It’s been five years since Rabbi Darkside’s last official solo release, Building the Better Bomb. During that time, however, the Brooklyn, NY, emcee/beatboxer/educator hasn’t exactly been taking it easy. Having released his Dark Side of 2009, and Dark Side of 2010, mixtapes, along with the Skillz To Take Brazil compilation, and pouring two years of effort into a hip-hop based test prep program called Fresh Prep, for which he recorded four full length albums in four different subjects, he’s been a busy man.

Due, in part, to working on so many different projects, Rabbi Darkside says when it came to following up 2008’s Building the Better Bomb, he was in no rush. “It was something I wanted to take a lot of time with,” he explains, “and be patient, and have way more tracks than I needed in the vault before deciding what fit the bill, and what the story of it was gonna be, and which songs really had the staying power to be a part of this project.”

After spending two years on the creative aspects of the album, and one year in the studio, Rabbi Darkside’s first official solo release in half a decade, Prospect Avenue, was ready to go. Last month he celebrated the national release of the album, and this week we caught up with Rabbi Darkside to find out more about Prospect Avenue, from the music, to the cover art, the latter having quite the family connection. The former MTV Made beatboxing coach also discussed his numerous international travels, and why there’s a good chance he’ll turn down any offer of a herring sandwich.

Adam Bernard: Prospect Avenue is more than just an address to you. Tell me about the deeper meaning of your album’s title.

Rabbi Darkside: It’s actually been my subway station, Prospect Avenue, for 13 years. Whenever someone’s coming to visit from another country, that’s where the directions terminate. The R train to Prospect Avenue. I had a bit of a struggle with the title for a while, and I had a revelation coming home late one night when I was asleep on the train and woke up and saw the sign and I was like yo, this actually ties it all together. It gives it the narrative quality of where the day starts and ends, and gives it a distinct New York feel. On the multilingual tip, “prospective” in French means “perspective.” That’s more of a double entendre, it’s where you take things in from. For me it’s been the point where I’ve watched my neighborhood change, and New York change, and watched the Twin Towers fall down from the overpass over the Prospect Expressway. It’s been my anchor.

AB: That’s beautiful, but you know this will make it easier for stalkers to find you.

RD: {*laughs*} So long as I don’t move, right? Yeah, well, you know, it could kinda make it a historic, New York, hip-hop destination, like “meet me at the corner of Myrtle and Adelphi.” Also, if there’s ever that person that you cross paths with on the train and wish that you said something to, but never do, it’s like a built in CraigsList ad.

AB: So your whole album is a “Missed Connection?”

RD: Yeah. {*laughs*}

AB: What were some of the most important things you wanted to say with Prospect Avenue?

RD: I wanted to make sure (I covered) what’s been important to my life and my work. Since Building the Better Bomb was reflective in the political leanings, I wanted the concentration on education and social justice, and also really just making sure I was conveying a sense of fun, and a little bit of levity with hip-hop culture. That can be lacking, it can tend to be a little serious all the time.

AB: How did you find the right balance?

RD: A lot of trial and error. Trial and error in terms of just trying to be as creative as you can be, not stopping the flow, and being able to look back on things once the dust has settled and see what has some staying power. Once I had the concept of the album really firmed up, then I was able to have a better grasp on the story that I was trying to tell with it.

AB: When you say it’s a story, it’s almost like a day in the life, right?

RD: Yeah, in a little bit of an abstract way it’s a day in the life. It starts waking up in the morning and it finishes in some midnight hour staring out over the city.

AB: For those who haven’t heard it, what happens in-between when you wake up and when you’re staring over the city?

RD: You’re commuting. You’re confronting the paradox of life in the big city, the grit of it. You are encountering music, and reminiscing. You’re encountering a beautiful woman. You’re having some fun. You’re dancing. You’re letting the weight of politics in the post 9/11 world weigh down on you. There are some somber, reflective moments, and I think there are some moments of almost advising, like if I could tell myself something, or tell my future children of the next generation something, there’s a bit of that.

AB: Let’s talk about the artwork for Prospect Avenue, because it was done by your grandmother, correct?

RD: Exactly, yeah. Another serendipitous moment, there was a morning when I got woken up by construction out on my street, and I looked out the window and it looked like they were digging up the sidewalk. I go back to sleep, and I wake up a couple hours later and look back to where they were doing construction on the street and instead of having a big hole in the ground there was a newly planted young tree, and I was like wow, that was not what I expected. I wandered over to my bookshelf where I keep my poetry books and old journals, and my hand just gravitated towards this book with a plain black spine, and I pulled it out and it was this book I had completely forgotten about having that I had found in my family’s house, where my family has been for the last 60 years. It’s this poetry book that my grandmother had collected, edited, hand illustrated, and hand written. I open up the book and on the inside cover is that image of a newly planted young tree. Sort of the same way the title hit me, that as the cover art hit me in a wave of epiphany. We doctored it a little. We added the Prospect Ave sign to the tree, but the skyline and the tree itself are as found. That adds a nice thread of lineage, and family continuity, to the project.

