Justin Umstead (@Defmc4Life) Interviewed Me

Originally posted: http://tricycleoffense.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/everyday-people-an-effort-to-understand-kelen-b-hyphen-conley/ &

Today, I have the pleasure of bringing you a first-class interview with a successful podcaster, talented hip-hop artist, and editor and co-owner of Partymonstas’ sister site, Tricycle Offense. My interview with B Hyphen (Not to be spelled “B-Hyphen” – that’s just redundant) has been a long time coming, and a lot has changed for him both personally and professionally since we decided to undertake this interview a little over a year ago.

After leaving his infamous job at the Shoe Department (chronicled in his last mixtape) he has moved on to start his own family, release amazing music, and take charge of his projects like never before. After an early listen to Soon You’ll Understand,it’s impossible to ignore Hyphen’s renewed sense of energy, tenacity, and focus – his material is top-notch and they are some of the best tracks he has ever recorded.

Justin Umstead: With more than 15 projects under your belt and over a decade of hard work and dedication in the rap game, you’ve experienced the full range of what the hip-hop scene has to offer. How have your views of music changed over the years and what experiences have influenced you the most?

B Hyphen: Oh wow. I used to be a lot more naive I suppose. I didn’t look at myself as a brand or a public figure – I just wanted to rap my ass off. Now I calculate everything, even down to the smallest detail. I just always think, “What if somebody stumbles across my music one day. Do I really want _____ out there?” I just always want my work to be respected mostly. My biggest influence with that rationale would be when Meuwl passed away in 2009. He was one of the greatest rappers I personally ever knew and for him to lose it all when Rabble Rousers were on the brink of stepping onto a bigger stage – it really bothers me to this day. It was just another example of how life is too short. He left behind an amazing legacy and I’ve wanted to be able to say the same ever since.

JU: You’ve tied together many different types of entertainment including writing/blogging (BHYPHEN.COM & tricycleoffense.wordpress.com), music, video, and podcasts into the B Hyphen experience. How do you see your roles changing in those?

BH: I really want Tricycle Offense to become a monster of its own. At first, I just wanted a Grantland clone but you don’t realize how hard it is to become as big as Grantland (and backed by ESPN) until you try. We’ve definitely had our low moments since the start, mostly from the lack of consistent content since football season ended in 2013. I think you’re doing a great job Justin as far as your interviews, but real life has really gotten in the way of our other contributors. I think the site is starting to get a little bit of an identity now.

My role within the site will mostly be webmaster and editor with a little writing on the side. I realized I can’t try to write about everything like I did back in 2012, so I’m picking my spots better. I was a little worried about whether the site would survive or not but I’m much more optimistic lately.

BHYPHEN.COM is really just a catch all for everything. Whatever kind of project I’m doing, you’ll likely find info on it on BHYPHEN.COM. I might write something exclusively there – occasionally – but the mood will have to strike me. I’d really love to get into writing fiction. I’ve had this book idea in my head for almost 8 years and I’d really like to explore it. I’ve also tried the music blogging thing but I get so biased about music that I’m not a reliable person to get music from unless we have the same tastes.

As far as radio – I’m out of the game for now, but I wouldn’t object to going back if the situation was right.

JU: Tell us a little bit about your latest projects – what can we expect from each and how do they differ from one another? Is there an overarching “theme” that ties the mixtape and the album together?

BH: The Mind’s Mixtape Volume 4 is the continuation of my Mind’s Mixtape series I started in 2004. ‘volume 1 was my first mixtape and 2011′s Spideyville Unlimited really didn’t count as an official mixtape to me since it was put out under distressing circumstances. In fact, I’d even say this is my first true mixtape since 2007′s ‘volume Three since everything I’ve put out since then has been a compilation of songs just lying around.

The mixtape is honest all the way through. There’s moments on there when you can tell I’m having fun, like “Stuntastic” and “8 x Four” but I really feel like you see the whole big picture of what I’ve gone through in my life the past 6 plus years since ‘volume Three.

