Monday, April 23, 2007

The Beat Q&A: 2Mex of The Visionaries

Los Angeles MC 2Mex is not content with simply delivering a message in his music. He uses it as a tool to reach out to his community.

A member of the Visionaries crew, the underground veteran has made his mark as one of the more progressive rhyme slingers on the West Coast. None other than Snoop Dogg has recognized the real, shouting out 2Mex and the Visionaries on the mixtape/demo cut "My Peoples."

But aside from his status as a MC on "Hip-hop's Bleeding Edge" (as he was billed in URB Magazine), 2Mex is a community-oriented artist who takes time out to speak to young people whenever the opportunity arises. 2Mex took some time out to talk to "The Beat" about his community work, his music, and what kept him so grounded in the first place. The following is an excerpt.

Q: First thing I want to do is say thanks for taking time to talk to "The Beat."

A: No worries.

Q: What have you been involved in the community as far as outreach work?

A: One of the things I've been helping out with is I go to classrooms (and) talk to kids. I go to high schools and junior highs and I talk to kids and let them know that I'm just like them. I'm from the community and here I am a Chicano, just like them, that's out there doing something for myself. Owning my own business that's successful with the music thing and without having to succumb to dealing with this corporate situation, and deal with building it from the ground up on a hands-on basis, you know. And just giving them some hope, showing them that somebody from the neighborhood made it, you know. We get to travel the world and do what we do because we work hard at it and we're dedcated to it and we look just like them, you know.

Q: What community were you raised in?

A: I was raised in Mid-City Los Angeles, a predominantly black and latino neirghborhood. It's kind of by South Central LA. I was born in 73, so I grew up in the late '80s, you know.

Q: What were some of the issues you faced growing up that you can relate with the youth?

A: Basically the issues in the 80s, there were a lot of race issues and gang issues. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of gangs, from 18 street to black gangs like Playboy Gangsta Crips. There was a lot of black and Mexican tension, you know, the gang culture of LA. The negativities of stress from the police, the crack era — I grew up in the crack era in LA. I saw a lot of people deal with and I experienced a lot of police brutality personally, being harassed by the police personally, you know.

In Mid-City, it was a hotbed of activity, growing up in the neighborhood where I grew up. Gangs, prostituation, drug dealing and stuff. I just let (the youth) know. I go to the projects in East LA, Maravilla projects, from everywhere. My group, The Visionaries, we went to Riverside, and we've gotten to the point where we get to perform in the schools. Talk to the kids, let them know, even though the music we make isn't that radio bullshit, talking about materialism and disrespecitng women and things like that. We just show them even though we're not on commercial radio, we're good. We can manifest a life and do things, you know, get things done and be successful.

Q: What types of influences did you have growing up that kept you focused?

At a young age, what kept me straight was my parents, you know what I'm saying. When I was young, I had a church influence for a while, it kept me strong. Until I got to the age of 16 or 17, when I got a job and stopped going to church and started working. I had a strong foundation. A lot of my homies were from 18 Street and different gangs, and they were getting caught up in that.

When the L.A. riots kicked off, I wanted to loot — bad. My friends were looting, things. I'm not getting into it, but people had plans when that shit cracked off. I wanted to be there so bad, it got to the point where my dad pulled out a gun on me and said “You're not going anywhere,” and he locked the door. He didn't let me do anything. That's the type of tough love that saved me. I didn't think about it at the time.

At those little critical points, when your family could have let you run wild and make mistakes, my dad was strong...

Q: Do you share that stuff with the students you talk to?

A: As deep as we can get into it. A lot of it too becomes, you know, music talk and showing them (what I do). A lot of it is about the music and showing them you can open your brain up. One exercise we do with the kids is freestyle with them, and show them in order to do wonderful things and be successful, you got to have a vocabulary. You got to have intelligence. I try to show them with intelligence comes money. If you're intelligent, you can make money. You can succeed in this world and get those things that you want, in the right way.

