Archive for 'Interviews'

Chances are, if you have even a passing interest in hip-hop, you have an appreciation for both Staten Island’s favorite sons, the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as the intricacies and/or influence of jazz music. Finally, two visionaries had the foresight and abilities to combine them. Shaolin Jazz – The 37th Chamber was an idea conceived by Gerald Watson and executed to perfection by DJ 2-Tone Jones, effectively bringing the world of Wu-Tang and Jazz together. We had the opportunity to speak to both 2-Tone Jones and Gerald Watson on how this project came together.

What was your first exposure to hip-hop?

2TJ: (laughs) Mine is pretty specific. When I was younger, I remember a few songs here in there. But the first time I remember walking through the door and really experiencing hip-hop was ninth grade when I had a good friend named Cody in Geometry class. Before the teacher came in the room, he started freestyling. This was the first time I ever experienced a freestyle, and it was mind-blowing. The teacher walked in the room and he started rapping about his socks and bottle cap glasses. I was blown away. I’m looking around like “Does anyone else think this is as amazing as I do now?”

GW: My first intro was right when Run-DMC’s first album came out. They had the white jackets and the hats on the cover. It was that tape and De La’s first joint. I was at a festival that my parents were vending jewelery at. It was the first time I was given a bootleg of anything. I had no idea what bootlegs were. I kinda knew who Run-DMC were and I didn’t know at all who De La was, but I thought these cats looked ill. The cassette looked faded because the dude had clearly Xeroxed it, but I listened to it and I was clearly opened.

2-Tone, I read an interview where you said you feel, when attempting projects like this, people get caught up on the lyrics of a record and not really the “essence.” What best exemplifies the “essence” of a record?

2TJ: I like that cat J.Period because of the way he crafts stuff together and they fit [how] the lyricist raps his verse over that track. That’s the goal, but it also sounds like something they would have rapped over as well as how the project is arranged with the different sound effects. I pay attention a lot to small details, and whole albums that are cohesive. You get a sense of Wu-Tang by hearing things click with the interludes and skits between albums.

Gerald, as a big Wu-fan, what made you think Wu-Tang would lend itself to jazz so well?

GW: Um, I didn’t. (laughs) Honestly, I had no idea. It was just kind of a thought that “you know, I haven’t seen this before” I asked 2-Tone about it because this project, which was created for an art exhibition I had done, was just supposed to be a jazz mixtape. Instead of that, my thought turned to doing a jazz-Wu-Tang mix, and even at that point I didn’t think what that would have sounded like. He took it and he ran with it well.

What’s the response been like from Wu-fans?

GW: It’s hard to decipher, but they’re happy though. When we first dropped it, it was tweeted everywhere. A lot of Wu-Tang fans referenced different artists they heard on the projects and songs they like. We struck a nerve with them and Wu-Tang in general. We know the management company has retweeted the project and given us props, which says a lot.

Do you have any plans for the next project?

2TJ: We had some ideas in the mix, but at this point we want to take more time to really execute things. I’m eager but, at the same time, a little nervous. Shaolin Jazz set our bar, so whatever we do next has to be on its level or better. But, I have no doubt we can do it.

DOWNLOAD Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber HERE

Interview conducted by H2C2’s Chief Media Liaison Chaz Kangas

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An Interview with State Senator Malcolm Smith

Last week, an east coast fervor was stirred when chart-topping MC Lil Wayne stated “I don’t like New York.” Wayne made the comment in an interview after a free show in Manhattan, and attributed his sentiment to the resistance the city has shown him in the past as well as his feelings toward being arrested within the city’s limits. those five words reverberated throughout the music world, alarming many, including New York State Senator Malcolm Smith. Senator Smith held a press conference in Times Square, demanding that Wayne apologize for his words. We had the chance to speak to the Senator in regard to both his growing up in hip-hop’s home, as well as what further actions against Wayne and others he plans to take.

When was your first exposure to hip-hop?

My first exposure probably goes back to LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Jam-Master Jay. I grew up with all of them and that’s why I count Queens as being the home of the hip-hop movement. Yeah, it started in the Bronx, but it clearly got taken to another level when Queens got a hold of it.

