Axel F came together during one of Stones Throw sound connoisseurs MED and J Rocc’s many recording sessions. It serves as an ode to Eddie Murphy’s quixotic character from the Beverly Hills Cop franchise (and perhaps a tip of the hat to Harold Faltermeyer’s instantly recognizable 80s master smash). The duo’s debut album Theme Music highlights its makers’ skills as emcee and producer but also showcases their strengths as a cohesive unit with MED’s quick, effortless delivery and J’s beat junkie expertise.
The record dropped in November 2014 and features guest appearances from artists including Guilty Simpson, Blu, Oh No and Jimetta Rose. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble found time in Oxnard-native MED’s busy schedule to talk hip-hop, his label and what we can expect from Axel F in 2015.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Ah, man. That’s a good one. I remember one of the first albums I bought, which was the Fat Boys. I don’t remember the title. I remember going to the store with my older brother. I think Run-D.M..C came out the same day as Fat Boys, or no, actually, it was the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill. I remember going to the store with my big brother, and we were obviously arguing who was gonna buy the Run-D.M.C. album. I wanted to buy it, and he wanted to buy it. I was like, “Why can’t we both buy it?”
But you know how big brothers are. They’ll punk you out of your decision, but I was happy to get the Licensed to Ill. So, I remember getting the Beastie Boys. That’s a good memory right there. That was one of the first cassettes I went out and asked my parents to get for me.
How would you say your hometown of Oxnard influences your sound?
I think it heavily influences my sound to the fact that, you know, when you live in Oxnard, you’re kind of in the middle of L.A. and the Bay Area. Ventura County and, I believe, Santa Barbara is the borderline of being Northern Southern California. We definitely didn’t want to be the Bay, and we definitely didn’t want to be L.A. with our sound. We’re influenced by everybody, obviously, but heavily New York-influenced with Dr. Dre and all them.
I think we just wanted to have our own sound, so we’re pretty much in between finding our own identity, I guess. We just did what we wanted to do. Madlib was pretty much the leader of just being his own individual, and we all just followed suit. We all had it in us though, but it was definitely a confirmation to be yourself.
Right. When did you decide to make music your career instead of a hobby?
I think it’s just been a natural process for me. I always performed since I was super young, like doing Chuck E. Cheese’s, which is a pizza place out here.
We have those here too.
Breakdance contests when you’re real young and winning second place to get a whole bunch of tokens to performing at high school rallies. And then, you know, once you start doing it like that, and you have a passion, it kind of just gradually takes shape, and it takes a life of its own. You’re introduced to people, and the next thing you know, opportunities are presented, and then it kind of just goes forward. I never really looked at it like, “I wanna be the biggest rapper” ‘cause obviously I don’t be doing certain songs that are meant for the radio. So, it’s just always been a love. I always knew, back in the days…I mean, I didn’t know, but it was just always part of my life.
Was there a lot of music in your house growing up?
Yeah, someone was always playing some kind of music. We played Blues and Soul music back in the days. Bobby Womack. I know they used to play a lot of that. That’s where the records came into play. I was making beats at a young age and listening to records. My uncle actually had one of the biggest bands back in the day. My dad used to sing in the group as well, but my uncle was the leader, and he pretty much carried on, and they were winning contests through the county and everything. So, I guess that’s where I got a little taste of it from.
Who would you name as artistic influences?
Obviously, Madlib is a heavy influence because he just never lets himself be boxed in one thing, so I really pay a lot of attention to that. And, you know, him being original, too. As far as when you hear his beat, you know it’s a Madlib beat. There’s a lot of dope producers who make the greatest beats, the biggest selling beats, but you still might have to ask, “Who made that beat again?”
So, him and KRS-One….You know, KRS-One’s By All Means Necessary was a big influence on my career. E-40. I like E-40 for him just being himself. There’s so many. The list goes on.
You don’t have to name them all.
Yeah, I’ll be here all day [laughs]. East Coast. West Coast.
When and how did you and J Rocc link up?
Me and J Rocc been working together for years as far as just Stones Throw Records and Beat Junkies when they used to have the radio station way back in the days on the radio. I been knowing J Rocc ever since maybe 2002 or 2001. So, yeah, we’ve got a long history. We met back then.
How did the idea for Axel F come about?
Axel F came about just from one of J Rocc’s beats. We were recording songs together, but it was never meant to be a project. It was just like, “Let’s just have fun.” And then one day, he played this beat that sounded like it should have been on the [Beverly Hills Cop] soundtrack. I was like, “Oh, that’s funny,” and we laughed about it. It was just a silly concept. We never meant….it’s just weird.
We really kicked ourselves in the butt with that title in a sense because we have to explain how it makes sense. But yeah, that’s really where it came from. He had a beat that sounded like it was some 80s electro something. We started laughing, and it grew from there. But the album really has nothing to do with that whole movie.