Soon You’ll Understand is my baby. It’s my debut album. It’s not as honest as the mixtape but I feel like it holds up as a complete project. There’s an arc here; mostly it’s the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I never intended it that way but once the dust was settled, that’s how it came out. I feel like I touch on a lot of things while keeping the material light and entertaining at the same time.

JU: Where can we expect your focus to shift after you release Soon You’ll Understand? Looking into the future, what sort of topics would you like to tackle next?

BH: I’m just excited about my future in music. After all these years of mixtaping everyone to death – and to finally get to that point where my debut album is out – it’s an incredible feeling. The scariest thing for me is the fact that I’m becoming a better rapper as I get older, which is the opposite of what everyone expects from rap: A “young” man’s game. I don’t have topics anymore; there will be concepts that develop when I hear an instrumental but I don’t feel like there are any topics out there I need to address. From here on out, I’m making “in the moment” music. What I’m feeling at the time is what I’m writing about unless there’s a concept that the instrumental brings out of me. And everything from here on out will be albums as well; no more mixtapes. I don’t even think I want to rhyme on commercial beats anymore. I have a plethora of songs; I just need an army of original ones now.

JU: Can we expect your next project (after “Soon You’ll Understand”) to focus more on the fun/entertainment factor or will it have more of a serious or “soul searching” tone such as The Mind’s Mixtape vol. 4?

BH: A little of both. I’m always going to have issues I want to get off my chest but at the same time, I want to have the songs you can just throw on and not use your brain on. I actually got compared to Slick Rick by Ray Charleston (Ray P) recently. I played him a song from SYU because 95 had given us the same beat and he was impressed with my storytelling abilities. Monstalung begged me for years to tell stories; I’ve only become comfortable doing it in the past 2 years or so. So always expect stories of some kind to pop up in my music too.

JU: You have also been working with several other artists on your new material. Who can we expect to hear features from and what synergies led you to collaborate with them on your projects?

BH: On the mixtape, I had A Breezy, Ace Beanz, Mischievous, CFX, and Thack. Breezy and I have been trying to collaborate for years and I’m glad we finally pulled it off for the mixtape. I think her verse might even be a little bit better than mine. I recruited Mischievous because I’ve always known he’s a beast on the mic when you can get him to one. CFX is one of my Nerd Fresh partners in crime, so that was a no-brainer. And Thack and I mesh really well; we inspire each other if you will. We push harder once we hear what the other has come up with. That comes across really nicely in the music. And Beanz is just very easy to collaborate with; he’s down to try out anything to make something dope, so we always come out with something banging.

On the album there’s Thack, Ray P, and R.O.B. Ray is one of the dopest rappers in West Virginia right now and he has the right sound to take it to the next level. And R.O.B. – R.O.B. is just true hip-hop. Dropping a verse for me on my project gives my album more credibility I think. (Editor’s note: The collaboration with Ray and R.O.B., as well as three other songs meant for the album, were moved to a project called the Live From The Dancefloor EP and was released in January.)

I’m open to doing anything anybody asks me to get on. Monstalung still wants me to do a project over his beats, so that will happen at some point. My group Nerd Fresh has been making some tracks recently – so that could develop into a full blown project. Maybe a mixtape with Thack…

JU: You’ve recorded a colossal library of songs over your hip-hop career. If you had to pick three of your all-time favorites, which would they be and why? Which project meant the most to you personally? Which tracks do you feel had the biggest impact on the hip-hop community and your fans?

BH: Three favorites? Really? Ah man…I’d have to say “Vibe” definitely. The way that song came together and the way I executed it – I love it. “Passion”. For it to be a stream of consciousness rhyme for that long, it really has a sense of urgency and clarity at the same time. And “It’s Hyphen Bitches”. As much as I’ve tried to distance myself from that song over the years, I can’t help but love the crowd response to it.

