Sound Over Time 001: NoStableLabel

The best word that you could use to describe Arizona-via-Boston collective NoStableLabel (NSL) is organic. Whether it’s clothes or music, their output has a grassroots quality that is hard to come by and impossible to fake. It’s what makes the music of NSL’s resident MC Skunkz so compelling; there is no feeling of overcompensation or exaggeration in his raps and he can keep a listener’s full attention on a variety of different beats, including ones that have no drums at all. For Sound Over Time’s inaugural interview, we interviewed Skunkz and NSL manager Finn to explore the type of music and the musicians that shaped their taste and helped formulate the vision that led them to their current position as an ascending force in rap’s underground.

S/T: What type of music did you hear growing up, from your parents or other older figures in your life?

Skunkz: I’m from a very music-oriented household. My mom is from the Dominican Republic and my dad is black. So she had a lot of meringue, a lot of Oscar De Leone, a lot of bachata. But my pops, he’s really big on soul music, stuff like Earth, Wind, and Fire and The Chi-Lites. A lot of people don’t know, but I have a ridiculous catalog when it comes to soul music. I probably listen to more soul music then rap music.

Finn: Earth, Wind and Fire was huge in my house as well. My mom was a Michael Jackson superfan. She owns every one of his albums and would play them until my ears bled [laughs]. One random group I can think of is Savage Garden. My mom loves melodies, so she played them all the time. My dad listened to country music, but it was always trash to me. I was never a fan.

That makes sense, being such a fan of soul music. Do you think it influences the way you guys normally pick beats that feature heavy use of soul samples?

Skunkz: Of course! I’m more liable to rap over a crazy loop that doesn’t have drums, something you can just replay over and over. I like joints like that over something super produced. One of my favourite beats ever is “The Realest” by Mobb Deep and Kool G Rap, and that’s just an Alchemist loop. That’s my type of shit.

What were the first albums you ever bought on your own?

Skunkz: Mine’s Fabolous. F-A-B-O-L-O-U-S! His first album.

Finn: When I was younger, I had older brothers who put me on to burning CDs, so I didn’t really buy music. I think the first one I actually bought, and I had to get my brother to go get it for me, was 50 Cent’s Power of the Dollar. And I didn’t even have a CD player yet! I just bought it because I love 50’s music so much and wanted to support it.

Those first few albums you get are so important, because I feel like they often shape your taste going forward. What artist or album did you discover during your early teenage years that you feel influenced your taste most?

Skunkz: Mine would be Nas. He’s the only artist that I can say, if there was no Nas, there is no Skunkz. We could speak on him for hours. Illmatic, he was 21 years old. Had no features, except AZ, who wasn’t well known. And it shaped the way we rap.

Finn: It’s a generic answer, but being a teenager growing up then, it had to be Lil Wayne. I hate it because it’s such a redundant answer, but I’d be lying if I said it was anyone other than Wayne. I was digging into old school hip hop at the time, gaining knowledge, learning about these artists, but it still had to be Wayne.

I know you said it was a generic answer, but Wayne was insanely popular at the time.

Skunkz: It’s a generic answer, but it’s not generic. It’s not a bad answer at all.

Finn: Yeah. If you didn’t get engulfed by the wave that was Lil Wayne, I don’t know where you were. Also, G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy, that was a huge one. I remember that album making me want to listen to all the original members of G-Unit. At first, I couldn’t give a fuck about anyone outside of 50 Cent, but that album opened the doors for me in terms of listening to other artists.

As far as the music you guys make goes, those answers make a lot of sense.

There’s an obvious bond between you two that makes you more like family as opposed to simply good friends. Is there an album or an artist that you guys both first heard and became equally huge fans of when you first became friends, one that symbolizes that brotherhood?

Skunkz: There’s a bunch.

Finn: Styles P.

Skunkz: Nah, that was a bit later on.

Finn: Marcberg [by Roc Marciano] comes to mind. We were still in high school at that point when that first came out. I think I was 17?

Skunkz: Slaughterhouse was a big one. Slaughterhouse might be the main one.

Finn: Yeah. Royce Da 5’9’ and [Joe] Budden were two very big ones. They were titans.

