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Interview: Deeskee (La2thebay)

Monday May 20, 2013

This interview was conducted in September 2012 via email and is part of my mission to discover the current state of underground hiphop through the insight of long-term players.


Noel "Deeskee" DeMello is a long-term producer from the Bay Area and also oversees the legendary La2thebay -site. He has worked with hundreds of emcees (producing and recording). From my point of view he is sort of a central / key producer in underground hiphop in the Bay, like Fat Jack (L.A.), RZA (Shaolin) or Kali Yuga (Finland), bringing artists together and also distributing their music.

Sadly, he might be on the verge of ending his career.

The internet revolution turned record sales downwards making it even more harder for an independent artist to survive, especially for a veteran like Deeskee who still pays for original studio equipment etc. to make albums.

Deeskee sees that music has taken more a state of entertainment and is vanishing as an art form. Loyal fans are disappearing and music is becoming a quick consumable product. In his words I do hear bitterness, though not anger. But I understand. The rewards have never been shiny for those who've remained independent. The hurt becomes more and more real as years pass, and after a 20-year career in music, blue eyes have charred dark and back is aching, I'm sure.

Deeskee's love for music hasn't faded, but I guess in this game love doesn't make you a winner, no matter how hard you work. That same bitterness I hear in many if not most OG's in the States.

Mostly it's the rappers who get the credit for songs, but often it's the producers who create the vibe, have the vision, bring artists together, record and mix - and in Deeskee's case, even handle their distribution. Deeskee has put out dozens of solo releases and his production appears in hundreds of albums by other artists. Some of his albums are instrumentals but then again you have albums such as Audiobiograffiti that features about 60 different emcees, including the crew cut "How Many MC's '08"with 22 rappers on it. So you really can't deny Deeskee's central position in the West Coast underground scene.

Who is Noel DeMello?

born: 12/19/72
hometown: moss beach/ half moon bay, ca usa.
occupation: doormat
interests: music, movies, the great mysteries of the universe

Who is Deeskee?

Deeskee is an imaginary character whom when i was much younger i fancied a super hero of sorts, but it turns out he was just me in a baseball cap. the name came from an older dj cousin of one of the kids in my neighborhood. i thought he was fresh so i took the name but changed the spelling. i didn't know any better. i was like 14. my influences came primarily from my dad and my uncle who were musicians, but being a teenager in the 80's kind of brought the hip hop element to my influences.

I'm interested more in how you got into music and hiphop. What was the turning point when you decided to make music yourself?

i was always around music growing up, but when i was about 12 years old and started staying with my dad for summers he had a band. they played mostly covers of 60's bands like the stones, the beatles, the drifters, beach boys, nitty gritty dirt band, etc. and there were instruments around me at all times, so me and my cousin (who is also a musician and engineer) started picking them up and learning how to play them. that was around the same time i was interested in DJing. i worked with a few "rappers" here and there but didn't record anything of notable substance until '92 when i met maleko and raj. before that i was more interested in mixing and scratching.

"i think the world's love affair with music is over"

You run, tell us about it. How did you get into that? You also probably have a pretty good insight on the whole underground hip hop scene through La2thebay, on how many artists still put out cds, how much music gets sold and how that has changed, etc... give us some insight to the rap scene through your experiences in La2thebay.

yes, i "oversee", there's not much "running" to do anymore. i got into it because there wasn't an official outlet for information and physical distribution for my music and the music of my collaborators at the time. we had atak (Atak Distribution) and bts (Beneath The Surface), but there was no place for tour information, artist profiles, social networking, etc and i couldn't lock down proper distribution for home made tapes and cdrs so i put my resources together and launched the site. not much gets sold from the site anymore. there are a few people who buy new releases and as soon as they get them they'll put them on their blogs, but i usually bust them and they don't come back. i know that's not good for business but i don't think these kids understand what goes into making an album financially and emotionally. we don't make our albums on laptops with cracked software and a usb mic. our records actually cost money to make, which is why i can't make albums for myself anymore.

