Back in February, Adam Farag sat at the bar of scuzzy East Village drink spot The Library with an envelope stuffed with $500 in singles. It was early afternoon and he was alternating pints of beer with whiskey shots while telling stories about touring with the Wu-Tang Clan, recording in El-P’s basement, and partying with The Weeknd. The wad of bills, he said, was for a strip club he planned on hitting up later that night. The drinks flowed a little too freely, however, and Farag, who splits his time evenly between his Toronto home-base and NYC, never got to spread his singles wealth around.
A few weeks later, talking on the phone from Toronto, Farag laughs about the over-imbibing, saying he ended up blacking out on his couch at home at 8 p.m. and suffering through a J Dilla tribute gig he was performing at the next day. He adds that he had to make do with hitting up a “more gutter” strip club in Philadelphia a few days later; New York strippers, he says with a laugh, have “less bullet wounds.”
As befits the stories Farag told that afternoon, the 28-year-old rapper and producer is something of an unseen hip-hop industry veteran, having been involved with a stream of labels and artists for nearly a decade. Now he’s focussing on his solo career in earnest, recording as 4th Pyramid and starting with this month’s release of The Pyramid Scheme, a full-length project featuring golden era rap live-wire Greg Nice, boom-bap fanatic Marco Polo, and The Rub’s Cosmo Baker. In the interests of self-promotion and bar banter, we got Farag to recount some of his favorite career stories.
The other afternoon you mentioned going on tour with M.O.P. and Lil’ Fame pulling a prank…
That was hilarious. We were in Buttfuck, Arkansas; it was a Scion tour. We went up in this truck stop, like this little thing it was like white America at its finest. And Fame just walks in and yells, “Alright, it’s a motherfucking stick up!” He does it in some straight-up M.O.P. “Ante Up” voice. Literally, people started jumping on the ground! We was laughing hysterically, but afterwards we were like, “We’re lucky this wasn’t West Bubblefuck America, ’cause we’d have got shot or some shit.”
You’ve toured with a ton of artists over the years, right?
Yeah, I’ve toured with the whole Wu-Tang Clan a few years back, Big Daddy Kane, Redman, Too $hort, EPMD, Bun B, Nice & Smooth, Black Sheep, Buckshot, a lot of shows. The Pharcyde, that was fun, but a long time ago. I was on the road as a host, as a rapper, as a DJ I’ve gotten around. And Digital Underground Humpty Hump, Shock G, he is the fuckin’ man! He was like the first O.G. to school me when I was really young and thought I knew all the shit. He was the keyboardist for MURS at the time. It was fuckin’ great.
Did you get to learn a lot from just observing these other artists on tour?
Yeah, if you go on tour with someone, you can instantly tell why someone’s winning and someone’s losing. So I feel if I fuck up in my career or make a shitty song, it’s more of a brutal reality to me. I’ve seen all that I have no reason to suck whatsoever. It was like the ultimate hip-hop college.
So which of those artists got the most girls on tour?
Too $hort. Honestly. The crazy shit with him is, he’s a cool motherfucker even though his persona is so larger than life. He’s not chasing it, it’s all around him. That’s the real deal right there.
How much of a mess was the Wu-Tang Clan’s tour bus?
You know, when you roll with Wu-Tang, it’s so many people it’s like a Tasmanian devil rolls into the room, that’s what it looks like. But the busses were pretty clean. Actually, the dirtiest busses were the Def Jux tour. It was Cannibal Ox, me, J-Live, and a bunch of motherfuckers, and that bus smelled awful. If you went to the bunk area it was nauseating, like why would you even sleep there?
How did you get involved with Def Jux?
I was working with a guy named C Rayz Walz at the time and he was signed, so then I met El-P ’cause the studio for Def Jux was in El-P’s basement and he started hearing some of my songs I’d recorded on my own. He put out a single [2004’s “Aquatic”], then subsequently I worked with other artists on the label from about ’04 to ’06. I was working with that crew a lot.
What was the Def Jux experience like in those days?
Honestly, it was really a fun time. It was special. I was a big fan going into it; it was my first real experience getting to put out records, even though it was still indie and it was just putting out vinyls, but the basement was crazy. At any given time you could be in there with Cannibal Ox, Camu Tao (rest in peace), Metro from SA Smash, Cage would be up in there… It was a good time to be around them then, ’cause they had a lot of success. It showed me the pace you can work at. It was a really fun era.