Would that make LL Cool J and Run-DMC your favorite MCs?

Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, LL and I still do a basketball tournament together. Every year, for the past ten years called Jump and Ball.

What was it about Lil Wayne’s comments that you found incendiary enough to warrant an apology?

Well, most importantly, I think it was that it sent out the wrong message to the 50 million tourists who we have come to the city. And then obviously, you have the fan base he has that he’s pretty influential over. My position is, I feel if you don’t like New York, you don’t have to come to New York. Obviously he makes his money here, millions of fans buy his music. Nicki Minaj actually lives in the area that I represent. I just thought it was a statement that wasn’t warranted.

Would your feelings be different had Wayne’s comments been in a song as opposed to being in an interview?

Nope.

Do you feel you would have been as offended if it was an artist of comparable stature in any other genre of music, as opposed to hip-hop?

Listen, it doesn’t matter, no matter what celebrity it was. It could have been an actor. I love this city. I’ve been in love with this city. I have my family here. This is one of the greatest cities in the world. As an elected official that represents the state and the city, I’m not over anybody saying bad things about it. I understand his position as it related to why he feels that way because, obviously, what happened with Summer Jam and also he was arrested for possessing a gun. He shouldn’t have a gun in the city of New York, that’s not what it’s about. Matter of fact, if he wants to join me in my gun buy-back program, that would be good. I think he can turn a negative into a positive and send a good message to his fan base.

So you would still be open to working with Wayne in the future in event that would encourage positivity?

Absolutely, if it’s a positive cause. But again, if he feels he doesn’t like New York, he’s entitled to his opinion. He doesn’t have to come back, just like I’m entitled to my opinion about what he said.

In the event Wayne does apologize, would you pursue apologies from any further artists in the future who might bad mouth New York?

I will stand up for New York to anybody. Artists, another politician, a movie star, the President – I will still stand up for New York. Does not matter.

Would that include past artists too, such as Randy Newman for his comments on New York in “I Love L.A.?”

Well, I mean, anybody that wants to bad mouth New York, I’m prepared to stand up on behalf of [New York] and that’s that.

Interview conducted by H2C2’s Chief Media Liaison Chaz Kangas

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If you’ve watched a hot hip-hop music video online in the past two years, chances are it was a production from Ricky Shabazz and the Boom-Bap Boys. We had a chance to sit down with director Nicolas Heller, the brains behind the camera, to find out what goes into to making the of the most creative hip-hop videos in the game today!

What was the first music video you recall ever seeing?

The first music video I can recall seeing is “Getting Jiggy With It” by Will Smith. However, I really want to say it was “My Block” by Scarface because that was the first video that REALLY stuck out to me. Made me realize hip-hop videos could be creative.

When did you decide you wanted to begin shooting music videos?

I decided I wanted to start making music videos my Junior year of college after making 10 short films and hardly getting any recognition from people outside my circle of friends. Music videos were my chance to piggy-back off of a musician’s success.

Which video was your first, and how did it feel going through the video making process for the first time?

My first music video under the Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boy alias was “Destroy” by C-Rayz Walz. I really lucked out with that one. This was around the time I began feeling very discouraged in regards to my shorts not getting attention. My friend, Will Kowall, who is heavily involved in the underground hip-hop scene brought it to my attention that C-Rayz was going to be in Boston and was looking for someone to shoot a quick video for him. I nervously approached him with a really insane idea where he gets chased down by furries in the wilderness and ultimately gets shot in the face. He dug it. We shot it, and the rest was history.

Now that you’re several dozen videos removed from those early works, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were starting out?

I REALLY wish I had held off on shooting my more complicated treatments instead of rushing into them with little experience and no budget. I would love to re-shoot a bunch of my old videos. Don’t think the musicians would be too thrilled about that tough.

A few of your videos deal with continuous take shots. What intrigues you about that particular style?

I think it looks badass. My inspiration comes from gangster movies from the 80’s and 90’s. Directors had a tendency of building tension before someone gets the shit kicked out of them by dropping a dope song, and in one continous shot, have the protagonist makes his way over to the antagonist and beat them senseless. I would find those scenes more interesting than any fight scene with cuts every two seconds.

