Whether it’s been his solo work, his work as co-founder of the legendary Freestyle Fellowship, or his Magic Heart Genies project, Myka 9 has always been at the forefront of creativity in Hip-Hop. His upcoming solo album, 1969, is named both after the year he was born and the zeal of that era. According to Myka 9, “that was when the vibe was really starting to bubble on the seeds they planted for what we consider Hip-Hop now. There was funky stuff going on around that time where everyone was being tapped in.” He adds “from then till now the full fruition of those ideas coming into practicality in our everyday life is very interesting to me.” Myka 9’s work is very interesting to us at RapReviews.com, which is why we caught up with him to find out more about 1969, his thoughts on the evolution of freestyling, and what’s up with the LA Hip-Hop scene.

Adam Bernard: Your upcoming album is titled 1969 and you were born in 1969, so is there some kind of birth metaphor with the album?
Myka 9: Definitely. If you notice, the album has a definitely nostalgic sound. Most of the beats sound kind of vintage. Once me and Factor decided to do this album it took on that sort of pseudo nostalgic sort of vibe. For instance, I didn’t want to curse that much, I wanted a hint of soulfulness, a hint of an older quality. Not that we meant to do it this way, because Factor is a DJ, but there isn’t scratching on it because they were just starting to scratch in Hip-Hop back then. There weren’t any live embellishments other than the actual tracks themselves. It’s all live. I asked myself, what if somebody rapped the way I rap back in 1969? That was the goal I was trying to get, to bring up those icons, those ideals, of that era, that I knew were infused in me when I was in the womb. People like to attribute the hippie era to the 70’s whereas it really started in the 60’s, as well as that kind of soulful disco, militant, really started in the late 60’s, but then became commercial in the 70’s. No knocking any 70’s children out there, love you guys, but I was seeing afros in the late 60’s, not the 70’s. I also wanted to expand on the cross cultural aspect of it. It wasn’t just the black experience in ’69, it was the white experience, the multicultural experience, as well as that spiritual rising that was happening in ’68, ’69 and ’70. I saw how it happened and I think I got pretty close to hitting the mark when you listen to the material and the subject matter on some of that stuff, be it “Cadillac” or be it other songs with beats that are a little more bizarre and out there, like maybe “Smokey,” or “Chopper,” but even “Chopper” is written in the spirit of Easy Rider and that came out in ’69.

AB: It has a really soulful vibe. That was one of the first things I noticed about it when I listened to it. There was a groove. You weren’t yelling at me.
M9: Naw. Once we started getting into the beef of the project and we started to talk about when it might be slated for release that had a lot to do with the title. Plus I’m about to turn 40. I used to be the youngest of the youngest and now in certain circles I’m the oldest of the oldest, so that’s an interesting outlook, as well.

AB: You mentioned some of the ideals that came out during the late 60’s and that hippie era. Do you see any parallels with that era and today?
M9: Yeah, because back then it was the dawning of the age and now we’re in the age, it seems. A lot of things that were experimental have now been proven to be factual, plus now we’re dealing with the children of those hippies and the technology of those hippies. Apple computing, they were hippies. Microsoft, some of those guys were hippies back then that are now grown and have laid the framework for some of the technologies we use. Most of us are the children of that era and now we’re understanding that our parents were really dialed in, and tapped in, to some really heavy stuff and that good green now is better than ever. {laughs} I go to festivals like Lightning in a Bottle and when you think about stuff like Burning Man and Emergency, they’re like the modern day Woodstock, but they’re happening every year, so if anything the scene is growing and growing.

AB: Speaking of growing scenes, let’s take a minute to talk a little bit about your scene and Freestyle Fellowship. When you look at Freestyle Fellowship now has it exceeded all of the expectations you had when you co-founded it 20 years ago?
M9: Absolutely. The projects, the crew, it took me a lot further than I thought I’d ever go, than I thought it would ever go at the time. For people to come and tell you you’ve changed their life, that holds a lot of weight. Then for people to credit you with redefining what freestyle means in Hip-Hop, as well as going all around the world and seeing people freestyle, it’s almost to the point where they don’t even know who I am. I’ll be like “do you know what you’re doing? You’re freestyling.” “Yeah.” “You ever heard for Freestyle Fellowship?” And they’re like, “no.” {laughs} So it took on grand proportions. It got so big to where people don’t even remember who started it. Then when you help set a trend in culture you start to see it in other aspects of life. In the last few years you’ve seen freestyle everything – freestyle glucose blood testers, freestyle cars, freestyle bikes, everything’s freestyle now.

AB: So let’s talk about the art of freestyle. What happened to it? I’m hearing more and more writtens and less and less freestyles.
M9: Well, because now freestyling, especially for even the average patron, you get to a point where it’s hard to tell whether it’s freestyle or written, so the novelty is starting to wane, especially when you have other artists who shall remain nameless use the freestyle as a gimmick and they’re on stage and they’re like look at me, look at me, I’m freestyling, wow! That might have been dope in the late 80’s or the early 90’s, but now in the year 2009, c’mon dude, that’s old hat. It’s about how you project and how you come off. Plus sometimes somebody might be on stage and they might working on a new song, or performing a new song , and the crowd may not know the lyrics anyway, so if they flub a lyric then they can kinda freestyle to play it off. And again, some cats are freestyling so tough now you can’t tell the difference between the written and the free and what’s the point in spoiling it for the listener, if it is a spoiler?

