A lot of interviews start off with flowery intros about how an artist is from a gritty area, or is speaking about something socially conscious in their music. Usually those intros are so flowery to mask the hidden truth that in reality some of those artists are pretty dang boring. This is not the case with OneBeLo. No flowery intro is needed here, just the facts regarding the Binary Star member who is currently living in Egypt and who, in addition to his work on the microphone, speaks at prisons and lectures at schools. Interested? So were we, which is why we sat down with OneBeLo this week to find out more.
Adam Bernard: I know you are a multifaceted individual, but let’s start by talking about your new album, The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. In what ways do you feel you are being reborn?
OneBeLo: I always try to use some kind of symbolism, but basically the feeling that I had when I was 15, 16, writing rhymes, it wasn’t about no politics back then, it wasn’t about who was producing my beats, it wasn’t about my crew or who was putting the record out, or Soundscans, it was just the whole idea of being an MC and writing rhymes because I love that shit. Whether I had studio time or not I just did it because that’s what I was and I had to capture that. This is about me just being the best artist I can be. I don’t want to say I’m starting over, but there are a lot of things that are new in my life that are affecting the way I write rhymes. For example, me having a studio in my basement, or me moving to Egypt. This is also the first time I’m doing an album after having a release on a record label, so there are a lot of things new about what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it.
“I do two months in Egypt then come back here and go on tour and then I’ll go back to Egypt for a month or two.”
AB: I can’t let ya gloss over the Egypt thing. Are you there full time? Are you calling me from Cairo right now?
OneBeLo: No, no, no. I’m in Michigan right now, but I do two months in Egypt then come back here and go on tour and then I’ll go back to Egypt for a month or two. Now I’m in States mode.
AB: What made you choose Egypt out of all the possible places to have a second home?
OneBeLo: It was a combination of me just wanting to get out of the country, period, it’s inexpensive to live over there, it’s a Muslim country, it’s a major metropolis in the Middle East and I just see it as a huge learning experience for me and my kids. I see it as a huge opportunity to experience something different. Growing up in Pontiac, Michigan, a lot of people here are closed minded when it comes to a lot of things. I’m already exposed to different things traveling every single day and I figured let me start my kids off now. We live in Egypt now, I might go to Sweden next, or I might be in Paris. I’m just trying to get my family used to traveling and speaking other languages and meeting different types of people and having a perception of the world that’s not just American. It’s a valuable experience.
AB: Was it hard to find a realtor? How did you go about getting property in Egypt?
OneBeLo: Well that’s the thing. Me personally, I’m a people person, so with you being in Connecticut, if you told me yo Lo come out to Connecticut, I got you, that’s enough for me to come out to Connecticut and then when I get there I want to make shit pop. So it’s not me just showing up out of nowhere, I’m a stranger, I don’t know anybody. I got friends out there. I got friends all over the world, so anytime that I know people in a certain place and I have the opportunity to go check it out I’m gonna go check it out. When I got out there I just started looking around for different apartments. To get a brand new apartment out there you put like $600 down and get a three year lease. My rent is like $100 a month out there for a three bedroom apartment with two bathrooms. I can do it, so why not?
“This ain’t about Pontiac, Michigan, and me loving Hip-Hop no more. This is about me taking a world stage and having a world message.”
Who knows, we might be there another three years, we might be there another three months, but we got to take the kids to see the pyramids and meet some different people and learn some new languages, then we’re gonna go to the next spot. Lately in my travels I’ve been paying closer attention to people and cultures, not just my own people and my own culture, but how we all live together in peace and harmony or not, so I’m starting to recognize that my audience is bigger and it’s not just bigger as far as size, but there’s a lot of Latinos listening to my music now so I try to get up on my Mexican and Cuban and Puerto Rican history. There’s a lot of Asian people who listen to my music, there’s a lot of Indian and Pacific Island people who listen to my music, there’s a lot of African kids and Arab kids, a lot of Muslims, a lot of skateboarders, so I’m all about culture now and in my spare time I’m reading books, I’m studying different cultures and religions, I’m meeting people, I’m going places and it’s affecting the way I write. This is what I mean by The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. I’m recognizing that I’m not just a rapper no more. This ain’t about Pontiac, Michigan, and me loving Hip-Hop no more. This is about me taking a world stage and having a world message.
AB: In the title of the album there are periods in-between each letter. What does R.E.B.I.R.T.H. stand for?
OneBeLo: Real Emcees Bring Intelligent Rhymes To Hip-Hop.
AB: Earlier in your career you went from being OneManArmy to OneBeLow, which was also a rebirth of sorts. How many rebirths would you say you’ve gone through and how many more do you have left in you?
OneBeLo: I don’t want to answer with a question, but I’m gonna answer it like this; how many times have you felt like I know my purpose now, but then a year later you’re like alright I really really know now? I think it just happens with experience, knowledge comes in stages and with every stage comes a new understanding about myself and about my purpose and why I’m here, so I see my style change and I’ve added different things to my arsenal whether it’s storytelling, wordplay, or patterns. Now you’re working with different producers, now you understand business on a different level, now you know how to market yourself a little better, now you know how to express different feelings. It just comes with each new experience. It has an impact on me where I try to apply it. I think that aside from just saying I have a new vision I think that you can also recognize a change in the sound. I think before I was kind of nonchalant like yeah, I’m doing my thing, but now I recognize a newfound hunger. Some of the beats are a little more aggressive, too, because some of the shit that I’m talking about is a little more aggressive.
AB: You do some interesting work outside of recording music, including speaking in schools, sitting on panels, conducting workshops, lecturing. When you do these things what points are you looking to get across? Is it always a Hip-Hop angle, or do you have other things you like to talk about and discuss?
OneBeLo: Me, personally, Hip-Hop is what I do, if you want to call it that. I don’t have to talk about Hip-Hop because the format that I bring it in is Hip-Hop. For example if I want to kick it with some kids at a school I don’t have to go in there and talk about Hip-Hop. The way that I talk to them and the way they can relate to me is in the Hip-Hop format. I can tell em what I was seeing when I was in Germany and yeah I just happened to be at a Hip-Hop show, but is it about the Hip-Hop show or is it about me meeting some German kids out there, or some African kids out there, and they were speaking French? When I sit on these panels and go into these schools I just try to talk about whatever is relevant. I’m not a historian, I don’t try to speak like I’m an authority on any subject, but for some reason people are interested in my view on certain things, so I’m expressing my view from where I come from. My overall message is just be the best person you can be. Sometimes I go to these alternative schools and juvenile facilities and because I’ve been to prison I try to give the message that just because you’re from a certain neighborhood or live a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean that you gotta be a drug dealer, or that just because you did go to prison or to juvie it doesn’t mean that you gotta stay locked up in the system forever. You can bounce back, you can be a positive person and you can have a positive impact on your community even after you did take the wrong turn in life. You don’t gotta be doomed to negativity.
“I’m always getting in at two or three in the morning [and] I can wake up at six o’clock in the morning because I ain’t hung over.”
AB: You’ve also done all of this work sans a manager or booking agent. How much sleep do you get on an average night?
OneBeLo: On the average night I probably sleep three or four hours a night. I’m always getting in at two or three in the morning and I gotta get back up at like six. People would say wow, you do well, and I would wonder why that was such a big deal, but then I realized a lot of people I know, I’m not judging them or anything, but a lot of people in this industry drink and because I don’t drink, I’m not saying that it’s that big of a deal, but most people who drink and party hard they wake up at 12, one, three the next day. I can wake up at six o’clock in the morning because I ain’t hung over.
AB: What’s left for you in terms of Binary Star?
OneBeLo: We just did a show in Minneapolis. We’ve been talking about the possibility of doing some new shit, but when you live in Egypt it’s not as easy as it used to be.
AB: Finally, what is your overall goal for your work in music?
OneBeLo: Some artists transcend the boundaries of a genre. Bob Marley did reggae music, but Bob Marley is bigger than reggae. I don’t want to be a Hip-Hop artist. Yeah I do Hip-Hop, but what I’m talking about and what I’m doing is way bigger than microphone check one, two. If you understand what I’m doing and what I’m trying to do it’s not about Hip-Hop, it’s not about baggy pants, a microphone and a studio, that’s what I do but there’s a message that’s way bigger than that.