Skunkz: Yeah. Budden first, then Royce, then Roc Marciano. As far as albums, it was probably Marcberg.

Finn: That shit didn’t sound like anything we’d ever heard. I feel like I became a man while during the era we were listening to Roc most.

Skunkz: I was in tenth grade when Marcberg came out, so I can’t really say I was making music like that. But for me and Finn to latch onto that, and to now be making music with some of the people in the same scene. 2010, me and Finn had no idea how this music shit worked. So for us to really have liked Marcberg, and to have memories of that time, and then 10, 11 years later we’re around these guys, it has to be that album. And it’s not us trying to be cliché; the first time we heard that album was on Pandora Radio.

Finn: We actually got lucky. It wasn’t some shit where we knew about his days running around with Busta Rhymes, we were just sitting in our homeboy’s crib and had the Royce Da 5’9’ Pandora Radio on. And Marcberg came on, it was “Ridin’ Around”, that was the first shit we ever heard. And we were both like, what the fuck is this! And after that, we played the whole album back and forth until it was insufferable.

You can definitely hear Roc’s influence in your music with the loop-based beats we were talking about, the ones that don’t have a huge presence of drums. Roc was the face of that style at first.

Finn: Exactly. It would literally be him snapping on a loop for four minutes. Unlike anything you’d ever heard.

It’s funny that you mention Styles P too, because I feel like I can hear his influence in the cadences you rap in.

Finn: And the overall aggression.

Skunkz: For me, the way you can tell Styles P influenced me, is because of this: in a couple years, you’ll hear someone say, “My favourite rapper is Skunkz.” And everyone will go “Yeah, ok. Please. It’s Nas or Jay Z”. That’s what they do with Styles P. What I mean by that, is that Styles P isn’t gonna say something crazy all the time. Nas, Jay Z, they have joints that everyone likes. But when you listen to what that man [Styles P] is saying, it’s ridiculous. You get an entirely different outlook. So I might not have the flashiest punchlines or rap on the craziest beats, and I might be considered an underdog. But like Styles P, I’m gonna sell a million. And that’s the thing. Styles P might be considered an underdog, but he has a major rep and platinum records and albums. So even more so than just raps, I see myself embodying that Styles P underdog mentality.

Finn: Jadakiss has one of the best bars ever, and Styles reiterates it all the time when talking about all the eras they’ve survived through. He said “I did real songs with Big, no made-up shit”. There’s only a handful of people on Earth that can say they shared a studio with Biggie.

Skunkz: And they were 21!

Finn: Yeah. They were young bulls at the time.

I think that my favourite quality of your music is that I believe everything you say. There’s only certain rappers that have that ability; and everything else doesn’t matter if you have it. Styles P has that ability as well. Is that a skill you learned, or is it just you?

Skunkz: I guess you’d have to ask everyone around me, but yeah. It’s just me. [laughs] A lot of people think that it would come from the raps, but really, the raps come from my life. I’m loud, I’ll shake the room, do 10 push ups. That’s not just music. That’s me.

A lot of the artists we’ve talked about are pretty similar in style to your music, to what you do. I wanna flip that; Who’s the artist you feel like people would be most surprised to hear you’re influenced by?

Skunkz: Probably some old shit, because a lot of people aren’t into old shit. I listen to a lot of Bob James. Earth, Wind and Fire is number 1.

Is there an album you’ve heard lately that inspired you and you think will influence your music going forward?

Skunkz: Not a specific album, but a lot of Planet Asia’s music; especially the topics and subject matter that he uses. I’m from the east coast, and Planet Asia is a west coast legend, so I didn’t really get put onto him until I was 26, 27. For me to be giving it up to someone on the west Coast, as an east coast guy, it should let people know that Planet Asia is lightyears ahead of everyone else.

Finn, you contribute a lot to things that go on outside of the music, as well as the music itself. A$AP Yams is probably the most famous example of someone in your role. Were you inspired by him in any way?

