posted: 09-13-04
interview: quote35 (g.lehrl) of
Let's talk about music: You're about to release a solo album plus there will be a new All Natural album soon.
Inshallah - God-willing - "Insomnia" will be out by the time this interview comes out. The release date is August 24. And the All Natural album, "Vintage" is already finished. The planned date on that is February 2005.
Your solo album is called "Insomnia". What is disturbing your sleep?
Lies and deception. And hypocrisy. I get tired of watching people put faith in leaders who neither deserve nor respect the trust that they have been giving. It's really frustrating to see armies fighting one another over lies. Civilians in one country whipped into a frenzy and running amok based on untruths. And civilians in other countries dying as a result. Whether we're talking about 9/11 or Iraq, it's always civilians - i.e., collateral - who end up paying with their lives because of another idiot's hate and thirst for power. That keeps me up late.
I read that you handled the production on "Insomnia" yourself. Was there a certain intention behind it?
First off I wanted to have a consistent sound for this project. The lyrics all sort of point in the same direction and I wanted some edgy sounding beats to match. I knew exactly what I needed/wanted for a project like this. And to be honest, there's a little bit of ego I guess.
I get tired of people assuming that All Natural's beats are made by other producers; i.e. "50 Years", "MC Avenger", "Appreciate Life", etc. I've been making beats for a long time but people assume that because I concentrate on MCing that I'm not also doing many of the beats.
By doing this entire album myself I know that'll make people recognize that a lot of the beats that other people get props for, I did.
Why do you think did it happen that people never recognized you as a producer?
I didn't do a good job of advertising the fact that I do beat also; I would just do them and move on. Most people just assume that an MC only emcees. And so unless you advertise yourself as both, then people just assume that you only do one of the other.
Diggin' in the crates with Capital D: what are some of your favorite breaks?
I'm not that big on breaks. Lately I've been making beats using keyboards and not break records. But when I was coming up, my favorite artists to dig for were Bill Evans, Ramsey Lewis and Gabor Szabo.
Please tell us something about the single "Enough Already / Vent". What are the two songs about?
I consider "Enough Already" to be like a pissed off version of "It's O.K." It's not okay anymore. We need to grow up and get off the BS once in for all. "Enough Already", like "It's O.K.", is aimed at MCs - and just the hip-hop community in general - to get serious and make positive moves. Although the energy in both songs is completely different.
"Vent" is like therapy. When you have all this pent up anger inside you got to let it out. No matter what's pulling you down, let it out in a constructive/creative way or else you're gonna explode.
What more can you tell us about that album?
On "Insomnia" I just wanted to drop the hammer as hard as I could without any thought about the consequences or what people might think. I've done some political and socially conscious tunes before, but never a whole album on the level of "Insomnia". I wanted it to have the information of a Noam Chomsky book or the insight and depth of a Malcolm X speech; but be put to music. And also: it's not just a bunch of 'power to the people' slogans. I wanted it to have real information and to look analytically at the world, and not just be a bunch of chants. It's kind of fashionable to be semi-political right now, but you can't fake real analysis, information and action. So I wanted to be about it, and not just play with it.
So it spans a whole spectrum of socially and political themes that are important to the community as well as a worldwide audience?
I think so. We assume that policies that affect people locally in Chicago don't affect people in Lahore or Cape Town. I'm trying to show how an arrogant, selfish vision of the world affects people all over the world. There's no way to isolate yourself anymore and that's something that Americans find hard to accept; whether it's 9/11, NAFTA, job outsourcing, arms proliferation or global warming.
Where - which papers, internet etc. - do you get your information and facts from, that look beneath the surface?
I go to these online sites regularly: and Plus I read the and the The information is not hidden, you just have to read between the lines sometimes and more importantly you have to filter the information through your own worldview instead of just accepting the worldview of the author.
As far as books go, I'm reading "Purification of the Soul", "Banker to the Poor" and "Blowback" right now.
A song on your solo album is called "1984". How real, in your eyes, is George Orwell's vision in 2004?
I actually haven't read "1984" in almost 15 years. I remember when I read it that it seemed real prophetic at the time. That song, in addition to conjuring up the image of the book, is really about what was happening in the world in 1984, namely the U.S. sponsored war in Afghanistan. And how that policy has shaped a lot of what we see happening in 2004. Similarly if we are asleep to what is happening in 2004, then our children will pay the price in 2024.
