Interview: Southerngold DJ Terry Urban Responds to Downtown Records’ Santigold Cease and Desist


“I’m not trying to burn bridges. I did the mixtape because I absolutely adore Santi.”

Southerngold, the ace Santigold/Southern rap remix record that sprang loose on the internet last week, has caused its creator, Brooklyn DJ Terry Urban, no end of trouble. Last Monday, as Urban was on the verge of releasing the mix, he was served with a cease and desist order from Downtown Records, Santigold’s label. The tape leaked anyway, of course, and predictably ignited a storm of internet controversy, especially once it was pointed out in certain quarters that Downtown was also the home of Gnarls Barkley, one half of which was responsible for the Grey Album, probably the most famous pirated bit of music of all time.

Eventually, Santigold released a public statement, claiming ignorance, and vowed to get to bottom of things, a promise belied by the fact that, a week later, Urban says he’s heard nothing further from either her or her label. We called Urban to catch up on the state of his legal troubles, his original intentions–Southerngold was originally intended to be Justice remix record called Southern Justice, it turns out–and eternal font of humor that is Rick Ross.

The news as of last Thursday was that Santigold had vowed to “get to the bottom” of the cease and desist her label sent you. Has she reached out?

No (laughs). I don’t think so. I had my people contact her people and there was no contact from Santi. I think she’s on tour right now [ed: she did in fact play Terminal 5 last night]. So as far as I know she might have got the e-mail, she might have not got the e-mail, I don’t know. So I haven’t heard anything back from Santi.

Well, she did issue a statement.

Yeah, I mean–Who got that statement? You know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s confirmed, you know? I don’t even know if she knows (laughs). My understanding is this is what happened: I got a e-mail–I got a MySpace e-mail–from this random kid from, like, Purdue College or something like that. And he was like, “Hey I hit up Santi, here’s the e-mail” I left. And it was this horrendous e-mail to Santigold saying, “How could you do this? You’re scum just like the lawyers.” The e-mail was just out of control–total fan saying something to his idol. Then I guess Santi wrote back saying, “Hey slow down I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ll see what’s going on.” So maybe that’s where the e-mail came from as far as a statement?

Probably the important thing is that she didn’t send it to you. So you’re still basically operating outside the bounds of the law.

Well, the thing is that I didn’t release the mixtape. One of my friends had the mixtape and somehow it got leaked through the internet. I mean, it was bound to happen anyway, but I didn’t release the mixtape. I was still shaking in my boots at the whole cease and desist. Because I didn’t want to screw Santi over, and I didn’t want to screw with Downtown Records. ‘Cause I love everybody on the label: Justice, Mos Def, Santi, Amanda Blank–I love all them. I’m not trying to have a short buzz career. I’m trying to have longevity in the music business. I’m not trying to burn bridges. I did the mixtape because I absolutely adore Santi, and I love all the people on that label. So when I heard of the cease and desist two minutes before I was about to release the mixtape, I was like, “Oh shit this was not what I wanted.” But obviously it is what I wanted, because the press is going insane (laughs).

Well, Downtown has Gnarls Barkley on it, and one of them–Danger Mouse–released basically the most famous copyright-violating mix, ever.

Right, The Grey Album.

So it’s pretty hypocritical of them.

Totally. Their biggest selling act–well, I don’t know if it’s their biggest selling act, but it’s obviously got to be one of them. To have Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley–let’s be real here. He got big because of The Grey Album. That’s the only reason why Cee-Lo was even–that’s how they probably met. I’m not positive about that, but I’m guessing that had a lot to do with it. So for them to do a cease and desist…(laughs). It’s kind of ironic.

And you did point out in your post that Santigold has a pretty mixtaped-out persona. She’s jumping on other people’s songs, they’re jumping on hers.

For sure. Drake, Jay-Z, Diplo.

She put out a whole remix record with Diplo!

Yeah. I’m not too sure about the sample clearing there because I know she did a song called “Guns of Brooklyn”–a remake of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” one of my favorite songs. The Clash is one of my all time favorite groups. So I’m not sure if Warner is a sister or brother label of Downtown records–they might be–and maybe that’s how they got the shit cleared? But I mean, come on dude. You know what I’m saying?

So do you hate Santigold now?

No! Absolutely not! I don’t think she even knows anything about it. I mean, now she obviously knows. In my mind this is how it all started–this is the funny part. It was supposed to be Justice. It supposed to be called Southern Justice. It was supposed to be all of Justice’s beats over Southern rappers. I was gonna flip all their beats, and do that, and call it Southern Justice. But their BPMs were a little too odd for Southern rappers. It didn’t fit well. So I was reading an article–I forget what it was, it was something like “Santi’s Top 5 Songs”–and she had Project Pat’s “Chicken Heads” on there. I was like, “Wow.” Another one was Bad Brains, or B52s–random shit like that–and then it was just Project Pat (laughs), one of the most Dirty South rappers. I was like, “this is fucking great. I’m gonna use this, you know? This would be great if she saw this”–me doing a rendition of her songs as Dirty South rappers would have. So I tried to do it for her listening pleasure. And obviously for people who love hip-hop and the whole hipster scene that’s going on.

Well you did a Jay-Z/Coldplay tape, Viva La Hova, with Mick Boogie, right?

Yeah me and Mick did that together. Mick is–he’s a close friend, actually my brother almost, cause we hang out so much. We moved to Brooklyn together. So we work on music together all the time, we produce and work on mixtapes and all that stuff. And yeah, we did Viva La Hova–which was a rip off–I mean, I wouldn’t say “rip off,” it was more like an ode to Viva La Vida.

That time you cleared the samples. Or you at least got permission to do it.

Jay-Z’s assistant called us and they were like, “We want to listen to the music.” And we were like, “Oh great, it’s over, our stuff sucks, they’re not gonna like it.” (laughs) And actually, Jay loved it and sent it over to Chris [Martin], and they both absolutely adored it. It wasn’t like we got their permission or anything like that, but they just said, “We like it.” It’s mixtapes dude. We’re not making any money off it. We’re doing it for the fans. So why stop something that’s good for the artists and good for the fans to listen to?

Did you end up putting a lot of work into the tape? It doesn’t sound like you just laid vocals over the tracks.

Thank you for saying that. Because Santigold only has one or two instrumentals. So basically I had to loop and add snares, add high hats, add kick drums, I had to add a bunch of stuff and try to make it sound somewhat in tune. A couple of the beats were flipped. We completely remixed a couple of them because there was no stopping it. Santi’s stuff is very distinct. Some of her songs are completely out of control and you can’t really throw a Southern rapper over them–or anything (laughs). It was a very tough mixtape to work on.

It seems like there’s a little bit of a sense of humor on Southerngold. I laugh every time I hear that Rick Ross flip.

Of course. This is the funny thing, cause I told my friends and Mick, my business partner, I’m gonna do this CD because at first, like I was telling you before, I wanted to do the Justice thing and I wanted to just make it as ridiculous as possible and see what people think about it. There’s definitely some humor in there. Obviously the Rick Ross and the Gucci Man, all that stuff. Dirty South music is hilarious as is to the normal suburban white kid from Cleveland, Ohio. And then trying to bring it into the whole hipster crowd and mashing it up like that, obviously there’s some humor involved. How do you feel about the Rick Ross record?

Well, he’s just a hilarious character, and you put him over the most soft-batch beat on that whole album.

I’m glad that you see that, or hear that. A lot of people, they just don’t get it. You can’t take music so serious all the goddamn time. You gotta chill and have fun with it. And, you know–laugh at it.