You only know the story of Santa and his reindeer in the North Pole, but not everyone is so familiar with Krampus. The anthropomorphic Austro-Bavarian Alpine folk monster is used in some cultures as the antithesis of Kris Kringle, as Krampus actively punishes naughty children as opposed to gifting them a passive aggressive lump of coal. Get over it Santa, jeez!
Bay Area-based hip hop group Ensemble Mik Nawooj has their own unique story, minus the haunting of children and horns and such. The collective, fronted by composer JooWan Kim, is billed as the ‘future of hip hop,’ bringing classic instruments and thinking to cerebral hip hop.
You may remember Kendrick Lamar’s recent Kunta’s Groove tour where he fully realized his instant classic, To Pimp A Butterfly, with the requisite backing band. Well, Ensemble Mik Nawooj are on the level from a compositional perspective. Here’s hoping K Dot gives them a call very soon.
Before closing out the year, Ensemble Mik Nawooj now share their re-working of J Dilla’s seminal, “The Last Donut of the Night.” The track also receives the music video treatment as Dilla and Ensemble Mik Nawooj soundtrack the struggles of Krampus trying to scare kids in 2015.
Speak Into My Good Eye has the exclusive premiere of the video for “Last Donut” below. Watch it along while reading a short interview with Kim below.
Your new video comes just time for Christmas. How did you come up with the concept for this video?
Our director, Matt Boman, who’s currently traveling in Europe suggested that we should go for something exotic/fantastic for the track. As we were filming, the Krampus movie came out. We thought it was an interesting coincidence and decided to release the video early.
Tell us a little bit about how J Dilla has influenced you. How would you evaluate his legacy?
I believe in 10 years or so, Dilla will be regarded as the Mozart of Hip-Hop. Dilla tracks all have this smoothness and quirks to them. When you listen closer, you notice a lot of very interesting musical events going on which are not common in other producers’ works.
For instance, in his track, “E=mc2,” there’s two 4/4 bars and one 2/4 bar repeating phrase unit which gives a certain sense of buoyancy to the piece. When I first noticed this, I knew he was very special. I was thinking ‘why is dude going Stravinsky on me?’ Dilla is like Monk. Just like there’s no bebop without Monk and there’s no new Hip-Hop without Dilla. What I mean by new Hip-Hop here is this idea that beats are not just background to the MCs but a crucial musical plane where innovation and invention occurs.
Certainly there’s no Ensemble Mik Nawooj without him.
What in particular strikes you about Dilla’s “Last Donut”?
It’s his swan song. He made the whole Donuts album in his hospital bed with only an MPC. Even though “Last Donut of the Night” is the second to the last track, to me it really sounded like the last one. There’s a sense of finality to it. Our version uses a musical sentence from there and changes it through out and adds other components to it.
How do you go about choosing and composing the non-original songs you re-work?
Unlike other artists who do conventional covers, we really create something very different, which is why we call them “deconstructions” and not covers. What we’re doing is to ‘sample’ musical ideas and build our versions of them: a very Hip-Hop process.
As far as choosing a song, it has to do with what speaks to me. For instance, if I recognize something interesting in the track and the original producer hasn’t really explored it yet, then I do a version that shows the full potential of the musical idea.
Of course, this is only ‘my answer’. There are nearly infinite ways of permutations from relationships of ideas.
What can fans expect from you in early 2016?
We’re releasing our second album, The Future of Hip-Hop. It’s a 7 track album with 5 deconstructed and reimagined tracks which include classic tracks from seminal albums like 36 Chambers and Doggystyle.
These are tracks that people are familiar with and have emotional investments in. In some cases, we have stretched the ideas so much from the original, they don’t even sound like it’s from the original. This is a statement from us – “Okay, I know you guys all watched and loved Batman 1 & 2 but forget all that. It’s Batman Begins time.”
Any last warnings to naughty kids in regards to Krampus?
I would recommend a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking.