What are your earliest memories of rap?
I remember being aware of rap but not knowing what it was called very early on. Then at my aunt’s house, I saw a public service announcement on TV where a girl was rapping about how kids shouldn’t smoke. I pointed at the TV and said, “THAT is what I like! What is this?” And my aunt kinda scrunched up her face like, “You like THIS?!” [Laughs.] It’s not much, but that’s my very first memory of figuring out what hip-hop was in the early ‘80s. The strongest memory from early on was attending my first concert which was Run-DMC supported by Public Enemy, EPMD, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. My mom took me to that when I was 12, and I remember her saying that everyone must have been lip-synching because there’s no way they could memorize all of those words. That’s funny to think about now because they definitely weren’t lip-synching the way popular artists do these days.
Who do you think is the most underrated rapper?
The list is underrated rappers could fill the Grand Canyon, so that’s a tough question to answer. I’ll stick with the MC I was originally inspired by and say Slick Rick. Even though he gets his flowers for being one of the great storytellers in rap, I don’t even think that’s a great strength of his. He paints a great picture with his words, though. What I love most is his recording techniques and the way he overlays himself with separate vocal takes. It’s a skill all unto itself that not many people recognize or understand, but I’ve always loved it and I incorporate it in my own songs often. It requires a different writing style. It’s not just “punch-ins.”
Chuck D once famously called hip-hop the CNN of the Black community, the way people got the news. Is it still? If so, what is the news coming across, who is telling it most profoundly?
Back when CNN had some journalistic integrity, Chuck D’s quote held some serious weight. Since those days, a lot has changed with popular journalism and popular hip-hop. And not in a way where I can say that either thing is something people are gaining a whole lot of truth or actual news from—different world, different times. Independent music and independent media are doing the heavy lifting on that front.
Interview by Kyle Eustice.