DJ French Toast is one of the more prominent hip hop artists on Macjams. His real name is Benjamin Ingram (Benny), born 3/29/1978 in Hibbing, Minnesota. Benny currently resides in Phoenix AZ, is a truck driver hauling sand, dirt and other materials for construction. He also takes beats and words and makes another kind of construction: hip hop.
Some of my favorite DJ French Toast tracks (from years earlier) have been deleted, but before he took them off the site I was able to include two in the Macjams Music Podcast #9 highlighting hip hop and rap music, never posted as a MacJams podcast but included in the Mining The Database episode Macjams Hip hop/Rap, vol. 1. Check it out.
What are your early musical influences?
“My first real connection to music was crickets and frogs. I would sit out back on the porch and listen to nature talkin’ it up. Also birds, I loved bird songs. I guess I was little like 4 or 5 when I really started to make the connection between the sounds and music. My parents didn’t listen to music when I was growing up only the occasional song. They never had the radio on in the car. My father (Rik) hated and still hates the radio on when he is driving. They rarely watched TV and when they did it was PBS – or my mother (Jo) loves game shows in the morning. They were more talkers and person to person interactions, games and cards. So basically all my musical taste and style is my own.
“I don’t remember listening to the radio until I was 10 or so and then I loved Country. All I listened to was KNIX here in Phoenix . I made the connection between poetry and music then. This is around the same time I started to write poetry and learn to express myself in an art full way. I then pursued poetry seriously for awhile, writing whenever I had a spare moment. This kinda died down for awhile and I started to pick up on the fact that I could make sounds myself. I had a toy melodian and a recorder that I would record myself on. My father had a microphone that would plug right into the stereo and I started foolin around with sound. That was when I was hooked.
“Around this same time I also found Hiphop. The song It Takes Two was on my little portable radio one day while switching station during commercials and then I fell in love with a new music. It had soul and rhythm and most important rhyming poetry.
“In junior high I began playing the french horn and then also joined the choir. Altho I loved the brass I got frustrated with it and gave it up to be exclusively in choir and sang in a choir from then till my senior year in high school. I was in Jazz choir and actually we would do a musical every year I was in Guys ‘n Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie and West Side Story, all of which I loved being involved in. In high school my choir teacher Barbara Chase was the most wonderful and inspiring teacher. She changed my way of thinking about music and made it clear that I could make it a career if not a long term goal, that it just didn’t have to be fun in school but that there was a world on music out there. She changed my life and every kid who was privileged to know her. She died in her sleep at the age of 45 of a heart attack.
“While I was in high school my mom picked up the accordion and taught herself to play. This inspired me, showed me that music was a language and it could be read by anyone if that’s what they wanted to learn.
“I was a big pot head and still would be if it weren’t for the random drug tests.”
Random drug tests?
“No big story on the drug testing. I just started driving truck for a living and drugs/alcohol are big no no with the federal government. I can be pulled over and drug tested on the spot! So I grew up . : )
Right. Good call. Back to your earlier influences…
“While at a friends house one night we started playing some djembe hand drums. I’d never played a hand drum before and I haven’t stopped playing since. The sound and feel of it stuck with me. (More on that later.)
“After high school I set my mind to my equal passion for cooking and went to culinary arts school and got my AAS in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Phoenix and set music playing aside and became addicted to just listening.”
I, too, love cooking. What kind of cuisine do you like best?
“Tobin, you really don’t want to get me started on how I feel about cooking! I could write a book on my experiences . I don’t just love to cook, it’s in my soul, it’s what makes me happy. So I guess I need to cook. I really enjoy Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Southern American and Cuban . But really I’ve study all kinds of food. I also had thought about getting a doctorate in Mycology…”
The study of fungi!?
“The connection I think is instant gratification of art to person. With food it’s art in many forms. You can control someone’s whole day by the food you serve them. With music it’s the same way. You can impact someone’s life. I did indeed work at many restaurants: A fish market, a German spot, a couple southern soul food spots, a couple greasy spoons, a French cafe, a 4-star Italian joint, and a upscale French white table cloth spot. I started at Dennys when I was 16 and ended at a 3 star restaurant at 28. I stopped because I couldn’t make enough money to support myself without selling out to the big corporate monsters. I don’t really want to name the restaurants in public forum but if your personally interested I’ll let you know in a private email…”
How long have you had a passion of Hip hop?
“I have had a passion for hiphop and rap for about 20 years. I love rhyming poetry and I love drums… and that’s hip hop. I love the culture, the connectivity to real life, to city living, the real emotion it has. I have wanted to be a part of hiphop music the moment I realized that it was being created by real people and not mystical rock stars. I was truely in love and in lust with the Idea of being a rapper. So I started flowing and rapping to anything with a beat but as time went by I learned that I sucked at it. Not realizing that it took lots of practice and time, I gave up on it. Not until about 4 years ago did I buy my first computer, a Mac iBook G4. I had played with computers my whole life and kinda gave up on them in the 90’s when the Internet sucked and they were slow. I used the iBook to check email and didn’t even know it had GarageBand on it. I bought myself a couple turntables and a used sound studio to make mixed cds for people and then found out about GB and that I could make drum tracks on it and boom that was that. I was hooked again on making music.
“I must have spent 5 months teaching myself about computers as it was all foreign to me. I had no clue how to do anything. Then one day I had my first silly crappy beat but it was a start. I started recording my hand drums and just learning the program. I had the basement room in a three BR apartment and was working two jobs. The first as a sandwich artist in the morning at subway in an EXXON gas station and at night in a high end French restaurant. At Exxon I met the person that would change my whole outlook about hiphop: Zenith Milton. He was rappin written lyrics on his pad when I approached him with the Idea of starting a group in my basement; I drop the beats, he drops the rhymes. The first thang dropped was a joint we called Subway All Day. On a Radio Shack mic runnin’ into my turntables mixer, the beat was awful but I his vocal was nice. The first real song that we dropped was The O.H. The beat was an accidental recording of him whistling and then him saying ‘Oh.’ Before I knew anything about beat mapping, we were using my keyboard and each of us doing our part on it to drop the beat; I had the high hats and snares and he had kick and claps. Man, those were the days.”
Was “Subway” about trains or the fast food restaurant?
“It was about working in the Exxon gas station with a Subway in it and how much that sucked.”
A source of great inspiration, I imagine…
“Then I learned about the loops and how to use them and that was that. We started what would be called the Bassment Boys and stayed in my basement for 6 months recording and learning and making music. Zenith is the kinda cat that is instant family. I don’t think we had a single ill word between us in all the stress and hot ass no air conditioner on so as not to bleed into the mic. We dropped Bassmentalism in October of 2005, all from GB and it sounded pretty good for what we had to work with and the little knowledge either one of us had about production. I was working 16 hours a day then coming home and mixing or making a beat or cutting sound bites or making cd covers until I just passed out on my computer. I moved to Phoenix and things fell apart for the Bassment Boys but that CD represented a dream I had had for my whole life. That experience changed my life more than any single event. Hiphop isn’t something I listen to – it’s somethang I am. Its part of my existence, its part of my soul. When Zenith and I decided to go down separate paths, I began looking for new emcees and outlets for hiphop. Many cats have come through the studio but getting there lazy asses off the couch to be motivated has been the biggest struggle. One day I said to hell with it and started down the path of learning the art of Emceeing myself. On a drunken night a friend suggested Dj French Toast and so the toast was born.”
What do you think of the current state of hip hop?
“Great question, Tob. I think mainstream Hiphop is dead. Its all candy coated music for the masses now with little soul or realness. When you hiphop you speak for street culture and street happenings. Hiphop isn’t about race or color or sex or any other differences between people from an outside perspective. It’s about what’s on your mental sphere at that moment, what’s buggin you, what’s got your soul stirred up. Hiphop is different things to different people because its main focus is poetry, so if you can jive with what the Emcee is talkin about then you are hiphop if even for that moment. From my mind’s perspective, there is hiphop music and then there is rap and I’ve had many a heated conversation with people on this subject. Some say hiphop is a culture of people and that rap is the music made from this culture but I disagree. I think there is a Rap culture and a hiphop culture. You got the gangster heads doin gangster shit and making gangster rap then you have the conscience heads doin more heady hiphop. It’s totally different. It’s also split up between east and west coast beats: west coast seems to have more hard 4/4 time gangsta style beats as the east coast has more jazzy style of rhythms. But too me it’s now all about the club music – what can you spin at a club to make people dance – and the soul of either type of music is lost in the mass selling of a culture.
“On the other hand, the underground hiphop scene is blooming with cats like Asope Rock, Acealone, Rjd2 , Blackalicous, common, Del the funky Homosapian, Mc Paul Barman, MF doom, the roots. So many to name but there is a few you’ll never hear on mainstream radio. The underground will always be here as long as there is someone to beat box and someone to spill there soul out in the form of spoken word poetry. You can’t take hiphop away from us unless you cut off our lips.”
