The Gold Edition Interview featuring Just Archie and A-Rock
This interview was conducted on July 19th, 2016 by Josh Whitener and was published in the August, 2016 edition of Veer Magazine. Josh is an Urban Music Reporter for Veer Magazine and Editorial Assistant for Hometown News Brevard. He also provides promotional web content for ItsJustArchie.com and thanks both A-Rock and Archie for sharing their time, talent, and tales.
Q: What was the inspiration for remastering 2013’s “Made in Virginia”. Why this album specifically?
Archie: A-Rock, you want to take this one?
A-Rock: I went back to the album and just started listening to the music and then I was like, you know, I want to reinvent myself…and that came at a time that I wanted to reinvent myself and I just went for it, man. I just changed the style of the album up. Actually, for real, the song “Good Loving”, I was getting a lot of feedback online about that record. A lot of people were feeling that song. So I was listening to it and I thought: I can make this song sound even better. I had just gotten some new recording equipment and remastered [the record] and I thought ‘Wow’. This sounded like it was done in a professional studio.
Then I told Archie that I was thinking about remastering another song for the album just to see how it sounds. Later, I did “Norfolk State of Mind” and then I went and redid the entire album. I didn’t even tell Archie I was going to change some of the beats on some of the songs. So, basically, as I was remastering it, I took some of his vocals on some of the records and I did beats around his vocals. That’s basically how it ended up. I gave him a copy of the album and didn’t even tell him how it was going to sound.
So when he got a copy of the album he was, like, ‘OK this ain’t a game no more’.
Q: What is the most important aspect of this album?
Archie: I want to say that this album is a really vulnerable album. The fact that my name is on it says I’m willing to be transparent, I’m willing to let you see the inside. A-Rock’s music…I think he would say the same thing. He’s willing to share what he’s found on his own. We had to come from a place where we could appreciate the gift and the talent that we had, and be able to present it and present it in the best way possible.
So as far as this album goes, we want people to interact with us. The way that we catalogue songs now…we don’t make an album just to make an album. Every song has a life of its own. So we have things on this album that, as a collective total right now, we believe this is the best time to put this album out. This is the shit that’s going on and we are addressing it so people know to listen. You have a voice. Listen to the listener, you know what I’m saying? Don’t just listen, but speak to us, reach out to us, touch us. We want to come out to where you are. That kind of thing.
Q: Some of these songs were done independently, meaning that the two of you weren’t in the studio at the same time producing. How did the chemistry work separately as opposed to working simultaneously?
A-Rock: That’s a good question, that’s a real good question. It’s crazy because it’s hard to explain. Archie and I can be away from each other for six months, four months or whatever and when we get back in the lab it’s like, yo, we were just in the lab together yesterday.
Some of our best work would come from when I would [say]: ‘Yo, Archie I got an idea. Here’s the beat. Write to it like this,’ and he’ll come to the lab and have it on script and he’d spit it and I’d say ‘Rap to it like this’ and he’ll do it and when he’d hear it he would be, like, ‘Oh, OK A-Rock, I got you now. I know where you’re going with this’.
Archie: Whenever A-Rock says, ‘Hey, I got an idea’, you know, it’s one thing for someone to tell you they have an idea…suppose you said it to me. I’m expecting you to tell me the idea in words. When he has an idea he tells it to me in composition of music. So I’m listening to the music and that’s his idea and his idea is for me to just have a conversation with his music. When I’m having that conversation, it’s basically feelings, thoughts, grooves and movement so I begin to just elaborate, even though I’m speaking. I’m talking for the music. I’m telling people what the music is telling me to say.
Q: How do you place the tone and sound of the songs based on Archie’s lyrics?
A-Rock: What it is, basically, is when he’s rapping I’m using his vocals as an instrument on my beats. I already know how I want him to rap when I do a beat. Usually I [even] already know the name of the song that I want him to write about.
Q: The album has songs like “Beautiful” and “Repeat After Me” that portray themes of relationships, maturity and growth into fatherhood and also family life. Was there a personal experience or need to express the good and bad of those developments as a man?
Van: On the track “Beautiful”, man, A-Rock already had some sampling in the background. Plus, he already had an artist [Tia Porter] who we had willing to sing and she was talking about ‘beautiful’ so just that alone was, like, there aren’t too many things I can tell you that are more beautiful than a relationship. That relationship between a man and a woman…to me, at that point in time, I don’t even think I was married when I made that song.
