This time of year always brings about new beginnings. The spring in Minnesota melts the snow, greens the trees, breathes life into the festival season with the largest one-day hip hop festival, Soundset. As winter officially ended, so did the 7 months, 90-date worldwide tour for our guest Josh ‘deM atlaS’ Turner, but as with spring, new life was breathed into him as he prepared to take the main stage at Soundset. Still running on pure adrenaline from the tour, deM atlaS sat down with Upcoming Hip Hop to discuss what lies ahead for one of the most talented young artists in the music industry.
Isaac: First off, please tell the listeners who you are and what you represent.
deM atlaS: My name is deM atlaS and I am a hip hop artist, musician, and I am on Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Isaac: So being part of a label that boasts some of the most talented artists in the music industry from Aesop Rock to Slug to Brother Ali, what was your mentality coming into this environment?
DeM atlaS:Yeah, well I was kinda like ‘holy shit’ ya know? Am I worthy? Am I ready? Am I good to go? Over the years I have found I am more than ready. I am more than willing. I have something special to contribute, to give. Not just on the lyrical side but musical side.
It’s no secret that Rhymesayers has some of the most talented and hard working artists in the scene. From their wordplay, to their sound, to their relationships with the fans, Rhymesayers Entertainment is a unique label that creates a family atmosphere. This family feeling isn’t just a facade for the fans, its something that artists on the label truly feel, and it was extended outside of label mates to recent tour mates as deM would explain.
Isaac: I know you’re just getting done with this tour with Atmosphere. I kind of wanted to get into the experience of working with him, being on tour with this large tour with him, but before we get into that I kind of wanted to go over this kind of new budding friendship that you’ve had with DJ Keezy and Lioness and kind of what having them on tour meant to you.
Dem Atlas: Yeah it definitely was. We held each other down in a number of ways. They introduced me to a lot of different things. You know they say that you are a product of five people that you surround yourself with and I can’t say enough about what they’ve shown me and what they gave me in terms of the practices that they would do like writing things down, journaling, talking, being real with each other, and showing each other love. It has actually been my favorite tour I’ve ever been on because of them.
Isaac: We did an interview with Lioness right in the middle of your guys first two legs of your tour and she just had that very positive energy about her. She had a very [kind nature].
Dem Atlas: Yeah very positive, very strong woman. Very loving, very caring, and basically we just held each other down for all of it.
Growing up I had many strong women in my group of friends for which I am grateful because it led to a better relationship with my mother. I was never estranged from my mom, but growing up I was heavily into sports and that was my father’s forte. Through my friendships I was able to grow and embrace a different side of myself and through that become closer with my mother. As deM would go on to explain, the women in his life were very influential as well
Isaac: That’s awesome. That’s one of the things I’ve loved about Rhymesayers as well, is you have a very powerful female presence here. We sat down with Sa-Roc earlier and that was when Lioness was on that tour. It’s really interesting to get, you get a full perspective on life in that because it’s tough to get that when you’re coming from my side white male in America. You don’t always get every perspective [if you don’t seek them].
Dem Atlas: Yeah because in the past it’s really nice to have these different perspectives. I was raised by women. I have a lot of respect for women and a lot of reverence for women, so it was not hard per say, but it’d be challenging sometimes to be on tour with all white men and there’s only so far you can go. They wouldn’t, particularly understand where I’m coming from the entire time. It was really refreshing to have women of color like Lioness and Keezy with me. Things that we didn’t need to talk about they were already understood. So that was really refreshing and we just went through it together.
Isaac: Yeah that’s awesome and I followed some of the story on your social medias and stuff. It was really cool to see that friendship grow and to just see over the course of the last seven months you guys, by the end of it you made it seem like this is best friends.
Dem Atlas: Yeah more like family. Atmosphere and the crew and Lioness and Keezy. It became kind of like a tight knit family. There was no drama, no ego really involved. It was definitely like a family and that developed over the course of time as we traveled through the country and in Europe.
Isaac: That’s cool in having that type of relationship, it can make you feel at home when your furthest from [it].
Dem Atlas: Exactly
Budding friendships allowed deM atlaS to grow as a person. From new experiences to new mentalities; from new sights to new cities in new countries, one thing on this tour brought stability. Slug and Ant have been down this path before and they are veterans that fed off the energy of having younger tour mates. While they were able to learn plenty off the youthful nature of shows, deM would explain what he was able to take away from time on tour with Atmosphere.
Isaac: Being overseas, it’s vital to have that on tour, but it’s also important to have that veteran presence so that’s kind of the next thing I wanted to get into. [Having] Slug and Anthony on the tour with you, what’s something you learned that you maybe didn’t even think you would learn from them? Like something that just kind of caught you out of the blue.
