Chali 2na is a hip-hop renaissance man. His artistic output is constant and while it varies many platforms, the quality never does. When you see the 2na name attached to something you know it’s going to be honest, vital and full of passion…which is pretty much all you need from good art. With so many years in the game, the Verbal Herman Munster is a pillar of Hip-Hop culture. He has murals displayed all over the world, is a founding member of both Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, and continues to release top-shelf hip-hop under his own moniker. Always a pleasure to talk to, full of laughs and insight, Chali was one of the reasons I started to truly love hip-hop nearly two-decades ago and I couldn’t be more stoked or feel more privileged to get some more time with the man. Enjoy our latest, and possibly greatest, chat. Props to the Verbal Dinosaur, Hip-Hop royalty, Chali 2na.
Keep a look out for 2na’s latest. Blood Shot Fish Eyes, due out in early April. Catch him on tour with the Funk Hunters and Jurassic 5 from now throughout the summer. All things 2na, including those sweet tour dates and delightful music, can be found at his site, chali2na.com and his soundcloud.
1. Do you remember the first album you bought with you own money?
Yep. It wasn’t an album, it was a single. It was called “Hey You” by the Rocksteady Crew. I bought it not because I liked the song, Crazy Legs and them might hate me right now, but I didn’t really like the song, but I’m a graffiti artist at heart and the cover of the album was drawn by one of the Rocksteady Crew members named Doze. Doze is helluva graffiti writer and he did characters of each member on the cover. I was in love with and I was like, “Damn, I wanna learn to draw things like that!” So I bought the album and that was the first purchase I made. I had to save up to get it. Then next one I got was “Renegades of Funk.” Once again I saw the cover before I heard the song and thought, “Oooh! This is amazing, I want this!” When I heard the song I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m really getting this on. This is crazy.”
2. If the world was ending and you got to escape to safety somehow and you could save one piece of culture from anywhere in the world, what would you save?
It would definitely be a graff painting by one of three people, Mear One from the CBS crew in L.A. Futura 2000 from New York – one of my favourite graff writers of all time, for sure. Or Lee Quiñones. One of those three dudes, I would take a piece, one of their most significant pieces that displays the whole of hip-hop through one picture. That way I could describe it to whatever beings I may come across. “Yo, this is what Hip-Hop was!” <laughs>
Graffiti doesn’t seem to get enough play when discussions about Hip-Hop culture come up. It’s good someone so high-profiled in the culture is giving it props.
To be perfectly honest I think it doesn’t get enough play simply because of the fact that Hip-Hop doesn’t own graffiti. It’s one of the limbs of the body of graffiti but it’s an artificial limb in the sense that it’s doesn’t belong directly to the genre. It’s older than Hip-Hop, know what I mean? Spray-can art is from before Hip-Hop was born and I give it more reverence because of that. I’m a graff writer who can fucking rap. <laughs>
3. Can you think of a movie that an effect on the way you saw the world?
Yeah man, Wild Style. Krush Groove. Beat Street. We can keep it going. <laughs> These movies had extreme effects on me. It made me think and look at the world differently. I’m from the southside of Chicago originally. House music was the biggest export coming out of Chicago. To live in a city that’s saturated in house music, you learn to respect it but that’s not just you. That’s my uncle’s and father’s stuff at the time, an off-shoot of disco. Living in that, hip-hop was a refreshment. It opened my nose in a way that nothing else did. Any time I got a chance to watch anything Hip-Hop I was trying to do it.
4. Does Chali 2na think that technology can set us free to a utopia or are we a snake eating its own tail?
Everything is a circle. You have good and bad, you have balance. Technology has made things better and sometimes easier for us. But it’s also taken away some of our common sense and some of our ability to deal with common problems as human beings. Do you remember your homeboy’s phone number?
I actually do because I didn’t have a cellphone until about two years ago.
You’re an anomaly, but the rest of the world don’t remember shit. <laughs> They’re called Smartphones, yeah, they made us *really* smart. <laughs>
5. If you had to choose between keeping your sight and your hearing, which are you keeping? Which is more important to Chali 2na?
I’m a visual dude, so my sight more than my hearing. I love the music and everything but I’m a painter. My music is because I paint. I try to paint pictures with words. The way that I was disciplined and how it works in my mind, I have to LEGO-block everything. I have to make sense of everything in a symmetrical, crazy, visual way. Even putting lyrics on a piece of paper, I like my handwriting and like to make it all look nice, know what I mean? I’m OCD like that. <laughs>
6. DJ Nu-Mark has the guest questions this week and he wants to know…Do you prefer E40 or a 40 of O.E.?
<Laugh> Wait, Nu-Mark came up with that question?! That’s a dope-ass question, dawg. Personally I prefer E40. People don’t give him enough credit. For one, being a hell of a rapper, he’s a wordsmith right out the gate. And two, being the creator of modern slang when it comes to Hip-Hop. People don’t give E40 the respect he deserves. So I have to say E40 over a 40 of O.E.