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Ground Up: Staying on Mission.

December 11, 2015
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GroundUpSmall02Ground Up is at one of their favorite local haunts, Fishtown’s Loco Pez. But alas, it seems as if it’s everyone’s favorite taco spot this day. The two-thirds of Ground Up present – MC Al Azar and DJ/producer Bij Lincs, head across the street to the outdoor patio of another favorite of theirs, Cedar Point Bar and Kitchen. The remaining member, MC Malakai McDowell, couldn’t make it to the eatery. So, between mouthfuls of chicken and waffles, the rest of the group discuss with our Morgan James what’s changed and what’s remained the same since they last appeared in this magazine and their latest album, Seventeen Eleven. Portraits by Morgan Smith/Phobymo.

The last time JUMP featured Ground Up, it was the year 2012. Is this the same Ground Up as then?

Azar: Yes and no. We’ve all grown as people and musicians. Our music has evolved. We have evolved. I think our outlooks on the world have become more mature. Our perspectives have changed on certain things and I think our music reflects that. But with that being said, I think at heart we’re all the same good-willed happy people we got into this game as. We’re just a little older, a little wiser, a little hungrier.

You are prolific artists to say the least. How many musical projects has it been?

Azar: This would make it lucky number 13 in the fall with Seventeen Eleven. Crazy.

Bij: We’ve been working very hard to get to this moment where we can confidently not call it a mixtape. I think we’ve been working on something that I think people are definitely going to notice the difference between our previous releases.

Azar: Also, we released 12 of our last projects within a five to six year span. We’re putting the brakes on the amount of music released and focusing on what gets released and the quality of the music.

What’s the significance of the title of your upcoming release, Seventeen Eleven

Azar: 1711 is the house where we first started making music together. It’s in North Philadelphia [on] Montgomery Avenue, right off of Temple’s campus. It’s not necessarily where we all met, but it’s where Ground Up basically came to fruition. We all became best friends and brothers under that roof. Having all of that creativity and drive under one roof was so inspirational. As an artist to feed off of all of our friends’ excitement… it was just a magical time.

After listening to your recent single, “Right Now,” the production is distinctly different than your previous work.

Bij: Production wise, Seventeen Eleven is very different. There’s a new dynamic people are going to hear out of my production. I want people to see where I’m at right now. I want them to see where we’re at and how we’re working together differently. There are also a couple songs where I’m singing on the chorus and doing backing vocals. I think that’s going to be something new people haven’t heard from me yet. Usually my voice is in the music. It’s not really in the lyrics.

How do you manage to keep the creative juices flowing? Stay inspired?

Azar: We take a lot of pride in the fact that my neighbor is my merchandiser. My roommate’s my producer. My best friends are my managers and they live down the street. That all helps.

Bij: 1711 was a very good business formula for us. Even though we don’t live there anymore, we still do everything the same as we did at 1711. We still all live together. We still have the beat studio, the recording studio, all of those elements. A lot of friends coming in and out all day. Nothing’s changed in that regard. It’s all about everyone working together to help and support each other.

How important is the visual aspect of your art?

Azar: I can’t underestimate how important it is. Particularly in 2015, it may be more important to our fans than our actual music to be quite frank. That hurts as a lyricist to say that. We’re in such an image-driven world right now where shock value and shock videos can make you famous overnight because of it. You can’t ignore the power of the visual aspects of this game we’re playing. We try very hard not to ignore or neglect it. It’s why we’ve made countless videos that haven’t seen the light of day because we take so much pride in our visual aesthetic. We’ve taken losses on money because it doesn’t meet the standard we’ve set for ourselves. The whole package is what is going to get us to the promise land.

Bij: At the same time, sometimes you can’t think about it too much, the visual stuff. You just have to be yourself, almost, and really embrace who you are to make something interesting that people will want to also be as well. I feel like we do that very well.

How does Ground Up stay grounded?

Azar: It’s not always easy. But it’s not hard when you’re surrounded by your best friends every day. Every day we wake up we work on music. If we’re not working on music…

Bij – We’re watching “Naked and Afraid.”

Azar: (laughs) Yeah that’s true. We stay grounded by being with good people. I call my mom every day. Or try to. And we work very hard. We’re not often distracted by things that aren’t the mission.

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