The many strides of AUTOMatic

By Joey Grihalva

The late 1980s and early 1990s is considered the golden era of hip-hop, when jazz and soul laid a sonic foundation for boom bap beats and clever wordsmiths. In the last decade hip-hop has drawn influence from electronic music, veering into abstract melodic territory.

Of all the Wisconsin artists doing an updated version of golden era hip-hop, no one does it quite as well as AUTOMatic. Made up of emcee A.P.R.I.M.E. (Darius Windom) and producer Trellmatic (Montrell Sallis), AUTOMatic has a new album — Marathon — that cements its status as one of Milwaukee’s finest hip-hop acts.

I sat down with Windom — whose rap alias stands for “Armond’s Phenomenal Rhymes Incite Mind Elevation” — at Vanguard in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood and a week later I went to the Marathon release show at Cactus Club.

BLANKING OUT

If young Windom had found friends who could sing, he may never have started a rap career. He might instead be in a “baby New Edition” R&B group.

“My mom really wanted me to like New Edition,” recalls Windom. “We went to every last New Edition tour that came through town, all the way up to when they came in 2012. I used to sing in the choir, I used to sing all the time. Honestly, I used to have a dope voice.”

A.P.R.I.M.E.
A.P.R.I.M.E.

Windom’s older sister and cousin exposed him to hip-hop. He remembers being taken to his first rap show in 1988, at the age of 6. The lineup included Public Enemy, Ice-T, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and was headlined by Eric B. & Rakim. Windom can still picture the rapper-producer duo walking out on the Mecca (now the Panther Arena) stage to a laser-light show.

“I really loved the DJs — K LA Boss who was EPMD’s DJ and Public Enemy’s DJ Terminator X. It wasn’t until A Tribe Called Quest that I really started digging it. But when Gang Starr put out ‘DWYCK’ is when I absolutely had to be a part of it,” says Windom.

His reverence for DJ Premier led Windom to model his sound after the Gang Starr producer when he started making his own music. But long before that, Windom found his rap calling. It came one night in his grandmother’s basement while hanging out with his sister and cousin.

“My cousin kicked it off and I went after him. I kind of went blank. I don’t know what I was saying, I couldn’t hear anything. I could only see their faces. Whatever I was saying was creating this astonishment on their faces. Then my sister ran upstairs and told my mom I could rap.”

GETTING IN THE GAME

Following years of writing verse upon verse and rapping for fun, Windom got up the nerve to start making his own music after dropping out of college. He found a producer that was asking $600 per beat. Startled by the price, he opted instead to buy an MPC 2000 drum machine, went half on mixers and mics with a friend, and recorded a demo on the friend’s computer.

In 2003, Windom saw Black Elephant, one of the hottest Milwaukee groups in the early 2000s underground hip-hop scene. He bought their CD and found their manager’s contact information in the liner notes.

The manager — Geraud Blanks, currently a programmer with the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Black Lens program — ended up booking Windom for a show at what is now Riverwest Public House. A new fan asked Windom when he would be releasing an album. He told the fan, “Probably the next show,” thinking it would be months away.

“But it turned out to about two weeks later, so I just went hard. My boy Jonathan Frost had a recording setup at his crib so I linked up with him and wrote and recorded the album in two weeks,” says Windom. The result was 2004 Writer’s Block, his only true solo project.

ROAD TO ‘AUTOMATIC’

For a time, there was a venue called bSide in Walker’s Point. In 2004, DJs Kid Cut Up and Why B started No Request Fridays there, which became a gathering place for Milwaukee’s hip-hop community. Windom met Seoul K at bSide and they formed the short lived group Class:Sick.

At bSide Windom also met Milwaukee rapper Dana Coppa, one of the original members of the Rusty Pelicans, the godfathers of Milwaukee hip-hop. Coppa suggested Windom meet Montrell Sallis (Trellmatic), who was making beats similar to his. Windom’s girlfriend at the time also ran into Sallis at a party and felt the two should meet.

“At the time I wasn’t really interested in working with someone that made music similar to me. Why would I do that when I could just do it myself?” Windom wondered at the time.

