Chali 2na makes his near-annual Victoria appearance this Friday (June 30) and an appearance from the Verbal Herman Munster is always a reason to look back at why and how this giant of hip-hop has remained such an unmissable act wherever he appears. Ask me on any given day for my top 3 MCs and Chali 2na will be somewhere on that list. Obviously the beginning is Jurassic 5, but it's his never-ending stream of consistently great, inventive solo work and guest appearances that has made him such a mainstay on the headphones and stereos in my life. As much as any MC on the planet, 2na has kept up with modern sounds in the ever-shifting hip-hop landscape, never hollowly imitating them but always taking the pieces that suit his sound and style, making them his own. More impressive than almost anything he's done, is his willingness to embrace EDM, in all of its forms. His ubiquitous presence in electronic music has kept him at the forefront of the genre and his status as a hip-hop legend has helped introduced new music fans to the roots of the music that helped spawn all of this. It's a logical progression and one that I'm shocked more rappers haven't leaned into. But luckily for everyone who likes those real goods, Chali 2na remains everywhere, smothering everything he touches with that good, classic hip-hop flavour. Now I'll take a look back at a dozen of the homies best, most diverse tracks and appearances (Or at least my favourites) to present a mere glimpse of the versatility of one of the GOATs.
If you need some more of 2na's words in your life, don't forget the time he was a guest on 5 Questions with Rags!
“I listen to the whole of Hip-Hop. I don’t segregate between it because I know and understand where it all was spawned and I give everybody their space to be an artist. A lot of fans are probably like “What?! You listen to Snoop Dogg?!” But yeah, I listen to it all...I feel like I’ve done a lot Hip-Hop wise and now it’s a journey through music more than it is just Hip-Hop. Changing the band and all that, I’m just trying to tap into music. If it’s good music, I’m just trying to be a part of it.” - Chali 2na, interview with Rags Music, 2014
N.A.S.A – There's a Party feat. George Clinton and Chali 2na
This might be an odd one to start this list off, but it made its way onto a lot of my playlists after Chali explained to me the significance of the song. “You know, to be perfectly honest, it’s not one of my best guest appearances, but the fact that he is who is… I did a song called ‘There’s a Party' on the NASA album, ‘Spirit of Apollo’, a song with George Clinton and I’m so proud of that. Just the experience of doing that song with him is just priceless, you can’t trade that for the world. Like I said, it may not be one of my best songs but it’s definitely a milestone for me.”
Galactic – Think Back feat. Chali 2na
The first time I saw Chali 2na wasn't with House of Vibe or with Jurassic 5, but it was in 2008 at Bonnaroo with New Orleans funkmasters Galactic. His stage presence was magnetic and I was instantly hooked. Here was this member of one of the seminal musical groups in my life, on his own, without the guys that I knew him with, crushing every song he touched, shifting flows and smiling more than any rapper I'd ever seen on stage. 'Think Back' is from the Galactic album From The Corner To The Block – and manages to be the standout track an album filled with incredible guest spots and ridiculous music.
Sergio Mendes – Yes, Yes Y'all feat. Black Thought, Chali 2na and Will.i.am
Prolific Brazilian musical marvel Sergio Mendes rounded up a trio of pretty boss rappers here to get down over his funky, bouncy keys on “Yes, Yes Y'all.” Black Thought is the only rapper who consistently challenges Chali on my List, so I may be a bit bias, but both these guys come with the heat here. Chali especially is incredibly dexterous here, hitting those sweet assonance receptors in the brain something fierce. You might be scoffing at the idea of Will.i.am being included with two lyrical monsters like Thought and 2na, but “Yes, Yes Y'all” is an example of the immense talent that is lurking inside the homie the culture used to loved so much.
K'Naan – America feat. Mos Def & Chali 2na
K'Naan's Troubador may have been an over-produced mess, the beginning of the end for K'naan, one of hip-hop's most important young voices, but there were a couple standouts including “America.” The track is a lazy-shuffle fire of a hip-hop track with the three mightily talented MCs taking turns dropping nimble, conscious lyrics. By the time K'Naan gets into the rapping the final verse in his native Somali, it's obvious that the track is something truly special. What I would give to hear an album with these three laying it down together...
