I recently enjoyed the pleasure of chopping it up with Moral One, one half of the dynamic Alert312 duo about all things Alert312, HiFi Native, and Hip-hop. Discussing their most influential vinyl records to creative hideaway spaces in Chicago, even what we’re able to expect from their new label, HiFi Native, allowed us to cover much ground I’m excited to divulge with you.
Not familiar with Alert312? This Chicago bred Hip-hop duo is the undeniable chemistry of emcee Boogalu and producer Moral One. They’ve been busy releasing four projects in the last five years (2 EPs and 2 full length albums). Carving out their own niche through sonic and visual art accompanied by intentionally curated live performance experiences, this duo is worth familiarizing yourself with.
Focusing around their recent album release, “The Upside Eternal,” the interview began as I asked Aaron:
The title of your newest album was referenced on the track, “The Villain vs. The Virtue,” which was released in January 2013. How did the album’s title and concept evolve and solidify over the past two and half years and through the release of another EP (Singular Vision)?
Initially, we had the idea for this record toward the tail end of Vice and Virtue. Boogalu had an idea of talking through a lot of the principles in Jesus’ parables and the upside down kingdom. ‘The Upside’ was initially short for Upside Down. The eternal perspective came in when we wanted to address the different down sides we were facing. Originally the songs ‘Local’ and ‘Eternal’ were one idea. It was this simple introduction of facing our present struggles in the first half and the upside of looking towards eternity in the second half.
When did you guys officially begin writing for the album?
Writing for the record officially started in November 2014. Demoing sessions bled into the tail end of Singular Vision.
Creating and producing an album can be a very intimate experience. As an artist a lot of thought goes into who you allow into your creative space and process. Noticing one of the attributes differentiating “The Upside Eternal” from Alert312’s previous projects was the abundance of features, I wanted to understand what drove this shift.
The Upside Eternal features Mr. Enc, Catalina Bellizzi, Taelor Gray, Propaganda, DJ Efechto, Jay Cabassa, and many more Chicago residents you’ve been highlighting on social media. What are two determining factors in deciding whom you want to work with and allow in to your creative process?
With this record we really wanted it to be a community experience and have the guest musicians feature take it further than our limited talents and capacities could take us. When we decided on the songs we were gonna move forward with, it really came full circle for us. A lot of the musicians that were featured came through our studio spaces and we gave them chances to improvise. With ‘No Holds Tongue’ we thought it worked really well with Propaganda and what he doesn’t shy away from speaking about. Jay Cabassa and Mr. Enc were guys who we really wanted to work with for a while so we created songs we wanted to have them on.
Taelor Gray was actually a cold call – we didn’t have a relationship with him beforehand. We’d been listening to the music he was creating and both Boogalu and myself genuinely liked his music. We reached out to a friend who knew Taelor, mentioning we wanted to work with him, got his number and called him. When it comes to who we collaborate with, we want to work with people we mutually respect and are inspired by — artistically, creatively, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Which track did you have the most fun creating?
Bringing out Taelor to Chicago to do the ‘Kingdoms Falling’ video was one of those fun moments. Mainly because we got to meet him in person and shot in a rad location. The most musically fulfilling and stretching was recording Eternal with the string quartet. Personally, it was something I wanted to do for a really long time. Crafting a song of ours then translating it into a classical piece was really fulfilling and beautiful. It was a first for us; working with classically trained musicians and most of them were college age kids!
Wow, that’s incredible. How did you choose the quartet you worked with?
Eternal was composed by Jeremy Ward who attends church with Boogalu. Jeremy teaches at a local Chicago college and is also the worship leader, leading worship with a cello. Boogalu reached out to a mutual friend for Jeremy’s email because he wanted to work with him on the song. We were working on a budget so when we reached out to Jeremy about collaborating and the budget we were working within he thought it might work to have some of his skilled college students come into the studio. They came into the studio and the song was made.
Moving from a better understanding of their musical processes, I wanted to know more about Moral One and Booglau behind the music. One of the qualities I’ve always been drawn to and admired was their focus on community and their values motivating that focus.
What does it look like in your day-to-day routines to be, ‘locally present and eternally headed’?
First and foremost Alert312 isn’t our day job, it is our artistic expression of our 9-5. Boogalu and I both work full time for GRIP Youth in Chicago that pairs local believers with fatherless youth and they do it through numerous aspects of programs in the schools or after school programs. We resource GRIP with the Streetlights urban audio bible which is word for word scripture laid over a Hip-hop soundtrack.