George Bush always vowed - or lyed - to make the world safer. But it's all about oil, as you said. I just don't get it that people don't see the most obvious things. You just have to take a look; even if you watch CNN you will be able to see what's up - at least if you think about it. He has thrown parts of the Arabian world into chaos. He and his alliance of European warheads have brought unsafety to parts of Europe.
Do you think the 'war against terror' is directly responsible for e.g. the bombing that happened in Madrid in March?
I didn't say it's all about oil. But controlling access to oil is a major reason why the U.S. government chooses to focus on certain areas of the world, i.e., Iraq, Venezuela. And Bush is not solely to blame for bringing unsafety to parts of the world. The people who bombed civilian trains in Madrid are responsible for their own actions. Same with 9/11. The blame is on the madmen who did the act. I don't put that on Bush.
What I do say is that the blood of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan is on his hands, and that U.S. foreign policy - dating back decades - is designed to dominate the world and not free it. Which creates an environment in which victimized people will retaliate in equally violent ways. It's cause and effect, but none of it is justified or justifiable. But only when we hold ourselves up to the same standards of justice that we hold other people up to, can we demand that our government's policies change and thereby reduce the cycle of violence.
What to expect from the new All Natural album?
The number one thing about the new All Nat album is that it is very modern. The beats are banging. It's more soulful than what people may figure us for. I think it shows a lot of growth, in terms of being a polished album, but without compromising on the lyrics or the creativity.
Do you mean it's modern in terms of the general sound or arrangement of the tracks?
The level of production is higher. It's not as unclear as previous albums. And without sacrificing the lyrics and content, the sound is more modern. It's got more soul to it.
The first single is called "Southside", what is it about?
The Southside of Chicago. But actually "Southside" is the B-side of the single. "Keep It Movin" is the A-side. And that song is just straight hip-hop.
Who will be the guests on it?
The Daily Plannet. El da Sensai is on "Keep It Movin". Iomos Marad is on 2 songs. And the Jungle Brothers; which is a real honor.
That sounds promising. How did you hook up with the JB's?
Family Tree met them while in New York and Mr. Greenweedz kept in contact. They were feeling the stuff coming from our label so over time we've become family.
You released "Writer's block - The Movie" in 2002. What was the concept behind it?
The album is supposed to be like a movie, with several recurring characters and several different interweaving storylines. Every song is a 'story rhyme.'
"Mrs. Manley" is truly a gem, a metaphor of life - love, loss and everything between - put into a personal but universal story. Is it important to you to create timeless pieces, where a lot of people can relate to?
That's the goal. Classic music always has an audience, even after the musician is dead and gone. The same is true of classic writing/literature. Sometimes it works, sometimes I fall short but I always want to make something timeless. "50 Years" was our first single and that still sums up what I'm trying to be about.
Whether or not 'a lot of people relate to it' is another question. Sometimes I just want to make something that a small group of people feel, but I want it to be timeless to them. It's not always good to try to appeal to everyone, because you can lose your focus. So on some songs I want to hit a universal theme, but on other songs I want to focus on a discrete idea that may only be felt be some people; but I want them to really feel it.
In general, what's your approach as an artist, what are your goals?
One goal is to make classic/timeless material. Again, whether I succeed is up to other people, but that's one goal. I also want to shake things up. If you see something wrong, you need to shake it up. The Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - says: "If you see something wrong stop it with your hands. If you can't do that then speak out against it. If you can't do that then at least hate it in your heart, and this is the weakest of the three." Since hip-hop gives me a voice, I use it to speak out against injustice that I see. And at the same I look for ways to work with my hands.
Is that one reason that you stepped back to the mic after a hiatus and rumors that you're gonna stop?
Definitely. I actually did stop, that was no rumor. When I became Muslim I was told that music is forbidden in Islam. So I gave it up. But at the same time I searched through the rationales for not doing music and for doing it until I felt confident in my heart that I could use it as a positive tool and please Allah. Once I made that decision and felt comfortable with it, then it was full-on again. But with a different perspective and different obligation; not to please people but to try to please God.
Emcees - do they have a special responsibility to teach the youth?
No doubt. We all have something to teach, even if it's only to show people how not to be. MCs have a voice and potential influence that few people have. That's a responsibility. MCs who do something with that responsibility see it as a blessing, but MCs who fail to take advantage of the blessing see it as a burden and want to avoid it. The same is true of everybody. We all have gifts that we need to use and treat as blessings.
How strong is the pen when used as a weapon?
Extremely powerful. The tool used by God to instruct humankind was the Word. God could have used any tool, but used the Word. Moses was given the Word. Jesus was the Word made flesh. The first instruction given to the Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - was to Read or to Recite. So using the pen to record words, thoughts and ideas is extremely powerful. But the issue is: what words, thoughts and ideas are we recording and reciting? Are they beneficial and inspired by God-consciousness?
That's true. I think it sometimes can be a problem to reach the people you want to reach through words. A lot of people don't give the attention to the word, that it would deserve.
The Word is extremely powerful. I think that people pay attention to words, but that speakers - myself included - don't respect the power of words and of the Word. We engage in too much idle talk.
There is an Islamic scholar who carried a pebble in his mouth when amongst people. This way, he would have to remove the pebble and give himself time to think before he spoke. Speaking took effort. Nowadays - in the so-called Age of Information - anybody can put up a website or drop a CD and reach the entire world. But how much thought is being put into it? So it's not listeners who don't give words their due respect, it's speakers - myself included.
Do you think it could be a certain downside to only reach a certain group of people through the pen? People that already are aware perhaps?
We all have more to learn. Everyone, myself included, who considers themselves to be 'aware' still needs to learn more. We all need to see things from other perspectives and to at the very least be reminded of what we know. We all need to be reinforced and prodded into putting knowledge into action. So even if I only reach 'people that are already aware' that's still worthwhile in its own right.
In this context, how important is the entertaining factor? As you will be able to reach a broad audience when you are teaching people through entertainment. Michael Moore is a good example for creating a certain awareness with the methods and structures of the 'enemy', in my humble opinion.
No doubt. Music is a vehicle through which you can more easily spread a message. But again the question returns to what sort of message is being spread. Music to me is neutral. It's not 'the enemy's' method or structure. Entertainment is not the enemy, nor is it the enemy's tool. These things become the enemy's tool when/if we fail to use them in the best way possible.
Do you want to drop some words about the importance of the presidential election coming soon?
Not really. In terms of politics I'm not as focused on this election as I am on long-term changes. It's ridiculous that the U.S. only has a two party system. I was talking to a friend the other day and he said that if you want some work done on your house you'd get several proposals from contractors and take the best bid. If you could only get two bids, you'd be pretty screwed and wouldn't get much of a choice. So no matter who wins this election, I want to see the development of additional options, at least at the local level.
Are you encouraging people to vote?
Yes, but not to limit themselves to Kerry and Bush. If you agree with one of them, then fine. But if not, then look elsewhere. Building options requires voting for the candidate that best reflects what you believe in and not just accepting the lesser of two evils logic. There are only two choices because we buy into the two party system without questioning why we only have two options. That is not written in stone or part of the Constitution. Essentially we allow ourselves to be limited. We need to educate ourselves, research candidates, and vote for the one who reflects what you stand for.
You have written and are writing a couple of books and poems. Please tell us something about them.
I have a collection of poetry that I plan to publish and a collection of short stories. Plus I'm always flirting with the idea of finishing a full-fledged novel. I think that I should be doing more serious writing. Sometimes it's hard to get really deep into a topic on a the minute song of rhyming words. I like that challenge, but I want to write in other mediums as well so that I can give certain issues and ideas all the attention and analysis that I can give them, and that they deserve.
Would you mind telling us some more about the short stories and the planned novel?
The short stories cover topics like racism and imprisonment. I like to use physical imprisonment as a metaphor for mental imprisonment. But really the stories are all over the map. I have several novel ideas that I won't go into now. Hopefully I'll stop procrastinating and make it happen.
Educating through entertainment. Would this fit as a description for your art?
I guess so. But on the real, I just like to write, rhyme and make beats…and think.
On you homepage there's a new section called "Writer's Block - Discussions with Cap D". Please tell us something about it....
That's what I'm talking about in terms of finding other avenues through which to write. God-willing that section will be a bi-monthly essay or poem or whatever. Then I want to turn it into a weekly thing. I just need to be more active with the pen.
