posted: 07-31-04
interview : tadah
Okay, please introduce yourself.
I'm Truth Universal, a MC based in New Orleans, LA. I was born in Diego Martin, Trinidad and moved with my family to the N.O. when I was four years old.
As for repping a 'hood,' I let you know where I'm from to: 1.) kinda put those places on the map in a 'traditional' Hip Hop sense so to speak, and 2.) 'cause I respect the cultural background of the places, and what I've learned being in them. I rep for Black people worldwide though. I was raised in New Orleans East.
How is life there?
If you don't go to college or learn a lucrative trade and/or own a good business, you'll probably be working in one of these restaurants or hotels for peanuts. It's pretty hard here man. There is a high unemployment rate but they always have money to expand the police force. It's a party town so the place is poppin' all night. All the decadence you can handle from sundown to sunup!
In terms of Hip Hop, things are looking good. That is with the exception of frontin' radio stations, talent coordinators for certain venues, and promoters. You have artists and groups like Illdren, Euphonetiks, Bionik Brown, DJ Maxmillion, EF Cuttin, DJ Dynamite Dave Soul One Eye, Rita Book, Nabii Bastet, and myself that are active and constantly doing things to help build the scene. There are more, but names escape me right now.
So all that Mardi Gras show-me-yours-I-show-you-mine is happening all year round?
It's pretty much year round man. It's just not as intense as the Mardi Gras bacchanal.
How can you describe life in Trinidad and Tobago to someone that can't even fathom how life is there?
Life in Trini: Caribbean island rich with remnants of Motherland/West African culture. The population is predominantly Black with a significant East Indian influence.
The Indian population came to the island in the late 1800s for indentured servitude. To me the influence is most pronounced with a lot of the dishes. Curry is used a lot. You have Roti: unleavened bread, pelau: rice dish, channa: chick peas and lots of other deals. You still have the foods traditionally prepared by African descendants like calalloo - similar to gumbo, sweetbread, etc. Traditional music includes Calypso, Soca, Rapso, and Chutney. You can see some Yoruba tradition preserved too with the Shango Baptist.
Trini has lots of vegetation and fruit trees. But in terms of beaches, Tobago more fits the island paradise model. If I'm not mistaken I think the Germans are pimping it out on the resort tip. There is obviously mega exploitation going on there.
The country is not a poor country in terms of resources, mainly petroleum. However, the exchange rate is 5+ TT - Trinidad and Tobago currency - to 1 USD. There is a high poverty level. There is a great deal of struggle man. It's a democratic government and I find more average folks there are in tune with political happenings than here. We know how to have a good time though. Carnival is once a year. It's the same time as Mardi Gras-the day before Ash Wednesday.
How often do you have to say something like: "yeah, I'm from New Orleans but I don't sound like Juvenile"?
I don't ever say that. I let the work speak. I know when I get feedback from some of these DJ cats they are like, "I thought it was the typical New Orleans shit." Or they say something like, "I saw New Orleans label and I put it on the trash pile at first." Cats should know better than that. Dope Hip Hop can come from anywhere.
However, how big is your style of rap in New Orleans, compared to a Juvenile type of rap?
How big? In comparison our thing is considerably smaller. We're underdogs in many respects. I guess what you refer to as a 'Juve type of rap' is a sound more tailor made for the locale. In turn it's easier for more of the general population to digest. Also, it's a question of resources for promo and things that'll get you heard. We don't have loot and most of the time the media outlets are not behind us cause we ain't paying them!
Any crew affiliations we should know about?
I'm affiliated with Advanced Ideas Music - A.I.M. Unit, Son of Soul Music, Kuumba Productions and egruks Music.
What do we need to know about you?
You need to know that I'm an MC that should not be overlooked.
What would you like to tell us about you, that we probably don't care to know? (smile)
I like cornmeal coated fried tofu.
Indeed so.
Any other fun facts about you?
Nah man…no fun facts…
So, what are you plugging right now?
Many things… I'm mainly plugging my forthcoming album "Decolonization." Like Masta Killa, in terms of release, there's 'no said date.' As I work to release that, I'm going to put the mixtape-"The Decolonization Mixtape"-on the street real soon. I'm also working out label details and seeking proper distribution for the album and the next single "Mind Frame" which features MC Zion of Zion I. "New Orleans' Finest" is actually the lead single, but I wanted to get the proper push behind the album before I dropped it.
Does that mean that you are a one man company, pushing your own stuff, etc.?
Up until now, yes! The last vinyl single, "New Orleans' Finest," moved about 500 units with limited distribution. With the CD/EP I was able to move somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 units hand to hand, traveling and doing shows, and through mom and pop retailers.
On the next few releases I'll be working with a new label called Dragon's Breath Records. I'm assembling a team so things are done more effectively. I won't be doing my website anymore; will handle that. I'm getting a street team together, and lots of other things. The assistance makes things run more smoothly and efficiently.
Tell us what you hope we'll get out of this record.
I hope folks will get some Hip Hop of substance that they feel good about adding to their collections. You'll have some dope production from my peoples Natural Born, who's handling the bulk of the production duties, EF Cuttin', Gensu Dean, and DJ Maxmillion.
When you say 'hip hop of substance': considering what is commercially successful, most is not necessarily of substance. Is your hip hop outdated?
Outdated by whose standards? I strive to make timeless Hip Hop. I'd like to think I succeed. As far as what's commercially successful, most of it is mindless bullshit. That is what is making millions right now. I spoke with this A&R just last week at one of these major labels.
The cat must not have ever heard my music. In any case, he called and asked for some material. I sent it just to see what would happen. He said the music was very good, buuuuuuuuuuuuut…and I quote: "there just isn't any place here for good thoughtful Hip Hop here." Before that he told me how they are trying to make "millions and millions of dollars." He added that with my material he didn't hear any, "club bangers." I wish I would've taped that conversation (laughs)! Their motivation is to make loot at whatever cost. I don't think that most of what is released in the commercial arena should be considered as the standard just because the subject matter is the same and the production and rhyme flow are similar.
How did you get into this lil' culture we call Hip Hop?
I don't think it was something to 'get into.' I think it's just a natural form of Black artistic expression. It's a continuation of older forms of Black expression like funk, jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, rock, etc. Like I said earlier, we were being influenced by things happening around us. Everything just was natural man. I had an intense desire to DJ. That obviously turned into emceeing.
What is it about this culture that influences and inspires you?
Life experiences and struggle influence me. Those are things that I think add to the art form itself. My inspiration comes from those who exhibit courage and conviction in any walk or aspect of life. I'm inspired by the spirit of ancestors were involved in any liberation movement for Original - ie. people of color, first on the planet - people. I don't just mean in the 60's & 70's, I mean throughout history. I'm inspired by anyone who is not afraid to challenge the status quo on some human rights vibe. As far as cats who explicitly do Hip Hop, anybody who makes creative, provocative and exceptional material regardless of their roll-Djing, Mcing, producing, etc. is an inspiration.
New scientific findings apparently suggest that the original man might not come from Africa but from Asia. Have you heard about that?
Well, it's my understanding that before the continental divide the land mass was called Asia. I've seen, and been told by credible researchers of, references to Panasia, Pangea, and Asun all being names of the original land mass. Asia seems like it could be derived from those names. Or those names could be derived from Asia. It is also my understanding that the Original Man is Asiatic Black Man.
Genetically, you have to start with the dominant before you can get to the recessive. Even though the largest concentration of Black people is in Africa, considering the pre-divide period, it's logical to say that the Original Man inhabited the whole planet! Being that civilization was significantly developed in the areas of the planet called Africa, and the Middle East, there was probably always a concentration of Original people in those areas. There is reference to two rivers in the creation epoch; many say they are the Tigris and Euphrates. Those rivers are in what is called the Middle East. I had not heard about the new findings until your mention.
In what part of Asia were the remains found? Probably what's called the Middle East huh? The last remains I know of were found in East Africa-Tanzania--by the Leakys. I'm not surprised by hearing that. I know that it's a Black Man or Woman though!
Listening to your music and watching your video: it's full of political symbols and rhetoric. Agree and if so, can you say something about that?
I agree. You see, I like to think of my music as struggle or rebel music. I try to identify the sources of unnecessary struggle and provoke thought as to what can be done to eliminate those sources. In doing that I tend to borrow from others who have traveled this road so we can have live models.
Like in the vid, that's a rebellion in the Desire Housing Project, in New Orleans, in 1970. The police abused their - false - authority in their attempt to apprehend some Black Panthers and the residents were like, "Oh no you don't!..." The police were powerless! It just goes to show you that the people have the power! That was the whole point in that example. I'm all about raising awareness and moving to change the quo!
What had you start participating, rather than just watching and listening?
It just moved me into action. I was in the midst of things and was just compelled to participate. The music was there, mixtapes were circulating, we were breaking, and the movies like "Wild Style" and "Beatstreet", were coming out and influencing us also. You hear things and may be like, "I want it to sound like this." But to make it sound like 'that' you have to do it yourself.
I've heard some dope messages over the wackest beats, and vice versa. Most times when the production is live, it's supporting the lamest rhymes on the planet. One thing that keeps me going is the desire to contribute good rhymes over equally good beats!
But to really answer your question, the main thing that made me start writing rhymes is the encouragement of one of my friends-Bell. He was like, "You should write down some of your stuff since you are always freestyling." I took that advice and ran with it!
As you mention "Wild Style" and "Beatstreet", that suggest that you're in this for quite a while, right?
Not rhyming but I was just in the mix. I was first exposed to the music, b-boying, rhyming, and DJing in about '83 or '84.
If you weren't an artist, what other job would you like to have?
I'd probably be a writer, lecturer, or film producer. I like to impart information on people.
Who would you like to work with the most? Dead or living? Why?
Dude, I dunno. All that comes to mind right now is Primo. I don't know many emcees that wouldn't want to do a track with DJ Premier. I would to like work with Primo for obvious reasons.
I know another one: Bro. Resistance. He is a Rapso artist from Trini. I'd really dig a collabo with him. I always dug what he was doing with Network Riddum band. Okay, some more are coming to mind. I'd like to work with the following because they are dope: Bun B of UGK, Vitamin D, and Symbolic 1.
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?
Uhh…a show last year when Kweli came to the N.O… The Brother has good stage presence. I observe key points of shows. I don't bite shit, but I study a good artist's crowd control. I was like, "I gotta move the crowd like this!" That shit was jumpin!!
Another event that had me thinking was Waterworld in Ann Arbor last year October. All of the Michigan people were tight as hell! Me and my man - DJ EF Cuttin' - who made the trip with me, was like, "we have to raise the bar when we get back to the city!" They really have their scene together.
File sharing on the internet: I do it too, or I'll do you if you do it?
I do it mostly when it's not in my budget to buy stuff. I can name at least 10 albums and singles I want in my life right now, but I don't have the loot for 'em. I'll download and I'll purchase them if when I'm able. I'm a fan and collector so I value the artwork, liner notes, and what not. I want to know who produced the song, whose featured, blah blah blah. If I dig you I'll go to your show and buy merch. So you know, I do the shit, but I make an effort to monetarily support when I can.
What do you say to someone that downloads your stuff?
I say: let as many people as you can know who I am and at some point support what I'm doing with a purchase. Come to a show or two. Now if you're selling my shit I have a problem with that. If I were on a major label I would encourage that.
What do you really enjoy listening to right now?
"Madvillainy", "Detroit Deli" by Slum Village-BR Gunna is on some shit man… The Strange Fruit Project's latest joint… "Nolia Clap" from Juve Skip and Wacko is playing RIGHT RIGHT now..hahaha… I'm serious though. The Micranots' latest gets rotation, and Prophetix does also. Somebody stole my Jean Grae.
You mention a couple of artists from different places. Also lately, the styles of areas has really blurred. In the past you were like able to listen to someone and could tell from where the artist is. Now you can't. Is that a good or a bad thing?
That's subjective I guess. It depends on if the artist wants to rep like that for one. If you want to represent your region or what have you, and your sound and/or language doesn't indicate that, then bad for you. I feel like if you listen to the colloquialisms you can get an idea of where the MC is from.
I'm concerned with making sound universal Hip Hop music. If you listen closely enough you will be able to get an idea of my background. Most soul or R & B artists from like 20 years ago don't really sound like they are forcing themselves to sound like they are from a region. They just focused on making good music. Where is Frankie Beverly and Maze from? Aside from them doing obvious New Orleans anthems like "Hey Pocky Way," you wouldn't know where the Meters were from. Personally, I don't think It's good nor bad.
When you hang up your superhero artist cape, what else do you do for fun?
Exercise, read, dig for records…hang with friends and family…
State of hip hop: good or bad?
It depends on how you look at it. More people have the opportunity to make music with the computer software, so that's a good thing. Everybody can't afford that home studio with the standalone hardware. It's bad because there's a lot of trash circulating. It's been said before, but it's beaucoup true! The market is super saturated, which in turn makes it harder to make significant deals with labels and/or distribution companies.
What do you want to achieve before you retire?
Economic stability.
You must have a website, right? What is it?
It's We're re-launching in a week or two.
Comments or shout outs?
Peace to everyone who supports this movement. I'm very grateful to those who allow us to keeping doing this by virtue of their support in whatever form they give it. Big shout to Jen @ Dragon's Breath Records, Natural Born, Jeva One, Mr. Skurge, Dj What?, Infinito 2017, Billy Kincaid, Precise Hero, DJ Ambush, Black Surreal, Semp Rock @ Public Wizard and I Love my Mama and Grandmama... "Decolonization" 2004!!! Big Things!!!
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