Queens, NY, native Yak Ballz has always been about creating opportunities where others saw none. As a young aspiring artist he linked up with the legendary Bobbito Garcia by working at his store, Bobbito’s Footwork. This led to Yak releasing his first piece of music, Home Piss, on Bobbito’s Fondle Em Records in 1999. Since then Yak has positioned himself as an important voice in the world of independent Hip-Hop, releasing music with Definitive Jux, Eastern Conference, Traffic and with the release of Scifentology II earlier this year, Flospot Records. Never being one to following trends, Yak refers to his music as “something outside the box and a little bit left,” adding “it’s not your normal run of the mill Hip-Hop. If you’re looking for something futuristic, then maybe this is something that you can get into.” Wanting to know more, RapReviews caught up with Yak Ballz to discuss Scifentology II, his unique partnership with Scifen clothing, and whatever happened to the concept of keeping it real.

Adam Bernard: We have to start with the most obvious question, how the heck did you end up with the name Yak Ballz?
Yak Ballz: {*laughs*} It was a joke. The name was given to me by one of my friends, his name is Dage, his real name is Angelo Baque, and he dubbed me Yak one day when I was working in Bobbito’s Footwork. He just called me Yak, my real name is Yash and he was like your name is Yak from now on because he just refused to call me Yash. Bobbito said my name on the radio one time and he and Stretch were making a joke out of it and it kind of stuck. Bob used to leave me messages on the answering machine at Footwork and he’d call me Yak Ballz and it was funny and we would just play it back over and over again. It was the kind of thing where it was a running joke that ended up sticking and when it came time to put out Home Piss Bob was like “wouldn’t it be ill if your name was Yak Ballz on Fondle Em Records?” I said fuck it, yeah, let’s do it.

“I just feel like it’s something that most people don’t do in terms of music and where we went with the instrumentation and the beats.”

AB: Tell me a little bit about Scifentology II and what makes it unique from all the other albums that have come out this year.
YB: I really feel like it’s unique in the sense that it’s very concept driven. It’s not a concept album but every song really has an idea and there was a plan and a strategy for every song. Before we went into making it I really worked out a lot of the kinks. I edited and rewrote a lot of stuff and made sure that this was something that was complete. The full on effort went into it, it wasn’t just like thrown together, and I really feel like that in itself is something that kind of differentiates it from most records nowadays because they just don’t feel very cohesive. Other than that I just feel like it’s something that most people don’t do in terms of music and where we went with the instrumentation and the beats. It’s not regular boom bap, it’s progressive.

AB: When I put it on it definitely stood out.
YB: And that was the goal. I didn’t want it to sound like another rap album because I’ve done that already. I wanted to spread my proverbial wings as an artist and try something new. It’s not necessarily new to me because this is the direction I’ve grown in, so it’s not like I’m just trying something and it doesn’t fit, it’s something that really, to me, fits and it works.

AB: Speaking of comfort, you’ve collaborated with Scifen clothing. This is an interesting move because back in the day linking up with a brand would have potentially given an artist the dreaded “sell out” label. In what ways do you feel we’ve advanced past that?
YB: Well, maybe we haven’t advanced past that, but where I went with it was thinking about the whole Rawkus and Ecko thing and that time in independent Hip-Hop. That idea of branding was so pivotal and it played such a major role because Rawkus was such a huge influence on the world of indie Hip-Hop. When they cross promoted with Ecko it kind of legitimized both parties as look, this is Hip-Hop and these are facets of Hip-Hop that can’t be denied; the music, the branding, the clothing, it’s all Hip-Hop and it should be paid attention to. That’s what they really focused on and I think that with Scifentology myself, Scifen, Flospot and Ewok One, we all kind of put all of our ideas together and said this what it was gonna be and this was what it was gonna materialize into. It’s something that really hasn’t been done quite like we’ve done it. I mentioned Rawkus and Ecko, but they never really took it to the level that we’ve taken it to where Scifen is super involved, Ewok did the artwork, Flospot Records is a completely homegrown indie label and then myself obviously spearheading the whole operation. I really felt like it was really super unique and fun and different and it was something that I really wanted to move forward with and I think I’ve succeeded in making something that’s pretty special.

AB: And now Ecko is using the kids from High School Musical.
YB: Yeah, which is crazy. People might say that’s selling out but Ecko, that animal has just taken on a new form. It’s not what it used to be and that’s what I was saying before, that this is the alternative to all that.

“That’s a good point, man. Keeping it real has been lost. […] It’s crazy because I get criticized for keeping it real. “

AB: Do you feel rap artists clung too much to the ideology of “keeping it real” back in the day, or, seeing what’s happening to the genre now, did they not cling hard enough?
YB: I think that’s a great question. That’s a good point, man. Keeping it real has been lost. And you wonder what happened to keeping it real, really, because is anybody keeping it real anymore? It’s crazy because I get criticized for keeping it real. My record is super subjective, it might be emotional at times, it might reflect some thoughts and opinions that I have that people might be scared to say, so in that sense me keeping it real is completely out of left field. People are like WHOA, and it’s not keeping it real anymore, it’s like this dude is buggin, he’s lost his mind trying to do some shit that is straight up nonconformist Hip-Hop. Keeping it real now is like, it’s completely been lost. Really, the point I’m trying to make is exactly what you said, they just never held on to it and never really held on to the true meaning of keeping it real.

AB: Which is being true to oneself.
YB: Yeah, being true to oneself, exactly! That was what it was all about from the beginning and that was what independent Hip-Hop was about from the gate and now even independent Hip-Hop is taking this fork and it’s like they’re even trying to emulate and be something that they might not necessarily have been in the past, or maybe just trying to be a commercial rapper when there are a million Jadakisses and 50 Cents and Papooses, there’s a million copycats, so it’s like where do you stand in this world, in this independent Hip-Hop game?

“RapReviews.com, you guys cover a bunch of stuff, but there’s many different websites that aren’t gonna cover the new Young Jeezy album.”

AB: You just led into my next question perfectly. Everybody’s saying how now is a great time to be independent with major label sales being so low, but I can’t help but notice the gap between mainstream and underground is only getting larger. With indie sales being up shouldn’t that gap have closed off?
YB: I think the major difference between indie Hip-Hop and major label Hip-Hop is that indie Hip-Hop does not use the formula. The formula being what everyone in commercial Hip-Hop thinks they need to do to be successful. Hey, it might be what I need to do to be successful, but I choose not to do it because that’s not keeping it real to myself and not keeping true to myself. So now the gap has been blown wide open because independent Hip-Hop realized that they don’t really need to do what commercial Hip-Hop is doing in order to be successful, but you still have a handful of people doing independent Hip-Hop that are straight up flooding it with, for lack of a better phrase, wannabe commercial Hip-Hop and that’s really where we’re at right now.

There are still people that want to go to shows, there are still people who want to read up on the subculture of Hip-Hop and that movement might be growing. Really I feel like independent Hip-Hop is just being covered more in the press and being written about, so that might also be something that took it and sort of blew it up but on another level because commercial Hip-Hop is in different press mediums. Rarely do you ever see commercial Hip-Hop and independent Hip-Hop being covered within the same context and that’s because the press mediums are different and there’s a lot of different mediums now. RapReviews.com, you guys cover a bunch of stuff, but there’s many different websites that aren’t gonna cover the new Young Jeezy album, but they will cover the new Aesop Rock.

AB: Yeah, definitely. I wrote for Elemental for over two years…
YB: And what a great fuckin publication Elemental was. I loved that magazine and I was friends with both the editors, Mike Cusenzo and Mike Piroli. That was one magazine that I felt like, maybe towards the end they started going in the commercial direction, but they never really veered away from the homegrown, independent Hip-Hop scene and that was why I loved that magazine. I think that same idea is being applied to so many different websites right now and that right there is the reason why independent Hip-Hop is allowed to grow in the press. That plays a huge part.

AB: Finally, if you had a typical major label contract in front of you right now would you sign it?
YB: I may. I really don’t think that I can honestly say that I wouldn’t sign a major label contract if I was able to still be me and able to still make the type of music that I strive to make, which is timeless music. Look at Gnarls Barkley. In any other context they’d be an indie band, but they’ve received commercial success