What was the hip-hop hypeman competition you hosted?
Ha ha, that was Scion again. It was a search for the best hypeman. The Scion people had put this together and it was like me as the host and Ricky Powell and Skillz and Ant Marshall from the Lyricist Lounge and DJ Clark Kent. We went to three cities two years in a row looking for the best hypeman. I went into it like, “What kind of fuckin’ person is really going to sign up to be the best hypeman in America? That’s aiming pretty low in life!” But some people came out, and one kid in particular, this little midget called Freak Nasty, he’s an amazing hypeman. He gave me a new found respect for the discipline. But that shit was just a ridiculous time other people were getting dressed up in capes and looking like Casper The Ghost. It was kinda like Weirdo-Fest USA.
What was your name as a host?
I was Brian Sea-Dread. That’s what I went by for that one. It was one of my many aliases.
So who is the ultimate hip-hop hypeman?
I think it’s someone who’s gotta have wild energy. You have to have more personality than the rapper in one sense, ’cause you’re just a hypeman. Flavor Flav embodies the hypeman—he’s never the rapper, but he’s just as well known. He pulled it off.
When you tour your own album, are you gonna have a hypeman?
If I can afford one! I gotta see what this tour looks like. But for South By Southwest I’m going out with Rich Kidd, a fellow rapper and producer from Toronto who will be partly there as a hypeman and partly to give him a little shine.
What’s the hip-hop scene like in Toronto at the moment?
It’s a crazy place to be right now, ’cause it has a small mentality but we’re really dominating a lot of different genres in a lot of ways. Clubs are out of control and my friends from New York who come up say it reminds them of the ’80s and ’90s here. I think people are starting to realize; this will probably be a time you look back on.
The Weeknd is also from Toronto and getting a lot of hype. Do you know him?
We hang out here and there, we party. Now that they’ve really taken off, I haven’t seen him for a while. XO is his clique, and those guys party all across Toronto and shit. They have an incredible movement out here. I’ve been to some crazy rooftop parties with them, just a whole lot of fuckin’ benders we’ve gone on.
Back in New York, you also work with Cosmo Baker. How did you guys first hook up?
Cosmo Baker is my motherfucking man. I hooked up through Pharoahe Monch; Cosmo was a DJ on his tour for a while. I had heard about him for years, and I had heard about The Rub whever I was in New York you couldn’t really escape not hearing about him. We were in Detroit for someone’s birthday at a strip club yeah, it’s another gutter strip club experience! and one of the strippers was like, “You look like my ex-husband and shit… ” So that night me and Cosmo just had a wild time. And the Sheen Bros [the duo’s production name] came up when we were just fuckin’ around. Lo and behold, the mixtape series we put out caught on, and we put out an EP last year that was well received.
Is working with another producer a liberating experience?
Yeah, especially with Cosmo, ’cause he has that real veteran DJ perspective, especially with party rocking. I really benefit from working with him because he’s such a seasoned veteran in the clubs and he really knows what sounds are going to catch on. We do like dance records and shit like that. But Sheen Bros is another project I’m not really trying to do a rap dance record. I’ll keep my rap shit as my rap shit.
How does your solo album differ from the stuff you’ve done before?
I think my new album is me showcasing the writing. The production is good, but this is an album for people who are still into the writing of rhymes and the thought-provoking side of things. I don’t know if I’m going to make another album this heavy. There are songs that took months to write; songs that revamped themselves over the course of three years. It’s got a lot of layers and it’s not really something that in one or two listens you’re going to grasp.
Is it harder than ever to gain recognition for an album like that?
You almost have to be a social person to be a great artist these days, and I’m not sure every great artist was a social person, like 40 or 50 years ago. It’s hard to get attention, even with a major label [4th Pyramid’s Silk Ivory imprint goes through Universal].
Is that frustrating?
Yeah, but I try not to be that guy—like, the frustrated rapper. I mean, I see it, ’cause a lot of my peers get frustrated. But, come on, you’re a rapper, my man. If you really wanted to get a job that’s so secure and shit, you could have done that. I think if you’re making money and shit you shouldn’t really be too frustrated. Like someone’s working at Burger King and what it might take me like a half hour to make on stage, it takes them a week. Enjoy it. You got to have some perspective.