When asked about his new album Bat Meets Blaine
, Qwazaar (of Typical Cats fame) responded with “We wanted a true album feel that left people feeling like they got a really good full meal; the perfect portions with no wildness on the plate that shouldn’t be there.” Those wise words are from a guy who lives and breathes through his craft.
Qwazaar’s passion for music began long before said album and well into his childhood. His father was rag tagging with a band called Piping Hot, and since Qwazaar didn’t take to instruments his propensity for the spoken word took flight. It’s artists like Slick Rick and Black Thought who provide him with the blueprint he has today, and through his stick-and-move delivery those patterns most certainly shine.
What separates Qwazaar from the rest is his own sense of honesty, which he illustrates from one verse to the next—whether it's a mischievous tongue-in-cheek jab or a seething tale of grime. He’s a legend here in Chicago, and although he’s relocated out West there still is something decidedly Midwest about him. Centerstage spoke with Qwazaar about his newest album and the steps it took to get there.
To start from the beginning, what was it that got you interested in hip-hop?
Well, I’ve always been into music period. My pops used to play in a band called Piping Hot, so when we were growing up we’d always have almost every type of instrument you could ask for just laying around the house. That and old mics and all that. I think I got into rhyming more because it was something that I felt I could really do. I tried playing around with a lot of the instruments but nothing really grabbed me at the time. Hearing how a cat like Slick Rick would use his words was hypnotizing. I started listening and memorizing his rhymes and writing them down and looking at them, and then started putting my own thoughts in there and I was hooked since then.
Who are some of your inspirations as an artist?
Anything fresh. As far as rhyme spitters, Black Thought, Jay Electronica, Adad. I listen to a lot of Devin the Dude. But for inspiration in general I pull from everything. Most of my content is from personal experience though. One of the main driving points for me in making music is just the anticipation of what the next song we make is gonna feel like. You never know what it’s gonna sound like, what’s it gonna do. You never know, it might be the greatest thing ever created, could be hot garbage. Probably not.
At what point did you link with Typical Cats and G4?
TC & G4 kinda all happened around the same time period in the early 2000’s. I met with the Cats from weekly visits to the University of Chicago radio show, Kid Knish and DJ Natural ran the show. Denizen went to the University with them and would check in to the show with his little brother Dave. Qwelly used to roll through with his brother Mikey. I’d be up there with my Outerlimitz crew and we’d all just roll up there to kill it in live ciphers on the show. It was crazy back then because more and more cats would start popping up just to be in the station. Trying to get on the mic or just soaking it up at one point it felt like there was 70 cats squeezing up regularly just to chill at the radio station. It was a brief but good moment in time. A lot of the other artist on the G4 roster would come through as well so we kinda all connected and heard about each other through there first.
Nurturing your craft in Chicago can be a difficult thing to do, did you have anyone here that helped you along the way?
I’ve always been a hard listener so when I first got in and started meeting cats I always found it interesting how everyone had a different take or approach to rhyming. So I always paid attention to how something I did was perceived in ciphers compared to other cats, especially the delivery. It didn’t really click to me though until I met the homie Ace G. Me and his little brother had a group so we came up under him and all went to the same school together. He had metaphors and all that but what made him different at the time was his freestyle and his flow. He could go on forever and it would be raw as hell. For us he was Juice before we knew who Juice was only with his flow, he would never stop or take a lot of breaks between bars. He just kept going. I learned how to let my words fall more naturally from watching a listening to him.
You have a new album that just dropped. Tell me how you linked with Batsauce and a little bit about how it all came together.
I first met Batsauce through a friend while out in Berlin in 2010 I believe. He produces and DJ’s for Lady Daisey. I went to check her out and found out that the beats were raw. At some point while out there we all came to the very smart conclusion that we should record together. 2 of the first beats I ever got from him were the “Chop Em All Down” beat and the “If It Seems Wrong” track. The Album’s sound was pretty much built around the feel of those two joints.
How was it working with Batsauce? Did you guys communicate often on what you were trying to achieve or did you just give each other space to breathe and do your own thing?
He’s literally right next to me now chopping up samples. Batsauce is a beast; has a million beats and just keeps coming with them. There’s was definitely a lot of communication on the beat selection for this album because we just really wanted it to feel good and thorough. There are not a lot of projects out there that sound like true albums these days. Much of the official releases sound just like mix-tapes. We wanted a true album feel that left people feeling like they got a really good full meal; the perfect portions with no wildness on the plate that shouldn’t be there.
What prompted your move from here to out west?
The change of scenery was needed. I had been through a lot of drama up to that point and had a couple of trips to LA under my belt enough to see that it wasn’t the worst place to live; a lot of good music and a good scene out here as well. Home is still home though so there’s a good chance I’ll be back sooner than later for a bit.
You’ve been invested in hip-hop for so long, what’s your take on its current direction?
There’s a part that feels the blade turn in your heart when you see the fake. But I think it’s important for cats to remember that the fake has always existed. These days there’s more access to it and it’s more visible. But cats are still painting. B-Boys are still killing. Real DJ’s do still exist and are killing it. And there are plenty of MC’s and artist out here making good music. Ain’t nothing changed in that sense. People gotta stop being lazy and go find that goodness like we all did when we was coming up.
What about here in Chicago?
Chicago is killing it. I hear some fools talking about the rap scene being dead. If the scene is dead then it’s probably because cats have been in the studio putting together bangers. Qwel, Adad, Molemen, Capital D with that project he dropped to bring in this year felt like it set everything off. Primeridian, Vakill just dropped his new where he’s killing every track literally. Chicago is on point. I see a lot of good happening. I’m glad that me and Batsauce are right on time with these projects so we can be a part of it.
Any other projects you got coming up?
Well, the Dirty Digital “Digi-Tape Side B” just dropped on Lefthouse. Me and Batsauce got the Bat Meets Blaine album up and running. I got this EP in the works with He.llsent from Outerlimitz. Also, I just finished a week long recording session with Typical Cats for this next album and we’re just about done. So hopefully that will all hit by mid-2012. For right now though it’s Bat Meets Blaine on full blast.