Rusko – Gadget Go-Go feat. Chali 2na
“Gadget Go-Go” was the first time I ever heard Chali go hard on a straight up electronic beat. I hated the beat so much when I first heard it but I loved Chali's rapping so much that I kept it in regular rotation and eventually learned to love the beat. This is a great example of 2na's unparalleled ability to ride a flow harder than anybody around. Rusko and Chali had teamed up earlier on “How Low Can You Go” but this track is way better in every way. Listen to this one. Let it drill into your ears.
Roots Manuva – Revolution 5 feat. Chali 2na
This is one of the greatest weed smoking songs of all time. It's not about herbal consumption, but it's got a driving, plodding rhythm that's as smoky as anything you're going to hear. Chali's voice, while always a weapon of joy, is an incredible compliment to Manuva's generally darker aesthetic, making for a truly inspired pairing. Supposedly at some point these two had a whole album in the works together, but Manuva is an ephemeral artists, impossible to nail down and so the project floats around in the ether somewhere, depriving the world of its own glory. If you want more of these two together also make a note to check out “Join The Dots.”
Ron Artiste' – Zone Away
Legend has it that Chali 2na and the homie Roc C made an album called R.I.D.S. (Riot in da Stands) under the moniker Ron Artiste'. The legend also states that a certain Metta World Peace might have gotten wind of the release and put the kaibosh on it and made sure it never made it to the light of day. Furthermore, it is said that maybe somewhere out there in the annals of the all-mighty internet, an intrepid treasure hunter might be able to find the long lost ark of hip-hop. “Zone Away” is a beautiful meditation on the power of hip-hop and its ability to lift us into higher states of living.
Dub FX – The Sky feat. Chali 2na & Dub Princess
If there's a guy who makes drum 'n' bass that consistently interests me, it's Dub FX. He's a student of many different musical forms but his musical base is pretty solidly in the world of hip-hop. His knowledge of and respect for hip-hop culture, not just the music, makes him a perfect fit with Chali 2na, a man who is clearly both a student and teacher of all the aspects of the culture. Originally on Dub FX's Theory of Harmony this version was recorded live in Melbourne. “The Sky” is a beautiful drum 'n' bass track, highlighted by the contrast between Dub Princess' light, floating vocals and Chali's dense, earthy baritone.
Krafty Kuts & Dynamite MC – It Ain't My Fault feat. Chali 2na
A master of breaks and modern production laying down an old school hip-hop banger for two rappers well-versed in what makes old-school hip-hop so timeless is sure to result in a banger and “It Ain't My Fault” delivers big time. My favourite part of this is the dichotomy of Chali's old-school aesthetic with his super-smooth, easy quick style that keeps this from just being a rehash of nostalgic feelings (Though it certainly does hit all those wonderful nostalgic points in the brain and ears!).
The Funk Hunters & Chali 2na – Get Involved feat. Defunk
One of the more fruitful relationships 2na has had in the past few years, his work with West Coast electronic staples The Funk Hunters has resulted in some incredible tracks, remixes and the ILLectric EP. Taken from that EP, “Get Involved” is a funky electronic banger, guaranteed to get dancefloors jumping and moving. A call to action is always a welcome change on the dancefloor and 2na is in top form here, using his considerable charm and skill to keep the Enemies of Evil encouraged and ready to battle. If you're having a party and want to inject a little conscious fun into the proceedings, throw this onto your playlist.
The Dino 5 – I May Be Big and Scary (But I'm Really Pretty Nice)
Did you know that Chali 2na was part of the Dino 5 – an incredible group made of some of hip-hop's finest (Prince Paul, Scratch, 2na, Wordsworth & Ladybug Mecca) who made a children's hip-hop album? Well, he was and they did and it's pretty bloody awesome. Chali 2na appropriately plays the big, scary T-Rex of the group who is actually a sweetheart under his tough outer shell. As many of the early 2na/J5 fans age and start having children, this is some incredible stuff to listen to with those kidlets – music that will entertain them and make their parents not want to pull their hair out. (Also still pretty fun, if not essential, if you don't have children.)
Cut Chemist – Work My Mind feat. Chali 2na & Hymnal
I don't really know what to say about this track other than it gets Gold Head-Nodding status. I'm a big fan of aggressive weirdness and here Cut Chemist has an incredibly weird beat for 2na to let his freak flag fly over. Nimble raps, knock-out scratching and a driving skeletal bass beat make “Work My Mind” a kind of unforgettable hip-hop track from a couple of outright legends. Perfect for head-nodding at any time of day or night. It might not fit comfortably on any playlist, but maybe that means it will fit perfectly on every playlist. Think about it...