If the words, “Hip-hop is dead” have ever slipped past your lips, maybe you need to have a listen to the debut album from Chicago sound-slinger Adrian “A-Villa” Villagomez. He is a bank VP by day, producer by night and a devoted father 24/7. If it is true that good things come to those who wait, he’s pretty much set for life. The album may have taken close to four years to complete, but one can’t rush perfection. And well….

Have you ever wished you could buy a record that featured all your favorite rappers? This is it. Carry On Tradition is everything a classic hip-hop album should be. A-Villa was able to bring together some of music’s most sought after emcees (and his own personal hip-hop heroes), including AZ, Cormega, Killer Mike, and Freddie Gibbs. (Many of these guys would never have been featured on the same album, let alone the same track, if it wasn’t for him.) His innate talent for creating beats and making hits was evident in the tracks he shared with his favorite artists, and they all wanted to be part of his legacy in hip-hop history.

Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble was in Chicago at the end of 2014 and got a chance to sit down with the humble Chicago producer to learn about all the time and hard work that was put into the album and how its number one inspiration is someone very near and dear to his heart.

What’s one of your earliest memories of hip-hop?

My first album, my first cassette tape, was Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. That would be my first memory of being not necessarily being introduced to it, but it was my first purchase. Before that, it was just in my neighborhood, in my surroundings. Hip-hop was developing in the Chicagoland area at the time. Of course, it was in New York, but it was in Chicago as well. So, we were getting music as far as like the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., N.W.A, Public Enemy. It was just in my surroundings, and as a kid, it just kind of links to you.

When did you start making music? Were you a big fan of hip-hop growing up?

I’ve always been a fan of the hip-hop genre, like I said, since I was a kid. It was not something I necessarily wanted to do as far as being an artist or an emcee or anything. But I always wanted to kind of do the background thing, obviously from a production standpoint, and create music. I was always intrigued by the Marley Marls of the world and RZA and Premier and Pete Rock and that lineage of great producers. So, I wanted to follow that path. And it was just waiting for the right time to do it, and it really wasn’t the right time for me personally until I got older.

I did all the stuff my parents wanted me to do. I had to do the education thing because I was the first graduate in my family – first high school graduate. First anything. I was the only boy in the family, so it was like, “Do that first.” And so, once I accomplished all that and got to where I needed to be in my career level, it was time to do the music.

So did you ever dabble in it before this, or was this your first try out the gate?

No, I tried to do the DJ thing first. And I was doing that in college a little bit, so I got my little turntables and stuff like that. I just wasn’t as passionate about it as much as the creation aspect, and so, once I finally dabbled in that and got my first MP and started to create, that’s when the creative juices really started flowing, and I was happy with that process. And I knew that’s where I needed to be.

A-Villa
Photo Credit: Annette Fernandez

You pieced together your debut album Carry On Tradition while working as VP of a bank. After the birth of your daughter, how did you juggle all those roles?

It was hard. It was very hard. I was living – I still do – I live like three to four different lifestyles. It was eight to five. I’m in a suit and tie all day, I pop my trunk, I throw on my regular outfit, I go to the studio, and I create music or I’m networking or I’m doing something. I might even be digging for records. Whatever it is, the end result is making music.

And then, of course, going back to my daughter in the evening, so it was juggling all those things. And she’s only two, so this process has been going on for two years, but still, it was a continuous two years of doing that every day. So, it was definitely difficult, and I don’t recommend anybody do it like that, but it was just what I had to deal with at the time. So, I made the best of it.

Do you think staying on the grind made your album that much stronger?

Oh, yeah. Obviously, the birth of my daughter was the main motivator to get it done. I’m such a perfectionist. I could have held on to that album for years. Honestly, I could have been on some Dr. Dre or D’Angelo thing. I really could. The label really did have to rip it from me. But I knew it was important to get it out and give it to the people. Plus, I wanted to finalize and finish it and get it out there, so I could focus on being a father.

There are some crazy emcees featured on the album like Killer Mike, Cormega, Guilty Simpson, Elzhi and AZ. What went into your selection process, and how did you make the collaborations happen?

Good question. It was just everybody I was a fan of. It wasn’t necessarily that I made a list, and I was like, “This is who I want to go to.” It kind of happened naturally. If there was somebody that came into town in Chicago, and they had a show with somebody that I was a fan of, I was at their show just trying to work my way back stage or go to a meet and greet. Whatever I got to do to get in front of the artist and just have the conversation and introduce myself.

Not necessarily put music in their hands. That’s never my intention when I’m meeting somebody. It’s really like, “I’m a producer from Chicago. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m a fan of your music.” Sometimes I get the email. Sometimes I don’t. But obviously artists continuously tour, so I’ll catch them the next time. That’s why it was a three year process of building this. So, for instance, if Elzhi comes into town, I might meet him at a show and then we’ll be in connection or whatever. We may know mutual people. So, whatever way I can do it as far as communicating with them again, and then the next time I might be like, “Hey, let me throw some tracks your way.”

Do you think word of mouth helped with that?

