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Spanish Ran Speaks on Bronx Hip-Hop History
WORDS WITH WORD$ INTERVIEW #26
Yo, it’s the Pope, 1000WORD$.
Welcome to WORD$ WITH WORDS. Today I'm joined by Spanish Ran, a Bronx native and multi-talented hip-hop producer. Spanish Ran has become a staple in the underground scene with his throwback production style and knack for spotting up-and-coming talent like his collaborators Tree Mason, UFO Fev, and Al-Doe. In this recent conversation, he opened up about his journey, influences, and passion for music, as well as his experiences working as an A&R in the music industry. We also dove into the significance of the Bronx in hip-hop culture and how our perceptions of other boroughs have evolved over time.
Before immersing himself fully in music production, Spanish Ran gained valuable experience as an intern at Def Jam, where he had the opportunity to work with renowned hip-hop photographer and executive, Lenny Santiago. Reflecting on those early days, Spanish Ran revealed how he transitioned to Roc Nation with Lenny S., signing his first artist, Rapsody, and later expediting the signing of Chicago rapper Vic Mensa. Moreover, he played a pivotal role in recognizing the talent of the Buffalo-based collective, Griselda Records, introducing Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine to Jay-Z at Roc Nation and impressing him with their track, "The Cow."
Spanish Ran reflected on his early memories growing up in the Bronx, from visiting Yankee Stadium and absorbing the rich history of the Grand Concourse, to being introduced to rap music by an aunt who adorned her room with posters of legends like KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane. The Bronx, for Spanish Ran, represents a home that extends beyond geographical boundaries, as hip-hop itself transcends location.
In April, Ran dropped “A.NY Ghetto U.S.A.,” a full length project with Tree Mason. Last week, he released “Holy City Zoo,” his album with Al-Doe that was featured on WORDS WITH WORD$ RADIO #2.
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1000WORD$: What's going on, man? It's the Polaroid Pope himself, 1000WORD$. Welcome to WORD$ WITH WORDS. I'm here with my fucking brother, man, from the motherfucking Bronx, my man, Spanish Ran.
Spanish Ran: My boy, what's the word? What's the word? I like that, I like that. The Bronx, man. We here.
1000WORD$: We here, man. We always been here, you know what I'm saying? This shit started here.
Spanish Ran: Yeah, well, you know, the Bronx is everywhere. You know what I'm saying? It's outside of where we from, we travel with it, you know, like Hip-Hop as a whole, you know what I'm saying? It's still... you could be in LA, but that shit's still the Bronx because it comes from where we come from, you know what I'm saying?
1000WORD$: 100%. Like I feel that as I've gotten older – I don't know how you feel – I'm just saying for myself, I feel like growing up, right? I was just so Bronx that it was like, "Fuck everything else." But, as I got older I went to other boroughs, I'm like, "Oh man, you guys are pretty cool," you know what I'm saying?
Spanish Ran: I was the same way. You know, bro, I remember when I first started going to Queens, I thought that shit was like another island, not even a borough. Like, I mean, the slang, everything: the way they dress was a lot more different to how we carried ourselves.
1000WORD$: Cause I was tryna explain to somebody that when you're a little kid in the Bronx, and you grow around certain shit, it's automatically... they kind of programmed you to be like... Queens... you know? But Queens is cool!
Spanish Ran: That shit's real. That shit's deadass for real. Yo, bro, I'll be telling people that we had like a little dark cloud over us for a little minute because you know when n****s had Biggie, and you know Queens got everybody, Nas–
1000WORD$: Mobb Deep–
Spanish Ran: When Pun came out, that was the one that they stuck their chest out like, "Oh Bronx, heavy, heavy, heavy. Like what?" you know what I'm saying?
Spanish Ran: But like you said, as you get older and shit like that, it's all about the individual and where you from don't even matter nowadays, know what I'm saying? It's just– you know, it's a representation of who you are. But at the same time, like if you a good human being, you could be from fucking Nova Scotia. Like, "You a cool guy, I like him."
