15 Years Later: The Making of My First Rap Album

Stan Ipcus

a3134904049_10

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@Stan Ipcus)

“I woke up to the smell of my ass.” That’s the opening line from my first rap album, Pu Click Poetry. A mean fart yesterday morning reminded me of the line, and after sharing it with some close childhood friends on our never-ending WhatsApp chat, I realized that this year is in fact the 15th anniversary of its release. “Wow,” I thought, as I watched my two toddler-aged boys jump into bed with me and my pregnant wife. “Time flies.”

I Love College

I was a junior at the University of Maryland when I recorded Pu Click Poetry. I had never been in an actual recording studio before—all my previous efforts were laid straight to tape via a crusty mic plugged into one of those Aiwa stereo systems with a 3-disc changer and a dual cassette deck. I had only put together one actual body of work before my first album, a mixtape of sorts titled Hanukah Hold Up, which was a play on DJ Clue’s Holiday Hold Up mixtape. It was basically me spitting over instrumentals I had on vinyl, like Royal Flush’s “Worldwide” and Nas’ “One Love.” Shit like that. There was rarely a hook—it was mostly me just reciting verses to beats I loved, but it filled up a full 45 minute side of a tape.

By the end of ‘98, I was living off-campus in one of the Knox Boxes, a neighborhood of apartments a block up the hill from downtown College Park and across the street from campus. All we did every night for the two years prior was play NBA Live, take gravity bong hits and smoke Ls, drink beers, and freestyle. Our cyphers would be insane, and we recorded all of them. There was always an ill mix of cats passing the mic around, too. Dudes from White Plains, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Jersey, Philly, Maryland. Some were kids who actually rapped, but most were kids who you would never think could rap but were hilarious freestylers and would steal the show nightly. And all the while, I’d be writing rhyme after rhyme after rhyme, in class and sometimes at the crib, with no real goal in site. I just loved it. It was fun, and I was good at it.

19656_279554353775_535118775_4553349_5672745_n

In The Lab

As a Hanukah present that year, my folks blessed me with some studio time to record my first album. It was the best gift I ever got. My father had a close friend whose son-in-law was a lawyer at Def Jam—Randy Acker—and he hooked me up with a dude who had a recording studio on Irving Place in Manhattan. So during the winter break in January ‘99, I spent four days holed up in the lab, banging out my first album.

I started completely from scratch. I mean, I had tons of rhymes and ideas for songs and loops, but none of the beats had been made, and I didn’t really have many hooks planned either. The first night, I showed up with two of my boys, some trees, some beers, and a case full of CDs that had songs I wanted to loop up. I probably had a book of rhymes too, but at that point I’m pretty sure I had all the verses memorized. Back then, I used to write my rhymes and memorize them immediately, and have them in my head at all times archived. My boys used to always be impressed by that, but it came naturally to me.

The producer I was working with—Matt—was mad cool. He was ready to help loop stuff up, and basically just do whatever I wanted to do. But since I didn’t have that much time to do the whole album—three night sessions and a day for mixing—I opted to keep things really simple, and have him just loop up the samples and not really add much to them. All the loops on Pu Click Poetry have no additional drums or sounds on them, they’re raw loops. And I didn’t double any of my vocals either. It’s extremely stripped-down. I remember how dope the feeling was of recording vocals in a real studio.

This place wasn’t the craziest studio ever, I’ve been in way fancier spots since. But it had the big mixing board, and the window into the booth, which was big enough for a full band to record in. It was official, and very quickly I made myself at home and got super focused. It was a dream come true. I was recording my first album! Sick!

225110_1026313860970_5343_n

Track-by-Track Breakdown

1. “Morning”

This was recorded the last night before mixing day. I went in on a Monday night, so it was Wednesday, and all the songs were laid down, and I had the idea to read this poem I had written for a poetry class I was in the semester before as the intro. So Matt dimmed the lights and we lit candles and shit, it was hilarious. We def set the mood right for it, though. The poem is basically the story of me waking up, and getting ready for the day. I say stuff like, “I tasted the days wishes, then put the dishes in the sink/as I gulped a citrus drink.” It’s very visual. Plus the “I woke up to the smell of my ass” line was a pretty funny way to start the album off. It was shocking, something you weren’t ready for, like me! And then at the end, I altered the poem slightly, and said, “Pu Click lit my spliff/And I became Ipcus,” to show my transformation into rapper mode.

