Artist Spotlights

Chali 2na [INTERVIEW]

Chali 2na [INTERVIEW]

Written and Interviewed by Fatima Hasan

Fatima:
So glad to be here with you today! I’d love to talk about your upcoming show in Chicago this Friday, June 7, with Cut Chemist. I know this is a very special event, and you guys became friends a really long time ago. How did you meet and could you describe your friendship to us?

Chali 2na:
*laughs* Okay. I moved to Los Angeles at the end of 1986, by like ‘87 or that summer, there was a party at this little park… Silver Lake Park. He and a friend of mine were DJing in this boy’s club inside the park. You know, we were in the midst of hip-hop in the ‘80s – I was hype to go to the park and check it out. So, I’m there chillen, my friend knew about my history from Chicago. I used to tell him about when we used to go skating, like on the south side. There was a place right off of 95th, I don’t even know if it’s still there. But, I did tell him that we were skating off the James Brown stuff. He told Cut Chemist; and Cut’s name wasn’t Cut Chemist at the time. He was like, “Yo, you see that new kid over there with that leather jacket on and a leather beanie? That dude looking like the golden child? That dude right there? If you play this James Brown tune, he’ll come over here and holla at you.” Dude was like, “Word? Alright, cool.” He dropped the James Brown tune. I instantly flipped out! I’m like, “Whoa! That’s my joint!” I ran over there, and we started talking. Long Story Short, at the end of that party I found out that he did graffiti art. Like, serious graffiti art. So, we hung out and we walked him home from the park. That was a nice walk, maybe three or four miles. We decided to get some cans and went crazy tagging, you know, as we went along, we got to know each other. Dude was mad cool. Flash forward after I’ve acclimated myself into high school. I met Marc 7 from Jurassic 5, and he was telling me that he had a friend who was a DJ, and we could like mess around at his house and you know, do little demos and stuff. I was like, word. Okay, cool. So, we went to his friend’s house. We later ended up going to this other dude’s place, and that was Cut Chemist. We’ve been friends ever since!

Fatima:
Wow, that’s amazing!

Chali 2na:
He was like 14 when that happened.

Fatima
So you were in high school and he wasn’t even in high school yet?!

Chali 2na:
Yep! *Laughs*

Fatima:
That’s wild. Have you ever been to or performed at the Chop Shop in Chicago?

Chali 2na:
No, I haven’t. I had to call one of my friends from Chicago. She said it’s a cool place!

Fatima:
Sweet! The Chop Shop is great. Hands down one of my favorite venues in the city, by far. What are you most excited for with regard to your performance with Cut Chemist there on June 7th?

Chali 2na:
Well, to be honest, my father passed away seven years ago, and I haven’t really been back since then. It’s been hard, you know. It’s a love, hate thing. Like I haven’t been home, so I’m looking forward to seeing family and just being back there. When I was doing Jurassic stuff, my family got to see Cut a lot, so they know him too. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see the acts that are opening up for us too, because you know, I’m always interested in what’s coming out of the Chi, especially from the underground.

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OFFICIAL FACEBOOK EVENT: Chali 2na + Cut Chemist
Fatima:
Over the years, you’ve worked on collaborations with countless artists within totally different genres. Most recently your live recording with Naughty Professor, and then you’ve released tracks with Slightly Stoopid, Savoy, Black Eyed Peas, Rusko, and Linkin Park before. That’s such an incredibly diverse list right there. Who have been some of your favorite people to collaborate with and why?

Chali 2na:
Okay, I’ll be perfectly honest! I have a song, and it’s not one of my best songs per se, but it’s one of my favorite experiences. I have a song with George Clinton. It’s called “There’s A Party”, off the Spirit of Apollo album, by N.A.S.A. One of the DJs is Spike Jones’ little brother, Sam. So, that whole experience of being in the studio, watching him come up with his lyrics. He sat in the booth for five hours and didn’t come out. He was like communicating with us through the mic and just like mumbling words until he mumbled a sentence. Then he’d be like, “Whoa, that was dope.” And he’d be like, “You like that? All right. Turn the music on.”

He’d figure out a way to sing the line. You’re just like, “Oh my God, this is why he is who he is. This is why George Clinton is George Clinton.” This dude is a genius. You just have to make sure that he’s comfortable enough to allow his genius to come out. So, that was my favorite one.

I’ve had a lot of fun, you know, collaborating with many different artists. That’s been the most fun. I learned so much, especially collaborating with somebody whose music I actually really enjoy. Like, before I even got a chance to collaborate with them, I had all their music in my collection, you know what I mean?

Fatima:
It sounds like it really puts all of their artistic talents into a different perspective for you!

 

 

Fatima:
Who are some of your favorite heroes and a what makes someone a hero to you?

Chali 2na:
Well, I personally think a hero is someone whose actions or words affect people in a positive manner. My dad was my biggest hero. He wasn’t the best dad. But the lessons he taught me throughout my life truly resonate so deep, they guide my steps. So, he’s my number one hero.

This one time, my grandmother said people don’t change. My father responded by saying that was a lie. He was like, “you want to see change? Read this.” He gave me the autobiography of Malcolm X… and that just blew my mind. After I read it, I was like, “whoa! People can change.” So, you know, things like that. Looking up to people like Malcolm, Martin, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Ghandi. There’s a lot of different lessons you can learn. You can learn from the homeless man on the corner. I just feel like, if you have that energy to make people change for the better, the knowledge and wisdom, to positively affect those around you, that all creates superhero circumstances.

