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interviews archive: rahzel
a night on the town with the godfather of noize
the former Vibe Khameleon talks about his MCA Records debut
The well lit skyline of the City of Lost Angels sparkles behind Mr. Julio G, as he hosts his nightly "Nine O'Clock Bomb" session. The former student of Eazy, Julio has become one of the coolest cats in urban radio, playing with a fly old school yo yo during the breaks and sending his love on and off air to his daughter, listening to daddy work.
Across the boards from him sits the Godfather of Noize, the human sound machine who has dazzled crowds and listeners internationally, who came from the obscure origins of the Vibe Khameleons with underground heroine Sha-Key to national recognition with the Illadelph dynamite we call the Roots. Referring to himself as a mix between Bobby McFerrin, Police Academy's Michael Winslow, Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie, Rahzel is now pushed farther into the spotlight by appearances on MTV's Hip Hop Week and on air promos.
As Julio provided the background music (and, admittedly, some of the questions), Rahzel related how he struggles with his home life (his son asking for proof, so he can show the kids at school his daddy's a rap star), the rigors of travelling (being a beat box artists saves tons on instruments, but after days and days of demanding, on-the-spot performances, it can make a brother long for a lozenge), and the struggle of being a quality musician in an age of glitter and plated gold. Rap Pages followed Rahzel as he hit some salient points on his ever expanding life.
RAP PAGES: Your sound and face is getting even more popular after work you did with MTV. How did that happen?
RAHZEL: Some friends of mine from Philly, from this alternative group called 3-7000-9, we were in New York. I'm like, "I wanna go home." They're like "come with us to this birthday party. Be a lot of people there, you can probably network or whatever." I'd just come off tour, I was like "I'm really, really tired. I'm beat, I really need to go home." They were like, "just come for a little while." I'm like "aight, cool."
So I go to the party, I'm chillin, everybody partyin' havin a good time. I'm like ready to go. They're like, "naw, just hang a little longer." Start introducin' me to people, "Yo, this is Blah Blah Blah, works for MTV," I'm like cool, that's no problem. A friend of mine, Hasaan who manages the Fugees, this other band he manages was on stage. They're like, "Yo, we got Rahzel in the house? Come on, let's get him on stage!" I'm like, "aw man, I'm really on the low, you tryin' to put me on the spot." Finally, I got on, did my thing, everybody was like blown away. I'm doing my thing, tellin' some jokes in between, and I do my birthday beat. I have a special birthday beat I do for people on their birthday. The girl, whose birthday it is, she's just blown away. "I've never had anything like this for a birthday party," and we kinda kicked it, kinda hit off from there. She was like, "Yo, I do on air promos for MTV, what are you doin'?" I'm like "I'm recording my album." She's like "You really need to be large right now. I'm gonna call you at the top of the year, we gon' kick it."
Beginning of 1999, she calls me up, sends me these rough drafts and wants me to read it. I read it, it was hot, she was askin' for a wishlist of who I'd wanna beatbox with, she's like "we gonna work on all these people." At this point I had no idea what they was gonna do.
When we started working, it was like real work. I felt like Denzel or Wesley Snipes or somebody. We was filmin' a lot, recording, it was just bananas. I still had no idea. Everybody at MTV is lovin' me, so they bring me in for a meeting. I played a couple of songs for them, everybody was like, "yo, let's roll! This is hot!" Got Slick Rick, we was gonna get Missy Elliot, but she declined. I'm not gonna say why because I don't wanna put people's business in the street. They asked me would I mind doing it with Foxy Brown. I'm like, "It don't matter."
RAP PAGES: Didn't Foxy get kicked off tour with you and the Roots at one point?
RAHZEL: (laughing) We talked about the tour we was on. I was like "What was the deal with that?" She was like "aw they was actin' up," so I said, "I heard a different story." She was like "Don't believe that. Y'all gettin caught with guns and stuff, y'all can't talk about me." I was like "aight, cool, I'm not even gonna go no further with that." She was really cool, really down to earth. I think she's getting a bum ride. Everybody says she snotty, it depends if you rub her the wrong way. I guess I caught her on a good day. She was mad cool, we kicked it, I was expecting the total opposite. What I do is a whole different world from where she's at.
RAP PAGES: A lot of people thought MTV coulda done better with the Hip Hop Week scene. What was your experience with them like?
RAHZEL: [Working with Foxy Brown], she was open to what I do, which was weird, because what we do is from totally different worlds. They wanted me to do a breakdown on what it was like to be Rahzel as a kid. They wanted me to break down different instruments, rap a little bit, do voiceovers. All these promos started runnin, it was bananas. I couldn't even walk down the block. "Yo, you're the guy, you gotta bust a beat right now!" It opened up a lot of doors, it was perfect timing, right when Things Fall Apart dropped. Like it was meant to happen. I was like "what if I went home?" Now somebody wanna go somewhere, I'm like "Let's go!" That definitely was a blessing, I have to thank Sophia Crenshaw, who had the vision. She's like the lead cheer squad.
RAP PAGES: Talk to us about the next album.
RAHZEL: It's called The Fifth Element: Make The Music 2000. I've got a song with Branford Marsalis and MeShell NdegeOcello. It's bananas. I have a song with Q-Tip. Bananas. There's a song with Slick Rick, where I change into the car from Knight Rider, and he hops in, and we're goin' to the club. Bananas. All the songs I rapped on, I brought in producers, and all the songs you hear other people rap on, I'm doing all the music with my mouth, myself.
I wanna break the barrier where people aren't afraid of being innovative. Where somebody from hip hop can go out get the Philharmonic, and play over a hip hop track. Not saying there's anything wrong with sampling and looping, but to take it to the next level. Get them to come in and play it the way you wanna hear it. To me, that's hot. Being able to drive the car now. Be in the driver's seat, where you control everything. The way you wanna hear it, the way you want it to sound. That helps everybody, that helps musicians to eat. Gives the next generation something to look forward to. If I want a sound, I can just go in the studio and make it myself. Takin' nothing and turning it into something. That's what people have to look forward to me. That's what makes hip hop unpredictable, you don't know what's coming next.
That's what I like about groups like OutKast, everytime it's like, you'd have never thought. OutKast and Raekwon? Whoa! Wow! That's hot! Bein' able to do that! Or the Roots, puttin bagpipes on a song? For me that's the ultimate right there. From performing to producing records, it's always a creative process. Just expect maturity, expect growth, from what I'm about to deliver on the next joint, so they can appreciate what I do as an art and not as a fad.
RAP PAGES: Who would you want to work with that you haven't worked with yet?
RAHZEL: I think I wanna work with Bobby McFerrin, because I think he needs to be exposed to a younger audience, a hip hop audience, so they'll have the knowledge that he exists. A lot of people don't know about Bobby McFerrin. Stevie Wonder. Stevie. Musical genius. I'm tryin for a couple of hours around him. Don't know what'll come out of me. (laughing) You never know. Take 6, because of my background in gospel. That's a part of my background I don't wanna forget about. Sunday school, choir rehearsal. I can't forget about that. They represent the same thing I do on a gospel aspect. I think the union would be great.
RAP PAGES: How do you come up with sounds to duplicate? What really set you off, and apart from the average kid just making repetitive beats for people to rhyme over?
RAHZEL: I used to duplicate sounds, but I wasn't focused on it. Then I heard Michael Winslow, watching Police Academy for the first time, and I'm like, "I'm gonna have to buy another ticket and watch this movie again." In the hood it became part of the collection, everybody's like, "Yo, this guy in Police Academy, doing all these sounds with his mouth like walking, dogs, computer games. Rahz, I know you can do that!" The challenge! So I was like, (inflects kung fu movie voice) "I'm gonna go on the Wu Tang Mountain for a couple of months. I shall return." And I returned and they was like, "I knew you could do it, bruh" That just opened up a whole 'nother door for me. This was the missing link, I had everything else. Beats, breaking them down, doing four or five sounds at once. Boom, meshed 'em all together, fatter.
Now I have to meet these individuals who I emulate. I'm still a student listening. I've spoken to Michael Winslow on the phone a couple of times. He's playing stuff over the phone like, "I want you to listen to this." If he just had a hip hop direction, he'd be HUGE. A writer for Mean Magazine, they was doin' an article on me and Michael Winslow. We was on the phone, we exchanged numbers and started to kick it. Tellin me how he keeps involved, with the internet, in Hollywood doing movies. He hipped me to a lot of other things I could do with my voice. He wants to get into music, now I wanna get into what he's into. You hook me up, I'll hook you up. I was like, "that beat is hot but you need to do it this way." He's like, "this is who you need to talk to when you're in Hollywood." I'm able to learn.
RAP PAGES: What's it like to be the "undisputed world champion" in beat boxing, as you claim on your "All I Know" single?
RAHZEL: I'm happy about having this opportunity, to open the door for other guys who do the same thing. It's cool for Scratch, Click, Kenny Muhammed, D.O.A., all the cats that's doing the same thing. Inspires them like, "Yo, I can do this." Back in the day it was like, "there's no way in, we got Biz and Dougie Fresh, see ya!" Now it's an open playing field, it's worldwide now.