Love it or hate it, a name like CunninLynguists sticks with you. The three-man rap group has put out multiple studio albums and mixtapes over their 14-year tenure, traveling far and wide from their beginnings in Kentucky. The truth is, they’ll go down as some of the most lyrically clever emcees in hip-hop history, starting right with their moniker.

As the trio gears up for an East coast tour this November, including a show at The Middle East Downstairs, I spoke with Deacon the Villain about their latest album, modern rap, and the origins of the group’s name.

 

Jon: You guys have toured extensively over the years. How do you keep it exciting?

Deacon: That’s a good question. There’s been a constant evolution since the beginning. First it was me and Kno. Then the second album was me, SOS, and Kno. Then it’s just been me, Kno, and Natti since like 2005. So the lineup change alone keeps things exciting. Aside from that, just friends from the industry that we bring on the road with us. Anybody from Tonedeff to J-Live.

Jon: CunninLynguists has been in the game for a while now, and obviously the music industry and rap scene has changed a lot since the beginning. Who do you like that’s coming onto the scene today? Who’s good for hip hop right now?

Deacon: There’s this kid out of Atlanta named Raury. And then you’ve got cats like Kendrick Lamar. I think this next generation isn’t trying to imitate anybody before them. They’re not purposefully trying to create a new genre. Their process is about just being free.

Jon: Do you have a favorite artist you’ve performed with?

Deacon: Tonedeff, PacFM, Substantial. We’ve all done so much aging together; when we do nights together—clubs, festivals, or whatever—we can perform with each other so much. I mean, it’s always fun opening up for the Cee-Lo’s and the Kanye’s. Those dudes are a lot of fun to perform with because we always smoke a lot of weed together. It’s always fun to perform with the big stars, but performing with your closest friends, that’s sort of what you do it for.

Jon: Let’s talk about Strange Journey Volume 3. You guys have a ton of collaboration on this album. Almost every track is featuring someone—MURS, DelCelph TitledApathy… What compelled you guys to reach out to so many people to be on this record?

Deacon: The Strange Journey series is something we do when we’re in between albums. That’s kind of what this series is about. It’s our opportunity to work with all the people we meet on our journeys and all the touring that we do. When we do actual albums we don’t like to have so many features; it’s more about us—it’s our time.

Specifically for Strange Journey Volume 3, it was A&R’ed by our fans. From beginning to end, we let our fans suggest every feature: album artwork, song concepts, packaging, what’s going to be used for the vinyl artwork vs. cassette tape artwork vs. CD artwork. Our fans suggested every single person that’s on the album; it was up to us to figure out how to get those people on the album.

Jon: Of all your records and mixtapes, which was the most fun to make?

Deacon: The most fun album to make was probably Dirty Acres. That’s the one that represents our roots the most, our truest musical influences. That album’s like, very, very southern. People sometimes compare us to Goodie Mob or Outkast. That album probably holds true to their statement more than any them. It was the easiest one to make and the funnest one to make because me, Kno, and Natti pretty much lived together for the making of that album.

Jon: All right, I gotta ask. Who came up with the name CunninLynguists?

Deacon: Oh man. All right, when I met Kno, he was in this group called The Continuum, and I was in a group called ILLSTAR. In The Continuum was a cat named Jugga the Bully. We actually recorded the first CunninLynguists stuff at Jugga’s house. It was just me, Jugga the Bully, and Kno sitting around on the couch shooting the shit. Jugga knew that me and Kno were working on a project, and at the time, the songs we were making were really serious: “Mindstate,” “Missing Children,” some of the more heavy songs. We were like, we want a name, but we don’t want people to take us as serious as our sound… We were just throwing names around, and CunninLynguists was born. I can’t tell you who really said it first, it sort of just came.

Jon: How would you describe CunninLynguists’ music without using genre names?

Deacon: I’m going to say what other people say about our music. People say our music sounds like a combination of Dungeon Family, Parliament Funkadelic, and Pink Floyd, with a heavy emphasis on the Pink Floyd. Our sound is hip-hop, but it’s very, Pink Floyd-ish, Deep Purple-ish, like those groups from the 60s and 70s that made psychedelic, progressive stuff. We’re very influenced by that. Of course hip-hop is the foundation—we grew up listening to Outkast, Scarface, Suave House, and other organic southern stuff.

Jon: When you think of music in Boston, what do you think of?

Deacon: [Laughs] The first person who comes to mind is Benzino from Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. I know he’s from Boston. But that’s probably not good for y’all.

Catch CunninLynguists play The Middle East Downstairs on November 9. Tickets are available here.

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