Fatima:
I love that! You’ve toured around the world a number of times. What have your international experiences taught you?

Chali 2na:
Well, traveling has shown me that the world is a small place, and that no matter how different things are, things are all the same. There’s nothing really new under the sun. I was in Instanbul and I met a guy… he reminded me so much of a friend of mine named Tyrone. I mean, he was just like Ty! I’m like, dude, this is crazy. Like, I know a guy that if you met him, not only do you look alike, but you act alike too! That tripped me out because you put yourself in these places, you’re around all these different sites and cultures. There are certain things that people may partake in, things they might say, you’re in a position to be a sponge and learn all these things. Once you start to experience, you start to realize that we have so many similarities. We might just say things in a different way. It’s cool to be able to apply everything that you are and that you’ve learned from your small corner of earth. You find that there are people just everyone else.

Fatima:
Right, right! It’s crazy too, because I feel like we’re conditioned to think that the world is just like totally separated… like the separate countries, regions, states, whatever else. But at the end of the day, we’re so interconnected and not many people really stop to think about it during their daily routine.

Chali 2na:
That’s true. Yup. You see it when you leave the country. This is something that I did, and I’m grateful to be able to experience it, but it’s sad. It makes me sad that some of the stuff that happens here does not happen around the planet. The way that the news dictates what people believe. The way that we focus more on the pettiest of things, you know, skin color and such. What I do notice, is that around the planet, things are more about class. You know, like, are you rich? Are you poor? You got some money, or you don’t? That’s what people focus on first a lot of the time in different countries. But still, you have racism, there is a black and white thing around the planet.

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Fatima:
Do you have a favorite track or record that you like to play out? If so, which one and why?

Chali 2na:
Oh, wow. I have a song. It’s called “The Righteous Way”. Once again, I’m going to reference my father ‘til the day I leave this planet. The song is about my dad. It’s also about myself, and it’s about my son. I try to present it verbally in a similar way like one of those nesting dolls, you know what I mean? You open up the little lady and they just keep getting smaller and smaller as you go on, revealing more layers. That song is structured like that.

I talk about my dad in the first verse, I talk about myself in the second verse, I talk about my son in the third verse. These are all perspectives… I guess of me. From an inside out perspective, it’s those two looking at me, and me looking at those two. It goes over all of the similarities that happened, and almost like a history lesson as well. We also sampled Curtis Mayfield, and he was a good friend of my father when he was alive. There have been times where I’ve just like, had to stop because of the tears, you know what I mean? Because of how much I miss my dad.

One time I performed at a festival in Canada called Shambhala. This was fresh after I had just buried my dad. We performed this song and I couldn’t get through it…it was the middle of the song. I just teared up like crazy, and I was mad at myself for letting my emotions take over in the midst of the performance. I was trying to get a grip on everything, and the crowd was going crazy; like screaming and supporting! But at first, I was a little offended. I was like, wait a minute… what are y’all hype about, this is a hard time for me. Right? But I stopped and collected my thoughts. Then, what I saw was more support than anything else. I was able to finish the song… and I think that one song, and that one part of the performance, solidified me to come back to Shambhala another six times. I didn’t mean for it to happen like that, it just did.

Fatima:
That’s honestly the truest form of art expression, you know, and the audience felt that it was coming from your heart and they connected with you. That’s amazing.

Chali 2na:
I try my hardest. I love to perform that song. I only perform it when I have my live band with me.

Fatima:
I also wanted to ask how you feel with regard to the current state of hip-hop and rap music. How has the scene changed since you’ve been involved?

Chali 2na:
Well, you know, it’s crazy because there’s so many layers to that question! Hip-hop has not changed, in terms of the culture itself. You know what I mean? It’s still MCing, DJing, beat-boxing. With rap, if you think of the four or five elements of hip-hop as appendages of a body, rap is just like one of them… one of the legs, you know. It just so happens that your right leg is more famous than the rest of your body!

It took something old, mixed it with something slightly new, or something that was like stripped down. The music nowadays is like a lot more stripped down and bass heavy, they’ve got some pretty dope beats, but it’s just like a lot less than what we’re used to. We used to sample a lot, but that would cost a lot. So, a lot of these artists don’t even sample plates, which is cool. But that circumstance, you mix that new music with that famous leg that I’m talking about, and you create this new sound. This new sound is not necessarily a part of hip-hop, other than it being one of its legs. It’s not hip-hop, but it does have a validity and everything. You have to acknowledge that this is an art form, and kids love it. I like that they’re calling it trap, or something else that’s different. I’m not saying that I don’t like their music or that I’m against it. I’m just saying that it is not what we do. You know what I mean?

 

Fatima:
Absolutely!

 

Chali 2na:
But my biggest issue is that, you know, the majority of people for radio stations… the program directors, these record labels, whatever it is that still exists… they push this music. They want to call it hip-hop, and to me that’s misleading. So, that’s my biggest issue.

Fatima:
Awesome. That’s really insightful! It does look like we are running out of time here, did you want to add anything else?

Chali 2na:
I don’t know! I’m just happy that you guys want to talk to me. I’m happy that I’m still doing this after almost 30 years. I’ve enjoyed my job. I’m a person that can walk around and say that I love my job. You know what I mean? And I hope the Chop Shop gets packed! I haven’t played in the Chi in a minute!

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