For us we’re able to be ‘boots on the ground’ with GRIP staff and the students — face-to-face with what they’re facing and experiencing on a daily basis as a youth in Chicago . A lot of the students can’t read and so we hope to offer a solution to youth who want to know Christ but struggle with literacy. Boogalu and I are passionate about the local church being salt and light in the community.
Some artists have spaces that inspire them to create art or refine their craft, like a special cafe corner, a secluded park bench or a spot on the beach. Aside from your studio, are there any spots in Chicago that you’ve set aside for this purpose?
For Esteban and myself in Chicago summers we’re pretty avid bike riders. A lot of the songs were written on Boogalu’s bike to and from the studio. We definitely love our bikes! Where we’re at in life, a lot of the time we’re either at church, at home or the studio. The studio has become that creative haven for us.
When it comes to Alert312’s sonic and visual art, their innovative pursuit of high fidelity art robs you of the ability to presume you’ll know exactly what they’ll do next. Influenced by a plethora of genres and artists, their music communicates their wealth of knowledge and experiences with a variety of cultures and genres. So I asked Moral One,
Can you share one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from Hip-hop culture?
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned definitely came during the time when I was around like 18 or 19. When I was younger I really found a lot of identity in Hip-hop. Now that I’m older and been around the block with Hip-hop and it’s culture that’s changed; I learned it was misplaced because my identity is in Christ. However, the valuable lesson came during that time when I saw the ways Hip-hop has always embraced diversity. You were able to be yourself in Hip-hop and I think Chicago taught me a lot about diversity, but what I’ve enjoyed most is that you’re able to be yourself in Hip-hop culture.
You guys have posted some of the different vinyl you own on Instagram. What is one of your favorite vinyl you have and how has this vinyl or artist influenced the way you approach creating music? Is there a vinyl in particular you can point to that reveals this influence for “The Upside Eternal”?
There actually was one that I was going to post but I didn’t do it because we were very selective about what we posted concerning The Upside Eternal. One of my top 25 records that I’ll probably take to my grave will be LCD Soundsystem’s sophomore album,’The Sound of Silver’. It influenced me during one of my production waves for the Upside Eternal. I really like the way James Murphy treats drums, treats percussion, and treats synthesizers. Mainly in the way how all those happen live and in person. With James, everything has its place. Drums will have their space, synths have their space – each thing will have it’s space. I really appreciate it and it inspired a lot of the production aspects of The Upside Eternal.
Is this the most rare and exciting record to talk about? Probably not. But LCD Soundsystem and other creative indie artists have inspired ALERT312 way more than hip hop music has the last 5 years.
As you look back across your catalogue, what kind of growth are you most proud of as you experience and asses your fourth project?
One thing I could really assess from the first record to now would be the melodic growth that both of us really pushed ourselves to achieve. We’ve pushed ourselves to have melodic movements and musical movements to really grow us and stretch us and to have those be the lyrical parts of the songs. Challenging ourselves to not be afraid to not rap or sing and to let music play that part and not feel forced that you have to say something or do something, but really let music do that for us. I think that’s been the biggest growth for us.
What do you most want people to know about your new label, HiFi Native? Describe HiFi Native and what it stands for in six words.
It’s birthed from our identity with Christ and within Hip-hop culture. The motto is taken from being both locally and eternally minded and grounded and we wanted to use art in all its aspects – not just musical but visual as well and with artistic events. It’s a value of ours to be rooted in Chicago and be intentional about using the arts to reach Chicago with the gospel. We don’t have the same purpose as a lot of others labels or groups, you won’t see us pursuing the same kinds of things like bigger venues, large tours. We actually want to grow smaller – or should I say, grow deeper – in Chicago. What you’ll see that will be different is that we’re not gonna sign artists, but we’re going to be signing projects. Rappers, singers, videographers, projects. In a few words, HiFi Native is: Art. People. Community.
As we ended our time, I thought it was best to end asking Moral One what their audience can look forward to seeing come from HiFi Native in the future. Succinct and anticipation inducing, I’ll leave you all with this.
We’ll eventually be introducing our events brand within HiFi. In the works is a full-fledged release party for upside eternal as well as two more videos.
Buy Alert312 “The Upside Eternal” at iTunes.