KRS-ONE explains how God kept him in VA for a week, and talks about his time being homeless and much more.
HHF: I want to talk now about this track ‘Yez Lawd’ it’s got soul elements in it, but it’s more deconstructed, it’s lighter in a way. The lyrics are kind of funny.
M: That’s one of favorite songs too and it’s funny you included that song because that’s pretty much about, just saying when you’re Black in America, you’ve got enough religion as it is without people trying to convert you to something. I was speaking about r&b singers, working a job, being poor, I was talking about all this stuff that plague the Black community. Sometimes the last thing I want is for somebody to come up to me and say, hey do you know the Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.
But I took the humorous route because the content is so heavyweight, it would lose the average listener if it were too heavy, they’d say this shit is gonna make me cry. I don’t want to make people feel depressed. I like to be a little humorous and show people that we’re not sitting in a melancholic state all the time. We are just coping, it’s a coping mechanism. We’ve found a way to laugh at our problems. (…)
HHF: It’s a survival thing, isn’t it?
M: Right, right.
HHF: And I thought what was interesting about that track is the use of contrast; I mean the sample at the beginning sounds like a Spiritual ….
M: Mike McGraw made that beat, aka Krooked Smilez, he’s from Chester, Virginia. He made that and when I heard it I thought spirituality and religion and then it made me try and channel everything I understand about being Black. I said a line, this is the line that makes people go crazy at shows, when I say: Seems all we do is fantasize about the pretty singers / got black people hollering how we miss Aaliyah / got Spanish people hollering how they miss Selena / TLC is only TC, they’re missing Lisa /
When you’re Black and you’re in the neighborhoods, your concerns are on these things, while the whole world is designed to keep you down, you’re thinking, Damn Aaliyah has just died. And that sums up being Black in America. There’s another line where I say, celebrating Independence Day, who’s independence? / I swear that of this was the 1800s / and white boys saw them white girls with us they would’ve hung us /
HHF: I don’t want to sound too abstract, but it’s all about contrast. You’re doing this rap about acting like a tough guy and all this bravado and then you’ve got the other elements, the soul element which is quite mournful and then you’ve got the spiritual and then every now and then these barbed comments. It’s very layered. As a listener, you’re not laughing from beginning to end if you know what I mean.
M: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s funny you bring up the bravado because the bravado is a defence mechanism. If someone challenges your manhood, or getting approached or being approached and they’re trying to see where you at as a man, or whatever. You are going to respond with nothing but, I’m going to break you up proper. Then in these environments you are forced into these situations – this is how they get their point across. (…)
HHF: It’s a constant thing in hip-hop, this is a bit simplistic so forgive me for this as well, but you know hip-hop is a way out of that as well, it’s also a way of avoiding physical violence you know. It’s something you hear all the time, these guys doing the tough guy thing, but they’re just talking.
M: Right, cause nobody wants confrontation … I’m not a tough guy. I’m not a gangster or anything like that. The funny thing about it is that this is normal. This is typical. You don’t have to be a gangster to get shot. Where I’m from, you could have stayed away from gangs, drugs, stealing cars and still get killed for no reason.
HHF: Isn’t that in ‘Bad Hair Day’ you talk about this?
M: Right. ‘Bad Hair Day’ is pretty much this is a normal day. This is normal.
HHF: In ‘Bad Hair Day’ there are these lines ‘Richmond is a battlefield’ and then you’ve got something about ‘daffodils’ and a ‘Happy Meal’. I like the way you’ve contrasted ‘daffodils’ which are something sweet and a ‘Happy Meal’ which is something disposable, is this something you’re trying to do with your lyrics to offer these contrasts, to keep it fresh?
M: If you look at ‘Bad Hair Day’ that symbolizes Richmond in a nutshell. The first verse I’m talking about being a predator, I’m with the people preying on ‘the weak’… I’m with them, so I’m not going to say, ‘Let’s not prey on the weak, let’s not do that’ because they’re going to be like, ‘Mistuh, you acting like a pussy, and you can get fucked up too.’
You can’t deflect it when you live in it. If you don’t live in it, it’s easy to avoid. If somebody is trying to run down on you in your neighborhood where your mama live, and you live there, what are you going to do?
They are going to be like, ‘Hey cuz, where you from?’
‘Shit.’ The first thing you say to yourself is like, ‘Man, I’m just trying to go to the store, man.’
They like, ‘Fuck all that. You ain’t from round here, bruh.’ That’s the norm… That’s what’s happening right now, this is what’s been happening since I’ve been alive… That’s Richmond.
A lot of people compare this to Kendrick’s, MAAD city and you know what’s funny… what Kendrick showed me on MAAD city was that every neighborhood is the same, cause I was like, we’re going through that, minus the gangbanging. People gangbang in Richmond, but they migrate from other places.
In ‘Bad Hair Day’ I’m speaking mostly in the past tense of things that I’ve endured and narrate it in a way that people can relate, so I say things like I’m running cause I got jumped in the projects. And I’m running cause they’re chasing me home and I’m like jumping fences and heart racing and I’m just saying that’s how it is here, that’s how normal it is. I can speak about it and make sense to someone who never went through it. They’re like, that’s understandable if the whole projects were chasing me, I’d run too.
HHF: (laughs) Of course. In another context you talked about things that people are ‘subjected to’. I thought that was an interesting turn of phrase, I mean I haven’t lived it so don’t want to say anything patronising here, but it’s not about choices, it’s about being conditioned by the environment, would you say? You’re being shaped by the world you’re living in, is that correct?
M: Right. I mean I was. But as an adult it is your choice. When you’re a kid you have no choice in the matter. When you’re a child you can’t help where you born at, you can’t help who your family is, you can’t help that stuff. That ain’t under your control, you’re just here. You’re six years old and you in the neighborhood where people are getting shot every day. You can’t do nothing about it. You can’t get a job and move out.
But when you’re an adult, you have the choice and as an adult, I had the choice and I said, look, I ain’t with this no more. I’m going to make my move. So that’s where my new project that I’m working on now is like. It’s more about how I feel today.
When I made all that I was trying to show the youth, the generation after me that you can come from this and still do something. I come from the shit, all that Chief Keef stuff… that was like the after school special for me. He is not scary at all to me. I can’t wait to meet him (laughs). Because I get it, I get why he’s doing that.
What I’m saying is, look here young’n, you can come from this. I come from this, but you can do something productive in society. I’m doing it now… I’m making music, I’m making people want to interview me. I’m a regular person trying not to die (laughs). That’s all. I’m just going to keep making music and try not to get shot at; that’s all I’m going to do.
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.