A lot of emcees can be easily described in just a few simple character traits. These artists have developed a persona that works for them and they run with it. Unity Lewis is impossible to describe in such a way as he has gone all out to embrace every aspect of himself in his work. His most recent release is an EP titled Audio VeVe Part 1, but as RapReviews learned when we sat down with the Napalm Clique emcee, the project is much more than just an album. We also found out the story behind two of the music videos from the album, including one with Dead Prez’s own stic.man, how he feels about President Obama three years after writing a song praising his candidacy for the highest office in the country, and the very interesting interactions he’s had with his fellow artist from the Bay Area, Kreayshawn.

Adam Bernard: Let’s talk about what you’ve been working on since we last spoke. It’s been a couple years. You released your debut EP, Audio VeVe Part 1 in July of this year. I know you were hoping to drop it back in the summer of 2009. What took so long?

Unity Lewis: {*laughs*} The album ended up going through all kinds of changes. It was gonna be an LP originally and we ended up just doing an EP.

AB: Shouldn’t that take less time?

UL: That’s what you would think, but it just seemed to take forever for some reason. I really have no explanation other than we just put a helluva lot more work into it than we thought we were going to. We were at Prairie Sun Recording Studios, that’s in Santa Rosa, doing the mixing with Matt Kelly. We would rent two or three days in there and mix a song every day. It just took a minute. It took a minute to line up the distribution, how we wanted to drop it all, put everything together. I ended up doing a comic book for it and dropping a music video for every song on the piece, so even though it’s an EP it’s still full in terms of having a lot of art to give you.

AB: That’s a big experience with videos and comics. When you say you did the comic, did you conceptualize it, did you write it, did you draw it?

UL: All of it. Conceptualized it, drew it and wrote it. The story is basically the lyrics to the first song on the album and it’s illustrating the life of a brother like myself growing up in the inner city and learning how to survive. It’s kind of like an abstract story the way it all weaves together with these lyrics. It’s pretty surreal and trippy. It’s about survival, in a sense, and how that can become so mundane and boring, and how we want to break out of that and get to something higher.

AB: You mentioned having a video for every song. The ones you’ve released are very different conceptually. I know you wanted to make your album represent the many sides of who you are as a person. How does each video represent a side of you?

UL: It’s interesting because the album came out as a certain aspect of myself in a developmental stage, almost. Part 1 of Audie VeVe is supposed to represent, how can I say this, it’s kind of like speaking to the people who are experiencing what I’m talking about from the perspective of being in it and being objective, not looking at anything from a positive or a negative (standpoint), just experiencing society and living in the street and trying to survive and figure out what I’m supposed to be getting to. That’s why it goes from the beginning of the album, “Turn The Beat Up,” that depicts the picture of the environment that’s around me, and then it ends with the message with stic.man with “Let’s Ride,” and that’s the culmination of the album. My plan is to drop two more parts that take you higher conceptually each time. Looking at reality from, not necessarily inside of the street, but observing from another angle.

AB: How did you come to land on the name Audio VeVe for this set of projects?

UL: We named it that to preserve the ancient African ancestor spirits. “Vodou” was the song that really brought those spirits out. It’s talking about a lot of the struggles my people went through and that we’re still going through. There are a lot of metaphors in there. It talks about lynchings and re-brings up some of that history that has kind of been forgotten, or is not necessarily talked about in hip-hop.

AB: Anything interesting happen during any of the video shoots?

UL: Yeah. The thing with stic.man was amazing. We filmed the video in West Oakland on Athens and 27th Avenue, which is right in the heart of West Oakland, and we kinda shut down the block. We didn’t necessarily shut it down, we were just doing our thing, but all the people came out and started kickin it in the middle of the street, wanting to be in the video, volunteering to be in the video, so when you look at the video, that video is a real reflection of that community. We ended up saying that this video is starring the Black community. That was just on the spot. Everybody from the block came out – kids, elders – and we got to feature them all in the video. “Vodou” we shot in four hours. We found that weird spot, that weird shaman looking shack/hut, and that’s over by the wharf off of Fifth Avenue in Oakland. That spot’s no longer there, they tore it down, so that video is never gonna be able to be remade by any other artist. It was just a mystical experience being there and filming that video and how it came together. That’s how I like to do it, make every art project an experience and show people what’s really going on. Hopefully I can show people a real part of me, like a real part of my life, and people can feel that realness. I think that comes through real strong with Audio VeVe. I was able to illustrate what I was seeing, just being in it, objectively. It’s like looking at a painting of the hood. The way I describe it is listening to Audio VeVe is listening to California at sunset. That’s the feeling that it gives you.

AB: And you’re currently working on your next album, titled Heat.

UL: Yeah, it’s actually kind of up in the air at this point. I have three projects I’m trying to choose from. I can do Audio VeVe Part 2, which will be an EP release. I got this other project I’m working on with Egon Brainparts and I’m really liking the production on that album so I might go full force and release that album next. What I want is an album I can perform. Audio VeVe is hella mellow. You throw it on in your car, or when you’re cleaning your house, or you’re making your art, and you go on a journey with it. I want an album I can take out and perform, that will get people super energized, that puts the feeling inside of people to dance and to move in that kind of way with it. As opposed to just being cerebral I want to make a piece now that more so gets people’s bodies movin. I want to explore all those different territories with my music. I don’t want to just be boxed in to being some kind of cerebral rapper type of guy. I know how to rock a party, how to rock a show, and how to make music that feels good for people, so I think I might end up dropping this album next. I might put Heat on the back burner. I fully produced Heat all by myself and it’s almost done.

AB: You’re also finishing up a reggae/hip-hop hybrid album with your father. Do you feel you’ve learned more about each other through the process of writing and recording this project?

UL: Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like I’ve grown as a musician working with my dad because he, for one, introduced me to all these amazing musicians who taught me so much, especially about live instrumentation and reggae music, and I feel that my dad has learned a lot, too, working with me, because I was actually the one to inspire him to make music in the first place. Even though he inspired me because he always had records and stuff around, I was the one who inspired him to start recording. He heard my first album and was like “I gotta buy some equipment.” He initially bought the equipment for me, but I went away to college, so he ended up working on it all himself. He did a bunch of albums on his own and he called me in for this joint and I was like yeah, I’m all about it. That’s gonna be a fun one to tour, too, because with that one I know I can go to reggae festivals and venture into a whole different kind of market and open up reggae music, because people usually think that to do reggae music you have to rap with some kind of patois accent and we’re showing people that nah, hip-hop is actually a direct descendant of reggae music, so we can do this. We’re just carrying on the torch. We might not be from Jamaica, or speak patois, but it’s universal just like hip-hop is.

AB: That should create a lot of conversation, that’s for sure. A few years ago you created a lot of conversation with a song titled “Obama,” and you certainly have a political voice. Now that we’re three years into the Obama administration, what’s your level of pleasure, or displeasure, with how the country is being run?

UL: Aw man, I feel like with the whole Obama thing, Obama was more of like a symbol that I feel was important for my people to see that it’s possible to happen. I was hoping that he would do a lot of the things that he said he was gonna be able to do, but he hasn’t been able to follow through on a lot of those things, so I don’t know, at the end of the day I can’t really say I’m disappointed because that’s politics and that’s US politics. The president is still gonna be the president of the United States whether he’s Black, Asian, Caucasian, it doesn’t matter, and their job description’s really to be the president of the United States and, at the end of the day, as somebody with a revolutionary mind, and who understands the government and politics, I understand the role… it’s hard to say this, but shit, fuck it, I’ma say it… the role that the president plays in oppressing the people, keeping us dumb. Obama has a lot of charisma and that’s cool and that shit works for him, but at the end of the day I don’t really see a lot of change. I guess I can’t really say that there isn’t ANY change because just the fact that we have a visibly Black person in the office, that’s changed, visibly, but it’s not like he’s the first Black president ever, really, when it comes down to it. There’s been others, but people don’t know about em because they’ve been able to hide it. They’ve even said Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, a lot of these presidents, were like half breeds and had Black in them. At the end of the day it’s not about the color of the person’s skin or anything like that, it’s about what can we really do here to make change and I don’t think that the change can be made in the position of the US President. The president can’t really make the change. It’s like the Queen of England, she can’t make any change, she’s just a symbol. I don’t really fuck with politics, honestly. I’m seen as a person who can express an opinion on politics, and that’s cool, but I’m also a person who’s opinion is always changing and growing and evolving, so just cuz one year I’m like “we need a president, it’s Obama,” if he don’t follow through on the shit I thought he was gonna follow through with, the next year I’m not gonna be kickin the same shit {*laughs*}. If people expect me to stay in a box that’s just not gonna happen {*laughs*}.

AB: Finally, since you are from the Bay, when was the last time you hung out with Kreayshawn?

UL: {*laughs*} You know that’s funny because Kreayshawn, V-Nasty and Lil’ Debbie used to always come to my house here in the East and visit my Napalm Clique brother downstairs, Don Juan Immaculate. She would come over and videotape us freestyling. Back then she wasn’t really rappin, she was just doing her videographer thing. Now she’s on. That girl gets around, she’s active, she’s in the scene, she’s always been there with a camera. She puts it down. I gotta giver her credit where credit is due in terms of being able to make your own name, put your own shit on the internet. She fuckin hustled, and she did most of that shit on her own, I know that.