My parents broke their back for me to be able to (make a living). I haven't had a job in six years. Even though I'm not rich at all, I've been successfully living off the hip-hop music since the year 2000, you know. But it wasn't (always) like that. It took me another like, 10 years, almost, to get my act right. So this is just to show them. My dad broke his back so I could find out to survive with my brain, and here's their chance to survive with their brain.

There's a lot of little things like that, but a lot of (stuff I talk to kids about) is about the music. Trying to open up that chamber of intelligence. A lot of these, without disrespecting, but too many of these rap groups that are Latino, when it comes to rap music, their art form isn't necessarily about intelligence, or being wordsmiths, or building a vocabulary and being progressive with the hip-hop. Theyre just telling ghetto stories. And that shit's dope, you know, they're talking real talk. It's real talk shit, which is fine.

I don't portray myself to be a gangster. I never was a gangster. I grew up in a gang area, but I never was a gangster so I know to never act like one, you know what I mean. I don't front, but it's understandable that kids who do live that life, they tell those stories. But I'm there to show them that there's another way, another progressive way, and it doesn't have to be just like that. There's a balance. Being a Mexican hip-hop artist doesn't mean every song has to be about that.

You can talk about anything. You can talk about the world, but you have to go see it. I've performed in 40 to 45 of the 50 states. I've performed in Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Amsterdam, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Australia, England, Spain, France.

I've seen the world and I have a bigger range, and I'm just showing them that they need to go get these things and have that worldly range and think outside the box. I was talking to a kid the other day, he said “I'm from Santa Ana. I was born in Santa Ana, I'm going to die in Santa Ana, and I was like "Damn." I forgot there were people like that, and I was like, "That's what you want to do, huh?" And just, really, that mentality of I only exist in this neighborhood because I might have some power, some accolade there. But there's so much more to it.

Q: Is there any one group or organization you work with in particular?

A: To be quite honest, I'm just a floating entity. People reach out to me. From MEChA organizations to Divine Forces people, it goes on and on and on and on. I need to gather some of that info, because I look at this as an everyday thing. I float around.

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The Beat Q & A: IceCube

It's an interesting world we live in when West Coast rapper Ice Cube is making a case for father of the year awards.
But the hip-hop generation's version of Bill Cosby seems to be doing just that with his turn in the movie “Are We Done Yet?,” the sequel to the surprise hit “Are We There Yet?” In the second installment, the man who wrote the song “F--- The Police” plays a newly-married stepfather of two, with a new baby on the way. The family moves to the suburbs and hilarity ensues, with Cube's signature scowl now being used to awkward comic effect.
The 37-year-old South Central Los Angeles representative will perform his gritty gangsta gospel Saturday, April 28 at The Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz. Fellow West Side Connection rapper WC will open up.
During his 20-year career, Ice Cube (real name O'Shea Jackson) has stamped his presence as one of the avatars of the gangsta rap music, but his movie career is what helped him become a household name. “Are We Done Yet?” represents his third movie franchise, along with the “Friday” and “Barbershop” series. All of the projects saw Cube take on double duty as lead actor and producer.
Ice Cube took time time out to talk to "The Beat" on the release day of his new film. He spoke about his movies, his music and what he really thinks about journalists who ask him how he went from G-Funk music to G-Rated family movies:

Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk.
A: No problem, no problem.
Q: I wanted to start off with your movie career and move backward into the music. You're on your third movie franchise now with the “Are We There Yet?" series. Is this something that in 1991, when you took your first acting role (in John Singleton's “Boyz N Tha Hood”) that you envisioned for yourself?
A: I knew I liked doing both (acting and rapping), and it was a good experience being in “Boyz N Tha Hood.” I knew I wanted to do more movies. I really didn't start thinking about sequels as much until I did “Friday.” After doing “Friday,” people were constantly asking for another one. I knew Chris Tucker (Ice Cube's co-star, who played the character Smokey) didn't want to do it, so I was a little reluctant. But we got it done with Mike Epps and it kind of started another trend for me.
When “Barbershop” jumped off, it was only natural because people enjoyed the movie enough to do a sequel. The same with (“Are We There Yet?”). People enjoyed the movie, and it's kind of our job to give them more of it.
Q: The way I look at it, the maturation of you, not only as a performer, but as a person, has occurred with each movie. “Friday,” you were in the ’hood. “Barbershop,” you're a young businessman. In “Are We There Yet?” you're a family man. Do you see any parallels between Ice Cube, or O'Shea Jackson, the person, and Ice Cube the movie figure that's being personified on screen.
A: No, not at all. During "Friday," even though, you know, I'm in the ’hood, but at that point I got a family. I got kids. I'm married and I'm running my own business. You know, I don't really parallel that. If I created my real life around my movie life, my movie life would be late.
My kids are grown . . . I mean, not grown, but teenagers, except for my last son that's 6.
I don't really look at it like that. I just play each character as it's supposed to be played. I'm not trying to connect movies with my real life in no way, no how.
Q: Do you get a lot a lot of questions about why you're doing family fair now, and going from being the personification of being a gangsta rapper to doing G-rated family films.
A: I get asked that a lot.
Q: What's your response?
A: You know, people really got the word "gangsta" flipped. If you ask any gangsta what the necessities of life are, they'll answer like anybody else — cars, house, family, you know. For gangstas, it ain't like everybody want to be Scarface, just by yourself with a mound of coke in front of you. That's not the reality. A lot of people that call themselves gangstas still want the American dream like anyone else. I don't even know if you can call it the American dream, just pursue the life dream.
When people ask me those questions, I think they're dumb, because a movie is just a movie. People try to make me be the characters (I play) in the movies, but that ain't it. That's acting right there. Those are made-up people. All I can do is do my best in the part. I ain't really trying to appease to no crowds and I'm not trying to give no images. I I'm just trying to be myself.
Q: The last movie you directed was “Players Club”?
A: Yeah.
Q: You've produced a ton of movies since, but is there any part of you that's itching to get back in the director's seat?
A: Yeah, it is. But when you get into the director's seat, you're kind of locked into one project for a long time. I like to do a lot of different things, so producing allows me the flexibility to be on several different projects a year. As soon as I direct, I'm going to have to put everything aside and just focus on the film from start to finish. Because more than likely I'm going to be directing, producing, writing and probably would have a part in the movie.
Q: Is there any one dream project that would prompt you to jump out and focus on it as a director?
A: I mean, it's a lot of them (laughs). I got a lot of great projects, but we'll see.
Q: Getting back to the music, last year you released “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” your first album in six years.
Q: How much of a transition was it to jump back into the recording process and promote the album, distribute it yourself and go on tour?
A: Seamless . . . I could do that with my eyes closed, really. That's a part of the business. The movies is what you got to work at.
Q: Talk about the Santa Cruz show. You came out here two years ago?
A: Two years ago, I think.
Q: What can the fans expect?
A: They can expect 20 years of hard-core hip-hop, West Coast gangsta music. I'm going to try to run the whole gamut and do a lot of songs . . . I just go through the gamut. People appreciate my show because it's what hip-hop used to be. High energy. It ain't no band, just my DJ, turntables and a mic, doing what we do.
Q: I read a recent article where you had some strong critique of the current hip-hop landscape. Can you elaborate on your viewpoint on the state of hip-hop?
A: Hip-hop has always been threatened by the establishment, even while it looks like hip-hop has become a part of the fabric of America. It still is an outlaw kind of music. I think hip-hop is suffering as well as all music is suffering.
Once they stopped teaching music in schools and you got the downloading, artists losing their careers, music is suffering. It's a lot of technology out there, but will it be anything to play on your iPod other than old stuff, in the future? We have to look at that and make sure our artists are benefiting off of the music they are making, whether it's hip-hop or any other type of music.
Q: You were named in the top 10 list of MTV's greatest MCs of all time. Where do you see yourself in that canon of the all-time greats? What does it feel like when folks break down those type of lists and include your name?
A: It's always fun to see where you're going to land at, but it holds no merit to me on where I think I am, you know. My career ain't over, so I don't know where I am right now. I still got a lot of work to do, I figure.
Q: What have you not done yet musically that you think you can still accomplish?
A: I ain't changed the world yet. Until I do that, I still got work to do.
Q: What to do you think the fans expect of Ice Cube, musically, at this point in your career?
A: I think they expect quality. I think they expect new direction, new concepts, a little bit of something they didn't know. Hard-core West Coast (gangsta rap), always representing it, you know. I just think they look for quality when it comes to me.
Q: You started out more than 20 years ago. You're now playing to what, a third generation of rap music fans? Is it difficult to stay relevant given your veteran status?
A: I do records for my core base. There's still a rap fans out there that are, you know, my age wanting intelligent rap. They don't want the new dance. So I cater to those that's just been down, that still love music, still support music. So to that audience and everybody else that is just basically, you know, on the fence, kind of, that still listen, that's just gravy. Know what I mean? That's just gravy. But I don't consider them hard-core Ice Cube fans, they're just hip-hop fans. I can't bank on what they like and what they think. I just got to deal with people that like my music.
Q: As far as regions are concerned, is the West Coast still prominent in the rap universe?
A: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Q: How so?
A: We still support our own artists. That's more than I can say for New York (rap scene). They ain't even supporting their own artists back there. We still go buy The Game, we'll go buy E-40, we'll go buy Snoop, Dr. Dre, you know. We'll go buy Too $hort, you know what I'm saying, and some of the newer dudes. We'll go buy them, support our own. So the West Coast is alive and kicking. That's how I'm able to come out with WC's album in August. It's called “Guilty By Affiliation.”
Q: Are there any projects you need to plug or anything you want folks to look out for?
A: Of course I just mentioned WC's new record, but then look out for my new album this fall called “Raw Footage.” And then I'm doing a movie next month called “First Sunday.”
Q: What's that about?
A: It's me and Mike Epps. We crazy enough to rob a church.
Q: Ice Cube robbing a church? So you're going back to the gangsta way, but it sounds like a comedy if Mike Epps is in it?
A: It's going to be all of that.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Beat Q & A: Mic Quin

Michael Quintenilla, aka Mic Quin, is your prototypical hustler/rapper. Working a day job at an insurance agency and pursuing a career on the microphone, he brings a steady business approach to both professions.

But Mic Quin knows that in order to get ahead, you have to be on your grind 24/7. Whether it's arriving to an interview stacked with promo material, or paying extra money to have big name Bay Area artists featured on his album, it's all a part of the game.

Mic Quin will perform April 14 at the Krazy Koyote in Gilroy, opening up for old-school rapper Candyman (of "Knockin' Boots" fame). He will embark on the Street Low Magazine car show tour beginning May 6 in Costa Mesa.

The Salinas rapper took some time to talk to The Beat about his album, "Got Some For Me... The Beginning." Released last year, it features artists like Mista FAB, J-Diggs, and X-Raided. Production was also provided by local heatmaker Yun-Gun. The following is an excerpt from the interview.

What album are you promoting right now?
The album is one I dropped 4/20 of last year. It's called “Got Some For Me... The Beginning.” I feature heads like Mista FAB, Numskull of The know, Dubee, J-Diggs, I got an underground track, X-Raided. He's an indepeneent loc, being locked up and all... We network with Sacramento, Vallejo, EPA, everywhere, San Jose. I'm from salinas, born and raised. I've lived in Concord, and I have family out in the Bay Area, so I'm always out there.