1000WORD$: Let's go to Nova Scotia, my n****.
Spanish Ran: Show me where you from now, you know what I'm saying?
1000WORD$: Facts. What is your favorite early memories growing up in the Bronx?
Spanish Ran: Oh shit, really everything. Going to Yankee Stadium, like when I was a kid, you know what I'm saying? You know, everybody looks at that like a tourist attraction because when you mention the Bronx, people think Yankee Stadium more frequently. And people from around the world, they like to go see. You know, the Yankees is always been number one to us. So that's our monument. So always thinking about Yankee Stadium and all that was like a regular day of just living, you know what I'm saying? Compared to how people outside of New York, they look at it differently than we look at: as just home. There's a certain tone. So when I think of the Bronx and the early stage, I just think of Yankee Stadium, passing by. My pops used to take me around there, and just give me history because he grew up in Grand Concourse. So he just gave me history about everything about Grand Concourse, outside of just the Yankees. In general, I think about that. And then as I got older, like teenager years, or even junior high, rap started taking a toll and seeing it making more of an influence because I have an aunt that was more like an [older] sister. She was about that age for me. So she was the one that put me onto KRS-One early and Big Daddy Kane. She was one of those that have the Reeboks in every color and the sneakers stacked high, with posters of Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One and Slick Rick on the wall. I don't know, I just remember looking at it and just being mesmerized. It was like a little small museum, but in her room. So I think about that shit, and in general I always go back into like early stages of Bronx and Hip-Hop as that. That was my early influences and shit like that.
1000WORD$: Can I ask you what movie theater did you grow going to in the Bronx?
Spanish Ran: Oh, Whitestone. Yo, you know how many times we snuck in that shit? Like yo, bro, that shit was infamous for not taking your ticket.
1000WORD$: You just go to the bathroom and that's it.
Spanish Ran: And your man just opened the back door, you all on some sneaking shit. That shit – Whitestone – that shit was a legendary spot, man. It hurts my heart every time I pass by them because, you know, that shit's a parking lot now for school buses. So every time I pass by that shit, I'm like, there's just so much history in that shit.
1000WORD$: So much. Do you know that back when Batman came out, that these dudes killed each other in the movie theater in Whitestone? If you look it up, be like "Batman premiere at Whitestone." A dude skipped a dude in line, getting popcorn, and the dude was like "Yo, I'm gonna come back." And he came back, and while the dude's eating his popcorn, sitting down, watching, about to start the movie, they shoot at each other. Like the dude pulled out, and another dude pulled out, and they just went at it. Bing, bing, bing, bing.
Spanish Ran: Wow. You know what's so crazy? I actually watched Batman at Whitestone. I remember. I remember that. I just remember watching that shit during that time when it came out. That's crazy. I remember. That's crazy.
1000WORD$: Whitestone was like a paradise, bro. Like whenever you got to go there, it was in the middle of nowhere. Because it's all fucking highways, and you just creep in that shit. And then you know, suddenly, they got the fucking Time Crisis. The fucking dubs, all that shit, the photobooth. Shoutout to fucking Whitestone.
Spanish Ran: The photobooth, wow. The photobooth. The games in the corner. I remember watching classic Hip-Hop shit. "Paid in Full," "Belly," "Backstage." "Backstage" is one of the movies that just brought me to a whole nother world, outside of just rapping, looking at behind the scenes shit. Obviously, it's "Backstage" and shit, but I remember watching it through at Whitestone. Being mesmerized like, "Oh, there's other shit besides we got to be a rapper? Like there's fucking tour managers and fucking A&R?” I ain't know none of that shit. So that shit made me look at Hip-Hop as bigger than just rap. You could do all this shit and still do your thing, you know what I'm saying?
1000WORD$: At what age did you start producing?
Spanish Ran: I got into it late, like 27.
Spanish Ran: Just fucking around with it, just playing around with it, really. Like, my man had an MPC, and he would show me. I would go, he was one of them dudes that have mad equipment, and you know in the hood, nobody really has none of that shit. Even to have a home studio at the time, that was a super rare thing. So my man had all this equipment, and I was just mesmerized. Cause I wanted to do music, I just didn't know what I wanted to do, whether it was rap? I mean, later on, it was engineering and and that shit, but he was one of the first dudes that made me look at it like, "Yo, let me try looking at this equipment that he has." And when he had a kid, he stopped fucking around with that and that scene. He was like, "You could hold it down." And [I said,] "Just teach me how to just do your thing." So I was like, "Just teach me the basics." And then from there, I'll just figure it out because I'm one of those dudes I gotta visualize it. I gotta see it.
1000WORD$: Me too.
Spanish Ran: Teach me – You can tell me a million things. I just gotta be right there for you to teach me and shit.
1000WORD$: My mind blocks that kind of information for some reason. When somebody be like, "you gotta do this," I'm like, "just show me, n****."
Spanish Ran: Yeah. Yeah. It's really like, "Show me." Or, you know, nowadays, you have some tutorials, but it's a lot more different if you know a person that's already hands on with it, they can really show you the basics. Once I got the basics, I'm already tunnel vision, going straight forward with everything. So I got into it late. I was playing around with it for a little minute. And then I was like, "Yo, let me teach myself how to engineer, how the music [happens with] engineer shit." Because outside of just beats, I want to do everything. I want to make the song. I don't want to just give a beat out, I want to do hands-on of everything. And I went to school for the shit. I went to school for engineering. And I learned the basics on how to really record people and tones and sonics. Shit that didn't make sense to me then, years later makes sense like all right.
1000WORD$: Does it feel like you put on an extra coat of armor like, “Boom!”?
Spanish Ran: Yeah, hell yeah. Hell yeah. Especially as you get nice with it. Because before, like anything else, when you start doing shit, you're not gonna be the nicest. You're gonna be super trash unless you're God's gift to talent, you know what I mean? But you gotta work with it. And as I got better with it, that's when I started getting a little more like "Alright, I think I know what I'm doing." And then, slowly progressing, I'll play beats with so many people, because I already had relationships with a few rappers around the way, you know I'm saying? Not even just doing music just trying to help out, trying to get them into like an office and a record label and shit like that. Just being an ear to the streets, and me knowing A&R's already coming on myself later on, like really pushing people to try to get signed or even just getting them familiarized with A&R, know what I'm saying? And that pretty much helped out with me playing beats, because it's like, "Oh, he doesn't just listen to music, he knows how to do this shit."
Spanish Ran: You know, people be critiquing music, but if they've decided to do music it's like, "Yo, my n****, this shit is trash." You know what I'm saying? I don't want to be that guy.
1000WORD$: Yeah. I hear you. I hear you. Oh, you know, what are your favorite sneakers growing up? Like what attracted you to to sneakers? Because I know that from New York – being from New York in general – and especially me and you, we from the Bronx, and shit, when you go to school, they don't even give a fuck what language you speak, a motherfucker looking at your feet and your clothes first, you know I'm saying. So what are your top three sneakers that you would like rock out for the whole year right now, if you was like a high school, elementary?
Spanish Ran: Jordan 4s. Jordan 3s. Cement Jordans. And the Royal 1s. They're more of a cliche for Jordans, but then I had a phase too like dependent on years and shit like that, like early 2000s Mitsuda, like Foamposites, like the Royal Blue Pennies, the original joints, I had the red and black joints. So there was always phases. So as a kid, shorties, we was more like Air Force 1s like the Lows and the Highs with the strap hanging out. Never did Mids. It was always been like that. It was like, you've never understood why nobody fucked with Mids, but it was just one of those things with boredom. It's like, "Why are you wearing those shits, man? Get the Lows." It was just like already in the DNA, like, "I can't wear, I can't buy Mids. I gotta get with some Highs and Lows and shit like that."
