HHC: "Fo'Tractor" was re-released last year. What led you to do that and could you give us some insight on the genesis of this album? What was the recording like?

R: "Fo'Tractor" is comprised of the songs that were never made to come out. They were just 4-track songs. Some of them were either freestyle songs or partial freestyle songs that I just wrote in the studio on a 4-track. Now, no one has 4-tracks anymore. Everyone has wonderful quality equipment. Someone's first song that they make it sounds perfect because they have Pro-Tools, etc. A while back, you know at best a couple of people that had a 4-track and you couldn't do the verse more than twice because it would start to bleed through. You would start to be able to hear your multiple takes. So I originally released "Fo'tractor" as a cassette tape and sold about 200 or 300 in 1998 or 1999 I think. With that re-release, I was just trying to make it sound a little bit better, as good as it could, polishing it. I think it's nice for people to hear the gritty, lo-fi and bad quality that was the only thing that we had. It's a little bit of the history of where I come from.

HHC: Your partnership with Anti-MC has been very efficient. You have created a very distinctive and original sound together. What's so special when your work together?

R: I've known him a long time and he's definitely blossomed as far as a producer from the original stuff he did to when you hear the "Free Kamal" album (which is the new Mush release that's coming out in June). It's amazing. He's really a musician, he plays a lot of different instruments and stuff like that. That was hidden before behind his sort of raw hip-hop stuff but I think he's coming into his sound. On the "Free Kamal", he's just done all the beats. We go in a lot of different places but it's got a really nice cohesive sound. We've spent 3 years on it so we took a lot of time to perfect it.

HHC: Listening to your past collaborations, you seem to both have a taste for oriental sounds. Where does this come from?

R: Part of it is because it's my support of terrorism throughout the world… No, actually, my mother is a middle-easterner so I have that influence and, also, my father always exposed me to a lot of different types of music and I try to get inspired by a lot of different types of world music. Anti-MC is very knowledgeable of all types of music. Probably, he doesn't really listen to oriental music too much on his own but he's a record collector and he's quite astute as far as being a student of music so he appreciates its merit. So he's been willing to work on this type of music with me because of my taste for it.

HHC: How did you meet him by the way?

R: I think I met him back in 1993. I was in a group called the Universouls at the time which became the Log Cabin with a lot of the Living Legends guys and Elusive and some other people. Anti-MC was actually named Neosapien back then and he was actually an emcee. He did a couple songs with Murs and then he gave that up and concentrated on production.

HHC: Why don't you like to rhyme on your own productions?

R: It's just that we're constantly introduced to people like this Para One guy who does production for TTC… I mean I'm making tracks all the time but it's really nice to meet someone who puts as much energy into the actual music as I put into writing my rhymes. Maybe I'll use my productions for something small like an EP or a self-release but there's so many cool people to work with…

HHC: Could you tell us a few words about "Free Kamal"? What can we expect from it and how will it be different from your previous LP's? I believe it has more of a reggae-edge for instance.

R: Reggae? Errr… I think it's a funkier record and it's more polished. It's not clean but it's polished. What you can expect is less extra stuff and it's polished down. It's 12 songs and the songs touch on different funky music from every type of genre from electro-clash to nigerian music to dub… The record tempo is… not fast but the whole record is moving. There's no really slow DJ Screw type of songs on it. I think it's a matured record and we really got rid of all the extra songs to focus on one cohesive project.

HHC: I heard that "Free Kamal" has been ready for more than a year. But it will only be released at the end of June. Why hasn't it been released yet?

R: This record, more than any record I've done, we really went through it with a fine tooth comb and, even stuff that we thought was good enough and it was done, we really pull apart each song and we examined it. And if we thought that there is any issue or something that we didn't like then we redid everything. Actually, I did the whole record to tracks that weren't complete so Anti-MC was still adding different things. Different musicians were playing over it so that the sound of the tracks got bigger. After I laid my initial guide vocal, Anti-MC add the finished sound to the records on the album and it was like "Wow! I need to do this again because now there is so much more for me to play on in the performance" so…

HHC: You re-laid your vocals then…

R: Yeah! A lot of them. It was definitely putting in a lot of work

HHC: What's the story behind the enigmatic title of this album?

R: Well, back in 1999 around the time the Fat Jack album "Cater to the DJ" came out, I went to the record release party and I ended up going to jail. I drank too much and I was sleeping in my car and the sheriff knocked on the door. They opened up the door and I ended up vomiting on the cop… so I ended up in jail with Murs. He was taking a piss in the alley and they brought him so we were in Inglewood sheriff together and then we got transferred to the Englewood jail. At the time, we weren't really getting along. There were some controversies over the internet or whatever but it was good to see someone that you knew. We had some history together. When I got out of jail, the next day when I went back to work they had put these signs up everywhere that said "Free Kamal" with the bars over my name. They had made it on Photoshop or something like that. So actually, I took that idea and I started making a mock documentary, only with audio, and all these different shows I was working on I was asking people "What do you think of this Kamal guy?" and I had them improvise ideas like "Cassius Clay fought Kamal in Pakistan and he got beat up so bad that he decided to become Muslim". Initially my idea was to have a whole separate CD that was gonna be all these skits but then it just seemed self-indulgent. There's a lot behind the idea of "Free Kamal" and in the end it ended up being more like "being free, enjoying what you do and appreciating life" than like "free kamal because he's locked up". So we'll probably put the skits on the website as a download, as a little extra. Also, the album is made with songs that I can listen to to remind myself to be more positive. It's got like a seventies kind of thing to it; it's like a protest record, it's got messages in it that are more concise than on my previous records… I mean I still have stuff where the thoughts wander everywhere but there is this positive thing going on too.

HHC: Who's that kid on your covers and why did you chose those strange pictures?

R: That's me. The pictures come from my childhood. I just had some way-out parents…

B: He used to live on the moon! (laughs)

R: Yeah, of course. My mom used to make clothes for rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the sixties so I grew up with wild parents. My mom used to make me costumes. She didn't think that I would ever be normal. She didn't think when I was 4 or 5 that I'd be ok to actually go to school because I was definitely wearing a lot of costumes and something like that. I have enough pictures left for a lot of albums. On the cover of "Free Kamal", it will be a picture of me. We had so many different pictures to choose from. From me wearing this weird mask and some underwear to this kung-fu thing where I was jumping off of a tree. It ended up being a picture of me playing the drums. My dad was a drummer and he gave me a drum set when I was 5 or 6.

HHC: Your previous albums have a very lo-fi and muddy sound (that plays an important part in their charm). I understand that the new album has a more polished sound. What did you decide to make that change?

R: It's funny because actually, for "Pyramidi", Xololanxinxo from OMD, he's got this Russian microphone and we didn't know how to use it so we ended up recording the whole "Pyramidi" album with the microphone backwards. The diaphragm of the microphone was the other way around. Because it's Russian we weren't able to read the instructions… So it just happened that way. Plus we're from the 4-track school of recording. When sampling time was limited, you sampled everything in mono to have more time on your ASR-10 or SP-12. You're taking all these huge orchestra samples with all these instruments and sampling in mono and taking all the drums and everything and smashing it all down to 2 tracks… You're really crushing a lot, you're losing a lot of frequencies. In "Free Kamal", we recorded everything separately, on separate tracks, and mixed it like you're supposed to mix an album. Another thing is we had done almost the whole album and we realized that it was so ingrained in us, that Anti-MC was so used to saving time, that he sampled everything in mono. So then we went back and we re-sampled everything in stereo and it was like "Wow!". The samples that we used, there's a lot of live instruments as well. It was like "I didn't even know that was there!". There were all these different things that you lose. So, yes, the whole album is in stereo.

