Sunday, January 3, 2016

Reign of Independence: An Interview with Quaesar of Rime Fytahs


    Quaesar debuted as part of Rime Fytahs, alongside the late Haewhyer (R.I.P.), in the mid-90s and has been putting it down since, with a dedication to the true school: a focus on lyricism, styles, raw beats and respect for the culture. He also takes DIY to a new level - following in the footsteps of Afterlife Recordz - handling all aspects of his craft, from rhymes to production to artwork. He even put together Beetbak's Wild Style inspired logo. In this interview, Quaesar discusses his roots in hip-hop, the formation of Rime Fytahs, The Cola Crew and Sea Serpents, as well as his work ethic, inspirations and plans for the future. If you enjoy this interview, hit him up on Facebook or check out his site to order Rime Fytahs complete CD discography!

What were your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping yourself?

    I would have to say more on the terms of Beat Street, Style Wars type of stuff. I was a young kid, about 5 years old when Beat Street dropped and during that time you had Michael Jackson out so you had a lot of pop influence, so I was real into dancing. When I saw break dancing I was fuckin' blown away. My cousins were a little older so they kinda schooled me on it. I was messing around with them, doing routines with them, which really got me into the whole culture. The whole graff scene is really tied into that too. I was influenced with the graffiti right away. There were older cats who were already on the tag tip. They weren't really bombing like they do now. It was more you tag your name, your crew, you know? And where I grew up, it wasn't the nicest neighbourhood and a lot of us kids didn't have parents to guide us. We'd be hanging out in packs, by ourselves. We'd go out jacking graffiti supplies, getting my name up, getting caught by undercovers, stupid shit like that.

    As far as influences, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill. "Brass Monkey" was actually played on the radio. It was underground, but because it was new, the industry was giving the genre more of a chance, whereas now it's been twisted into a whole big commercial machine. Back then, it was more about expressing your feelings. It's kind of changed a lot, but when I was into it, it was more on that tip. Slick Rick, "Children's Story", Dana Dane, even Fresh Prince, Public Enemy, X-Clan. Like, even though X-Clan were more, I don't wanna say black power, but if you weren't educated, you'd kinda interpret it that way. It was personal empowerment that I got out of it. I'd be bumping the fuck out of X-Clan [laughs]. When I was young, since I first started break dancing, at like 5-6 years old, I'd be wearing headbands, a headband on my wrist, on my knee, tucking my pants into my socks [laughs]. And my mom bought me this big-ass ghetto blaster - they call them boom boxes now - and I could barely carry it! My neighbourhood, there were more chicanos, and I'd be going around bumping Dana Dane and all those cholos would be staring at me like, "Who the fuck is this kid?" That's kinda what I did. I tried not to follow the norm. That's the tip I was always on.

Well, I read on your site that Haewhyer actually battled Taboo before he was in Black Eyed Peas. Is that how you met Haewhyer, through dancing?

    Kind of. We kinda of clicked up because we were on the same tip, graffiti, break dancing. We could speak the same language. It was the same frequency. Right before I met up with Haewhyer, I was in the streets. My moms was a heroin addict. My pops was locked up for strong arming small mom & pops stores. He eventually got caught and was doing time in prison, so the streets raised me. Eventually my mom didn't have a place for me to stay. It was this little shack in a mechanic's yard that she was staying at. Her boyfriend was a loser too, an addict, and he wasn't trying to get her out of this fuckin' shack and then he tells me, "You need to bounce." But where the fuck am I gonna go? So I'd just go to the park and sleep on a park bench. I'd sometimes try to catch the bus 'cause it'd run 24/7 and I'd hop on the bus and sleep on there. That's how I got known because I was tagging up the bus. I'd practically live on the bus.

    When I was sleeping in the park, I eventually got real sick, like sick with the flu. So I went home like, "Hey mom, I'm really sick." So she let me crash out and during that time, whoever her boyfriend was at that time, he got caught for warrants, so he was locked up and a homegirl from the hood came there and was like, "You guys gotta move. Come live with me." She eventually pulled us out and moved us to Rosemead. And as soon as I met up with Haewhyer in this other city, it was on. I wasn't trying to sleep on a park bench anymore. I wanted to take more control of my own life. I'm not 14-15 anymore. I'm 16-17. All these questions came into my life.

