Exclusive Interview: Awon and Phoniks

By Billy The Kid / Bottom Posts / 9th December 2016

We talk Panthers, Cape Town and Real Hip Hop with Awon and Phoniks.

So we’ve got quite a few friends, we’re sure you do too, that appreciate good music but struggle to get on board with this hip-hop kick. They end up looking in all the wrong places, and basing their opinions of lyrical prowess on 2chains and Juicy J.

A couple years ago we stumbled on the answer to this conundrum, and today we’re sharing it with you.

Awon and Phoniks have been the weapon of mass acquisition – in terms of getting everyone around us into the game. The beats produced by Phoniks are smoother than Kiri Cheese and Awon’s flow hits it like All Gold on Steers chips. This right here my friends, isn’t just music – it’s art.

A couple years back we were deep on a dig for classic quality hip-hop, when we stumbled upon your first album together, “Return of The Golden Era”. We found it a fitting title, as that’s exactly where your sounds transport us. What originally brought you guys together?  

Awon:

“Initially Phoniks reached out to me via email. He had happened to stumble upon my music and decided to shoot me a message. I responded back immediately after hearing some of his remixes and the rest is history.”

Phoniks:

“Awon was just somebody who I had been a fan of for a bit. I knew his debut album Beautiful Loser and especially his collaborations with SoulChef. I had just been making beats in my bedroom for 7 or 8 years at that point without ever really working with anybody, just making remixes and instrumentals. Awon was just someone who I thought was dope and seemed accessible and sure enough he hit me back the next day and wanted to work. I think part of the reason it worked so well was because I had 7 years worth of beats saved up at that point that nobody had spit on. A had a lot of material to choose.”

Talk us through the creative process you guys go through, Phoniks obviously makes the beats, but do you guys then get together and vibe it out, or is it more of a personal process? 

Awon:

“Early on it was a personal process. Phoniks would send me a gang of beats and I would begin knocking them off one by one. I would record super early in the morning or really late at night. We both keep crazy hours, but I recorded Golden Era in two weeks, Phoniks mixed it in one, because we were just on a vibe. Now we stage studio sessions for our albums. Knowledge of Self was two long studio sessions here in Virginia where I live. Phoniks came down to those sessions and it was like we were meant to work together, he knew his way around the studio and exactly what worked best for our sound.”

Phoniks:

“We do it both ways. “Return to the Golden Era” was recorded with us in solitude just emailing back and forth. When we did our follow-up “Knowledge of Self” we did the whole thing together over 2 trips I took down to Virginia. There’s definitely a certain vibe when you’re working in the same room with each other that you don’t get over e-mail. For me personally when I’m producing beats I need to be in solitude because it takes a lot of time and patience. These days I’m usually going through 5 to 10 hours worth of samples before I find something I really want to flip, you can’t rush that process.”

Your sound is unique to the current era. Some would classify it as “old school”, but we’d rather go with timeless. Correct us if we’re wrong here, but your sound comes across as 90s influenced. What are your views on the direction hip-hop as a whole has gone since the 90s?

Awon:

“Thank you for that description of our sound. I really appreciate it because timeless is what we shoot for. We don’t want a time stamp, just good Hip Hop. As far as the direction of Hip Hop since the 90s I feel like it’s just been over monetized. Monetizing any organic movement will saturate it if it’s done too quickly and the late 90s saw a microwave of the big box store corporate Hip Hop. I don’t blame the artist or the fans, we have to hold the people at the heads of the industry accountable for watering down the culture. In the past few years I have seen a great resurgence of classical sounds and authenticity being born again and it’s refreshing.”

Phoniks:

“There’s still plenty of cool stuff coming out all the time, every week. The internet makes it very accessible too. But if I were to go to places like New York, LA or Atlanta and put on hot new hip hop radio that’s all noise to me, I can’t listen to it, but it’s been that way for a long time. I probably haven’t listened to the radio since I was 13 years old. I was a young hipster lmao. I remember when 50 Cent’s “In The Club” came out when I was 12 or 13 I was thinking “this is whack”.”

 

Your latest move, Don’t Sleep Records has got us really excited. Talk us through how you managed to assemble a squad of such smooth MCs, such as: Anti-Lilly, Tiff the Gift and Dephlow, and what we can expect to be seeing from you guys in the not so distant future?

Awon:

“Well we have some great things in the horizon beginning with a release from MZ Boom Bap beats from Portugal, called Rawness, we also have a new solo LP from Phoniks coming in 2017, new stuff from Anti Lilly, and Dephlow. Tiff the Gift has her new LP, It Gets Greater Later out right now. I also plan on dropping a couple of projects. As far as Don’t Sleep‘s growth, we definitely hope to see more touring and branding opportunities.”