Why do you think it is that "there's not much running anymore" in La2thebay? If business has become low, why do you think that is? Is it because the artists have faded or is because of the audience? 

i think the world's love affair with music is over. kind of like vaudville or theatre. it's run it's course. the love affair has shifted to a love affair for commerce. 

if you don't have your own tv show, perfume or clothing line, or a song on a commercial nobody's going to pay much attention. there aren't many "fans" anymore. there are still a few but not enough to be sustainable for indy artists as small time as myself. people will steal your music, put it on their ipod, hear it once and move on to the next stolen download. a real fan goes to shows, buys records and listens to them 1000 times. not many of those real fans left. the reasons behind this are pretty expect that all artists make a bunch of money and they don't have to support them. they think indy artists have the same opportunities as major artists so it's ok to steal from us. the truth is, we don't get paid $1,000,000 to play at the grammy awards. we don't get paid $500,000 to add our signature to a product. we don't get our music on every radio station, hell...we don't even get reviews on every blog we submit to. it's a tough living. 

i also think that social networking has taken a toll on the art. nowadays fans can see the intimate details of their favorite artists life on their twitter feed. it kind of demystifies everything. and also with internet piracy anyone with a little bit of resourcefullness can find cracked software and make their own music the next day...then go on facebook and find their favorite rappers for guest appearances. it's just not special anymore and it breaks my heart. 

i wish some young artists would just once know what we had to go through to make a record 10-20 years ago. they wouldn't do it! it was actually work! before e-mail we had to get on an airplane, a train, a bus, drive, or even hitchhike hundreds of miles with our reels or dats, find a studio, PAY for it, get the song recorded, fly home, PAY for another studio to get it mixed and do it all over again. 

i have a very deep love for music, and it hurts to watch a loved one die right in front of you. i don't mean to sound angry or negative here, i'm just telling it from my point of view. i am absolutely greatful for every experience in life that i've had because of music and i wouldn't have met some of the incredible people who have taught me so much.

"there are a lot of things in life that i missed by being a struggling artist for 20 years. i'd like to try something else."

Do you get a lot of orders from Finland? 

i used to get a lot of orders from finland...i loved it. all of my finnish friends would send me tapes and cds, hand written letters, post cards, photos, you name it. it was a cool feeling to get gifts from fans i never met. sadly they all dissapeared. i think i have had one order from finland since 2005.

You've lived in LA for 10 years now. How's that working out for you? 

LA is it's own animal. i can't say it's been "working out" lately, but i'm surviving. 

What do you feel is different to the Bay area, music-wise especially?

it's a lot different from the bay. the people are different, the music is different. but there are some unfortunate similarities as well.

the differences are mostly in attitude and the way people treat each other here. just different personality types in artists and fans. 

Do you ever feel like moving back to the Bay?

yes i do think of moving back sometimes, but not for the music.

Tell us a little bit about the groups you've been a member of and people who you've worked with? Who's your fav. emcee to work with?

i've been a member of abnormal, araknophobix, ex vandalz, the returners, knives and gasoline. i can't name everyone i've worked with...i've probably worked with over 200 MCs. not really any "favorites". if i have worked with someone it's because they were my favorite before we even worked. i've always only worked with my favorite artists.

You've also done a few vocals in your past. I remember a verse on Record Players "Two Thousand And One" tape... What made you rap all of a sudden?

i've done quite a bit, i usually make up a fake name to hide my identity. i don't know if any more can be expected. i've recently started to lose my voice so i think that chapter is closed.

What are you working on now? Self-promotion is allowed.

just finishing up a new album with existereo and a new one with die...i have a few albums that are unreleased so i might revamp them just to keep myself busy (not sure if i'll release them), then i don't know. there are a lot of things in life that i missed by being a struggling artist for 20 years. i'd like to try something else.


big shout out to my folks in finland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Update on La2TheBay

posted by: Moonlit


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