Custom Made: Mass Appeal
Artist: Custom Made
Interviewer: Todd Davis
Custom Made, originally comprised of emcees Sinister Six, Bluff, Element, Skandalous Scoobs and Aneek, are a West Coast based Hip-Hop collective first formed back in 2003. Due to unforeseen circumstances, and following the release of their 'official' debut, L.A. State of Mind, group member Six found himself facing serious incarceration. Not letting that obstacle be a major deterrence, Custom Made instead persevered and soon went on to put out their popular Street Cinema mix-tape series. After aligning themselves with indie powerhouse, Babygrande Records, the rap entity eventually dropped their critically praised Sidewalk Mindtalk: The Best of the Custom Made Mixtapes offering in late '06. With Aneek deflecting to the East Coast, and Six's current lock down status, the, now down to a, musical trio are finally readying the launch of their highly anticipated sophomore opus, Original Dynasty.
Let's just jump right into this brand new album -- You titled the record, Original Dynasty, how come?
Element: We titled the record Original Dynasty because we are the producers of the new foundation for the new generation.
Scoobs: This is the Original Dynasty. We kept this album all crew. Everyone was on the album, from the founding members to the extended fam, so it was only right that we titled the record Original Dynasty. The only person that couldn't make the record was Six, due to his incarceration.
How do you feel that Original Dynasty either differs and/or compares to previous Custom Made releases?
Element: I think this differs from past releases because we have been growing and developing our style, and redefining our techniques. We've been going through a lot of situations that have been giving us more confidence. This is a more updated and complete project.
Scoobs: I would have to say that Original Dynasty is our best release yet. This release shows a more mature side of the group. People are going to be able to see how much we've grown from our first release up to Original Dynasty. We've always been real personal with our music, but this is our most personal project to date. We put our lives on these tracks and it shows. We basically combined a lot of elements from our previous projects and worked them into this one. The production on this release is more soulful as well. We're still bringing you that hardcore Hip-Hop we're known for, but this album has more concepts and more storytelling. Overall, it's a very well rounded album from the entire group.
For someone, like my-self, who hasn't heard it yet, what would you tell that person can be expected? Are there any highlights; i.e., cameo appearances, favorite tracks, producers, etcetera?
Element: I would say no matter what genre of music you listen to, Custom Made is a group you could appreciate.
Scoobs: You can expect some of the realest Hip-Hop music currently being put out. It doesn't get any realer and more authentic than this. The lyricism is top-notch, and the production is top-notch. As far as Hip-Hop is concerned, you won't be disappointed. This is the Original Dynasty, so we decided to keep the guest appearances down and keep it all fam. You can expect an extremely solid album. Unlike most of these wack fucks out here, we actually know how to make albums. There is a difference between making an album, and just making music. This album can stand the test of time. This isn't some bullshit project full of singles. This album has a specific feel and is very emotional. One listen to this project and you'll see what the hype is all about.
Coming off of 2006's Sidewalk Mindtalk: The Best of the Custom Made Mixtapes, were you somewhat disappointed and/or surprised that the project didn't fair so well sales-wise?
Element: No, because it was our first release and it was just a compilation of all the greatest hits. So, it wasn't an official debut album, it was basically for promo.
Scoobs: Not really, because we weren't expecting Sidewalk... to move tremendous units. That was a mix-tape that was really put out for our fans, and also to introduce us to people who weren't familiar with the group. Sidewalk... was really just a prelude to lead up to an official LP. We've moved over 100,000 mix-tapes worldwide over the past six years, and Sidewalk... was just a compilation of the best tracks from those mix-tapes. Of course, you want to move units, but we looked at that project as more of a promotional tool. Overall, it helped expose us to more people, and opened a lot of doors for us in general.
Could it have, or should it have, done better commercially?
Scoobs: Well there were a couple mistakes and things I feel could have gone better from a promotional/marketing standpoint, but shit happens. I think the video should have been promoted better. We basically filmed a video that Babygrande didn't even push. Some of the budget could have been directed to more useful outlets, but it's too late now. You just have to learn from your mistakes for the next time around. All the music on the project had previously been released on our mix-tapes, so fans that already had the music probably had no desire to go and buy it again. Sidewalk... was also heavily bootlegged, and that probably had to do with the fact that most of the music was already on the market. In the long run, it was a learning experience and it opened up many new doors and avenues for us.
Element: We should have had more promotion.
Let's take it back to your early beginnings...Tell me your whole inception into music -- When did you all first become interested? And, how did it all begin for Custom Made?
Element: I got interested in Hip-Hop around age 11. I was going through a lot of shit; domestic violence, drugs, getting kicked out of schools, and Hip-Hop was the only thing I had. I utilized Hip-Hop to make creativity out of depression and aggression. When I moved to Los Angeles from Orange County, it all came into play because we all miraculously ended up in the same high school. Since then, it's been history in the making. This is just the beginning.
You all are natives of Los Angeles, CA, correct? So, growing up, who were some of your strongest musical influences? Scoobs: I've always been a big fan of East Coast Hip-Hop. I'm a lyrical cat, and I love that dark, grimy Hip-Hop, and most West Coast Hip-Hop just doesn't do it for me lyrically or production-wise. I need to hear dope lyrics for me to really get inspired. Growing up, my strongest influences were cats like; Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, Nas, AZ, Cormega, Kool G Rap, and other emcees in that same vein. From a L.A. standpoint, I would have to say cats like; Kurupt, Xzibit, Cali Agents and Ras Kass paved the way for us to be from L.A. and make the music that we make. Outside of Hip-Hop, I just like good music no matter what genre (it) is. We're musicians, so we don't just limit our influences to Hip-Hop. We listen to every genre of music.
Element: My strongest Hip-Hop influences were Eminem, because I could always relate to his music. Growing up, I also listened to Canibus, Snoop and Mos Def a lot. Life is my biggest musical influence, because we put our lives in our music. That's why our music is so real.
At what point did you all decide that you wanted to pursue music on a professional basis?
Scoobs: I knew I wanted to pursue Hip-Hop as a career since I was about 12 years old. That's about the time I started taking the music serious. About 2 1/2 years later, we had our first professional album out. We're not playing around. We take this music shit very seriously. This is not a joke.
Element: There wasn't a point where we all decided. When we came together we had a natural chemistry, and we happened to all be going in the same direction. Since we were all going in the same direction, we just worked together, and it's always been professional because we knew what we wanted. It was just a matter of when we were actually going to get the recognition we deserved.
How did you all initially come together, and eventually form Custom Made?
Scoobs: Well, we're all from different parts of L.A., so it's really a coincidence that we even ended up all meeting. I guess it was meant to happen. We eventually all ended up going to the same high school, and that's where we met. We were the illest emcees at our school during that time period, so just on the strength of us all having a mutual respect for each other as emcees, we decided to do the crew thing. For about a year and a half straight, we would cipher and battle each other for about 8 hours a day. We would be cutting out of school, just kicking it, blowing trees and free-styling. Looking back now, that was basically our practice. It's like when you play sports and you practice with your team so you can build that chemistry. That's the reason our chemistry is so good.
Element: We met in high school, got in numerous battles/ciphers, and the chemistry was there so we started the group. We started making music that will make your bitch's panties drop.
What led to your current signing with Babygrande Records?
Scoobs: Before signing to Babygrande we had released about five mix-tapes. Babygrande heard these mix-tapes and approached us about doing the deal. The rest is history.
Element: We were in the streets so much promoting and producing so much product that Babygrande took heed to the power we had to offer. They eventually got at us about doing our first official worldwide project.
How would you describe and/or define the style of music that you all create and perform? And, where did your moniker, Custom Made, originally derive from?