Have any artists ever shown resistance to your concepts? Did they eventually realize you were right all along?

Artists show resistance all the time. It’s really hard to convince these guys to take risks. Especially if they are more established. I am usually able to meet at a common ground though.

Have you shown any of your videos to your family? Which videos are their favorites?

My parents watch all of my videos whether I like it or not. They both follow me on Twitter and Instagram, so it?s pretty hard to hide any projects from them. For the most part, they really enjoy all of them. I think the only one that ever disappointed them was “Grateful Dead of Night” by Moe Pope. In the video, I had a half naked woman chained up by zombies who eventually devour her. They needed to have a talk with me after that one.
Their all time favorite video of mine is “THANX” by Fresh Daily. It’s kind of upsetting considering I shot that two years ago.

What do you believe makes for a quality video?
Damn. A lot. I’ll go with the less obvious answer: Making the artist look cool. You have to approach videos from a consumer’s standpoint. No one is gonna buy an artist’s album if they look foolish in their video. No matter who the musician is, if a filmmaker makes their client look like a cornball, they haven’t done their job properly. It’s tough though. There are a lot of corny musicians out there. I certainly have failed a couple times.

If you could do a video for any hip-hop artist alive or dead, who would it be?
That’s a loaded question. It would really depend on whether or not I had complete creative control. If I had this control, I would like to do videos for Cam’ron, Juicy J, 2 Chainz, Gunplay, Chief Keef, Ghostface Killah, Scarface, Project Pat, etc. However, there is no chance in hell I would be able to get any of those artists to even consider listening to one of my wacky treatment ideas.

Some artists I think I could collaborate really well with would be: Action Bronson, Lil Ugly Mane, Flatbush Zombies, Riff Raff, Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire, El-P, ASAP Ferg… Damn, the list goes on.

Finally, if I got to choose one dead artist to shoot a video for, it would be Eazy-E or Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

What?s one video you would suggest somebody checking your work out for the first should look at to get the best idea of your style?
It was made with a 2 person crew, and $15 budget. But I would suggest everyone watch “GUTS” by Juan Deuce and Falside. This is probably the only video I ever directed where I had 100% creative control. I think it shows. Now imagine giving a treatment like that to Cam’ron… C’mon son.

Check out all of the Ricky Shabazz and the Boom-Bap Boys Productions at Rickyshabazz.com and follow Nicolas Heller on Twitter at @RickyShabazz

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As seen on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” as well as in some of the best received rap battle on the planet, Jus Daze has been making waves throughout the rap game. We had the chance to sit down with Jus Daze and discuss his new mixtape, life as a battle MC, and much more!

Let’s start with the name ‘Jus Daze,’ what does it mean to you and how did you get it?

Daze is a play off my actual name, which I made for myself in the 3rd grade and it just carried through my entire life. The “Jus” part was added accidentally because of my screen name and email address at the time “JusDaze”. I couldn’t have “Daze” as my screen name and I didn’t want numbers at the end of my email address (I always hated that) so I wrote Jus, as in “just” Daze!

You were born in Brooklyn, but currently reside in Queens. Do you feel your music has more in common with Queens-born MCs?

To limit myself to one area musically OR demographically would be foolish. I think my style is born more from the sounds of music genres that have meshed with not only hip hop, but world sounds. I grew up with my mother playing a lot of soft-rock based artists like Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, some soul like Luther Vandross, The Isleys, and my aunt playing lots of Doo-wop, Sinatra, and oldies. To say whether or not I relate more to the sounds of a “Queens-born MC” is tough. Some might categorize my music as “lyrical” or “music with meaning”, which pinpoints a lot of “Queens-born” authentic MC styles, but I like to think of myself as artist who doesn’t necessarily fit the category of any particular TYPE of characteristic. I could kill an MC lyrically, make love to a woman, thank my mother for her blessings, and express inner emotions all through my music, so if that’s what being a “Queen-born MC” does, then sure, I’m a “Queens-born MC”, otherwise I’m whatever that category of rapper is!

What was your first exposure to hip-hop?