It did. It was a combination of everything. It was me doing ground work, kind of the music speaking for itself, networking connections that I made, and it was word of mouth. It was a lot of things. And then once I had some songs with certain artists on it, it was approaching artists to hear what I got. And obviously, if you’ve got a song with Kool G Rap on it, people want to work with Kool G Rap. So, I kind of hustled it that way. That was my little loophole I found to do it.

So, would you say you had the majority of the production done before you started to shop it around?

Yeah, it was more skeleton beats. It wasn’t full-fledged, fleshed out like it is today. It was more so when we got in the studio, the collaboration effort, was when the songs kind of made themselves at the end.

A-Villa 3
Photo Credit: Andrew Zeiter

Do you have any favorite tracks or any crazy stories that occurred during the recording process?

Oh my goodness. I mean, the most important, personal song is the last song because of my daughter. Obviously, she’s featured on it. That was her first cries and baby sounds in the world, so she got a real feature on there. That song is named after her “Never Give You Up (One For Ava)” with Guilty Simpson, Rapsody and myself, which is the only verse I rap on. It’s probably the last time you’ll ever hear me rap. That’s a very personal song to me. It kind of just wraps up the whole concept of the album.

I don’t know. The songs, as far as favorites, I know it’s a cliché answer, but it really does change. One day, if I’m in a mellow groove, I’ll put on the AZ song “A Day In The Life” with Freeway and Havoc and groove to that. I like the song with Sean Price and Oh No and Roc Marciano. So, yeah, it always changes.

As far as crazy stories…yeah, there’s some really crazy stories. I can’t give you the craziest one on record. It’s always crazy to hang out with Action Bronson and stuff like that.

Were there any collabs that didn’t happen?

Definitely. Kendrick Lamar is probably one of the bigger names. I sent him music, and he liked the beat to “Gunnin’ For the Throne.” This is obviously before we put that song together. He said, “I love that track. I want to do something with it.” And I kind of told him the outline of what I wanted to do as far as my album, and he was with it. So, this is right when he’s signing with Dre and them, so business came up. And then it wasn’t necessarily from him, but you know, his management or whatever, so we didn’t make that happen. Stuff like that. Scarface. Beanie Sigel. It was more timing issues than anything. It wasn’t business. It was going to be Scarface, Beanie Sigel and Freeway, and then it turned into AZ, Havoc and Freeway. So, stuff like that, which I’m perfectly fine with.

Why did you choose to include a clip from an interview with Dilla on the “Pay Homage (Intro)?”

Obviously, I’m a huge J Dilla fan. A good hip-hop producer should be. It was more so that it worked into the concept of the album. The concept of the album is more than like bridging the gap between the older….It’s me obviously paying homage to the lineage of producers going back once again to Marley Marl and those types of producers. Then you come into more of a current generation. You’ve got Dilla and Kanye West and Madlib and newer producers: Apollo Brown, myself and maybe even Alchemist. He’s not necessarily new but more current today.

So, it’s like, that was the whole concept of the album was having people from the artistic perspective and artists like a Kool G Rap and then you got a Chance The Rapper, what have you, and introducing each other’s generation to bypass that segregation wall that there is in hip-hop. And it still is there today. So, not necessarily saying, “You kids ain’t up on J Dilla.” It’s just another example of what I’m inspired by.

I know I’m kind of all over the place with this answer, but it’s also the concept of the album was kind of like splitting it in two: the death side and the life side. It was kind of like my play on Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album. If you heard that CD, it’s split that way, but it’s a different concept. Mine is like, the people that say, “Hip-hop is dead.” That type of thing. It’s a play on that. It’s kind of like proving those naysayers wrong that a hip-hop album like this with samples and these types of artists can be made today on a retail level where it’s not necessarily a mixtape.

Not a lot of albums like this are made today on that type of level where you go to a record store and buy that album. So, when you hear J Dilla, he’s obviously talking about his passion for music and his production process, which is something I share with him. So, I definitely relate to everything he’s saying on that song. So, it’s almost like his spirit talking to the listener on that song. That’s how I take it.

How does your hometown of Chicago influence your sound?

There’s so many different sounds in Chicago. If you go down the line of artists, you’ve got the conscious side with Common and Lupe Fiasco, and then you’ve got the cats on the west side with Twista and all them. And then you’ve got the drill scene kind of bubblin’ in Chicago right now. You’ve got your Chance The Rapper over here, and you’ve got your Chief Keef over here. And there’s always been that segregation in Chicago. Not in just the sound but just the area. I’m not in New York, but it may be similar with the artists in the Bronx and Brooklyn and Harlem. It’s very much like that in Chicago.

So, I just took in all those different sounds. When I made that album, you can kind of get all those different feels. The song with Noreaga, Kool G Rap – that’s my version of a drill record. There’s claps on it. It’s something you don’t normally hear Kool G Rap rapping on. I wanted to do that, so that’s kind of my ode to that sound. And then you’ve got the jazzier side of the Chicago hip-hop scene. I’ve got that element as well on songs, so it’s pretty much a mix of everything. It’s like Chicago gumbo.