Element: Custom Made comes from corners of the darkest alleys, to the old records that your parents used to listen to when you were kids. Custom Made music is life in general, for the fact that we don't abide to restrictions musically, therefore our music is universal. Anyone that understands good music will appreciate our music, even if they didn't like it.
As songwriters, when you sit down to pen your lyrics, where all do you draw your inspiration(s) from? Is it usually done collectively or individually?
Element: I would say we feed from each other, but most of our inspiration comes from us individually. We all lead different lifestyles, so our inspiration comes individually. We all bring something different from these lifestyles to the table that blends together. That's where Custom Made comes from.
From a lyrical stand-point, what does each member bring to the table style-wise?
Scoobs: Well, the first thing is that everyone in The Made is a strong lyricist. We all have unique styles, and it's almost hard to describe. You really have to listen to the music to see what I'm talking about. See, Custom Made isn't one of those groups where everyone has the same style and you can't tell the members apart. Custom Made is a unique fusion. We give you everything from the street shit to the conscious rap to the boom-bap shit.
Let's discuss your longevity in this business of music -- What do you feel has been, and will continue to be, the key to your success? And, what will keep sustaining you all in this grueling industry?
Element: I think we've been successful so far is because we make classic music unlike mainstream artists who don't have substance in the content they create. If you really look back at the most memorable songs, you can recite them from memory. That's the type of music we make. We focus on the substance of the music opposed to making club songs for the radio and hoes that suck dick. We just leave that to artists like 50 (Cent) and Ja Rule. We'll sustain in the industry by making top quality product, and doing it every fuckin' day.
Scoobs: We represent the future of Hip-Hop. We are Hip-Hop. This isn't some gimmick bullshit rap. Most of these new school cats claim to be doing Hip-Hop, but the music they're making isn't really Hip-Hop. I'm tired of these kids trying to claim Hip-Hop just because they think it's trendy or something. Fuck these trendy faggots. Hip-Hop comes from the streets, and that's why Custom Made will always be relevant. We kick reality rap and we do it right. We can't be stopped either. No matter how much bullshit the industry throws at us, they can never stop Custom Made. Custom Made is forever.
Do you all have any other aspirations, maybe even outside of music altogether?
Element: My aspirations are basically just having good family relationships, taking care of the family, and making sure my seed is settled.
Scoobs: I have my hands in everything from fashion to film to photography and more. I'm also involved in the business side of this industry as well. Nowadays you have to be multi-dimensional. You can't just expect to be an emcee and get rich overnight. That's not going to happen. This industry is changing everyday, and if you aren't ready to adapt and move with it, then you won't last.
Would it be fair to say that you all are happy with the current state of Hip-Hop music?
Element: The current state of Hip-Hop can suck my dick. This shit is wack. Nobody is doing Hip-Hop in the art-form anymore. Creativity has been converted to finance, because nobody wants to make music no more. Everybody wants to make music for money, which is understandable, but at the same time there is nothing enlightening about Hip-Hop anymore. There are no more Illmatic's, Reasonable Doubt's; no more 36 Chambers'. So, with that being said, Hip-Hop is fucked up right now. The mainstream took over to the point where they brainwashed the people. I can't even just blame it on the artists anymore. The consumers need to open up their mind and eyes. They've been dumbed down for so long, that when they hear some dope shit it goes over their head.
Scoobs: Fuck Hip-Hop. On the real, I don't even like Hip-Hop anymore. The reason we make music the way we do is because we only listen to classic shit. I keep up-to-date with the current releases, but most of this bullshit is too garbage for me to really get into it like that. Nowadays everything is wack; from the mainstream to the underground. Hip-Hop has become too universal for its' own good. Nowadays with the internet, everyone feels they can be the next big shit. Just because you have a computer, a microphone, and fruity loops, that does not make you an emcee. These kids don't want to pay dues anymore. Everyone wants to be a celebrity. This would have to be the worst era of Hip-Hop to date. The music nowadays is extremely watered down. People can say I'm hatin' or talking shit, but I don't give a fuck. If you think I'm a hater, then fuck you. Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of dope albums being put out and many extremely talented emcees. Much respect to everyone who is doing this shit for real. At the end of the day, I don't give a fuck what direction Hip-Hop is going in. It doesn't affect the way I make my music.
Since everyone either knows you already, or will become familiar with you, for and through your music, what would you want these same people to know about the members of Custom Made that they won't get from listening to your record(s)?
Element: I would want them to know that we're just like the people that listen to our music, because we do drugs and break the law. We're just average people that just happen to make music. Honestly, if you listen to the music intimately, you'll know us for us. The albums are like audio photo albums. You get to listen to Custom Made grow up.
Scoobs: To tell you the truth, if you listen to the records and have really been following the group, you'll notice that we keep our music extremely authentic and truthful. We put our real lives on these records. The way we come off on wax is the same way we come off outside of the music. We're not one of these groups that turns an image on and off. We do us 100% of the time, whether we're in the studio or not. We're not actors. We're real people that just happen to rap.
What would these same people find you all doing in your off/spare time completely away from the music?
Scoobs: Not one day goes by that we're not working on Hip-Hop. But, in our spare time, you'll probably find us kicking it with the homies, smoking weed, fucking some bitches, maybe at the park playing ball or something -- Nothing too major.
Element: There is no off time.
To date, what has been your biggest career highlight(s)?
Element: When we first met, because that was the start of it.
Scoobs: It's already been many highlights. We've got to share stages with many dope cats such as; Pharoahe Monch, The U.N., Planet Asia, the Wu, Masta Ace, Prince Po, and many others. We've caught ciphers with cats like Sunz of Man, Roc C, and Tha Liks. We've gotten props from many well respected emcees from Coast to Coast. We've shut it down on radio shows worldwide, and have gotten to work with some classic labels. The best is still to come.
Looking ahead, say, 5, or even 10, years from now, where do you see yourselves?
Element: I see Custom Made in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. We're legends in the making.
Scoobs: Definitely still making music and doing it right. We'll be legends in 10 years, mark my words now. I'm not trying to brag or be cocky either. We've shown the dedication to this art-form already. I'm just speaking on proven experience. We're already going on 7 years in the game, so another 10 years is not farfetched at all.
As for the immediate future, what's next for you all -- New single & video, has it been selected yet? Album, Original Dynasty, scheduled for release when?
Scoobs: The new LP, Original Dynasty, will be dropping on Babygrande May 27th. Make sure you pick it up if you want to hear Hip-Hop done correctly. I promise you won't be disappointed. If you get the album and don't like it, come up to me when you see me at the next show or in the streets and we can talk about it. The first single from the album is 'Original Dynasty,' produced by Frank Dukes. The track has already been circulating around the net/mix-shows, so make sure you check it out.
Any plans to take the Custom Made show out on the road anytime soon?
Scoobs: Custom Made is always on the road. We should be doing some major touring very soon. We're just waiting until Six is released from prison later this year. Stay tuned for all the info concerning the tour. That's something you definitely don't want to miss.
For someone who hasn't experienced you all perform live, what would you tell them can be expected?
Element: They better expect to have their tops blown off into a million pieces. If fans don't come to the stage, we get down on the floor and fuck with people. Our stage presence is spectacular.
Scoobs: Pure energy is what we bring. We get hype. We don't fuck around when it comes to the show game. Our shit is official business.
Do you have any parting words?
Element: Watch your girl, because we will get your bitch's number after the show.
Scoobs: Shout out to the whole Custom Made squad holding it down. Shout out to all the real Hip-Hop heads out there, and all the people who have shown us love and support over the years. Peace to Six, your bid is almost over homie! Shout out to Sound Slam, and I got to give a big fuck you to everyone who is ruining the Hip-Hop culture as we know it!*