My first exposure to hip-hop was probably being born in New York! Whenever this question is asked I usually don’t know how to answer because I feel like I was born with hip-hop in my heart. I don’t know how I started, why I started, but I ALWAYS remember rapping. I guess I’d say my first exposure to Hip Hop was seeing so much of the lifestyle surrounding where I lived. I grew up in East New York near Highland Park where there were a lot of gang activities going on at the time, but also a lot of Boombox Boom Bap radio playing, live MC’ing at block parties, and of course “Video Music Box” on TV. The first performer to ever make me go WOW was Michael Jackson. His stage charisma was amazing. He sang and danced almost effortlessly, or at least made it seem like it was and that impressed me. I also seen LL Cool J’s “Momma Said Knock You Out” video and was very impressed as well. I guess being exposed to Hip Hop around my neighborhood, among my friends, at school, and through the media made me take my initial interest, which nowadays has become my lifestyle.

A good amount of your listeners likely discovered you through your rap battles. How did you first get involved with Grind Time and the NYC battle circuit?

I actually stumbled upon Grind Time battles at work (it’s ok I don’t work at that spot anymore!) I remember watching Smack DVDs from back in the day ,watching the classic Mook vs Serius Jones battles and others, plus over the years I partook in a lot of on-the-spot random freestyle battles myself. When I first saw Grind Time I thought wow these dudes are incredible (initially, I thought it was all freestyling). But as everything does with time, it was a written format which evolved from the on the spot random battles most New Yorkers/hip-hoppers are accustomed to. I watched, I saw an opportunity to get involved and seized it! I battled Upstate for my first Grindtime battle, the footage never saw the light of the day, but I won by a landslide and that resulted in me making the league that day. I battled two weeks afterwards against Paranormal, which was my first on-cam battle and since then, my resume speaks for itself. I’ve won EOW MC Challenges, Rhyme Calisthenics, Anthony Anderson’s Mixtape Comedy Freestyle battle, and other MC based challenges, most of which there is no prior preparation, but as an “MC” you should be able to Master any Ceremony you’re placed in. MC’s and rappers are two different things in my opinion, but that’s a whole other topic.

Last year you released your debut album Common Law. Did it present a challenge to get in the album-crafting mindset while you were still active on the battle circuit?

The album was being worked on before I started battling, which is why I really got into the whole battle circuit to begin with. Making music has always been the main focus for me, personally, but little did I know what challenges would face me trying to do both congruently. Did it present a challenge? Oh yeah, definitely. Working on music and battling (in the written format) are like speaking two different languages simultaneously in the same sentence at the same time! Battling helped the success of my album to receive the amount of downloads, media exposure, celebrity and worldwide recognition it’s gotten, but it was A LOT of hard work. Finding time to write, memorize, record, perform, & battle…ALL WHILE WORKING a regular 9 to 5 is no easy task. I’ve always said that when there’s a passion for something you love, you don’t find the time, you MAKE the time for it. This was no different in juggling what it takes to get an album recorded, mixed, mastered, distributed (which I myself did) and seen by the masses. But, as any challenge does once you overcome it, it makes you have an even stronger mindset and smarter outlook going into the next endeavor, if you choose to. Since then, major opportunities have come up and even bigger and better things have happened because I know how to move a little bit smarter and the “do and do not’s” of what it takes.

What made you decide on the album title Common Law?

My marriage to hip-hop. I’ve won numerous talent competitions, rap battles, gained and lost for the love this culture and music. No matter what, I’m unofficially married to it. My dedication and devotion goes into my work and from the responses I get, I think the fans see. I appreciate their comments and feedback more than I can even express!

You recently battled on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” what was the experience making the leap into network TV like?

Crazy! The amount of exposure and recognition I got after winning the “Ready Set Flow” challenge was incredible. Network television is the market to go into if you’re trying to be seen and heard! Obviously it’s opened opportunities, it’s gotten me seen by people who regularly might have not seen me. It’s also had a nice amount of people who never payed any attention to you jump on the bandwagon, which is to be expected with any gaining of popularity or fame, but I’ll tell you this…the inner workings of what goes on behind a television show is not that much different than what goes into planning, hosting, and executing a major battle/hip hop event. I’ll leave it at that, but the underground and mainstream are not that far apart structurally.