Finn: I think I’d be doing Yams a disservice by saying I’m trying to do what he was trying to do. There’s a lot of hands that go into this pot, it’s not just a two-man mission. There’s a ton of people I still talk to every day. We’ve bumped fists with so many people, and they’ve lent whatever it is that they can help with, and I think it’s helped push us to where we are now. His position is definitely the endgame; being connected with a thousand different circles, and that’s why I’m such a big fan of his. But [Skunkz] and I started out in a garage, and I decided one day, “What can I do to help with the music”. It’s definitely been a journey, and to try to make it where Yams was, that’s a million miles away. All love and respect to him though, definitely one of my idols coming up.

Do you guys take any influence from people from your own hometown?

Skunkz: This is a tough question because the answer is yes, but it’s a yes because it was my big homie. Someone I grew up around, someone I listened to a lot was my mans Cobra Kai. Well, he used to go by that, and people might know him by that, but he goes by Cobra City now. He moved here from the west coast, and was doing battle rap shit. There’s like 1% of people like him. Kyron, he’s a deity. Growing up, he was able to give me a little bit of game, my game trickled down to the homies, and from that time, we really started moving like men. The way you see me and Finn move, that comes from Ky. The jokes I crack, that comes from Ky.

It’s super important to have older figures like that in your life at an early age that aren’t your parents.

Finn: [laughing] he’s definitely nothing like our parents.

Skunkz: Yeah. Super respectable dude, but nothing like your parents.

Is there a live performance that you’ve witnessed that inspired you based on how they performed and how the crowd reacted to them?

Skunkz: Yeah. Man, I saw Method Man perform one time, and he did some crazy shit. I remember looking at my mans Aaron and saying, “yo, when I rap, this is how I want the crowd to react”. I swear to God, he stepped on the [fencing at one side of the stage], and told the crowd, “yo, you guys are gonna carry me. Put your hands up”. He starts stepping across the crowd, walking on his two feet across the crowd with people holding him up.

When you hit a creative block, are there any artists, albums or genres you go to in order to get inspiration?

Skunkz: Nah. I can’t even lie. For me, if I have a block, that means I gotta do more in life. I gotta go outside. I don’t know what other people’s processes are, I gotta go outside.

Finn: Yeah. It all comes from experience.

People who write generally say the same thing, from the people I’ve interviewed. In contrast, all the producers say, “I gotta go listen to this album”. It’s interesting, but it makes sense.

Skunkz: That does make sense. I don’t know. I can’t make beats to save my life.

I remember you were making beats for a while. They were kinda good!

Skunkz: Yeah, nah. I was bullshitting. [laughing]

There was one that I was like, damn. This dude’s about to be self-sufficient.

Finn: Was it one that he was rapping over?

I can’t remember. I just remember hearing it and I thought to myself, he’s getting good at this shit.

Skunkz: It was probably one I rapped over.

Finn: there were some [beats Skunkz made] that showed some potential.

It’s whatever. Producing is too hard anyways.

Finn: it really is.

Are there any artists that you remember their music videos when growing up that influenced how you wanted your videos to look like, or even marketing and branding that you incorporate into that side of things?

Skunkz: Yep. Curren$y. That’s another dude. I always told myself, when I did an interview and they asked me who my influences are, I’d say Curren$y. Curren$y and Styles P.

Which album of yours, at this point, do you think will influence people the way artists like Nas, Curren$y and Styles P influenced you? Or do you feel like that album is down the road?

Skunkz: It exists now, but I haven’t put it out yet. But yes, I do feel like I have that in me, and when it comes out, you’ll know. It’s called Cosmic Wave, me with my boy Crank on the beats. We got some joints. From where I’m coming from, Cosmic Wave will change the game. Seismograph, that shit is fire, but it’s a little hard to digest. Cosmic Wave will not be hard to digest. It’s like the music we grew up listening to, the rap we love and still play to this day. Stuff like “What We Do” by Jay Z and Freeway. Stuff that’s timeless. And that’s the type of shit I’m making.

Well, I’m excited, for sure.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Listen to Skunkz’s music at https://skunkz.bandcamp.com/, and on Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL, and YouTube.

Follow Skunkz on Twitter at @_SKUNKZZ, Finn at @finnereaux, and NoStableLabel at @NOSTABLELABEL.

Follow Sound Over Time on Twitter at @soundover_time, on Instagram at @soundover.time, and on Apple Music and Spotify at @soundovertime.

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Sound Over Time

Dedicated to learning about the music that inspires the musicians.