I enjoy the humor in some of your stuff. Do you think hip hop should include more humor?
“I don’t really wish anything from any artist in hiphop as it is personal and deeply rooted in the soul kinda music. But I can’t take myself seriously with a name like Dj French Toast,, so I try not to be too serious in my Rhymes. And I’m a really goofy dude for the most part.”
What do you think of the genre on Macjams?
“There is a handful of us consistent hiphoppers on the site. There are a lot of beat makers and djs but few vocalists, me and spitlogic, Craft, Holistic, just off the top of my head. My top beat makers are Dj Werd, Stevie J, Datafunk has some ill beats and spitlogic brings some great stuff and Diviner always comes hard with the remixes. Im not leaving anyone out to cause tension these are just off the top of my head ..Im an ol ex pot head so the mind she don’t think so well : ) I don’t think there really is a way to expand it much , Most rappers are lookin for the get rich quick road and are all about self promotion and getting their name out and it takes work on macjams to get recognized ..you actually have to care about music – silly I know. So for those cats MySpace is the spot so they can bulletin bomb people and promo themselves.
“I really love the collabs that have come to fruit on the site I have collabed with Greg D, Bud, Dj Werd, Spitlogic, Diviner, Stevie J, arachnidzone, da Pickle and I was working on an all macjams album collab when my Hard drive crashed and took all the precious data with it and all the wind out of my sails. I’m still feeling its wrath. I had literally 1000’s of hours of work gone in a flash. So kids please back up your work! ”
I’ve lost drives (and complete projects) several times. Don’t know when I’ll learn…
“My hard drive was a Lacie Disk 200 gig. It was my first external drive and it literally had everything I had ever done on it up the moment of its death. I had only backed up pictures, but none of my music files. Dude, it bummed me like I thought I could never be bummed for an inanimate object. I had 3 beats that I had painstakingly cut up and rearranged for an all Macjams project as well as all my old Bassment Boys music, some of which was never put on CD. Plus 100’s of beats I’d worked on but never used, yet. It just really put me down for about a month but in all it’s set me back 4 months total. I’ve had to start from scratch and really get my groove back. But the fresh start has brought some new and exciting beginnings.”
How has the Internet changed rap? Changed you? Changed music?
“Not much, really. It allows people to get exposure to small rappers who would have never been heard other wise. But really true underground is word of mouth. I can’t say really how it’s changed because I don’t have a reference point without the computer in music making. I’m new school to music recording and have used nothing other than my Mac to record.
What gear do you use?
“My gear is an old iBook G4 with a 512 stick in it, an external monitor, a firewire solo, Stanton headphones, Gt66 (Groove tube) Condenser Mic, Rockit 8 Monitors, 300 gig external hard drive, Key Station 88 midi keyboard, Tech 1200 and Gemini 2000 turntables with American audio mixer. I also use Grado Needles. There hooked up to a pair of house speakers and that’s about it. I use Logic Express. Once you figure it out there’s no other way to go. I have no formal training in music making and am 100% self taught. I make my own beats usually with a mixture of Idrum, loops and piano roll.
What are your musical aspirations?
“If given the chance I’d like to solely produce again. I’m happiest makin’ beats and lettin’ the pros handle the lyrics, altho I’ve got an alright group of people who dig my French Toast stuff so I’ll still spit for fun.”
Are you planning on marketing your stuff on the Internet?
“I’m not planning on ever selling or making money from music. Music should be free. So I’m not really planning on any marketing in the future.”
What is your favorite Macjams track?
“As far as my own music is concerned I really like it all. I know that sounds a little big-headed but I make fun hiphop, that’s what is enjoyable to my ear first. If you happen to like it, then awesome. It’s really for me – but I’m happy to get feedback and its an extra bonus when people dig the songs. But to pick one out, I like ‘get your mind right‘ because it is true silliness and I had a lot of fun making it.”
Why don’t more rap/hiphop guys post their lyrics?
“Well, as far as the lyrics go, I don’t post them all the time because I’m a lazy bastard and I hate to type. But Bud usually kicks me in the ass and makes me post them. I can’t speak for everyone though.”
Any advice to others?
“I do music for fun and I really don’t have much advice for people except cliches really. If you want it make it happen, is all I can say. I realize I’m nowhere near the best at anythang and that keeps me goin’. I guess.”
Sometimes clichés work. They don’t become clichés for nothing.
“Thanx for your patience on this with me. I’m not really a good story teller on paper. Later man and thanx again for all the hard work.”