Sick Jacken and Cynic are lauded Pico-Union rappers; the former is a member of underground hip-hop sensation Psycho Realm, while the latter is one half of Street Platoon and a frequent Realm collaborator.
Psycho Realm became a phenomenon in the '90s, but the group was put on hold in 1999 one month before the release of their second album after Jacken's brother Big Duke — the other half of Realm — was shot in the neck. The incident left him a paraplegic and Jacken left the music world for a few years. He returned to the stage with some help from Cynic and his partner Crow; Jacken and Cynic have a new record out today titled The Terror Tapes Vol. 2. We spoke with them recently at the Graff Lab in Pico-Union, near where they grew up.
It's been six years since Terror Tapes Vol. 1 was released. Why the long gap between albums?
Jacken: That was a record that we did after the Sick Symphonies album and it was just to showcase our rhyming. It was a mixtape record and between that we put out The Legend of the Mask & The Assassin with DJ Muggs, I put out The Stray Bullets…
Cynic: Unfortunately, this took a while. We really had no plans on doing Terror Tapes Vol. 2 any time soon because there were so many other projects that we were working on but, obviously, things happen and those projects ended up being put on hold for a while. We had to move forward and then we had to put out a record so we decided to start working on the second volume.
What kind of leap are you guys making from Vol. 1 to Vol. 2? Is this another mixtape record or something else?
J: This one we produced entirely ourselves. It's the first record we've produced since the first Psycho Realm and Street Platoon albums. The Sick Symphonies album we did ourselves as well but it was more with the whole crew.
C: Some of the songs on the Sick Symphonies album were records I had a verse on already or someone else had a hook and we just started finishing the songs and putting it together. There wasn't that much thought put into it. This'll be the first record that we actually sat there and started from scratch.
J: The idea behind the first Terror Tapes, like I said, was to showcase our lyrics, our rhyming and that's why we picked well-known rappers' beats and mixtaped them so you could hear how we rap as opposed to your favorite rapper. This one, we wanted to showcase our production side as well.
Jacken, your brother Big Duke's still playing a huge part in Psycho Realm despite being paralyzed from the neck down.
J: He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes. He helps out with the merchandising and still helps out with the concepts. He actually got into production now. He produced a track called “Metal Rain” on Stray Bullets. He's working on two or three records that he's producing entirely.
When you're paralyzed, that's a condition that's rare for anybody to come back from. For now, he's using technology to get around it. That guy's Superman. I'm glad that technology is where it's at and it helps him let out his creativity. He's working on beats, running websites, and designing merchandise. I tell him he does more work now than he used to do when he was walking.
Jack, you're Mexican-American and Cynic is from El Salvador. How does it feel to have this huge following across the world in Spanish-speaking countries considering you were raised in the U.S.A.?
C: That's where you feel [the love] the most. I remember the first time we went to Mexico, I remember a kid jumped onstage and I don't remember who the closest person was to him, it was either Jack or Crow, but whoever it was, he just ran up to them and started hugging him and crying. It wasn't a girl either, it was another man! That had a huge impact on me. That was the first time I ever experienced some shit like that. I was like 'Wow, we're actually doing some shit,” because you don't realize it.