KRS-ONE explains how God kept him in VA for a week, and talks about his time being homeless and much more.
HHF: Let’s talk about the track ‘Set’ because that’s completely different, right?
M: Right, a whole new other feel. It’s a little newer, a little more up-tempo if you will, but it slows down, more on a southern way of doing things, cause Virginia is a southern state and where we from, we like things slow. We like things that knock out of cars, stuff like that and again, the things I’m speaking about in ‘Are World’ actually translate to ‘Set’ because the same place I was talking about on this (laughs).
I was from 610 Ratcliffe Avenue. I could dive into the whole where it is and all that but it won’t really equate to the value of the song itself. It’s all about (pause) what I’m embodying, setting the scene. Cause now I’m saying I’m over that part of it: the melancholy of being from this place, now I’m accepting it and embracing it. So with ‘Set’ it’s like I’m trying to come up, so I’m talking about working a job and saying I did that (in the past), but I’m like I got to come up and get to a place where I can put people on to where I’m from.
The production is by Manu Mainetti – he’s from the UK from Huddersfield. When I heard the beat, I was like he’s embodying where I’m from cause that’s the sort of sound you’re going to hear if ever you come to Richmond. I’m talking about songs of that calibre, that heavy bass-driven stuff, banging out of cars: with the rims rattling. That’s what you’re going hear, you’re going to see old school cars, like Lincoln Continentals, Cadillacs and they’re going to be sitting on 20s and they’re going be playing shit like that (laughs).
HHF: What kind of hip-hop artists have this sound, though? Cause ‘Set’ sounds different to me.
M: That track is different, cause the sound is different because I’m different. I like the drums that come from quote/unquote ‘trap’ music, I like the drums and I like the cadences. I don’t necessarily like the melodies or the things they’ve used, but (if combine my sound) with trap music element, it actually makes a beautiful struggle.
HHF: What jumped out at me when I heard ‘Set’ is that I thought it had psychedelic sound, the kind of psychedelic hip-hop I associate with Cypress Hill. I don’t know if there’s any connection for you, but my interpretation of the song is that it’s about smoking dope and getting high.
M: Yeah, I love psychedelic music for real, you know stuff like I’m a huge fan of Jim Morrison and the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.
HHF: So Cypress Hill, is there any link there with ‘Set’?
M: Cypress Hill, right. I’m a huge fan of ‘How I can just kill a man’ and I like ‘I’m going to get hiiiigh’ (sings)’ boom boom. It’s like ‘Black Sunday’ it’s like the sound. But it’s more so of just embodying the theme of my music and what comes with it, cause psychedelia is like, sometimes we really are just trying not to die.
And it’s the stress from working hard to be broke. You work all day to be broke. And then you’re trying to dodge a bullet and you’re trying to dodge people selling crack and all that stuff, so sometimes you smoke a little weed; it makes you forget about it for an hour or two. It takes the edge off sometimes because you’re constantly fighting to stay alive.
(When we were younger) we used to smoke weed to escape this, really trying to calm down all these riots in our minds and in our hearts.
HHF: Living with a constant fear of violence, it would make you kind of nuts and this comes through in your music is, at 1’21 there is this amazing sample of this noise, you know. It just kind of like erupts in the song.
HHF: And it’s very, very strange, but interesting. I think that the whole psychedelia thing, sure it’s about drugs, but it’s also about music that doesn’t have limits, does that make sense?
M: Right, cause it’s actually like a lyrical perspective on trap music. This is what trap would sound like if trap could articulate it like this.
HHF: When you say trap music, what kind of artists are you talking about?
M: Trap music, I’m talking about artists that are mainly about their struggles of being a dope dealer.
HHF: What you’re thinking about here then is the modern-version of West Coast gangster rap?
M: Yeah, right. What they call trap music is really gangster rap and gangster rap is really reality rap. You remember MC Breathe? And Scarface, Geto Boys it’s the same thing, it’s just a different sound, it’s the same thing. That’s why I don’t look down upon on it. We from the same place they from (…)
If you look at songs like ‘Set’ it’s all about pride, the pride of coming up and feeling like, ‘I’m set now. I’m set’ which is like ‘I’m conscious’.
HHF: I was wondering about that title, cause I was thinking it could be ‘Set’ in as I’m ready … or is it as you say, ‘I’m conscious’?
M: Right. It’s a title that’s so subjective, it can mean whatever you want it to mean, like if you work in a job, if you work at McDonalds and you get paid on Friday, you’re going to be like, ‘I’m set’ or if you sell drugs, ‘I’m set. I’m on the set.’ It can be perceived the way the listener wants to perceive it.
HHF: Maybe we can now focus more on Richmond, there’s a quote from your website which reads:
‘To a kid Richmond could be as vast as the entire universe at the same time as minuscule as ants on the ground’
How would you describe your relationship with your city?
M: My relationship with my city is a love-hate, but not really hate cause I don’t hate. Imagine you in a relationship with the best person you could be in a relationship with, but they’re addicted to drugs. It’s like the best you can be and the worst you can be.
That’s my relationship with my city, I love where I’m from because it made me the man I am, but it’s more so about the people who are there. I love the people. I make music to represent these people, more than myself. I was born and raised in Richmond, I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m still here.
And it’s at some point we were proud of Richmond and other times we weren’t so proud: the murder rate was number one like in the 2000s, in the mid-2000s. Nobody talked about it. (…) Somebody like myself, well, I’ve been here the whole time, watching everything and absorbing everything, so I think a win for me, will be a win for the city – because I am of the city.
Richmond is such a beautiful place and so historical, if you look at the revolutionary war: everything that shaped the nation, everything you learn in your history class about war and slavery; all that it started in Richmond.
You can come here and see historical sites from wars that happened and shaped this nation. Richmond is a great place, a beautiful place: I love it, everybody loves it, but the crime could be less. That’s anywhere though. If you look at how Kendrick talk about Compton, or how J. Cole talk about Fayetteville, you know what I’m saying.
There’s a lot of work that need to be done in Richmond to make sure that the generation after us don’t go through the same thing we had to go through.
HHF: Is it like Detroit a city that became poor after industry moved out, are there reasons why it became such a high-crime city, is it about poverty?
M: Yeah, poverty-stricken. Most people live below the poverty-line, even those people with jobs. You can have a job and still be poor. In Richmond, my mama worked her whole life. We was poor for the first 17 years of my life. She worked ever since I was born. My mama got three jobs just so we could have hot water, food, you know what I’m saying. You look at your mama every day going out to work with a uniform on and you go like, man, all day. She ain’t got no time. I didn’t grow up in a home, where you’re like, ‘I love you mom, give her a hug and a kiss’ and I didn’t grow up like that. My mama had to go to work all the time.
She was like, ‘Did you do your chores, did you do your homework? I’m going to work.’ Come back, ‘you did this, did you clean the house? Ok, I’m going to work.’
HHF: This leads to the next thing I wanted to ask you about, which is how your mom’s musical taste influenced you. You say one of her favorite singers is also one of your favorites, is it Milira Jones?
M: Milira Jones was a jazz singer she was signed to the Apollo label; Apollo in Harlem and she was signed to it, she was a jazz singer and her music is what neo-soul is now… She had a very soulful sound, it shaped my ear for the sound. If you do the research on her, she’s got this song, go outside in the rain, and the ecology which is a rendition of a Marvin Gaye song. You will kind of understand me a little bit if you listen to this music.
My mom wanted to keep me pure and uncorrupted. The difference was my dad, for the most part listened to rap and everybody getting shot in it. So I’m a good balance, I like to think a balance between a beautiful sound and you know… rough stuff.
HHF: You have said my music is ‘where soul r&b and hardcore hip-hop collides …’ That’s a great quote, is this something you still think is true?
M: Right, right, exactly. I don’t want to limit myself to being a rapper, because I understand musicality; I understand tones and harmonies, that is the reason why I like musicians like Prince. Nobody would think I love Prince’s music; nobody would think I listen to Smashing Pumpkins (laughs).
Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
In the first of a three-part interview, talented Virginia MC Misterelle looks back on tracks in his catalogue. First up, ‘Are World’ (produced by Antagonist Dragonspit, and released back in 2013 on Misterelle’s Friday FUNclub mixtape).
‘Are World’ boosted Misterelle’s profile, while also garnering support from major industry players, such as All Def Digital (Russell Simmons’s multimedia company) and was included in Snoop Dogg’s Underground Heat, ultimately reaching the top ten.
Misterelle starts out by talking about the song’s unusual title ….
HHF: Let’s begin with the track name, ‘Are World’ it comes from your niece, right ..
M: Yeah, Jaqayla
HHF: What’s the significance of that title for you?
M: My niece, Jaqayla, she makes me a lot of artwork and stuff like this, when she was living with me. She is very smart and at that time she was like in third grade or something like that. She made me a poem called ‘Are World’ – spelled ‘A- R- E’ and in this poem she spoke about different animals in the world and plant life, she summed it up pretty nice. I thought it was very intricate. I was like, why are you spelling it like that and she was like I did it like that cause it looks pretty on paper, I guess. I was like, it does look better than ‘our world’. And then I was like, I’m going to make a song and I did the same thing she did in the poem, but I talked about my life and my world.
HHF: What you could say about the title is like, ‘Our world’ it belongs to us, we possess or own this world, but with ‘Are world’ it’s like the world is us. Does that make sense?
HHF: Can you talk me through the lyrics, especially the second verse where it gets all broken up. That part of the track, the second verse, really impressed me when I heard it.
M: The first verse is how I was taught to believe the world is, by the OGs who brought me up. The first verse is me trying to project this way of living and then the second verse was more how I feel about those same things now. The first verse is how I was raised, and its 100 % factual. People don’t understand that in Richmond, my life was average… considering where I’m from – I’m from the North side of Richmond, Virginia. It was typical to grow up and be raised by people who have been in prison for ten years and then got out, and they raising you and we didn’t think it was anything different.
HHF: Is it kind of strange they’re people you respect and have relationships with, but also you know there’s this other world that they’re part of? Growing up in that environment do you have this kind of split going on all the time?
M: (pauses) It’s weird, like even now as an adult, you still can’t escape it really. You can kind of lay low and then hope that it don’t find you, but it never goes away. With the verses, it’s both sides of the coin: the first side is I’m with it, I don’t care what happen; police catch me, fuck it. The second verse is like, no… I don’t want to do that, it’s those contradictory things we all go through.
Television was the closest I got to the other side of the tracks, so the second verse I integrated a lot of things, like video games, M. Bison from Streetfighter and a lot of stuff everything we can relate to. In the first verse, not everybody can relate to this brute way of living; but the second verse I’m saying I was exposed to the same forms of entertainment on television and in fashion (as everybody else)like everybody wore Air force Ones and Jordans. But at the same time we were wearing Air force Ones and running from the police.
That’s the difference, we share the same things, but not the same experiences. It was like in the second verse I wanted to go more introspective. The first verse is exterior, this is what it looks like when you’re looking at it, like I’m not going anywhere near that but when you meet the person, which is me, you’re like, he’s not a rowdy person, he’s actually kind of together.
HHF: What I like about it is the way you’ve done it: the first verse is very factual – you’ve got ages, statements, it’s very straight and then in the second verse is much more psychological and complex. Also the sound of the sound of the production in the second verse is quite amazing It’s got this whole series of samples that come in, so what you’ve got there is an increased complexity, which is quite beautiful.
HHF: What were you trying to achieve in terms of the sound?
M: I wanted it to sound very theatrical.
M: Cause Antagonist (producer Antagonist Dragonspit) and I never actually met in person, but we talked on the phone and talked about the state of hip-hop. He practically gave me the beat in good faith, like I can’t wait to hear what you do and when I sent it to him he was like, yeah pretty much what I thought you’d do …
People were really competing for the beat and I was like, no, you need to hand that over to me because I’m going to embody something with that. I’m not going just freestyle and all that I’m going to try and do something real with it, you know what I’m saying. He was like, you got it.
The sound quality, when you put the music to the lyrics and everything coincides, it’s basically like I just wanted to tell the narrative based on how the music sounds. The transition makes it heighten and then it comes down and then it climaxes again, it’s just like writing a musical score.
HHF: Totally. And there’s an amazing bass-line, I’m not sure if it’s a pure bass-line sample, or if he’s modified or changed the sound of it but it’s just extraordinary.
M: It is.
HHF: When you used that word theatrical, would it be appropriate then to think about it as if it were scenes in a play or something like this?
M: Like I can do it on Broadway or something and it’d make sense; cause the way I like to write I like to write from the memories burned in the back of my mind, the things that I remember most vividly. Most people like to write from a place that’s like, I’m going to get the ‘oohs and the ahhs’ and people are like, oh wow. I used to do that, that’s where I come from, you can hear traces of my ‘cleverness’ but at times I got to tell a narrative.
I didn’t want to do nothing fabricated. I wanted to make sure that people understood that this is my world, this is the world as I know it, the Richmond; for people from Richmond, Virginia this is what we are used to. Another person would look at it and go, ‘that’s horrific; that you were around machine-guns and all that stuff and we’re like, no it ain’t … That’s life.
It’s always kind of weird when cultures come together and we see you how other people live. They’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that, and we look at other people and we’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that (laughs).
What brings us together is the music and that’s why the music is important because when you tell that narrative and you do it from a true place, then somebody that has no way of knowing how this is like, they’re going to get walk-through that life as well and they’re like, okay if I was him, I probably would have felt the same.