The Game is Far From Over

Laurent Fintoni talks to LA-based producer Edward Ma, aka edIT, about the influences that have shaped his futuristic take on hip hop

By Laurent Fintoni

Los Angeles. The name evokes all manner of TV and Hollywood-induced images and fantasies. But for music lovers LA is also a powerful name, a home to countless innovators and a breeding ground for futuristic ideas. And it’s the future that concerns the work of Edward Ma, aka edIT.

After discovering DJing and production while studying at the University of Southern California, where he became friends with the likes of Aloe Blacc and Daedelus, Ma built his name on the LA underground. As the Con Artist, he recorded, engineered and produced for a range of people, including some of his USC friends. He also became a resident at Konkrete Jungle, the LA chapter of the legendary US drum ‘n’ bass night run by Daddy Kev (someone who Ma would work with again in the future) and Hive.

This early work would impact the rest of his career. “There was a cool little family of MCs and producers related to USC and that’s how it all got started for me. Daedelus was one of the people who taught me how to spin, and through the years he’s been a great influence on my growth and progress. Konkrete Jungle was where I met Busdriver, Freestyle Fellowship, Abstract Rude… all these guys. Basically all the people who appear on my new album, the relationships were forged back then during that time.”

At the turn of the century, Ma was, by his own admission, still very much an “indie hip hop and drum 'n' bass purist”. His musical output took a turn for the unexpected though, thanks to his roommate at the time.

“My roommate was into collecting all these weird records by people like Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin. I’d never even heard of them but I’d always walk past his room and hear the craziest electronic music.” Through an unusual process of absorption, Ma found inspiration and set out to make his own version of what he was hearing. The result was Crying Over Pros for No Reason, an album released in 2004 on UK label Planet Mu, a home for pioneering electronic music. The album birthed both edIT and a hip hop sound unlike any before.

Crying fused Ma’s love of hip hop with his new found interest in the more experimental side of electronic music. It wasn’t just the sound that made the album so hypnotising but also the way in which it drew from Ma’s emotions. “It’s really a record about heartbreak and loss,” he admits, “it’s about all the ones that could’ve been, all the ones that’ll never be and all the ones that got away. And I think everyone has experienced that feeling before.”

Four years on, Crying sounds as fresh as it did upon release, even for Ma who admits that it’s this reason that keeps him from wanting or trying to repeat its success. But, while the album made edIT’s name, it also came with its own cross to bear. Tagged as glitch-hop, many people didn’t want to see beyond the music’s sonic singularities, choosing to confine it to something else. “Glitch hop is a very bad name for what you want to call this group of music, which is just a new take on hip hop, a futuristic electronic hip hop sound. To me the album always was a hip hop album. I never really knew how to explain it to people; it was just experimental, electronic, but always hip hop.”

Ma spent the next three years following his debut incubating this new hip hop sound, looking for new inspirations and a new direction. “The gap between the two albums was due to growth,” he admits. “I needed to take a break and reassess what I wanted to do next. It was obvious I was going to do another album, I just hadn’t figured out what it would sound like.” A key moment in figuring it out happened later in 2004, thanks to a remix for his old friend Daedelus. Dumbfound combined elements of the first album’s sound with sensibilities much more in tune to the dancefloor than his largely introspective debut.

It still took three years for his next album to come out, though, as Ma kept refining his new, dancefloor-orientated sound. In ‘06, he made Battling Go Go Yubari, a track which gave birth to the rest of his second album, and became its first single. Nearing a finished release, Ma started doing shows in San Francisco alongside Ooah, Kraddy and Boreta, with whom he would later form the Glitch Mob. Playing shows with these guys, Ma realised something crucial: his album lacked any ‘real’ bass. While his tracks were axed around the kick drum, a la Timbaland or The Neptunes, Ooah and the others made music built for sound systems, packing incredible bass. “I came back to LA and realised I had to put the bass into my record,” he says laughing.

Finally, in late 2007, Certified Air Raid Material was released on Daddy Kev’s Alpha Pup label. The album is an all out assault on your senses, designed for huge speakers and face-curling bass bins. Just as Crying was hip hop unlike anything before, Air Raid is club hip hop years ahead of its time. Unsurprisingly, the new sound shocked a lot of fans, but Ma was prepared, unashamed of wanting to do something different.

“With my new album, and the stuff I do with The Glitch Mob, it’s almost like we’re on the second wind of this whole experimental, electronic hip hop thing. This time it’s a lot more dancefloor orientated. For me Air Raid is as jawdropping as my debut, but this time it’s when the bass drops and hits you that it happens. It’s like the feeling you got when D’n’B was in its heyday, that ‘oh shit’ moment after the drop. It’s a different kind of excitement.”

Whether live or in the studio, this new excitement is what edIT brings: a new take on hip hop that looks back to the golden days with two feet firmly in the future. In 2008, edIT spreads his sound further with a first European and Japanese tour. Appropriately his latest single is a sequel to Dilla and Dabrye’s Game Over, which pays homage to Dilla’s influence on the new generation of producers like him who are taking hip hop into their own hands. And listening to the music, it’s clear that the game is very much far from over. In fact it’s all just starting again.
 edIT and the Glitch Mob tour Europe in November
 A Spanish version of this article originally appeared in Serie B magazine
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