The NYC based crew discovered last year in Paris in a wild and furious showcase with the legendary beatmaker Imhotep from IAM (Marseille) at Le Bar Commun, is preparing the release of their new album, “Front & Center” due in October 2020. They’re reinvigorating the east coast conscious Boom Bap style, motivated by the Trump factor.
You’re releasing your 3rd album “Front & Center” in an interesting context, why did you choose to release it this year?
Kiambu: “Front and Center” means we’re stepping up speaking of voices and we’re ready to go. Get Open reporting for duty!
The problem is perspective has been lost and very few people want to talk about politics. I saw a couple rappers drop some first, if that had something to do with Black Lives Matter because honestly almost every black person I know has been affected negatively by policing in this country. No they’re not doing enough. They’re still selling a gangster lifestyle most of them and one that promotes ignorance violence and behavior that get you locked up in jail.
Your first video is the provoking “Tale Of The Tape” directed by Nicolas Milteau which directly evokes police brutality and the BLM movement, Why?
Kiambu: We’re very proud of Nicolas’s work. We wrote this song 2 years ago and it’s sadly still relevant. Nicolas really understood everything we were saying and how this hysterical moment will be burned into our memories forever because of the images we were forced to endure every single day. ‘Tale Of The Tape” is the first single from our album.
Siba: Tale of the tape is an expression used when things are clear, things are straight forward, in your face… And this is what’s happening right now in front of our eyes in the world.
Kiambu: Unfortunately, a lot of liberal people want to believe that race should be ignored and our differences are not something to celebrate and that they want to get past racism. The issue is the victims of racism have always paid for it while white people have benefited. Unfortunately, white liberals have it the hardest because they don’t see that they’re part of the problem and it’s hard to take this bad news when you think you’re progressive. It’ll make you fight for every shred of identity you’ve created for yourself. No one wants to believe that they’re racist but honestly if you’re not speaking out against it every single day you’re benefiting from it as a white person in this country.
I know a lot of people don’t believe they benefit from any sort of privilege but it’s just not true and people have to be willing to accept that they are wrong and they need to do more and try harder.
Siba: Young people bring hope as they are still marching. Look at the city of Portland on the west coast. Its been 4 months since they started protesting. It started with riots, which I don’t particularly feel are effective but after a few days of that peaceful protest continued and has continued. These young folks feel that it’s the moment to seize to seek change. And some things are happening.
Like Statues of Colonialists, Slave Owners are being taken down. The Confederate Flag no longer accepted at car races in the US, NY State laws have changed that police are now liable to lawsuits by the people as before they were pretty much untouchable.
So some things are changing but you see what it takes? An African-American man lost his life, murdered by a crooked cop, LIVE on TV…
Kiambu: Trump criticizes the Black Lives Matter movement, “You don’t believe in America! You want to question our history!” No, it’s always been the same. We wrote this text to talk about this sad state of mind.
How was Get Open created?
Kiambu: We met in part at an art school in New York in 1992, Purchase University, where musicians, dancers, actors, graffiti artists met. We were young, we founded a collective in the early 90s, Hip Hop was exploding in NYC, we were all connected to the street, there were a lot of us.
Siba: It was a collective, four rappers, two DJs, a singer, other rappers were coming, we also had live musicians, I was also played drums occasionally.
Kiambu: We had musicians so we played original tracks live.
Where are you from?
Von: I am from the Bronx, and I have Caribbean, Antigua and Bermuda origins.
Kiambu: I’m from Harlem, Uptown, Sugar Hill, 145th Street, but also from all over the city, I grew up in Manhattan, I moved to Queens, in the Bronx, we are from all over New York.
Von: We’re cosmopolitan!
Siba: I was born in Paris, to a French mother and an American father from New York, and I arrived in NYC in the mid-80s, I discovered Hip Hop with my mother Desdémone Bardin who taught English at the University of Paris 8 in Saint-Denis using African-American & Hip-Hop culture in her classes. She used texts from US rappers that I transcribed for her. (laugh). I arrived very young on the Lower East Side, which was far from gentrified at the time. It was a drug infested neighborhood, it left a mark on me. When Von joined us at Purchase, it got serious. We used to go crazy on stage, but then we started recording seriously. At the end of the year 1993, the Music Department at school was producing a CD of all kinds of music, that’s when we recorded our first track with 6 MC’s.
You grew up in a musical context?
Von: Yes, my dad was playing in bands before I was born, he had two studios, I went there from childhood, he played reggae, funk, RnB, he played guitar. I grew up with jazz in my ears too, and then Hip Hop came from the streets. I explored my own area,
I started doing graffiti and dancing. And I played in rock bands.
Kiambu: It’s true that we went through it all, I met Siba in high school, we got lost and we ended up at Purchase College. My father studied at a musical school, he played several instruments, I grew up in this environment in Harlem. He played Afro-jazz, my sister played too, my environment was the arts man. But Hip Hop was different, I kept recording tapes of what was coming out, i etc. all the time, learning all these words by heart, I was break dancing in my room. If you wanted to do it, you could just go, it was more accessible than jazz for example, it was fresh.
Siba: “Music and Arts” high school was the one from the movie FAME, Kiambu’s sister was also there in the same class as Slick Rick, Dana Dane and MC Serch from the group Third Bass! All these people were together, actors, Jennifer Anniston, there was also a Visual Arts department, Adrien Brody was in Kiambu’s class, we all knew each other.
You recorded your first single “Here and now” in 1996?