HHC: You've been affiliated with the Westcoast Workforce and the Shapeshifters. How did you become a part of these collectives in the first place and what is your current situation with them?

R: The Workforce was an interesting crew. It sort of came and went. I guess it still exists on some dimensional plane somewhere. It was a time when I was spending a lot of time with Xololanxinxo and Subtitle so we ended up doing a lot of 4-track songs. We'd love to still do a project but everyone is doing well now and they're busy… The Shapeshifters, I was doing stuff with Circus since like 1994 and I really really like a lot of the old stuff that we did together. They were just ridiculously long songs…

HHC: Like the stuff on "Know Future" for instance…

R: Yeah, exactly, a lot of that stuff. The Shape Shifters has undergone a number of metamorphoses. Different people have been in the Shapeshifters. It's a really cool group right now and it's a little difficult to get anything done because there's so many people on the group. I mean there's more Shapeshifters than people in Saint Etienne! But you have Awol One who has a new album out on Palladin and Circus has a new album with Andre Afram Asmar coming out on Mush and you have Existereo who's winning contests (laughs). It's got a lot of potential. We came to France this year and did a few shows. It's more of a boom-bap thing than the other stuff that I'm doing and I really like to be doing everything because there's no reason why it's only gotta be like this or that. It's an interesting combination of styles and stuff so I'm still in the Shape Shifters.

HHC: So it means that you'll be on "Shapeshifters Were Here" and "Soul Lows 2"…

R: Yeah. I might not be on the picture on the front because they usually wait until ten minutes before they take the picture to call me. But I'll be on the album. Maybe not on every posse cut but on most of them… But, for the record, I am the last Shapeshifter to learn anything. I'd be the last one to know that we got signed to Sony! (laughs)

HHC: I understand that you plan to release a project with a jazz band in the coming months. Could you tell us more about that?

B: Wow… (surprised) How do you find out about this shit!? (laughs)

R: There's a band called the Free Formers, a jazz band, and there's a band called Jump for Joey, it's like a swing guy who really likes the Weather stuff. He volunteered some studio time for me to record this Free Formers thing. It's with a guy named Todd Simon who actually plays the trumpet on the first record. There's no label, there's no nothing… It's amazing that you even heard about that. It's one of those potential projects that's there. I have a couple of songs written but it will be an EP. Busdriver and I did a show with them. They're like a dub band comprised of jazz musicians so it's really cool. But it's inactive right now. Also, I've done a couple songs with Andre Afram Asmar and on his record "Racetothebottom" he has a singer named Elias, an Arab singer. We've recorded a 7" that's gonna come out on Beep Ahh Fresh. But as the store just shut down, it might be a little while before it comes out… Me and Andre have this project that we're still cultivating. This 7" is the first step for that. It's kinda electro, a percussive oriental-sounding thing with oud and singing… like an Arab ragga thing.

HHC: On that note, you've often toured with a live band. What do you like so much in that configuration (apart from the obvious freedom it brings) ?

R: I don't have to rap as much! I think it's so cliché that, every time a rapper's in a band, the rapper starts rapping and the band rarely ever breathes. When you have musicians, the nice thing is that you can use the emcee as one of the instruments and it doesn't have to be wall-to-wall covered with words. That makes the music more accessible and it gives it a little bit more merit. And you can take solos from everyone and do little things. It's got a lot of potential but there's also a lot of pitfalls and clichés that people get into… You have your jazz band and you're doing your "oh yeah, come on and make some noise and clap your hands, huh"… (laughs)

HHC: Your flow is kinda based on a whole fast-slow-fast-slow structure. How did you develop it and what do you like about fast-rhyming?

R: The only parallel I can probably make is like if you're making love with a girl so that she doesn't get bored. You give it like some quick throbs followed by slower ones (laughs). You bite her nipples. So it's like a nipple-bit approach to my music! But it's just once again the playfulness of rhythm and not having to be locked into anything and being able to do whatever you want. It's kinda fun to play with the rhythm stuff. Anyway, it probably came from screwing girls happily since 1980 something (laughs).

HHC: Since its demise, Log Cabin has become somewhat of a legendary group among all the people that love west coast underground hip-hop. I know that you're not necessary in good terms with all the ex-members but don't you think it would be great for the fans (and for you) to finally release the album that you recorded?

R: Yeah, we actually recorded that album in a real studio and the ADAT's are floating around somewhere. There's a lot of songs that we did no one has ever heard, that I've never even heard. It'd be a great idea to release that album but there's a lot of people involved that I don't necessarily communicate with so… I think we even still owe money for some of the sessions so some of the money from the album would have to go to paying back the studio that we used to record it. I don't really have any hard feelings with anyone. Everyone's just gone their separate ways. It's actually pretty cool that almost everyone from that time that I was working with is still doing the music… I think it's definitely got something to say about the perseverance. Whether or not people think they're better now or before or whatever, I think it's really irrelevant. It was something that never came out and so many people ended up hearing about it and we were really young when that thing happened so, yeah, I'm all for it. I've thought about spearheading it but it's gonna take some sort of meeting of the minds to do it…. And I don't have the energy to try to make that happen on my own. It's gonna take some common ground so… we'll see!

HHC: A few words about the recording of "Farmer's Market of the Beast". This is probably the track that really made you "blow up".

R: I had the idea for the track. I read the George Orwell "Animal Farm" book about animals rebelling against their masters… and it just came out from freestyling. Originally, it was gonna be a song with me, the All Deadly Jizzm and Awol One. I had told Jizzm my concepts and I even did my rhyme over the phone and he came out with a couple. I went out to Jizzm's house to record it, 4-track version. And then, Omid really liked the idea so he got Xololanxinxo and Circus involved in the track. We did a test run of it at someone's house on a half-inch tape and Circus's verse was twice as long as it is on the record! He actually had this long scroll and he ended up using the other half on a Shapeshifters song that me and him did, called 'Animals' which is 8 minutes long and is on "Planet of the Shapes". So originally Circus had like a 15 minutes verse!

HHC: Do you plan to do some work with Omid in the near future?

R: Yeah. Actually, we recently did a few songs together. I have a little stock pile of songs and I might put out an EP. I have a song with Daedelus and TTC, a couple songs with Omid and a couple songs with Asmar… There might be a possibility to put out a vinyl only EP. But my record "Free Kamal" kept getting pushed so now it's not coming out until June or July so…

HHC: Actually, it's coming out on June 22 nd according to Access Hip-Hop?

R: Ah, you know better than me! (laughs). So it's just that when you put out a record with Mush you're not allowed to put out a record for 4 months after. So I'll have to wait. You don't want to have too much out at once cause it clogs the intestinal track.

HHC: Apart from that, what are your current projects?

R: I'm probably gonna spend a lot of this next year touring this "Free Kamal" record, especially when it comes out. But you know, I have so many different projects. This thing with Asmar, it's called the Shams, which is the arabic for "sun". We're fishing for a label and everything. I want to have these very individual projects set. That might be a project we might actually go to North Africa , the Mediterranean and tour through there. I'll be also playing electronics with Asmar. That will be like a specialized world project. And then, for fun, I'm doing a remix project for myself, just remixing random songs, not hip-hop songs. Other than that, the jazz project you mentioned. Possibly, I'm talking to Teki about doing something on his label Institubes, like a vinyl only or a maxi or something… maybe with some of these French producers that we've been talking to. We've been doing a little bit of stuff here and there. Me and Subtitle and Exist did a song that's going to be on Para One's new album, I guess. Busdriver did a few songs with Para One too. Para One's doing some stuff that's different and incredible. I mean TTC has really inspired me to the whole electro thing. They have their own sound and it's really cool to see people embracing their niche. It's great.

Interview by Cobalt & MelloW
May 2004

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