Chali 2na has a voice that makes a person take notice, and when you mix those deep vocals with his lyrical prowess the result is a truly unforgettable emcee. Many people know Chali 2na from his time as a member of Jurassic 5. Others know him from his appearances with Ozomatli. Most recently, however, listeners have been getting to know Chali 2na from his Fish Market series of mix-CDs, the second of which he released earlier this month. This week RapReviews caught up with Chali 2na, who was more than happy to take a few minutes from the painting he was working on to tell us about what’s been going on in his life, the unfortunate breakup of J5, and the rapper he was once mistaken for while walking in Brooklyn.

Adam Bernard: Why don’t you start things off by telling everyone about the painting that you’re working on that you were kind enough to let us interrupt the process of? How long have you been working on it?

Chali 2na: I think altogether it’s probably taken me four or five days, but I’ve been going at it for two and half weeks. I work on it off and on. I’ll go three hours one day, I’ll go five another. All of the pieces that I do, I try to make them take that much effort. Painting is something I’ve always done. It’s something that introduced me to the world of hip-hop being that I was a serious graffiti accomplice. {laughs} I was an accomplice to a guy who moved to Chicago from The Bronx. That’s kinda what introduced me to this whole world, so whether people know it or not, this something I’ve always done and it’s something that I’ll always do. It relaxes me as well as stimulates my whole creative drive. My real goal as a kid was to be some kind of commercial or fine artist that was successful. My mom used to always tell me if you want to starve then pursue a career in art.

AB: Is the art you’re doing now still all graff, or are you experimenting with some other styles?

C2: It’s graff influenced. I’m almost 40, so I can’t go around and paint like I used to. I only really get a chance to do graff when I’m out of the country. A lot of my shit is graff influenced, but I’ve moved to canvases. A trip to the Van Gogh and the Rembrandt museums in Amsterdam a few years ago… this year the Rembrandt museum, but I’ve been to the Van Gogh museum like six times, basically changed my medium. I was like you know what, if these paintings are lasting 100, 200 years, I want my shit to last that long and still look that good, so let me get down, because painting with spray paint is always temporary, it seems.

AB: You know, a lot of people would go to Amsterdam for something else. Are you’re saying there are some other things people might want to check out while they’re there?

C2: Yes sir. That’s an artistic town. I love Amsterdam. I appreciate the fact that people are cerebral there and I guess that’s probably because of the marijuana laws and such, but people are thinkers and they enjoy art of all kinds. It’s a beautiful place.

AB: Fill me in on what else is going on in your life and what else you’re excited about right now.

C2: Fish Market Part 2 (which was released June 8th). Finally, the second installment to my mixtape Fish Market. This one is more like an album because it has a lot more exclusive shit on it. I wanted it to be a bridge between solo albums, but it kind of took on a life of it’s own, so I’m treating it as such. It wasn’t intended as a conventional album, if you will, hence the numerous guest appearances and the different little funny style stuff that I was doing on there as far as interludes and things of that nature. What I did intend to do was to have fun and to create something that you can listen to all the way through while you’re riding, or when you’re doing what you do. Me, I like to listen to music while I paint, and I don’t like to change stations. {*laughs*}[courtesy]

AB: What are people going to learn about you with this effort?

C2: My different, vast, tastes. I tried a couple of new things. For instance, I linked up with Rusko from the dubstep world. He’s a good guy and an amazing producer. People might think this is crazy different but damn, listen to this bass, you take that shit down to Miami and the people will appreciate this to the fullest. I did a song with him called “How Low Can You Go” for his album and he said “do something with these beats” and gave me a bundle of em. I liked the one that said “Go Go Gadget” on it, so I flipped it around, did a topic about it, and put it on this mixtape hoping that people discover it.

AB: What’s different for you when it comes making music now versus, say, fifteen years ago?

C2: The obvious difference is my allegiance and attachment to the groups that made me the person that we know today. I’m still an in and out member of Ozomatli. We do a lot of stuff together when time permits. For the people who don’t know, Jurassic 5 broke up three years ago. That’s the difference, and just sharing my thoughts and my processes with numerous people. Now it’s more like I’ve been able to build a team of people who are my listening filter, my team on the road, things of that nature. I also have to take on more of a responsible role as a whole with the art, inside and outside, the creative process as well as the managerial process. 15 years ago I was in a couple of crews that to me were like basketball teams. Everybody knew their role, everybody played their position, and when you needed help you had somebody that helped you and when they needed help you helped them. Those are the obvious differences.

AB: It’s hard to break the stigma of being a cog in a group. How did you go about doing that and, in turn, show people that you’re a solo artist, as well?

C2: I really didn’t focus on it that much. People say that you’re only as good as what you did last, so if that’s the case, Jurassic was great. I’m amazed that people love what I did on that level. I’ve always, within my group Jurassic, and within Ozamatli, been a person who’s done music, not just a soldier from a group. I’ve always liked to do music and experiment with different groups and collaborate with different people, do different solo things. I’ve always done that since day one. I just like art. I like to do music. It accumulated and turned into what it is today. It’s all an accomplishment that’s spawned off of me being a workaholic and just liking to work.

AB: Since you like working with other artists, would you ever consider doing a song with Lord Have Mercy just to see who has the deeper voice?

C2: I wouldn’t be doing it just to see who has the deeper voice. I’m a fan of his. I’m not sure he’s a fan of mine, but I’m a fan of his. To me, he was one of the hardest, if not THE hardest cat in the Flipmode Squad. I was kinda waitin on his stuff to come out. He was dope to me. It was crazy that right around the time Jurassic was getting a lot of love Flipmode Squad was getting all of the love that it was getting. People were coming around telling me that I sounded like dude, or that he sounded like me. It was crazy. I was in Brooklyn somewhere and I was stopped by some cat who looked at me and was like “son you ain’t gonna say nothing to me?” I was like “what do you mean?” And he said “I know who you are, you’re Lord Have Mercy.” I was like “naw,” and he was like “c’mon son, don’t front.” I had to look at dude and say damn, he even kind of resembles me a little bit – tall, light skinned dude, deep voice, crazy melodic rhythmic style. I think he was dope and I would love to do a song with him.

AB: If you do, Bass Brothers should be the name of the project.

C2: OK. If ever that happens you’ll probably be the first to know. You’ll probably be the ones to hook it up, too!

AB: When it comes to J5, is everyone cool, or is there some bad blood there?

C2: Well, bigger than the group, as far as careers were concerned, we were friends, so in certain instances there is bad blood because our breakup didn’t involve the music, it involved personal relationship situations. You could ask another member of the group and they might say something different, but in my opinion it was us getting along as friends. That’s what the group started as, a bunch of friends trying to make some dope shit. So I can honestly say yeah, there’s a little bad blood here and there, but in my opinion there’s nothing time can’t fix and there’s nothing that being honest with each other and being honest with ourselves, myself included, can’t fix. My mouth is closest to my ears, so I’m talking to myself first. Something to remember when giving advice is that one finger pointing out is three fingers pointed back, so what you’re saying you have to take heed to.

AB: A lot of people like to stress how much hip-hop has changed over the years. Do you think hip-hop is really that different from when you started?

C2: It’s different in a lot of ways. It’s still hip-hop. It’s older, so it’s different like how you’re different from when you were in junior high school as opposed to being a grown man. That’s how hip-hop is different. It’s now in its thirties, and because of that it’s seen a lot, it’s done a lot, it’s accomplished a lot, and it’s set itself back a few paces. So yeah, it’s changed, but the more it’s changed the more it stays the same. It has kids now. A lot of genres have been spawned off of hip-hop.

AB: It has kids, but is it being a deadbeat dad in any way?

C2: I don’t think so. It’s being responsible. You gotta start thinking about the participants in hip-hop and how responsible they are, we are, to what we’re seeing and what we’re doing to the world because hip-hop is now respected as a musical genre whereas it was looked at 25-30 years ago as a fad. “Oh, it’s gonna go for a couple more years and something else is gonna come.” It went for a couple more years alright {laughs}, and it’s always been the pulse beat of the people telling the world what’s going on in the inner cities, in the places where the news cameras don’t want to go, or where the journalists don’t want to speak the truth about. In those regards it’s the same. In the regard, too, that it appeals to the youngsters, it’s the same. It’s different in what the youngsters like. It’s different in the fact that technology has imprinted itself in the history of hip-hop as an important part of it at this particular point. Think about it, I have son who’s gonna be 19 in August, he doesn’t know a world without hip-hop, or without computers.

AB: He doesn’t know a world without the internet.

C2: Right. The internet, all of that is really his time. When he was in high school and he was like “can I get a cell phone,” my first reaction was hell naw. When I was in school those were for doctors and drug dealers, and the dope dealers had the beepers, so my first instinct was hell naw, but this is a different time. Kids weren’t getting snatched up like they are now. (They need) a way to instantly contact their parents if something happens. I had to embrace the time, and having a son that young keeps me that young. I’m not gonna front, he’ll tell me in a minute, “yo pops, that’s wack.”

AB: The brutal honesty of youth.

C2: Yes sir. I love it, though.

AB: Finally, if you could get rid of one despicable force in the world which would it be and why?

C2: Greed, because there is enough on this planet for everyone. There’s a spiritual saying that God makes nothing that’s too hard for you to bear, so if that’s the case what’s the use, and reason for the existence, of greed?