Jaime “El-P” Meline and Emmanuel “Million Dollar Mano” Nickerson couldn’t be more different, at least as far as their images go. El-P is a respected elder in the underground rap world, with a well-deserved reputation as a serious dude that he’s earned both with his music and with his outspoken criticism of industry politics. Mano is a cocky young upstart who recently got his first big mainstream exposure by drafting off Kanye West and Jay-Z—he DJed on their recent Watch the Throne tour—and who just formed a collective called Treated Crew, named for a local slang term that means somebody’s lost face. But the two of them actually have a lot in common. Both are idiosyncratic musicians with powerful personalities, and the paranoia and menace that El-P packs tight in his beats have a counterpart in the shadows around the edges of even Mano’s most radio-friendly songs. Both are first among equals in their groups—Mano in Treated Crew and El-P in Company Flow, the New York trio whose 1997 collection Funcrusher Plus still affects the sound of hip-hop today (El-P, Mr. Len, and Bigg Jus reunited last year after more than a decade). And they both love to talk about rap music, so for this week’s Artist on Artist, we had Mano interview El-P by phone. Company Flow plays its first-ever Chicago show Thu 4/12 at Metro; see Soundboard for more. —Miles Raymer
What you got in the pipeline right now, good sir? Man, I’ve got a lot right now. I got my record [Cancer for Cure] dropping on the 22nd of May, and the week before that, the Killer Mike record [R.A.P. Music], which I produced, is dropping. It’s kind of a crazy time—I kind of went from being very relaxed to being insanely busy. I’m a little scared, to be honest.
I just put on my Facebook a link to [Company Flow’s] “End to End Burners.” Cool, cool.
Yeah, this is super funny. This chick who used to write for URB hit me up and told me about your new song, “The Full Retard.” I gotta check it out. I’m a big fan of all the Company Flow shit, the solo LPs, the Funcrusher shit, “9mm“—I was rocking that shit super hard. Actually, I was at the Scribble Jam that you played at. That was like, what, 2002?
Yes, and that was when I was a senior in high school. How old were you then? Um, shit. I don’t know, let me think. I’m 37.
Man, that’s awesome. You’re influencing a lot of people that you might not have known, and I’ma keep it 100 with you: you are the only person in the backpack community that I could have fucked with. I fuck with, like, great music in general. You know how pretentious hip-hoppers can be—it’s kind of hard when you’re in that element, because they only want one thing from you. So let me ask you this: Are there are any artists that you’d like to fuck with in the mainstream? Oh absolutely. No question. My mind state has always been different from that sort of—what you mentioned, that pretentious mind-set. I’ve always just been a fan of rap music. And I think that there were a lot of years where the Co-Flow vibe or the way that we came across was, to some degree, misinterpreted. People took it and ran with it to mean we weren’t fans of music because of whether or not it was underground, whether or not it was mainstream. We just love hip-hop music. All the shit that we came up on is the shit that everyone came up on.
So who you fuckin’ with right now? I would literally put my pinkie on the table and sever it with a knife if I could do some shit for Jay-Z. Jay always will get at least one bloody digit on the table from me. I mean, I love Kanye, I love Em, you know? I would always love to do something for my heroes—I mean I still have the fantasy of doing something with Redman.
Absolutely, absolutely. Muddy Waters is one of my favorite albums of all time. I love that record too, but since I’m a little bit older than you, I think Dare Iz a Darkside is my joint.
I wanted to ask, basically, at the time of Company Flow, to look back at that period, and to see everything that’s going on right now with music—are there a lot of comparisons, do you think, with people outlawing the quote-unquote eccentric kids, the hipsters, now, for being different and making some other shit and not wanting to track everything out? I think it’s all kind of cyclical. There’s energy that comes back around. When Company Flow came out, we weren’t making music that had been heard, necessarily, in the same way, but there was an energy and a spirit about it that appealed across the board. Before everyone started making sure that they were making these subgenres, there was nothing to say about a group like Company Flow except it was a dope record or you didn’t like it. We were in The Source just like everyone else.
I think the energy comes back, so yeah, there are things I see happening now that remind me of some of the energy and some of the vibes that happened back then, you know? I couldn’t help but feel like, watching Odd Future come out and blow up—I really liked watching that. It was like, yeah, I know that feeling—that was that energy. The reason people love those motherfuckers and the reason they should be loved is because they came out again with that fuck-you energy. Just as a fan, that shit is very necessary.
Any preshow rituals? Not really. I think the preshow ritual is, like, a beer. At this point, it’s fun, man. Co-Flow didn’t really have any plans of doing any shows, and it kind of got set off last year, and we didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, it was like, man, that was ten years ago, you know? I’m not sure it would be great. And we just had the most amazing experience with these shows—the energy was so there still. It was really ill to get up in front of people and realize that we were still getting love. It was really ill to me, because it was like, wow, you know, it felt like the right time. And maybe that’s also part of the whole cycle idea—is it time to come back to something.
Man, full circle. One more question before I wrap up. “Overly Dramatic Truth“—I used to hear that song all the time. The reason being, my friend [and Gym Class Heroes front man] Travie McCoy, I used to DJ for him— Yeah, Travie’s my dude.
And it was just so hilarious to me, because I didn’t know how deep-rooted in the hip-hop scene Trav was. And he knows his shit. For that whole tour, we would close out the show every night with that song. Are you serious?
Yeah. It was like, after we did that last song, he would play that, and then we’d go off stage. Wow, I had no idea—that’s crazy. Travie’s my dude, he’s a good guy.
The question I wanted to ask you is, for that song, is it all replayed, or is it a sample? Oh no, it’s all played out, man. Yeah.
That’s fucking incredible, man. That shit sounds amazing. Thank you, man, I appreciate that. When you start making beats, you get a record player and a sampler. And that’s what you do. But over the years, you know, I just kind of went in. I’m not taking a loop from something and dropping a beat around it anymore. And it’s not because I don’t think that that’s a dope style of production. It is—it just ain’t where I’m at.