A.P.R.I.M.E. & Trellmatic
A.P.R.I.M.E. & Trellmatic

After meeting Sallis at bSide one night Windom got over his hesitancy, the two hit it off, and they formed AUTOMatic in 2007. They became a part of the collective House of M, which also included Dana Coppa, Professor Ecks, Haz Solo, and others. During their first performances Windom was a nervous wreck and performed with a mask.

“I have stage fright. Back then it was pretty crippling,” says Windom. “I’m an introvert. I don’t like the spotlight. So I’m kind of a walking contradiction in that way.”

Since teaming up AUTOMatic has released four albums, a mixtape and an EP. Windom has continued to work on solo material and earlier this year he released his first EP under the 3099 alias, which was a collaboration with DJ/producer JDL Rockwell and delves into more electro-R&B-rap territory. Local soul pop singer Lex Allen is featured on two of the songs off the 3099 EP.

“I wrote everything,” says Windom. “I honestly just want to be a writer-producer. If I was put in a situation where AUTOMatic was offered a record deal, but then I was offered a publishing deal to write, I would take the publishing deal.”

MENTORED BY A STAR

While the pool of talented Milwaukee-born emcees has grown over the last decade, it was a short list in the 1990s and 2000s. Atop that list was Todd “Speech” Thomas, who moved to Atlanta for college and formed the progressive hip-hop group Arrested Development in 1988.

A few years back Thomas — a two-time Grammy winner — was listening to 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and heard a song by AUTOMatic. He recognized a lyrical and stylistic kinship and called the radio station. Jordan Lee passed along AUTOMatic’s contact but Windom lost the email. Two years later he took a shot in the dark and reached out to Thomas.

A.P.R.I.M.E. & JC Poppe at Mile of Music's first hip-hop showcase.
A.P.R.I.M.E. & JC Poppe at Mile of Music’s first hip-hop showcase.

“He emailed me back the next morning and was like, ‘Yeah dude, it’s been long enough. It’s been two years!’ I said sorry and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everything happens in God’s time.’ Then we started emailing each other back and forth.”

“Speech has become like a mentor of sorts,” says Windom. “Anytime that I have feelings of doubt, he lifts me up. Honestly, before [JC] Poppe came back to manage us in December of last year I was ready to be done. I told Speech that and he was like, ‘Nope. I’m not hearing it. You are too good. Don’t quit because you’re frustrated. Quit when you’re wack.’”

Not only has Speech helped to motivate Windom on his artistic journey, he also contributed a verse on the track “Rising Sun” off of AUTOMatic’s 2015 EP ARISING.

A BREAK AND A BREAKTHROUGH

One reason there was four-year break between full-length albums is Windom lost trust with a former collaborator.

“My music is everything to me. I don’t have any children, so that’s how deep I feel about this. If you flub something with my music that’s ultimately like dropping my baby,” says Windom.

When Marathon was conceived it was originally meant to be another EP. But during the writing process Windom hit a stride and before he knew it he had 17 songs. Luckily, Windom’s friend and fellow Milwaukee musician Colin Plant (No No Yeah Okay) offered his home studio.

“That was very freeing. It allowed me to sing and do some things I really wanted to do, that I might not have done not if I was in front of people,” says Windom.

Because of their work schedules, Sallis and Windom were barely able to be in the studio at the same time, but sent each other material and feedback for Marathon. The result is their best project yet.

This time around Windom is doing less battle rapping and being open and honest about subjects that some other rappers might not touch. What stands out is Windom’s sharp rhyme and storytelling skills. He even flexes his singing voice on a few of the tracks.

'Marathon' release show at Cactus Club.
‘Marathon’ release show at Cactus Club.

“We’re trying to make good music that anybody can relate to. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of money or a certain kind of car. I try to relate the human experience above all,” says Windom.

At the recent release show, Windom closed the night with a heartfelt message about the need for unity and love in these times of tense political division, before playing the feel-good single “Talkin’ Bout Love.”