Dem Atlas: I think their efficiency in their attention to detail and their consistency is what I really took away from it. I would watch their shows every night and it was always consistent. It was always a great show. The only variable was just the crowd and the energy in each different city. They were always consistent. Everybody’s always on time. Everybody, the crew, the lighting, the sound, it’s a well oiled machine. I paid great attention to that and also just how they rock a crowd and yeah just how they rock a crowd and how they engage with the crowd. That’s what I took away from it all.
Coming off a lengthy multi-country tour is enough to drain any artist, but the bitter sweet reality for deM atlaS is as his tour life ends he prepares for the biggest one-day hip hop festival in the world, Soundset. This year he transfers stage and crowd size moving to the main stage, and I couldn’t wait to get into what surprises he has in store for those lucky enough to catch him live.
Isaac: It is really cool to see all that sort of stuff come to motion. I think the last time I saw you was at the Palace in the wintertime here when you guys made your tour stop here I think was the last show I saw of yours. Speaking of the next show that we’ll see, I know coming off the tour you’re going to get settled down for a little bit, but end of the month we have sound set coming up. I know last year you played on the Atmosphere in side stage and this year you’re jumping up to the main stage there. What kind of do you see as the differences, challenges of going from the side stage to the main- not that it’s even really a side stage, but jumping up to a stage where there’s going to be a larger crowd, larger presence there?
Dem Atlas: Yeah man well the difference is obviously the size. The scale of show. The Atmosphere in friend stage is a more intimate experience. You’re like probably 15 to 20 feet away from the people as opposed to the main stage of like 100 feet away from the people and there’s a lot of people. You know so the energy I feel like you’re providing has to be even larger than life. I think that actually might be a misconception I think when you’re playing in front of a crowd, it don’t matter how many people you still bring the same show. Rather if you’re playing in front of 14 people versus thousands of people. I mean the energy remains the same. It should remain the same. There’s a saying if you’re playing in front of a lot of people you should pretend you’re playing at a very intimate show and if you’re playing an intimate show you’re laying in front of a lot of people. That’s really the difference to me.
Isaac: Okay and along with that do you- because I know artists like PROF, he tries to outdo himself on every time. I remember when we did the interview with him last year he said, “I’m kind of pissed that I brought that big raft out this year because now I gotta top it.” So do you feel that when you’re going to play the main stage? Do you have any sort of, I don’t want to say giveaway your show, but like any sort of spoiler or anything that you can give on what you plan to do with your show? Your shows already crazy energetic, so I was just wondering if you had any sort of tricks up your sleeve that you’re bringing to this show.
Dem Atlas: You know, I don’t. I don’t. I’m brainstorming and I’m trying to figure out what I want. I’d like to add a live element to it somehow. Like a guitarist or a drummer or something that can be another backbone to the piece of the music. Add sort of a live energy to it so it’s not just me there’s also some other live musicians on the stage. I’m trying to put that together somehow.
Isaac: It’s really cool seeing that with like Grieves has done it and Lauren Hill when she was there did it.
Dem Atlas: Yeah it really does help as opposed to having the DJ play the tracks over the big speakers. You see somebody grooving to the music as well. I think that’s kind of up my alley and I think that’s what my future holds is bringing in more live element so we can bend the music at will. We don’t have to be completely dependent on the computer. You know what I mean? I try to outdo myself after every show. I’m very hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist in a way. I don’t think it can ever be perfect, but I do try to outdo myself after every show and I’m very critical of it.
Isaac: I think it’s interesting when you can get that live element in where you can get somebody that can take your song and then just put a- I’m blanking on the word like in jazz when they just… just improvise and it allows you to freestyle.
Dem Atlas: I love that. I love that and I’m a very spontaneous person. I don’t like sticking to the script. I love consistency, but I also love chaos. I love punk music, I love free form energy, and I love walking into a situation where I don’t know what the outcome is gonna be. That’s why I’m so apt to adding a live element to it because it can be whatever we want.
Isaac: Right and you can feed off of the persons energy.
Dem Atlas: Exactly.
If you have ever saw deM atlaS in person, it wouldn’t surprise you to learn he was influenced by punk. Ever more so if you listen to his music it is everywhere. The jazz influence is also very prominent as I have seen him expand and improvise both live and on records. There was one spot that I didn’t know influenced him, might surprise some of our readers as well.
Isaac: It’s really cool that you bring up the punk because that’s kind of where I was gonna head with as well because some people- when Bad Actress came out they were saying it seems like a different feel to you, you know it’s a little bit more grungy, a little bit more punk, but to me you go back to Downer and you had songs like I Want To Be A Kid Again that have definite punk influences to it. As you go back in your catalog, I think this isn’t something new to you- I shouldn’t say it’s not something new, but I’ve seen these influences before in your music.