Most recently, you put out the King of Queens mixtape, which includes a lot of your best freestyles from the past year. With all that you’ve done in the past 12 months, do you feel your approach to MCing in the booth or on-stage has changed much?

Hell yeah. I feel like I’m being more of myself now because the impression of “Who the hell is Daze?” doesn’t have to be met. People now know my personality, my thoughts, my life and who I am a little bit better so it allows me to be more comfortable and express more of what I want to in the booth. Like I said before, I’m blessed with the feedback and response I get from the fans. When fans come out to shows they show me nothing but love and support what it is I’m doing. If I keep moving the way I’m moving, I think I might be alright with this hip-hop stuff for a while!

If you had to pick a favorite battle that you were in, and a favorite battle you enjoyed as a fan, which would they be?

My favorite battle is probably me vs C4. The audio & visual are really good in it. Either that, or me vs D’Meitz. But the mainstream culture may not get what is and isn’t “battle etiquette”. I’d say to Google anything I’ve done. I’m pretty much satisfied with all my work. I wouldn’t put my efforts into anything if I wasn’t giving it my all or my best. As far as a battle I’ve enjoyed, one of my favorite battles of all time is Serius Jones vs Jin, it’s the true definition of what a “bodybag” (a term the battle community uses for a clear victory) is.

Check out more of Jus Daze’s music at http://www.jusdaze.com/ and be sure to follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jusdaze !

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We at the Hip-Hop Culture Center are proud to be teaming up with the great people at Why You Mad Son? Entertainment. In celebration of our new union, we had the chance to speak with WYMS Founder and CEO Charlette “ChaBoogie” Capers about hip-hop community, and exactly what there is to be mad about!

What inspired you to start Why You Mad, Son?

It started because I got silenced on a blog thread after giving my opinion. They ripped my comment to shreds, and I had no way to respond since I couldn’t comment further. The anger lasted for a good day, and I was so frustrated from being silenced that I decided to start my own thing. I went to school for communications, broadcast journalism and I started a magazine. While the magazine didn’t take off, I started looking for options and this girl I knew had a show on BlogTalk Radio and I decided that’s what I’m going to do. I was telling my friend Miss One-Hundred what I was trying to do and she suggested I use the “why you mad son?” moniker I was always using for the name of the show.

The show is billed as ‘The Sound of Urban Edutainment.” What’s important about bringing these worlds together?

People tend to learn when they’re being entertainined. When I was young, my first foray into social issue was Richard Pryor. My mother had all his LPs, and while I would listen to them, I would learn and laugh my ass off. It’s how some of us survive, to laugh at the bullshit that we’re in. It’s not politically correct at all, but it touches on issues everybody goes through.

Did you always envision the show as a call-in show?

Yes. I find a lot of people are scared to say why they’re mad, especially women. I don’t know if it’s because they’re scared of losing their jobs or all the surveillance that goes on with social media, but people are scared of saying why they’re mad, so we say it for them. It’s fun to be mad, it’s liberating, when controlled of course. Nothing changes until you get mad about something. People feel better when they get things off their chest. When you tell them why you’re mad, resolution comes.

What have been some of the most memorable moments of madness?

We have a regular caller named AnarchistChrist who embodies a true anarchist, but has some issues with women. We had one caller who was, let’s call her, “anti-male.” They had an entertaining debate and as she was going on-and-on, he yells at her “you need some d**k!” That stands out in my mind because so many things needed to make that happen.

What was important about introducing the “Can I Kick It?” feature?

Well, it was important to me to always be more than just a radio show. I wanted “Why You Mad Son?” to be a brand. One of the things we gripe about the most is hip-hop and the state of it today. I’m a purist, and I see what it is today. Since I was developing this brand, I wanted to create a show that speaks to that. Everyone loves “American Idol” and I wanted to see what it would be like to have our version of that. We have a master lyricist, a superproducer and a music aficionado listen to the music and they either love it or tear it to shreds. Constructive criticism is what these kids need and, since it’s radio, you can’t see anybody so it’s all about talent. It helps us introduce real hip-hop and shows those trying to do real hip-hop what it takes.

Anything got you mad about hip-hop at the moment?

You gonna ask me that question? Of course! I’m mad that there’s no originality. What else makes me mad? The materialism. When Watch the Throne came out, I was taken aback by the level of materialism in it. So many of us are struggling, and it perpetuates a culture of consumerism. Of “I want, I need, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get it because Jay got it.” I thought it was kind of irresponsible, and that maybe they would attack more social issues. They’re on the inside, maybe they could attack more of the social issues that we’re facing. Kayne is the guy who dissed Bush on TV and they took away his chances until he acquiesced. It was worse than a sellout. It was worse than watching Flavor Flav on TV.

To end on a positive note, what do you like about hip-hop now?
– I like the underground. There are artists out there that are still true to it. I came across Tyler, the Creator and I was blown away. Not too much on the social side, but he’s just raw talent. I also dig poetry venues. It sounds crazy, but some of the dopest lyricists are found at poetry venues right now because they have no other outlet. Some of them don’t even need music, the learn how to make rhythms with their voices in the words. It’s crazy, some of the best verses I’ve heard in the past 10 years have been at an open mic in a poetry spot.

You can listen to Why You Mad Son? LIVE every Tuesday from 10:00 PM – 12:30 AM at http://whyyoumadson.com/ . You can also download the new Why You Mad Son? app from the GooglePlay store for absolutely FREE.

Photographer Simone Green

One of hip-hop’s most respected photographers, Simone Green was right in the thick of things during Death Row’s 90s dominance. Along with being behind some of the most memorable images of that era, she’s recently released her book Time Served: My Days and Nights on Death Row Records available now at www.Deathrowtimeserved.com .

Tomorrow through July 29th, her work will be on exhibition at the Auburn Research Library, in Atlanta, Georgia. We had the chance to sit down with Simone and discuss her new book as well as what it was like being *the* Death Row photographer.

You’ve mentioned in the past that your photography became lucrative once you started shooting for Death Row. Prior to this, where were you shooting?
I worked at “Soul Train,” and I did some freelance work at the Jack the Rapper convention.

You’ve mentioned a level of bullying at Death Row. Had any of it ever stemmed from your photos?

(Laughs) No, they never had a problem with my work. Even now, with so much that went on and I had to get closure. I had a conversation with Suge and he straight-up apologized, but we didn’t have a problem when it came to my work.

The bullying was everybody there thought they might step out of line, and everyday something could happen. One day, it was me. But, in terms of my work, I had my first experience at Death Row on the “Doggy Dog World” video shoot. It was such an experience seeing that incredibly artistry on another level.

The image of Death Row, from the cover arts to the promotional images, conveyed a very specific style. When working, did Suge give you any specific instructions or boundaries?

No, not very outward or noticeable. One time I was late for a party Dre was having. He said I was too late to shoot what he wanted, so he sent me home. Otherwise, I had no other instructions. Suge wanted everything shot though, every time he was seen he wanted pictures taken.

One incredible thing about your work is that you own the rights to all your photos. Knowing Suge never got that in contract, were there ever any discussions regarding the rights?

No, never. Really, I don’t give that away and we would have had a problem. When I first took photos, I demanded respect. Knowing by-lines and rules, I had to get it and did it. I’ve learned if you don’t mention it, they don’t mention it. I had a cousin who was hard on me for getting photos. I couldn’t sing or dance, so I had to be the best at it.

After the book’s release, have you been in contact with anyone from Death Row?

Just Sam Sneed, nobody else.

What’s one photo from your time at Death Row that you consider the quintessential Simone Green at Death Row photo?

The one with Snoop where the shadow falls off him. Snoop’s easy to photograph. He slips into any mode for any kind of picture.

Out of your entire body of work, which photo are you most proud of?

There’s one of a Teena Maria live performance. I did her make-up and photographed her in Atlanta at one of the last shows she did before she died. There’s a real feel to the picture.

Why do you prefer shooting on film over digital?

With digital, you lose a slight bit of detail. You can see the softness better on film. Digital swings at you sharp and it can look overdone, whereas film tries to calm that down.
I also like the hands on feel of working with film. I like being in the dark room and watching the film develop. It really feels like mine.

Interview conducted by Chaz Kangas

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