Moka Lonely: Profile of an Artist Obsessed [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Okay, so maybe it’s not so nice to make light of Moka Only’s name or his eccentric nature, but he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously anyhow. His alter-ego, Ron Contour, is as ridiculous as a character as one gets in this ego-heavy town, and Moka himself admits to having no other interests outside of music; he’s not particularly well-balanced. But he’s a well-loved character from Vancouver to the Prairies to Cali, as evidenced by upcoming collabs with everyone from Freestyle Fellowship’s Myka 9 to Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown. He’s a reluctant pillar of the Vancouver hip-hop community and one of the most productive worker bees this side of the hive. Plus, he’s a half vegetarian. Ladies and gentlemen, Moka Only.
HipHopCanada: You tend to get kinda silly in your stage presentation, which has the potential to be off-putting to a crowd. What’s the line between a performance and self-indulgence?
Moka Only: I’ve had a pretty good track record of it not being misses. People seem to appreciate the fact that I’m lightening it up a little bit. I’m not trying to be a buffoon neither. I honestly judge it by what the room is feeling like that night and what mood I’m in. I did a performance in Toronto the other night and it was a little bit more serious, I just wanted to focus on making sure every lyric got out, clear annunciation, all that. I kept it fun, I addressed the audience, but it’s always different.
HipHopCanada: You have a lot of albums out. Why have such a large output as opposed to really filtering through and only putting out the really great tracks?
Moka Only: I’ve been doing this since the eighties, obviously it’s gonna build up over time. There was a great number of stuff that I put out in the nineties that was definitely more street album or demo form. I don’t really count those. And honestly I’m not trying to have more out than the next person, I’m just trying to do what I enjoy doing. The fans appreciate that. This is all I do, I just love music, I’m phobic about it. I think about it, I breathe it, so I’m gonna wanna put as much stuff out as possible, But on a true note though, I don’t usually put more than two things out per year and that’s not too crazy. Even in the sixties artists were expected to put four albums out a year.
HipHopCanada: How do you handle your business?
Moka Only: Outsource work to other people, it’s just that simple and hopefully we have enough of a rapport back and forth where we can be on the same page and not confuse us and the public. That’s been an issue in the past few years but now everything’s becoming more consolidated. I’m in a happier place now.
HipHopCanada: A lot of artists in Vancouver list you as a major influence; why do you think that is?
Moka Only: Not too much to say about it, I think if it’s local artists then it’s people that I have seen or done some studio sessions with. A lot of people come to me and ask for beats and I’ll cut some really good deals because I realize that not everybody has deep pockets. I still have to make a living though. I just believe in hometown talent. I came from Langford, BC, the most unlikely place where a musician in hip-hop can succeed from. If Langford can do it, Vancouver can surely do it.
HipHopCanada: What do you think about the scene here?
Moka Only: I’m a little but disconnected from all that is happening because I’m traveling and touring so much, and also I don’t find myself listening to a lot of rap music, whether its friends or abroad. I’m busy working on my own stuff so I’ve kind of lost touch with the scene. Nothing against anybody, I also don’t want to become too influenced by other people. When I listen to music I listen to rock or jazz. My favorite group is the High Llamas, this band from overseas kind of like 60s style chamber pop. Or listen to Beach Boys or a lot of older stuff. Or Stereolab, I listen to a lot of early 70s jazz, late 60s jazz, mainly keyboard players.
HipHopCanada: How do these styles influence your music?
Moka Only: In the early 90s, the golden era, everybody used jazz and it didn’t seem like they were trying to use jazz, it just seemed like a natural fit. There’s something in jazz music with the chords and progression where it always created feelings of suspense or whatever, maybe that’s why people gravitated towards it. I didn’t want to throw that away and jump on whatever everybody else was doing, like the dubstep or drum and bass. I want to do what I want to do and it goes back to self-indulgence but that’s okay, we’re all self-indulgent in every regard in our life. We want to make ourselves happy, have a good income, at the end of the day we wanna say that we did what we wanted to do, not what everybody else wanted to do. People that don’t like it, there’s millions of artists they can check out.
HipHopCanada: Who do you really enjoy working with here?
Moka Only: People like E.D.G.E.one, he’s a younger cat, he’s very creative lyrically. Hedspace is a newer beat maker and I like to work with him. There’s this group called Elekwent folk, once again younger hip-hoppers that I think are keeping it true to what the roots are about but expanding too, not stuck in a museum, Swollen Members, doing some work with them again. Me and Madchild live in the same building and I see him all the time. I’ve contributed some songs to upcoming projects of theirs, and me and Madchild just came off a solo tour. Matt Brevner is a talented cat, we haven’t done anything in the studio yet but we toured together. Sweatshop Union, in that umbrella, I appreciate what all those guys are doing, they’re tryna push the envelope for themselves and for rap. Chin Injeti, works with Dr. Dre’s camp and contributes to bigger albums like Eminem. That’s a guy I’ve known forever and I think he’s talented out the ass. Super crazy.
