From Typical Cats, Dirty Digital, Outer Limits, to Frontline, the emcee known as Qwazaar has so many styles that he is anything but predictable. Having mastered the art of layering different voices, it often takes multiple listens to keep up with his multiple personalities. I recently talked to him about coming from the Dearborn Homes projects in Chicago, moving to Los Angeles, and his tour in Cape Town, South Africa. 2011 has already been a great year for Qwazaar, and with the release of his new album Bat Meets Blaine with the producer Batsauce, things are only getting better.
RubyHornet: Did you have a Hip Hop circle of friends growing up in the Dearborn Homes (29th and State St. in Chicago)?
Qwazaar: Aww Hell Naw, those cats were all on house music and gangbangin! And that’s a messed up combination! But most of the Hip Hop heads that I met were through Dunbar High School, cats like Venom, Nightmare, and Ace G. I was best friends with Ace G’s little brother and he kind of became my rap mentor. We were young and he was an upperclassman, but he heard what we were doing and brought us into the big table ciphers in the back of the lunchroom.
RubyHornet: You mentioned Ace G in that dope outro song called, “Thanks”. Tell us about him.
Qwazaar: Ace G was from the Borns too, he used to gangbang pretty hard, but he got out of that and picked up Islam and started building his knowledge. He was just raw, one of the best cats that I ever heard. He could freestyle forever like Juice, way before I had any idea who Juice was – Ace G was like him to us.
RubyHornet: It’s crazy how a lot of us had some friend like that who was the catalyst, and that we probably wouldn’t have been dope MCs without them. For me and Gee-Field it was our homie Turhan, he could rap his ass off. For Cap D (read our interview with Cap D) it was Steady Serv, but for you that catalyst was Ace G.
Qwazaar: Yea, I pretty much learned my flow from Ace G. He could flow his ass off, and I was at the stage where I was trying to compress as many words as possible into like half a bar! (Both laughing!) I’d still be wack if it weren’t for him! I just had no idea, but his flow was so relaxed that I realized I had to go back and work on my s**t. I learned from him how to just let the words fall where they’re supposed to, instead of forcing everything. But once I finally got it – it was on and poppin!
RubyHornet: So when did you start rhymin’, and when did you realize you were good at it?
Qwazaar: I started around 1990, when I was listening to N.W.A. I envisioned myself as like the eighth member or like D.O.C.’s hype man!
RubyHornet: I’m laughing ‘cause D.O.C. was dope, but I’ve never heard someone imagine that!
Qwazaar: (Laughing) It’s funny ‘cause I don’t feel like I got decent until probably like 2000, after Walk Thru Walls and the Typical Cats album dropped. Once we started performing more, then I realized I was good. I figured out through shows and crowd feedback how to flow and to put it all together.
RubyHornet: Tell us about one of your first memorable performances.
Qwazaar: One of the first Typical Cats shows we did was in 2001, at some unknown spot on the north side of Chicago. The album couldn’t have been out for that long ‘cause we didn’t have great distribution like that, but somehow people already knew the words and were singing along! That had me buggin! The spot was whatever and the mic’s weren’t even right but the crowd was really into it, I was like ‘Wow what’s goin on?!’
RubyHornet: We had a similar experience with one of our first shows too, heads were singing all the words and we were like, “Damn is every show gonna be like this?!” (Both laughing!) So now tell us about a more recent show that stands out.
Qwazaar: Well, this year’s been pretty damn good! I can’t really top South Africa, I was headlining those shows back to back, by myself, and we don’t have distribution in Cape Town either, but cats still knew the words! It was beautiful!
RubyHornet: That’s awesome! How did that trip come about?
Qwazaar: Man, that trip was like a year and a half in the making. By the time I did it (March, 2011), I just happened to be in Europe at the time, and it was cheaper to fly to South Africa from there then from America. So I was finally able to work something out with the promoters to get down there and rock it! We all made a huge effort to do it, but I knew I had to, you never know when you’ll get that kind of opportunity again. It’s probably been one of the best music experiences of my life! All the people were cool as hell, the shows were packed! A lot of locals, but you also got Dutch people there, Germans, a little bit of everything. They showed a lot of love, it felt good, felt like I won something!
RubyHornet: That’s phenomenal man congratulations! What’s so amazing about you and Qwel (read our interview with Qwel) is that yall are able to do shows like that without radio songs, major distribution, or music videos! How do yall do that?
Qwazaar: I do a lot of shows, and I always make sure to keep good relations with everyone. I think it also helps that I’m not an asshole. I’ve had a few altercations with shiesty promoters but I just kept working through it, and kept being cool with a lot of people so they would work with me. Opportunities are always there, I just think a lot of times people don’t go out and get them. Even if you’re dope that’s not enough, you still gotta go out and work, talk to people, and hustle… and you can’t be a dickhead.
RubyHornet: True indeed! So if the first Typical Cats album in 2001 is when you started getting shows outside of Chicago, do you feel like the contacts you made back then still help you today?
Qwazaar: It’s weird, ‘cause some people know all of the old material, but there’s a gang of new heads that don’t know the Typical Cats stuff. Then some of them are only up on Dirty Digital, or Outer Limits, or the Walk Thur Walls stuff. I don’t understand that separation, but it does allow me to introduce new crowds to my other music, which is a good thing. The Typical Cats definitely opened a bunch of doors but it’s a lot of work maintaining those contacts and relationships. The average MC doesn’t understand the potential of everyone they meet. The shorties that were coming out to the old Typical Cats shows are now the promoters. So if you were a dickhead to a fan in 2001, and now he’s doing booking for the House of Blues, don’t be surprised when he looks at you funny. I talk to tons of fans through email and whatever, and they all tell me which artists are the assholes.
