SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.— I was introduced to Sean Hunt, known in the hip-hop world as Approach, in the spring of 2006 by a mutual friend at a basketball court in Lawrence, Kansas. Since that time I have seen Approach live more times than I can remember including an opening spot for the Pharcyde’s Fat Lip and in front of a sold out crowd at the Granada in Lawrence opening for Talib Kwali.
Having sold 5,000 copies of his latest album “Welcome to Share” from his own hand, Approach is an underground success. Running his own label, Datura, and producing acts such as Smoov Confusion and Royce Diamond, Approach made the move to San Francisco in September of 2007.
How did you get started in hip-hop?
In 1995 I was a sophomore in high school. I was hanging out with a group of guys called the Skillz Society. They just rhymed and made beats, not samples, but actually made beats. These guys that who had no formal musical training taught themselves how to play music. They were the best rhymers I knew. Being around those dudes as well as already having an ear for the music and already being a fan of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, I didn’t really start playing with rhyming until 1997, my senior year, I would take the opportunity show what I had.
In a live setting you tend to free style a lot, so do you do you write your rhymes ahead of recording or do you free style them?
I came from the true school element. There’s a style of rhyming, a written rhyme that was something that no one had heard. Then there were people like Mos Def and [Talib] Kwali that were off the top of the head and that’s where I came from. That’s how my Skillz Society crew trained me. “Brothafly Effect” I patterned that off free styling. I had a rhyme in my head and then patterned the beat off of it. To put it differently, it’s just like playing basketball and you have an opponent on their heels. You can go left or right, but you don’t really know what you’re going to do. You kind of have an idea in your head for what you want to do. No matter what the defender does, I know I am going to score on the left side, but it’s how pretty can I make it before I score.
When did you make the move to Lawrence?
I moved to Lawrence in August of 2002.
What was your reason for making the move?
There were two reasons for the move. First thing at that period of time in Kansas City it was tougher for us to get shows. The hip-hop shows I was going to were all playing in Lawrence. The Pharcyde, the Goodie Mob, Hieroglyphics—the pulse of the music that I was doing—were all going to Lawrence because that’s where the promoters were. That was where the market was at. The Granada, The Bottleneck—primarily The Bottleneck at that time were the ones giving us shows at that time. I decided instead of just begging and begging to do shows in Kansas City like we had been doing, I’d go out to Lawrence and try to open shows for people that I really loved. I opened for Del the Funky Homosapien.
At that time I was in my early twenties so the people were my age. That was like college time for me. While most people were in classes, my classes were learning to book tours and record records. That was my classes. The second thing is that I had a buddy that was in Murpheesboro, Tenn., that started this label Datura, which I run, that he was about to be done with. It was a college project for him and all the people that he got to work on the label with him were ready to move on to other things. I had the album called Ultra Proteus, so I said, ‘Come out to Kansas, you’re from out here like I am, let’s try to find a place in Lawrence it’ll be cheaper, my boys Nez and Archetype are looking for another roommate, we can put our forces together and do this thing.’ So we did and it was perfect timing.
Did you record “Ultra Proteus” in Kansas City?
I recorded it in Lawrence with Johnny Quest. I originally recorded it in Overland Park with a guy named Jeff Mitchell. That was the original recording. My buddy Ben, who was the primary reason why I did it, he made a beat which ended up being very funky and upbeat which was a lot more like how I played live. Most of the stuff I did up until that was very melodic and laid back. It didn’t capture the energy live that I had. My buddy Ben had this beat for a compilation he wanted to do so we just kind of winged it—another freestyle type thing and it worked out perfectly. It was the vibe I wanted. “Ultra Proteus” was born. I recorded a rough demo with my buddy Jeff. He dug it and added a lot of guitar and horns. I played a little bit of drums and we just added all of this gumbo to these beats I’d been making on my MPC. A couple other people heard it and wanted me to put it out, but I told them, ‘Let me record it the proper way.’ Johnny Quest came in and he was just graduating from recording school somewhere in Arizona. We met up in Lawrence and we recorded that album the summer before I moved there. We were working on it for a year before I moved there and then I moved there and we finished it up.
Tell me about “The Nu”?
“The Nu” was part of three records I did at the same time with my boys Tyler Anderson and Salva and a few other producers. “The Nu” was in a mixtape format. I always like to make my albums with myself and one other producer. I’m not big on getting a beat from this guy and then getting a beat from this guy. I prefer to do it where me and one other guy share a brain wave so that we have a congruent vibe. “The Nu” was a way for me to put out these songs that I had done with all of these different producers that I had worked with that were like, ‘Dude what are we going to do with all of these songs’ so “The Nu” was a way for me to create an album based on a collection of work. It’s a very summertime record.
