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[News] Interview with I.James.Jones and NaNa of The Names Are Known

 Private The Names Are Known - Known P.S.A. (prod. by Fresh Kils) single cover art

The This One Goes To Eleven… 11th anniversary compilation album has been out for a little over a week now and it has been a great success so far. Exclaim! co-premiered the album and it has gotten support on an album and track basis from blogs like CityonmyBack.com, Peace magazine, DJBooth.net, Pigeons & Planes, Potholes In My Blog, Elementality, All in a Day’s Work, and many more….

Now that people have had a chance to marinate with the album though, we’re going to delve into the personalities behind the album and learn a little about their music and process. The kind of questions I’ve always wanted to ask the groups whose music I have loved enough to support on an ongoing, repeat basis here at The Kitchen.

To begin with, we’re gonna kick things off with I.James.Jones and NaNa of Toronto hip-hop duo, The Names Are Known. This feel apropos because, not only did they contribute “Known P.S.A.”, the track that kicks off the This One Goes… album, it also kicked off the 11-day promo launch campaign on August 1 with this excellent instagram video trailer.

James and NaNa are so cool, they not only made that trailer but also graciously consented to produce IG video trailers for three of the four other pre-release singles from the album, often under incredible time constraints, so I will be forever indebted to them for their time and support of the #DK11 album project. And now a few words with them on their group and the music they make:

DK: Talk about The Names Are Known, how y’all came together as a group, the concept behind the names etc.

James: in a lot of ways there was already a group before there was The Names Are Known. NaNa and I linked up back when I was throwing the goodpeople party (Honour Rebel), and he was throwing good music parties. We had known of each other, but one night we both found ourselves crashing at the house of a “legendary” Toronto hip hop figure (lol, I won’t name them just to keep some mystery). By morning we had hatched plans to build together, and make goodpeople and good music sibling parties. From there, there were years of twists and turns, and the “group” might have had other members at times but with NaNa and I there was always loyalty and understanding.

So Names came out of years of parties and making music but it became Known about 4 years ago when I reached out to NaNa for guidance and collaboration in developing a project. It didn’t take long for the realization that this would be a partnership to set in and from there we went to work.

NaNa: Yeah, it cemented once we started working together while I had my stint at Czehoski’s. James was my/the host of the night as I dj’ed. From there we looked at approaching things as that type of duo. Whenever I got gigs James would serve as the host and down the line James asked me if I would be interested in helping him come up with material and the direction on his next album. While in the studio he suggested that it would be dope if we took the whole dj/host thing to another level and form a group so we started recording material. From there we started brainstorming on exactly what we were going to be, how we wanted to represent ourselves and how we thought ‘the masses’ should receive us. Nowadays you don’t see hip hop groups anymore, we see crews and we really are about the essence of what a Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul, Slum Village, Outkast & A Tribe Called Quest just to name a few represented. James had an established name as drum & bass/jungle toaster/emcee and battle emcee and I have a rep as a dope dj, hence The Names Are Known.

DK: Yeah, you’re definitely known as a hot DJ in Toronto, Nana. I met you through mutual friends and always knew you as DJ who does your thing in the city but even close friends of yours didn’t know too much about your MCing career vs what you do as a DJ until recently. Was that deliberate?

NaNa: Without sounding brash I am going to say that I am hip hop. Through its inception I have participated in each of its facets: break dancer, graf artist, emcee and dj. Growing up around emcees they always made me spit when cyphers started. In school I was good at creative writing, so I have always had a rhyme book. When I started making beats and people where dissing them (lol) while being in Toronto by way of Waterloo, Masia One was actually the first to tell me I should start spitting on my own beats. Then as I got older and super self-conscious as an emcee – emcees like Tumi & Zubz (South Africa), Moka Only & of course, I.James encouraged me to keep spitting. Other than that I have always been about reinventing myself and as an artist i believe its our job to find new forms of inspiration

James: a note on NaNa the emcee. He has had joints for years (even on some of his older records), but before we started doing this there had to be a solid year or more where NaNa would just pull out a gem at the end of a night where he’d be deejaying. I think he is saving many of those gems. Maybe for a NaNa solo LP?

DK: The J(N)Ames mixtape was what really got me open on you guys. The album is based around a Dilla theme and you’ve never been shy about your love of Dilla and Wu-Tang. Can you talk about about how Dilla inspired the J(N)AMES mixtape project?

James: There is a post I did on my website called J(N)AMES is EVERYWHERE that talks about some of this.

NaNa: My music work ethic, output and my carefree approach to trying new things spawns from Dilla (and RZA) so any chance I get I try to pay homage to both of them.

DK: When I asked you for a track for the comp, even I didn’t expect what you gave me. “Known P.S.A.” is incredible: from the production feel to the rhymes. Can you talk about how the track came together and what it was like working with Fresh Kils on the track and what was the inspiration behind it?

James: Thank you and we’re glad you like it. Kils is awesome. That concept was really just some KNOWN on some mothership.

NaNa: Kils is a close friend of mine and longtime collaborator. He gave me beat tape, I picked the beats that I knew James and I could kill. I played this one for James first, he asked me what the concept was. I said there wasn’t one and just to follow my lead. We recorded everything in my home studio: recorded, mixed, edited and cut everything there and James insisted I put cuts on the track (as he always does, lol) and bong bong! I asked him what we should call it and the rest is history.

DK: Finally, Nana you’ve always waved the flag hard for traditional, underground hip-hop but I’ve noticed an evolution in not only what you play out when you DJ but your attitudes to other beat-oriented sounds that are competing with hip-hop in the marketplace now. Can you talk about that evolution within yourself as a musical & creative person who reps hard for hip-hop?

James: NaNa has always really been a source for the wide ranges of the musical universe, and the sounds that constitute the far reaches of the hip hop fabric. In a lot of ways I think the audience has finally started catching up to NaNa and I think that gives him more room to play.

Nana: I really like James’ answer, lol but like I said before I am hip hop and really I like everything or at least, I have an appreciation for all types of hip hop or styles/genres of music for that matter. My foundation is traditional boom bap/underground hip hop, I love it and will always honour it. James could attest to me taking us on a musical ride that includes pretty much every sound under the sun and at first that was me thinking we should adjust in order for the masses to hear what we had to offer. Music is all about feeling, colours, vibes to me and I can admit to being all over the place at times or simply enjoy so much music that I would like to contribute to what I am influenced by. But at the end of the day it all spawns from the traditional boom bap foundation, that’s my measure and the irony is that’s what people expect to hear from me as a dj which is cool but should never be expected but I feel that that’s what they need to hear from The Names Are Known.

DK: Are there any final thoughts you guys want to share about the group or the “Known P.S.A.” track?

James: Thank you for your support, it is deeply felt.

NaNa: Play that sh-t loud and keep it on repeat (*in my I.James voice*)

Haven’t heard “Known P.S.A.” yet? Play it right here:

Missed hearing the This One Goes To Eleven… album? CLICK HERE to listen to it in FULL. Then CLICK HERE to see some of the other tracks and remixes by The Names Are Known that have been featured on Different Kitchen.

Follow The Names Are Known online: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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#DK11: The album, This One Goes To Eleven… OUT NOW

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