Coincidentally, Marathon was released the same day as the final album from A Tribe Called Quest, their first in 18 years. AUTOMatic paid homage to ATCQ near the end of their set. As Windom rapped and the crowd responded, I could feel the spirit of Phife Dawg — ATCQ member who passed earlier this year — in the building.  

marathon

 

FULL-INTERVIEW

What follows is a transcript of my full-interview with Darius Windom (A.P.R.I.M.E. 3099) at Vanguard in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood a few weeks ago. I enjoyed a delicious buffalo chicken poutine while we talked.

AP
I just read the article you did on Enrique. I thought that was pretty dope.

WiG
Cool, cool. Do you know those dudes?

AP
We’re Facebook friends but I don’t know them personally. I like what they’re doing. IshDARR is definitely one of the pieces of hope here.

WiG
It seems like the Milwaukee hip-hop scene is better than ever.

AP
Definitely there is a lot more of what seems to be…unity. I graced the scene in 2004. That’s when I put out my first album, but that was more on the Northside. I was an opener for this group that was pretty big then called Black Elephant.

WiG
Yeah I remember Black Elephant.

AP
I used to do shows with them all the time. Through them I ended up meeting the Rusty Ps and Def Harmonic and I ended up just kind of coming on what we called “the East Side scene.” I started doing a bunch of shows between there and the South Side. I was in a group called Class:Sick with my friend Seoul K. We were doing that and we did about two projects together and then the same year that we disbanded is when I ended up meeting Trell and we formed AUTOMatic.

WiG
Did you grow up on the North Side?

AP
I’m from Brown Deer.

WiG
Did you go to Brown Deer High School?

AP
Nah. I went to Hamilton and North Division. I ended up hanging with this one guy that was a friend of my girlfriend at the time. He invited me to this show that was at a spot that’s not there anymore. Black Elephant was on the bill and I ended up buying their CD. I’m one of those people that go through the liner notes. I ended up seeing that they had a manager so at the time I had a little demo. I wasn’t really doing many shows or anything like that.

WiG
Were you in high school at this time?

AP
No I was out of high school. I started doing music probably a year or two after I left college. I only went to college for like a year.

WiG
What year did you graduate high school?

AP
2000. So this was probably like 2003/2004 that I ended up calling their manager.

WiG
Do you remember what that venue was called where you first saw Black Elephant?

AP
Damn, nah I don’t remember.

WiG
What part of town?

AP
It was on the North Side. It was on like 76th Street right off Good Hope…

WiG
I can picture that part of town, but I don’t know of any venues that were there. Was it a bar?

AP
Yeah it was. They didn’t have a stage. The performance was in this room right next to some pool tables and everybody was gathered around and they had strobe lights. But yeah, so Black Elephant performed and I was like, “Dude, they kinda nice.” So you know, they were selling the CD so I bought it, looked in the liner notes, saw they had a manager, peeped his contact information, and I hit him up and told him I was looking for representation.

He and I ended up meeting up at the Jalisco on North and I gave him my demo and started talking to him about some stuff and he was like, “Well, you know, we’ll see. I got my hands full with Black Elephant so I don’t know, we’ll see.” He ended up hitting me up the next day and was like, “Hey, we got a show at Riverwest Commons…”

WiG
Which is now Public House.

AP
Right. So I ended up meeting him there and he introduced me to Black Elephant. One of the co-managers from Black Elephant at the time, when he introduced him to me he was like, “Oh this is the dude that you were talking about?!” And so it’s funny because the way that Geraud is, he’s not the type that will give you props straight up. It’s almost like a backhanded compliment. He’d be like, “Yeah alright, it’s cool. I guess you got potential.” But then when I met the other guy he was like, “Dude said you are dope!” And I’m like, “Really? Because he tried to downplay it.” So that was kind of like the rapport that me and Geraud had. It wasn’t until fairly recently that he actually started straight up giving me props.

WiG
What has he been up to lately?

AP
Nothing music related. He’s been working with the film festival. He hasn’t done music stuff in a while.

WiG
Oh yeah, I know who he is. Tarik introduced me to him this summer at Chic one night. He heads up the Black Lens program?

AUTOMatic
AUTOMatic

AP
Yep. He’s pretty cool. So yeah, me and Trell formed AUTOMatic in 2007.

WiG
How’d you meet Trell?

AP
bSide. It was actually something in the making…

WiG
What was bSide?

AP
bSide was one of the hottest hip-hop spots. They used to do a Friday night there. Kid Cut Up, Why B, Steve Marks, the No Request cats, they used to have a Fright night. It was on 2nd and Virginia I believe. It was like upstairs from this restaurant. It was set up kind of like loft style. But yeah man, that place was crackin. It was people going through there all the time.

WiG
Mid 2000s?

AP
Yeah, yeah. It was pretty live. That’s actually where I met Seoul K and Trell. I used to frequent bSide and they would have performances here and there. I came across Dana Coppa there one night. It was a night I was performing and he liked my beats. I was producing at the time. And he was like, “Dude, I know a guy who makes beats similar to yours and he’s pretty dope.” He kept telling me that he wanted to make the intro but it didn’t happen for a while.

So then this girl that I was seeing at the time, she must have ran into him at a random party or something like that, because she came back and was telling me that I should meet this dude Trellmatic. And I was like, “Yeeeeah, I don’t know about that.” Especially because Dana already told me that he makes beats similar to mine. At that time I wasn’t really interested in working with someone who made music similar to me. Why would I work with someone doing something similar to me when I could just do it myself?

WiG
Were you doing more production at the time or more rapping?

AP
It was pretty even. The way that I ended up making beats in the first place was that there was this one guy that I met who had two pretty cool beats, but he was trying to charge like $600 a beat. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” So then I just kind of went online and did some research and told him, “So you expect me to pay thousands of dollars so you can produce an EP for me?”

At that time the MPC 2000 was just like a grand, so I figured I’ll just get the equipment myself. One of my best friends was singing at the time and he kind of wanted to get into it too…

WiG
Who was that?

AP
His name is Dino. He doesn’t really sing much anymore, but he ended up buying a computer, I bought the MPC, we went half on some mixers and mics and just got the equipment. I was going over to his house like every single night making three or four beats a night. But I had to make about 50 beats before I got something I was comfortable rapping to. Then I just continued with that pace making several beats a night. It came around to it where it was like I would meet producers and they would give me tips. Then I set aside the ones that I really liked and then before I knew it I had about twenty beats that I really dug and started recording a demo.

After Geraud liked to my demo I ended up doing a few shows with Black Elephant. And there was this one guy who was asking me where my album was and I told him it wasn’t out yet. And he was like, “When’s it coming out?” and I said, “Probably the next show.” Because I was thinking it would be a long time before Geraud called me for a show again.

But it turned out to be two or three weeks later, so I just went hard. My boy Jonathan Frost had a recording setup at the crib so I ended up linking up with him and I wrote an album and recorded the album in two weeks. And it was actually not that bad for the two weeks.

WiG
What was the name of that project?

AP
It was called Writer’s Block. It’s like my only true solo project.

WiG
What year did come out?

AP
That was 2004. But I do cringe a little bit listening to it. I’ve improved so much since then.

WiG
And you did all of the production?

AP
Yeah except for one that was produced by Jonathan Frost.

WiG
Let’s take it back a second. Growing up, what did you hear in the house? What were your parents listening to?

AP
Okay so I was born in Milwaukee, raised Brown Deer. I lived with my aunt who is like my second mom. My parents were in the army. I remember Saturday morning was the day to clean up the house so they would play all kinds of stuff, a lot of Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, there was a lot of Frankie Beverly, Isaac Hayes, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder.

WiG
How about your aunt? What did she listen to?

AP
My aunt was more into R&B. She liked Freddie Jackson, The Whispers, René and Angela, that type of thing. My aunt was definitely more into modern stuff at the time. I used to do this trick actually, once I started becoming an avid listener of music. Because initially hip-hop wasn’t for me. My mom really wanted me to like New Edition. She chose New Edition to be my group. They were like my Temptations. We went to every last New Edition tour that came through town, all the way up to when they came in 2012.  We went to every single New Edition show, she made sure that.