Siba: Wu Tang Clan was released in 1992, 1993, they were a revolutionary band, they were selling CDs, Vinyl, mixtapes in shops but also on the streets. We discovered that. We thought, what should we do? Let’s do the same. So started doing shows, but then we thought if we can record and come out independently, it would cost us 3000 dollars to manufacture our first 1,000 copies. We collected money thanks to our concerts, and we pressed this vinyl and cassette single. Our record really circulated on the west coast, it was the DJ culture of the time to play underground stuff, J-Rocc from the Beat Junkies, DJ Numark (Jurassic Five) and even Mix Master Mike (who would for a time become the DJ of the Beasties Boys) were playing our record, The West Coast gave us love.
You have blacks and whites in your group. In the United States it is rare to see multi-ethnic Hip-Hop groups, it’s rather separate, on the one hand the Beasties Boys, Eminem, House of Pain, Third Bass and on the other African-American collectives, it is this the meaning of your group name? Get Open?
Von: Get Open, it comes from partying. (Laughs) It started with the girls. The group was born in this very multicultural atmosphere of SUNY Purchase (1hour north of NYC), we were very mixed, that’s what makes us unique. My homies, these are my homies!
We knew we were going to get criticized for creating this rap group with white people, but Hip Hop culture is for the rebels. When you’re Hip Hop you have to fight the system, whether you’re a ghetto black or an angry white. Hip Hop is a Culture, it’s open to everyone.
Kiambu: It doesn’t belong to anyone, not just blacks, there have always been Puerto Ricans in the movement, always.
Von: It’s been a multicultural movement from the start
Siba: if you look at graffiti culture, there were a lot of white graff artists from the start.
Kiambu: From the beginning
Von: The joke is that some say the whites weren’t there, but they were there from the start! We were all there, Hip Hop is inclusive. We were all in the same house (laughs) The guy who toyed the most in the Bronx was white (laughs) he scared everyone that asshole (laughs)
Kiambu: It is true that at the time there weren’t many multi-ethnic groups in New York, there were few.
Von: But there was the whole “Lyricist Lounge” craze in the city, everyone wanted to rhyme.
What were your sources of inspiration?
Von: Our gold standard was Wu Tang, because they started out indie. Before, it was an impossible dream to sign directly to the label, everyone thought “Yo! We can do it on our own without waiting!”
Siba: We are very sensitive to lyrics, so MCs like Melle Mel, Rakim, KRS One, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, but the biggest influence was the mood of the Native Tongue: Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Beatnuts, but also Dr Dre & Death Row, Devin The Dude, Kool Keith & Ultramagnetic MCs ..
Kiambu: For us the message is important. And even if we like to be crazy, to party, it has to be always smart.
Siba: we started doing the opening up for the Jungle Brothers, KRS One, De La Soul, Special Ed, Dead Prez, The Alkohaliks and many more.
After a long pause, you came back with a mixtape album “Black Book” in 2013, a second album “The Week-End” in 2014, then another Mixtape “IAM Open” in 2016. And now you are preparing your third album ?
Von: Yes, the upcoming album is really political. It’s everyone’s vibe. We talk about this all the time. Music is mood and mood right now is connected with what’s going on in America right now. So it’s natural to integrate these questions into our music.
Even if the original concept of the group is to have fun, now is the time to reflect on the political situation in our country
Siba: Get Open means opening your mind, opening your space, a new culture, to create or to discover.
So you also shot another beautiful video “Where I’m From” with director by Pascal Tessaud?
Von: It was my best filming experience. It was super serious, we shot in the South Bronx, all in detail. Damn! I was not mentally prepared for this! That dude is a machine! (Laughs) It’s a tribute to our music, it’s great visual, we took a long time to make these songs and we hope people will appreciate our personal approach. We talk about our respective backgrounds, our passion and our love for this music that has kept us away from the bullshit of the street. It’s all there on the screen.
Siba: It’s a true gem!
You have a third video being shot right now by another frenchy, Salim Hamzaoui?
Von: Yes, for “Fake News”, it is really dramatic what we are seeing in the media now. It’s very powerful. I hope the young people will watch our video and reflect on our alienation. The media is driving the planet crazy. Because this drift is global. How governments are bullying people all over the world.
Siba: Salim is a French director who comes from Le Havre in Normandy. He is young, 21 years old. it’s going to be super interesting to see his vision of our song.
I can’t wait to find out, because he’s very talented too. We’re in for a surprise!
How do you position yourself in relation to the evolution of Rap Game?
Kiambu: You hear the same song six times a day on the radio. The target is teenagers. We don’t sell guns and drugs. But this is what they want to hear on the radio all day.
We started to build Hip Hop culture, we have things to say about the evolution of this culture of resistance which has been completely swallowed up in the society of mass consumption.
Von: They want to play similar songs, everything sounds the same.
Kiambu: yes, we have to talk about people killed by gunshots, the drug business is 90% of the content of rap songs that are currently on the radio in the states …
This is why the machine …
Von: Hip Hop shouldn’t be that, that’s sad. Everything must be similar, like in the army. Interchangeable. This is mass production
Siba: the first song we recorded for this album is called “Can You Resist”
Kiambu: Hip Hop is no longer for the people. That’s why you have to stay away from the radios. It happens organically. The industrialists are trying to control all of this. But life cannot be controlled by merchants, there is something natural that resists this exploitation.
Siba: Hip Hop saw its political side disappear at the end of the 90s. But fortunately, groups continue to spread the message like The Roots, Mos Def, Common, Kendrick Lamar, J-Cole, etc. The recording industry wiped out those bands that were leaders for American youth.
The industry doesn’t give a damn about the political conscience of Public Enemy or KRS One. It would be too dangerous even to propagate messages of conscience in the ghettos, different views on the American Dream.
We are back on the mic, we are taking up the torch of this culture. We’re not here for the glory or the money. We had to say without filter what is happening in this fucking country and what is strong with the Nicolas Milteau clip is that we deflect Fox News propaganda, we reverse our gaze and we create a new culture, ours.