Dem Atlas: I listen to a lot of different things. It’s very hard for me to walk a straight path. I’m inspired by jazz records, punk records, alternative, and so many different styles of music that I want to touch on. So it just comes to me naturally. I was in a rock band before all of this and we played Rage Against The Machine covers, we played Red Hot Chili Pepper covers, Sublime covers. We also had jazz songs, we had metal songs, we did it all.
Isaac: What was the name of that band?
Dem Atlas: It was called the Argonauts.
Isaac: Argonauts. Alright sweet. Is the music out anywhere? Is there anywhere we can-
Dem Atlas: Yeah it’s out somewhere. It’s probably on MySpace or something. We don’t have anything. It was before the YouTube era. In fact I think there might be some live performances on YouTube still.
Isaac: I’ll have to check into that. What’s really cool is when you see all those sort of influences blend. I’ve always been a big fan of that punk hip hop blend. Have you heard of Fever 333? Those guys are like the new age hip-hop/metal blend. That’s a band that I just love. Their energy, their live energy, the show, everything about it. That’s something that keeps me always wanting to come back to one of your shows. Especially if you throw that live element into it where you’re bouncing off of somebody else too. I think it just really is going to add to that.
Dem Atlas: I agree. People I think will be drawn to the music even more and they would come to these shows knowing that there’s going to be it’s going to be unpredictable. You can’t really pin what’s it going to be tonight. It’s crucial for me to have that element because like I said I don’t like sticking to the script. I like going off what’s gonna happen, ya know?Spontaneity
Isaac: It’s something that I want through all music. This year Lil Uzi Vert performing on the main stage, that’s somebody that I’ve wanted to see for a long time because of that same mentality.
Dem Atlas: Me too!
The craziness of live music is what took my love of music to another level. Artists like tech n9ne, Bring Me the Horizon, and NIN create more of a theatrical production to their live show, others like Fever 333, Lil Uzi Vert, and deM atlaS use their high energy and sporadic stage presence to draw the crowd to them. deM has a unique and powerful live performance that combines has fluent dance moves, his powerful grimy voice and his iconic jump. This creates a style that is definitely unique amongst his fellow Rhymesayers, and his fans have taken notice as well.
Isaac: So this I think is a cool time to break into our fan questions too. Every interview that we do I like to reach out and see what are the fans wanting to know about the artist. The first one, this one kind of stuck out it’s along the same styles as your clothing, your rap, your style, but he asked to see where your style is going. He said he likes all your music, but is the rapping going to take more of a backseat and you want to move into kind a punk rock? Do you want to keep doing hip hop? Is it kind of a mix of both.
Dem Atlas: I do what I want in the moment and if I hear a piece of music that calls for more of a rap approach then that’s what I’m going to do, but also I have plenty of ideas involving my voice and singing. If I can do it why not use it? I’m progressing as a rapper. I’m not the best rapper. It really takes me some time to sculpt a rap because I’m very critical of it and care too much sometimes. I’m using my voice and I’m confident with singing. I’m confident in screaming. I’m confident is just bending things, so its going to probably a mixture of both. It depends on the music that I hear.
Isaac: Okay. It’s cool because I remember the first time I heard Down On The Low and I remember going this is 90’s grunge to me. This is like that feeling and this was coming off of hearing Charlie Brown and being like who is this kid that can do all this stuff. It just blows my mind, so I’m glad that there’ll be both sides to it too because I’m a fan of both.
Dem Atlas: It’s all about progression, you know. It’s all about progression, it’s all about sharpening your skills and jumping into ciphers and free styling. I love to rap, but I also know I’m not the best at it.
Isaac: There’s always room to improve everything.
Dem Atlas: You know I’m not the best singer either, but I love it. I love it. I’m in competition with myself.
Isaac: I think the other thing that’s important is not having to be the best because if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing it doesn’t matter if you miss a note here or you know you forget a line here.
Dem Atlas: It’s all about the soul. It’s all about soul.
This last line was the part of the interview that really stood out to me. Music has so many meanings to so many people, but the one thing it has always meant to me was happiness. So when I hear a song, it doesn’t have to be most lyrical or the perfect tones it is the soul of the artists that makes a song. Whether its painting, photography, music or even something like banking, when someone’s passion is brought to the forefront their art incites emotion and happiness in the listener. For deM, one of his early life passions had a major influence on his future career in music.
Isaac: Yeah definitely understand that. The second question comes from Sumac Laud and he was wondering where your stage name derives from?