A-Villa 2
Photo Credit: Andrew Zeiter

You said that you “purposely gave the album the feel of listening to an old record. The blips, skips, vinyl cracking and mess-ups.” What are your thoughts and feelings on the digital era and vinyl becoming, in a way, obsolete?

I thought it was important to represent that era and that experience that I came up on as far as listening to music on vinyl, cassette tape, and even CD, which is kind of almost a lost aspect from commercial level and retail perspective. So, I thought it was really important that this be a real album. And so, when I was talking to labels, I’d be like, “Look, this is not a mixtape.” Obviously, samples were a concern. Bigger name artists being on a retail album was a concern. But I was willing to take that risk and prolong the process of making this album so I could make it happen as far as putting this album out right.

And so, I also didn’t want to cut off the people that do listen to music digitally, which people do obviously. You can’t take a record player into an exercise facility while you’re running on a treadmill. I understand people listen to music differently. So, obviously, we put it on iTunes, and you can stream it as well. I’m not really big on stuff like that. For one, it just doesn’t sound as good sonically. As far as the artists, it kind of punishes them because they don’t get paid as much on streams.

You don’t get that full, real musical experience as far as opening up the liner notes, reading credits, looking at who did what, the thank yous, the notes. The whole thing is a real art piece. At least that’s how I approached it when I did the album. So, that is kind of a lost art in music. I think it’s coming back a little bit, especially on vinyl, and I thought it was important to represent that, especially in this and just give the full-on musical experience as opposed to just throwing out a mixtape. I could do that all day. I got mixtapes on my computer that I could just throw out there for free if I wanted to. It wasn’t about that. It was about making something real hip. It’s a piece of art.

Which other artists or albums did you get into this year?

Other than my album and the Frozen Soundtrack? Ha. I get mostly inspired by older music. So, it’s usually just soul, R&B. Obviously, I work with a lot of samples, so I’ll pull samples and listen to those things in the car to see what I can pull while driving and just vibe to that stuff. You know, just old jazz, classic rock, Latin music, a little bit of everything. Not necessarily current music, but I don’t want to be sitting here and be a scrooge with new music. I listen to new music. I give it a chance, but not everything catches my ear where it needs repeat listening.

I just don’t get that with a lot of new music, but there’s definitely dope artists doing what I’m doing. Whether you think you’re doing it better or not, there’s definitely good music there. It’s just, there’s so much of it. That’s a problem, too. There’s so much hip-hop being released on a weekly basis. It’s hard to keep track of what’s what. So, I try to keep my ear in the streets, but it’s kind of impossible. So, right now my priority is my music, samples and just that I vibe to.

What does 2015 hold for you? I read that this album took about four years to perfect. Do you think you’ll make another?

Um, no. Not an album like this because I was just in the time in my life where I could just do it. I could just put the time and effort and energy into this album. I started it before I had a daughter, and I finished it after my daughter came. So, that’s my focus – being a father. And I’ve still got my vice president bank responsibilities, so that’s a lot. So, that’s my career. It started off more of a fun thing, and then it turned into “Hey, I’ve got something here. This has always been my dream. Let’s fulfill it. Let’s finish it.” I’ve come to that. It’s done, and I’m kind of enjoying just people liking it.

People hit me every day that they love the album. It’s constantly every day somebody new is getting put on to it and listening to it. That’s a rewarding feeling. It means more than any kind of money or whatever success in music. I just want people to hear and that’s it and enjoy it. That’s what I made it for. Yesterday, somebody hit me from Israel that got the album. It’s crazy, and it really shows you that this music is global, worldwide. That stuff is fulfilling to me.

I do have side projects I’ve been working on. I do have some placements in the works, as well, with some major artists. So, I’ve got some surprises in 2015. It just won’t be an A-Villa Carry On Tradition Part II. I have instrumental albums I could put out. Recently, me and Killer Mike talked about doing stuff, and a lot of people on my album, we’ve been talking about doing stuff. I’ve got some major stuff happening and some surprises.

So, say two years from now, you’re approached to put out a follow up. Would you be open to doing it?

One thing obviously is timing and if someone’s willing to cut me a check. I don’t know artistically if I can make an album better than this. Honestly, if you ask me, this album’s been a lifetime creation process, and if I did the one two years from now, it’d be two years of life experience, and I don’t know if I can compare that to what I did with this album. I think I could make better music. It’s just got to mean something to me, and it’s got to be worthwhile for me to do it. I don’t want to make music just to make music. That’s why I love to do more collaborative stuff right now where I work with another artist, and we can vibe with each other.

Is there anything else you want to share or promote?

The album is out there. A-Villa Carry On Tradition. You can buy the vinyl in record stores distributed through Fat Beats. It’ll be on black vinyl and stuff like that. We’ll be putting out more CDs early next year. The album is out there. @AVillaMusic on Twitter. You can find me on Facebook. Anybody can reach out to me. I’m personable.

I can attest to that.

Yeah. I just want to make good music with good people. That’s what it is.

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