Compiled and edited by Michael Krieger for The Higher Plane
The kid OnCue hit my radar a little while back when I had seen that he flipped the Dave Matthews joint ‘Crash into Me’ into something seriously ill. I then found out he was affiliated with the good homie Christopher Truth and the fellas over at The Press Play Show, but I also took some time to peep more of his music.
The Connecticut-bred MC brings a little different flavor to the table, and on his latest mixtape, Cuey Sings the Blues, his versatility is on full display. In the interview, we talk about that versatility, getting personal on records, success in today’s music business and more. Also, he just let loose a new track from his new project due at the end of November, so make sure to grab that at the end of the interview.
THP: Fill our readers in about who OnCue is and how you got involved doing this music thing.
OnCue: My name is OnCue, and I been grinding for a bit now. Slowly starting to see some success, finally. Started very young, very young. Started writing my own rhymes at the age of 9 years old. I daydreamed in front of the TV all day idolizing and imitating what I saw on MTV, and Rap City the Basement. I immediately fell in love with this music. I also had a older brother [by 7 years] so I caught onto Hip-hop when I was still a toddler almost.
THP: It’s rare to find a white rapper from Connecticut to gain this headway. Has that background made your entrance into the industry more difficult?
OnCue: Yes, of course. On every level possible it’s harder. It’s way more difficult to gain people’s respect. Most consumers and tastemakers, as much as they pride themselves on finding the next “big thing,” still take everything for face value. Nothing more and nothing less. But on the contrary, when I did start breaking through certain barriers, it was also easy to gain a decent amount of ground earlier on because I do stick out like a sore thumb. Most rappers are not white, and most of them aren’t from Connecticut. None are — matter of fact [laughs].
THP: From listening to CSTB, a few things really stand out. Mainly, your versatility on the mic and determination in your voice. Discuss how you formed your style.
OnCue: My style probably came from the influences I was listening to growing up. When I was a kid I was a big DMX, Jay-Z fan. That whole Def Jam movement in early 2000’s was my “golden age” for Hip-hop. I’d buy a CD if it had the Def Jam logo on the back anything from Hard Knock Life Vol. 2 to Young Gunz. Simply because of the Def Jam logo, I bought College Dropout, arguably one of my favorite albums of all-time. A lot of my earlier rock influences came from my father. Later on, I caught onto the rock/indie/alt bug back being an emotional teenager in early high school trying to swoon women.
THP: Do you ever find it difficult to develop hard bars and melodic hooks, or is it something that comes natural?
OnCue: When I was growing as a writer, as a human being and as a artist, it became difficult. I think I finally found “my voice” so things are coming easier with every song written. Not saying I’m perfect, I just feel like artistically I’ve passed a point, where I kind of know what the hell I’m doing now.
THP: It seems that you bear your soul on every track. When you go in to create a song do you view the track as a blank landscape? Describe your creative process for us.
OnCue: A lot of the CSTB records I choose the sample, melody riffs and I’d tell the guys “Yo go in, build off this. This is a skeleton.” The chord structures and melodies I immediately say yes or no to. If I don’t like the chords much, I’ll trash the beat. From there, depending on the type of instrumental, I’ll start with a verse to set the tone. Most times, I start with a chorus and go backwards. I love lyricism, but to me the chorus is still the most important piece to a song from a marketers stand point and for a music fan.
THP: An MC who comes to mind for having built a career off personal, introspective tracks is Slug of Atmosphere. Who have been some of your musical influences?
OnCue: I can definitely point out who inspired me to talk about “me” a lot. I was a huge Budden fan growing up. His self-titled album and the Mood Muzik‘s. I loved when Kanye talked about his family and the same with Jay. I think I gravitated toward that. It’s almost like real reality TV. A lot of us, as fans, we want to see behind the curtain. Some artists are afraid to show it, I thrive off it. My real emotions are the true fuel that sparks the flame a lot for me.
THP: Today’s hip-hop climate is extremely saturated. You seem to have discovered a way to stand out. How do you measure success in today’s climate?
OnCue: I measure success in certain ways. Artists that say they don’t measure success by a monetary system is a lying. Therefore, income is key, no matter what. Rent doesn’t pay itself, nor do the rest of the bills. Performance money has been a good friend to me as of late, but also I tend to measure success by the type of response I get from my fans. It isn’t out of the ordinary for someone to reach out via twitter or Facebook and be like “I relate to that song.” That’s such a huge sign of success to me.
THP: Piggybacking off that last question, Wiz Khalifa is an interesting model for success in this new era of hip-hop. Most of his growth came as an independent artist outside of his former label situation with Warner. I think he is a great example because he not only has an online buzz, but a real, tangible cult-like following. In today’s era, do you feel one is more important than the other, or do they go hand in hand?
OnCue: Having an online buzz and true loyal fan base should go hand in hand. Often times, it doesn’t. But if you’re an artist and find away to really strike when the iron is hot, you’re one of the lucky ones. I hope to follow in some similar fashion. Kanye hasn’t exactly been publicly claiming he likes Cuey Sings the Blues, so Wiz is definitely someone to look up to at this point in my career.
THP: Let’s switch gears and talk about CSTB a little more. What are some obstacles you faced to even get a project like CSTB out to he masses? How did you overcome those obstacles?
OnCue: I’m some how making it work with no big feature or publicist retainer. In the beginning, when I first put out free material to the blogosphere/Internet it was hard. The blogs and sites are fickle, even sometimes standoffish. They get a bagillion e-mails a day. Slowly but surely I continued to e-mail and release music. Now, it’s good to say I’m gaining the support of the blogosphere, and it’s gratifying in some ways. You [blogs] play such a big role in artist exposure now a days. It’s like the blogs are either Rule 1 or Rule 2 in marketing a new artist in 2010.
THP: You flip a lot of alternative rock and pop rock songs. Is that a concept you and your producers created intentionally? Are you more comfortable going in over those types of tracks as opposed to traditional hip-hop record?
OnCue: Funny you asked it that way, because it was somewhat of both. On CSTB, the stuff I sampled, I am genuinely a fan. I admit to not being big into DMB, but I do love [the original song] “Crash”. I did a song a while back, “Inhale, Exhale” that had a big alternative undertone, and it gained so much positive feedback it was overwhelming. I was about 18 or 19 at the time and kind of didn’t know what I wanted to be artistically. So, with every new song I moved slowly toward this direction and finally feel like I’m walking in my own shoes. Hence the outro, “Finally”.