Phoniks:

It’s mostly about just creating music with likeminded individuals and we wanted to give it a name so everything we were working on is coming out under one umbrella. Awon, Tiff and Dephlow all knew each other before I started working with them and Anti-Lilly is someone I linked with a while back because of a blog post about young guys with a 90’s sound. Next you can look forward to an EP we’re dropping with Portuguese producer Mz Boom Bap. He’s the first producer who I’ve ever really fully co-signed to the point of putting them out on the label and you better believe it’s because he’s fucking insane with the beats.

[Check out and download Mz Boom Bap’s album The Rawness here]

If you had to choose 5 songs that defined your inspiration, love for hip- hop and artistic journey, what would they be?

Awon:

For me off hand I would say

Big Daddy Kane – Ain’t No Half Steppin’

EPMD – You Gots to Chill

Nas – New York State of Mind

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got The Jazz

Notorious B. I. G. – Everyday Struggle

Phoniks:

Grand Puba – I Like It

Pete Rock & CL Smooth – In The House

Gang Starr – Above The Clouds

CNN – Invincible

INI – Center Of Attention

If you had to describe your sound as an animal, what would it be? 

Awon:

Like Uncle L I would have to say a Panther

Phoniks:

Hahaha what a question. Like a stoned sloth or something. An animal that just likes to chill. Or maybe like one of those big male lions that just lies around 90% of the time but then some times they go hard and get aggressive too.

 

Phoniks, your beats are a standout feature on most tracks that you produce. Your unique touch has reached a point where we can pick up, just by listening, that you’ve been involved with the production of a track. What influences do you attribute your style to?

Phoniks:

That is super dope for you guys to say that, man. I appreciate that. My style is influenced mainly from guys like DJ Premier, Pete Rock and J Dilla, I think originally my sound was kinda like a combination of me trying to sound like all those guys at once and falling short. The thing that makes my sound distinct in hip hop is the way I use melody’s like a chillhop or techno producer would. That’s why sometimes people will categorize my music as “electro hip hop” even though I hate that label because to me it’s just “hip hop”. A lot of times I like producing tracks after a rapper has laid down their vocals, I take the vocals and build a track around it and find melody’s that ride a long with the rappers flow. I do probably half my tracks that way, that’s a big part of my sound for sure

Can your remember the first moment you fell in love with Hip-Hop, and music as a whole? 

Awon:

For me I was a small child, being born in New York City seeing big graffiti pieces on whole trains and tags lining the inside of the train cars like Hieroglyphics Hip Hop was my first adventure. I fell in love with it with Eric B For President and I began participating in the culture with Long Live the Kane.

Phoniks:

I fell into all the 90’s stuff when I heard a Masta Ace song in a video game when I was like 12 years old. I fell in love with production around the time when I first heard Gang Starr, I was probably 14 or 15.

The South African Hip-Hop scene is coming up hard and fast. A lot of raw and quality sounds that we think you guys would enjoy. Have you been exposed to any of it? If so, what are your thoughts? And are you planning a visit anytime soon?

Awon:

I listen to everything, I’m not an expert, but I have casually heard Zubz, Aka, and Emtee. I feel like the skill and polish is there. I feel like all of Africa is exploding with talent and an energy that the world will seek once again as the heart of the Earth. As far as visiting is concerned, Cape Town is a bucket list destination for me. I really would like to come, I constantly hear about the energy there and it only fuels my curiosity.

Phoniks:

To be honest I didn’t even know, gimme some names to check out. A couple of my favorite rappers and the majority of my favorite current producers are overseas so I know that geography has nothing to do with who’s making dope rap music. I’d love to come out to South Africa sometime I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Do you have any advice for independent artists on the come up?

Awon:

As corny as it sounds my best advice is to stay true, work hard, and never stop believing.

Phoniks:

Take time to develop your craft. Don’t write your first 10 verses and put out a mixtape. Write your first 10 verses and throw them away and then write 100 more. Also if you want to make it anywhere as an independent you have to understand that promotion, marketing and making the right connections is as important as creating music. That part of the equation sucks, but I know so many dope musicians that don’t understand that piece of it and you can’t make it anywhere without that.

Thanks again for engaging with us, and please don’t ever stop making music. We hope to see you an African soil as soon as possible

Much love to South Africa and the Halfway Crooks! PEACE!

Image Credit// Don’t Sleep Records

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