A quote from the writer's bloc on your homepage:

"modern hip-hop and hip-hop artists are not threatening to anybody or anything except ourselves.... Thus, these three acts (talking crazy, killing ourselves and making money) do not make us dangerous to American rule…and nor does the combination of these acts. As such, making money by talking crazy about killing each other (the essence of Twinkie Rap) is not dangerous...or I should it's only makes us dangerous to ourselves."

What has to be done in the communities to reach effective changes for a better tomorrow?
I really believe that everybody at their core knows right from wrong. There's a quote, and I'm not reciting it verbatim, but it says that: "sin is something that, when you do it, you feel the hair on your neck stand up." I think that we all know when we are on BS. We try to fool ourselves, or we try to reinforce our nonsense by hanging with people that are doing similar - and they reinforce their nonsense with us. But if you stop and think honestly, you know right from wrong. What we need is the strength to confront ourselves and then the world around us. We just need to make the effort.
It's not any secret and there's no deep formula or manifesto or political theory. We just have to analyze the things that we do, and if those things are positive, keep it up; and if not stop. Then the answers will make themselves known.
"Education is what my people lack so it's time to provide (the world keeps turning)" - who should provide the education?
Everyone. Everyone should seek education and provide it.
Let's go back in time. Please tell me something about your early days in Chicago, what was growing up in Chicago like?
I was born in Chicago and lived on the Southside until I was seven. Then I moved out to the South Suburbs. Now I live back on the Southside. I wouldn't change a thing about how I grew up. Chicago has four seasons of weather, an extremely diverse population, but it's segregated like crazy. It gives you a little bit of everything. You got the problems of big city, but it has a real community vibe to it. Where I grew up I never had to worry about safety or stuff like that, but I could find trouble if I wanted it. No complaints.
Do you have something like an early hip hop memory?
Learning how to DJ in my basement. Or buying a copy of "Funk You Up" by Sequence, which was really commercial but I was young and was feeling it.
Who were the artists that impressed you back in the days?
KRS-One, Rakim and then later on the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul.
What made the bigger impression on you then - beats or lyrics?
That's a tough question. As far as hip-hop goes, I guess the lyrics. I used to love hip-hop for the lyrics, and I DJed - and made - a lot of house music for the melodies.
Speaking of house music. What are some artists you like?
I don't listen to it anymore, but back in the day my favorites were Frankie Knuckles, Jungle Wonz, Farley, Phuture and MayDay. As far as DJs go Ron Hardy and Frankie were the kings. And Andre Hatchett.
What do you think about the symbiosis of house and hiphop/rap?
When it's done well it can be dope, but it's seldom done well. Songs like "I'll House You" and "Ring, Ring, Ring" and a lot of Common's first album show how house/disco influence and can be dope in hip-hop.
What do you think of Derrick L. Carter and Classic Records?
I'm not a listener anymore.
Some of favourite books?
"Purification of the Soul"
"2000 Seasons" by Ayi Kwei Armah
"Black on Black Violence" by Amos Wilson
"Plan B" by Chester Himes
Some favourite movies?
"Do the Right Thing"
"Rabbit-Proof Fence"
"The Royal Tenenbaums"
How important is Spike Lee for the community?
As far as somebody my age, Spike Lee had a huge influence on me. He came out as a black, male, independent, artist, businessman with something to say. And he's been successful. That's a lot of what I try to be about. He has never seemed to have any fear. He handles his art from the writing stage through the production and editing stage. I mean, he's like the prototype for a lot of black men my age, in terms of that formula for success. Black, male, independent, artist, businessman, saying something.
If you take a look at racism in the US - which characteristics would you name?
I'm not sure what you're asking.
Oh, how would you describe the 'every day' racism in the US? In which ways are people experiencing racism? A lot of people say it became more subtle.
It's institutionalized. Instead of signs saying 'No Blacks Allowed', police in primarily white areas harass blacks that come into the neighborhood. Or public space and parks become private spaces that only residents can use. Plus predominantly black areas receive less in terms of social services, education money, parks, etc. It's allegedly not based on race, merely economic zoning, but there is a clear racial component in addition to class issues.
What's the legacy of the civil rights movement for the generation of today?
Well my generation is a little older than the new generation coming up. For my generation we celebrated the civil rights movement, but for us it includes both Martin Luther King and El Hajj El Malik El Shabazz [Malcolm X]. It includes both the SCLC and SNCC.
What my generation was supposed to do was to reconcile those two sides of the 60s and learn from both them. We were supposed to use affirmative action, but to remain informed by the politics of the Black Panthers. We failed to do so. Instead we allowed the two different sides of that era to remain separate. So now I think a lot of the upcoming generation don't fully appreciate the civil rights movement, but that's the fault of people who are my age.
That's an interesting point. Speaking of affirmative action, do you think it was contra productive for the conscious of the African-American community?
No. It was and is necessary. But it is not the end all, be all. There are many other steps that need to be taken in addition to affirmative action because racism in resistant and deep rooted.
That's a delicate question: some people say that the African-American community might be lacking 'leadership', lacking a Martin Luther King, a Malcom X in 2004. What's your verdict on that?
We definitely lack that kind of leader. But that's partially because a lot of our 'leaders' are in another realm, they aren't full-time leaders so to speak. They work jobs; and this has it's benefits and detriments. What I think we need is people who take the philosophies and God-consciousness of King and X, and then combine them with the business skills of Russell Simmons and Damon Dash. That's what we have to get to.
Word up. What do you think of Fred Hampton Jr. and his work?
Fred Hampton Jr. speaks the truth and is willing to back up his words with actions. Every time I hear and meet him he is right on point. And his background makes him more effective with young black kids than a lot of other people could hope to be; that's why he's seen as such a threat.
When did you personally encounter racism the last time?
Probably earlier today. It's everywhere. It's like the weather. You got to deal with it and continue to keep it moving.
In an interview I did with J-Zone recently he said that racism towards people of Middle Eastern decent has become crazy in the US. What's your view on that?
That's the area of the world that the United States wants to dominate right now, so the plan is to demonize and dehumanize its people. That makes it easier to kill them and steal their land. The same thing happened when the U.S. and Europe coveted the natural resources in Africa - diamonds, gold, rubber, etc. - or silk and opium in Asia, or the fertile soil of the Caribbean and the Americas. Oil is king right now, so the goal is to dehumanize the people who are sitting on the oil in order to justify stealing their land, or at least dominating their governments so that the oil is directed to the 'West'. It's the same old trick.
Propaganda machines are fueling the so called 'war against terrorism' and against Muslims in general as I see it. Do you have to justify being a Muslim?
Some people probably think that I should, but I never do. That's a defeatist attitude. People want to put you on the defensive and make you feel like you have to justify who you are. If you fall into that trap, then psychologically speaking you have already lost. That's the lesson I learned from people like El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and John Henrik Clarke.
When did you become a Muslim?
I took my shahadah in 2001.
How has it changed your life?
It makes me more humble, but at the same time makes me more committed and serious. I understand that so many things I take as being so important, are just temporary; it's just a test. It's a very direct and basic religion. It's pure monotheism without reliance on myths, blind faith and stories. As a result, it really simplified my life and eliminated non-issues that used to preoccupy my time and my mind. It's humbling to recognize how small you are before the Creator,. But it's awesome to appreciate the chance that you've been given just by virtue of being alive.
Do you plan to go to Mecca one day?
Yes. God-willing in 2 years.
Where have you been outside the US? And what were your impressions?
England, the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Scotland, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. I love to travel and see the differences and similarities between the U.S. and other places. So many of the places I've been to the people seem so much more open and basically civilized. Especially in the so-called third world. People have a basic decency that hasn't been destroyed by the rat race, it's real visible.
All Natural is also a label. What to expect from the future of AN?
We're adding some real solid groups to our foundation. Of course you can expect to hear more from the Daily Plannet, Iomos Marad and Family Tree. Plus G(riot) and Mr. Greenweedz are working on an album together. But we're also adding new blood to the fam such as the Twilite Tone, Eulorhythmics, The Pacifics and The Primeridian. Essentially we're working with talented, positive cats doing dope music. So the team is definitely growing. We're just trying to keep it moving.
Word associations: Love
Zeenat - my wife
Stupid / Fear
Family Tree
Shout outs
To the whole world
"Insomnia" is available at all your favorite record stores.
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