I used to sing back in the day. Honestly, I used to have a dope voice. I used to sing in the choir, I used to sing all the time. I probably would have been a singer if things had worked out. But I didn’t have any friends that could actually sing, so I couldn’t really set up the baby New Edition. My cousin used to rap and used to be super into hip-hop. He wanted me to love hip-hop. So he used to take me to concerts, stuff that I couldn’t really appreciate at the time.  I remember him bringing home 45’ singles. Eric B. & Rakim were one of his favorite groups. I remember he brought home the “Follow the Leader” single. On the B-side of that single there was the instrumental and the acapella. The acapella still had the hook with the cuts and everything, so that was super dope.

I really loved the DJs. DJs were kind of the way that I ended up liking hip-hop. During that time it was pretty much standard to have cuts. K LA Boss who was EPMD’s DJ, Terminator X was Public Enemy’s DJ. The DJs are the way that I got into it. It wasn’t until A Tribe Called Quest came out that I really started digging it. When I heard “Bonita Applebum” there was just something about it that made me get into it.

But when Gang Starr put out “DWYCK” is when I absolutely had to be a part of it. DJ Premier was it for me. Back when I started making beats that was my goal. I needed to learn how to make beats like DJ Premier. So the first thing I learned was how to chop samples. I would listen to his stuff and chop up a sample exactly like that. That was my whole thing. I didn’t care if someone called me a biter. I was going to make beats that sounded like DJ Premier. There’s a few on Writer’s Block that are indicative of that.

WiG
Before you were saying that you had this trick with your aunt…

AP
Oh yeah. She would ask me about certain songs when we were driving in the car and they came on the radio. She’d be like, “Oh who is this?” And I would say, “That’s such and such, and definitely you’ll like the whole album. The whole album is good.” Then she’d buy the album. I don’t even know if she would listen to it, but I would just keep it.

It got to the point where I would suggest so much good music to her that she just ended up blindly trusting me. It would just be like a bunch of stuff that I would sneak in. I would be like, “Oh the New Edition album is out. The new 112 album is out, but also I know you’re going to like this Jay-Z.” That would be my whole thing. She had so much music so I figured she wouldn’t know that the Jay-Z album wasn’t there.

WiG
Did you have any siblings growing up?

AP
Yeah I have three sisters. My older sister is a hip-hop head straight up. A lot of the things that she listened to had a great influence on me.

WiG
Who were some of her favorites?

AP
She listened to some of everything. She would be into the Geto Boys, N.W.A., and then turn around and flip it and be into Kwamé, Nice & Smooth, Tribe, De La, Souls of Mischief, Del the Funky Homosapien, and a lot of different stuff. My cousin did as well. He introduced me to the super lyricists, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane. He put me up on some of the West Coast artists like DJ Quik, C-Bo, Pac definitely, and Dogg Pound.

WiG
You said he was taking you to shows. Are there any shows that stand out in your mind?

AP
I used to fall asleep during the opening acts for like every single show. Even the New Edition joints. I would like fall asleep and then my mom would wake me up. But I remember he took me to this one show, I want to say Public Enemy was there, Ice-T, I feel like Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince were there. I just know that Eric B. & Rakim were headlining and that was awesome. I don’t know how I remember this so much but the way that they came out was to “Eric B. Never Scared,” and they had some kind of laser light show. There was like a laser animation of Eric B. and then he came out and then the same thing for Rakim.

WiG
Do you remember where that was?

AUTOMatic
AUTOMatic

AP
I think I was like 6. It had to be at the Mecca.

WiG
You were six years old?

AP
Yeah.

WiG
Damn. Do you remember if Eric B. or Rakim had to leave the show with a medical emergency?

AP
No.

WiG
Do you know Mikal Floyd-Pruitt? MC Mikal?

AP
Yeah.

WiG
So Mikal’s dad is one of the top Black doctors in the city. There was an Eric B. & Rakim show in town, I don’t know where or what year, but one of them had a medical emergency and was rushed to Mikal’s parents house. Mikal was a little kid so he didn’t go to the show, but he remembers waking up and going downstairs and seeing this famous hip-hop star being treated in his house.

AP
Oh word. That is crazy. Not to my recollection, I don’t think either of them had an emergency.

WiG
I’m sure they played Milwaukee a few times.

AP
But yeah I was like 6, so that had to be ‘88. That was like a milestone year for hip-hop.

WiG
Blueprint made a whole album about it.

AP
Yep. So it was a lot of that type of stuff. Once I got into hip-hop there was no turning back. But I still wanted to be a DJ. Rapping wasn’t the thing for me at first. I actually started rapping in a real strange way. We were at my grandmother’s house. We would always hang out in my grandmother’s basement. It was my big sister, my cousin, and we basically would just be chilling. He used to always throw on instrumentals and he would start rapping. I used to memorize different rapper’s lines, so I was really into the Death Row stuff, I was really into EPMD, Redman, Gang Starr, stuff like that.

My cousin was like, “I want you to rap with me.” He kicked it off and I went after him. This is where the story gets interesting. I just kind of went blank. I don’t know what I was saying, I couldn’t really hear anything. I could only see their faces. Whatever I was saying was creating this astonishment on their faces. When I was done they were like, “Whoooooa.” Then my sister ran upstairs and told my mom that I could rap.

The feeling of that situation just kind of made me want to continue to do it. So that’s when I actually sat down and started to write raps. I would just write verses upon versus. I didn’t know anything about counting bars. To be frank with you, I don’t count bars now. Whenever I feel like the verse should end, that’s when I end it. Sometimes if a producer gives me a beat with set verses then I just kind of go with that, but a lot of times it’s just me ending it whenever I feel like I’m done saying whatever I want to say.

WiG
So in terms of performance, I read that you performed with a mask at one point?

AP
I did. I really have stage fright. Back then it was pretty crippling. I was in a collective called House of M. It was a bunch of us…

WiG
Dana Coppa was in that?

AP
Yes. We used to do shows together. The way that it was set up it was like a round-robin type thing. Dana would do a couple solo songs and then we’ll switch to the next group and then AUTOMatic would do a couple, then Haz [Solo] will do a few. But whenever it was AUTOMatic’s turn to do it, oh my goodness, sometimes I would be rapping and I would literally forget a line because I would just be shaking in my boots.

So I’m kind of a walking contradiction in that way. Because I’m an introvert. I really do not like to be made a fuss of. I don’t really like birthday parties. I don’t like the spotlight on me at all. So for me to be utilizing my talent in this manner is kind of crazy. But at the same time my end game is not to be in front of the mic. I honestly just want to be like a writer-producer. If I was put in a situation where AUTOMatic was offered a record deal, but then I was offered a publishing deal to write, I would take the publishing deal. I don’t really like a lot of attention.

WiG
I know that you write hooks and other song elements. Like on the 3099 project that came out this year, Lex Allen sings on two tracks. Did you write those?

AP
I wrote everything.

WiG
Speaking of 3099, tell me about the short story that inspired that name.

AP
Well, without giving too much away, because I’m planning on tweaking it and utilizing it for the basis for the 3099 album. The story is basically about a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend.  They have tons of mutual friends and everybody knows them as a couple. He tries to go to spots and they’re always asking where she is. And if he says that they’re not together, people just keep asking him about it. He never really got a chance to get over the breakup.  

3099He used to take walks to clear his mind and one time he comes across this campus and they have a flyer up for some kind of government testing that is going on. He volunteers for the testing and 3099 is the subject number that they gave him. I really liked the way that “3099” sounds. It feels real random. I just started adding that to my name. One of my aliases was Prime 3099. When I decided to veer off and do some experimental stuff I figured I would really give 3099 an identity, a personality if you will. I have tons of random aliases and I plan on giving all of them a personality. I’m really like George Clinton in that way.

WiG
Speaking of breakups, when your manager wrote me about the new album, which I’m a big fan of by the way, he sent it to me last night…

AP
You listened to it already?