Dem Atlas: My stage name, Dem Atlas derives from as a kid I used to love to read atlas’ and to draw maps. I drew cities and I used to be in the basement flipping over laundry baskets making building and I had these tiny little cars. I’m obsessed with cities and obsessed with different cultures, religions, beliefs, and stuff like that. I’d be in the back of the class with an atlas. In math class id be reading these atlas’ and seeing how different people lived. So the name derives from that. Atlas, and also Atlas is the God that held up the world on his back. When I made that name, I was trying to figure out my world to hold on my back because I felt like it was falling apart. So I was just trying to pick the pieces up and hold up my world and the Dem part just comes from all of us are just trying to hold up our world. We’re all apart of this. We’re all in this together. We’re all we’ve got. So D-E-M as in them. We live on the atlas. So it’s not a singular name. Its more so kind of a way that I look at the world.
Isaac: Yeah and that’s sweet. I was curious about it too and that’s a really cool story behind it. Have you ever read the book Atlas Shrugged?
Dem Atlas: No I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.
Isaac: To be totally honest, I would probably just skip it. It’s a great literary piece, but it is really tough to stay focused.
Dem Atlas: Like Dante’s Inferno? I tried reading that shit. It was a lot, damn.
We went on to talk a little more about literary arts and stories within them. True art comes from living and from experiences. It comes from the books we read, the people we surround ourselves with, the way we grew up. Our influences are a catalog of the lives we have lived, but when we are able to take those influences and create an experience for those around you, you can bring your art to another level. This is what deM is hoping to accomplish with his new visual path.
Isaac: So the last question I wanted to get into with you was just about the music videos for your last project with Bad Actress. It kind of felt more like a short story where you embraced your music into the short story and I’ve seen it done by Why Khaliq. He did it with The Mustard Seed, a couple other artists that have done something like this, is this something that you really want to pursue more into the film industry? Is this something where you want to see your music become these kind of short stories?
Dem Atlas: Yeah. I love movies. I love studying film. I love studying the shadows on the wall. These little things that really make a piece of art. I want it to be a full on experience and that was our attempt at that. The Bad Loves Company short story because I’m obsessed with dreams and what they mean. It was a brave attempt trying to divulge what these songs mean on a different scale. Not just the musical piece, but also the visual experience and bring you into my world and the progression of trying to find a way out of all the shit. Out of all the drugs, the women, the vices, and the temptations and find your way back to your center. Back on the right path. I definitely want to evolve with that and involve that medium. I think film is a very powerful piece if done right.
Isaac: I’ve always been a huge fan of music videos. I was a pretty big metal head in high school and I felt like when I watch a lot of hip hop videos nowadays, it feels like I’m watching the same video. Its going to be a guy in the street [rapping into a camera]
Dem Atlas: It’s really a drag. It’s so predictable and that’s the thing I don’t want is to be predictable. That comes with the visuals , that comes with the music. You can’t tie me down. You can’t box me in. I’m going to do what I want to do and I’m not going to stick to no script. I don’t want to be just another rapper, another artist. I want to this to really be something that lasts and has a statement to it. That’s why I feel like this piece of music, Bad Actress is so important, especially on a label called Rhymesayers where it’s known for just hip hop music is to bring these other elements in. Some R&b, some funk, some rock, some soul; involve that.
Isaac: [To] tie it together with everything else we’ve been talking about today. Just being able to see the world from a lot of different cultures, a lot of different aspects, it brings a lot more into a piece of music, a lot more into art in general when you have all these sides that are coming together. When you get too deep down into hip hop, you may make some really great hip hop music, but one of the things I’ve seen with you is that like you said, you may not be the best rapper. The best singer, but you’re ability as a musician, as an artist to create something. That’s what’s really I think special.
Dem Atlas: Yeah I mean at least you tried. You can fail, but at least you tried. A lot of people are scared to fail or scared to even try or attempt to do something out of the box, but I will always try.
Isaac: So the last thing we can do here is, if you wanna take 30 seconds to a minute here and kind of tell everybody what you have going on. What’s coming up with you as far as music, as far as shows, everything else?
Dem Atlas: I think the main prerogative right now is I’m trying to get working on new music, working on the next album, or the next piece of music, an EP, or mix tape. I don’t know what its going to be, but I’m working on new music. I’m trying to get a band together and I want to go on my own tour.
Isaac: Awesome. I know we’ve just talked with Grieves too and he was talking about the same type of thing. He really wants to get a band together. I think that’s really cool to start seeing a lot of stuff coming out. I’m excited to see the future Rhymesayers, the future of you and see how it grows.
Dem Atlas: Thank you. Me too.
Having spoken with a lot of the Rhymesayers crew over the past few years, this interview really strengthened my understanding of why deM atlaS was the perfect fit for a record label that has made a name for itself bending the rules of hip hop. From starting an indie label to signing a punk rock rapper, Rhymesayers has always been on the forefront of individualism in hip hop and deM embodies that. You can find deM atlaS on all streaming services and his social medias below, but more importantly you can find him on the main stage at Soundset on May 26th at the State Fairgrounds in St Paul, Minnesota and hopefully on a headlining tour sometime in the next year or two.