ABQ-LIVE sat down with hip hop artist WAKE SELF to get the inside scoop on what life is like for the rapper and how he plans to change the world.
When did you first start writing rhymes?
WS: I started writing rhymes when I was about 11 or 12 and mostly it was poetry. At the time I was going through a lot of growing pains and slightly depressed, but poetry gave me a nice outlet. You can take all the different things that you feel, put it all on a page, and then start your own counseling session. I was not interested in having a counselor so writing was an easy way for me to be my own therapist. Writing was really helpful for me during my youth. I would look at myself, and the world, and try to find my place in it.
What are some famous DJs and Emcees that have influenced your music?
WS: There are a lot. The first hip hop video I had ever seen was “Bonita Applebum,” by a Tribe Called Quest. That opened me up to a lot to Hip Hop music. Also, my dad was a DJ and he had a great collection of music. When I was younger we used to play his tapes and CDs. He played songs like “Egyptian Lover,” and that was another early song that I heard. Rakim was always one of my favorites just because of all the things he can do within his lyrics and rhyming. He was the first rapper to do internal rhyme patterns. Rappers nowadays stick to rhyming at the end of a sentence, but he would rhyme at the beginning–then rhyme inside of the sentence. He put different things into his style that a lot of people were not doing at the time. For me to hear that, I learned that there were new ways to break down rhyming with techniques. As I got older I listened to cats like Sage Francis, Eyedea, and Atmosphere; these artists were rapping about their feelings. Nowadays, people call that Emo Rap (laughs) and lot of people don’t like that term, but at that time I was going through a lot of trials just being a kid. So, to hear people rap about their feelings was kind of new. It’s like rock cats write lyrics about the state of society or an emotive state—and rappers were not doing that. So, they brought a new era into hip hop.
Tell us about the song you wrote called “New Mexico”?
WS: It all started with a beat that my friend KOS sent me. I said, “Man, this beat is incredible!’ I wanted to make a song to illustrate and represent New Mexico in a positive light. Also, I wanted to do something to represent where I am from and all the love that I feel for New Mexico. We have things that are not found anywhere else, we have culture that is a lot different than other places that people do not normally see. A lot of people do not experience the cultural richness represented here. Sometimes, I go places and people think I am from Mexico! That happens all the time and it really trips me out. Overall, I wanted to commemorate all the beautiful things in our state. Watch the music video to “New Mexico” here
^ Check out Wake Self’s brand new track, ‘Nonbelievers’
Do you have a DJ or a band that you play with?
WS: I have been a part of a lot of different groups. I was in a band called Zoology. We played a lot, and dropped an album in 2011 titled ‘Krush Love’. One member (Flux) does our videos and we have always rapped together. We have a drummer (Dahhm Life) who makes his own music. I have a best friend named Def-I, who is an incredible artist and we are in a group called Definition Rare. We travel all over the country and we are on tour to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. My DJ is Young Native; he has been on tour with me for a while. We also have worked with DJ Ohm. Who cuts and gets fancy on the turntable. There are other artists that I collaborate with here. I am in a group of collected artists called Skull Control. I have also worked with the 2bers and artists across the states and overseas. My producer is Fate who makes wonderful beats, and Per C. Wells is my engineer.
Where are some places, and artists that you have performed with?
WS: I just got back from Europe; I went to Germany, Holland, and Austria. I am probably the first rapper from New Mexico to make it to the Alps (laughs). I toured with Binary Star, and One Below, he has done a lot for me, he’s also a good friend. I met him after an album tour that I booked, then I asked him to join me and it turned out awesome. I did one show with MC Supernatural from Dilated Peoples, he is a great freestyler and another show was with De La Soul in Denver which was sold out. I went on tour with Blackalicious, Gifted Gab; he is a great mentor of mine. I went on tour with Lucky from The Legends and the Freestyle fellowship, they are great pioneers of West Coast hip hop.
What was your most memorable performance?