HipHopCanada: You tour a lot, anyone standing out on the prairies in Canada?
Moka Only: Def3 is a guy I work with and I see him being very active. Factor the producer that I worked with for Ron Contour for the Saffron album. I’ll put it like this: when I go to the prairies I feel almost like it’s a time capsule, maybe the people that live there aren’t as influenced by modern day pop culture in the hip-hop scene, leaning towards classic sounds. So when I go there it’s a lot of love. They seem to be tuned more in to the underground. Reminds me of 2000 when the underground had made a major resurgence and people were doing it DIY, I like that about the prairies. A simpler place, less population, half the year they’re stuck inside. I have a lot of love for the prairies for sure.
HipHopCanada: What has the DIY movement done to the quality of hip-hop music?
Moka Only: The people that want to put out quality will put out quality. There’ll be a million kids that think they can do shortcuts, some of them will make it, some a flash in the pan, I’m not overly concerned. I just focus on what I gotta do. A lot of it will burn off quick when people realize you can’t really polish a turd. Some of them will continue. As long as they’re having fun with it.
HipHopCanada: What do you want out of the next ten years?
Moka Only: Nothing. I look at it in chapters. I’m not trying to make the grand opus, I’m more along the lines of Frank Zappa where I wanna constantly add new chapter to my repertoire, I’m happy just doing the music. I’ve expanded to where I’m doing more production for other people and even artwork for album covers, a lot more commissions whether it’s vocal coaching or consultation, but as far as the music itself, I’m just gonna keep doing more. It’s what I like, it pays, and it takes me all around the world.
HipHopCanada: What about on a personal level?
Moka Only: I don’t do anything outside of music, it’s just music.
HipHopCanada: And what happens if people stop caring about your music?
Moka Only: There’s eight billion people in the world, you can always get a slice. I definitely have more of a sunny disposition, I don’t worry about that. People create problems by inventing worries. It can’t happen; I’ve been doing this since the eighties, it’s now 2011, I’ll always be able to reinvent and come with something that somebody’s gonna like.
HipHopCanada: You have an album called Carrots and Eggs but I’ve heard it rumored you’re a vegan…what’s the skinny on that?
Moka Only: I’m half vegetarian. It means I love vegetarian food but I’ll still eat cheeseburgers. I don’t have any reason for naming that album Carrots and Eggs other than to make people ask why. It was just a joke.
HipHopCanada: Like Ron Contour, your alter-ago?
Moka Only: Ron Contour was completely just for a laugh, not to be taken seriously. It’s just a lark, and if people get it that’s cool. It’d Dada art, none of it makes sense or means anything, I created that character perpetually stuck in the nineties and lives in his own world, kind of like a Kool Keith.
HipHopCanada: Ron seems a little like a caricature, which is a device that is accompanied by a commentary…is there really nothing of that in it?
Moka Only: Nothing too deep. He’s supposed to be my first cousin on medication. There’s probably some people who look at the lyrics and find a meaning. That’s cool, kind of like the Bible or religion.
HipHopCanada: What a comparison! Do you just see religion as a joke that some people find meaning in?
Moka Only: I don’t think it’s a joke at all. I’m not too interested in organized religion, I’ve been involved with it in the past, I was baptized a Christian, went to Catholic school, then hung out with the Muslims. And everything else in between. I’ve gone through my phases where I’ve taken some of that stuff serious, I think I learned a few things. But above and beyond, I say if somebody feels lost and religion makes them feel more at ease in getting their life together then that’s great. I’m more learning towards science these days and I’ve resparked my spirituality by learning science more in-depth like quantum mechanics, things that are infallible information like reality.
HipHopCanada: Can any reality be infallible?
Moka Only: Mathematics. One and one is two, right?
HipHopCanada: In the human sense of logic, sure, but can’t infallible mean truth on a scale supra to that?
Moka Only: It goes back to what I’m saying, whatever makes sense to you. And to me, that makes sense. If it enables you to lead a good life and put food on your table, great.
HipHopCanada: What you got for upcoming projects?
Moka Only: I’m releasing the only solo album that I see for this year. Airport 5. I had recorded about forty tracks towards it, and decided to keep it very simply, so segues, no interludes, no zany stuff. I chose twelve of the tracks that I thought were the strongest and kept the album short. After it’s out for a month or two I’ll release an instrumental version of it.
I have other projects coming up. I started a new rap group with Bootie Brown from the Pharcyde, we’re just trying to finish that album right now. We really want to take a stab at it, like a real group, something brand new. The Googlenaires. And I’m working on an album with Myka 9 from The Freestyle Fellowship. We’re about halfway through that right now, we haven’t titled it yet. It’s very lyrical, very quick and chopping. We wanted to do something that felt like it was 1995 but obviously with references to what’s going on now. Mokaonly.com or iTunes, my twitter, Moka_Only, and facebook. The normal stuff. And www.wanderingworx.com.
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada.
Photography by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada.