Interview: Ultramagnetic MCs X Thetan

Keith and Ced are pros, so it's pretty easy to get results if you know where you're standing and play your position well. 

Having previously worked on music (that resulted in the brilliant album Space Goretex), hardcore duo Thetan once again team up with legendary rapper Kool Keith. This time though he’s not alone and with the equally as legendary Ced Gee, the Ultramagnetic MCs X Thetan hook up for the collaborative 12” Ultra Ultra/Silicon Bass, a release especially for Record Store Day 2023.To celebrate this link up, Gavin Brown talked to Thetan’s Dan Emery and Chad L’Eplattenier as well as Kool Keith and Ced Gee from Ultramagnetic MCs about the release and a whole host of hip hop, music and record store related topics.

First up, we talked to Chad and Dan from Thetan to discuss hooking up with Ultramagnetic MCs, working with Ced Gee and Kool Keith and their love of hip hop.

E&D: You are shortly going to bring out the Ultra Ultra/Silicon Bass 12” with Ultramagnetic MCs for Record Store Day. Are you excited to be getting this out to the people?

Chad: Definitely. We were pretty satisfied with how the music turned out on these tracks and Ced Gee and Kool Keith’s parts are both killer.       

Dan: I can hardly express how excited I was to do this project. They have a new full album coming out on Ruffhouse, and have been popping up doing shows lately, including joining LL Cool J on stage for his set at Rock The Bells, so getting to be in proximity of that kind of greatness is not something I would ever take for granted. I’m personally incredibly humbled to work with them.

E&D: How was the experience of working with Kool Keith and Ced Gee on the 12”? 

Dan: It went incredibly smooth. When the idea was confirmed, I pitched it to Record Store Day, and they made it an official 2023 title, which gave us a very small window of time to get it recorded, do all post production, then get it pressed. Chad and I put together some rough tracks for the instrumental over the next couple days, and sent that over to Keith and Ced. They had their parts finished in good time, and I went straight into mixing and getting the guests in place. Keith and Ced are pros, so it’s pretty easy to get results if you know where you’re standing and play your position well. 

E&D: You previously worked with Kool Keith on the Space Gotetex LP. Is that how this new hookup happened?

Dan: Yes, after doing the LP, we never really fell out of contact. There’s always ideas bouncing around, this one just moved up the ranks really quickly.

E&D: Will you work together again in the future on another 12” or maybe even an album?

Dan: I would never rule that out, but it really just depends on when that new cool idea pops up. We’re all really creative in our own rights, and both UMCs and Thetan tend to have a number of projects going on at the same time, but given how this one came out, I’d say the prospect of a sequel is definitely on the table.

E&D: What are your favourite ever Ultramagnetic MCs beats and rhymes?

Chad: ‘Bring it Down to Earth’ on The Four Horsemen.  

Dan: Ego Trippin is perfect in every way, but beyond that I think Ced’s production work on ‘Fuck Compton’ and ‘The Bridge Is Over’ both set the tone for the direction that hip hop went over the next couple decades..

E&D: Torsion and Black Cat Sylvester also feature. What did they bring to the track?

Chad: Torsion is one of our favorite local bands going right now, playing their own version of wild, brutal death metal. Their backing vocals ramped up the intensity of the track. Black Cat Sylvester was on our Kool Keith collab, so it only made sense to have him on this one. His inventive spins pushed the tracks over the top.  

Dan: Black Cat Sylvester is an old friend of mine and will always be my first pick as DJ on anything I work on that needs scratching. Torsion were actually playing at the next stage over right after Keith wrapped up his set at a fest last year. He mentioned them the next day, and said how he thought their guitar riffs were good, so I decided literally in that moment that I wanted to put them on the track somehow. Some people don’t realize this about Keith, but he can go into deep discussions about metal and punk bands. He’s like a musical fucking encyclopedia.

E&D: As it is for record store day. What are your favourite ever record stores?

Chad: American Beat in Birmingham, Alabama is where I bought some of my first punk records and was introduced to the local underground scene.  I played my first shows there, and opening up for and witnessing San Francisco’s Fuckface was life affirming. Unfortunately it’s long gone, but it made a big impact on my life.  

Dan: I love and will always love the Great Escape here in Nashville. I used to go there and just look through all the tapes and CDs when I was a kid with no money in my pockets, just trying to find stuff that I’d never seen before from bands I liked. Then scrounge up change and come back later. I can’t count the times I rolled into that place with a pocket full of nickels, trying to bargain the clerk down a dollar or 2 on the price of a second hand tape.

E&D: Have you got plans for any other new music this year?

Chad: An EP this spring and a  LP later in the year. The EP will be a CD release with all our split and EP releases tacked on to it.  

Dan: I’m really proud of both of those releases. I’m usually pretty critical of the stuff I’m involved in, but I really can’t think of anything negative to say about either. The production is on point. The songwriting is some of my favorite. We have some special surprise guests on the LP. I’m probably gonna get hit by a car the day before it comes out though. Way she goes Bubs, way she goes.

E&D: Have you got plans for any other hip-hop releases on the future?

Chad: Nothing concrete, but we’ll have something out there at some point soon.  

Dan: I have some ideas, but I don’t wanna jinx it. Does anyone have Bun B’s phone number?

E&D: What are your favourite ever hip hop rock/metal collaborations? 