AB: You obviously have the ability to do both, so what are your thoughts on writtens vs. freestyles?
M9: With a written rhyme you get a little more time to premeditate what you’re gonna think and even if you have the best freestylers that keep the subject matter, that keep the pattern, that are doing pseudo pitch changes, that are hitting progressions and stuff like that, there’s something about a well written rhyme that just takes things to another level, but there are still so many varieties to the approach and aspects of the unknown that it’s still applied. You can have a written rhyme, but you can freestyle your delivery, in other words you don’t deliver it the way it was written, or you could have a freestyle rhyme that’s just so bland that it sounds written. There are a variety of approaches. You can just freestyle write, where it’s just a stream of consciousness, when you say the word and you’re not thinking at all about what you’re saying, which is more like a channeling type of style. Then you have those freestyles where you’re freestyling about your surroundings. This is where you use breathing because within those breaths you have a little pause to think about something and/or bridge words where you’ve been freestyling so much you know this works with that, that vowel works with that consonant. So to a certain degree it becomes more mechanical, so now the goal is to stretch and sound more spontaneous and improvisational when you freestyle.

AB: Your Hip-Hop scene in L.A. is one that I think flies under the radar unless someone like Dr. Dre or The Game is on the radio every other minute. Game, who I would just like to say I dig, even credits himself for bringing California back. As someone who’s been in the Cali scene for twenty years, did the scene really ever leave?
M9: No, it never left, it’s just a matter of money and who has the label that’s gonna do all the PR and payola. And a lot of these cats in the mainstream are dope emcees, but it seems like they avoid coming to rep at Project Blowed. It seems like they avoided, back in the day, being a mainstay at The Good Life. They would come, and I dare say take a few styles, or be exposed to different styles, then they put their played out gangster lyrication on it. Now trust me when I say that, before you quote me, what I mean by played out is we’re heard enough of “it’s all good in the hood” and “nigger” and “trigger” and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been hearing that for the last 10, 15, if not 20 years. The more flavorful terminology has been lacking, as well as the different approaches. Some choose the narrative approach, some choose the objective approach. Then there’s the other end where you might think alright these freestylers don’t want the pay, or these underground artists don’t want to go mainstream. I’ve even heard some people say “they’re afraid of making money.” I beg to differ. It’s that once you’ve been an independent artist in the undercurrent of style and expression some artists, they can say if I battled so and so in the mainstream I’d serve him, but then it’s like you feel that confident, but do you feel confident enough about putting together some songs and approaching one of these major labels, or one of these major label representatives, or managers, or lawyers, and seeing how far you can really go? Only a few of us have been able to do that.

AB: Care to share a few names?
M9: I don’t like dropping names, but when I mention a name like will.i.am, who is arguably one of the most successful rappers and producers these days, not too many people know his humble beginnings came from The Good Life unless he tells them in interviews. Not too many people know that he’s still a humble guy to this day. But so far as the LA underground scene and the mainstream scene, it’s almost like it’s two different worlds and you would think in time these worlds would be able to bridge that difference, but it hasn’t happened that much. I know Dr. Dre, he knows me. I don’t go to record on studios all the time, but I’m sure I’m more than welcome. Likewise he’s more than welcome to come through to mine anytime. It’s just different levels and I dare say money is one of the differences, a certain savoir fare, a certain maturity that come with dealing with high finance that a lot of these underground and independent artists don’t seem to have. The way they carry themselves, a lot of these personalities are really radical, because some of these cats are homeless, or some of these guys are hustlin in the streets and they’re artists, whereas in the mainstream people make a living by their music and they make a good living, a lot of independent artists have to deal with paying rent late and explaining to landlords that you still want to keep the place but you’re just a little late. I think those things come into play. So it helps to have a benefactor, someone who is willing to hold you down and show you the ropes until you’re able to catch a big deal. Now, how that relates to the LA scene and bringing LA back, when Dre drops Detox in 2009…

AB: IF he drops Detox!
M9: It’s gonna happen. I can feel it. I also got some inside information. That’s really gonna bring LA back and bring Cali back, because you’ll have all these piggyback songs. Obviously we have been letting this down south thing run its course, let everybody just have that same 808 boom with that same clap, let em all eat off of that for a while. Eventually it’s gonna swing back to the west and it’s already started. Where I come in is be it east, west, north, south, what I am trying to do, and hopefully succeeding in, is establishing myself as an international personality that represents a more global view versus just the west coast, cuz I’ve done the west coast thing, or just the black experience, or the independent rap thing, or the alternative rap thing. I’ve done all that. Whatever it is they want to put out, I’m here for life and hopefully love and life is still here for me.