I think any name is going to need an explanation regardless of how obscure it is.
Yeah, yeah. It was better than calling it MED and J Rocc because I’m working on an album with Madlib and Blu. We have an album with MED, Blu, and Madlib, and I was like, “Okay, I can’t have another album looking like that.”
Gotta get creative.
Yeah, let’s at least act like we’re trying to be creative [laughs].
At least pretend.
What do you think separates you guys from other hip-hop duos that are out right now?
Oh, definitely just the originality and the concept of doing music for the love. A lot of people are really trying to be like everybody else. This is an album that just expresses being fun and just having fun with the craft. I’m pretty sure everybody says that, but obviously you can listen to it and hear the grimyness in it, and you can just understand it was a case of natural fun for us.
We had a small concept with it that involved somebody I knew back in the day. We did a couple topics that kind of reminded me of his energy, so we kind of threw that into the whole concept of the album but not really overkill. We kind of ran up the raw emotion of someone I knew with the topics, but we still kept it ourselves. It was fun. And we had so many songs to choose from. That was another thing. Good times. Good times.
Are you happy with how Theme Music has been received?
Yeah, I’m pretty happy. I’m cool with it. Like I said, this album was definitely, I don’t want to say a selfish album, but it definitely was done as us just doing us. If I really tried to do an album to impress people, I gotta do a big girl’s song, I gotta do a radio song and really put the pressure on myself, and I might be upset. But I’m just happy. I think whoever kind of grew to it, grew to it, and it’s just another step in my career, you know?
It’s comes across more genuine when you do you. So, you’ve got Guilty Simpson, Blu, Oh No and others on the album. Is there anyone else you hope to work with in the future?
Yes. I’m trying to get Erykah Badu on this MED, Blu and Madlib album. That’s the key right now. We’ve got some other stuff we’re working on, but I don’t want to give away too much. I want to plant that seed, so let’s see how it goes.
I can help with that. How did Bang Ya Head Entertainment come about?
Just an outlet for me to express myself. Dealing with Stones Throw, they have such big artists on there, and they have so many new artists at the same time. They can never give an artist enough attention because it’s a small team and big roster.
So, yeah, back in 2005 before my first album ever came out is when I first did Bang Ya Head. I just pretty much combined a lot of songs that I had done together for a mixtape, and we did it through Fat Beats. It did pretty well. Then we had to release my first album. And then, I went through years of just waiting on Stones Throw to put out my second album, which was five years later. It was kind of upsetting in a sense, but, you know, I understand where they’re coming from. Labels work as labels. Artists work as artists. They’re waiting for the big buzz. We just want to put the music out.
So, during that transition, I was just releasing Bang Ya Head. It came to where I got to Bang Ya Head 3. I was like, “I’m going to release this for real and put the compilation out.” And then with the sale history, it just grew into getting a distribution deal with Fat Beats, and now we’ve got big albums coming. We’ve got that MED, Blu, Madlib album. That’s going to be huge. We just dropped the Axel F. It’s just another outlet for music. It’s just an outlet for fun.
Yeah, you shouldn’t have to wait to put your stuff out.
Yeah, I ain’t Russell Simmons running around or something like that [laughs]. I’m not trying to act like, “Oh, I’m the label.” But it’s definitely taken serious. I invest every dollar I get back into the label. And I really feel like if things keep going the way it’s moving, we’re going to make a name for ourselves. It’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out.
Do you have any plans for 2015? Will there be a tour to promote the album?
Yeah, me and J Rocc are looking to do a West Coast tour. And somewhere around April, I’ll be hitting up Europe. We’re dropping the MED, Blu, Madlib album in summertime, and somewhere around November or the month before, we’ll be dropping the Bang Ya Head 4 compilation. Ten year anniversary. Ten years! It ain’t been ten years like a real label, but it’s been ten years for me, so we’re gonna celebrate. I get the hard time, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs.]
It’s a real label.
Yeah, you know, it is. I mean, I definitely take it seriously. You know how it is. Every rapper got a label.
No, I know.
My main thing is just to have fun with it, and let’s see how it goes. It’s definitely going down.
You guys don’t want to come over here?
Oh, yeah, we do. But J Rocc has his DJ thing going too, so it’s kind of hard to coordinate. We’re definitely very, very open to anything going on. My main thing is just trying to settle J Rocc down and get him situated.
I know he’s a busy guy. If you guys need help, let me know.
That’ll be real cool. I really appreciate that.
Are there any other projects you want to talk about?
Yeah, my next release for Bang Ya Head is actually going to be the first 45 single for the Bang Ya Head compilation at the end of the year. It’s me, Gangrene, Jimetta Rose, Blu, Elzhi, Chris Keys and Bombay. That’s going to be coming out before summer, so please include that.