Native Sun will be bringing true hip hop to The Barn Stage at Mojostock this Saturday at 10 p.m. playing a hybrid set with Rusty Redenbacher. Combining live instrumentation with dope beats and compelling lyrics, Native Sun is the premiere hip hop act in Indianapolis. I recently had a chance to talk with the drummer of Native Sun, Richard “Sleepy” Floyd about the state of the local hip hop scene, why Indianapolis artists are slept on and how he got his nickname.
KS: How long have you been with Native Sun?
SLEEPY: I was one of the co-founders of the group. Me and the emcee Bobby Young actually started as a group called Abstraction back in the day when we were still students at IU in Bloomington. We came back here and teamed up with Brandon Meeks, the bass player and other producer in the band. He thought about renaming the brand and he came up with Native Sun. It has been a team effort all across the board, even with our productions, we all make beats between he three of us. We beat swap a lot.
KS: How did you decide on the name Native Sun?
SLEEPY: There is really no story behind it. It was a thought of Brandon Meeks, he was the one who came up with it. He would probably know a more definitive answer but I guess if I were to say, it is a play on words because it is S-U-N so, you know, we have always struggled with notoriety and getting our foot in the scene and finding our place in the hip hop scene in the city.
It speaks to that a little bit, because we embrace the true elements of hip hop. Not the garbage that you hear on the radio. I don’t want to sit up here and bash the radio or anything but it is what it is. We embrace the essence of what hip hop is. Now, everything with someone rapping over it is considered hip hop and it’s really not, you know?
We try to stay true to that 90s 2000s sound. The boom bap sound, that is the essence of hip hop and we have to keep that element in our music and we strive to do that with true lyricism, there are not a lot of true lyricists in today’s popular hip hop artists. That’s where the name derived from, we have an underdog complex, we are always trying to come up, and that will never chance because that keeps us hungry.
KS: “They call our city nap because it is the most slept on city in America,” why do you think that is?
SLEEPY: Because we are lost in translation. We are in the middle of Chicago, Detroit, I’m not going to say Columbus because it is like another Indianapolis, but we’re in the middle. What does Indiana’s license plate say for years? The Crossroads of America. When I think about that, I think people are just passing through. Yeah, it is a great place to get everywhere, it doesn’t take long to get to New York from here, it doesn’t take long to get to Chicago. We are a major city but in terms of the music and in terms of the perception of the music scene here, we are slept on.
Slept on just means that people don’t really take us seriously or they don’t look here for the talent. They don’t look to Indianapolis to be a hub of musicians and a great hub of a thriving music scene, but it is the total opposite. I put Indianapolis musicians and our music scene up against any other city. I’ve been blessed to tour and be in other major cities and see how things go, but especially in the Midwest, Indianapolis is the best area for local music and local musicians that are world class. We just try to be the ambassadors of that and tell our story because we have lived that with a lot of other musicians around here.
KS: What do you think of the local hip hop scene? How has it evolved since you guys first started out?
SLEEPY: It has evolved tremendously. It’s great. I’ve been able to work with pretty much everyone here that is doing it on a bigger level here in the city. Like Oreo Jones, Rusty Redenbaucher, Mister Kinetic. We’re going to play with Rusty at Mojostock. We’re doing a hybrid set with three acts.
I have seen tremendous growth in the past ten years. It has been awesome to see and I think it is only going to get better. The cool thing about it is that it is a community. A lot of the artists stick with each other and come out and support each other. So I think now, the biggest challenge for us as a hip hop community is to get that sound out. Take it abroad and spread it to the masses all over the country because it is unique. People aren’t coming here to look for us, we need to find them. It’s cool to be popular on the local scene but it is even cooler to be popular on the national scene. It has that potential.
KS: What do you think makes good hip hop? Who are some of your favorite rappers?
SLEEPY: To answer the first part of your question: dope beats and dope rhymes. You can’t have one without the other. Many times you’ll find the lyrics or flow is just not very good but the beat is hot. That is pretty much the standard these days- I hate to say it- in hip hop. The lyrical content is amateurish or diselementary. It isn’t really talking about anything that relates to real life experience, where the music derives from.
Hip hop derived from real life experience and storytelling; basically, having a good time. It was the original party music. It is not anywhere near that now. It is just talking about how many chains I got, bitches, all that stuff. We’re not on that. We just try to stick to the truest form of the element.
Some of my favorite artists and some of the bigger influences to us are Black Thought from the Roots. The Roots are great. They have a great sound and the cool thing about the Roots is they have continued to evolve over twenty plus years of making music. Each one of their albums have some memorable or classic moments. That says a lot. They have stuck to their guns.
I’m a big underground fan so there is a lot of music that I am influenced by. My tastes have changed a little bit. I am getting into more progressive production like Hudson Mohawk, the Union, J Dilla. Hip hop is a “here today, gone today” scenario. You can put out a record a year ago and it will sound like it came out five years ago. That’s just the way music is now. It is digitally available everywhere so the shelf life is a lot shorter. It makes it even more important to keep creating and keep evolving.
KS: Is it hard to balance working with Native Sun and Cosby Sweater?
SLEEPY: Yeah, it is. It has been a challenge because Native Sun is not able to play as much because the guys are adamant about me being there. We’ve had to turn down shows in the past because I have been on tour with Cosby Sweater, but the wheels are still turning. I am always in contact with the guys and it is a blessing in disguise because I am able to network on the road and meet different promoters and producers. I’m constantly plugging our music.
KS: One of your lines is, “What a novel idea, making music with a purpose.” What is the purpose of your music?
SLEEPY: Keeping the sound and making new people aware of what Indianapolis has to offer. We’re trying to be ambassadors of the city. We’re not saying that we are doing it better than everyone else around here but we’re flexing our muscles. Nobody else is spearheading the movement around here and that is the biggest pitfall. We have a lot of talent and a lot of great artists but the issue is we’re not getting our sound out of here. Not to leave, but just to get on the road to get out and tour.
KS: Last question, how did you get the nickname sleepy?
SLEEPY: Aww man. Well, it’s a funny story. In 8th grade, my baseball coach was my study hall teacher. It was at the beginning of the school year and I didn’t have any homework or anything so we were allowed to sleep. So I’m sleeping on one side of the cafeteria and study hall is over and I’m still sleeping. Right after that, detention is in the same area of the cafeteria. I slept through study hall and detention, so they called me Sleepy. There is a famous basketball player named Sleepy Floyd so it was pun intended for that name. I am the literal version of Sleepy Floyd. I don’t know how Eric Sleepy Floyd got his nickname but that is how I got mine. So when I went away to college, that is basically what people called me. Only my mom and my dad call me Richard.