AB: That’s awesome. Speaking of things that are awesome, you’ve toured overseas a lot. What are some of your fondest memories of being abroad?

RD: It’s always amazing when people who you don’t share a first language with know your lyrics. That’s really a powerful moment when there’s a solid group of people in the front row reciting language in a language that’s not theirs, along with you. I also love doing bilingual concerts. I love sharing a bill, and sharing a band even, with an emcee who raps primarily in another language. Me and this French cat named Fish Le Rouge did an entire show where we figured a way to do songs together, going back and forth. I also find it a lot easier to find my writer self, to find my poet’s lifestyle, on the road. It’s always really, without fail, an invigorating experience. It just helps to put me back in touch with my hyper observant, literary, side, where I think being in New York can wear that down. There’s so much administrating to do, and so much hustling to do, I keep treading over the same grounds. Seeing a new place, and meeting new people, never gets old. One thing I’m hoping comes out of this project is that I’ll have the capacity to do that more domestically.

AB: What was the most lost, or out of your element, you’ve felt in a foreign country?

RD: Probably the small town Czech Republic. Much like small town anywhere, if you look really different, and you’re rolling with a crew of guys who look a little different, and you’re pulling over at the roadside diner, you get some hard stares from the locals. When it comes to big scene things, over the last five years the most dramatic setting I’ve been in was going to the largest flavela (translation: Brazilian shanty town, or slum) in South Brazil, called the Bom Jesus (the Good Jesus) flavela outside of Puerta Alegre where we met a very prominent emcee named Nego Prego, who invited us into his family house, which was deep in the middle of a million person flavela where we couldn’t have gone without him as our “tour guide,” so to speak. He was kinda like the Afrika Bambaataa of this flavela. The upper barrio and the lower barrio were at war, but everyone would come out for his concerts and it would be peace. Being there was a helluva powerful experience. It was definitely very far removed from what I would call my element.

AB: Was it like a museum experience where you afraid to touch anything for fear of punishment?

RD: No. I think that’s the beauty of the universality of hip-hop culture. As foreign as everything was there to me, we were still in a studio, writing and recording with eight guys, and creating this trilingual posse cut. I think that’s one of the things, too, wherever I go, the person who is the liaison, be it the promoter, be it a DJ, be it a graffiti crew, there’s hip-hop as the least common denominator, and you always have the same reference catalog to refer to. I always say this, the book I’m gonna write some day is gonna be about the universal power of soccer and hip-hop, two things I’ve practiced longer than anything in my life. You can go anywhere in the world and even if you don’t speak the same language you know you’re gonna have some things in common, and you know you’re gonna be able to chop it up and have a cypher, or kick the ball around. I believe those are the two most universal things in this world, futbol and hip-hop.

AB: Finally, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done for your music?

RD: That’s a great question. I think there are a lot of things that in retrospect seem pretty crazy to have done, but (at the time) were just like in the interest in being hungry and doing it. We used to go to this dude’s house named Bam Bam in Bed Stuy and he would have these cypher sessions where he would set up two microphones in his studio facing each other, and just have a grip of emcees in the room, and everyone would just battle. It was all fun and it was all love. He did these once a month there for probably a year, and these things ended up on BCAT (Brooklyn Community Access Television), so I’d have people, for years, be like “yo, I saw you on BCAT, midnight to 2am.” These are things that are a little odd, and you never realize what the impact’s gonna be. The craziest thing… I’m running through my mental rolodex of crazy shit… I’m trying to think of something really good. Like putting yourself at physical risk?

AB: I wasn’t expecting that, but if that’s happened, sure.

RD: Actually, the craziest concert experience where there was some physical risk involved… I was playing in Hamburg, Germany, and I got food poisoning from a herring sandwich. Literally ten minutes before I was supposed to go on stage I was just pukin, and poopin, and I was in the bathroom of this club, and I had a black hoodie on, and I was vomiting, and I look up in the mirror and I was like oh my God, this is my 8 Mile moment right here. There’s vomit on my own sweatshirt already. I did the show, an hour on stage, finished it, killed it, ran off stage, threw up, came back on stage, did an encore, threw up, and then sold merchandise right next to the bathroom for about an hour afterwards. After that I was curled up on the floor of the guy’s house I was staying at for two days before I could move, and got to Berlin just in time to meet Farbeon and Core Rhythm for a show in Berlin where I was still pretty dehydrated and shook. It’s like you do a verse and then you have to sit down on the stage and collect yourself. That was a pretty crazy stage experience, but every time you’re on the road there’s gonna be some night where you’re finishing a show at 3am, going back to your hotel, grabbing your bags, going direct to a 6:30am train, and getting there, taking a nap, waking up, going to soundcheck, and doing a show. Without fail, that’s gonna happen. It’s always crazy, and I’m always looking forward to the next crazy experience.