Locksmith is known in the Bay Area as one of the best battle emcees around. In 2003 he was one of the finalists in an MTV battle that landed him on national TV, he’s been featured at NYC’s venerable End Of the Weak, and he’s currently working with the freestyle battle network Grind Time. Battling, however, isn’t the only thing Locksmith is about. Currently he’s working on his solo debut with Left, who is his partner in rhyme from his group Frontline, and producer E-A-Ski. This week RapReviews caught up with Locksmith to find out more about his music, how he plans on avoiding the wack album curse that afflicts the vast majority of battle rappers, and how his half black – half Persian background affects both his music and his worldview.
Adam Bernard: Battle rappers, historically, make terrible albums. Tell me, how are you going to sidestep this landmine?
Locksmith: That’s never been a problem for me. My mind state going into a battle, or going into a freestyle competition, is totally different. Even within that there are so many different levels. You can have battle emcees that do it live where you’re battling an opponent, then you have battles emcees like a KRS-One who can battle you on a record and he’s also a dope artist, as well. I guess it’s just kind of my mind state and what I grew up on and also working with a veteran like E-A-Ski, and even my partner Left, my mind state has always been on being an artist and a songwriter and being a complete artist, so to me it’s never been a problem. I’ve never had a problem with separating the two and knowing the boundaries of one another.
AB: Have you ever had an opponent in a battle take something you said a little too personally? I know you have to have at least one or two horror stories.
L: You know what, it’s different when you’re in a more organized arena, then people kind of know we’re here to freestyle, we’re here to battle, but I’ve had times where things have gotten out of hand. People get personal, a lot of people are sore losers and they kinda get up in your face, they don’t want to let it go. I’ve had times where I’ve done more unorganized battles where it’s just been like we’re in a room, or we’re on the street, and it almost came to blows cuz people were so upset. I’ve never had nothing that was too severe, but I’ve had times when we were up in people’s faces and they were up in our faces and it got to that point where it was like hey, we’re getting a little too aggressive.
AB: Tell me about what you’re working on now because I know you have a project that you’re either completing or has been completed.
L: I’m working on my first solo album with producer E-A-Ski and my partner Left. The album is called Frank The Rabbit. It’s based on my persona and the Donnie Darko character, but it’s me internalizing it and putting my own thoughts and my own twist on it and how I view the world and the music industry and everything. It’s me exposing what I feel needs to be said right now in the world, period. I have a few songs that I put out on the internet and a few videos that are being received very well, and the more I’m putting it out the more it’s getting bigger and bigger, so I’m just really focused on getting that done and taking each step by step. I may even release an EP, or a street album, kind of a teaser, for download through my site because I’ve been getting a big response out here and I just want to spread it and with the technology and the convenience of the internet you can get your music out there so everybody can hear it. I get people hitting me from all over, especially because of the battles. That’s another thing about using the battles and having things on YouTube, you get people from all over, so now I’m getting more and more traffic and it’s exposing people to my music, it’s bringing people into my world.
AB: I’ve noticed in many of your videos a lot of people are wearing a shirt with the letters IMGMI on it. What’s that stand for?
L: That’s Infared Music Group Gangsta Music Incorporated. That’s the music company that I’m signed to that was founded by E-A-Ski. He’s worked a lot of big names, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Naughty By Nature, Jay-Z, pretty much everybody, and I’ve been working closely with him. That’s the company. That’s what I represent.
AB: What do you think is going to draw people to your music?
L: The sincerity and the realness, and it’s just a different approach. I have no choice but to be sincere and to be brutally honest about everything that I’m doing and my music is going to reflect that. The production is gonna reflect that, the lyrics and the content are gonna reflect that. And I don’t mean like I gotta be real, or I gotta be this hard dude, it’s about making myself vulnerable, too, because any person that’s human is vulnerable at certain stages and people can identify with that.
AB: You’re of African-American and Persian descent. How does having such a unique ethnic background affect and influence your work?
L: It has a huge effect. I tell people like this, I’m black and I’m Persian, but culturally I’m black. Even though my mother and father both have a huge influence on me I was raised culturally black here in Richmond, which is an urban “hood” area, but at the same time I was exposed to other cultures and other things because I’m Muslim, as well. I also graduated from college and have been exposed to all kinds of cultures. All that plays a part, it gives a person a wider horizon of things to talk about. It diversifies my subject matter. I had a song called “Backpack” that was on the last Frontline album and I kind of expanded on it on my solo album. It’s about growing up bi-racial, or from different ethnic backgrounds, and dealing with that in the hood and dealing with that in society and how black people view me and how Persian and all different types of ethnic backgrounds view me, so it has a huge part in my music.
AB: And I’m guessing you keep a much closer eye on what’s going on in the Middle East than a lot of folks might.
L: Definitely, definitely. A lot of the music and a lot of the subject matter… I never labeled myself as a conscious rapper, or a Hip-Hop rapper, I just do what I feel and I love all kinds of music, but I’m even critical of those kinds of rappers because I feel like people are doing things that are just for show. When I talk about the Middle East, or politics, it’s going to be my real point of view. I’m not saying what I think people want to hear about those issues, or “we should say this about this because that’s what’s safe to say and I’ll be considered conscious.” No, I’m saying what I really feel. I don’t know what you want to call it. The conscious rappers may not like it. I don’t know who’s gonna like it, but I feel like it’s the truth.
AB: Can you give us your thoughts on the Middle East and Iran and what’s going on there?
L: I know America and the west, it’s kind of like this campaign now because America is saying Iran is a terrorist state and they support terrorism and blah blah blah. Honestly, my honest feeling is that America is acting like a terrorist right now because they’re the ones going into these other countries and what we call terrorism they call “going in” and “diplomacy.” If you go into Afghanistan and you’re sending more troops into Afghanistan, civilians are dying, that’s terrorism, too. These people have no choice but to fight back and Iran is just saying we don’t support this Western, capitalist, global view that you have of trying to “modernize” these other countries. What’s wrong with them doing what they do? America’s inflicting their views and how they think society should be and you know America has economic interest in these different countries, so once America gets in and they plant their flag you know that it was economically based and they have those interests involved. So I feel like Iran, when they support these different groups, and I’m not saying support terrorism and kill innocent people AT ALL, because I’m totally against that, but I do believe that Iran is one of the last few Islamic states that are acting independent from the Western world and that’s a threat to any country that wants to globalize the world. That’s my view on that.
AB: And that is definitely an honest view.
L: That’s just my view. What you consider terrorism, we get this view, and we look at the media and the media is completely skewed because you have sponsors, you have people that are controlling the media because the media, if you’re looking at NBC, CBS, they all have to have commercial sponsors and a certain thing has to be put out and America has interest in all those things, so they can’t go against their interests, so we’re getting a skewed view. The rest of the world may have a very different view of America than we have ourselves. We know that. A lot of countries are pissed off. Then we get a black president who is kinda put into office, because we all know that if you’re a president and you have to run for president, whoever is financing that, they have an agenda, so it looks good to have this black face on what’s going on right now, because the rest of the world can identify with that, but it still doesn’t change the deeds that America’s doing, how they’re kinda pillaging the rest of the world, and that’s why we have a bad worldview right now.