But I knew that track, having such a soulful vocalist on it, I really wanted to find a place for these song lyrics I had written when I was 19 years old. So that song talking about beautiful, talking about manhood and maturity, I think when I had written that I had just moved back to Virginia from [Morris Brown College] and I grew up in a single family home and to even think about things like fathering…I hadn’t walked through that stuff yet. Those were some of my values at that point in time.
I was ahead of my time when I wrote that.
Q: So how does that compare to a song like the “Kamikaze” remix that tells the exact opposite of what “Beautiful” depicts.
Archie: (laughs) Shit.
Archie: “Kamikaze” is a fucking world-wind, yo. A-Rock knows what I’m talking about, man, because, you know, there were days I’d call him up and say: ‘Yo, A-Rock man, I think I’m about to lose my fucking wife!’ You know what I’m saying? (laughs)
A-Rock: Oh yea.
Archie: Like: ‘My marriage is going down the drain.’
Archie: We’d be fighting and stuff and I’d be like all I got is this music, you know? If I can’t do nothing else and my wife doesn’t understand…you know to hell with it. Like I say in the song “married goes around and round” I felt like I was in this merry-go-round in my marriage, man, and it’s like anything I do is wrong so I kind of sided with it and writing that song “Kamikaze” it just put me in a place, like, to hell with it. I’m not going to throw the marriage away, but I will say this is some fucked up stuff. (laughs)
Archie: …and I’m willing to ride it out, you know what I’m saying?
A-Rock: Oh, man. I definitely remember those days. He would call me and it’s crazy because I would be going through several situations like work, you know what I’m saying, or a girlfriend, financials…and I’m the type of person that keeps everything inside, but when I turn on that beat machine or whatever, it’s how I express my feelings through my music.
So, when he was going through it, it was like, wow, my man’s going through something, alright. I’d see what I could dig up. I could listen to a song and tell you what I was going through at that particular time. For instance, if you listen to “Hang On”, I was feeling like, yo, VA is not really supporting real hip-hop music and this is our home. I ain’t gonna turn my back on my home so I’m just going to hang on and keep doing my thing.
Q: Since it talks about the good and the bad of growing up and residing in Hampton Roads, would you call “Norfolk State of Mind” a sort of anthem to “The Gold Edition”?
Archie: I never thought that, but I do agree. I never thought there was one song that was an anthem to this particular album because it goes through many ages and many stages. Every time we went into the studio, we knew we were going to get a point where we were going to make an album, but we always said we were going to pick the best of it. We never said it was going to be called this. After it’s all said and done, we had this and we were like: ‘What are we going to call it?’, you know. What’d we call it? So all these [tracks] that were “Made in Virginia” that went through the remastering process, we had to dig deep into the soul of it and pull out the best of it; the gold edition.
But to really answer that specific question, “Norfolk State of Mind”, was made at a time where we were very confident. If I look back on the first song to the last song we made, that was a very confident time. A-Rock and I, and correct me if I’m wrong, A-Rock, but it was like, oh, we’ve got a really good sound and we need to capitalize on that. So, I had to make sure we had something hot. So when I came into the studio it wasn’t even really like we had a disagreement or anything with us. So we came out strong.
We pitched it to Norfolk State in 2012. We went to their marketing department and we asked them: ‘Please, take this song, we’ll give it to you, do whatever you want to do with it’, because we knew that the following year they’d be on, like, video games…anything to do with team so it could be grandfathered in to any of these promotional things. So, if they didn’t take it, we had to promote it ourselves. It was a single that made it to the album and made into a movie called “The Re-Up”. They used it as the anthem for the movie which is about the stories of Norfolk.
It was never really an anthem for the album. It was just one more song that represented the versatility and what we could do. I do agree though.
A-Rock: Yea, man. (laughs) Yea, I mean when I listen to the album, actually when I listen to “Norfolk State of Mind”, I see a picture of a spark for Norfolk State. That’s the image I get because, when we did that record, Norfolk State was doing big things. They had won a tournament and everything.
Q: Was there an order to the listing where each song transitions into a different feel and tone from previously produced albums or was there a conscious effort to have a sort of story-book effect between each song?
A-Rock: I mean, for me, it was just something that came together. It just came together and at the same time just sort of made sense. When “Hang On” stops, then “Just Archie” comes on and the album just sort of slows down. Then the album will pick up again and go into a different mood and it just all came together when I was lining the tracks up. I just lined them all up and it made sense.
