Interview with Hugh Whitaker of Detroit’s Butter Made Records, Producer, DJ, label executive, one half of Ahkatari & (low key) one half of Stoopz n Breeze. The collective have quietly amassed a diverse discography largely in limited run cassettes and collaborative releases with Insect Records (Audopilots) & The Jazz Diaries (Ahkatari).
Who are the artists that currently make up the Butter Made label? Could you give a brief background on yourself and those involved?
Butter Made is Ahk, dak, leaf erikson, dirtee curt, a.c. pull, blake eerie and myself. There are various groups within the crew, like the audopilots, ahkatari, awesome pete & the two tones and stoopz n’ breeze.
Leaf, curt and blake are all from the same area on the west side of detroit- curt used to live two houses down from leaf, so that’s how they know each other I think. Ahk and dak grew up in the same building in Research Park. I’m not sure how a.c. pull knows everyone- maybe from working at the same record shop as dak? I’m not sure. Me, I’m kind of the outsider. I met everyone late and I’m from the suburbs
I discovered much of the music on the label through Myspace around 2009, when did you come together initially and how did you meet?
I first met leaf in 2005. I used to go to this place called the DBC (Detroit beer company) every Tuesday for 2 Dollar Tuesdays. The beer was ok but $2 worked for me. My good friend benny ben was one of the djs- they’d play hiphop and have little performances. One night I was by the bar waiting for the next performer to go on and there was this guy trying to put his coat on the back of the chair next to me, but it kept falling to the floor. He was highly intoxicated, so I picked it up and put it on there for him. Turns out, he was the next performer. I was thinking there’s no way this guy’s going to be any good. But he had the dj put on the beatnuts “no escaping this” instrumental and he absolutely murdered it, freestyling the whole way through, jumping all over the place. He had so much energy and stage presence for a guy that couldn’t hang his jacket on a chair moments earlier. It was refreshing to see, because not a lot of the artists on those nights drank really, and I always felt like an alcoholic. So this guy was drunker than me and he was also good at rapping. That was my first impression of leaf erikson. Then, later in the set, Baatin from Slum Village jumps in from out of the crowd and starts rapping alongside him, turban on and all. My mind was blown. I didn’t even know Baatin was in the room. dak was there too but I didn’t know who he was yet. I remembered seeing him earlier in the night and being surprised when he grabbed the mic- he did not look like your typical rapper. And at one point, Tashere (he was the host) grabbed someone from Leaf’s crew, mid-performance, and literally picked him up off the ground in full bear hug mode, carried him to the exit, and threw him out like jazzy jeff. It was crazy and hilarious at the same time.
You could tell there was nothing scripted about their performance that night. There was so much chaos, but it was kept in check by raw talent and humor- and it was beautiful how it all came together. That right there to me is the epitome of a Butter Made show. No planning, coupled with a sense of imminent disaster, but always seeming to work out in the end.
I gave leaf one of my beat cds after the show and he called me a few days later to record.
As a collective you don't appear to be overly striving to be part of a particular scene. Is that fair to say? Are there outlooks / beliefs that unite you all musically & personally?
Yeah, that’s definitely fair to say…but it’s not like we’re against trying to be a part of the scene. I’m sure we’ve all tried to be down at some point, but we ended up doing our own thing. We just naturally don’t really fit in anywhere.
I think we’re on a different wavelength than most musically and personally. One of the first times leaf came through with the rest of the crew, he brought a Barbara Streisand record she recorded when she was younger. He played this song from it about how she wished she could become different animals. Everyone was bugging out to it. That’s when I realized these guys were just as weird as me. I also remember finding out that dak and leaf loved the Carpenters. That was a surprise too.
I’d say a musical outlook we all share is that we’re pretty open-minded and we’ll listen to anything, we’ll take influences from anything—not to say we’re not opinionated about what we hear, it’s just we’ll give absolutely everything a chance.
Are there any central motivations you draw from your immediate circle of friends and collaborators?
Yeah, I get inspired by dak and ahk when I hear their beats. Also Sterling Toles AKA Buried Glory and Ohkang from Blackreign & Ohkang… Illingsworth too. He’s been teaching me some stuff lately-- I’ve been trying to upgrade my equipment from out of the stone-age with his help. All those guys motivate me to do better.
I know yourself to have worked with Baatin. Everyone I've spoken to who knew him has been affected by his presence in unique ways. When you reflect, what are the recurring lasting impressions you're left with from your friendship & working relationship? Are there particular memories that come to mind?
I can’t really speak on his presence because he was so far advanced, his state of being-- I’ll never fully understand it. Spiritually, he was on a whole other level. But I can try to relate it to how it affected me. I guess in a way, he helped me believe in myself and my music. I don’t think that was his goal or anything, it’s just what ended up happening. He had a way of making the people around him better. To me, he was like an idol at first, then a friend quickly after. I was kind of star struck when I first met him, but he made me feel normal right away. He definitely didn’t have that super star attitude. He loved the audopilots, he loved Stoopz n’ breeze-- he really championed our sound and that has always been incredible to me.
I’ve got some great memories from that spring and summer before he passed. Lots of laughter and lots of food in between recordings comes to mind. He was such a funny guy to be around and a real character. One time I made microwave popcorn and he thought it was disgusting because it had no flavor, so he literally dumped an entire container of garlic lemon spice into the bag so he could eat it. Another time I had some fresh snap peas from the farmers market and he gagged and spit it out when he tried one. He was so animated, there was always some sort of physical comedy going on. He also made the best grilled cheese sandwiches.
Is it fair to say there's a lot of unreleased music from artists on the label? Are there any projects you'd like to mention, that will or won't see the light of day?
There’s a ton. We’ve really got to put more stuff out.
We’ve been collaborating a lot with other labels lately, like Fifty Records, the Jazz Diaries and Insect Records. Fifty will be putting out our next vinyl project, a split EP with AC Pull on one side, Leaf on the other side, and dak handling all the production. There’s also The Dirtee Show EP with Dirtee Curt rapping and Ahk on the beats. That’ll be coming out on cassette soon, along with the Ahkatari album on cassette. There will also be a dakim Butter Made regos tape coming sometime this year.
But yeah, there are many old recordings that probably won’t see the light of day unless one of us dies. And hopefully we’re popular enough by then to have someone exploit us when that happens.
There appears to be a culture of rich sounds deeply embedded in Detroit hip hop that haven't been widely circulated outside the city. Have you discovered much music simply through friends? Are there any artists you know whose music hasn't been released officially at all?
Yeah, lots of the music I discover is through friends. Some of the stuff that got handed down to me felt like a rite of passage to hear it. Like Sterling Toles’s “Resurget Cineribus”. That album still freaks me out. He’s an incredible producer that not many people here know about. He’s had this project with Boldy James for the longest time that is ridiculously good. He was playing me tracks from that back in maybe 2008 before I had even heard of Boldy. Every song had a story or a purpose, samples were chosen for actual reasons, and he brought in musicians of all calibre to play live on the tracks. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play bass on a couple of them and I was also lucky enough to hear the stories behind each song. I hope that album comes out one day.