercials, those “kitschy” Baltimorean things and turn them into SOTB!!! greatness and I waited. I waited until I had the confidence to full-on go left field on an album. Now, yeah, I have Death of the King, which is a concept album taking place around the time of my first hospitalizations surrounding my mental illness. And I, back in college, had albums speaking on random beefs and college foolishness. But, I wanted a concept album that was, for the most part, happy (laughs).
At the beginning of the year, I started messing around with the intro to the album “Take You There.” I sent you a copy of the barebones track, before it was mastered, mixed or anything. It was as no-fi as no-fi could get. You and just about everyone else rocked with it. So, I went from there. I set out to do something different from my usual album, where I’m talking about my struggles and my perseverance in the face of them. Yeah, there’s still mention of “hey I had to do some wild-ass things to get where I’m at,” but it’s less about that and more of a thank-you letter to Baltimore and all of its citizens and quirks. Hence me sampling, for instance, a Standard Carpet commercial on the album.
It’s also the first album that I’ve done that’s about 99.1% free of actual profanities. Yeah, I backmasked some. But, aside from an F-bomb on the outro (you’ll hear why), it’s a “clean” album. I kind of wanted to challenge myself to use words other than “fuck” and “shit” to rhyme, since I kind of got lazy being as unfiltered as I was. That’s not saying “oh, if you curse all the time, you’re lazy.” That’s saying I, me, Speed on the Beat, got a bit lazy, since “fuck” rhymes with a lot of words (laughs). It’s kind of the album my mom always got on about making when I was still recording as “J dot Speed,” since she always heard my earlier stuff and would kind of frown at me being so…vulgar (laughs). The irony is that my mom, while not as bad as some older people, was pretty vulgar herself. You know how my mom’d get. Curse you out in a second if you really deserved it.
Finally, the album cover is a compilation of moments in my life--and a compilation of my album covers to this point, representative of what's made me me.
True: What is your favorite song on the album personally?
Speed: The whole album. Plain and simple. Figured I'd give a short answer after a long one. But, I feel that I really blacked out on the intro in terms of lyricism and whatnot. If you haven't heard it, it's probably at the top of this interview and below this question.
True: There was talk of a part two of this album or a follow-up project. What is the status of that?
Speed: Eh…really depends. I’ve got lyrics and beats and whatnot for days. But, I’ve got to see if I really want to do it. Putting together BCB, even though it’s a more “fun” album than, say, Songs For…, it was one of the most draining albums I’ve worked on; I literally put my blood, sweat, tears, and dreams into this project. But, part two, if it comes, it’s a lot darker than anything I’ve done—especially considering its source material. So, I probably need to recharge a bit if I want to put it out (laughs). I’ll let you know in a couple months. I've got it planned out, though, if I do decide to do it.
True: Comparing it to your other solo work, where would you rank BCB in your discography?
Speed: The best, truthfully. Now, you know me. If I think something I put out is garbage, I’ll say it’s garbage, end of story. For instance, I jokingly say “thought you were mature” to people. I revamped RAQUEL RELOADED to trim the fat and re-released it for free as One Year Later. I think that parts of Death of the King lingered on. I’m my worst critic when it comes to my music. But, for Baltimore Commercial Break, everything hit the way it needs to.
Overall, it’s an album that’s needed to showcase Baltimore in a positive light. It’s also needed since most of my other albums are self-indulgent and self-referential to the point that you need to listen to everything else before that one album. I tried a different approach here. I told the story of my life. I made “bangers.” I did an album that didn’t follow any guidelines as to where it went, just as Baltimore isn’t just the Orioles or just what the media showed with reference to the tragedy of Freddie Gray.
There’s more to the city, just as there’s more to me than bipolar episodes and the like. Hopefully, I did a great enough job showcasing the good—and the bad—and making it accessible enough that anyone listening can go “damn, Speed. I’ve been through that.” Because not everyone’s bipolar, not everyone’s been through what I’ve been through. So, I feel it’s the zenith, since it goes in as well as it does, is accessible as much as it is, but still has that “SOTB!!!” feel to let you know “ok, hey. This is still Speed on the Beat, this is still #DARBusiness.”
True: Final question, what do you want your legacy to really be? You've spoke on retiring soon, do you think it will actually happen? Or is it just wishful thinking?
Speed: I do. I really think and believe it’ll happen. I want to be the guy who leaves at the top of his game. Production-wise, I’m firing on all cylinders. Lyrically, all cylinders. The lo-fi is, for the most part, gone, praise the Lord. The “ascension” of the modern male I made reference to back when the Songs For… trilogy kicked off? It’s happening. So, I’d rather be the guy who leaves at the top of his game than be forty-five still trying to keep up with the young boys because I’m pissy about not taking every shot back in the day. Or the blogger/writer/DJ/whatever who’s slamming everything that wasn’t made twenty years ago just because they don’t get it or they want to attempt to define what’s good and bad by their own, biased, standards. I’ve taken every shot I’ve wanted to, and I’ve hit many of them.
Legacy-wise, I feel I’ll be the guy that, one of these days, it’ll all make sense. I mean, I’m not speaking on intergalactic rocket science over here. But, I do offer hints and clues as to how people should go about their lives, whether or not they have mental illnesses or not. Eventually, it’ll make sense to everyone. So, to those who’ve already “gotten it,” thank you. If you haven’t, you will. Again, I’m humble, but I know what I’m worth—and I’m sure as hell worth more than most of what’s presented.
Either that, or I'm the guy who writes titangraphs.
Speed on the Beat's BCB: FJJTG drops on August 17th, 2015. It is now available for pre-order on iTunes. Support indie artists and #DARBiz and go listen to that when it releases.