Before, I would say I’m most proud of The Thunderstorm Mixtape. I think it’s when I turned the corner from being a rapper into becoming more of an artist. I’m a much better rapper now, but the hunger I displayed on that tape still shocks me to this day. I don’t think I’m as confident now as I was back then unfortunately. But with the album being out now, I’d say I’m most proud of it now. It’s me proving to myself that I could make an album, so anything that comes after that is icing on the cake.

“Hyphen Bitches” would be the one that has impacted the most with the community and fans. That’s the one people greet me with when they see me. That’s the one they love the most, so I have to go with that one.

JU: Looking back on your music career, what would you consider to be your crowning achievement thus far? What is your proudest moment? What is your most profound experience?

BH: My crowning achievement was getting “What It Look Like” played on WVAQ. It was only a few times, just during one night, but it happened – that was something I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance at. Proudest moment? All of this music I’m putting out now! I know it’s the best stuff of my career and I couldn’t ask for a better close to the music chapter of my life. My most profound experience was probably the first Meuwl Memorial Show we had in Morgantown back in 2010. If there was ever a night I felt like a part of something bigger…that would be the night.

But again, getting SYU out was something I’ll never forget as well.

JU: Which artists have helped shaped the artist you are today? Who are your largest influences from both the industry and the local hip-hop scene?

BH: Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder would be the two artists who helped shape who I am musically. Between Jay’s lyrics and Stevie’s constant creativity, I’ve always strived to display some range of those abilities in my music. As far as local influences, those would be 6’6 240, DOCeasar, Meuwl, Paycheck Game, and DJ Monstalung. Profit Money helped me a lot too – just from listening to his album Redshift|Blueshift. It helped me find my direction for the new album. And 95 as well just because of the way he’s always been looked at as a guru of the West Virginia rap scene. I’ve always hoped to attain that level of respect that he has.

JU: If you could go back in time and talk to “beginner” B Hyphen, what is the best single piece of advice you would give to him? What advice would you have for the new jacks coming up in the present day?

BH: Don’t you ever, ever, ever stop rapping for any reason. All day, every day, rapping. Don’t think you can take a break and the world will wait on you. It won’t. You need to be the best rapper you can be every single day or you’re not going to make it. Bottom line.

Same advice to the new jacks. Rap like it’s your job. If you do that, then you’ll see the benefits in some way. Always make sure you have a passion for the music – no matter what style you have – or you have nothing but empty music without feeling.

JU: Creating music is a blood, sweat, and tears kind of business – after listening to your Intro for The Mind’s Mixtape vol. 4, you can get a really deep sense of some of the adversity you have faced in your hip-hop career. What are some of the insights you can share with us about how to keep your morale up and continue doing you in the face of criticism?

BH: Despite it going against the standard philosophy to “never stop rapping,” that’s what I had to do. When I was on that Don’t Quit Your Day Job segment with Angela Yee, she was on Shade 45, and it was 2009. It had been 2 years since my last project, I had recorded things sparsely and that’s what I ended up playing on the show. There were some favorable callers but I couldn’t tune out the negative. I really just stopped thinking about rap from an artist’s perspective. I would write every now and then, even record, but I lost all concentration on making music to put out a project. It wasn’t until sometime in 2010 when I felt the need to actively restart my career again.

But separation from what you’re getting criticized for, no matter how long it may be, is a good route to take. Just make sure you come back to what you took shit for if you truly love it. Nowadays, I take these same breaks when criticism strikes…but then I learn from it as well.

And the craziest thing about the Angela Yee thing? Sal Masekela clowned the shit out of me on Twitter. Do a little research; dude has always been a bit of a cornball and to get grief from him? It wasn’t a good day.

JU: Is there anything else you would like to add?

BH: Live your passion. That’s it. And visit Tricycle Offense/Partymonstas every day and tell your friends to do the same.

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