Before the internet, hip-hop was the home of frequent million dollar deals and private jets. It was a time where record companies actually had control of the recording industry and platinum albums were still a reoccurring thing. Before the 360 deal was invented, Strong Arm Steady was there, rolling with Xzibit during a different era of the west coast.
Fast forward to 2012 and the internet is a new tool in this hip-hop game with albums being sold for free. But they’re still here, kicking up dust. Xzibit’s gone but the remaining members Mitchy Slick, Phil Da Agony and Krondon are left. Planet Asia and Chace Infinite remain frequent collaborators. The most consistently collaborative members of the squad, Krondon and Phil Da Agony, met us at The Roebling Tea Room nestled in the heart of Williamsburg to discuss their latest album Stereotype. A great cohesive project, the album features key figures of what fans would call The New West movement–emcees like Dom Kennedy, Skeme, Black Hippy and Casey Veggies. It’s a collaborative album with Boston-based beatsmith Statik Selectah, who provides a solid mix of soulful yet uptempo beats to match the hard broiled delivery of Strong Arm Steady’s revolving members.
Like camouflage, Strong Arm Steady has adapted to their environment while also sticking to their roots. The group has stuck through some bleek times, like their record deal with Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith records. This pairing resulted in a five year delay on their second album, Arms & Hammer, which still didn’t receive the same love that their previous joint album with Madlib did. But, it’s a misstep that has changed their recording process. Arms & Hammer was actually recorded prior to Stony Jackson, which caused the offset in reaction from fans. “We could’ve said, ‘We’re in a different time, let’s do something else.’ That’s why with this album there were no compromises,” says Krondon. “I was a stubborn asshole on this album. Some records I would just say ‘no, no’ and some records I said ‘no’, made it anyway.”
Now that the gang is back with Stones Throw Records/EMI, their new project is closer to the superior grade quality of In Search Of Stony Jackson, which was their first collaborative album with their highly regarded label mate Madlib. With their album, Stereotype, whose title takes a stab at the cliche’ imagery of west coast hip-hop, there is a vivid depiction of a calm California day in the life of a newly resurrected west coast scene. It’s a new day and everyone is eager to be more authentic than before. No smoke and no mirrors. Now, Kendrick Lamar is making songs with Dr. Dre and Odd Future is creating a different lane. The independent grind is unmatched. West coast hip-hop is very relevant again. Strong Arm‘s addictive lead single, “Classic,” is a smooth gem which speaks on their sustainability. The black & white visual, directed by Jerome D, captures them in their comfort zone, as the camera flips back and forth to various classic cars. For how long they’ve been gunning, it’s apparent that they love this hip-hop shit. As Phil Da Agony passionately spits on the song: “For the people, who the fuck you think we making this for?!”
According to Krondon, the most vocal and visible of the group, the album’s display of The New West Movement was organic. “We took Skeme on tour with us a year and a half ago. I feel like he’s amazing,” says Krondon. “I’ve known Dom since 2006 and Casey Veggies since he was 16.” Though long term fans would like to put them in a box, Strong Arm Steady is comfortable creating music with all types of emcees, young and old, considerably conscious or street. “The generation before us, I feel like the cats on the west coast didn’t respect what was after them, ” says Krondon. Though he respected his predecessors he remains truthful about the state the west was in. “You gotta respect what comes after you. That’s like the little homie on the block and you on the block. If you don’t embrace the brother, he’s going to work harder, he’s going to hustle harder,” he continues. “You’re going to be obsolete. He sell it for cheaper. He’s going to knock you out,” he says. “We were inspired by these cats who went from 0 to 60, in the sense of Dom and Casey and those cats.” Former member, Chace Infinite, who also appears on the album, now manages A$AP Rocky. In a way, they’ve all been very accepting of a newer leaf in hip-hop. Blending with the times has given them longevity.
Although Krondon and Phil are accepting of the newcomers, their predecessors weren’t always so generous. Remember when there were rumbles at Dr. Dre for not reaching down to the brooding emcees during a California drought? Recently things have been extremely different. In an interview between Snoop Dogg and Strong Arm Steady on his network GGN, he humbly credited Krondon with his ghostwriting efforts on “GangbandRookie.” Krondon wrote the song for the Dogg Father himself and Snoop‘s words opened up the floor for Krondon to speak on writing for others like The Clipse and Xzibit. It’s a big topic in hip-hop ever since writer Dream Hampton outed Jay Electronica and Stic.Man for writing on Nas’ Untitled album. While speaking on the art of ghostwriting, stepping into another mans shoes for a day, Phil Da Agony spoke about Jay-Z writing “Still Dre” for both Dr.Dre and Snoop Dogg. “I’m glad Jay-Z did write that,” Phil said barely lifting his eyelid above his pupils. “Here’s a east coast dude who wrote a west coast record. He’s the best for that.” Krondon chimes in, “If it wasn’t for artists like Snoop, or X to the Z, I wouldn’t be here. It’s a humbling thing,” he shrugs. “For a Snoop Dogg to trust me to write his songs bro, and for him to talk about it on GGN. No rap nigga would do that ever.”
If Stereo Type is indicative of anything, it is one groups’ ability to prevail in hip-hop without general mainstream acceptance. They’ve operated below the radar long enough and now that hip-hop is in favor of the underground it is their time to shine. Get used to them, they’re not going anywhere.
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