WS: My album release party at Sister was packed at capacity. All my friends showed great support and the love was real deep. It was nice to have a vision of the show and have everybody come together for the performance. Also, I performed at a boarding school in Fort Wingate, NM, where I attended school when I was younger. It was drug free ribbon week and there were only 100 students there and I performed for a bunch of kids and that was incredible. I did this thing where I rap about objects in the crowd. There was a kid holding up joint paper and I told him I could not rap about that (laughs). I like to relate positive affirmations to the kids because a lot of times kids do not listen to their teachers and it was nice to be a positive outside influence.
Who are some artists that you would like to collaborate with?
WS: I like a lot of soul music so someone like James Brown, or Erykah Badu. Also, J Dilla, or Guru, would be awesome. It would be cool to work with producers like Binobo, Grammatik, DJ Premier, or Pete Rock. I love seeing progression of the youth so I would want to record with children who are learning how to rap.
Who is the best rapper dead and alive?
WS: People should stop comparing rappers. Everyone should cultivate their own talents and the best rappers are the ones that never stop earning. We are all students of the game with infinite room to grow. Soul.
Your music is mostly about “good vibes” talk to us about that?
WS: Well, I am a hippie (laughs), so I write lyrics about the universe. I do not think about how other people will respond to my work. Too many other artists think about what others think. Creativity should be about how you really feel, if you’re really genuine then it will come out in your music; then you can feel it. Also, there are a lot of harsh and sad things in the world that need healing and music is the best instrument for this, it can do so much for people. If more creativity and mind expansion fit into people’s soundtracks then the expansion and creative ideas will grow—this will better the world.
You are an independent artist, so with people like Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa signing to major labels; and others such as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis staying independent. If given the choice, would you go mainstream, or would you like to stay independent?
WS: If I went mainstream then that would mean that mainstream is on a new dynamic and I feel like this is happening. Macklemore is a good testament of how things are changing for the better. Some rappers that are getting popular are not saying what most others are—Kendrick is intelligent with his lyrics. He is also a good testament to people who say good things in their music. I am open to all possibilities, but I would never want to sell myself, so it would depend on how it was presented and what is on the table. I like to see artists build from the ground up and be more community based with bigger and better ideas. Labels who make artists promote their products to their company’s only means a sacrifice of artistic integrity. There is more power and honor in doing it yourself.
Some rap artists complain that the internet is bad for their career due to piracy. What is your stance on this issue?
WS: If your fans support you then they will always love what you do. And when you present your music they will be there for you. Some people are completely broke and they can’t afford to buy your album and the internet can share and connect music with so many people. The industry is not the same like it used to be when people used to sell mixtapes out of their trunks, under big record companies promoting big names. Fans will always find your music whether it’s online or on the back of your trunk–and they will take care of you. This is something that I never take for granted. If I had a fan who could not afford to buy my album, and they had to burn it from a friend, then I am fine with that. I just want people to listen to it. Overall, artists need to be a little less greedy.
Your song, “So Good” featuring Ariano is one of our personal favorites, tell us about how that song came together?
WS: Ariano does a lot of great choruses, one of which was actually done for Snoop Dogg, and other underground hip hop artists. My friend Fate, a producer from Taos, made that beat and we were in a living room. Ariano came into town while he was on tour and we started messing around. I showed him my idea and he came up with the chorus. I came up with some positive lyrics about my mom and we just wanted to create a positive atmosphere. I was having a tough year at the time and I had a lot of anxiety. So, I wrote a song about feeling good because I knew there would be another time in which I would be because music is uplifting and it can make your day and change your attitude, and I wanted to create a feel good song to overcome my sadness.
Do you write lyrics first, or do you hear the beat then write lyrics?
WS: The creative process is infinite. Sometimes I see something and get an idea about it. I have a lot of ideas in my head that are just hanging out, in the waiting line. I just have to find the beat for them. To be an artist you have to continually keep new ideas in your head. Sometimes, I get the beat and I write the song, the beat is what molds lyrics and they work together. There is no set formula to how it happens, and this is the beauty of creating music.
Interview by Cameron Lybrook
Photography by: Kori Kobayashi