We notice your guy’s style is really Boom-Bap driven and focus on lyricism, let us know how your style if different than all the rap artists out there! Yo guys are really original!!!!
I feel like we are unique because we have a wide range of MCs, from conscious to raw to lyrically brutal. Nobody wrote their Gladiator Pen verses to pay the bills or “make it”. We did it for the love of giving back through making music. We all are artists who stand alone, or in talented groups, but we take time away from commercially driven pursuits to create something singular. Plus, there is a portion of the album (the Gladiator Road Trilogy) where we write our bars as actual Gladiators trying to escape Roman rule. How often do you hear storytelling like that? One of us characterized our style on stage in Flagstaff recently as, “Lyrical destruction… And then we give the money to kids.”
Please tell us about the non-profit movement, and how you guys donate the proceeds from your album sales to a charity!?
We donate our creative energy, time and the money needed to record and market our albums. We don’t recoup a dime, despite the fact that putting together and marketing a professional album is expensive. All of the money from album sales and local events goes to the Raising a Reader program, which is run through Southwest Human Development. How did this come about? In 2013, I founded Gladiator Pen because I wanted to give back on a consistent basis. I was asked to take part in some charity shows in the years leading up to 2013, and I loved the feeling of giving back through hip hop. I decided that I had to form my own charity movement focused on literacy, given that words are a huge part of the element of MC’ing. I went out and recruited talented artists with good hearts. We had our first event for literacy in 2013 and released our first album called The Literacy Project in April of 2014
How often as a group, do you guys perform?
We all perform solo and in other groups, to varying degrees. Almost every weekend, you can find two or three of us performing around the Valley of the Sun. We have members that have moved out of state now as well (New Mexico, Oregon and New Jersey). As a group, we just started performing together again to support the new album. Are you touring this 2019 year? We just completed the Chariot Awaits mini tour in the Southwest to support the album. We’ll be going out again in the fall. In the Phoenix area, we’ll be putting on our own charity events to benefit literacy every couple of months through 2019. Our next one will be an end of summer Backpack Drive to help kids going back to school.
Let us know about the creative process behind your new album “Roman Numeralz”?
Some of the verses are recorded at my project studio the Situashun Room. Some are recorded elsewhere and sent to me. I don’t mind either method, since I know all of the artists personally. Since we have a few artists that have relocated out of state, I’d say about 50% of the verses are recorded with me. Our sophomore album Roman Numeralz took nearly four years to gestate. I never rush a full album like this one (17 tracks – 69 minutes) because, as a fan, I like the subtleties: the sound efx, the ad libs, the bridge etc. I don’t want my music to sound rushed or stripped down. Plus, I don’t want to make it a pain for the artists involved. Being in the Pen family is not a huge obligation. Ideally, it feels more like an opportunity to give back. As a family member, you need to contribute a certain minimum for each album, but it is not a like a normal group where people are driving you to results. Everybody in the Pen has their own goals and milestones they are trying to reach. I want the contributions to be genuine and donated in good spirit. It makes each contribution better. It can take time, and be frustrating, but the final product seems worth it to me. What is the message behind this project? There is no singular message, but I think the fact that we created the album for literacy sends a message of its own. However, it is important to me that the album inspires like minded artists, especially from a lyrical standpoint. If someone hears a track, and then wants to write a verse to compete with what we put out, then we have done our jobs.
When are you guys planning on dropping another project?
As a group, I want to shoot for 2022 for our next album release. I don’t want to compromise the quality, but the family is larger now and I think we can out do ourselves given three years. I will get started in the next few months. In the meantime, look for releases by Ciphurphace, Mister Riot, Phal Kilmer, Blaze Rock, Floyd Write, Ohm, Judgement, Simple Wizdom, Puritan, Miss Rebecca, DJ Blesd 1 and DJ Psychopat. Look for records by our affiliated groups like Avenue of the Arts Crew (AOTA), the Society of the Invisibles (TSOI), Fated, RoHm, Wizdom’s Dagger, Riot Cross, DFS, SpaceLab, and the list goes on…
Are there any Hip Hop influences you guys have in the underground game?
I don’t want to speak for the others because we are so diverse. When I created the Pen, I imagined artists with range enough to be as bad ass as Army of the Pharaohs but conscious like Black Star. That’s a hard expectation to meet, but I believe that you need to set the bar high to get great results.
How does social media playing a role in your success?
I think it’s a huge part of how independent artists can survive outside of the major label system. We have to build our networks in order to have any chance of success. We have to get the word out about what we are doing online because people do not go out seeking music like they used to (at shows or in physical records stores, for example). Coming up as an MC in the nineties, part of me still loves the physical promotional game. I personally love meeting fans at the shows and learning more about them. I wish more people that came out to the shows based on social media would introduce themselves. We have a mean merch booth game live, and I love passing and shirts cds hand to hand. There is something cool about that that you don’t get over the internet. How are fans/supporters helping your movement? They help a lot. The people that come out to underground hip hop shows keep the art form alive. Since the art form was created in 1973, a whole generation of fans are wading into difficult lives supporting families and do not go out as much. The people that come out to underground shows in 2019 now are REALLY DEDICATED, so I want them to know how important they are to the practitioners. Our cd release party show at Tempe Tavern was electric. When the vibe is electric, we can give you even more of what it means to be dope. We can hit you with crowd participation and have it reverberate. The connection is what most MCs are after. Without fans, we are have no outlet to plug into. When it comes to a charity movement like Gladiator Pen, fans are everything because they allow us to contribute money to Raising a Reader, both by coming out to the shows and by supporting the cds.
With this being an underground hip hop site, we always ask this important question. What is your definition of “underground hip hop”?
To me, being an underground hip hop artist means making music without compromise that is true to my own unique artistic voice and the culture. Hip hop is bigger than rap music. It’s all about the elements.
Where can people find you on the Internet? Drop all the vital links.
Any shout outs?
Lastly, and shout out? I want to shout out my wife Meghan, who I would not be myself without.