1000WORD$: It gotta be the right sneaker that came out.
Spanish Ran: And you were doing like it's one of them joints, like you didn't understand why until you just got wherever this shit takes two at the same time. But yeah, like I have phases in my life where I liked different sneakers. So, it could have been Air Force 1s as a shorty, then Air Maxes: '95s, '97s, and then Jordans and Foamposites and then back to Jordans. Yeah, different phase. And I don't know if you remember, remember when like summertime, you're just wearing Timbs like the field boots with shorts.
1000WORD$: Yeah, the Beef and Broccs and shit. Yeah.
Spanish Ran: So it was like phases of my life that I'm like, "Yo, I'm gonna just wear Timbs in the summertime."
1000WORD$: Me too. I did that too. I did that. I did that. What I was gonna say for me right now, my top three sneaker, for right now has to be – that I could just probably chill with for the rest of my life with – it will have to be like a pair of green New Balance 990s, a pair of cement 3s, like you said, and a pair of Barkleys, the black, white and purple shits.
Spanish Ran: You know what's funny? I just bought the black on black joint, the one that Prodigy had on the "Infamous" cover. I used to have them shits in '05, '06 and fucked them shits up, not knowing better, you know I'm saying? And then when it came back out, I was like, "Nah, I need these shits back." So yeah, those are classics. Even the New Balance wave, you know what I'm saying? I've been been on that cozy shit. My pops used to wear Stan Smith's and Windbreakers back in the day. I used to always give him shit, like, "Why are you wearing this shit?" I was wearing Jordans and all that. I became that guy now, like Windbreakers, Stan Smith's, New Balances. Some super comfortable, cozy shit. You know we going to the show, so when we're standing up the whole time, our feet start to get a little cramped.
1000WORD$: And you start standing a little differently, you might crease your shits, you know what I'm saying?
Spanish Ran: Word.
1000WORD$: Who was the first person to get out on a Spanish Ran beat?
Spanish Ran: Tree Mason.
1000WORD$: How long ago was that?
Spanish Ran: Twelve years ago. I ain't know shit what I was doing. I just had a beat, and he was just like, "Yo, that shit's dope. Let me rock on it." Yeah, Tree Mason.
1000WORD$: Shoutout to Tree Mason. So now, you produce for your own in-house collective, right?
Spanish Ran: Right.
1000WORD$: What keeps you motivated and what makes you push – I know you probably push your homies, right? – What keeps you motivated? What keeps you guys motivated?
Spanish Ran: So for me, it's just listening to what's going on, like being more influenced, you know what I'm saying? Because at the end of the day, with hip hop, there's competition, right? But I look at it as competition by being inspired. You know, I don't like it like, "Yo, I'm number one." We all supposed to feel that way, you know what I'm saying?
Spanish Ran: But producers are a lot more different because it's more of a peer thing. Rappers is more competition, now I'm betting. Producers just like – it could be that way, but I feel like it's more of a conglomerate, more like, "Yo, he made some shit, and now I gotta cook up some crazy shit cause now I'm inspired for what he just did." I'm big on that when I hear Alchemist, like if I hear some crazy Alchemist beat, I'm like, "Damn, this shit crazy, I gotta go back to the drawing board." Or even with my n****s, my peers like V Don, Futurewave, and Conductor like all these guys that I've been hearing, like, "Yo, this is hard." And we'll even just be on the phone with V Don and shit be like, "Oh, you killed that shit. Let me go back and like try to knock some shit out." Like how it was back in the day, when Premo, Pete Rock, all the legends. Large Professor and shit like that. So it's just one of those things you know?
1000WORD$: Facts. Thank you for this conversation, bro.
Spanish Ran: No Worries.