How did you network with Mista FAB?
That was kind of like, beginning hype. When you're first starting, you're hungry, you know. I knew since before FAB even came out that he had potential to shine, that he was the one to be the one. (When I met him) his album was soon to take off, his sophomore album. I met him thorugh my boy Smuggla, he said “Check out my man, he's gonna take off.” This was before the Thizz hype.

I took advantage of the opportunity and networked with him. This was 2002 or 2003. I did a song with him, hooked up with him a while after. I hooked up with him a little after. He charged a little more, but it's all networking. I understand that's what you earn to be in your position, being that rapping is your career for some. Some people don't neet to work the 8 to 5, that's all they do is rap. I'll break off people that I feel they deserve it, and of course I know when I'm getting hustled.

I've worked with (Mista FAB) two times. I see him every so often at shows. He's doing his thing, but I'm focusing on Mic Quin. I got my own camp out here.

Talk about the importance of getting a high profile artist and paying money to have them appear on a song with you, especially for a young artst such as yourself.
As far as that, all I can say is it takes money to make money. Then again, you have to know the point where someone is ripping you off. I'm a hustler. I've been a hustler since I was young. Whether it's riding dirty or doing the clean, 8 to 5 thing, you know what I mean? The streets and the game ain't nothing new to me, especially the rap game. Networking with these heads I thought really beneifted me, as logn as I'm working with my people here. Like the famous saying, You are who you know...

How many copies of the album were you able to sell?
At this point, I'm an independent artist. Whoever wants to work with me, whether its' a (chain) store or mom and pop store...I'm working on getting it in the Warehouse. I'm in all the mom and pop stores, from Rasputin's in the Bay to Street Beats in Salinas - that's our Central Coast urban music supplier.
I was recently in touch with Street Low Magazine, putting adds in their magazines. I'm doing shows that they set up, doing super shows.

How did you make that connection with Street Low and what's the deal with the Super Shows?
I've been in touch with them for a couple of years now. When I first started messing with them... I started off with vendor booths. Me and like four or five other artists, depending on who wanted to get in... we'd get booths, sell our CDs. We'd be kicking it out there all day, whether we were performing or sitting at our booths...

It's kind of hit and miss, depending on who's out there and people don't want to spend. I do a lot of giveaways. It's good promotion. I can give out CDs and it's nothing.

When do you go on tour?
The first show coming up is in Costa Mesa, May 6. That's down south. It's pretty big. I've done vendor booths with them, and I've seen how the shows turn out, they're real good. I've done other shows with (radio station) La Calle, out in the Fresno area - it's like the Hip-Hop y Mas station out there. I hooked up with them through my homegirl Monie The One and Only over here. She set me up with a few shows out there in Fresno. We did a big ol' festival, thousands of people. We sold a couple hundred CDs off top.
Whether it's at a bar here locally in Salinas, the Crazy Coyote in Gilroy, Club Caution in Santa Cruz, or house parties. We used to rock the house parties with hundreds of people there. Until the cops break it up, you know how it goes

One thing I always think is lacking in hip-hop is the performance. How do you approach the shows?
Like with anything, whether it's putting together my album, you have to put in 100 percent. If you dont' think something is right, you have to re-record. You do a certain amount of recordings to get it right. You set up your show disc to perform. When I'm out there with hundreds of people, I get nervous. But I get out there and do my thing because this is what I'm hungry for. I've been doing it for a while and I really want to take off with this.
Getting back on the networking part, as well as these people, I'm also doing stuff in my area. Whether it's Yun Gun, AK,
Big Spanky, Fury, my boy Sup-1, Alcatraz, Dre Nitty, my boy Smuggla's from here, my boy Gemini. Salinas, Monterey, Soledad, people out in Greenfield, people out in Castroville. Everyone is networking. I'm a Central Coast representative. The Bay Area's got their Hyphy movement, and the stuff that they are doing is taking off, you know what I mean. We are incluced in that because we are next to the Bay. But we're Central Cali and I'm trying to get Central Cali taking off. Being Latino too, I'm trying to bring Latino's some shine as well.

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