WiG
Yeah, I been bumping it all day. But he said a lot happened in between your last album that came out in 2012 and the new album. He said there were some stories behind why it took four years. Breakups, friendships going bad, stuff like that…

AP
We used to record with one of the guys that I was in the [House of] M with. I’d rather not say his name. We used to do stuff together all the time and there was a situation where we were working on Art Imitates Life and there was a song that needed to be mixed. He was our primary engineer at the time. We signed a contract with someone in New York and that person was supposed to be like our liaison with the labels, helping us put out good products. We had this one song that was a banger. My man mixed it, 88Nine wanted to play it, and some other radio stations wanted to play it.

So then we send it to 88Nine and they tell me that the mix sounds rudimentary. I was like, “Wow dude, seriously?” And I sent it to our guy in New York and he said, “Yeah, you need to get this re-mixed. You should let me have one of my guys do it out here. This mix sucks.” And I’m like, “Really?” So I ended up talking to my man about it and was like, “It’s the funniest thing, I was talking to these people about it and they were saying that the mix is wack. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”  

Honestly, I didn’t know what they were talking about, the mix sounded fine to me. So I told him about it and he was just like, “Yeah, it’s not good.” And I was like, “What do you mean it’s not good?” He was like, “It’s not a good mix.” And I was like, “What do you mean, you gave me a bad mix?” And he was like, “Well, I’m just saying it’s not good.” And I was like, “Word.” So that just made me stop trusting him. I’m the type of person that you can talk about my mom or you can take a swing at me and we can still go back to being what it is. But once you start messing with my music…music is everything to me.

My music is everything to me. I don’t have any children, so that’s how deep I feel about this. If you flub something with my music that’s ultimately like dropping my baby. So I really can’t trust him in the same manner. We just kind’ve parted ways creatively. We were still friends, but I couldn’t trust him with my music. So me and our DJ at the time, JDL Rockwell, we ended up pooling our equipment together and recording. He just recently moved away.

WiG
JDL moved away?

AP
Yeah. I mean he still comes back into town, but he lives up in Shawano outside of Green Bay. He left right when we were discussing doing a new album, so that left us without a recording home.  We tried to link up with different people to get the album done and it just didn’t link up. Thank God my man Colin Plant has some equipment at the crib and he was like, “Come record with me.” I had some experience recording with my former guy and I ended up just going ahead and recording it myself for the whole project.

That was very freeing. It allowed me to do some of the things that I really wanted to do. Like I said before, I’m pretty introverted, so that gave me an opportunity to do some things like sing a little bit more. Things that I probably wouldn’t have done if I was in front of people. So it kind of worked out in that way.

WiG
You mentioned 88Nine. I read that they connected you with Speech from Arrested Development, is that right?

AP
Yeah. They played one of our songs and Speech called in to talk to one of the DJs there. It was Jordan [Lee] and they asked if he knew us or how to get in contact with us. And he was like, “Yeah.”  So he definitely hit up [Jonathan] Poppe. Poppe ended up sending me Speech’s email and somehow I missed it. Two years later we were just talking one night and Speech came up and I was like, “Dude, I thought we were supposed to be doing something with him?”

Poppe reminded me he had sent me his email so I went through my emails and ended up coming across the email. Then I took a shot in the dark and emailed Speech. I was just like, “Hey, I’m from AUTOMatic and I heard you were a fan of our music. I know it’s been awhile but I just wanted to know if that’s still true.” He emailed me the next morning and was like, “Yeah dude, it’s been long enough. It’s been two years!” I said sorry and he said, “Don’t worry about it, everything happens in God’s time.” Then we started emailing each other back and forth.

Basically it was months of doing that and then finally I got up the courage to send him a song that was merely just to listen to and give me feedback on. But he sent me his feedback with a verse. He said he was inspired by the song and if I liked the verse I could use it, but if not, no harm. And definitely it was dope.

arisingWiG
That was on the EP right?

AP
Yeah, “Rising Sun” is the song.

WiG
Okay. I’m one of the organizers of Arte Para Todos…

AP
Oh word, okay.

WiG
…and actually I’m the main one that put together the compilation. That was the track you gave us for the compilation. It was definitely one of my favorite tracks.

AP
Word up. I appreciate that.

