He may have just released his debut album, but Rakaa Iriscience has been putting in work since the early ’90s. As one-third of the L.A.-based group Dilated Peoples, Rakaa, along with the crew’s resident DJ Babu and producer/MC Evidence, has been rocking rap’s underground circuit with memorable cuts like 2001’s “Worst Comes to Worst” and 2004′s “This Way” featuring Kanye West. While revered for his group work, Rakaa yearned for more creative space. Enter his first solo album Crown of Thorns.
There was no group fallout or drama, but with the jubilant-feeling lead single “Delilah,” Rakaa proves he can hold his own without relying on his band of brothers. XXLMag.com caught up with R.I. to get the scoop on his latest project.
XXLMag.com: What’s the difference between the solo Rakaa and Rakaa of Dilated Peoples?
Rakaa Iriscience: I just get to stretch more. I’m really doing what I do in Dilated but sometimes it’s hard to express everything in 16 bars, you have to think of it as a compact piece. When it’s my record, if I want to get that off in 64 bars, I can. Maybe I just want to do one little eight bar verse and let the instrumental play without feeling forced to fill it in with words. With Rakaa, it’s just my branch of the tree, but the roots are still in Dilated. So if you want that Dilated boom bap, you’re gonna get that. It’s just spiced a little different.
What inspired you to do the solo?
I just never did a solo record before. I’ve dealt with little pieces of a solo record before and they became Dilated songs or guest appearances for other people. So in this case, I just knew it was time to get the solo record started. It wasn’t going to get finished if it didn’t get started. I made records I haven’t been able to make and talked about things I haven’t really spoken about before. Evidence and Babu are family so at least one of them was always in the studio with me whether they produced the record or not. So you’re going to get that same aesthetic at a certain level.
Crown of Thorns sounds very religious. Are you getting all “Jesus Walks” on us?
[Laughs]. Crown of Thorns has to do with rays of the sun. It deals with Astrotheology, so it has to do with the heavy price of standing up for what you believe. It also deals with the various rays that you radiate so that’s all it is, just shining light.
Just to be clear, what is Astrotheology?
It just deals with religion as a metaphor for actual celestial movement. I’m not really trying to get into anything too heavy, but as an example, the sun of God would literally be the sun and the 12 disciples may be houses of the zodiac. So on and so forth. So when I say Crown of Thorns, it actually represents the sun and the thorns are the rays of the sun radiating.
What are some of the album’s stand-out songs?
Definitely “Mean Streak” produced by my man El-P, Chali 2na’s on that. I don’t know if it’s going to be a single per say, but that really deals with a whole era of the L.A. graffiti scene, a nice healthy chunk of it. “Eyes Wide” featuring my man Krondon has to do with the L.A. gang scene. You see it on TV but it’s oversimplified. Politics were a lot different, gangs looked a lot different at that certain time. Things change so I was just talking about the era that I grew up in, dealing with the L.A. gang scene in a very realistic way. Oh and a song I’m really looking forward to the people hearing is “Ambassador Slang” produced by my man DJ Honda. That’s like a big posse-cut representing a part of my life that’s important to me. But I wanted to do it in a way that was not gratuitous. I want it to shine and be a dope song.
You also put out the street single, “Aces High” and put 2010 XXL Freshman Fashawn alongside veterans like Evidence and Defari. That’s a heavy co-sign.
Yeah, well Fash’ is somebody we’ve been rolling with for awhile. Ev is really the one who brought him into the family. He was just one of those cats who is well beyond his years, his flow, the depth of his lyrics, his stage presence. So when I was able to book a tour in Europe for Evidence, Ev took him and I ended up setting up some press and promo for him. Luckily, he completely surpassed expectations. I got a call every night talking about, “This kid is an animal on stage, thank you for sending over the real.”
Dilated Peoples have been utilizing the Internet since your first album, The Platform. What is the difference between then and now? A lot of hip-hop folks used to see the Internet as corny.
Definitely, it was like if you were on the Internet you couldn’t get a print job. Just like nowadays with the record business. Back in the day, if you didn’t have a major label deal it was assumed that you weren’t good enough for one. As far as the bloggers and that whole scene, I think it’s a double-edged sword. It’s great that more people than ever have the opportunity to say what’s on their mind. At the same time, a lot of people that talk crazy and say whatever because there are no consequences. What are you going to do, beat-up a million people because they have an opinion? You just gotta take the bitter with the sweet. It’s all good, as long as you take the time to listen; I’m cool with you.
Any word on a new Dilated record?
We’re not working on one yet but we’re always blueprinting and brainstorming. The main thing is getting my project done and Evidence is finishing Cats and Dogs right now. So once he finishes, I’ll be way into my campaign and as soon as he gets the first little break we’ll start focusing on the Dilated. Also, Babu got the beat tape out and he’s probably working on the next one as we speak, banging out the beats. Yeah man, we stay busy. —David “Rek” Lee