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Chali 2na

Chali 2na

Interviewed by
Max Oldfield
Monday 15th September, 2014 12:09PM

Chali 2na, founding member of seminal golden-era hip hop group Jurassic5, is a notoriously busy man. He is in the midst of recording the third instalment of his five-part EP series Against the Current, as well as continuing work on a crowd-funded book of artworks under the same title. But this workload didn’t stop him from visiting the country earlier this year as part of a world tour to celebrate the reunion of Jurassic 5, and now he is returning to New Zealand this month for three shows with a live band and his unmistakeable baritone. UnderTheRadar contributor Max Oldfield managed to squeeze into the rapper's busy schedule to have a chat as he took a short break from studio time in his adopted home on America’s West Coast...

You’ve been working on a series of five EPs under the collective title, Against the Current, dropping the eponymous first EP last year, and then Against The Current EP.2 : Manphibian Music earlier this year. Five is quite a few... can you tell me about what got you to that number?

Well, I wanted to work with five different genres that I was influenced by, for the most part. With my mum and my dad and everybody on Sundays would get up and clean the house, you know... back in the day it used to be a custom in the household to play music, so it’d be everything from, like, you know, 60s, 70s, and 80s soul, to reggae music, to salsa and stuff like that. My pops and my moms were quite eclectic listeners, so in an effort to pay homage to my dad who passed away a couple years ago, when I first started this project, I would use those genres to reflect where I was coming from. And at first I wanted them to be separate, but I found it was more effective to mix up those genres, and make it feel like how it used to feel when my mum and them used to play the music. It would switch between different genres and that was cool, I think that affected me in a way, indirectly, that I’m able to see manifest itself now when I try to make music. So I chose that method to display that outlook and perspective.

Has that been an emotional process for you?

Yea, definitely. Just on the simple fact that I miss my father. But it’s cool to be able to pay homage to him musically, as well as visually and artistically.

So when will we see the next instalment of the Against the Current EP series?

Well, I want to call this next one Bloodshot Fisheye, and it should be out, I’m hoping, within the next month or so. I’m trying to work on it now, in the studio, as we speak, with Madlib’s little brother Oh No... A lot of people might know him and he’s got some amazing production. He’s a great rapper too but has amazing production and we’re in the studio now working on some tunes and coming up with some concepts for this next EP as we speak. So hopefully, yea, in the next couple moths it’ll be ready to come out.

That’s interesting... how did you link up with Oh No on that?

Oh man, this is a small community here in Los Angeles for underground, boom bap, real live hip hop stuff. Everybody kind of knows each other or knows somebody that knows somebody, so it’s real easy. I mean, I know his big brother like the back of my hand.

Also, in recent news, you’ve been working on a book of artworks also under the title Against the Current. Last I heard you had funding to go ahead, how’s that been going?

It’s been going great, man! The PledgeMusic [crowd funding] campaign has helped me raise enough money to actually put these books together so I want to thank everybody out there who participated in the process. I have been able to amass all these old school photographs and new school photographs that I’ve taken as well as paintings that I’ve done to add to the content of the book so it’s been a great process man. Slow process, but a great process nonetheless.

Has the crowd funding platform worked well for you?

Yea, definitely! More than I anticipated to be perfectly honest with you, and it was a minimal amount of work beyond the stuff that I do daily, trying to make sure some music could come out, so that was good.

And amongst all this, you have recently been touring with Jurassic5 for the first time since 2007. What’s different about the way you guys approach that now, that makes it work?

Just being truthful to ourselves about all roles within the entity known as Jurassic5, as well as being truthful to each other as members of the group. We were all part of giving birth to something that has its own life and its own staying power and has its own effectiveness, so now we’re just watering the plant, so to speak.

Of course there’s been album talk as well as a single which samples The White Stripes there, 'The Way We Do It'. How is work going on that?

Uuummmm, I’m not supposed to say (laughs). I’ll leave it at that.

I’m interested... of course much of your musical time has been spent on the West Coast, but you’re originally from Chicago, which is a place where hip hop music has taken an interesting turn over the past few years. Do you still consider Chicago home?

It will forever be home, yea. I mean, I live in Los Angeles but I’m a Chicago native and I always pay homage to my city to the max, because of the instances in my life that made me a man before I was even considering moving to Los Angeles. That being said, I give a lot of props to Los Angeles as well because it definitely helped me grow and become somebody who a lot of people know so I’m happy about both places... but I don’t want to adopt another city while I definitely have ties to another. I do have ties to Chicago, Chicago is my home, it’s where I was conceived, it’s where the concept of life was taught to me, so I am a Southside native, yea.

Is the Chicago we see in the media, that everyone seems so afraid of, the place you remember?

Well, it was a different kind of fear that I remember growing up. But Chicago’s been the home of the gangbangers for real. As far as concentrated gang activity in America from back in the 20s and 30s with the mafia situation, all the way up to the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords now. It’s crazy that mentality has suffered throughout the years and affected so many different lives, and has taken lives, or affected them in negative ways that has put them in prisons and such. It has a sense of community and a sense of secrecy and intelligence to it that entices these youngsters. But at the same time, anything that leads a person down a path of destruction or towards their demise is something that ain’t good in my opinion, and I do remember a time of as lot of extreme violence during my childhood, growing up, it’s just a different level of it now; a lot more extreme.

A lot of artists from the old school of Chicago have had things to say about this, is it something that you keep an eye on?

Oh yea, definitely. I have to. I have to keep an eye on it for the simple possibility of it spilling over in to the street and affecting some of my relatives, you know what I mean? Everyday people get affected by that situation in Chicago, man, so much so that the nickname of Chicago is now Chiraq. It’s a scary thing, and I definitely keep my eye on it, you know. I have to.

This month brings you back to New Zealand for three shows. You come down here a bit - do you get much of a chance to look around?

Yes sir, I’ve been down there so many times, I’ve been able to paint, I’ve been able to travel around and see the place. It’s a beautiful country and I really feel like if I ever move down under I wouldn’t move to Australia, I would move to New Zealand... It just feels more comfortable and more diverse, I love it down there.

You’re known to be a huge fan of performing live. Anything particularly special you’ve got in store this time around?

Well, this time I’m coming down like a rocket, man. That’s all I really try to do man, I’m not going to be more or less dramatic about it man, I like to have fun on stage, I like to include everybody in the crowd, I like to have political as well as extremely intellectual undertones to my music but I still like to make your ass move so that your mind will follow! That’s basically what you can expect - dynamics, man, showmanship. We like to have fun on stage, and we like to be infectious enough to make people have fun and forget their inhibitions, that’s the school I come from so that’s what I try to deliver every time I play.

Charli 2na kicks off the first of four New Zealand shows this Wednesday at Dux Live in Christchurch. Head over here to see details for that show, as well as information for his appearances in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.


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