Whether it’s been as a solo artist, or as a duo with DJ Zeph, Azeem has always been one of the West Coast’s most extraordinary emcees. He can make a listener laugh, cry and even shake their soul with his Nostradamus-like predictions. Azeem’s latest album, a solo effort titled Air Cartoons, is due out August 15th on Oaklyn Records, and this week RapReviews sat down with him to discuss the project, his thoughts on internet thugs, and the feeling he gets inside when he senses what’s going to happen in the future.
Adam Bernard: You have the new album, Air Cartoons, coming out later this month, but I hear when you started it you didn’t think it was a project that was going to be released.
Azeem: I didn’t because it’s a brand new label and with the way that the record industry is right now it’s like if you haven’t been in the game for a good ten years it’s just gonna be a Rubik’s Cube of mysteries and fuckery and I just didn’t think that they would figure out the whole matrix of it. I agreed to do the record because there was an advance involved and as I was finishing it I was starting to see that I had underestimated them. They’re doing a great job and it’s like one of the best labels I’ve been on. So yeah, I’m surprised to see it just as much as you are and I think that the attitude that I had in making the record like “eh, this probably won’t even come out” freed me up in a way to where it came out to be a real different record than one that I would normally put out.
AB: Other than doing this for yourself what else is different?
Azeem: I didn’t really censor myself the way I usually do, and also the choice of music. Some of the music on there is kind of bugged out; it’s not necessarily the type of beats that I would even come across. You can tell the ones that I picked, they’re more Hip-Hop sounding, those are the ones that I brought to the table. Then there were other ones that the label had and were like “we want you to be on this, can you do it?” And I’m like, yeah, I’ll rock to anything! That’s how I felt, so that was the attitude the whole time. There was no pressure in it for me and it was real liberating, man. It felt real good.
AB: I love the artwork, too.
Azeem: That was another place where they stepped up and they found Ezra, I mean they knew who he was but they met with him and made it happen. It’s an original painting and we have it hanging up in the office.
AB: And that’s something you don’t get if you illegally download it.
Azeem: Yeah, that and the lyrics are inside, too.
“What I realized is that my stuff goes over people’s heads a lot.”
AB: That’s something I appreciate because so few MCs put their lyrics… well, so few MCs SHOULD put their lyrics in there, but yeah, so few MCs put their lyrics in their anymore and talk about a craft where we want to know what you’re talking about.
Azeem: Exactly. Especially for me. What I realized is that my stuff goes over people’s heads a lot. Even though I’m not trying to be deep or anything like that somehow it happens, so for it to be written down is a lot better. People can really go on that journey and follow along with the words that I’m saying because we also forget that our records go overseas and even to other parts of the US where our accents and our slang doesn’t hit you right off. I can see how it could go over certain people’s heads, so all my albums from now on are going to have the lyrics in there.
AB: Why did choose Air Cartoons as the name of the album? Why did you feel this was the song that most represented what you’re trying to say with this project?
Azeem: Not at all. I had the album title before I had the song. It’s not like the classic where that song with the title sums up the album. Air Cartoons, for me that’s what I like to think that I’m doing. I’m not rapping, these are Air Cartoons. For me it’s like I like to see it like I’m drawing imagery in the air, like people can see my words. It’s just something I came up with, they’re not lyrics, or rappin, they’re Air Cartoons.
AB: I see you have on track with Zeph on there, too. You released a project with him last year. How does Air Cartoons, as an album, differ from that album?
Azeem: Oh man, the Zeph and Azeem project is a lot more focused. We have a particular sound that we’re running with which is kind of like a reggae / Latin up-tempo Hip-Hop sort of thing all blended together. With those sounds, with those drum sounds and those reggae horns and the bass lines and the things that Zeph and I worked with, that we’re locked into, those sounds kind of demand a certain majesty, a certain level of lyricism or songwriting that doesn’t really lend itself to be braggadocios like that, although “Play The Drum” was one of our big singles and that was kind of braggadocios. Most of the stuff I do with Zeph are real songs, especially the newer stuff. They’re songs, they’re not just raps, and they stand like that. With Air Cartoons it’s a lot freer, it’s literally what the title says, it’s bugged out animation that’s going on in my head. It’s unchecked. Whatever popped up went down to the page.
AB: So one is a free thought album while the other a focused album, but it’s still you both times.
Azeem: Yeah, exactly. You’re just getting more of the person and the artist’s personality which at the end of the day I’ve discovered after all this time is really the most important thing because if you can get your personality across and people like it then you’re gonna win. It doesn’t matter how dope of a lyricist or an MC you are, if you don’t have any personality then people aren’t gonna ride for you, they’re not gonna resonate with you, you’re not gonna be a hero to them.
