Underground hip hop artist Produkt is known as the hard-hitting rapper from the Bronx whose “one fan at a time” grassroots philosophy has acquired him hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and deep respect from the hip hop blogosphere.
Produkt has made groundbreaking strides in the world of underground hip hop by being the first rapper to ever be nominated for more than 3 single-year Underground Music Awards in the UMA’s 11 year history. To date Produkt has a total of 1,920,249 views from YouTube and World Star Hip Hip alone.
On June 16, the “Hold it Down” rapper released his latest EP, “Inconspicuous.” While it contains music that you can easily hear on the radio airwaves, it also features more socially conscious songs, especially with the first track, “Spic.”
For your new EP, Inconspicuous you tapped into some of the social issues that affect our society, specifically in the song “Spic.” It’s a different pace from the other music you’ve released. What made you take this route?
Produkt: I noticed that there was an absence in what hip hop culture is today. New York paved the way for what this industry has become and it’s almost a shame that there isn’t a face with real thought-provoking substance-filled material.
The industry has been overthrown by big base and mumbling music; I enjoy that. But, it was time to start the conversation of, “Where is hip hop in this industry and more importantly, where are the Latino faces in this industry?”
A lot of my closest friends are African-American and black, you see the fight that they’re up against with discrimination, there’s so many conversations about it. But, in the Latino and Hispanic communities the same thing is happening and no one is talking about it.
There’s not one person talking about it. They just released some footage of two police officers shooting three Hispanic guys that had their hands up. For me, it’s important to remind people that the minorities in general gave birth to this culture.
It was the immigrant, it was the Hispanic, it was the black man, we were there together in those projects, in those burning buildings in the Bronx and we created hip hop. There’s an absence of my culture in this industry, so it’s important for me to speak my peace and let people know hip hop is still alive, and Latinos can still hold their weight in this business.
For as long as anyone can remember Latinos have been and continue to be associated with maids, janitors and kitchen cooks. In the first track off Inconspicuous, “Spic” you say, “I’ll be damned if I’m another Spic in the kitchen.” Is society’s vision of Latinos the inspiration behind this song?
Produkt: It’s the inspiration behind it, but also growing up I was a cook, I was in the restaurant business, that’s what I did. It was the only way you could make decent money and still have your freedom.
If you work hard and are good with your words you can make a decent living. People tell me I got the gift of gab, so I was good at the food industry. When you walk into any kitchen across the world, most likely there will be a Hispanic in that kitchen and… I’ll be damned.
This world is built so we can work, live and die. If I’m going to be a human being in this consciousness, in this place, if I’m going to spend my time, the most valuable asset a human has, I’m meant to be doing something that I love.
I want to represent my culture at the same time. I’m not trying to cause a divide, I’m just proud of my culture and heritage. I’m not saying any side, nation or creed, or race is better than the other. I just want to make sure my culture gets recognition as well. There’s probably a lot of men and women out there that probably feel the same, they’ll be damn if their life ends in a kitchen.
The release of XXL’s Freshman cover stirred up a bit of controversy, one of which involves your absence from XXL’s cover. How did that come about?
Produkt: It really wasn’t me, someone wrote an article about me and it took on a life of it’s own. It started a conversation about me because of my project [Inconspicuous]. They turned the situation into something that I wasn’t going with because of a status I posted on social media.
My question was: “Where are Latinos in this community? Where is our presence in this culture? Is it because the industry is closed or is it because we’re not working hard enough as Latinos?”
One thing that bothers me is that the Puerto Rican culture was the first Latino culture in New York City. In the ’70s and ’80s we had all the Bodegas (corner stores) and Laundromats. Now if you go to the Bronx, or any other city in the world that doesn’t exist anymore.
That tells me that people in my culture are getting lazy, no one is doing what they have to do, so I’m trying to spark a fire about this situation to get people thinking. And it is raising the question: “Is this industry blackballing us?”
You got Bodega Bams, Emilio Rojas and Joell Ortiz, you got these incredible people who don’t get the press standing alone that they should. Especially Joell Ortiz, he had to form voltron with other emcees to get a mainstream look and he’s an artist that deserves his own plank. His music and everything else speaks for itself.
So it makes me ask the question, “Is this industry ignoring us because its predominantly more of an Atlanta-based culture now? Do they not want to hear us or is it because we aren’t making music to start the conversation?”
Do you think mainstream media plays a role in that? If so, why?
Produkt: I do because in any situation people have to be compelled to either speak about you, ridicule you, or support you. So all these artists in the landscape of hip hop that are Latino (men and women), like Snow Tha Product for example, are not interesting enough for these media outlets? Do you have to cut a check to get in the room? That can’t be, you have people out here that are great and have ground-breaking music and they deserve to make their way into the hip hop industry.