This poem was fire on paper. I remember workshopping it in class and everyone loved it. It really came to life when I read it, though. I fucked with my voice on certain lines, and over-enunciated the whole shit, too. I was really happy with how it came out. It was the perfect intro.

2. “Ippy Strut”

This was the standout track on the album, and we all knew it. I’m pretty sure The Meters’ sample was the first CD I gave Matt to loop up. And then he had the idea to take the change in the beat and make that the chorus, which made it even iller. I think I first heard “Cissy Strut” playing in that Quentin Tarantino movie Jackie Brown, and then I copped a Meters compilation or something that had it on there. I recorded this song in one take, four fucking verses and hooks straight through. It was crazy, too, because right as we were about to lay it, Randy Acker and another young guy working at Def Jam—Todd Moscowitz—popped in to say what’s up and show some love. And they watched me record this shit in one pop. If you listen to it, it’s crazy lyrical and wordy too, like non-stop quick spitting through the verses and the hook. Even I can’t believe I did it. But I was in the zone. It was the second night we were there, and I was so fired up and ready to go in on that beat.

I went up to Def Jam the week after the album was done with one of my boys to play them the stuff I recorded. We played this loud as hell in the Def Jam offices. This is 1999. It was nuts. I remember Todd popped in and said what’s up, and after the chorus came on which at the end goes, “Eat my dick like vegetables and lick my testicles,” Randy was like, “I’m not sure they’re gonna be able to play this on the radio.” We all cracked up. I ended up remixing this in 2009 with new verses, and I love how it came out, but nothing comes close to the original. I once performed at a Battle of the Bands on campus my senior year, and I closed my set to this, and all my boys came up where the stage area was and were dancing around and bugging to it with me. Great moment.

64383_458372090902533_1543057579_n

3. “Lyrical Delight”

This started as one full song with two long, slow verses, but I had no chorus for it. So I took each verse, and split them to make an interlude and an outro. I had this originally recorded over Method Man’s “Bring the Pain” instrumental, but at the time I was obsessed with the Cymande album. My whole click was. It was one of those albums that within our circle got crazy burn, and we talked about it a lot. I always loved the instrumental track towards the end, “One More,” and thought it would be ill to rhyme to. And it changed the pace of the verse totally. “Bring the Pain” is a pretty up-tempo beat, and the Cymande loop was slow as shit.

A lot of the beats on this album are kind of slow and blunted. That’s the zone I was in musically at the time. I wonder why! No seriously, rap was kind of wack to me in the late ‘90s, like ‘98 and ‘99. There were a few gems that dropped of course, and I was still all about rap music, but I spent a good portion of my time digging back into old soul and funk music during those years and discovering stuff that dropped before I was born. So a lot of the stuff on Pu Click Poetry comes from that.

4. “Bentos”

This was my ode to chronic. We used to call ourselves the C.I.A., the Chinky I Associates. Being “chinky eyed,” as politically incorrect as it sounds, was a very popular way to describe being bent back then, thanks to dudes like Method Man and Redman. We had mad acronyms for our click back then, and this was one of them. And it was only right that I snatched a Cypress Hill loop for the track. Again, another slow, blunted instrumental, but it sounded dope with slow raps on it. The second verse about me being in class with my boy, and us getting up to leave in the middle of the lecture to go get bent is classic if I do say so myself. “I grabbed my backpack/Apo grabbed his fat sack/We gave our teacher dap and told her, ‘Yo, your class is wack!’ and that was that.” And just to do some different shit, I whispered the chorus, which I think I came up with on the spot.

