Celsius 7 is a longtime Bay Area hip-hop artist who has stayed true to the underground over his two decade long career. Most Bay Area music fans were first introduced to him 16 years ago when he arrived on the local underground hip-hop scene as part of the heralded group Psychokinetics. Since then he's carved out a rep as both a member of that revered indie group and also as a solo artist. Four years ago, when the Amoeblog last caught up with the artist, he had just released his solo debut album Wanderlust. Last week he released the follow up: the album Life Well Spent that can be found at Amoeba Music. This week I caught up with Celsius 7 to ask him about his personal hip-hop history, all the traveling he's done in recent years, his latest album Life Well Spent, the John Lennon Songwriting Award he won a while back, and how his own life has been going since we last chopped it up.
Amoeblog: Exactly how well spent has your life been?
Celsius 7: Well, I've lived the better part of the last thirteen years cubicle-free, and have gotten to travel and perform my music on four different continents. I've fallen in love and had my heart broken a few times. I've eaten well, laughed heartily, and I've followed my dreams. I've learned a whole bunch and still have a thirst and passion for life. It's definitely been an unorthodox approach, and it's been rough at times, but let me put it this way, if I died tomorrow I would feel like I played the game very well.
Amoeblog: For those Amoeblog readers you are not aware of your rich Bay Area hip-hop history dating back a decade and a half - do you want to briefly break it down?
Celsius 7:Formed the group Psychokinetics in 1995 with my best friend Domingo (Spidey) and soonafter added iLL MEDia & Dj Denizen to the mix. Independently released two tapes, three vinyl releases, and two CDs with those guys along with the help of the amazingly talented Jamie Hill. Did hundreds of shows in the Bay and beyond and gradually got well known for our high energy live sets. Decided I wanted to try a solo album and so I wrote and released Wanderlust in 2008.
Toured that album quite a bit and then started the group KALRI$$IAN with a few other homeys. Released an album in 2009 with KALRI$$IAN and began to do shows with them, which continue still. Started working on new Celsius 7 album Life Well Spent and just released that on September 24th. It's my best work yet.
Amoeblog: I see that Spidey from Psychokinetics, who you mention, is on your new album. But what else is he up to nowadays? And what's up with the group?
Celsius 7: Yes! Spidey is on the track "Heavy Mental" and he rips it ! So good to do a track with him again. Spidey is now Djing a lot under the name DJ Hella Good. He's actually pretty bad ass, which doesn't surprise me. Psychokinetics never broke up. We just kinda went in other directions. Maybe we will make more music, Who knows?
Amoeblog: The last time we talked was exactly four years ago back when you were just getting out that first solo album Wanderlust on a limited release basis. How did you feel that one was received?
Celsius 7: For the people that heard it, it was received quite well from what I understand. It was released on a small level (2000 copies and digital), but we had a couple of videos and that helped some. I did shows throughout the US, Asia, and Europe and got a bit of radio play here and there. Dave Paul of Bomb Hip-Hop actually wanted to put that record out, but DJ Design of Look Records, who was his partner at that time, felt like I walked the line of commercial and indie too closely and that it wouldn't find an audience. So, I did it on my own. People still buy Wanderlust online to this day, so i guess it is still in the process of being "received." Hopefully people find out about it, because there were some classics on there I think. ("Manners," "Wanderlust," "Portraits," "Bleedin'," "TRG," "Cells," "Livin 4 U," "Magic Bullet")
Amoeblog: Why such a gap between your two solo releases while most rappers are cranking out many more albums and mixtapes?
Celsius 7: I actually did do a mixtape of all originals and some remixes. Dropped that in late 2009. It's called Things You Might Not Heard. Gave it away for free for awhile and now it's on iTunes. It was basically a pressure reliever until I could summon up what eventually became Life Well Spent. Why did it take me so long ? Busy i guess. I work as an associate producer on a traveling video game symphony, perform and record with KALRI$$IAN, and have lots of other interests. It just came out at a natural pace for me I suppose.
Amoeblog: You spent a lot of time on this album - year and a half - but what percentage of that was actually working on the album?
Celsius 7: I actually started writing some of the new songs about three years ago, They just went through different incarnations before becoming what you hear now on Life Well Spent. I worked diligently on Life Well Spent for probably about the last year. Before that it was all dilly-dallying until I set a date for the release party and lit a fire under my own ass to get it done. It just took me awhile to find inspiration as I was maybe a little bored with my chosen creative outlet. Once I started getting all these good beats from all these producers I solicited, it all pretty much wrote itself. Sometimes that's all you need; the right beat.
Amoeblog: You mentioned that you also were traveling a good bit. Where were you and what was the travel experience like in terms of how it affected your music?
Celsius 7: I've been to Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica,Singapore, Bali, Eastern Europe, France, Belgium, Australia, Norway, Canada, and all over the U.S. The places that I performed ranged from full houses to 3 people break dancing in front of me !! hah. It all inspired my music greatly. Traveling is probably my number one source of inspiration because I love the excitement of not knowing whats around every corner. It makes me feel truly alive at those times and usually gives cause for me to write.
Amoeblog: I am already fans of your well chosen guests - including Dirt Nasty, Baby Jaymes, Dub Esquire, and Foreign Legion - but tell me how did you come about having them collaborate on this album?
Celsius 7: When I started writing this album, I figured it might be my last solo record, so I wanted to work with some of my favorites. After figuring out who those artists would be, I just reached out to them. It was all pretty organic. I would start to write a song and think "Baby Jaymes would sound perfect for this hook," or "Foreign Legion would kill this beat!" Each instrumental I got just called for these particular artists and luckily they were down to make it happen, although it took some teeth pulling at times.
Amoeblog: I love the rich variety of beats on the new album including the tracks such as "Givin Up" and "Pop Rox." Who are the producers responsible?
Celsius 7: For those two, Hiright did "Givin' Up" and myself and Hiright produced "Pop Rox." I always have input on the instrumentals, but I would say that I actually co-produced maybe four of the beats on Life Well Spent .The rest of the album was produced by iLL MEDia, DJ Denizen, Chronic and Chrome, Dirt Nasty, and E-train from the Loyalists. Oh, and I can't forget Jamie Hill who played some instruments on a few tracks. He definitely lent to the vibe of some of the best ones ("Love with Love," "Pop Rox")
Amoeblog: To me this new album is quite different from your last. How do you compare the two?
Celsius 7: This one is definitely harder in the beat category. I've always liked hard, gritty beats but that wasn't the direction we took most of the time with Psychokinetics. Compared to Wanderlust, I would say that Life Well Spent is more focused and better produced. My rhymes are more in pocket and succinct. I think I have learned my craft to a higher degree and it shows. To me, Life Well Spent is a more complete and mature album. It's more of a tribute to classic hip-hop. Just some head-noddin shit that will break your neck.
Amoeblog: How specifically did that John Lennon Songwriting Award come about and what (if anything) did John Lennon mean to you?
Celsius 7: I won the John Lennon award for my solo song "Grey" off of the Psychokinetics album "Sensory Descent." I submitted to the hip-hop category and won. As far as John Lennon goes, he didn't have a big influence on me. I like the Beatles and I enjoy his music and philosophies, but I can't say that he steered me much. He was definitely a bad ass. I wish I could write just one song that was as well received as his were.
Amoeblog: Anything to add or shout outs?
Celsius 7: Big thanks to Hiright ! This is album was recorded, engineered and partially mixed by him. Wouldn't have happened without his devotion and his pushing me to get it out. Also, shouts to all the producers on the album and all the guest artists. You made it what it was and I am lucky to be surrounded by such a talented group of peers who believe in me enough to want to be a part of my projects. Keep an eye out for lots of Celsius 7 videos and shows in support of Life Well Spent. Google Celsius 7 for lots of free music and videos etc.