Let’s get back to Inconspicuous; the cover art is thought-provoking. It features four children sitting outside in the hood with their eyes crossed out in red ink. What’s the message behind the cover?
Produkt: That’s really a picture of me and my brother on that cover, no one really knows that. The cover was drawn by hand, it’s a piece of art that I have hanging in my house that we photographed and I used for the cover.
Took me a very long time to put that together. I feel like the inspiration behind the cover again, was our culture. Latinos and Hispanics don’t really have an identity in the world. When someone thinks of Latinos or Hispanic, the first thought that comes to mind is Mexican.
This has to stop; we are individuals, our cultures are completely different, we come from different places and we get marginalized. So the cover wasn’t just to get people’s thoughts flowing, but by crossing out the eyes I removed the identity of these small children. It also embodies the urban community I grew up in [Castle Hill, Bronx, NY].
The cover tells a story; we have no identity and it’s time to stand up and put our foot down. If you’re a Mexican rapper put your foot down and make people aware of your culture, who you are and what you represent. Don’t be afraid to be proud of who you are.
Why did you highlight the word “Spic” on this EP?
Produkt: Originally the name of the album was named “Spic,” but for obvious reasons, from a business stand point as a business man, there’s now way I would’ve been able to market a record called, “Spic.” If by the grace of God mainstream America enjoys the project to the point where Jimmy Kimmel wanted to have me on the show for whatever reason, he’s not going to be able to hold up the cover and say, “Download Produkt’s album ‘Spic.'”
The word Inconspicuous fit perfectly because if you read in between the lines you can tell the album is called “Spic.” It’s highlighted for a reason because that’s what I am. I’m just a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx, that grew up middle class whose mother ended up being poor and now I have a story to tell.
The story is very similar to other people’s, but it’s my own perspective and that’s what makes it different, and that’s what these fans are listening to. So many people relate to my fight and understand my perspective of it. I feel like the way I see things is unique in its own way where no one has ever heard it.
I said it in another trailer I did for the album, “This is going to be a movie that you probably wouldn’t normally watch.” You’d probably hear the title of a movie and think to yourself, “Nah I don’t really want to see that,” but then 20-30 years later the title of that movie was “Scarface” and is now considered a classic.
That’s my situation, you have to give me a chance. You really got to listen to the music; my sound is different, my cadence is different and my perspective is different. Everyone is telling the same story, but what makes an artist special is the way they tell it.
As an underground Latino rapper, what are some of the biggest challenges you currently face?
Produkt: Being heard, that’s the biggest challenge in this humongous world. The other day someone asked me, “Are you proud of these numbers, are you proud of what this mixtape is doing, do you see what’s happening?” My honest answer is no, because the world is so big, I feel like I made a drop into an ocean, so it’s hard to be heard.
Why do you feel like you’re not being heard?
Produkt: I am being heard, it’s a fight every other label goes through with a new artist. It’s a saturated market, I can throw a rock right now in the middle of 8th avenue and could touch at least 50 rappers.
If you have millions of people saying, “Listen to my link, listen to my link,” it doesn’t matter if you’re the next Eminem, it’s going to get lost in the source unless you’re doing something to set it apart. So the most difficult thing is marketing, getting heard and getting recognized for my talent.
What separates you from every other underground rapper out there trying to make it?
Produkt: Again it’s just my perspective. I’ve also been told that other rappers aren’t as hands-on as I am. If I do a video, I also write the treatment, I personally hand-pick the cast, dancers, whoever is involved. I direct the video and I make sure I’m apart of the entire editing process from beginning to end. From color and transition, to the story line, everything. I see every project I do, through and through.
I am in complete control of my craft and a lot of artists don’t do that. A lot of people pay $1200 and just want to show up and spit their rhymes, that’s not the type of artist I am. I’m very thorough in what I do, my vision is solely my vision. There’s no human being alive that can tell my story the way I’m going to tell it.
You say you want the world to hear you, what is it that you want to say?
Produkt: The underlying tone is hope. Believe in something, believe in yourself. That’s really all it is at the end of the day. You have to put all the bulls** aside, don’t give up. That’s really all I’m trying to say.
Life is hard, not just music. Living day to day is very difficult, so I just hope to inspire people to want to get up and pursue what they really love. That’s been a driving force to me, when fans reach out by the thousands, telling me that they love my music. I get people telling me, “Your music got me through cancer, my mother just died,” you wouldn’t believe the messages people send me.
How can I stop what I’m doing, how can I slow down when I’m affecting so many people, and I don’t see it because I’m in New York. No one cares about you, New York doesn’t show you no love and will never show you love.
That just the way New Yorkers are, but there’s the rest of the world. This [New York] is only one city it’s inspiring when you touch these people and motivate them. It becomes empowering, their energy is what feeds what I do. I have fans in Europe and Bangladesh, it’s crazy. I’ve been blessed to have “Inconspicuous” reach over 300K people in only one month.
It’s crazy, I’m already in the studio working on my next album.
So you already have an upcoming project in the pipeline?
Produkt: I’m shooting videos for every song on “Inconspicuous.” I’m shooting “Ruthless” on July 22nd and 26th, that’s going to be the first video on the project that I’m going to release.
I may do something a little more radio friendly right after that, I’m shooting all seven records. There’s another mixtape coming out on Industry Music and there’s a full length album that I’m working on and will be coming out soon.
Let’s touch on the song “Ruthless,” you talk about people hating on you. You’ve never mentioned that in your previous albums. Do you feel that fellow underground rappers don’t support you enough?
Produkt: This is the music business, so no one cares about you. No one is going to go out of their way to help you genuinely. When you’re an upcoming artist you either need to have some money, something that’s going to benefit these people or you need to be the child of someone well-known in the industry that can do something for someone you’re trying to work with.
It becomes very difficult for upcoming artists, so it’s more of that situation that inspired the song, “Ruthless.” My real feeling of disregard is the conversation of Latinos in the industry. “Blood all on my fingers, I’m just trying to find an open door,” how many times do I have to knock on this door for someone to open it?
“Ruthless” is probably my favorite song on “Inconspicuous,” because it’s the most true to me. All my songs on this EP are true to me, but “Ruthless” depicts everything.
Well, you’ve made a lot of headway. You’ve done work with DJ Kay Slay, and you get airtime on Hot 97 during the “Drama Hour.” Where we come from [New York City] getting your music played on Hot 97 is a big deal.
Produkt: It absolutely is and shout out to Slay. He’s one of those dudes that he just f**ks with real dudes. He’s not going to entertain the bullsh** and I’m the same way. I’ve never kissed a** for anything. Either you’re with me or you’re not.
My character causes a problem sometimes and in order to survive in this industry that’s what a lot of people tend to do. But Slay is one of those dudes that supports. If you support him he’ll support you.
He’s the first DJ to play me in New York City, DJ Kay Slay is the first DJ to recognize what I have going and supports me religiously.
I hate to bring up Big Pun, only because as Latinos we hold onto him for dear life, after him there was no one else repping for Latinos in mainstream hip hop. Do you think if he was still alive it would be easier for Latinos to break into the industry?
Produkt: It’s really hard to say. I feel like Pun and Biggie’s reign ended very quickly, so you never really know. These guys are the best of all time, being judged by a very small body of work.
But those bodies of work are so epic and legendary that it’s going to last the test of time. You never know what would’ve happened if Biggie fell off or if Pun fell off. Who knows if they were able to live longer if they would’ve been able to maintain their raine.
I believe, personally hell yeah, the climate of the industry would be very different if these men were still alive. It would be different world right now, literally.
Pun was the only thing that you couldn’t deny, he had so much talent. That’s what I’m working towards, there’s got to come a time where these people just can’t say no.
If you could work with anyone in the hip hop industry, who would it be?
Produkt: Right now I would probably want to work with John Legend. For a rapper that’s alive right now I’d probably want to work with a Nas or Jay, or Raekwon, someone real legendary.
As top three I’ll say Hov, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. I would like to work with Kendrick because he’s just dope. J. Cole is just a through and through artist. He controls his vision, he produces, he writes and he’s fluent. I appreciate a fluent rapper. His thoughts are precise and he executes them very well. When you listen to him, you understand him and it takes you to a place. For me that’s what music is all about, it has to take you to a place.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming artists?
Produkt: Really ask yourself if this is something you want to do. You have to be a certain person to really battle the challenges that you go through on a daily basis in order to create music.
If you really want to do this, you need to be sure this is what you want to do. For most people it’s a very long road, unless you’re the next Fetty Wap and blow up within the first two years you pick up a mic, but usually that doesn’t happen.
For most people you have to be honest with yourself. The one thing that I see is that there’s a lot of people out there that rap and spend their money and probably take food out of their kid’s mouth for something that’s really never going to happen. If this is something you want to do, do it. There’s no plan B. Without a shadow of a doubt, it can’t just be you saying you’re good. There’s got to be other people that will really jump out on a limb for you and believe in you too.
You can’t just be your only cheerleader. For me it took a long time and I was committed, and I believed in myself and I knew this is what I wanted to do since I was 12 years old. You couldn’t tell me nothing. I was and am blessed to have the opportunity to be able to make music everyday.
Interview by: Bianca Torres @bianca_inc