Bishop Slice The Untamable Tongue
The Untamable Tongue: An Interview With Bishop Slice
By Cody Liska
Photos Courtesy of Julian Lillie, aka Bishop Slice
Today’s hip-hop splinters across genres, mixing, re-creating and dividing itself into so many tentacles, into so many sub-genres. There’s a purpose, sure; maybe, in some cases, it’s to simply replicate mainstream music because an artist lacks vision; maybe it’s to defy classification with the intention of creating a new lane. Whatever the reason, it’s made much of today’s mainstream hip-hop divisive in the softest terms possible—the opposite of what defined early hip-hop, back when a rapper was someone you didn’t want to fuck with, even if they were “mainstream.”
Nowadays, that hardened, street-wise mentality is generally reserved for mixtapes and “underground” artists. Because soft sells. (To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a slow, heartfelt song. There is something wrong, however, with a song created with the strict intention of being soft because it fits a sales formula.)
Maybe it’s just me, but Alaska rappers don’t normally fall into a soft alcove of hip-hop, and if they do, they’re quickly ignored and soon forgotten—Alaska is a good place to live if you want to be ignored—because, as far as music is concerned, only the best of anything survives and gains notoriety up here.
Which brings me, finally, to Julian Lillie, aka Bishop Slice. I’ve since had much of his discography on repeat, but the first time I heard Slice, in full, was on “I’m From Fairbanks” off last year’s Gold Kings album he did with Michael “Starbuks” Cofey. To me, that track and music video are perfect examples of what this new generation of Alaska rappers need to embody—the dive bar you go to every weekend, winter bonfires, your neighborhood, your culture, your heritage, Alaska shit. Because, when it comes right down to it, hip-hop, in its best form, is just another way of telling a story, and Slice can tell a story.
I could tell you what Slice told me, about how he spent six years in prison and came out a better man, about his thoughts on the resurgence of Alaska hip-hop; I could even tell you what his dream collaborations are, but I think you'd rather hear it from him.
When did you start making music?
I started making music at the age of two. I started playing the drums [and then] I picked up the guitar at eight, then I learned how to play the keyboard. At 12 is when I first picked up the pen and started writing.
I couldn't focus in school because all I could think about was music, [so] I used to write lyrics on my homework and basically whatever piece of paper I could write on. That's all I cared about and, [considering] the situation that I was in concerning my mother’s addiction and my father getting sent to federal prison for 17 years, music was my only escape. Music has always been my passion. My mother used to put headphones to her stomach when she was carrying me, and when I was a child she would put me in front of the TV while music videos were playing.
What's the story with you going to prison?
I went to prison for using "excessive/deadly force" in altercations. I'm very thankful for the things that I learned [while in prison]. I remember when I was sitting in that cell, I had to use everything negative around me and turn it into a positive. I would write non-stop, and I had the advantage on everybody because I had nothing but time to write and perfect my craft while everyone on the other side of the fence was busy with life.
I recorded over the phone with [my friend] Monster and sometimes wrote three to four songs a day. I know so many good people in there that made a bad choice in life and will only be making it out of prison in a body bag. I learned from a lot of people's mistakes. Most of my friends in there are doing life or football numbers. I have a chance [now] that most don't get, and I'll never take that for granted.
During that whole experience is when I learned how to be a man. I knew that if I acted out and did the same things I was doing before, I'd be right back in jail.
When I was facing 99 years, I remember praying once and asking God that if he gives me another chance that I'll take care of my family and focus all of my energy on music, and that's exactly what I've been doing. The second day after I was released from doing six years, I did a show for the less fortunate in my community. I put a show on for them, had barbers and hairstylists volunteer their time to provide haircuts, had donations for clothing and a catering service to serve them food. I know what it's like to have nothing, so I try to bring hope to people that are in those types of situations [in order to] show them that people care and they can be successful in life.
Where did the name Bishop Slice come from?
I always came at people sideways when I was young, like a bishop [in chess]. I was untamable, so I got the name "Bishop" from the street, and I got "Slice" from prison when I was locked up for multiple stabbing cases and attempted murder.
How would you describe Fairbanks—its people and its culture—to someone who's never been there?
It has the coldest winters, but the most beautiful summers. We've always had a music scene as well. Summertime is the best because that's when the city is most alive and there are constant events. we have WEIO, which is the World Eskimo Indian Olympics and the Festival of Native Arts... there's a huge native community. But one thing that I love most about this place is no matter who you are—race, culture, etc.—everybody respects one another because we're a community that supports.
Is there a difference in the music scene in Fairbanks versus the music scene in Anchorage?
I think they're the same, as in the support for those putting on for their city, but the style of music is different. There's a lot of trap music coming from Anchorage, and it's hella dope. I support a lot of artists from A-Town. In Fairbanks, I feel we incorporate different genres into hip-hop, and [we're] really diverse. I'm not saying Anchorage isn't because they are, but we are always in the scene when it comes to all genres, [we] support the music, connect with different artists, whether it's putting a folk singer or vocalist from a rock band on a hip-hop beat and making something beautiful.
All in all, I respect Alaska’s scene in general because it feels like Fairbanks and Anchorage artists are starting to work together a lot and support one another. Forget the whole one city versus another, it's all about the 907!
It seems like the Alaska hip-hop scene is experiencing a resurgence. Why do you think that is?
I think a lot of it has to do with how easy it is to make music now. [It] seems like everybody has a studio or home set-up [now]. I remember when I had to constantly be paying for studio time, until I invested in myself and made one in my home. Also, Alaska hasn't been put on the map yet, and everybody is hungry to be the first one to do it.
Do you feel like you're a contender, to put Alaska on the map?
Is it important for you to accurately represent your heritage through your music?
Of course. [I'm] Alaska Native, Athabascan, and part Hispanic. I'm proud to be Native. Alaska is really where my people and I are from, before it was even a state. We come from this land.
Do you think it's harder to be a rapper from Alaska than it is to be one from the Lower 48?
Yes and no. I think it's harder concerning breaking through to the rest of the world. But locally, it's easy. All in all, if you're dope as fuck, I don't think it matters where you're from because you will get heard.
I think it's safe to say you have some of the best punchlines in Alaska rap. Do you have a certain amount you try to pack into a song, or is it just whatever comes out during the writing process?
I like to keep the punches coming (laughs).
Any favorite on the new album?
"It's not a game, I don't play, water hose rappers got a knot tied in the middle of them, they don't spray," off Snappin'.
"You talk about the work, the shit that you haven't seen, and I'm all about the fuckin' snow like Crude Magazine," off North Star Borough Flow.
How would you describe your sound?
Diverse in rhyme schemes, choppin' and straight Alaska. I like to challenge myself—if it isn’t hard to write or record, I don't think it's good enough.
Do you have a dream collab?
Dead: Pac; Alive: Eminem.
I’ve also been wanting to collab with rock vocalists and guitarists—[artists like] Axle Rose and Slash.
Will there be an Untamable Tongue tour?
Yea. Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau and numerous villages. I'm waiting on confirmations to give exact names [of villages], but they're along the Alaska Highway.
Right on. I think that does it, man, unless you have anything else you wanna say?
I just want to say thank you to everybody that has supported me over the years, much love to all Alaska artists, venue owners, photographers and videographers, and writers such as yourself that's continuing to keep the culture heard, seen and alive.