I caught up with Julz from the New York based twin duo Strawhat Dynasty to talk hip hop. Having just released their FREE online mixtape, ‘Welcome to HellsGate’ I wanted to find out more about their sound and influences.
What’s up Julz please introduce yourself and tell me a little about how you formed a rap group?
Well I’m Julian Julz Pacheco, born and raised native of New York City, hailing from the borough of Queens, repping my neighborhood Astoria. All the components of my natural hip hop life, and New York upbringing led me to the art of MCing (Rap). About 6 years ago I discovered I could rap. It was on a long Train ride home from the beach, I pulled out my sidekick LX (my phone at the time) and went to the notes section. I remembered thinking to myself “man I really love hip hop, and English class was my best subject…I wonder, would I be able to rap? “ After a long 2 hour train ride home, I had written my first verse, which till this day is one of my favorite verses. I had discovered a gift, but little did I know how far I was going to be willing to take it later on.
The first thing I did was show my brothers, my bboy (break dance) crew which I had created on high-school “5 Crew Dynasty “. At this point in our bboy lives we had just started traveling the World battling and representing for NY. I continued to play around with this gift of mine for about a year, my twin brother Anthony “Trix” Pacheco had seen my growth and his curiosity grew as well. It was at this time he discovered he had the gift as well.
As all of this occurred my brother and I had been starting to listen to the new “underground/independent” hip hop scene. Artist such as “Big Wax and Hopsin ” had blown our minds, and taught us that hip hop was not dead, it’s just moved on to a different scene, the new age digital media. And it was now possible to make it on your own as an artist. After that we had decided that we would Hone our new found natural abilities and become all around deadly MC’S. Who would manifest hip hop through our own image and experiences. From deep within the culture our strength would all come from our bboying, I’m twenty five years of age but I feel at least 5 years older.
It sounds like you have a real deep rooted love for Hip Hop, how did you first fall in love with it?
Hip hop to us was never just music, it was a whole culture that we just happened to stumble upon. Some would call it chance, other’s may see it as destiny. My father Julio “Baby Flip” Pacheco was a gifted gymnast in the 1980’s and had been engulfed in the creation of the culture we now know as Hip hop. Repping Queens with his crew known as “The Young City Boys”. I always seen him bboying growing up as a kid at family parties and events. When me and my brother were 9 years older he showed us an old movie called “Breakin”. I believe at that moment our lives changed forever.
After watching “Breakin” our entire lives for the next 4 years would be consumed by 1980’s culture, from music, to movies, to the way we lived our lives. Nothing but Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, run dmc and many more founding hip hop icons bumped through our headphones. From Michael Jackson videos, to Rocky Balboa movies , to the freestyle music my mother listened to every day while cleaning and cooking.
But it wasn’t until middle school, when me and Anthony would discover beat street, wild style, the true art of bboying, and meet the legendary Ken Swift without even knowing who he really was.
So you’ve been heavily influenced by the bboy culture, bboys didn’t orginially listen to hip hop back in the day, so you must have had a diverse range of musical influences?
Our musical influences that contributed to our ability to write and create rhymes was really just how we naturally grew up in NYC and the heavy influences of the music we would find ourselves bboying to in the early to late 2000’s. When your a hardcore bboy growing up in that era, hours upon hours of old school hip hop, jazz, funk, opera, salsa, and breaks are drilled into your mind. And what’s more is the body memory you create when you move to that music. What I refer to as “The side groups” were what we would Dance to every day. The groups that aren’t really referred to as the heavy/main stream hitters. Groups such as “The Fu Schnickens, The Pharcyde, Organized Konfusion, Da Bush Babees, and many more. Funk and soul was mandatory. “Date With The Rain, Rock Creek Park, I Believe in miracles, and Jimmy Castors it’s Just Begun were only some of the examples upon hundreds of more beats.
I originally met you both as bboys, an artform which requires a lot of dedication, how do you manage your time for both of your passions?
Well bboying has been a major component in my life for as long as I can remember. Over 10 years, practicing and competing, and just being a student to the culture. I can’t lie , its become difficult recently to balance the two, but not because one takes time away from the other, but because I also have to work and take care of my everyday responsibilities. For the first time in my life I haven’t been bboying religiously, and a lot of my free time has gone into my music. Its hard to realize because I love bboying so much, and rap just became just as important. I still practice , but slowed down with my battles, but I plan on returning back to the competitive bboy life, that’s why I work so hard on music.
There us no divide in my mind between bboying and rap. Although they are two different skills, there concepts and ideology couldn’t be anymore similar. Im not surprised since they derive from the same culture. Bboying is about self expression by creating your own movement through your body. Rap is also self expression by creating your own language, the way you talk, the words you used are basically the same thing as the steps you choose to master in bboying and eventually create.
When you freestyle in bboying its to work on your improvisational abilities as well as get to know the natural way in which your body moves and flows. Freestyle in rap does the same with the muscle memory in your jaw, which helps your natural flow, and also work on your ability to think on the spot.
Bboys also have sets, which are a pre-made order of movement that was thought out and practiced in a way to hit every time. As an MC, we call this our writtens, we have pre-written these veses, and practiced them numerous times so we can always hit them perfectly.
They are both competitive arts as well, and require an extensive vocabulary. Basic movement, freezes, and flexibility are the necessary vocabulary which can be compared to words and flows and concepts or rap.
I know you both as bboys and I knew you rapped but I was really surprised at the sound of your mixtape! It was really reminiscent of the 90’s with a newskool flava, I really enjoyed listening to the diversity in it.
I hear a lot of different flows on this mixtape, how difficult do you find it to switch between different rhyme patterns?
Well we treat our Mcing like we treat our bboying. We train it, and we train it hard. Throughout these 5 to 6 years I’ve compiled a various amounts of my own techniques to improve and learn rap. Specifically in flows to answer your question. Rap was the only thing that ever came natural to me, everything else in my life ive worked very hard to even become decent at, especially bboying. When starting to rap, my flow naturally felt advanced and intricate, just not quite as controlled as it is now. In a short amount of time I was able to understand and perform the advanced basics of the 90’s boom bap style of rap flow. Once I understood this, I was able to teach myself other flows at a more rapid pace. Some taking more time to learn and understand then the others. For example, to learn what me and my bro call the “Machine Gun Flow” which means to flow extremely fast like Twista or Tech N9ne, I listened to nothing but fast rap for 5 months straight to even understand the basics of this technique. Once you learn one flow, it becomes easier to learn others, and also enables you to do more with the flows you already know. You also need to be open minded to different forms of rap, since its evolved, theres alot more things to cover.
This mixtape has a lot of old material, do you have new material and how has your style developed?
Not many people are aware that the songs on the mixtape are 2 to 3 years old. Old yes, but we have so much faith in them that they are still up to par for a dope mixtape. I have written so many thinga since the songs on the mixtape, honestly my skill level feels light years ahead of whats on the mixtape. We are currently creating and recording new material as we speak, the next mixtape will feel as if we had just ugraded out of no where ha ha. I’ve strengthened a lot of my weaknesses since then, and you will definitely notice a more evolved Julz when you hear what we have for you.
Thank you very much for your time, I’m excited to see what the future brings for you musically. Hope to see you very soon!
You can check out the FREE mixtape here: