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Interview: Harry Otaku
Posted December 21, 2016 by Greg Lindberg
WRITTEN BY
Greg Lindberg
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December 21, 2016
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It feels like Indianapolis has so many genuinely talented rappers and producers that things are bound to explode at some point. And when we go back to trace our steps in the time that led to that explosion, we’ll look back in kindness to some key figures. One producer that the majority of top Indy rappers will say they love working with is Harry Otaku. Behind the scenes, he’s a beast, but with his produced albums, he proves he’s a thinker, a hard worker, a legit hip-hop fan, and an overall talent that helped lay the foundation for the undeniable music scene. I was fortunate enough to speak with Harry over the phone about his latest album, Yung, and we dug into the local hip-hop scene, Chris Cornell, Tom Morello, Michael Cera movies, producing, and more.

 

Greg Lindberg: What was the inspiration for Yung? Why did you decide on basing the album around clips from the movie Youth in Revolt?

Harry Otaku: I guess it’s been since my adolescence that I understand all of the goofy stuff I had to go through just for the sake of relationships. I thought it was kind of hilarious, like, when you’re younger and you find someone that you’re into that will appreciate you, you’ll do anything. You know, hell or high water, you’ll brave the storm. But as you get older, you just kind of diminish a little bit more and more, and you just don’t want to take the risk anymore. And with some perspective you know it’s going to suck some days, but eventually you find out (the person) is enough. By the end of the day, if you really care then just keep going.

GL: So did you base the album around the idea before you started making it or did you kind of just piece it together?

HO: You know, funny enough…nah, man. I just had a whole bunch of music that had a distinct vibe to it. And then when I watched that movie again, I just forgot how much I enjoy watching this film, and I was like, “Let’s build something around it.” And I just started filling in the pieces, and I was kind of laughing at how many of those records kind of all connect together. Like the song I did with Sirius Blvck, a prime example being “Belly Rub,” she’s like, “Don’t stop, Nick.” And then, it’s like at the very end of the song. Sirius Blvck’s actual name is Nick. So a lot of people feel like that was planned out, but no, he was on the record a long time ago. That just happened to all fall into place. We finished the record, and I heard the part. I didn’t even notice I did that. He was like, “Bro, I thought that was on purpose,” and I was like, “Nah. It’s dope though.”

GL: So does it interest you to produce music around a central theme?

HO: Yeah, because I feel like it helps, in what I guess you could say is the segue of the project, to improve when you got things to all flow into each other. It keeps the things consistent with the (listener) so they don’t ever really get lost. So they’re like, “Ah, I get this,” and, “Ah, I get this.” And then just taking the scenes or the one significant part where there’s something to get from it, and then just having the right song coming after…we’re just like, “Ahh.”

It’s fun to do, but at the same time it can be a pain because of the consistency of things and making sure they flow together. It’s like how people write books from the back first, starting at the end of the book and writing all the way to the intro. It’s kind of like doing the same thing. If you even fall off a little bit you can just hinder the entire story.

GL: Is it important to differentiate your albums from mixtapes?

HO: Yeah, because I feel like when you get a mixtape it’s not necessarily a throw-away, it’s just your attention span on the work isn’t as significant when you’re listening to an actual body of work. Like with a mixtape you’re like, “Ah, a mixtape is cool,” but you’ll probably only play it for about a month and then you’re over it. But when someone produces something in the format of an album, you’re going to sit on it more. You’re going to rest on it more. You’re going to critique it more. You’re going to take a lot more of it with you. And if you really enjoy it, you’re going to try to put it out there in the world like how we’re having this conversation now. When I share music with my homies, it’s like, “I just put this album out and check it out,” and they’re like, “That’s dope.” I share it with my friend, Greg, and he’s like it’s cool, too.

And just having a bunch of friends in their own roundabout ways check it out. I just put it out there to see what happens, and then by the end of the night my inbox is full of people that dug it. It was just real cool to have it out there, and people are still playing it. It’s different than, say, I just drop a beat tape and say, “Yo, here’s some tracks.” They go through it and then that would be the end of it.

It just stands out a lot more when you’re like, “Yo, this is me, sonically. This is what I sound like when I’m not concerned with how this rapper or that rapper sounds.” It’s more like these are some of my friends, and I thought it’d be cool to have them be a part of this journey with me. Check this out. 

 

GL: Especially on Yung, on tracks like “Trips,” the whole vibe doesn’t necessarily feel like hip-hop. Is that something you strive to do, to kind of go outside of expectations in hip-hop or does it just naturally come to you?

HO: I feel like it’s a little bit of both in a sense because the whole entire essence of hip-hop is to take something old and make it new again. So me taking this real obscure folk record and turning it into what I did is just like all of these different things like drum breaks and other things that are already on there. It’s actually a hip-hop track, it’s just the execution of it that kind of made people look at it differently. So that was just the mind trip in it that made it kind of dope. They call the studio the lab for a reason. You’re supposed to experiment.

It’s another case of me being like, okay, in this part of the movie my man just took like…he was supposed to take like two shrooms. He just took a handful! So he’s going to be feeling something unusual. So how can we translate that musically? So a trip is like a lot of lush color and a lot of things flowing over. So when I approached it sonically, I wanted to use a lot of weird obscure sounds with guitar and stuff. So when the hook part comes in and you get the guitars, it’s a real open sound. When the baseline comes in, it’s like the warmth in it. Everything just flows together in this weird way. Like at the essence, there’s a break, there’s a sample, and it’s just progressively changing up as the song goes on. It’s still a hip-hop record, which is the dope part. It’s just how it’s executed.

GL: What type of music has been influencing you this year?

HO: Funny enough, I just have been getting back and listening to rock 'n’ roll, but not like anything new. Just older stuff. I grew up real heavy on anything involving Chris Cornell, and stuff like Incubus. For just all the ways they played instruments and there’s a lot of progressive stuff they’d do on records. You’d start on one song and by the time it’s over with you’re on a whole other thing. Like, how they’d have instruments used and have reverbs on strings. Chris Cornell can hit notes like nobody. He’s just got such distinctiveness. When you hear him, you know it’s him. And Brandon Boyd is just like real good with how he projects songs and how he writes them. On songs like “Make Yourself,” he was dropping bars. Regardless of how you feel about it, Brandon Boyd was flowing on “Make Yourself.”

GL: Are you still into DJing and scratch culture?

HO: Oh, heavily. DJ Topspeed is my teacher. However you want to deem the sensei/master relationship…that is like my O.G. He came to the beat battle and he heard me, and he was like, “I get you.” I was like what do you mean, and he said, “I get what you’re trying to do.” I was like what do you mean, and he was like, “You want to learn how to DJ don’t you?” I said, “I couldn’t find anybody to teach me,” and he says, “I got you.” He could just tell that’s what I wanted.

DJ Premiere is one of my favorite producers, and funny enough Royce Da 5’9” is one of my favorite rappers. So when they formed PRhyme I was literally flipping out. I grew up listening to him and Gang Starr. Him and Guru is just a dope combination. They would take jazz records and flip them in such an unusual way between the scratching and Guru having that monotone flow. I was just like, this stuff works. It’s dope. When I ended up producing, I was like if I’m going to be producing I got to do it like proper. Premier always has tags and scratches and stuff so I was like, alright, anytime I go through a record I want to make sure I got these key components in a song or I don’t feel like it was me.

GL: What has your overall experience been as producer based in Indianapolis versus working with people in other areas?

HO: I feel like when it comes to Indiana’s hip-hop crowd in contrast with other states working with hip-hop artists, there’s a lot of subcategories in Indiana. As far as like where people want to be at it. Like, working with Sirius Blvck is a whole night and day experience to working with Pope Adrian Bless, which in the same sense is a whole night and day experience to be working with Flaco. All three are extremely passionate dudes that are outrageously talented. They have flow, wordplay, and lyricism for days, but their energy is all significantly different. They’re extremely expressive, and it’s just fun to work with them. But in the same breath, you’ll get yourself a few dudes where they don’t really get the concept where it means that when you’re rapping or working on a track with me that we’re going to really put in work. We’re going to have fun, but it’s ultimately going to be work. There’s a common goal that what we make is picture perfect.

Working with artists in like Detroit…they just have this sort of ‘90s vibe. Regardless of what lane you might feel like somebody from Detroit might be in, they all at the heart of themselves can rap. It’s going to be bar for bar, wow that was kind of catchy. How is he even putting together words like that? They all have it. Even like Danny Brown, prime example, bars…he is zany as hell but when you listen to his work you’re like, “Whoa.” That’s just all about Detroit.

In every state, there’s something that they bring to the table. A lot of artists from Indiana all sing, and it’s like Indiana likes to harmonize. Freddie Gibbs with that Shadow of Doubt album he got a number one, which is dope, but it’s on a lot of those songs he’s harmonizing and flowing like old Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. It’s such a weird thing how a lot of people want to get like, “Why is he doing this?” That’s an Indiana thing. A lot of dudes like to harmonize. And to a degree I feel like harmonizing on a record is a Midwest thing, period. Just look at like Chance the Rapper and take it all the way back to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. We all grew up hearing all of these dope records so we always just have melodies in our heads.

GL: What are some of your dream collaborations?

HO: Anything with Rick Rubin. We could be working with anyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Slayer. Just to be in the same room with him would be dope as hell to me. Just Blaze just because he has the most outrageous, energetic way he approaches music, and I get it. It’s crazy to see him like, “I’m here, I got this sample, and I’m hearing it three different ways.” That’s literally how my work will start. A lot of times when people hear transitions in my songs, you’re hearing the remnants of a beat, where I was like, it’d be cool to do it this way but we’ll just leave this cool part of it right here.

Man, Tom Morello. Tom Morello is dope as hell. I wouldn’t even care what we do, just to have him on guitar. Like, yo, just play something weird. Let’s go for the gusto.

GL: What can we expect from Harry Otaku in 2017?

HO: I’m building a project based solely on local artists. And when I say local artists, I mean even all the sampling will be local artists. I’m doing it around another funny Michael Cera film (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and the idea to get across is that with that whole entire film they’re travelling around New York, but going to all of these different shows and hearing all this different music. So it’s like, just go out and explore your music scene more. You’d be surprised at just how much dope stuff is out there that you didn’t even know was in Indiana.

The first Indiana artist that I was a big fan of and I didn’t even know he was from Indiana was Flaco. He did that record with 80z Dad…Green Trap, and they flip a record from Cowboy Bebop. From up top, I heard the loop coming up, and I was like…bruhhh. I played the hell out of that song the first time I heard it, and a week later someone was like, “You know he’s from here?” “You lying?” I was just like this dude’s dope.

Just to put it all across Indiana, I feel like people in Indiana don’t realize just how much raw talent is here, and I just want them to get out there and explore more. Just come out and see people. We love to see new people in the crowd. Explore your music scene. 

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