Interview by Jason Kucsma
This summer at the Underground Publishing Conference, we kicked
off the festivities with a live show featuring rock, electronica,
noise, djs, and a hip hop crew. The latter of which are a collective
from the Ann Arbor/Detroit/Pontiac, Michigan area called Subterraneous
Crew — and they blew everyone away. DJ Dub had
arranged to bring Subterraneous Crew down for the show, and I
had no idea what to expect. What we got was a solid hour of skilled
rhymes and crowd-moving beats that impressed visitors from New
York City to Oakland. Letting my midwest pride flare a little,
I wanted to talk with one of the collective members, One
Man Army, and introduce Subterraneous Crew to
Clamor readers all around the world. If positive hip hop that
skillfully combines entertainment, education and political consciousness
is something you're into, Subterraneous Crew is
some shit that will move you ...
Clamor: Tell me a little about your history as a Michigan
hip hop artist and how it all fits in with Subterraneous Crew
(including some background about SubCrew).
One Man Army: As a Michigan artist, I did open mics and such starting
as early as '91. My first release was with Binary Star in '98 with
our "New HipHop" EP. In Jan 2000, I started the Subterraneous
Records/Movement, and from there continued to build with Decompoze,
Phrikshun, as well as newcomers like Magestik Legend, Kodac, and
Illite. As a test, I decided to work on the Waterworld Too project,
it was a test to see how we would all feel about working with each
What is the Waterworld Too project? Could you explain
it for those who might not even know where Waterworld is?
To put it simple, the Waterworld Too project is an introduction
to the Subterraneous camp, as well as a preview of what's to come.
Waterworld is a title that we use for Michigan, and since the crew
is from Michigan, some of us Pontiac, others Detroit, we represent
the entire state. We call it Waterworld because of the Great Lakes.
What do see as your defining mission as a hip hop artist?
How does this gel with the current climate of mainstream hip
hop (i.e. the Jay-z's, the Nellys, etc.). Where do you fit into
this picture? Sub is understandably critical of it all. Talk
a bit about the alternatives that are out there.
My mission as a hip hop artist is to honestly express myself,
my views, and my creativity in a way that can motivate, inspire,
educate, and uplift this society, community, youth, whatever and
whoever my music contacts.
In contrast to the "mainstream" hip hop, my music — I
consider it to be the pure stuff. Meaning untainted by the corporate
influence. Not the poison that is going to corrupt today's youth,
but [I want to] offer them positive alternatives to the garbage
that's brainwashing them. Hoes, money, sex, cars, clothes, etc.
These things are definitely a part of everyday life, but not the
most important things in life.
After spending time in prison, and
after seeing my community and peers affected by the repetitious
rubbish, I feel that my place is to bring positive creativity
to the table.
Can you talk a little more explicitly about what impact
prison had on you? Can you point to certain moments/ideas/people
that directly changed the way you think about things or at least
raised your consciousness about issues affecting your community?
Prison was a wake-up call, a training ground, a rebirth, a spiritual
evolution, a maturing process, and probably the place that ultimately
saved my life. There are so many moments, ideas, and people that
help me to develop and grow that I could write a book, but I guess
one of the biggest observations about that whole situation is that
it took me out of my environment and gave me a chance to look at
the picture from an outside perspective. My friends, family, myself.
I realized how the youth (myself at the time) in my community had
little opportunities to explore positive routes, and easy alternatives
to the wrong routes, and I felt like now I was put in a position
to be able to speak from experience about the traps.
A lot of the lyrics on Waterworld Too represent life that's
a lot more real than the shit people hear about in mainstream
hip hop. How do you see hip hop's connection with movements striving
for social/political/economic justice for all people?
Hip hop originally started as a voice for the community, from
the community, to the community, about the community. Even though
corporations have altered the true nature of hip hop, and turned
it into a corporation, that is strictly about making money. My
stand is that the community still needs that voice, and that's
why I'm here, and that's why so many artists who remain loyal to
the cause are here.
Who are some of the other artists out there right now
that are keeping true to the history and nature of hip hop that
you're down with? Who would you like to hold as most accountable
for damaging hip hop as it's seen in mainstream America? In other
words, where did all this shit go awry and who should we support?
Honestly, from what I've seen and learned over the years, I don't
know who's who anymore. The ones you think got a good head on their
shoulders lose it when that deal is on the table. I'm not saying
they ain't out there, I'm just saying that actions speak louder
than words, and time will tell who is and who's not.
As far as damaging hip hop, I truly don't think hip hop is damaged.
I do think that the industry is responsible for sweeping true hip
hop under the rug and promoting what "appears" to be
hip hop. But for those who know, we know that what they market
and promote is not hip hop. What mainstream radio plays is not
hip hop. There are people, or should I say artists, who I believe
know what true hip hop is (because they used to do it), and have
made a conscious decision to trade that in for a mainstream paycheck,
and I do believe that this is the biggest distraction of who is
hip hop and what is hip hop — and the corporations know this.
So they go out and get MC such and such, make him some type of
offer, and use him as a spokesperson for the garbage they want
to promote, and the youth accept it because so and so is doing
On a related note: You're most likely consumed with your
work as an artist, but what other kinds of things are you involved
in that also address the issues you think are important?
Islam consumes a huge part of my life because Islam is "a
way of life." So it affects me in all aspects. I also try
to make a positive impact on my environment in more ways than one,
so occasionally we spend time in elementary, middle, and high schools.
Also juvenile detention centers. Anything community related that
What kind of work are you doing in schools and detention
The school work varies. For example, at a high school, I've performed
for the whole school. I did motivational sessions... I've gone
to philosophy classes and spoke on the relation of mental prison
to an actual prison... I've gone to creative writing classes and
did creative writing workshops. In middle and elementary schools,
I helped kids write poetry, in one class all the third graders
wrote raps, and performed them for the class. In many of the schools
I've explained the difference between hip hop and the "mainstream." This
is very important because none of these kids ever heard of Subterraneous,
but they all heard of "Nelly" or "Lil' Bow Wow." In
schools, and detention centers especially, I speak about personal
experiences with school and prison. Sometimes there's an agenda,
but most times I read the kids and go with the flow. I believe
that it's important for a person like me to do that because when
I was in school, the people who came to talk to us were old people
that I couldn't really relate to, or just didn't care to listen.
But for me to be fairly young, I can talk about personal experiences
alone and get the kids open, and to top it off, drop a ill verse...
Hip hop is that tool to get inside there head, and once I got 'em
it's over. The teachers/administration are beggin' me to come back.
On an unrelated note: Do you think it's necessary for
you to be located in one of urban hotspots like NYC for SubCrew
or OneManArmy to be successful? I ask this because I know y'all
got Midwest pride like no other (we got it too!), and a lot of
people have told us that doing a project like Clamor will never
float if we don't move to one of the coasts. What do you think?
As far as location goes, I truly believe you can make a difference
wherever you are. As far as success goes, I guess we all have our
own definition of what that is. To me, my mission ain't a hip hop
mission, hip hop is one of the tools to accomplish that mission.
I look at people like Martin Luther King for example... He did
what he did in Montgomery, Alabama, and there are so many other
great men and women who accomplished great things from different
parts of the world. So I truly believe that the mission I'm on
can be accomplished from the Midwest. Eventually, the distribution
will travel worldwide, but I don't think my location will effect
the truth of the message.
I think the more we understand what needs to be done, we can make
people come to us, whether they be fans, consumers, distributors,
record labels, the press, etc... If you make enough noise, they
One Man Army and Subterraneous Crew have recently released
their full-length CD Waterworld Too. Check out
where you can get it at www.subterraneousrecords.com.