You were doing three records at the same time?
I did three albums at the same time. I did “The Nu,” “Welcome to Share,” and “Aloe Park,” which hasn’t come out yet. “Welcome to Share” was my project with Salva that was more an electro, big sound record. “Aloe Park” was kind of more my classic boombasitc soul record that I did with Ill Poetic producing it. “Aloe Park” was kind of soulful and emotional. “Welcome to Share” is split in two where it’s real thought heavy on the latter half of the record and the first half is kind of clubby. “The Nu” was kind of a chance for me to use some ideas that didn’t work here or work there. When I was tired of working on a record I could jump into “The Nu.” If I was working on a song that was too heavy I could work on “The Nu” and do some happy shit. If I was working on something on “Welcome to Share” that was too clubby I could jump into “The Nu” and do some more interpreter like stuff. It was a perfect middle record between the two records that were taking up most of my time.
I didn’t realize that you worked on all three of those at the same time?
It was a like a year and half’s worth of work. Me and Tyler started working and he had just gotten Pro Tools so that was like his first time recording anybody and I had this record “Welcome to Share” that I wanted to do with Salva so that was our way of breaking into his Pro Tools. He had been recording himself and other people, but he had just gotten his Pro Tools rig. And I said, ‘Hey I have this record I want to do.’ And he said, ‘I have Pro Tools.’ We got together and started working on “Welcome to Share,” but we hit a few snags because he was learning a new technology and I was kind of creating a new way for myself to rhyme. So in between those snags we started these other projects. “Aloe Park” was done really fast. We did that in a week, but it went through different phases like his computer crashed and we lost half the project. I recorded a couple of the tracks with my boy Royce and then we had to wait on certain guest appearances and stuff like that. “Welcome to Share” took a bulk of the time because Salva moved to San Francisco in the middle of recording. He had been living in Milwaukee, but we had never met. I knew the crew that he was with. He had followed my work since a record I forgot about that I did right before “The Nu” called “Will Do” which is still not out. When I was shopping that record and trying to get it picked up by a label Salva got it and wanted to put it out, but it was going to cost him more than he thought so I said, ‘Let’s do an album together.’ That came to “Welcome to Share” which led me to Tyler which then led me to many different records.
Is there any reason you’ve yet to put out “Aloe Park”?
The “Aloe Park” record just started to take shape. I know it’s a day and age where it’s about how fast you can make records and get them out. People have this ideal that if you’re not putting out something like every six months then you’re forgotten about. For most people that might be too long. For me, I’m not on a label I do my own thing and I’ve still been doing the same shows I’ve always done. I’m still in the minds of the people that are fans of mine. There’s a small market there, but if you sell the records for $10 a piece, 5,000 of them, that’s a good living. I work really quick. I have three of four records done that no one has heard. I can do a record in a couple of days. You play some music I can compose the whole song. Me liking the song and finding a collection of songs take a little bit longer. I want them to mean something. I want them to have a place. I want as many people to be exposed as them as possible. I had really high hopes for “Welcome to Share” and it did amazingly, but I still feel like it’s gone relaltively unheard. I feel it’s a strong record. I have to keep moving. Between August and January of next year, people are going to be flooded by music from me. It may be in a unique way like $5 will get you this bulk and other unique ways. And then I have a collection of songs that I feel were really important songs in my musical growth that nobody has heard so that is probably going to come out next month or this month. Me and my guys may not be as successful as we want to be at this moment, but in 10 years or so people are going to catch on and we want to have a collection of quality music.
What’s life like in San Francisco?
San Francisco is a new place where I can do some new things. I am playing some guitar on my new record. I don’t play guitar, but I’m doing a lot of things that if I was at home I wouldn’t do because I am surrounded by so many talented people. It was easier to make a phone call.
How is it opening shows for bigger acts?
I only get uncomfortable when I am doing material that I don’t feel like I took enough time to get to know. If you’ve practiced and you know you’re ability then I know I am going to execute it and have more fun than you can possibly have. And then people feel like you gave it your all. Some people get defeated by the crowd. I don’t fall into that. If they aren’t digging me or if someone does something that is uncalled for I will call them out on the mic. I will make you uncomfortable over the PA. When you’re a person that can come through very personable, it’s hard for you to hate me when I’m talking to you.