|Posted by SOUTH PARK COALITION on October 14, 2010 at 1:12 AM|
I caught up with Houston legend and South Park Coalition leaderK-Rino shortly after the release of his ‘Book Number 7′ LP in thesummer of 2007 for Hip-Hop Connection magazine. And with his new album‘Speed Of Thought’ set to drop in September, Southern Hospitalityproudly presents the interview in full, available for the first time.Enter the mind of a lyrical legend…
You and Scarface started Houston rap in the early ’80s, right?
It wasn’t just me and ‘Face, there was people that came before us even.You had people like Wicket Cricket, Jazzy Red, and there was people whostarted around the same time I did like Klondike Kat and Dope-E [bothmembers of Rino’s South Park Coalition army] – those guys might havestarted a year or two before me. I just was fortunate enough to be oneof the first artists in Houston to release a record. I released myfirst single in a group called Real Chill in ’87. The original GhettoBoys [original spelling], before Scarface and Willie D joined thegroup, they dropped the same year, so those records were really thefirst two records to drop out of the city of Houston. And I wasdefinitely the first one to drop out of South Park. So, we wasn’t thefirst, but we was right there.
What was the scene like back then?
It was real primitive back then because it was new. Hip-hop was justbeing exposed on a nationwide and a worldwide scale. It was juststarting to bloom and blossom on a mainstream scale with people likeRun DMC, Whodini and Kurtis Blow. Back then we was just doing it forthe fun because we used to admire those groups, but once we got to thepoint where we started realising we could make records as well, thenthe scene started accelerating a little more and it’s been goingnon-stop since then.
People treat hip-hop from New York’s golden era as beingsomehow more authentic than southern rap from the same period, how doesthat make you feel as someone who’s been rapping since ‘83?
Well, I disagree when they say it’s not as authentic as New Yorkhip-hop from the same era because we grew up in that golden era, sowe’re rooted in that era. Now, a lot of the stuff that we did wasdefinitely influenced and based on artists that was doing it in NewYork. We admired those cats, we respected them and a lot of what we didwas based off of them. Now if they were to say it’s not the same now asit was in the golden era then I would agree, because we were on somemajor, major heat back then and Houston has a lot of respectability inthe underground.
Do you feel any sense of fatherly pride when you see young Houston artists getting rich and famous?
Yeah, actually I do. It’s more big brotherly as opposed to fatherly,it’s just a situation where those guys came up listening to our musicand we had some degree of influence on them and when we come acrossthem the majority of them tell us that and pay homage and show love tous, so it’s a situation where I’m proud of anybody that comes out ofHouston that’s doing it big on the mainstream level, I just want thesubject matter to improve. I want the relevance of topics to improve.And I think that’s one of the things that’s missing from the Houstonscene and that’s contributing to the lack of longevity of some of theseartists. They remain stagnant because of the superficial subject matterand their light goes out after a short period of time.
What separates K-Rino from your average rapper?
Relevance – the blessing of having the ability to be timeless insubject matter. The greatest thing is to be able to put in a record youmade 10 years ago and have people not know if you made it 10 years or10 days ago. And I think that’s because of the things that I’ve beenblessed with and a lot of the people from SPC are blessed with, basedon the fact that we came up in an era where diverse topics and subjectmater was the order of the day. You couldn’t make an album with 10, 15songs on it and you talking about the same thing on every song, you hadto mix it up. That’s the purpose of an album. People tend to tell methat the words I speak on my records still hold meaning and still carryweight today, even when its some of the older stuff. So I know that thebiggest quality you can have as an artist, whether its rap, R&B orwhatever genre of music you’re into, is timeless music that can spangenerations and bridge the gap between generations. and can pick up newfans and new listeners that might have been in diapers when you firststarted doin’ your thing, but now they jumped on board and say ‘I’m afan’.
Is it hard to make a living when you’re not signed to a major label?
Not where we from. Houston is the independent record label capital ofthe world. Because we came from the south, and they don’t respect thesouth, the east coast look at us for some reason as having a lack ofintelligence and look at us like we dumb. They never respected us. Itwas always anything associated with the south was below them. So we hadto start our own labels because the major labels wouldn’t sign us. Andwhen they did sign us, the deals were so beat up and messed up thateventually we would either lose the deal or just get out of it becauseit was nothing that was ever in our best interests. So we started ourown labels and sold tens of thousands of records independently by goingthrough regional distributors, making eight dollars a unit as opposedto being on a major and maybe making less than a dollar a unit. Downhere we making more money than guys that own major labels and weselling 50,000 units and make more than those cats that’s going gold onmajors. So we really pioneered that out of necessity because nobodywanted to deal with us. So now they respect our hustle, they respectthe fact that we doin’ it the way we do it, but they still don’trespect us from an intelligence standpoint because they feel superiorto us for some reason. We’ve got some of the most intelligentbusinessmen and business-minded individuals to ever enter the game, butbecause of the southern drawl that we have they think we country so weslow. Hip-hop originated on the east coast and we all know that, werespect that and honour that, but at the same time you’ve got to let itgo at some point and respect the fact that God blesses everybody. Beingfirst, that’s a blessing in itself but don’t disrespect people who camealong and grab the torch or baton and run with it – now we’re all inthis together.
Houston was in the spotlight a couple of years back with thesuccess of tracks like ‘Still Tippin’’ and ‘Sittin Sidewayz’, but nowthe spotlight seems to be moving westward to the Bay Area. What canHouston do to maybe get back in the spotlight?
The first thing that has to happen is the artists who are already inthat position have to grow. Because you cant talk about rims and carsand sippin’ drank forever. It’s so continuous, its so redundant, but itdoesn’t stop. And that’s what irritates artists like myself who’ve beendoing it for years, who’ve seen it when it was good out here. Andthat’s what irritates people from other regions and parts of the worldand gives Houston a black eye. Because any time we go anywhere aroundthe country or the world, one of the first things to come out of theirmouths is ‘what’s up, you got some surp?’ But don’t everybody mess withthat stuff. That’s not what Houston’s all about. So, the fact of thematter is, the second thing they have to do, is those labels who arereaching down and saying Houston got something going on, they gottastop searching for that type of artist and they gotta be diverse intheir search and say ‘let’s see what else they got going on down here.We got some lyricists down here. We got some political rappers downhere. We got everything any other major city or region has as far astalent, we got it down her in Houston. They just have to reach for it.It’s like a line of robots that are copies of a formula that workedfive years ago.
You’ve been described as a soul nourisher, why do you think you get so much respect as a lyrical emcee?
One reason is because longevity always constitutes a level of respectto people, because they can look at it and say ‘this man has been ableto do this for this many years and … make a libving and …’ – and thatwarrant some respect in itself. Also, the things that I try to talkabout are things that can help an individual out of a situation. Metelling you how pretty my watch is and how many diamonds I’ve got in mymouth is not gonna help you when your lights are about to get cut outor your husband is beating you or you’re hooked on dope. Those thingsare not going to help you, so I try to speak to those things in certainsongs so if a person does come across one of my CDs they can possiblyget something out of that that will nourish their soul and maybe turnthem in a direction that might help them. The best thing that somebodywill tell me is that my music helped them through a hard time or liftedthem up. I think that’s what garners me a little respect and makespeople appreciate what I do.
You frequently rap about spirituality and you dissect a lotof the myths perpetuated by different interpretations of Christianityespecially, do you think there’s a need for more religious debatethrough rap and what do you think God has planned for your career?
I think that rap is a platform that allows that type of expression.Whether there’s a need for it is a matter of opinion. I would saypossibly there is a need for it especially if you feel lies have beentold to a society and you have come across the truth to thosefalsehoods, then yeah that needs to be exposed and cleaned. If one ofyour missions in your music is to save lives and help people then yeah.I think God has put me in a position to learn that things that werebeing perceived as truth are falsehoods and, if I can prove them, it’sonly right that I express it in my music. It’s an each one teach oneconcept. I’m blessed to know it, but I don’t talk like it was ‘of me’,like I created it. A lot of things I’ve learned and talk about in mymusic are directly from the teachings of the Honourable ElijahMuhammed, so I don’t take any credit for those things.
It’s hard to imagine any emcee, past or present, reallyhandling you on the mic in terms of intelligence and delivery, do youthink there’s anyone out there that stands a chance?
You know the thing is that I look at God as being such a great God thathe’s not just gonna sprinkle one person with that kind of talent. Godlikes to prove over and over again that he’s God and he’s the supremebeing. So, yeah, he gave me a strong dosage of it, I’m not gon’ lie,but I can listen to people like Canibus, KRS-One from back in the days,Chamillionaire from Houston, Papoose from New York, Rakim – there’s alot of artists I came up to and some that have come after me, so Idon’t ever put myself above anybody but I know that I can stand next toanybody. Don’t get it twisted, I can stand in the room and if a cipherbreak out I can hold my own with anybody, but I don’t put anybody downand try to say I’m superior or that nobody’s on my intelligence levelbecause I don’t know what the next man knows. So I’m just grateful tobe in the conversation. At the end of the day I just want to be in theconversation whey they talk about all the greats. I don’t mean the MTVor VH1 version of the 50 Greatest Rappers list, because they mean thewatered-down cats. You’ll never see Canibus’s name on that list but itshould be. You’ll never see mine on that list. But when the realconversation breaks out, and people who are knowledgeable on everyregion, every mainstream and underground artist are involved, when thatconversation breaks out and my name’s in it, I’m cool. I’m cool.
Your albums are always very cohesive, with strong concepttracks, messages and the tendency to educate more than entertain. Canyou describe the mental process you go through when writing andrecording a K-Rino album?
It’s funny because I’ve never told anybody this: when I write, Ivisualise people. I see people, I see faces when I write. I visualisepeople listening to the song as I’m writing it and visualise theirresponse to the words I’m writing – and I know that helps because itgives me an idea of how they’re gonna react and what they’re gonnalike. That’s why when I come up with a line and its a good line, I seepeople instantly. I try to look three or four times past the surface,so when I think of a good line I’m not going to stop after writing thatline down, I’m gonna think of three or four other variations or ways tosay it that could possibly make it better. So it’s a tedious processwhen I write, I can’t speak for anybody else but when I write it’s atedious process and it’s very detailed. It’s like a film because onceits recorded people will dissect it and trying to decipher the words,so I could put together a bunch of pretty words and flow it and say itnice and when it first touches your ear it sounds good, but when youbreak it down it gotta be right.
What is ‘Book Number 7’?
If you look on thecover there’s seven notebooks on the ground. A lot of peoplemisunderstand and think it’s my seventh album. It’s not my seventhalbum, it’s my seventh rhyme book. In other words, all the songs andalbums I ever made are contained in those particular books. Just bychance I started writing a new album at the beginning of starting a newbook. So the first line I wrote was written on the first page of theseventh book. Number 7 of course is also the number of God, the numberof perfection, so it was really right on time.
There’sa track ‘Imagination’ on your new album that’s almost impossible todecipher, can you explain it and has anyone cracked it yet?
[Laughs] ‘Imagination’ was really just a song where I was trying toreally go deep and just twist people up like that. Sometimes I getconfused when I dip back through it but I was in a zone where I waslocked into the full comprehension of where I was going with it. Butreally it’s just me making up a bunch of stuff, crazy thoughts. I don’tget high but in my mind I was thinking that people that smoke week orget high are gonna love this song. Put it his …. To what the nextthought might be.It migh have been a blade of grass or a door knob.It’s jus t a situation where whatever particular person that I wasthink ing of whe.. I made from him of and whatever that person thoughup that made him think of him. It could go on and on. That songs ..have never stop
On ‘The Me You Don’t See’ you say “Ignorance seems to get more blessing than realness” – why do think that is?
Because the masses of the people are ignorant. The masses of the peopledon’t have knowledge, wisdom and understanding, so ignorance is morerelatable. Like I was saying, when people are talking about sippin surp…. And booty bouncin’, –and that’s cool, whatever turns you on – but atthe end of the day its not saving lives, its not helping, its reallyhindering. So ignorance is getting more blessings than realness becausethese are the records that’s going gold and getting played in the clubor on the radio. So realness is a turn off to people because if anartist doesn’t know how to relay it and comes across as preachy itsgonna turn people off because, like you said, they want to beentertained rather than educated. People would rather be fed garbagethan good food. People eat donuts and candy all day but when somebodysays you gotta eat these vegetables, they like ‘ah man I don’t wantthat’.
How different is K-Rino the rapper to K-Rino the man, do you philosophise to your peers as well as your fans?
K-Rino the man is still struggling to be a manifestation of some of thethings I write about in my music. When you hear me say things on ‘TheMe You Don’t See’, that’s really me in confession. It’s me telling youthat I’m still struggling with the same things you go through. I’m nodifferent, I’m no saint. As a person I’m still working on myself. Idon’t smoke or drink but I have other issues that I struggle with justlike anybody else. I had song on ‘Worst Rapper Alive’ called ‘Who AmI?’ It went [raps]: “Who am I? I’m only a man just like you/So don’tput me on a pedestal, I’m just like you”.
Itseems like the mental process you go through and the album end productmakes for a very personal relationship between you and the listener…
Without a question man, and that’s how it has to be. It has to be amirror. I have to see myself in my words and when that person listensto that CD they have to be able to see themselves. That’s where theconnection comes in. I believe a person has to get their money’s worthbecause the ones that still have faith and go and buy records aregetting cheated when they’re getting 20 tracks with only two good songson it.
You’ve got a mix CD out on WolftownRecordings – an independent British label – what drew you to Wolftownsince you’re not someone who generally does the mixtape thing?
They reached out to me some years ago because my buddy LATE listens tomy music. We connected and I just seen how cool those cats was and theywere some individuals that really really believed in my music andthat’s always a good thing when you have people who really feel thesame way you do. And since then Tricksta, LATE and Jai Boo and allthose cats have been on a quest to get me heard in the UK and I’mreally grateful to them for that because its like they’re going out oftheir way to make sure that I’m heard. And I listened to their album‘The Villains’ album and now me and a few of my SPC boys have been afan of them. It’s just a situation that was meant to happen and I’mglad to be collaborating with them on this mixtape.
K-Rino– ‘A Lyrical Legend’ is out now on Wolftown Recordings. ‘Book Number 7′and ‘Triple Darkness’ volumes 1-3 are also out now on Black BookInternational. ‘Speed Of Thought’ is out in September.
A shorter version of this interview was published in Hip-Hop Connection magazine.