Chali 2na [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – There’s something irresistible about Chali 2na. Maybe it’s the smile that divides his face, or could be his deep baritone or even his slick dance moves as he entertains the masses on stage, but one thing is sure: the man has an aura about him. 2na was one of the original renaissance artists of hip-hop: South Central L.A’s Good Life Cafe hosted him and other members of Jurassic 5 in the early nineties when a more melodic and introspective style of rapping was on the rise. 2na was a founding member of the salsa funk band Ozomatli, and the rhythmic rumble behind J5’s harmonic sound; he’s worked with everyone from Roots Manuva to Beenie Man, sharing his weighty tome on an international scale. HipHopCanada’s Amalia Judith chased down the tall dark and mysterious MC to glean a few facts on his new album, his work with K’naan and of course, Monotheism.
HipHopCanada: Do you feel you get typecast as that guy with the low voice, do you get bored of that?
Chali 2na: I’m a believer in that you can’t really choose your audience, your audience chooses you, so I’m not bored, I’m just grateful and happy for all this: I don’t have to be sitting here, and you don’t have to be interested in even talking to me. I do get typecast though, people are like, I can hear you on this chorus, your voice, but I’m happy to just be working.
HipHopCanada: When you perform you remind me of the jazz singer/bandleader Cab Calloway.
Chali 2na: It’s crazy you said that, ’cause I just did a show in Martha’s Vineyard 2 weeks ago. Bill Paxton was there, and he’s one of my favorite actors, I was like, “that’s Bill Paxton, damn!” I’m really a fan of his. We were talking at the end of the show and he was like, “Dude, you really remind me of Cab Calloway.” I was like, “Yo, let’s make a movie about him and I’ll play him! ”
HipHopCanada: It’s your vibe, maybe the way you smile.
Chali 2na: Thank you!
HipHopCanada: Let’s hear about your new solo project, Fish Outta Water:
Chali 2na: It’s out now! In stores, iTunes, it features Damien and Steve Marley, Elzhi from Slum Village, Anthony Hamilton, Talib Kweli, DJ Nu-Mark, Vitamin D, Jake One. The album is an identification process of who I am outside what you might know me for, I get deep in certain aspects and then fun in a lot of others. It’s all to tell a story of who I am from start to finish.
HipHopCanada: You tend to work with an eclectic base of musicians: Ozomatli, Galactic, hitting a very cultural tip. What’s your experience been in that, and why do you gravitate towards it?
Chali 2na: The indigenous aspect of it all. Ozomatli is the poster board of Los Angeles; every aspect of that band is every aspect of Los Angeles. My involvement with the bass player, knowing him since he was thirteen years old, till what spawned into Ozomatli was another blessing in my opinion because I was in the right place at the right time. To be associated with that is an amazing thing. It shows stability, foundation, realism. I’m not trying to gravitate towards trendy things, more the things that I see have roots, like one of these old trees around here. Something that’s solid where it stands as opposed to that fly by night, I’m not really that guy. I’m a painter, that’s what I love to do first and foremost, that’s what got me into this. And so because of that I try to really take my art serious, and pay attention to detail. Just get the realistic aspect of it all, I don’t like to dwell in that bossness, that fly by night shit, cause it doesn’t last.
HipHopCanada: You recently worked with the Canadian rapper K’naan on his track America, what was it like to work with him?
Chali 2na: Well, K’naan is an amazing artist and an amazing person. So it was a blessing in my opinion to be able to work with the guy. I was a fan of that particular song before he even asked me to be on it, he’d been playing it live and I was a big fan. So when he asked me to be on it I was happy and confused at the same time, I liked it. And then when he told me it was me, him and Mos, that was really cool. I was able to ride in the studio and he just hit me with what he wanted me to say and I was kickin it out in 20 minutes, it was cool.
HipHopCanada: Another thing that you, K’naan and Mos Def have in common is a fairly outspoken belief in Islam – what does your faith mean to you on a personal and a cultural level?
Chali 2na: On a personal level, it’s just discipline. It’s, in my opinion out of all the soul searching I’ve done, the closest that I’ve come to God as far as relationships are concerned. My father was a Muslim for most of my life. There was always a constant struggle between my mother and father, and my mother’s side of the family, which was all Baptists. My grandmother would argue with my father all the time about cultural differences; it was cool cause I was able to be well rounded in all of it, to get an aerial perspective of monotheism. Because it’s the foundation for where I stand I deal with everything through those eyes, it becomes a discipline for me, the daily prayers are a discipline that I can fall back on.
HipHopCanada: Are you pretty good with that? 5 times a day and even more on Fridays?
Chali 2na: Yes ma’am, I try my hardest. Nobody’s perfect but I definitely strive.
HipHopCanada: Have you made Hajj [a Muslim’s journey to Mecca]?
Chali 2na: Not yet, but I will, Inshallah. There’s a couple of cats in the band that actually made it.
HipHopCanada: Would you make a trip like that with an entourage or keep it traditional with the locals?
Chali 2na: [Laughing] I don’t roll like that in the beginning, I ain’t got no entourage like that, I call it self-security is how I get down. But I’d definitely try to get out with the locals, because I feel like I’ve been blessed to be able to travel with this music, so I always try to get down with the locals wherever we are. That’s the best way to be able to absorb where you are because a lot of the time in music you get to see the place you play, or around the place you play, but that’s it. If it’s in your personality to get out and talk to people, then you get to see what it is that city has to offer, through the people. A lot of the times with your own eyes you don’t get to see that.
HipHopCanada: How do you reconcile the traditions of faith with the modernity of the Western world?
Chali 2na: It depends on how you look at it, I wasn’t born in Pakistan, I adapted this religion through seeing my father and his friends and family members. I grew up in the south side of Chicago, so for me, this religion has broadened my mind in the whole aspect of not being separated or different. It’s easy to focus on the differences, harder to find the similarities in people. I think Islam, for me, helped me see how similar we all are. If my views are not traditional it’s because of being raised in American society. Things that are taboo in an Islamic society are magnified in this society: drinking, extramarital affairs, all kinds of stuff like that. I have to apply the human aspect of all our culture dictates . . . I’m not the ultimate judge and I know I’m not perfect.
HipHopCanada: It’s easy for musicians who are passionate about something to get a little didactic, do you struggle with that?
Chali 2na: I try not to be preachy, I just try to deal with people on their own level, not to try to talk down or up to a person. It’s not about trying to recruit the next man because God makes the path that leads you back to Him, it’s all adjoining from him to him.
HipHopCanada: You mentioned trees and taking root: Vancouver has a lot of great trees, do you feel a connection with this kind of environmental setting?
Chali 2na: Yeah, I’m a city boy by nature – that’s a big-ass oxymoron – but I do appreciate nature to the fullest because they say if you wanna see God just look around. We can’t make this, it’s all creation, so I appreciate that.
HipHopCanada: Cool man, that’s all the questions I got.
Chali 2na: Aight, dope.
Editor’s note: Chali 2na will be dipping into Canada on The Deadliest Catch tour alongside Mr. Lif, Gift of Gab and Lyrics Born. The tour hits Vancouver on November 17th at the Biltmore Cabaret. For more information check out http://www.myspace.com/chali2na. To see the Vancouver event listing check out http://abortmag.com/?p=11213.
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada