Foci Talks "Original Content," Teaching and More
Thu, 10 Feb 2011 15:25:17
There's a big void in modern hip hop.
In fact, the genre feels like it's divisively split between two opposing extremes. On one end of the spectrum, there's the hipster rap scene that's often too cool for school and completely shrouded in ego. On the other side, there's the tried-and-true gangsta rap formula, locked and loaded with club bangers but without much of a message in sight. That's why rap could really use Foci…
The Southern California rapper has got an arsenal of razor sharp rhymes that are as intelligent as they are inviting. He blends a true street grit with a cultivated message that's both accessible and thought-provoking. In fact, on his latest offering, Original Content, Foci delivers deep, erudite rhymes with infectious melodies and real soul. He's got what it takes to change the game, and this album is proof.
Foci sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about Original Content, how he balances teaching and rapping and so much more.
Did you aim to tell stories with Original Content?
It was definitely one of my intentions. I'm big on lyrics, and I want to relay a message with any song that I create. Every song tends to have its own theme, story, and purpose. I try to stay away from reinventing the same material in each track. I have a variety of life experiences, and that gives me no shortage of things to write about, so to speak [Laughs].
Do you tend to freestyle a lot or are do you write everything out?
It's a little bit of both. I wanted Original Content to set the tone for whatever project I do from this point onward. I find myself randomly writing tidbits about something that'll cross my mind, or I'll listen to an instrumental track a ton and go over it multiple times to the point where I'm actually desensitized to it. Then, I try to become a bit more challenging with the actual words that I put forth. I strive to create something along the lines of intellectual hip hop that really makes people think much deeper than they normally would when they hear a song. I try not to go down the path that almost everybody else goes down in terms of speaking about street situations and give it a different aspect. I didn't get dumped into a gang. Living in L.A., you tend to know people that are like that. You run into them, go to school with them, or they're your friends. I want to try to be innovative while encouraging people to think about things in a different format and way. I bring that street element into it though which makes it understandable for a wider body of people.
It's accessible to a larger audience that way.
I feel like there's an absence of real lyrical hip hop that speaks to the music and a different crowd. I'm a high school teacher, and I find myself trying to take things from the classroom and put them into my music. I do want my content to reflect what I've been through and that which I feel others can learn from without being contrived. I just want to do it by being my own person and doing what I feel is right by myself and those close to me.
"Exitus" really stands out. What's the story behind that track?
"Exitus" is Latin for "The End." It's the final exit. Track number one is "Initium," seven is "Medius," and "Exitus" is thirteen. I wanted to set the tone for the next release, and I wanted to make it very clear that I don't feel an obligation to prove anything to anybody. It's more for myself. I've experienced some pretty bad situations in my life, but instead of dwelling on the negativity of the past, it's really about trying to learn from your mistakes and seeing how you're going to apply it to your future. Essentially, that was the whole meaning of that track. I try to shed light on situations but look at the moral of what I've been through at the same time and apply it accordingly to better myself.
What fosters the visual sensibility in your music? Do you tend to read or watch a lot of movies? What are your influences outside of music?
I think the landscape of Pasadena is important. There are the palm trees and Old Town with its economic strength in contrast with Northwest Pasadena and the struggle that's going on. It goes down to our school district, which is having its own situations and problems with enrollment because there are more private schools than public schools. More students tend to go to those private schools. I take everything that see. I work about eleven and a half hours a day, five days a week, so it's very hard for me to find leisure time between working, music, and shows. I recently started watching more movies though. I'm allowing that to influence me a bit. I do read a lot. I keep up to date with current events in the news. I try to stay educated and in the loop of everything going on and put that into my music.
What are some of your favorite books?
Growing up, it was William Shakespeare and a lot of things based on poetry. I was into Edgar Allan Poe. Catch 22 was an incredible book. It reminds me of things I've been through and trying to figure out a solution to a problem, but sometimes that solution can actually be a problem in and of itself. It's about trying to determine the lesser of two evils. It's tough to find time between grading assignments and music [Laughs].
Does teaching impact your music?
Definitely! You look to your parents for guidance when you're growing up, but some people are not as fortunate. A lot of the kids I deal with aren't. They have parents that are in jail, have passed away due to violent crime, or have totally left them band. It's all different walks of life. Some are foster kids. I see the end result of what a lack of education can do to a family. Some of these kids don't quite understand the correlation. I try to have them think critically. It's not so much that there's a right or wrong, it's about understanding why things are the way they are. In my class, it's more than simply speaking on technology. It's speaking on how you would use it to your advantage, how does it affect your life? With my music, I also try to bring that in to open minds. To a certain extent, media raised a lot of us, especially kids who grew up in the '70s and '80s. We had Sesame Street, PBS, and after school specials. I don't see that much anymore. I see a heavy emphasis on popular culture being pushed onto these kids and they take it. These kids will take whatever is thrown on them. I feel it's a disservice. I feel like anyway I can give them an alternative to what's out there is what I should do.
Which artists shaped you?
Peter Tosh tends to be the guy I fall back on. He's probably my main influence. In terms of hip hop, I'd have to say Public Enemy, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Guilty Simpson, Sean Price, and a slew of artists I take things from. Peter Tosh is the man!
Have you heard Foci yet?
For more on Foci check out his web site here!
He's playing The Roxy with KRS-One on February 12 too! Don't miss it!