RubyHornet: And who are they?
Qwazaar: (Laughs!) Well I’m not gonna name names, but the point is that everyone you meet counts, ‘cause you never know… you know?… To give you an example, one of the promoters for the South Africa trip was originally a fan that I met in Germany three years earlier. But he was also an MC, and he was grindin’ tryin’ to put a string of shows together. So I helped him out and recorded with him and later on he looked out for me. It’s like I said, everything that you do counts.
RubyHornet: Talk about your decision to move to Los Angeles.
Qwazaar: It was good to get out of Chicago and see something new. I love to travel, and I always wanted to move to LA ‘cause the Typical Cats stuff was poppin’ off huge out here. Our first in-store was packed! It was a big risk to make that move though, I had to quit my job to do it. My girl at the time had a great job out here so that helped. Silence was already here so that helped. And even though LA is expensive and tons of artists, it’s still cheaper than New York, and the scene is easier to break into. Plus I left for personal reasons, to get away from drama in my life and my neighborhood.
RubyHornet: Who are your main producers and how did the album with Batsauce come about?
Qwazaar: DJ Natural (Typical Cats) and Silence (Dirty Digital) are my main producers, and Batsauce is from Florida but I met him on tour in Germany too.
RubyHornet: I loved that Dirty Digital stuff. I didn’t know what to expect but it was just so different that right away I was blown away. I already knew you could rap, but the production was on point too, just super unique and gritty. Dirty Digital really is the perfect name for it. The drums and beats were so wild that I just knew you were gonna go nuts with it! Then when I heard the songs with Batsauce I was equally surprised, because they were dope in a completely different way. Talk about that change of style from Silence to Batsauce.
Qwazaar: Me and Silence have always been of the same mind, and years ago we knew it was time for a change. So when he came with those drums that were all over the place some cats couldn’t hear the pattern, but somehow I knew how to make it fit. That’s what makes it fun and interesting for me, you gotta keep switching s**t up. I started hearing more Batsauce beats from friends and they were perfect ‘cause I was looking for more of a straight forward sound. I kept hittin’ cats over the head with the Dirty Digital stuff, so once again it was time for a change. But it still had to be Bangin!
RubyHornet: I think it worked! The album’s samples are more melodic and groovy, and the drums are more break beat style but they’re still musically interesting. Plus you’re kind of rappin’ mixed with a little bit of singing in a way where it all fits the beats, so it came out fresh!
Qwazaar: Thanks man, it’s always been a challenge to find the right balance. But Batsauce definitely came with the right sound for me to make this album stand out.
RubyHornet: There’s one line in particular on “Never Weaker” that had me cracking up, your intro: “smarter than a 5th grader, dumb enough to start my own label.”
Qwazaar: Well… I’m tryin to figure out a way I can explain it without incriminating anyone! It’s meant for someone in particular, but it’s also kind of making fun of all of us, just ‘cause it’s a fun time for independent cats right now. We all think we know what we’re doing, but sometimes s**t fails and blows up in your face ‘cause you didn’t really know. That line just means that it’s still a grind for all of us.
RubyHornet: Do you have advice for independent artists?
Qwazaar: Get a recording set up at your crib and get producers that know how to mix their own beats. I don’t like paying a grip for studios, I’d rather sacrifice some sound quality in order to get more comfort and flexibility. I want making music to be fun, it’s not ok if it’s stale but sounds good acoustically. But more important than that, you need to manage your time and choose your company wisely. You can’t just do business with your friends. I lost three years because of a “friend.” But I wasn’t being smart about everything either, so I ended up losing time, and that’s the most valuable thing in all of this. Because you can’t get it back.
RubyHornet: What’s something you would have done differently?
Qwazaar: From the period of about 2007 till 2010 I would’ve chosen a different management agency. Never choose a management company with a name like “Steal Your Money Agency!” You can’t do any of this all by yourself, so you gotta choose your team wisely. Don’t trust people automatically just ‘cause they’re your friends, and don’t just assume they’re gonna do all the work for you.
RubyHornet: Do you feel better about where you’re at now?
Qwazaar: I would never say I’m content just because I’m always hungry for more. When I look at what’s out there, I know that we are just as worthy of big numbers as anyone else. I’m a realist, but I still want to reach higher levels. I do recognize that I am successful though. In 2001 I was like, “man I wish I could go travel somewhere.” And now it’s 2011 and I’ve performed in pretty much every U.S. State, plus Europe and Africa, and I’ve sold units and got royalty checks. That’s been my mission ever since high school, to try and take this music as far as I could. Looking at my life ten years later I think I’ve accomplished that. Now I’m looking at 2011 as the starting point for the next decade to build something even bigger.
RubyHornet: So what’s in your plans?
Qwazaar: One strategy is to work on more projects with European artists, that way I can have more reach overseas. And for this new Bat Meets Blaine album, we just finished the “Eye in the Sky” video, and we’re working on a video for the song “I Know.” These days you need visuals for everything, so the videos for “If It Seems Wrong,” “Surrealism,” “Shake,” and “I’m Gone” will take a little longer ‘cause I want them to be super proper! Last week we dropped the Dirty Digital “Digi-Tape Side B” (now available on itunes). And we also just recorded eight songs for the new Typical Cats album that I’m really excited about! We did a reunion show in Pomona, CA last night and it was poppin! They made us feel like celebrities! Well at least for a little while, then it was back to Daddy Day Care.
Qwazaar lives with his 3 year old daughter Jovie in Los Angeles.
Mike Treese is a contributing writer and staff member of RubyHornet.com as well as part of the Hip Hop group, Mass Hysteria.