19656_281314853775_535118775_4562722_6309377_n

5. “5 O’Clock Ante Meridian” f/ Max B

This was taken from a late night session on WMUC, which is the campus radio station at the University of Maryland. A couple of my boys had a show on late night, right after Peter Rosenberg’s show actually. It was from like 3-6 a.m. So one night, after going out partying or whatever, I got invited up there to spit, and this dude Max B was up there beatboxing for everyone. When it was my turn to rhyme, I stepped up and started rapping, and everyone in there was feeling it. You can hear them in the background if you listen closely. A bunch of cats up there had never heard me spit before, so it was a bit of a breakout moment for me on campus, for sure. And it was my first time meeting Max B, who is now one of my closest friends on the planet. You can tell we didn’t know each other because I call him Gabe when I first get on the mic, who was actually his friend that was there with him. And we’ve made tons of music and performed at countless shows together, that’s my brother. Actually our wives are both pregnant right now with boys (his first, my third), so maybe a new and improved Stan Ipcus and Max B are on the way!

If you listen closely to the beats Max is making, you’ll hear that he’s flipping some DJ Premier instrumentals that were hot at the time, Gang Starr’s “Work” and Das EFX’s “Real Hip Hop.” I’m lucky to be best buds with two of the illest beatboxers on the planet, Max B and Matisyahu. Those are my dudes. They actually performed together at my wedding, and we’ve done mad other stuff together, too.

I basically just brought the tape in and said I wanted to put this as an interlude somewhere. I always loved when artists would put stuff like this on their albums, like when Grap Luva is spitting at the beginning of “On and On” on Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca and the Soul Brother. Its placement on here was directly inspired by that.

6. “Head Nod”

I was pretty obsessed with Aceyalone’s song “Makeba” around the time I recorded the album. And it had that slow, blunted feel that was beginning to be my musical theme, so I had Matt loop up the little piece of it that was just instrumental. The verses are totally pieced together on this one, but I made them connect with the hook, which again I came up with on the spot. You can hear a couple of my boys who were there with me in the studio on the second hook, before the basketball verse.

The basketball verse was legendary around the way. I originally spit it over Gang Starr’s “So Wassup?!” so all my fam already knew all the words to it. It’s me talking mad shit about my skills on the court. Shit like, “It’s pure wetness when I finesse the rock/Knock you out your socks as your shots get blocked/Plus I break your ankles, and let my balls dangle on your nose/When I take it to the hole like Jalen Rose.” All we did was play ball back in the day, so it was fitting to have a rhyme on the album about it. I love the other two verses on here, too. I spit the first verse one night on WMUC as I remember, the verse with the “Super duper flavor scooper/Got more hot shit than a pooper scooper sitting in the nuker/Cracking jokes like Bob Uecker” line. I wish I still had that recording.

a2039931415_10

7. “Have Some” f/ Harvey Yackerbottom

I used to have a public access TV show in high school with my boy Andrew Goldberg, who is now a writer and producer for The Family Guy. He would do all these characters, and one of them was Harvey Yackerbottom, a scumbag lawyer. We’d make mock commercials, and he’d slay the voices for all of them. He was always hilarious. So I asked him to come with me to the studio one of the nights to do some comedy bits for the album.

Since I didn’t have hooks for a lot of the stuff, I asked Andrew to do voices in between verses on a couple songs, to add a comedic edge to the tracks. So for “Have Some,” which is over a Herbie Hancock loop, he did his Harvey Yackerbottom voice and played the part of a nightclub host introducing me. He killed it, and my favorite part is at the end, when he just blacks out off the head. I told him to just keep going, and we kept the whole bit. “Where’s my scotch, Louie?!!” So funny.

8. “Wool”

“Wool” is one of those ridiculous slang terms for vagina that I always thought was hilarious. This song is all about picking up girls, and the fact that Andrew does his Edith Bunker (from All in the Family) impersonation between the verses makes the whole song fucking ridiculous. Here I am trying to spit some pimp shit, and all of a sudden, the girl I’ve been trying to bag is Edith Bunker.

My boy Timmy P is the one who put me on to this Crusaders sample. And Matt caught the loop lovely. I had an original recording of these verses over Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” but this beat gave it a whole other feel. And I always rapped about girls, because that’s all we really gave a shit about besides hip-hop and hoops, so I wanted to have one track about us hooking up with chicks on the album. But the Edith Bunker bit turned it into some silly shit, which I’m not mad at. I wanted it to be a fun listen.

45003_1514831265280_1156881_n

9. “Farting In Your Faces”

This is the other verse over the Cymande sample, same as “Lyrical Delight.” It’s a nice fade out to the album. I’m not sure I really remember the science behind the tracklist for the album, but however I did it worked well now that I revisit it. I’m not mad at this ending. It’s me just talking mad shit about how nice I am on some slow MC shit. I really felt like that back then, too. And even though I don’t really rap anymore, I still feel like that. It’s the rapper in me. I’m glad I chose to rap over these types of beats on this album.

It was way different sounding than everything else that was out at the time, and that my rapping peers at Maryland were putting out, and I think people appreciated that. It felt unique, even with the rhyme styles and shit. These weren’t the easiest beats to rap to, but there was mad room on them for me to play with the styles and my voice, which is what I did. Over the years, I evolved into a much smoother and harder delivery. But back then, I was on some straight rhyming, MC shit, just not on traditional boom bap beats. Tracks like this are the epitome of that approach.

Mixing/Mastering

After all the tracks were done, I spent the Thursday of that week at the studio for a day session, just me without any of my boys, mixing and mastering the album with Matt and his man. It was all analog back then, so everytime you hear the beat pull out and shit like that, I did that live on the spot, just feeling it like I was DJing a show for myself. I remember Matt saying I reminded him of Humpty, and his man was like, “This would be big in Europe.”

It was a snowy week, so I took the train in that day, and I have a vivid memory of being on the Metro North back to White Plains with the CD in my discman listening to the finished album. I walked to the bar from the train station to meet up with a few of my boys who were there playing darts, and we were bugging off that shit being done. I decided to name it Pu Click Poetry, as a dedication to my boys who always inspired and supported my rapping. The album was my portrait of our life.

puclickpoetryback281

Cover Art

My boy Jon Jo, who grew up with me in White Plains and went to Maryland with me too, helped me design the cover. We sat at Kinko’s in College Park on a snowy ass day when we got back from break and made that shit on one of their computers. My other boy Josh, who is now a clothing designer, was the one who took the pic for the cover. We shot it down by the train tracks in College Park. It was my first photo shoot. Jon Jo somehow figured how to superimpose the pic on top of a snowy shot of Ogden Avenue I had, the street I grew up on in White Plains. And then I threw the shot of me and my pops on the back, because he’s the one who made the album possible in the first place. Damn my old Honda Civic DX is in the shot, too! And Propps Kidd Productions is an inside joke. If you knew what that meant, you definitely cracked up at the first sight of that in the bottom corner.

Back to School, Sort Of

Slowly but surely, the CD started spreading through my neighborhood. I took a semester off because I had no idea what I wanted to major in, and worked as a cook at the most popping spot in town, Cornerstone Bar & Grill. My parents weren’t thrilled, but it was perfect. I worked full-time, and had a chance to focus on my music and try to figure out what I wanted to major in. When I wasn’t working, I’d be burning as many CDs as possible on anyone’s computer that had a CD burner so I could sell them. I’d sit up in random dorm rooms just to get access to a burner. Someone’s roommate, whoever had one, because I didn’t. They weren’t standard at the time. By the summer, I was back in school, and on track to graduate as an American Studies major in 2000. And my CD had circulated enough that in the fall, I had a nice buzz, and started to get booked to do shows on campus and at Frat events and parties and even in DC, performing original music.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 6.13.03 PM

15 Years Later

I just listened to the album for the first time in years yesterday, and it brings back crazy memories. My voice sounds nuts. It’s so high and weird. It’s almost embarrassing to listen to, I can’t front. But I can appreciate what I was doing, and the rhymes definitely put a smile on my face. It was all very organic and natural at the time, and the whole album came out tight. I certainly evolved over the years as an artist. I mean, if you listen to this in comparison to Local Legend, which I put out last year, it sounds way different. I learned how to really write songs, and my tone has changed substantially. But there are similarities in the sounds and the samples, so I guess my ear and taste for the music itself hasn’t changed much.

Maybe fifteen years from now, or a hundred years from now, or today, someone will discover this album and be like, “What the fuck is this!!?!? This shit is bananas!!!” Or maybe not. Either way, it exists, and it made an everlasting impact on a small community of White Plains and College Park kids, who for a moment in time, didn’t really give a shit about much else than weed, beers, girls, and basketball.

Download Pu Click Poetry for free HERE.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s