Raashan Ahmad of Crown City Rockers fame, who today releases the new 13 track album The Push on OM Records, will celebrate the release of this fine debut solo of his with an in-store performance @ 6PM this evening (May 20th) at the San Francisco Amoeba Music.
If you can possibly make it I strongly recommend that you attend this free, all-ages show, as this emcee (and sometimes DJ and breaker) is not just an amazingly gifted hip-hop artist but also a truly great live performer -- someone who lives and breathes hip-hop and understands the true meaning of rocking the house, y'all.
In addition to his work with the Bay Area live hip-hop band Crown City Rockers (who had to change their original name from Mission because of the UK band The Mission) the ever prolific Raashan Ahmad has collaborated with a ton of artists. I must have close to ten different records or CDs by other artists that he pops up on, including the DJ Zeph single "Floor Wax" (Wide Hive) and Zion I's Break A Dawn, and I know there are many more that he guests on.
Personally what I always like about Raashan is how he maintains that old school, golden era hip-hop vibe in his style while simultaneously somehow always managing to sound new and fresh. Yesterday I caught up with the busy artist to ask him some questions about how he accidentally got started as an emcee, the difference between SoCal and the Bay (two places he has lived in), and his new album, which was born out of a lot personal emotions, including the tragedy of his mother dying of cancer.
The interview follows immediately below the video of "Beautiful" by DJ Tonk featuring Raashan Ahmad -- peep the turntable's Amoeba Music slipmat at beginning of the music video.
AMOEBLOG: For those who don't know your full life story, such as the fact that you were not born in Cali, would you please break down your history?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Word. I was born in Trenton N.J. and when I was young we moved to California. My pops said there was gold in the hills (laughs). I moved to mid-city L.A., then to Alta/Pasadena, CA where I was pretty much raised, all the while spending summers in New Jersey. A couple years after high school I moved to Boston MA for a couple years, where I met Crown City Rockers. And then finally I migrated to the Bay Area.
AMOEBLOG: But when you began in hip-hop it wasn't as an emcee. How did that come about?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Yeah I was or am a dancer...was more than am. But anyway my dance crew, The Battlekatz, yeah I know -- wow, went to audition to open up for House Of Pain. But when we got there they said they weren't looking for dancers, only hip-hop groups. Since we had driven so far we told them we were a group! We ran out to the car and got this electro beats tape we used to dance to and decided who was gonna be the MC's dancers and DJ. I was one of the MC's. I forgot what I rapped about but that was the first time I rapped and here I am.
AMOEBLOG: Do you see LA and the Bay Area as similar creative grounds for hip-hop or are they very different kinds of scenes altogether?
RAASHAN AMHAD: I see them as crazy different! The vibe in L.A. is like its size...more spread out and massive. You can have crews in L.A. who are doin' it and never actually connect or maybe even have heard of one another, cuz one may live in the Inland Empire and another crew in Oxnard, where as in the Bay it seems like all the crews know each other. Honestly I grew up in L.A. so it definitely makes you work really hard to get your name out since there's so many acts, but at the same time the support and collaboration between crews in the Bay is amazing.
AMOEBLOG: When so many new hip-hop artists tend to sound like the popular sound or flavor of the day, your music always echoes the golden era of hip-hop while still sounding new. How come?
RAASHAN AMHAD: Probably because that's the era I relate to the most. I always loved hip-hop but when A Tribe Called Quest came out it made me say to myself, "Yo I can get in this too!" But at the same time one of the most important lessons I learned from the "golden era" was to be inventive and new! Even though I love those days I would be doing an injustice to its legacy, and mine, if I didn't try to push the culture forward.
AMOEBLOG: No one can ever accuse you of being idle. You have collaborated with numerous artists over the years. Would you name check some of the main ones for people who want to go digging for your other work?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Yep. There's Gift of Gab (Blackalicious, Mighty Underdogs), P.E.A.C.E. (Freestyle Fellowship), Zion I, Scarub, Eligh, The Grouch (from Living Legends), Thes 1 (People Under The Stairs), Presto, The Rebirth, Jazz Liberatorz, Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), DJ Tonk, Mia Doi Todd, Medusa, and lots more. I have a discography posted on my MySpace page.
AMOEBLOG: I really like The Push. Some of my fave tracks include "City Feel Proud" (featuring Chali 2na), "Weight," and "Give Thanks." On the album's liner notes and on your website you write that this is a highly personal album for you, one "born out of ...fears, insecurities, observations, triumphs, and tragedies." Would you care to expand a little on this?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Thanks! I started writing this album after my mom passed from cancer. After I wrote that song ("Cancer") I realized how theraputic it was for me. I wrote "Give Thanks" soon after. This was or is my first time not doing mostly battle rap style. Every song (on the album) is pretty much related to my personal story. Being a "vulnerable" emcee isn't always the best way to stand out in hip-hop but I wanted to make this much more of an expression of the human experience with life ("Yusef"), death ("Cancer"), relationships ("Close"), struggle ("Pressure"), triumphs ("Give Thanks") and more all being a part of it. It's important to show that I'm not, we're not, just conscious, battle rap or gang affiliated but rather all of those things sometimes.
AMOEBLOG: Why did you choose such a wide array of producers instead of just one?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Because I needed more than one vibe. I'm really moved by beats and I think that when people make music that they are extending, even sub-consciously, how they're feeling. To show the different sides of me, I needed to have different personalities involved in pulling my pen and brain to other places.
AMOEBLOG: In addition to such great producers as DJ Vadim, Stro (Procussions), Eligh (Living Legends), and Headnodic you also have your longtime associate and former Amoebite DJ Platurn (featured in above Crown City Rockers' "B-Boy" video) as a producer on the new album. What is your opinion of DJ Platurn as a producer and DJ?
RAASHAN AHMAD: DJ Platurn is dope. He is the only cat I can call at the most obscene time asking for him to slide thru and lay some cuts and if he's around..he's down. And does it with such style and finesse. I DJ occasionally too and I can watch Platurn spin all night: the way he can vary his style from crowd to crowd all while keeping his integrity is bananas.
AMOEBLOG: Where do you see your career/life in five or ten years from now?
RAASHAN AHMAD: I see myself spreading my music to a much bigger audience and by then Crown City Rockers will be dominating the planet.
AMOEBLOG: Anything else you would like to add or any shout outs you want to send?
RAASHAN AHMAD: Check my new album The Push. Also check my crew Crown City Rockers and other projects out now from the camp! Kat Ouano "Natural Phenomenons," Headnodic and Moe Pope "Megaphone" as well as Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truthspeaker, and Headnodic's The Mighty Underdogs. Peace.
Rashaan Ahmad's new album The Push is in stores today. Pick it up at any of the three Amoeba Music locations. And don't forget that tonight the artist (plus friends) will be doing a special free performance at the Haight Street Amoeba Music store. Showtime is 6PM and as an extra special gift from Amoeba SF for today only (while supplies last) everyone who purchases a copy of The Push (SF store only) will receive a free unreleased CD EP with production by some of the producers who lent their talents to The Push, including DJ Vadim and Headnodic.