Archie: Let me help you out there…
A-Rock: Go ahead.
Archie: When we started working together two albums ago, he gave me a beat CD. I went through it, I wrote to it and I basically said this is how I want it and I had control over the album “Fight or Flight” and I put it in a certain order.
The second album was “Finding Archie” and I came back and wanted a certain order to it and I did both of those albums under the name Vanzetti. But A-Rock had started talking to me about being myself and he helped me come up with the moniker Just Archie. Now, I defined it and I owned it, but from the beginning he loaned it and he made it OK for me to even say Archie. So it’s not “Ar-chie”, it’s “Our-chie” if you will. (laughs)
Q: So this album was a transition into the “Just Archie” persona. Did that change the way you looked at the albums structure?
Archie: He helped me put some attitude into it. Going through that process of being with him it allowed him to produce me and take me further than just being a songwriter to a person who had attitude, nerve and was willing to preform to back it up.
I was able to relinquish that control and let him put together the songs as he heard it. In other words, to make it a composition and, like he said, when he put it all together and put it in my hands, I had already taken my hands off of it. By the time I had a chance to listen to it, the order was in the best order for the person to start it off anyway which was the composer who said: ‘Hey, Archie I need you to add another instrument, your voice.’
Q: In terms of the beats and sound, a track like “Beyond Stars” lives up to its namesake with a beat that sounds interstellar and cocoons itself around the lyrics. Does a differentiation in sound come organically, or is there an effort to make certain tracks unique in sound?
A-Rock: That’s funny because I’m a big, big Bob James fan. He had this album and when I dropped the needle on the record, when you listened to it, it was a straight loop. It was just so hot that I wanted to use this. That didn’t take me but five minutes to make because it was just straight loops. I told Archie to check this out and he was like I can do something with this. He came through and he spit with it and, when he spits with it, it was like he was riding the beat.
If you really listen to that record and listen to how he rhymes, he rode the flow of it. It depends on my mood. That’s how I come up with certain beats. If I’m in party mood, I come up with a party song. If I’m just in a laid back hip-hop 90s feel, I go get a sample and I just chop it up in bits and pieces and play it to come up with a melody and change the drums on it to make it sounds kinda like 90s/2016. I usually just let the music take me to where I end up.
Q: How do feel about the state of hip-hop now and how does that compare to the music you create?
Archie: A lot of times you see hip-hop and you only see the microphone. Rarely do you often see anything else. Our album is a way for people to feel what we feel and to think what we think, because we know they’re thinking it. We’re different because we know there are people out there who are different. We’re trying to get that out there. You don’t have listen to the same stuff you’re always listening to.
A-Rock: I don’t really listen to the radio. No disrespect to the people who are on the radio. I’m not the type of producer that a label can sign me and get to program me to do what they want. That’s not how I came up. I came up cooking, sweeping the floor and cleaning the house and playing The Temptations, Michael Jackson records and Motown in the background. That’s what I was born into. I wasn’t born into synthesized music and stuff like that with what they’re doing now.
I can make that music, but that’s not really who I am. I’m just too soulful to do that. Yea, man, Archie and I have our own style. It’s like, yo, if you don’t like it…you don’t have to listen to it. But there’s a lot of people out there that like it.
Q: Are there any current hip-hop artists that influence or stimulate the way, Archie, you write lyrics, or, A-Rock, the beats your produce?
A-Rock: The funny thing is that I listen to anything, man. I listen to country. I listen to Kenny Rogers. When you’re riding in the car with me you may be listening to something like a jazz beat, an overseas jazz beat. I’ll put a record on and listen to it and throughout that listening there may be a sound that catches me and stay in my head for like a week or so. Then, I may go back to that same record and say: ‘Oh, I got a beat for that.’
It’s music. It’s universal and it’s therapeutic. Real talk.
Archie: No matter what music is, if it’s out there and it’s something that’s repeatedly played on the radio or the feeds, I respect it for what it is. I’m gonna pay homage through it at the end of the day because that’s somebody’s livelihood.
A-Rock: Yeah, yeah.
Archie: When it’s real, when it’s from the heart, that’s when I stop. That’s when I reach out and let that person know that hit my heart. So when I take the time to make music with A-Rock, I know that he’s coming from the same place and we’re looking to get that same reaction.