Posts from February 26th, 2015

Da Vinci Interview : A Fillmore Story

February 26, 2015

When I think of Fillmore Street in San Franciso, I always think of Yoshi’s and the sushi spot next door, as well as Jazz festivals in summer and all the musical heritage that the area boasts.

It was illuminating to meet and chat with the young rapper Da Vinci, a Fillmore native, back in 2011 and hear about his experiences growing up and starting out in such a musically saturated place. We met at Gussies Chicken & Waffles on a sunny San Francisco afternoon and discussed a myriad of topics stemming from music and city life, and it prompted me to reflect a lot more on the socio-economic issues surrounding the Arts.

Here is my interview with Da Vinci as it originally appeared in Nerdtorious .. (shout out to San Jose’s David Ma!)

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A FILLMORE STORY: INTERVIEW WITH DAVINCI

(Alice Price-Styles, a young journalist and aspiring academic out of London, contacted me wanting to contribute an article. Ms. Styles has an affinity for hip-hop, particularly the ’90s era and has done some extensive coverage of Delicious Vinyl and its history. In line with some of her recent work, I thought it’d be interesting for her to interview one of SF’s current brightest MCs, DaVinci of the Fillmore district. Here’s a talk that went down between Alice and DaVinci at Gussie’s Chicken & Waffles. Word to DaVinci and shouts to Alice for the nice interview. – DM)

By Alice Price-Styles

A metropolitan melting pot of cultures and characters, the eclectic city of San Francisco has long been known for its diverse population and distinctive, colourful history. Tightly sandwiched between Japantown, Hayes Valley and affluent Pacific Heights is an area steeped in musical history: the Fillmore district. Music permeates the historic area’s atmosphere and activities, draws in scores of visitors each year, and has a profound affect on the lives of its residents.

Due to development and gentrification the Fillmore may be shrinking, but the district’s lineage of jazz and blues remains proudly preserved, and can be traced in the young musicians breaking out of the scene today. One artist aware of the Fillmore’s heritage and its neighborhood influence, for better or for worse, is underground rap artist, DaVinci. A talented emcee from the ‘Moe and highly aware of his surroundings, DaVinci the rapper seems rather wise beyond his years.

2010 saw his debut album The Day The Turf Stood Still, followed by the EP Feast or Famine in 2011. His gravelly voiced rhymes have been relating the heavy issues that he sees around him, garnering much interest and praise for their insight and honesty. In anticipation of his forthcoming LP The Moena Lisa, I met with DaVinci in the heart of the Moe (Gussies Chicken & Waffles!) to hear a little more from the rising rapper himself.

What would you say your musical background is? How did you first start getting into records and how did you start rapping?
I would say I first started getting into rapping in middle-school. When I was ten/ eleven years old I was in a band and played the drums – any instrument I could pick up I would try and play back then – and I learned how to read music, so that’s my foundation in music. I started writing rhymes around that time too – when there used to be free writing sessions I would write poetry, and slowly that turned into me putting poetry on top of music.

I was listening to all kinds, and a lot of local, music around that time. Scarface and The Ghetto Boys, Tupac, Wu Tang, GLP, Too Short, Ice Cube and NWA – anything that was popular around the early/mid-nineties, I was listening to and formatting my raps around. I noticed that they were basically expressing how they felt about their environments, so I did the same. I just kept doing it – never thinking ‘Oh I’m going to grow up and be a rapper’ – it was a hobby, and I had other things. I kicked it and cut class just like everybody else around that age, got into trouble, got out of trouble – but always kept doing music, writing raps after school to keep us out of real trouble. There were local recording studios and a couple of neighbourhood cats had closet-studios, and we used to just go over there for hours and make songs for fun. Eventually those songs got better and better – people started hearing them and we got popular in this Fillmore area. It just grew and people around me started saying ‘yo – let’s put a project together and try and get it to more people’ – and that’s kind of how we got to where we are right now.

 

What’s the idea or concept behind the name Da Vinci? Is there an allusion with that?
Well, it really doesn’t have too much to do with the famous painter Da Vinci. I said it in one of my raps a long time ago, at maybe 18, something like ‘Da Vinci paint a picture vivid’ – I said it in there and then people started calling me that…and it just stuck.

I was wondering who did the artwork for your album covers, and I thought maybe you had painted them yourself??
Nah, I can’t paint! I suck at painting and drawing, but we got some talented artists on our team, on our Sweetbreads label (SWTBRDS). One of our art directors Rob Martin did the cover.

You have your second LP The Moena Lisa coming out, could you say how it is going to be different from your past works?
The beats are going to be more progressive and it’s definitely going to be a little further away from what people might think of as traditional hip hop.

Because you’ve had a lot of comparisons to that more old, East-Coast sound…
Right, which I don’t like. I don’t like that comparison, but I understand where it comes from. All of the producers I work with, and myself as a rapper, had a starting point and are naturally trying to do something that feels like the next step on from the last thing that we did. So the EP Feast or Famine I feel is a few steps ahead production-wise and conceptually than the first LP The Day The Turf Stood Still was.

We want to create a trilogy, so that when you listen to the records together you will be able to see them as one. That’s kind of hard to tell with just one project, or even with two, but after three or four people will really be able to see the steps and progression; everybody is really challenging themselves to make something sound a little more unique than the first.

There is an apparent level of consciousness to your work – are there any figures, musical or otherwise, that have inspired you in that respect?
Definitely. I always feel like at the beginning of the night I’m gonna have fun, we’re gonna drink, have a party and have a good time – but at some point I’m going to say something that I feel is important. Because I know that from a young cats perspective I always appreciated rappers who I felt I could relate to on a social level, who understood where I was coming from and weren’t too serious or preachy all the time, but who also gave me some survival tactics as far as being able to live. Not just partying and smoking and having fun, but gave me something valuable that I can take with me. I appreciated cats like Nas, Tupac and Scarface who really dropped some quotables in their rhymes.

It may not necessarily have been one hundred per cent positive all the time, because you’re not naturally coming from a positive place, but I appreciated the fact that they did give me some game to take with me, some real knowledge that I couldn’t learn in school. The teacher couldn’t relate to me and give me the types of words that Nas and Jay Z did, or NWA and Ice Cube did back in the day. The books that they made us read in middle school and high school, like Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath – books that were standard for the public school system and were good books in a literary sense – didn’t really relate to me having to go home and having no food on the table. I couldn’t really get from it how to help my Mom put groceries in the refrigerator or help her put the lights on – I got that type of knowledge from the rap albums that I was introduced to at a young age. They helped me to realise that there were other people out there with similar struggles, so I want to give that to the youth who might possibly be in the same situation I was in at eleven or twelve.

When writing your lyrics do you tend to put yourself into situations, or do you write mainly from personal experiences?
I do sometimes have to take myself back to how I felt when I was in a certain situation, one that I’m not in right now. Sometimes I find myself in the same situation that I was in when I was fifteen, just in a different way – and that inspires me to write about it. I still have young cousins, nieces and nephews, and they go through a lot of the things that I went through. It inspires me to keep writing and keep doing what I’m doing, knowing that there is an audience out there that can relate to it. Even if they can’t relate to it, I would hope that they can learn from it and just appreciate it for what it is.

In the documentary The Fillmore Story there is a point in that where you mention how really amazing music can come from situations of poverty, could you talk a bit about that and say why you think that is?
I did a little bit of my homework with that – I looked at the Harlem Renaissance in New York around the sixties and seventies when a lot of Jazz and Blues was at its height with artists like Billie Holiday, and the cities that it moved around from. It went from St Louis, to Harlem, and right here to Fillmore San Francisco, and in those times there were revolutions going on just within those neighbourhoods. Also in Los Angeles especially – they have a gang-banging culture out there and eventually brought some of the best gangster rap which spread across the world.

It wasn’t to show how bad of a neighbourhood or how hard Los Angeles is, it was to show exactly the feeling and emotion that came at the tail end of what they were experiencing. I just did my history and would sit back and think from time to time, and I realised that’s how I came to be – my pops is a blues singer, sings blues and gospel to this day, and he and a lot of the musicians that I came up with are from the same neighbourhood. They grew up in the city here and it was the same situation – I’m just the next generation of that. I was born in the eighties, so naturally my outlet is hip hop music. Blues? I was never gifted enough to learn how to sing, like how they did in the Church. I guess that skipped a generation – my kids might learn to sing or something like that.

Do you feel like the heritage of the Fillmore District influences the hip hop that comes out of the area?
Definitely, definitely. Fillmore has always been a place where people come to make music and get their music heard. I was lucky enough to be born and raised here, so I was able to absorb all of the culture from a young age when, as far as hip hop is concerned, it was at its purest form in the eighties and early nineties. Before then I remember being a young boy wondering around seeing junkies and crack-heads singing, playing trumpet and saxophone – but, they were on drugs so they would just take the change and go and get high. I was so young I couldn’t put it together like: ‘why does every crack-head around here know how to sing??’ I didn’t get it, until I did my history and realised: ‘oh…these crack-heads are retired musicians…’ Some of them didn’t make it, some of them did but got hooked on drugs, and a lot of them didn’t have family and were out on their own, but couldn’t make it on their own.

I look around and see my generation is the same thing – a lot of my peers got the negative side of this being such a musical melting pot, because where there’s good music there’s going to be people crowding around that music and…‘celebrating’ – whether celebrating with drugs or alcohol, there’s going to be celebrating around the music. I was able to see all of that; the people around it, who enjoyed it but also fell victim to not knowing when the party was over and getting themselves together, and it still goes on. I appreciate it, but I also see it for what it is.

A double-edged sword?
Right, right. Definitely.

What does your own music mean to you?
It means a lot. First and foremost it means me, where I come from and where I grew up, my beliefs. We call it Thorobred music and came up with the coin for that type of music as it’s about being true to who you are, not trying to make everybody be like you – I understand there are people who can enjoy my music who don’t come from the same walk of life as me. I just want people who are listening to it to get where I’m coming from, whether they agree with it or not. If each fan had the opportunity to tell me their story I would do my best to try to understand where they’re coming from and see things the way that they see. Even if it’s just for three minutes listening to a song.

Robert Glasper Interview

February 19, 2015

The first time that I saw Robert Glasper play was in San Francisco, September 2011. It was the day after my 23rd birthday, and after celebrating the night away in dive bars on Valencia Street and a rooftop somewhere in the Mission, I was feeling a little bit fragile.

We met before the show to do an interview for Mint Magazine (big shout out to the OG Mint crew!), and Glasper’s warm personality and sense of humour was more than enough to make me forget about my post-birthday state.

The show was beautiful, and I have been fortunate enough to catch him several times since. Glasper’s recognition has grown rather meteorically since we met, so it was exciting to get to chat to him just before his star set off.

I was travelling within California a lot at that time, and remember I ended up transcribing our interview while sat in a waiting lounge at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (a bizarrely cheap layover from SF to LA), and how much it blew my mind hearing him break down the structure of Busta Rhymes’ flow.

Anyhow, here is the interview as it ran in Mint Magazine in 2011 …

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Soothing and stimulating at the same time – hip hop blended jazz with electronic frosting and sprinkles of just about anything; the music of Robert Glasper satiates just about any musical appetite – and, is truly beautiful.

Having missed their show at Ronnie Scott’s in London earlier this year – I was psyched to catch the Robert Glasper Trio playing a stunning show at the YBCA Forum in downtown San Francisco as part of the SFJAZZ Festival last month.

Just like the rich jazz being played, the atmosphere of the show was all-absorbing, allowing each of the Trio’s songs to take you on a journey through an array of emotions, memories and melodies. Touching on J Dilla, Errol Garner, Cindy Lauper and even an incredibly poignant rendition of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, the band’s set catered to its typically diverse SF audience, leaving the house mesmerised and inspired.

So, before the show I caught up with Robert over a bottle of wine to chat about jazz, hip hop, live shows, upcoming projects, public image, Micheal Jackson, the industry, music itself and everything in between…

So I’m intrigued about the show tonight, to see what the audience reaction is when you play? Cos when I’ve been to jazz shows before it’s kind of like you sit down, but when I go to hip hop shows generally people are up all moving around-

Exactly.

So I’m curious when you play whether it’s really varied like your music?

It’s a mixture, yeah. I have a hip hop audience, and I have an older jazz audience as well – some people will be like ‘woo!’, and some people will be sitting there like (taps moderately), like it’s golf or something. One time I was playing some J Dilla and I looked over to a black dude, he was like 19, and this old white lady, she had to be like 75, sitting next to each other and both were bumping their heads to the hip hop shit we were playing – where else do you see that? (laughs) It’s really hilarious. I talked to him afterwards like ‘yeah, loved the Dilla stuff you did’, and then I talked to her afterwards and she was like ‘I loved the version you did of Starlight by Starlight’.

Do you feel like sometimes it sort of educates both?

Oh, exactly. And they both leave with something that they weren’t hip to before so.

Having the more classical jazz mixed with contemporary music like hip hop, it feels like your music reflects all sides of your musical tastes and personality – and so I was wondering whether you feel that your music is something that’s particularly personal to you?

Totally. It’s definitely a part of my experience of what I love as a person – I don’t play this music to please anybody, I play it for me because I love it (laughs). So, hopefully you’ll like what I’m doing for me (laughs). Sounds vain, but that’s the truth – I literally play stuff that I like.

That’s being true to yourself I think.

It’s being true to yourself, yeah. You’re never going to please everybody, so you might as well be true to who you are.

Cool. Sometimes when you see musicians play you can tell someone’s obviously just intensely in the groove – I was wondering whether it’s ever gotten so intense that you’ve not been able to come out?

Oh – I’m all about that. I will stay on the groove forever – people have to tell me to stop (laughs) – cos to me: that’s the feeling. A lot of people when they do a concert feel like they have to play all these songs – but you’re just rushing through the songs, no-one walks away feeling anything. I like to find a space in a song, and if it feels spiritual or like it needs to keep coming I’ll keep going, cos to me that’s spiritual food for somebody. I like to be the soundtrack to people thoughts, so sometimes we’ll be playing something and not a lot’s going on but we keep repeating, repeating. With this trio we do something that sounds like a dj cutting because we play the exact same way every time – I like to do that a lot; act like a piano trio sample, but live (laughs). So yeah, I’m totally about that. And that’s what John Coltrane was about too – he would play vamps for an hour, literally – two hours. One time he played one song for three hours. You give it time to grow, give it time to feel – it’s almost like a relationship or something. You can’t be like: ‘what’s your name? You wanna go on a date? Let’s get a’ – you gotta chill, and then you feel something from someone. You gotta take the time you know?

And how do you feel that your relationship with music first started? Whether it was hearing certain records or…?

My Mom used to play Oscar Peterson around the house all the time – Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald – they had a duet album or something and she used to play it all the time. And I think that’s what really got me into wanting to play jazz, hearing Oscar Peterson around the house.

I would never ask someone to choose just one favourite record – but if you could tell me about one of your favourite records?

Of any genre?

Yeah, any genre. And why…

Oh my god. Wow. Right now? I’d probably say ‘Off the Wall’, Micheal Jackson. It’s definitely one of the top five for me, but right now it’s probably my favourite. A lot of records they’ll have like two songs that I like, but the whole record I don’t like. But Micheal Jackson ‘Off the Wall’ – I love the whole record.

And I was kinda curious if you’re a fan of Elzhi’s ‘Elmatic’ that came out earlier this year?

I haven’t heard it yet. But I played with Elzhi last month (both laugh). I heard him do some stuff live – he did a show in New York last month, and he had me and my drummer sit in with him on a song, but I haven’t heard the actual album yet.

Oh okay, just cos I find with how that album brings in all the instrumentals, the interludes between the tracks-

Oh he does that on there?

Yeah – it’s really good.

That’s like Pete-Rock isms I say, cos Pete Rock does that. His interludes are so dope, really short like 30 seconds – ‘woo-what’s that??’ Then it fades out, onto the next song.

Yeah – it’s like it frames it, cos then you can hear and look for it in the actual track itself.

Word.

I find listening to stuff like that just reminds me how rich hip hop is – cos you can listen to it and not realise just how many styles are in there. So I find it similar to your music, you can appreciate the DNA of the music.

Exactly.

Cool, and apart from playing jazz festivals (like SFJazz) – what are you up to at the moment? Are you recording?

I just finished my new record, so it’s gonna come out in January. It features my experiment band, which is the second half of ‘Double Booked’, and I have special guests on there: Erykah Badu, Legacy, Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, Lupe Fiasco and Mos Def – a lot of people (laughs). It was that kinda record like: ‘let me call my friends, call up all my favours – put them all on one album’.

Will it be jazz stuff?

No, it’s really more to cater to the mainstream, so people can become fans of mine and know who I am. It’s like meeting halfway. Because as far as jazz music goes, you know, we’re under the radar. The average person doesn’t know who anybody in jazz is, except they’ll be like ‘Miles Davis?’ It’s always somebody dead – they won’t know anybody offhand that’s alive, and that’s the total opposite for any other genre. I don’t have to listen to RnB to know who Rhianna or Beyonce is. You can be in a cab, see a billboard, you’re gonna see it regardless – Pop, Rock, even Country. Jazz? You don’t see people – and you don’t hear them.

Why do you think that is?

Well, because jazz is not current. It’s a music that has prided itself on the history to the point where people think it’s dead. When people talk about jazz they always talk in the past tense –like ‘yeah, John Coltrane, Miles Davis…’ I love those guys but it’s like ‘look, there’s people here alive still playing music’. Nowadays that’s why we’re not popular anymore, because we’re not of the generation that is now. So, that’s where I come in – I’m playing stuff that’s of now. That’s why I play Radiohead and hip hop – all these things – cos that’s my generation, that’s what I like. And that’s why I don’t just stop at jazz, you know, I’m Mos Def’s music director, played and recorded with Q Tip – most hip hop cats I’ve played with…

Does your new album have a title yet?

‘Black Radio’ – it’s the title track and the song that me and Mos Def wrote together for the record. ‘Black Radio’ – meaning like when an aeroplane crashes and the only thing that survives is the Black Box…

I didn’t know that…?

Whenever an aeroplane crashes, they get all their information on how it crashed and what happened from this thing called the Black Box, or Black Radio. It’s the only thing that survives, so Mos Def has this joke that ‘if that survives-why don’t they make the whole plane like that?’ (laughs). But yeah, ‘Black Radio’ cos I feel like good music will survive, surpass all the bullshit that’s out. And all the artists on the record are black radio personality people/ artists, so it has a double meaning to it.

Yeah, especially with the way that the music industry’s going at the moment – not that it’s going down the drain, but it’s a really crazy time with everything being download – you don’t really get albums you know, people just listen to tracks.

People don’t listen to records anymore, attention spans are shorter…it’s really hard. And everything has to have 19 producers; everybody’s trying to get the ‘hot person’ on a record – nobody does a record where it’s just one producer anymore. Most of the records I love, they just have one producer – ‘Off the wall’, one producer – Radiohead, one producer.

I guess Tribe stuff-

Tribe stuff – is the Ummah. And it’s just one thing.

That one crew.

That’s it. That’s their sound, and this is the record. Nowadays, they have a rapper with like ten tracks and ten different producers and none of it has a vibe – always a different thing so the whole record doesn’t flow.

Yeah, so it’s not one cohesive entity.

Know what I mean? It becomes a money thing like ‘this producer – he’s hot right now’ and it’s not about the music anymore. So, yeah, that’s why music is interesting right now, very interesting (laughs).

Yeah. I hadn’t realised quite how much stuff you’d done with other artists – cos you worked with Ali Shaheed Muhammad on his solo stuff, Bilal on ‘Airtight’s Revenge’ and a ton of others – are there any artists who you haven’t worked with yet that you’d really like to?

There are some artists that I’ve never worked with that I’d like to work with…Busta Rhymes.

Wow. I can’t imagine, cos he’s so hype-

He’s so hype-

On a jazz kind of tip-

Right. But J Dilla did a lot of his early – ‘Woo Hah – Got You All in Check’ – all that shit, that’s J Dilla. Busta’s so great over core progressions, really musical instrumental shit – I love the way he sounds with that. He’s definitely one that I’ve never worked with that I really want to work with, for sure.

That would be very cool.

Yeah. He’s an underrated rapper in general to me. Rhythmically? No-one fucks with him. He phrases his rhymes like a jazz trumpeter – it’s like listening to a jazz trumpet listening to Busta Rhymes. Two of my musician friends actually transcribed Busta Rhymes’ rhythms, because he’s so rhythmically ridiculous. And you can understand everything he’s saying, not in gibberish either. He’s like: ‘you’re going to understand it, and I’m going to say it fast as hell – my rhythm’s gonna be crazy, and what I’m saying is going to be stupid too.’ But, you get past how good he is because of how crazy and shit he is. Sometimes you can see an artist, and not really see how good they are. It’s like Michael Jackson; he’s like…a thing. And he’s so a thing that you forget to be like: ‘wow-let’s just listen to him sing, his vocals’. He can really sing, but you’re in love with Michael Jackson as a whole. So, let’s just break it down, cos Michael Jackson is the greatest artist of all time in my humble opinion. First of all – he’s the most famous person other than Jesus.

Is he?

Who else is more famous than Michael Jackson? What physical person is more famous than Michael Jackson?

Ah…I find it so subjective though – cos there’s so many people to me, like to my friends I’m all ‘I’m gonna meet…Robert Glasper’ and they’ll be like ‘uummmmm’(Robert laughs) Or something like that, so it’s hard to say…

But Michael Jackson – there’s never been a person as famous as Michael Jackson, period. Not even close. Some people are famous in their lane, like The Beatles. Elvis Presley was famous in his lane, but he’s not famous like Michael Jackson – cos he’s been mega-famous since he was six.

Of course.

So think about that – from 6 to 50. He was super-mega famous when he was six, and he’s always been mega famous – no-one’s had that kind of career. If you put everybody famous in a room ever – everybody’s gonna be looking at Michael Jackson. The other person like that to me is Prince – if you put everybody in a room, people are gonna be like ‘there they are!’ Ever been in a room with Prince before?

Um – no.

He’s such a thing, everybody’s just like – you try not to stare but…(both laugh).

Do you think Michael Jackson’s legacy will continue then?

Oh, without a doubt. And the thing about him – he can really sing, but let’s just break it down and talk about his dancing. He invented a way to dance – no-one dances like Michael Jackson. You watch him in his videos when he’s dancing with people behind him and they’re all doing the same moves – but no-one’s doing it like him. And his robot – oh my god. ‘Dancing Machine’.

Takes me back! His music videos are just-

Ridiculous?

Yeah, ‘Smooth Criminal’ was always my favourite – when they do-

The Lean?

All the way down.

Aahhh – and he’s ground-breaking. Always re-creating himself for the world. Trailblazing. So many sides to Michael that he’s innovated. It’s crazy.

How you were saying about people not recognising talent made me think to a chat I had with Lil’ Fame of MOP – he was saying how everyone focuses on the hard-core, bad boy image that generally people don’t appreciate-

What you’re doing?

Yeah, the actual skill and talent they have.

Especially if you’re a person who’s had a hit song that’s on the radio. A lot of the time you don’t know the artist so well – cos you just see them on TV, see what makes them hot, but you don’t really see them as a person. Some people are the total opposite of what you think. I did a show with Ludacris in Atlanta last month. And, you know, ‘Ludacris’ you think…

What was he like?

So quiet and subdued. I went to the strip-club with him (me laughs). All the girls were dancing and he was just (acts all shy) – he’s not what you would think from his videos and stuff. He’s totally the opposite. It’s crazy.

Public image – so much of it is acting – I don’t think people realise that. Last question: could you just describe what music means to you? If you could possibly say…

I mean, for me – music is probably my only real form of expression, to express how I feel. It’s the only thing that really evokes expression for me. I could be happy but you wouldn’t really know it from my face, or you probably wouldn’t see me cry. But it all comes out when I play. So, it’s probably the only way that I can be emotional I guess you could say. I have that problem in relationships – ‘you don’t show any emotions or feelings! – Do you love me or not??’ ‘Yes! I do…’

Like you can’t say it, but you can play it?

Like: ‘You know what? This is how I deal out my shit right here…’ (Motions playing the piano) That’s what music is to me; it’s the way to give and receive emotion. Don’t come up and hug me – play me a song, and I just feel that so much faster

Communication in a way?

Somewhere near there, yeah.

Somewhere.

Yeah, that’s the vibe.

Alice Price-Styles.

http://robertglasper.com/

 

Fatlip Interview : What’s Up Fatlip?

February 12, 2015

I clearly remember the first time I met Fatlip. I had just started working for Delicious Vinyl in 2011, and had gone out to grab food with some of the guys. When we came back to the office, Lip was chilling sat in my chair. Being the Pharcyde devotee that I was (and still am) I quite literally froze. I felt like such a dork but it was also a pretty cute moment. Since then we have enjoyed many fun times in LA and on tour, and I now count Lip as a good friend.

Here is a little interview I did with Fatlip in London in 2012, just after the 20th anniversary of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde …


Throughout the label’s history, Delicious Vinyl has always maintained funky and fruitful international relations with the UK. Hailing out of West London, the original, acid jazz ‘pioneers’ the Brand New Heavies joined the Delicious family in 1990. And, it was on their 1992 release Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1 that one of the labels most prominent acts made their debut. The song that introduced a particular young group, who were to change the face of West Coast hip hop, to the world, was an infectious, energy-fuelled jam called ‘Soul Flower’. The influential group in question were none other than The Pharcyde.

After the release of the seminal debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in 1992, The Pharcyde played their first London show at the legendary venue The Jazz Café in July of 1993 – and were described by one UK journalist as ‘four freaky guys from LA who see the world through a haze of reefer smoke and strut their stuff, without instruments, over a hail of jazz samples and ‘phat’ beats’ (dig the awkward British inverted commas over phat – England is full of reserved hip hop fans).

Just as Los Angeles has been celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Bizarre Ride in true style, London Pharcyde fans have been showing their support for Fatlip on his European DJ Tour this year. And, if his wild set at East Village back in February is anything to go by, with uncharacteristic levels of abandon.

So, I caught up with Fatlip at The Breakfast Club in Hoxton last weekend, in between his London and Brighton shows, to chat about his UK tour, Bizarre Ride Live, and Pharcyde memories…

How would you describe The Pharcyde, Fatlip?

Pretty much from the beginning we were just homies, creative dudes, hanging out, smoking weed, making music and having fun.

Tell me a bit about your experiences back when you were Jammer D…

Jammer D was the first rap name that I came up with, as I was in a dance group in high school called the Jammers. The dance culture happening at the time was a big thing throughout all of the high schools in LA. We used to have huge dance contests, and dance to Kraftwerk, CyberTron, and all of these European, early electronic groups, as well as Uncle Jamm’s Army, early Dr Dre stuff.

Then, I got out of high school, fell in love with hip hop and started trying to write rhymes of my own. I would just write constantly, day and night – taking no-sleeping pills just so I could stay up all night, smoke cigarettes and write. I was a real writer back then. That’s Jammer D; a real lyricist.

At the Bizarre Ride Live show last month for the ‘Return Of The B-Boy’ finale you all busted out some impressive dance moves.

We’ve been doing it for so long; the whole dance thing was a huge part of the Pharcyde show. It engages us more with the music. But that finale was fun, and we got to dance with one of the best poppers ever: Boogaloo Shrimp.

What was the highlight of that show for you?

The moment somebody told me it was sold out. That was the moment. I heard it at sound-check, and my mood was lifted through the roof; I was walking on clouds. You know, it was twenty years later – people didn’t have to support us, we didn’t have to have fans, we didn’t have to have gotten this far. That was the highlight; that was a great feeling.

The energy just before the show was incredible.

Oh and then every other moment after that, up until a week later I was still feeling it. It was an incredible celebration. When are we going to have an opportunity to do that again? Never. So that’s what made it a special moment, and the fact that it went off well…

So what’s next on the cards with everything? What have you got coming up?

Continuing to build my DJ Fatlip brand is really what I’m focusing on, and then my production after that.

Are you recording with any of the guys that were involved recently?

Yes – me and Tre are doing a record. The album is going to be released in Japan, and a single is going to be released in the States. We’re about to shoot a video in Brazil this month, so I’m excited about that too. And then hopefully the Bizarre Ride Live show – since it’s the twenty year anniversary – our plan is to continue touring it for the whole year.

Did working on the Bizarre Ride Live show feel similar to when you were recording the Bizarre Ride album?

It totally did. Pretty much everybody that was involved in Bizarre Ride was there; even our old road managers were there. So with the rehearsals, the DVTV ustream, and all of the meetings and stuff like that, we were all hanging out having fun for the whole time. Even the sound-checks were fun, because everyone was there.

Has it been strange to go straight from that to being on a solo tour as DJ Fatlip in the UK?

Well, it’s what I do and I like to do both. I love being there with my friends doing a big show, but the DJ Fatlip thing is my own personal thing, so I enjoy that as well.

Is it good to maintain the two at the same time?

Oh it’s great; the best of both worlds. There’s no denying that the whole Pharcyde thing is a part of who I am. To be able to combine the two in the same year and the same time frame is really nice.

How do you find Pharcyde fans in the UK compared to back home?

Kind of the same, they’re just younger. It is weird how the styles have transferred – the way that kids view hip hop, we viewed it the same way back then. That style has maintained over a period of time – kids kind of dress the same…

Older music often translates to younger fans if it was originally recorded by an artist when they were at that same age…

Oh totally. I agree with that. Because the expression is a young expression; you made it in a time of your life where you were just open to everything, and had a lot of energy, and that translates to the music. It was raw; it was something that we were getting from somewhere else. So it was like a raw self-expression. And that’s something that you can only do at that age when you don’t care about anything else – we weren’t trying to be sexy, we didn’t care about having money. It was just that raw, hip hop feel.

Do you have any stories from your UK tour?

Well, there was the time I lost that charger – two times! I lost mine and Spin Doctors…I guess I was having a lot of fun on this tour and, you know, sometimes when you have fun things get…

Lost.

Things get lost. It’s the sign of a good time.

Do you have a favourite Pharcyde memory, from any point in the whole journey?

My favourite Pharcyde memory is the day that we found the sample for ‘Passin’ Me By’ and came up with the idea for the chorus. It was before we even got a record deal, and I remember everybody in the room bouncing ideas off of each other. We already had the beat and there was a feeling that something new was about to happen.

All the Pharcyde members have their own style – was it ever conscious to want to differentiate yourself or carve your own identity within the group?

The thing with us is we always started out with a chorus, and so we always had a theme. That allowed us to go and write our own interpretations of this one theme, which was the chorus. With ‘Passin’ Me By’ we had that theme and all of us told our own story about how somebody had passed us by. Most of our songs were like that, and because of the theme we were naturally able to shine individually as each member told his side of the story. So, there was some togetherness on the chorus within the theme, but then we were also able to express our own personalities.

Do you have a favourite Pharcyde song?

I would have to say ‘Passin’ Me By’. Definitely. From the beginning, the first verse, to the last it’s just hands down my favourite. And I like ‘Pack the Pipe’ a lot too.

‘4 Better or 4 Worse’ is such an intense song to me – I think of the main beat as kind of dark and intense, and then the samples are super dreamy – it’s like everything magnified, in terms of the mood and emotions.

Yeah. There were a lot of layers of samples on that first record. J-Sw!ft was a piano player, a real musician, and the way that he looped all of those samples and combined the keyboard elements…

When L.A. Jay was playing all the original Bizarre Ride samples on the DVTV ustream – you could recognise the elements and hear how the songs came together.

So when L.A. Jay was playing those records, that was just like the time that we found the record collection. We found those records and were listening to them, and then we were like ‘something is going to happen, we have got to make something out of this’. We had never heard that music before. We discovered all of this great music, and that was inspiring for us. That was really inspiring.

As well as the music – what else, what other things, inspired you at that time?

We thought we were political. I was all angry and rebellious back then. Just always sitting around, smoking weed, talking about the injustice…

I think that definitely comes out in the album.

That’s what you do when you’re that age right? Talk about revolution… Bob Marley was also somebody that inspired me back then too: his approach and his message. He spoke about injustice, but he also spoke about love and peace and all of that. Just to hear that – it was good for the soul.

I mean there are messages, like you can protest about injustice or whatever.  And then there are messages like James Brown would say – he had a lot of messages. When he said ‘it’s a man’s world, but it’s nothing without a woman or a girl’ – that’s a big message. The messages were a lot more positive in songs back then. And it’s inspiring to hear that.

The Moon is You

February 8, 2015

The Man Repeller Writer’s Club set a brief last month to wake up and write 500 words on the first thing that came to you. I gave it a go and ended up with the vaguely Botticelli meets Darryl Hannah in Splash esque piece below.

Writing it before 7am, I was a little fuzzy headed still and cannot remember whether it was based on a dream. Either way, I can read back and see sub-conscious themes and personal experiences in there for sure.

Thanks to my best friend Denisse I am already in the habit of writing a few pages first thing in the morning, and it really does serve as a therapeutic way to capture thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Interesting to ponder on those stages of consciousness and creativity…

My entry did not get selected, but I thought I would share it anyhow… I’ll call it ‘The Moon is You’. Enjoy!

*

santamonica

The Moon Is You

She rode in on a Santa Monica wave.

Atop white froths and foam was her ivory clam, a giant one at that. Rocking with the flow of the tide and gently edging closer to the shore, for the shell and girl had strayed too far.

Among the pinkish soft tissues and wet pearlescent bed lay the girl inside. She was afraid and rather neurotic. Unsure of where she now was, she peered over the lip of the shell. The myriad shapes on the beach intrigued her. She could see slim figures in the distance, some in huddles and some moving in solitary wisps. Two grand looking buildings were visible further back. Hotels in fact. She wondered what they might be like on the inside.

It was early morning and the skies were grey-blue, calm and pretty.

The water became shallower and shallower until her shell bumped the sand and stayed still. Afraid, she sat motionless and waited.

She wanted to stay in her pinky salty home, but the thoughts swimming through her head were driving her crazy. She imagined the fishes gossiping lyrical about the strange shell girl, all washed up and stuck on land. How clumsy and pathetic to get swept away with the tide. She had always felt that the moon didn’t like her.

She pushed her shell-top open a little wider and liked the feel of the breeze as it stroked her cheeks and made the hairs on her arms come alive. Reaching out she dipped her fingers into the water and down into the sandy bed beneath.

She liked watching the way that the grains of sand ran away as the water pulled back with the waves. She was amazed to see the patterns her fingers created by obstructing the natural flow.

She decided to see what shape her toes might make, and contorted her foot out over the edge of the shell and into the sand.

The groove her foot made was bigger. This excited her. She had never felt sand on her feet before. The novelty thrilled her.

She wondered how sand might feel on her stomach.

She waited for moment.

After taking a deep breath, she rolled herself out of the shell-bed and found herself lying on her back on the sand. She rolled over once. Soft wet sand on her tummy and her legs felt so strange. The good, naughty kind of strange.

She looked up and again saw the hotels, one dove-grey and one terracotta orange. She felt brave and contemplated crawling closer to them; she wanted to see what they looked like inside.

Leaving her shell behind, she crawled on all fours and found the sand getting dryer. She wasn’t sure how to feel about this.

She carried on but more slowly, and found a small card in her path. She picked it up and turned it over a few times. It was yellow with black words and pictures. On one side was an image of a genie with the word “Zoltar.” On the other was a picture of a moon with the words “The Moon is You.”

Driving with Music

February 7, 2015

Back in 2012 I presented a paper on the work of Masta Ace at a ‘Music & Automobile Culture’ symposium held by IASPM-UK. My paper was titled ”Born to Roll’: An examination of jeep culture in the music of Masta Ace.’ I traced Ace’s career from his Juice Crew breakout to his time with Delicious Vinyl, noting the various ways that automobiles featured in and influenced his records, and how his position as an East Coast artist on the West Coast affected his work.

My research is being cited in a book, due to be published this Spring by Ashgate, titled ‘Driving with Music: Cognitive-Behavioural Implications’ by academic Warren Brodsky. You can see more here.

It is the first time my work is being referenced like this, so I am rather excited about it! Maybe one day I will do that Hip-Hop PhD …

Me and Ace

aceSittin on Chrome

Sittin on Chrome

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