Crown Of Thorns: Rakaa Iriscience Interview
Yes, Evidence and Rakaa might not be on your radar as the best lyricists, but one thing they’ve manage to do is remain consistent. Like many two man tag teams in the past (We’ll leave DJ Babu out for the sake of argument), they are at their best as one total package. For example the Beatnut’s were never great lyricists, but together as a package they are dope. The same can be said about EPMD, Gang Starr, etc.
It’s been twelve years since they dropped the underground smash Work The Angles. The trio from the City of Angels has had the same ups and downs as many of Hip-Hop’s seminal groups: underground success, signing to a major, brief glimpse of commercial success (through the Kanye West assisted “This Way”) before gracefully falling back into the underground. Through out all of this, DP’s made thoroughly consistent albums starting from The Platform — which was nearly perfect in it’s execution — to 20/20, their last major label album.
Some times one wonders whether they were meant to even be on a major? Maybe they would have found greater success if they remained free of major label pressure and expectations instead of in a state of purgatory as they were when signed to Capital Records. Whatever the case, you have to give them props for never backing down and delivering that classic boom bap each and every time. Worst comes to worst (pun intended), you could always expect a dope single laced by the Alchemist when a Dilated album dropped!
Rocking a fisherman’s hat and an Intifada inspired T-Shirt, Brooklynbodega.com caught up with Rakaa Iriscience before he was set to perform at the 6th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival. He put us up on his new album, Crown Of Thorns, his love for Hawaii, and more.
BB: So lets take it back! How do you think the process of putting together records has changed since you put out “Work The Angles” to maybe your last album?
Rakaa: First of all, one major difference is that people were actually buying records — actual physical records — when we put out Work the Angles. As far as the scene it self? It’s still ill artists, ill producers, ill DJs. Things change. I don’t get caught up in where things used to be or where things might be going. It’s where they are right now. I mean, I think it’s a beautiful thing. Technology made it easier for other people to get in. That filter has been removed and that’s a good thing because a lot of artists that might not have had political connects were able to get on [and] now they have an opportunity to have their own stuff out. At the same time people are polluting and diluting the scene by putting out stuff that isn’t necessarily that great because anyone could put their stuff out now.
BB: What’s up with the solo album ?
Rakaa: The solo album is called Crown of Thorns. It [dropped] July 20th on Expansion team/Decon Records. My first solo [album]. Evidence, Babu, El-P, Alchemist, Oh No, !llmind, Rhetmatic, Sid Roams — mad people showed love. They all came down and supported and I had a gang of artists that dropped [in] and touched the mic on the vocals, too. Fashawn, KRS-One, Aloe Blacc, Defari — It was basically a family affair, man.
BB: You’re a member of the Rock Steady Crew and Zulu Nation. How does it feel to come to NY and rock at the birth place of this beautiful culture?
Rakaa: It’s a beautiful thing to be in New York, man. I love Brooklyn. It’s like the world. Brooklyn is a microcosm of the world. New York in general has always showed Dilated love. I am from Rock Steady and Zulu Nation, so I have family worldwide but both of my major families — Rock Steady and Zulu — both started here, so when I come here its always like a family reunion. I just got mad love for all the architects and pioneers.
BB: I heard that you showed Babu how to rock on the MPC? Is that true?
Rakaa: I didn’t tell him how to rock on an MPC, I told him how to technically use an MPC. Him rocking on it is all him. That’s just him being ill. I rock on it just for fun, just to have another creative outlet. I don’t rock on it that effectively. He was already using different beat machines, he just hadn’t used that machine before. I just showed him a few functions and the rest he learned on his own or through other people.
BB: So who’s beats do you prefer?
Rakaa: Haha, that’s funny. Someone asked me that recently. To listen too, Evidence beats. To rock on, Babu beats. I mean, I’ve had a great time rocking on both.
BB: Why is that?
Rakaa: I think it’s just a pocket of how they produce. Babu’s beats sometimes sound sloppy, a little weird. But in some kind of way, when you jump on it, everything links into place. Evidence has a more technical aesthetic. At the same time Ev’ makes funky beats and Bab’s is technically super sharp too, so it’s not an easy question to answer. I just enjoy both there stuff.
BB: When Obama was elected, everyone was so impressed with his calm demeanor. I remember people were attributing that to the time he spent on Hawaii. I’m sure Cali contributes that vibe to your demeanor but you also spent time in Hawaii. Do you think that has affected your flow or lyrics?
Rakaa: I love Hawaii, man. I’m actually going to be going out there in a couple of weeks. High Chief XL passed away not too long ago. We going out there to do a benefit for the family. I love it out there, man. I can definitely feel like the Aloha spirit, a little bit of that relaxed vibe. Hawaii’s crazy though. Hawaii’s super relaxed and super chill but at the same time, that’s a place in the world where you’re most likely to get into a fist fight with somebody. When cats take off there flip flops and you go outside and box and put a beer on your eye. They’re not really into that gun play and all that stuff as much as they’re into old school knuckle up! All of that fly talk and popping that junk could get you punched in the month out there.
BB: You had the honor of rocking with Guru on a track. What do you think about that whole situation and how it all went down?
Rakaa: Especially being in Brooklyn right now. I know Guru wasn’t originally from Brooklyn, neither is Premiere, really. But in some kind of way, there is a direct connection between Gang Starr and Brooklyn. Hanging out with Guru and seeing how much he spoke on Brooklyn and loved Brooklyn is crazy, man. It’s crazy not to have him around. That’s big brother in the game. That’s people we looked up too coming up in the game. Gang Starr is definitely one of those groups and Guru — being a lyricist for Gang Starr — that’s definitely one of the OG’s right there as far as Dilated is concerned. You know it’s a terrible loss man, and all the extra bullshit nonsense surrounding and all the negativity that’s now attached the situation is sad. But his legacy is so strong and he’s done so much for everybody that he’s going to continue to shine, man. There is no choice. So rest in peace to Guru, man. We love you, man. I don’t care if anybody else wants to misconstrue the situation, I know Preemo has mad love for Guru still! Whatevers happening with the extra curricular stuff, I’m not even going to mention homeboys name, we’re gonna let karma deal with that.
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