In a time when hip-hop collaborations can get a bit stale, it's hard to find a group as freshly innovative as The Gent$, which consists of Pugs Atomz, Wes Restless, Ill Legit and DJ ALO.
Pugs and Ill Legit handle most of the lyrics, which allows Wes Restless to open up as a formidable vocalist; this gives the group a multitude of styles to build from. The trio has worked alongside producers The Opus and Maker (as well as getting contributions from Ill Legit, Limitless, V Traxx and Dario) to create a sound that is on point with what Pugs describes as "the struggle to become something better; a gentleman." It isn't a shock to know that the group's debut amassed 10,000 downloads, and the near future looks even brighter as The Gent$ are featured guests on DJ Vadim's newest album, U Can't Lurn Imaginashun, released by BBE Records.
Centerstage found the rhythms of The Gent$ too good to resist, and sat down with them to talk about everything from the serendipitous nature of their work to how the Sybaris makes for a wonderful place to shoot a video.
You all have pretty illustrious solo careers. What sparked the collaboration?
Ill Legit: Well as far back as I could remember I always wanted to be a gent [laughs]! Nah, but seriously, I met Pugs when I moved to Chicago and knew he was dope. Me and Wes met a couple years later when I booked his group Dynamic Vibrations to perform, and after the show he asked me to come through and make a track the next day. Fast forward a year or so later, Pugs said all three of us should start a group. The rest is history.
Wes: We were all making moves individually, but in the process, we were collaborating with a lot of other artists within the scene. We had all made songs together and they tended to take on the smooth, sophisticated vibe. One day Pugs said "Let's put this together and get it out there." We'll call it The Gent$ ." And it just fit.
Tell me a little bit about the album. Were Maker and The Opus your first choices as producers?
P: The Opus reached out to Roche in Oakland to remix "Only When I Dream" from his Solos records compilation, and they hit us with the remix and from there we were like, let's work together. We actually just completed a great song for their next album. We reached out to Maker when a beat we used was no longer available and Maker gave us a great dub remix, and that started the relationship.
W: The album came together very naturally. When we were working on it we never really had to think too deeply about our direction because we were already on the same page. As far as production, we linked up with Maker and The Opus kind of by chance. We'd worked with them before but for this project they ended up doing remixes that really did justice to the songs. We didn't even know The Opus was doing the remix until it was done and being played [by The Opus] in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. I also did production on several songs, as well as Illy, Limitless, V Traxx, Dario, and DJ ALO and others.
I: Maker and Opus just happened to fall into place. Actually we individually brought beats to the table and pretty much executive produced the album as a group. Maker hooked up a remix and Opus had remixed a song for Wes and Pugs.
Stylistically there are a lot of influences streaming through your music. How do the Gent$ map things out when ready to make music?
I: We stay on a consistent schedule of meeting every week. We sit down and play music for each other and find inspiration. We all pretty much have excellent taste and that makes choosing what we work on easy.
P: We just try to attack subjects as a gentleman would and pick beats that are a backdrop to a gentleman's point of view.
Collectively, what are some things about Chicago that inspire you?
P: The style and architecture of Chicago, the Magnificent Mile and the Playboy office.
W: I think just the culture and style that is abundant in the world-class city of Chicago. The architecture, the sophistication and the composure that Chicagoans have. It's as if we've all been around the block and carry ourselves with dignity and class.
I: Well hate is easy to come by in Chicago and just about anywhere on the earth, but finding love in this city is what motivates us I think. We make music we love and we want our city to love it as well. On top of that we make classics.
You made your debut album available for free download. Do you see this turning into a norm in hip-hop? If so, how do you think it'll change things?
P: Well I think it's now going to really go back to performing and content, video, lifestyle, etc…
W: The way things are going, the physical product now is really just a calling card. However, we are concentrating our efforts on some very solid product that, in my opinion, will sell itself. We are not the types to push our product on the people...the ones who appreciate our music will do what they can to support.
I: I think it's just becoming the norm for independent artists, period. We aren't concerned with album sales at the moment because that's not how we define ourselves. We define ourselves through the music and that's what matters. And that can't be done unless it's heard. Therefore, we gave it out.
You also have some work on Vadim's new project. How did that come about?
P: I went on tour with him in 2007 and we started to record and send songs back and forth. He picked two songs for his new album on BBE, "Saturday" and "Always Lady" featuring Wes, but one day he sent me this beat in the email and it had Gent$ all over it.
I: All I know is the Vadim joint we just did, "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," is absolutely bananas.
Could you please break down the premise of your video shoot at the Sybaris?
Adam Leaders(manager): I'll take this one… For those who don’t know, the Sybaris is a "romantic getaway" resort. Due to legality issues, all we can say is it involved hours of reconnaissance, models, camera crew, more models, lights, bubbles, a utility van and 100 bottles of Champagne. We were like the A-Team sneaking into that place. Once we were in, we transformed it into THE GENT$ mansion – water slide, steam room, vibrating chairs and all. Big thanks to Noah Banks, Vimby, Awdazcate, Allison Glenn and everyone who helped make it happen. Just wait till you see it...
New projects for this year?
P: Pugs Atomz Roof Top LP June 16 on So Flo Recordings feat. Sadat X, Naledge, DJ Vadim etc...
W: I'll be releasing a solo EP called Draggin' Music as well as a plethora of other collaborative efforts with other artists that I admire. The Gent$ are hard at work on a new record with production from DJ Vadim, Wes, Illy and more. Also be on the lookout for our ongoing video series. This will be our true launch to the world.
I: I'm extremely proud of my new video "Too Familiar," featuring Wes Restless, directed by Nick Castle. You can google it and fall in love all over again. Working on a solo album entitled The Addiction and constantly working on new Gent$ material. Stay tuned...