Mr. Ridley is a busy man. When he's not performing as one half of hip-hop duo Anti-Citizens, he's producing beats for everyone from Orko Eloheim to Black Mikey to Young Foe. Most recently, he worked with local group Parker & The Numberman, producing the entirety of their excellent EP, Clockwork Slang. You can preview the EP on Bandcamp or purchase it at Access Hip-Hop. I caught up with Ridley to talk about the EP, growing up a musical virtuoso and the local hip-hop scene. In the process, he cursed a lot. Deal with it.
Quan Vu: How did you first meet Parker & the Numberman?
Mr. Ridley: We did some shows together. I always saw them and I really liked their live performance. But I even told them: I felt like they could get better beats and a better presentation of them, a better pocket. It was just a theory that I had. I didn't really know them really well. I hit them up multiple times like, "Yo, let me try to produce a little EP for you guys. Something like that. Let's just try it." It took probably a year from then to even get them to come over to listen to beats. They were with it as soon as I showed them beats -- stuff that I had in mind.
Quan: What is it like to work with them?
Ridley: It was really good. They're quick. And they're really, really well played-off of each other when they rhyme. They have an ebb and flow going on with each other's styles. They're similar but different but all in good ways.
Quan: You told me before that you were going for sounds that didn't sound like typical Mr. Ridley on this project. What did you mean by that?
Ridley: I wanted to give them beats that were almost borderline pop but not too pop. Not just straight-up pop but more in that -- heavy bass, cool samples, simple drums. Stuff you could almost dance to. Within rapping their style. They ended up picking a few that weren't really in that vein. But for the most part, they stuck with that heavy bass, almost "trunk music" kind of sh--.
Quan: Yeah Clockwork Slang sounds very bass-heavy like you said. But it's also really playful, especially with the vocal samples.
Ridley: Actually, three of the beats were never supposed to be used. Three of those beats were beats I had for probably six years, especially the "Just Jump" one. I had been sitting on that one probably like six or seven years. I tried to get other people to rhyme on it and failed miserably. They were like, "I don't know. It sounds too weird." And then [Parker & the Numberman] heard it and they were like, "Oh! We need to rhyme on that." I was like, "For real?!" And I was all excited.
Now it's funny because going back, I played that track for [the other rappers] and they're like, "Aw, what's up with that beat?" F-- you, motherf------s! I showed that beat to all y'all. None of you wanted it, haha. These motherf------s [Parker & The Numberman] killed it. Now you're just mad.
Quan: Tell me a little more about your musical background. You didn't start just in hip-hop, right?
Ridley: No. I always did both. I played music and I sang. But I was also making beats and sorta rhyming at the same time. I kinda just did everything from the beginning. First thing I started playing was the drums. I always played drums. I got a drum set when I was very young. Then I traded my drum set when I was nine for a giant G.I. Joe tank thing. I traded my friend for it and I regretted it like every day. And of course when the time came for me to get another drum set, I f----ing saved up all my bread and f----ing had to get a real kit because my parents were like, "F-- that! We're not getting you another drum set!"
But I always kinda did everything. I kinda did all of the above. I sang for a rock band called Sway for a while. I played drums when I was a kid in bands. Sang sometimes. Also played keys. Guitar for a little bit. I played contrabass for awhile.
Quan: Did you go to a music school for training or did you just pick it up?
Ridley: Yeah, I just learned everything myself for the most part. Drums I was taught somewhat because I learned it in middle school. I dropped out of high school when I was halfway through my freshman year. But I did marching drums for the time that I was there. But then I played contrabass when I went back for my senior year of high school.
Quan: Was Sway a serious band or were you just kids playing at your talent show or something?
Ridley: We played out. We played Canes and a bunch of random little shows. But it just kinda fell apart because I was doing hip-hop at the same time. We all had this recording studio that we had together -- Temple Productions, which is all of Vokab Kompany's band now. But we all had a recording studio together. So we were doing rock and hip-hop, electronic. Whatever we felt like making, we were just making it. A lot of that just fell apart. Then pretty much the only people left that were doing any of the hip-hop stuff were me, Bazerk [Bazerkowitz of Anti-Citizens], and Orko [Eloheim]. Orko, he's a nomad so he was all around. Then me and Bazerk started Anti-Citizens, which was originally Tunnel Visionaries and then we had to change the name.
Quan: You work with such a diverse cast of characters in San Diego. How did that come about?
Ridley: Honestly, we were just making music. Even before we started playing shows, we linked with Orko. Then he started coming over, we started recording. From there, it's all about getting out and playing shows. You get out and play shows, you meet people. You have to work hard -- I've been doing this forever. And eventually just people come around and they're like, "Hey!" And when you approach somebody and you're nobody and you have no reputation whatsoever, it's really hard to get people to work with you. But if you have a reputation, you put in work, people have seen you have done something worthwhile, then they're more willing to work with you just off the strength.
But still, regardless of what you do, you're still gonna run into that problem. People just -- they don't know who the f---- you are. Nobody in San Diego is really "famous." I just love making music more than anything.
Quan: What's on the horizon as far as music coming from you?
Ridley: Me and Orko got a solo album where he's just rhyming and I'm making the beats. We got Anti-Citizens and Left-Handed Scientist albums coming out this year. Kaus and DJ Inform are putting out an album that I'm helping them put together a little bit. I'm working on a f----ing acoustic set right now...Me and Ryan [Ridley's roommate], where I'm playing piano, singing and rapping. And then he's singing and playing the guitar. But we're gonna do an open-mic thing where we can do an acoustic set of half my songs, half his songs. Really weird, we're really dark but interesting, I guess. Very personal kind of stuff. I'm working on that. I'm really interested in that more than anything. I just like playing shows more than anything. I'm doing a live beat set and Parker & the Numberman are doing their thing on May 19 at Access Hip-Hop and then across the street. And then I'm doing a Punk Rock vs. Hip-Hop show on June 1 [at Tower Bar].
Quan: You seem to invest a lot, not just in your music, but in the scene as a whole. What do you think the scene needs most right now to grow?
Ridley: Man, you know what's so funny? I've answered that question so many f----ing times and I've always had a different opinion on it every time. Honestly, what's the answer? I have no f----ing idea. What happened last night at some show? We had a riot?
Quan: Well, that show was in San Diego but I'm not sure if there were any SD artists involved. It was with 2 Chainz. He had a song called "Riot". And then people started fighting each other.
Ridley: I think Cros [DJ Cros1 of Armory Massive DJ's] said it best when he said, "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians." I think that's 100% what it is. People are trying way too hard to impress other rappers and other producers and other people in the hip-hop scene who are never gonna buy their albums, never gonna go to their shows, never gonna support them. Versus just going out there and trying to build a fanbase of people who actually like your music and leave your ego out of it. Just make the music you wanna make and don't f----ing worry about what some f----ing retard thinks about your retarded sh--. Who cares? Just because it's hip-hop doesn't mean you break the rules of all musical creation, all artistry. Just because it's hip-hop doesn't mean you get to fight over the music you make and your opinions of what you like and what you don't like are relevant. Art is expression and you can't really ever sit there and say art sucks. That's just your opinion that sucks. "One man's trash is another man's treasure." And that's so applicable in music. I hear sh-- all the time and I'm like, "Dude, this is awful music?" They're like, "I love this music." I got older and I'm like, "You know what? That's you. If you love that music, that's you." If that person that made it, they were genuine and honest when they did it, then f-- it. Let them make music. Who am I to judge them?
San Diego is a weird little place, weird little f--ing black hole for artists.
Mr. Ridley and Parker & The Numberman will perform on May 19 at Access Hip-Hop in Pacific Beach. Parker & the Numberman will also be performing May 18 with Orko Eloheim, Stuntdouble and Tenshun, and many more at The Yard (check out the Facebook Event page for more info).
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.