Chad: Getting to hear the Judgment Night soundtrack as kid when it came out was badass. The Ice-T and Slayer collab is probably my favorite.

Dan: Definitely Judgment Night. Also the first half of For Lovers by Armagideon Time.

We also had the privilege of talking to both Ced Gee and Kool Keith to talk about the release, their music and their legendary careers in hip hop. Ced Gee is up first.

E&D: You’re bringing out the Ultra Ultra/Silicone Bass 12” for Record Store Day. How was out working with Thetan for this release?

Ced: It’s cool, our manager Erik,is always keeping us busy, so he it asked us will we do it? We said, yeah, we like challenges.

E&D: Do you like working on different things, obviously with Thetan being a hardcore band?

Ced: Yeah. This is what people don’t understand about Ultra because they try to put Ultra in a box, but we’re at our best when we do everything, that’s the challenge

E&D: Would you like to do more of that sort of thing in the future?

Ced: Yeah. Like I said, those are challenges. That’s why a lot of people don’t do, it’s like actors, the great actors can take on any role and handle it with style and elegance, just like we can with any style of music.

E&D: So you’re a fan of rock and punk music as well?

Ced: Yeah. That’s when you understand hip hop, that’s what hip hop is. All music. See, this is the problem now because money took over the true essence of hip hop. When you went to a hip hop, jam back in the day, they played all types of records. If they found a little break in, it could have been a bassline break, beat break, percussion break, and they will cut it up. Those things got lost as it became more monetised and commercial, so the real essence loss got lost. It goes back to when the DJ was the major figure. You use a three second break, and you got to keep that extended and and cut it up and make it interesting for 15/20, that’s why the DJ was the star.

E&D: As this release is for Record Store Day. What are your favourite recurs stores?

Ced: Music Factory in New York City. Manny, the owner, he knew all the breaks! He knew where everything you wanted was! A lot of people used to go crate digging in there. It went from searching for beats to putting out Ego Trippin and it couldn’t stay on the shelves!

E&D: How do you feel about Ultramagnetic MCs being seen as a legendary group and what do you want you your legacy to be?

Ced: We’ll, there’s a whole lot of books left to be written because I never was a rule player. I don’t let anybody define anything for me. This is why I’m so busy now. There’s a whole nother aspect of life trying to open up right now.

E&D: Will you be doing live dates with Ultramagnetic and what have been your favourites from the last?

Ced: Yeah, of course. The memorable ones are the stuff that you don’t rehearse. I remember one year on a Europe tour,  basically every show was great, by the time we got to Manchester, It was so tight. Then there was one years ago in Philadelphia. It was in a high school cafeteria and we performed on top of the tables. That show was so fucking incredible. It just was dope. We jumped  up on the tables and did the show!

E&D: How was the experience of working with Boogie Down Productions on the Criminal Minded album?

Ced: It was great, Scott La Rock came with a lot of records! Recirds like ‘The P Is Free’. I actually put that beat together in less than 10 minutes!

After that lesson in rap history,  we had the pleasure of catching up with Kool Keith.

E&D: You’re bringing out the Ultra Ultra/Silicone Bass 12” for Record Store Day. How was out working with Thetan for this release?

Keith: We’ve got some nice distinctive and very interesting stuff to get involved with it’s always a pleasure to try new stuff and it just keeps me creative

E&D: You’ve worked with Thetan before, was it a similar sort of process you work in this time?

Keith: I had the beats and I adapt the song differently so all the music comes in differently but we have fun when we do our projects and I just have the freedom to create, you know?

E&D: Would you like to work with them again in the future?

Keith: Always welcome.

E&D: You’re a big fan of rock music and punk music as well?

Keith: Yeah, I’m always on everything. I’m a versatile artist in my career. It made me so unique on all kinds of stuff. I get a lot of different jobs rapping on so many different genres of music and the boundaries are very, very limitless.

E&D: What other music are you working on at the moment?

Keith: I’m working on Broadway Billy, I finished that album. I did the Ultra album. I did Black Elvis 2 up in that shit. I did the Serpent album with Real Bad Man. I’m working on so much stuff. I might be working on a movie in the summer too.

E&D: Do you like to keep busy with your music and how does it feel to still be constantly creating quality music this far into your career?

Keith: Yeah I’m constantly working. A lot of artists from my time, they were just making records, but their versatility to get on other music wasn’t strong. My flexibility has allowed me to get on so many things, all kinds of levels of music and rap. With COVID, I worked more from the house, doing features and I’m constantly working more now.

E&D: Do you think it’s your versatility, that’s led to having such a long career?

Keith: Yeah, my versatility is key.  I stay totally into music, making music, but the point was, I could have ventured off and tried to start doing something else, people started to try to go into other ventures. The flexibility to sustain and keep growing and making music that was a demand, that was me being from the Bronx, my background.

E&D: Do you still find it inspiring to be so constantly creative with your music?

Keith: Yeah, I do because my environment is what inspires me. There’s so much going on in New York and in my life that it inspires me every day.

E&D: Would you say that with your music throughout your career, you’ve always looked forward, rather than looking back? 

Keith: That’s what I’m saying. That’s why I just gotta do what I gotta do. People forget the real artists in the game and it’s all microwave music. With that I mean, with food, you put it in a microwave and it’s disposable, rather than putting all the gourmet stuff together.

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