dumptruck records
posted: 07-15-04
interview : tadah
Okay, please introduce yourself.
I am the Avatar.
Why Avatar?
The name originally comes from Hinduism, but in the English language it means 'manifestation'. I chose this name because I 'manifest' myself in several different ways. My style always adapts and changes, so I thought it was fitting. Also, a lot of folks remember Avatar as the good wizard from Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards" … so that kind of applies as well.
Any crew affiliations we should know about?
At its present state, the con.el. crew consists of myself, Big Shame and Smile OAK - otherwise known as the Cosmic Truckaz, and DJ Obi.
So where are you from? You gotta rep your hood.
Originally I'm from Berkeley, California but I've been living in Los Angeles for the past nine years.
How is life there?
It's always interesting…
I have a very strange love relationship with LA. Can you understand that? Do you see how someone could really like LA?
LA is definitely a town that takes some getting used to. I hated it when I first moved here, but now I love this place. You definitely need thick skin to survive out here. And I feel like I get psychologically stronger every day, prepared for anything. The East Bay will always be in my heart though… I'll never forget where I came from.
What do we need to know about you?
I've been rhyming for over ten years and undergone many manifestations as a musician… My style is constantly developing, expanding, changing with each song I write. I want people to relate to my words and I ultimately feel that I was given my talents to fulfill a purpose.
By now everybody should know that LA is not just about Gangsta Rap anymore. At the same time however, you also have a more 'industrial' kind of sound, that's not very 'sunny'? Do you agree, and what's your take on it?
Yeah, I agree. I mean my sound definitely isn't typical of the West Coast, but it does retain certain elements of classic West Coast shit. Like how the bass frequencies are always a real heavy low end. My style is kind of like a bastardized amalgamation of Bay Area hip hop, LA underground shit and the more hardcore shit I grew up on. There's also a touch of the gritty east coast rap and the flavorful south. I mean it's kinda like all of these styles. All of these different parts of me combine to make this mutant sound that changes from song to song, from album to album.
What would you like to tell us about you, that we probably don't care to know? (smile)
I make a mean chicken parmigiana.
Any other fun facts about you?
I used to be a problem child: when I was thirteen, I got in trouble with the police for shooting an old lady with a bb gun. I used to be a bit of a bully and a petty hoodlum, but that was before I straightened up my act and got a college degree. Now I'm really mellow. Smoking a lot of weed helps.
So, what are you plugging right now?
The main project that I'm plugging is my forthcoming album entitled "Deus Ex Machina" produced by DJ Obi and featuring Akuma, Black Silver, Cosmic Truckaz, Existereo and 50 Caliber.
When is that going to drop?
Right now, it's up in the air. But it should be out before the end of the summer; quite possibly August or September.
Tell us what you hope we'll get out of this record.
An experience: musically, philosophically, spiritually, politically, artistically.... "Deus Ex Machina" is loosely a conceptual album dealing with the complexities of philosophy in the midst of a technologically advanced society and the repercussions of this interaction.
But that's in the abstract. What's more palpable is the topics that it touches upon, ranging from political insurgence, to hardcore battle tracks to a song about why ugly and stupid people shouldn't have children. The beats are all that ole' hard-hitting hip hop shit that Obi is known for, and he's lacing some fresh scratches and live guitar on this one. Overall, I think it's some of my strongest work thus far.
How does it compare to your last album?
Very different. For one thing, Obi's on production. So the beats are more of that jagged, head nod shit. In response to his production style, my rhyming style is a bit more refined. I think people will find this album easier to relate to because it deals more with universal issues than "Double Negative Pt. I", which was more of a 'battling inner demons' kind of thing. Not to worry, though, I haven't lost my edge; it might not be as sharp, but it cuts just as deep…if not deeper.
You mention a couple of guests: how does an artists that's starting up get in touch with established artists like you and like that?
As far as I'm concerned, I'm always open to collaborations if I'm feeling what cats are working on. They just need to send it to me and if I'm digging it, I'll get back to them. Obviously, not everyone is as open to collaborate with unknown talent as I am, but the majority of cats in the Cali underground are really modest, friendly people that do it for the love. Of course, floating a little money our way never hurts, and I'm sure people will get better results if they're willing to pay or trade something for someone to rock a verse on their album.
How did you get into this lil' culture we call hip hop?
I've always been into the Bay Area shit like Too Short and Digital Underground, but I was more into punk rock and hardcore shit until I started doin' shit with Smiley & Seamus back in highschool. And we formed our first hip hop group with a couple other cats we chilled with. It all started with a drunken cipher circle at a house party.
As you come from Berkeley: are you still in touch with artists from up there?
Not many hip hop artists. I'm more in touch with the hardcore acts. I catch up with Machine Head every now and then. They are some real cool homeys from when I lived up there. I catch up with DJ Relate every now and then. He's an old member of the crew that really puts it down on the beat-making tip. But most of the time when I'm there I just spend time with my family.
I talked to the Shapeshifters about this: underground westcoast rap kinda stays at the westcoast. There seems very little cross-coast support. How do you see and explain it?
I'm not sure…maybe there's still lingering resentment from the whole East Coast/West Coast beef of the 90s on their end. Maybe they just aren't feeling West Coast hip hop. The prevailing style out there is a lot more of a purist hip hop approach whereas West Coast underground is a lot more experimental, rhythmically and style-wise. A lot of East Coast groups get love over here, so I don't fully understand the lack of reciprocation. I guess it's just one of those things.
What is it about this culture that influences and inspires you?
A lot: the DIY aspect of underground hip hop definitely inspires me. The innovative nature of hip hop, the artists that I grew up listening to and the artists that I've worked with since I began rhyming. All of them inspire and influence me. The socio-political significance of hip hop as a culture.
What do you mean by 'socio-political significance of hip hop as a culture'?
I mean its global impact…its importance as a tool that not only reflects the goings on of society, but also one that can initiate change in the thoughts and actions of people. Hip hop will always be one of the most outspoken forms of music, openly criticizing our leaders when they fuck up. That's why it is so significant, not only socially, but politically.
What had you start participating, rather than just watching and listening?
The first time I got on stage, I was 5 years old. My older sister was down with this Bay Area punk band called Fang and they thought it would be cool to bring my little ass up on stage and do some songs. I had spiked hair and ripped up jeans and I got out there and sang some loud offensive punk songs at this little dive in SF called the Mabuhay Gardens. After I was finished, the crowd started throwing spare change up on the stage for me, and as I scooped it up all I could think was: "comic books, comic books, I'm about to buy me some comic books!" After that, I knew I had to be a performer.
There's very few rap artists that are still embedded in the other elements: graff, breaking. So in what way do you includes your love and respect those forms too?
I tried graff when I was younger. I sucked at it, figured I was better off leaving it to the pros. I got a lot of friends that still bomb though, and are damn good at it. I respect real graffiti artists immensely. They are the urban guerillas of today in much of the way skaters were in the 70s.
As far as breaking: I can't even do the running man without seriously injuring people around me, so I steer clear of dancing. Unless I'm really drunk, then look out: all of a sudden I'm in a Dr. Dre video doing the get-low bounce.
I respect all of the elements of hip hop deeply, but rhyming is my forte. I used to do the whole open mic mc battle thing but after awhile it just got old and I didn't feel like beefing with some cat over what I said about him in the cipher. Now I just save my energy for shows and recording sessions. I don't have anything to prove to people anymore. I think I already proved it.
If you weren't an artist, what other job would you like to have?
I wouldn't mind being a Vigilante. Maybe a con-artist. Or a used car salesman…
Who would you like to work with the most? Dead or living or in between? Why?
What's in between dead and living? Is this a trick question?
I'd really like to do a song with HR from Bad Brains. My favorite dead musicians are Jeff Buckley and Phil Lynott, but I'm not sure how they'd come across on an underground hip hop joint.
As far as my contemporaries, I'd love to work with Quannum, especially Gift Of Gab and Lyrics Born; those cats are ill. I'm down to work with Andre Nickatina.
Now don't you dare to not mention Lateef. He's iller than ill (smile).
Yeah Lateef is fucking dope. No doubt about it. It's just something about the lyricism of the other two that really warrants my respect.
File sharing on the internet: I do it too, or I'll do you if you do it?
Nah, I don't do that shit. I won't even let people burn CDs for me unless they're on a major label. I'm not down with folks burning independent music instead of buying the albums. Sometimes I'll buy CDs that I already have promo copies of, just to support the artists. Because I know firsthand how tough it is to put out your own music.
What was the last album/showcase/experience that had you go: man, I better step up my skills before I step out with something again?
I try not to compare myself to others…I think everyone brings something unique to the table. There's a lot of artists that really impress me, but I try to separate what I'm doing from what they're doing.
What do you really enjoy listening to right now?
My brother's new band The Ghost Next Door is really dope…some cool alternative rock from the Bay Area, The DOC, Bad Brains, Cody Chestnutt, Thin Lizzy, the Mars Volta, APG, Aphex Twin, Fang; all types of stuff. Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy is in my CD player right now…
What do you get out of non-rap music, for your own music? And what do you get out of rap, for your own music?
Inspiration comes in many forms. I draw a lot of energy from old soul records, gritty punk rock 45s, 70s hard rock, funk, breakbeats, IDM, classic and underground hip hop, jazz, rockabilly. Every form of music has its own attitude, its own feel and I relate to all of it on different levels. Some music is more cerebral, while other forms are completely visceral.
When you hang up your superhero artist cape, what else do you do for fun?
I'm pretty much a workaholic: if I'm not performing, I'm writing or recording. I love crate-digging too. I could spend an entire weekend in a record store. I do a lot of drinking on the weekends, write rhymes and chainsmoke…go to shows…watch movies. I'm an avid reader, especially true crime and noir novels. Pretty basic stuff. I'm not some thrill seeker that jumps out of airplanes or a philanthropist that gives back to the community by volunteering in soup kitchens. I'm a writer. I'm just a regular guy.
State of hip hop: good or bad?
Both. The shit on the radio and MTV out here makes me sick to my stomach. Everything about it is bad: the beats, the rhymes, the message; it's all of this watered down materialistic shit. Every song sounds like it could be in a fucking McDonalds commercial.
There's a lot of dope independent hip hop, though, and this gives me hope. The LA scene is thriving with talented cats that keep it original, musically and lyrically.
I think that the mainstream music industry is eating itself and within the next ten years or so, the market will exist in a very different way than that which we're accustomed to. Record execs like to blame this on file-sharing, which of course has a hand in it. But I seriously think it has a lot more to do with the lack of quality albums coming out these days. Back in the 70s, most albums were like ten solid songs, all of which complimented each other. Nowadays an album is like three singles and nine filler songs. So how can you blame people for not wanted to plunk down $15 on such an inferior and soul-less product? I hope that as the modern industry shatters, indie labels pick up the pieces. Because they are, for the most part, motivated by creativity rather than greed.
What do you want to achieve before you retire?
I just want to make music that affects people. I want to put my stuff out there where people can get their hands on it and experience my music for what it is. I want to be totally self-sufficient with my music and never have to punch in for some fucked up day job again, for as long as I live. I want to make at least one album that I can consider my 'opus'; something that has such depth that I feel it accurately represents me as an artist and a person.
You must have a website, right? What is it?
dumptruckrecords.com Hopefully by the time this comes out, the site will be completed. It's been fucked up for awhile because my sister's ex used to run it and when they broke up, my original site went down the drain. I'll have it fixed by the time the new album drops, for sure.
Comments or shout outs?
Big ups to all the folks in LA that have been real with me. Special thanks to Jacob Branch and Hobs for helping me put out the last album: one day I'll square up with you cats and make your investment in me worthwhile. That's a promise. Thanks to the Cosmic Truckaz, Ex Vandalz, Shapeshifters and all of the dope artists that make up the Los Angeles underground. Big ups to Meghan, and HUGE props to DJ Obi for putting in so much damn work. Much love to Presto and Fusion… As always, special thanks to my family and friends for putting up with such a bizarre man.
Many thanks to Urban Smarts for letting me get my point across!
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