To enter the Ruff Kutz compilation is to enter the mesmerizing and mystical univers of Wordsound, an independent label founded in 1994 by visionary and multiverse artist SH Fernando alias Spectre. Originally released on cassette in an edition of only 100 copies in 1998 – when Wordsound was the most subversive label based in Brooklyn New York – Ruff Kutz can be see – 16 years later – as the quintesence of the «subterranean» Hip Hop – Dub from the 90’s.
WARNING : If you are liable to addiction, please don’t start to listen at the Wordsound productions.
Laura : Ruf Kutz was originally a mix tape published in 1998 in 100 copies, why did you decide to make a reissue with « Pan » 16 years later and why did you choose the vinyl format ?
Skiz: Actually, Pan approached me with the idea to do a vinyl reissue of Ruff Kutz. I had just about forgotten about this mix, which I had originally done 17 years ago, so I was kind of puzzled why they wanted to put this out when I had so much better material in my back catalog. But eventually I thought it might be a good idea, since Ruff Kutz was so obscure, but still so ahead of its time.
Laura : When we listen to Ruff Kutz we find most of the elements which define the identity of Wordsound at this time : experimentation, hip hop and dub, independent or unknown artists, obscure beats, heavy bass, and the feeling that the music is inhabited by an external force. Can we define « Ruf Kutz » as the quintessence of Wordsound in the 90’s ?
Skiz : Well, all of the material on Ruff Kutz came from that very formative era of 1994-1998, when WordSound was just starting, so I think it does really establish our sound. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of these tracks were analog and produced in analog studios like Bill Laswell’s Greenpoint Studios, so they have a very different feel from today’s stuff, which is mostly made on a laptop and straight to digital. Back then, Bill used to let us use his studio after hours, so we would typically be in there all night, and for me, working at night captures this amazing energy, when all kinds of bizarre things happen. So, yes, I would say that there is a certain vibration that these tracks share.
Laura : This year Wordsound celebrates 21 years, the absolute majority age in the USA ! You have 70 records produced beside the « Black Hoods »productions and you’re still running Wordsound as an independent label. How did you see the future of Wordsound ?
Skiz : In reality, WordSound is no longer an active label. We put out most of our catalog during the 90s, and a little bit into the first decade of 2000s. But the last record I put out was my nephew Johnny’s album (Firn/Energys) because I had promised him–before his untimely death–that I would release some of his music. I thought that would be a fitting record to kind of take us out. But people are still discovering the back catalog so many years later and I think because WordSound never got noticed in its time, this will continue to happen. Look at Ruff Kutz: from an obscure tape that I released only 100 copies of, people today are picking up on it and it is introducing them to the rest of the WordSound catalog, which is a great thing.
Skiz Fernando strikes a singular figure in the music industry. After graduating from Harvard and the Columbia University School of Journalism, he began his career as a music journalist for The Source magazine. He parlayed his knowledge and expertise in the field of hip-hop into the critically-acclaimed book, The New Beats: Exploring the Music, Culture & Attitudes of Hip-Hop (Anchor/Doubleday, 1994), which has become an important document of the culture behind rap music.
After becoming familiar with the music industry through his work on the book, he borrowed $1000 from a friend, producer Bill Laswell, and started his own label, WordSound Recordings, in December 1994. A long time club and radio deejay, Fernando had by this time become deeply involved in music production, and the purpose of the label was to create an independent outlet for the music he and his friends were making. Over the last five years WordSound has released 35 full-length albums, running the gamut from dub and hip-hop to electronic and Middle Eastern music. WordSound is distributed in the U.S. by Caroline and in Europe by EFA with various licensing deals in Japan, Austrailia/New Zealand, and South America.
WordSound has created a very close-knit and creative community worldwide, collaborating with such artists as Bill Laswell, Prince Paul, DJ Vadim, Kevin Martin, Mick Harris, Style Scott (Dub Syndicate), Scott Harding (New Kingdom), Umar Bin Hassan (Last Poets), DJ Rob Swift (X-ecutioners), and the Jungle Brothers, to name a few.
Last year, Fernando started another label, Black Hoodz, dedicated solely to vinyl releases. He runs both Hoodz and WordSound, single-handedly, from the WordSound compound in Brooklyn. In his spare time, he creates music under such pseudonyms as Spectre, The Ill Saint, Slotek, Special Dark, The Eye, The Mystic, and The High Priest. His byline has also appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Vibe.