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Defari : The Kotori Interview
Defari: Street Knowledge
By Emerick Tackett
The publicist says that we got the last interview of the day.Ã‚Â "Keep
the questions about the new album or Defari might get grumpy," she
says.Ã‚Â Damn.Ã‚Â I had heard the new album and I knew it was worth
talking about, but I wanted to tell him some of my Defari stories.Ã‚Â If
you live in L.A. long enough you'll inevitably have a few.Ã‚Â I was
going to tell him about the times when we used to meet the weed hook
at the 405 and Sunset every Friday while listening to Defari rhyme
"405 Fridays, sunset glazed" off his first record.Ã‚Â I was going to
remind him about the time he passed my little sister a blunt from the
stage during a performance of "City Slickers" five or six years ago.
I even had a story about trying to play center on Defari's team in a
pick-up game in Venice a while back.
But I really wanted to tell him about how his music has been part of
the soundtrack of my city. I wanted to let the man know that he has
done it. He has put a mark on the musical landscape of L.A. That's
not as easy as it sounds. For ten years Los Angeles native Defari has
held it down as an underground favorite. From his first colabos with
the Alkoholiks and Dilated to his seminal appearance on Dr. Dre's
Chronic 2001, Defari has been long been known as the people's choice.
Influenced by Hip Hop and the soul records he grew up listening to,
Defari began to D.J. in 1982 but eventually gave it up to become an
MC.Ã‚Â Although by '87 he was officially spitting, he postponed a full
musical career to focus on higher education.Ã‚Â After attending
Berkeley, he got his masters in history and education from Columbia
and came back to L.A. where he began teaching high school.Ã‚Â In '94 he
recorded his debut "Big Up" with long time friend E Swift of the
Alkoholiks.Ã‚Â After releasing several other singles, he signed with
Tommy Boy and released Focused Daily.Ã‚Â He left Tommy Boy soon after
and dropped Odds and Evens in '03.Ã‚Â Defari then returned to ABB
records, the label he helped launch for his collaboration with Dilated
Peoples' Babu for the Likwit Junkies album.
With Street Music, his third solo album coming out, the always
outspoken Defari talked with Kotori about his new record, the perils
of major labels, and the importance of a sound check.
How would you describe the new album, Street Music, for someone who's
never heard Defari do his thing?
Defari: Street Music's a great place to start cause they gonna hear
premium quality Hip Hop at its most banging level.Ã‚Â Crispy lyrics.
Crispy sound.Ã‚Â Some shit that's built for 15s and up.Ã‚Â Steroid hop.
THX, George Lucas, King Kong hop. Its super.
You got a song called "Peace and Gangsta" on the record.Ã‚Â What's that about?
D: There's a little bit of gangsta in everybody out here.Ã‚Â I don't
bangÃ¢â‚¬Â¦but I ain't no punk neither.Ã‚Â I come in peace and gangsta.Ã‚Â I'll
respect you but at the same time I'm a serious dude.Ã‚Â It goes hand in
hand with "Congratulations."Ã‚Â Cause on "Congratulations" I'm saying
check this out man, I congratulate you.Ã‚Â So just let me live.Ã‚Â I got
no problem with you doing, so just let me live.Ã‚Â "Peace and Gangsta"
and "Congratulations" are like brothers on the album.
Does that tie in to the song "Clowns?"
D: Look at you.Ã‚Â See?Ã‚Â See, you doing the knowledge!Ã‚Â [Laughs]Ã‚Â It all
ties in, man!Ã‚Â I think all young artists should know this. You are not making an album for yourself.Ã‚Â You're making an album for thousands and millions of people to validate you and your creativity.Ã‚Â So you better give them a package that they can jump into and feel a part of. That's what Street Music is about.
And "Dead or in Jail?"
D: It's satire.Ã‚Â It's a sort of funny critique and editorial of the
state of the black man and the state of the black community, you know,
and at the same time with a serious message and what it's saying is,
they're saying we're gonna end up this statistic but we're greater
then that, you feel me?Ã‚Â We're much greater than that..but it ain't all pretty,
you feel me?Ã‚Â It's how niggas would be talking out in the street and
it's perfect for the record.
As someone who's made some classic L.A. anthems, what is it that about that city that
inspires you and more specifically this album?
D: First off I made those songs because that's Hip Hop.Ã‚Â If you're not
proud of where you from and you don't get your city behind you, then
nobody elsewhere's gonna ride for you.Ã‚Â Hip Hop is a unique music like
that.Ã‚Â Second off I love L.A.Ã‚Â I love everything about it.Ã‚Â No matter
where I been in the world, I always want to come back home.Ã‚Â So with
my fervor for the town I always feel that I got a lot to talk about it
and I want people to know about it.Ã‚Â That's my drive.
What defines West Coast Hip Hop in 2006?
D: Dre [laughs], as the Quincy Jones of rap.Ã‚Â And super knocking beats that are crispy clear.Ã‚Â Defari took that and kept it still Hip Hop though.Ã‚Â I'm not all G-funked out which is how we all pegged.Ã‚Â And respect and hats off to The Game because on his album he wasn't on G-funk beats.Ã‚Â He was opening up people's mind to L.A. is not all G-funk.Ã‚Â You can be successful just doing solid banging music.Ã‚Â Look at Alchemist and Evidence.Ã‚Â These are homegrown dudes.Ã‚Â Born and raised, but people will always coin them as East Coast, but it's not even like that.Ã‚Â They doing what they do because of what they like. So I think we're opening up peoples minds and I'm happy to be a part
of that.Ã‚Â And I'm even stepping out from my traditional Likwit stuff on this Street Music because the sound of the album has its grimy areas, yeah, but it's got the polish. I took it back to (1999's) Focused Daily, turned up the burners and I came out the gate on Street Music to give my fans what they been asking for.
What's it like playing live in L.A.?Ã‚Â Is there a Hometown advantage?
D: It always feels the best to play for the town cause they just
show me, blind love you know?Ã‚Â With this record street music and with
ten years in the game they're starting to give me legendary status.
After ten years in the game you've seen a lot of people come and go.
How do you avoid falling off?
D: Artists who were brought into a major label situation and that's
all they ever know, nine times out of ten, when they are dropped, they
will fall off the face of the earth.Ã‚Â You will not hear from them
again because they do not have the baby sitting mechanisms they were
used to.Ã‚Â The cushions and the support system they were used to.Ã‚Â The
steady amount of money paying the rent every month coming in.
Artists who came into the game independently like myself, and had an
opportunity to be on a major, when they're not on a major anymore,
they fall back to what they know best.Ã‚Â The independent hustle.Ã‚Â And
they're able to last in it.Ã‚Â The only thing that would drive an indie
artist out the game is if they just not making no money, man.
In order to be a ProfessionalÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ that's what we talking about.Ã‚Â A
professional MC.Ã‚Â What does "pro" mean?Ã‚Â Pro means you're getting paid
for it.Ã‚Â Pro means your craft is respected by thousands and millions
of people as a legitimate profession.Ã‚Â So when the money stops, you
know, do you go back to the drawing board?Ã‚Â Well, a lot of cats try
that but a lot of cats have families, responsibilities.Ã‚Â It's kind of
difficult to go back to the drawing board for them.
Lastly, it's your surrounding network of peers, who is around you in
this business.Ã‚Â I'm good with Cypress Hill, I'm good with Dilated
Peoples Crew, I'm good with Likwit Crew.Ã‚Â I'm good with Snoopy.Ã‚Â I'm
good with Dr. Dre.Ã‚Â I'm good with the young niggas coming up in the
street like Bishop Lamont and The Game.Ã‚Â So a lot of their energy
keeps me going, and the fact that I can always do shows and people are
looking for my shit is what keeps me going.
If it weren't for my immediate family, Dilated Crew and Likwit Crew,
Defari might not still be in the game.
What's next for Defari?
D:Ã‚Â Working the Street Music till the wheel fall off, brother.Ã‚Â And we
got Likwit Junkies, the next album.Ã‚Â We ain't got the title yet but we
just started working on that one.Ã‚Â And we got Evidence solo album, The
Weather Man, coming.Ã‚Â I'm on Planet Asia, The Medicine, album.Ã‚Â Strong
Arm Steady, Phil the Agony, Krondon, Mitchie Slick solo album.Ã‚Â We got
a lot of stuff coming out of the town that I'm real happy about.