The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part LXXVI: The Turntablist Chronicles: Ruler Why and the Vultures
Ruler Why, producer of the hip-hop collective The Vultures, is 22 years old.
While this is certainly not unusual in the context of the hip hop scene, it is remarkable because he's the first turntablist/producer I've talked to who was born well after the compact disc was introduced to the marketplace. By the time Ruler made his debut on Planet Earth, most of the LP's in the major record store chains had been scooped up and sent off to warehouses, and the shiny silver discs had started their three-decade stranglehold on the consumer music industry.
That's one of the reasons why his views on vinyl are so refreshing. He's not a hip hop veteran who grew up rummaging through old record stores before the genre went mainstream. He gravitated to the sound of vinyl because of its purity and because of its link to the past. For me, the presence of people such as Ruler Why is the greatest sign that vinyl will endure yet another generation of music lovers.
Originally from San Antonio, Ruler Why (aka Ryan Staton) has been freestyling since he was in high school, but he didn't seriously consider hip hop as a career until he saw Wu-Tang Clan in 2005 (he admits to borrowing ideas from RZA from time to time). Since then, he's been recording beats and mining archives and cultivating a unique sound for the Vultures that suggests a dramatic, Old-Hollywood sense of grandeur. With fellow Vultures Jus the Destroyer, Jamar Equality, 7ish, Blazy, Stealth and RUIN, Ruler Why creates a dense, dramatic soundscape that more closely aligns with classic East Coast hip hop (with its mile-a-minute raps) and yet adds another layer of textures that make these tracks truly distinctive.
I caught up with Ruler in Austin as he and the Vultures were putting the finishing touches on their latest release, Desert Eagles Vol. 1.
PSF: There's an interesting story about how you came up with the name "The Vultures" for your hip-hop collective. Do you mind re-telling the story?
Ruler Why: I had already been good friends with Jus the Destroyer for a few years prior to the formation of the group in Summer of '07. He was the one who actually came up with the name. We were chatting over the Internet and he had the idea to come up with a hip hop group called "The Vultures." At the time, I was in school for Audio Engineering and had been making beats for a couple months, years before that we used to record freestyles on my computer with some friends in the neighborhood. So I was pretty accustomed to handling all the technical stuff while Jus provided the rhymes. I liked the idea and a few days later, Jus brought over Jamar Equality. The first night we were all together for the first time, we recorded our first track, "Plot the Apocalypse." I'm sure Jus just liked the way "The Vultures" sounded, with possibly no other reason besides the fact that Vultures are dope ass birds, eating dead animals, feasting on rotting corpses. So I like to say we are "feasting on rotting Hip Hop." The hip hop culture as a whole is rotting away, and is being hijacked by big wigs who funnel money into "artists'" bank account like Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy, who do nothing more than dumb down huge masses of people. So we take that negative energy (rotting corpses OR rotting hip hop), we digest it (feast), and turn it into positive energy (life for the vulture OR dope music in our case)
PSF: You say that listening to the Wu-Tang Clan is what got you into hip-hop in the first place, yet you also have a great love for Duke Ellington. How does each of these artists filter into your mixes? And how do people your age react when you turn them onto Duke for the first time?
I've only really turned one other person on to Duke Ellington. He was my best friend through middle school and high school. Somehow I got a hold of some Duke, and showed it to him (he may have already known of Duke, but I gave him two of my Duke CDs while in high school). Long story short, my friend is now getting his Masters in Music Theory at UNT on full scholarship. Wu Tang and Duke have both inspired me in different, but equal ways. Both taught me to really "LISTEN" to music. You can hear music but then you can LISTEN. You can really hear their passion, whether it's Inspectah Deck or Ol' Dirty Bastard lacing RZAs mid '90s raw prolific beats, or Duke Ellington's Live Concert CD's from the '50's. I haven't studied Music Theory, I've tried, but gave up. I go by ear, I trust my ears on what I consider good music. Sometimes I think that might be an advantage, because I haven't entered that matrix of keys, chords, progressions, and all that, so I am somewhat ignorant to rules and limitations. That allows me to be more creative.
PSF: You're only 22, yet you fell in love with the sound of "crispy, crackling records." How important is that sound for your mixes?
It symbolizes authenticity, adds realness to the beat. To me, it represents the physical aspect. The time spent seeking out the record, actually grabbing a tangible object, putting it on the turntable, dropping the needle, and taking time to listen, as opposed of just downloading MP3's and clicking "play" with the mouse.
PSF: While I admittedly came to appreciate the work of producers like you very recently, as an audiophile, I still think that vinyl sounds much better than digital in its pristine, "non-scratchy" state. Have you had a chance to hear really good analog on a quality rig?
I heard in a RZA interview recently, he was talking about a study some organization did. They played and compared the sound of vinyl records and MP3's for a group of young adults. And they preferred MP3's. Well, MP3's are audibly compressed, and stripped of important frequencies, but since the age of computers and downloads, which these young adults grew up to, it has tweaked their ears and minds into what is more familiar. It's kind of disrupting the purity of the whole scheme of things.
PSF: As the producer for The Vultures, you say your job is to "dig in dusty crates in search of obscure music." What sound are you looking for, and what type of LP tracks really get you excited?
I seek out anything foreign, overseas. I don't even try to dig in the Soul or Funk sections. I figure all that stuff has been raped, and even now the up-and-coming producers, 90% of them only sample some soul or funk tracks. I am trying to find my niche, my sound, and flip different kinds of music. I get excited for LP's in different languages on the cover. It's more mysterious. I've gotten some great stuff from Japanese LP's, albums from Israel, but mostly Latin and Spanish.
PSF: We used to have a running gag at a music magazine I worked at...we would have a monthly LP pick that was based solely on how cool/dorky the cover was. Do you have any favorite titles like this you could share?
Just recently I got some really great super duper samples from the record Jews for Jesus. Also, anything with a hot lady on the cover is always worth checking out.
PSF: You're also well-known for your opinions on old-school production (samples) vs. new-school production (keyboards). How important do you think it is to hold onto turntables for mixes, and how are you getting the word out to your fellow producers?
Sampling should be the fifth element in hip hop, right in the mix with MCing, DJing, B-boying, and Graffiti. Sampling is an art form, it is an instrument. Producer Just Blaze said it best, somethin' along the lines of "You can't just play a couple notes on a keyboard and call that shit hip hop." I agree with that, the keyboard is nice to add some spice, or if you have the sample laid out over the keys and play it that way. But nowadays, kids are pressing two keys on their USB MIDI controller or just clicking little squares on fruity loops and calling that shit 'hip hop.' Their neighborhood friends may like it, but I've learned, being a young cat coming up, sticking to the roots is essential to gain the slightest respect from the originators, the legends of this hip hop culture. Pay respect where respect is due.
PSF: Do you listen to LPs at home for pleasure? What type of set-up do you use to listen this way?
Turntable to MPC200XL on sampling mode. Making beats is my pleasure.
PSF: What type of turntable?
It's just a basic Numark. the model number is TT1625. I bought it from a crew member for 15 bucks, and works like a charm.
PSF: What do you see as the biggest challenge for up-and-coming DJs, producers and turntablists? What words of wisdom do you have for them?
Lack of understanding of the culture, where it began; the roots of hip hop. Developing your own style and sticking to it. Think positive, focus on your dreams and goals, be persistent and people will begin to take notice.
If you'd like to hear more about Ruler Why and his work with The Vultures, check out his MySpace page
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see Marc Philip's blog
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