Philadelphia producer and emcee Hezekiah brings a diverse musical background to his work, starting out as a choirboy in church, then singing with his uncle’s funk band as a pre-teen. A multi-instrumentalist and composer, Hezekiah brings much more than just beats to his work with acts like Bilal, The Roots and Zap Mama.
In his solo work, Hezekiah’s fierce and honest style connects with listeners. His latest album, “I Predict a Riot,” is a mash-up of styles, with as much electric guitar as turntablism. Yet it is hip-hop all the way.
NUVO spoke with Hezekiah by phone in anticipation of his Sept. 3 concert at the Jazz Kitchen.
NUVO: What role did singing in church play on your artistic development?
Hez: It got me, at a young age, over the fear of being on stage. People looking at me didn’t bother me no more. It made me a loose person creatively. I can do anything in front of people.
NUVO: You feel like you conjure the holy ghost in shows?
NUVO: Cool. I’ve never seen you live. What can we expect from your live show?
Hez: Oh my God, yo. A lot of energy. A lot of emotion. A lot of interaction. A whole lot of sweat. And a whole lot of finesse. And diversity. It’s not your regular wave-your-hands-in-the-air type of hip-hop show. Expect an innovative, progressive, yet traditional hip-hop show.
NUVO: So at your live shows do you sing or flow?
Hez: Mostly flowing, but I do a little bit of singing.
NUVO: What’s your creative process when working on songs and recording?
Hez: If it’s me by myself, I’m usually in the studio or around the house and I’m humming a melody. Usually the melody comes first, the melody of the hook. Then I pick up the bass; then record it to a click track. That’s why a lot of my songs are bass driven: I lay that first. Then I jump on the MP [sampler], then the drum machine.
NUVO: So you have the vocal melody first then find samples to fit into that?
Hez: Yeah, that’s my forte. It’s like doing remixes, and I love doing remixes.
NUVO. You played a big role in the development of the Beat Society showcases. What was the advantage to doing showcases as opposed to battles?
Hez: Well, battle scenes tend to be entertainment for the non-artist people. What we did for the Beat Society was take an artist format, and we made it entertaining and educational to the regular people also. Everybody loves a battle, but if we just did the Beat Society show, and didn’t have a format that was entertaining, the only people that would understand it would be the producers. We did the sample round, where we gave every producer the same song to sample. It was just to show people that hip-hop production was an art form.
NUVO: It’s amazing how different producers can flip the same sample and come up with a completely different feel. It seems like in today’s market, producers sell records more reliably than a lot of the emcees.
Hez: We were one of the things responsible for that. Bringing producers to the forefront.
NUVO: Who would you say is most influential to you as a producer?
Hez: I would say Barry White, Quincy Jones, and cats like Dilla. Bilal on the beats, period. Bilal is a composer. Just being in the studio with him. People don’t even understand; he does a lot of his own music. He knows how to compose for an orchestra. He went to school for that. Zap Mama. They all inspire me.
NUVO: So you’re in a position now where you’ve worked with a lot of the people who’ve influenced you.
Hez: Yeah, I’m lucky man.
NUVO: Let’s switch gears and talk about your lyrics. Especially on “I Predict a Riot,” it seems like you’re never really afraid to lay in there and say things other might shy away from. What are some of the lyrics you’ve gotten the strongest reactions to?
Hez: Umm, on the song “Single Now,” I say, “I ain’t got a foot fetish but I love a camel toe.” [Laughs.] On “I Predict a Riot,” “Cuz my spics don’t dance they just pull up their pants, and Fat Joe can say ‘nigga’ but J-Lo can’t.” I get a reaction from them.
NUVO: I can make some comparisons between your home state, Delaware, and Indianapolis. How did growing up in a place without many other hip-hop artists affect your artistic development?
Hez: Luckily, Delaware is like, 20 minutes from Philly. So I was always hopping on the train. So my influence was Philly. Linking up with the Roots in like ’92, ’93. Seeing these people I know blow up: Scott Storch, Jill Scott, Musiq. I was like, wow, I can actually have a career at this.
NUVO: How do people react to you in Philly compared to other places?
Hez: Hehe. Out of town I’m more appreciated. In my hometown, it’s like, “Oh that’s just Hez, we’ve seen him for years.” It’s the same thing for the Roots in Philly. The Philadelphians are like, “Oh, that’s just the Roots.”
NUVO: ‘I saw ’um on the corner playing with a bucket back in the day, and it was free!’
Hez: Exactly. It’s pretty much like that. That’s the difference between playing at home and away.
NUVO: And you’ve even had the chance to play overseas quite a few times.
Hez: That experience shows you what you need to work on in your music, to make your music more universal. I know you want to make music for you, but you also grow. You see what works outside of the states. That learning experience has been incredible. Even being on the East coast, and going out to the West coast. You may not like West coast hip-hop, but being in that environment, it’s like, ‘Oh, I get it now.’ So being overseas, it’s an eye opener.
NUVO: Just hearing things in context makes a difference.
NUVO: Well alright, man. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Looking forward to the show.
Hez: No doubt. We’ll have a good time. Let’s rock the hell out.