WiG
I feel like having Speech on there elevated the compilation project.

AP
Speech has been like a mentor of sorts. Anytime that I have feelings of doubt, he lifts me up. I won’t talk to him for weeks and then he’ll hit me up a month after we last talked and be like, “Yo, I was doing this, that and the other, and I was just thinking about this,” and he’ll basically tell me what I need to hear at that time to keep going.

Honestly, before Poppe came back to manage us in December of last year I was ready to be done. I was just thinking I was going to be a regular dude. But yeah I told Speech that and he was like, “Nope. I’m not hearing it. You are too good. And this coming from me. I’m inspired when I hear you rap. Don’t quit because you’re frustrated. Quit when you’re wack.” And he was also like, “You improve immensely every time I hear something from you. Don’t quit.”

WiG
At the time when you were thinking about quitting did you have Marathon recorded or in the works?

AP
No. Marathon was exclusively recorded two months ago. Just finished literally two weeks ago. Initially it wasn’t going to be an album at all, it was supposed to be an EP. And we were supposed to do another 3099 EP. But then I was just like, “Wait, I don’t want to do another EP, I want to do a full album.” I wrote enough material for an EP and then I just kept going. I had set a deadline for myself and when I hit it I kept writing. Once I hit my stride of about five or six songs before I knew it I had 17 joints. At that point we had to do an album.

WiG
How does the process work with an AUTOMatic album?

AP
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We started this project towards the tail end of the 3099 sessions. JDL was playing me a couple beats he had in mind for 3099. So there was this original joint that he had but he flipped it on top of something else. He unfiltered this sample from a song called “The Blessing” by Michael Smith.  It became a song I would listen to all the time. I used to listen to it to clean up the crib, clear my mind, that type of thing. I ended up giving that song to Trell and he chopped it up and I told him the drums I wanted to use for it and he chopped those up and put them in there and ultimately that became the instrumental for “Talking About Love.”  

“Talking About Love” was the first song that  was written for it, followed by “Speak To Me.” I had been performing both of those during my 3099 performances. He would give me beats, I would send him samples, and we would just go back and forth. It was collabing in that sense. But we weren’t really in the studio together much. Just because we had different schedules. I was working third shift. I have like three different jobs, so it was difficult to get in the studio at the same time.

WiG
So what’s the plan now? You got the new project finished, you got the release show coming up. Is Poppe moving to Eau Claire? I saw a Facebook status about that…

AP
Yeah he is. Our movement doesn’t stop. Poppe has always been the invisible hand. As long as he has WiFi he can get the job done. He does a lot from there. And it’s always been like that.  When he first started managing us we hadn’t even met. We didn’t meet until two or three months into the relationship. At that time he was living out in Trempealeau. He started managing us near the end of 2009 until the fall of 2012. He left to go back to school shortly after Art Imitates Life, so there was that hiatus for about three years.

WiG
Cool. Anything else you wanna add?

AP
The album is dope.

WiG
Are you excited for the new Tribe album that was just announced?

AP
I am. I’m not excited for the date though. I wish it would have came out this Friday instead of the same day as our album. We’re always in Tribe’s shadow, so that’s kind of crazy. But as a fan I love it. Other than that, we put our heart and soul into this album and you can probably hear it. I’m doing less battle rapping on it. I’m being open and honest about things, touching on subjects that some other rappers would not touch.

We’re trying to make good music that anybody can relate to. You don’t have to have “racks on racks on racks” to be able to listen to it. Someone told me that’s the reason they love AUTOMatic’s music, because they can listen to it and feel good. Whereas every other rapper is talking about “I got this much money, you broke,” or “I drive this kind of car, you drive that kind of car.” “I’m going to take your girl” type stuff. That’s never the case when it comes to us. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of money or a certain kind of car. I’d rather pick topics that anybody can relate to so it doesn’t matter if you have millions or you don’t have two nickels to rub together. I try to relate the human experience above all.

WiG
I appreciate it.

AP
Thank you.

AUTOMatic performs at Chill on the Hill in Bay View.
AUTOMatic performs at Chill on the Hill in Bay View.

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