AB: I’m glad that you mentioned personality because I want to bring up the second edition of “I’m Wac,” which is hilarious. My favorite line is “Internet thug / I’ll chat a do-rag off a cat.” Lemme tell you, I don’t even mess with message boards because I know way too many message board people who think that being a tough guy on a message board makes them “the man” in reality.
Azeem: Exactly. In their small world they are. “Ooh I just cussed out this guy in Arizona and told him I’d blow his house up cuz I’m crippin.” They say that. It’s funny.
“I was like great, I love this hate mail. It’s refreshing. Thank you.”
AB: I have entire message boards that have people that dedicate their time to hating me. My feeling is they know my name, but I don’t know theirs.
Azeem: It was the same thing with me when I was on a big YouTube thing and I had all those videos up. There were so many haters on some real Klan shit and on some “I’m gonna kill you when you come to my town.” I loved it. I was like great, I love this hate mail. It’s refreshing. Thank you. I’m glad that I’m pushing people’s buttons and it’s getting all the way out to wherever Hicksville is, it’s getting there, too.
AB: Is there a relief for you when you do a song like “I’m Wac,” like, man it feels good to get that off my chest?
Azeem: There’s a relief every time that I can do a song that has a concept to it because it takes it a little bit further. With “I’m Wac,” which is probably going to be a recurring theme on my records, it’s a way to let out that comedy side and it’s in a way where I’m just making fun of myself. Well, really I make fun of myself subtly to the cats out there who are really doing the things I’m saying, but I’m just putting it all onto myself and it’s just a reminder to myself and to everybody in Hip-Hop to not always take yourself so seriously or you’ll lose touch with people.
AB: As an artist what have you learned about yourself from album to album?
Azeem: If you’re a true artist you’re not trying to force anything, and really it’s all just me discovering myself. There have been things that have come out of my mind onto paper that I didn’t even know I knew. It’s weird. It’s just like running around in your own mind you discover so many little things and corners, little treasures, little memories or observations you never really paid attention to. So all of my albums are me discovering myself through the process of writing. At least that’s one of the subtle sub things that exist. That’s what I try to explain to people that hear me for the first time that if you get an opportunity to download or steal all of my records then you’ll get an idea of who Azeem is as an artist. At least if you like one of the records then go back and go through some of the other ones, too, so it will all click and make sense. I constantly make references, like “I’m Wac Pt. 2,” I’m constantly referencing my other works within my works so it is all kind of like one piece of a person. That’s why all of my album titles have been two words; Garage Opera, Craft Classic, Air Cartoons, they’re all one big epic saga that you could listen to in different parts and in different orders.
AB: You are known as a Nostradamus of sorts. Some of the things you said on Craft Classic back in 2001 ended up happening. Have you ever had a moment where your clairvoyance scared you?
Azeem: No, it’s never like that. Those sort of things, and I’m not trying to run around and say like oh I’m some psychic dude or anything like that, but I definitely feel like I’m in tune with the ethers and whenever anything like that happens it’s always very natural and it always feels like it’s a part of you, like it’s your own voice and it’s coming from within you. It’s never scary. If anything things like that have happened and it’s made me almost cry, it’s welled my eyes up with water. It’s sort of like being kissed by an angel. When things like that happen that are hard to explain to other people but you know it happened, like you have a real solid clairvoyant moment, it can really tear you up because it’s like a glimpse at the possibilities and a glimpse at infinity and all those things are unknown and yet you feel comfortable with it. It can actually be a really emotional, touching experience… if you’re a little bitch! Nah I’m just kidding.
AB: Do you have any bold predictions for our upcoming presidential election?
Azeem: It’s funny because I really have to fall back because I was convinced that it was Hillary no matter what because she went to the Bilderberg meetings. They had her on film leaving the Bilderberg meeting so I was like well it’s a wrap, no matter what it’s gonna be Hillary, but she’s bowing out. Unless her predication that Barack might get assassinated in June comes through she’s bowing out, so now it’s down to McCain and Obama and I’ll say this, either another cataclysm, 9/11 type of thing, is gonna jump off to mess all of this up, I’m saying that’s a possibility, or Barack might actually be in there. It doesn’t necessarily matter, though, because the agenda is what it is. I believe that his vice president, who he said would be his vice president, is the founder of the Council of Foreign Affairs, he’s the main cat from the Council of Foreign Affairs, which is basically high level Illuminati shit, so it’s not like much is gonna change, but what is good is that even if Barack Obama doesn’t go any further the best part of this is the inspiration and the fact that young brothers can look and see for the first time wow, maybe I really can be anything I want to be. For young brothers to see something like this, it’s the same things as Mandela. Not much changed in South Africa when Mandela became president, unfortunately, because things were already set the way they were, business is business, but the inspiration that it gave to people is priceless.