Do you feel like that structure that hip-hop provided you, that it kinda saved you?

   Oh, definitely! I mean, I'm one to speak off experience. I'm not trying to glorify anything. I'm not even trying to put my moms down because she was a heroin addict. I love my mom with all my heart. She died of breast cancer when she was forty years old. I tell people, while I was watching people jump from the Twin Towers, I looked to my side and my mom is dying of breast cancer. I was fucking numb at that time. I didn't see nothing in front of me. I didn't hear nothing. I was just like a robot. I had to try to get to school and stuff. I'm not trying to glorify any of this shit, like, "If you wanna be hip-hop, you gotta be a thug and sell drugs." You ain't supposed to do none of that fuckin' shit! If you're hip-hop, you're supposed to get out of that shit! Especially new motherfuckers talking about pimping bitches. Get the fuck outta here! I'm from the streets, born and bred and fuckin' fed. My pops wasn't there. I don't have no brothers or sisters. My mom wasn't tuned in. When my mom passed away at 40, I was like 23 years old. I don't have nobody to go back to. I can't just go, "Hey mom, can I borrow a couple bucks for gas? Can I rest my head here because I can't afford $1300 for rent? Can I get something to eat? Hey pops, how do I treat a woman? How do I even tie a fucking tie?" A lot of those lessons, I learned through hip-hop. There's a song by Black Sheep called "Black With N.V. (No Vision)" and Dres just breaks it down, drops a lot of knowledge. I guess you take what you need out of it. There's a lot of stuff now, you could fall for the superficial aspects. Even KRS had that song, "Love's Gonna Getcha." If you're stuck to the superficial side, you're gonna be, "Yeah, it's all about selling drugs!" If you don't listen to that message, of course that's what you're gonna do. I was lucky enough to be conscious enough to acquire the lessons of hip-hop rather than the curses. 'Cause even though it's hip-hop, we still curse because we're frustrated. Sometimes you might be like, "Fuck the cops." But that doesn't mean you should go out and start shooting cops. I remember when N.W.A. dropped "Fuck tha Police." And people say the reason why there's gun violence is because there's guns. It was like the reason there's gun violence is because of hip-hop. Nah, it's not like that. Start taking the good out of things, instead just taking the negative. Especially if you're in a negative situation, your job is to get the fuck out of that situation.

    Watch, here's another example I can give you: a lot of people don't want Donald Trump to be president. Well, are you gonna get your ass up and vote? 'Cause if you ain't gonna get your punk ass up to vote to make sure he's not president, then you need to shut the fuck up about it. Change your situation through action or shut the fuck up.

Well, I think a good equivalant to that, in terms of hip-hop, is people need to vote with their wallets and support the music they love 'cause if we don't support it, look what happens? The cream of the crop should rise to the top but it doesn't because people just download everything for free.

    Exactly. Man, I could go off on this shit forever [laughs].

You mentioned KRS-One, and of course he really represents the true school, and there's the classic picture of him rapping into a headphone, but you and Haewhyer actually rhymed into a karaoke machine at one point, right?

    Yeah, that's actually true. We started off, you remember those old computer microphones that looked like a wand? I started acquiring several ways to record, throughout the years, ever since my mom bought me a ghetto blaster - the shit had a record button on it, so even when I was young I was beat boxing, spitting dumb little freestyles, spitting other fools' rhymes. You don't realize it, but you're learning structure. You're learning schematics. You don't realize it because you're just having fun as a kid. It just fell into play. When I went to Rosemead and met up with Haewhyer, I met a couple cats who quote-on-quote flowed or whatever. I'm making little cheap songs with these cats and it's coming out real cheesy. I never even recorded on computers. Wavelab? What the fuck is this shit? I'd never even had a computer but you gotta know in your mind what to do. I was showing them how to make loops and make beats. And they're like, "How do you know how to do this? You don't even have a computer!" "Dude, you know how to do it. It's in you." I wasn't that on point, just getting the gist.

    So I borrowed a tape from one of these cats and it was some dope underground shit. We had walkmans back then. I was cruising, walking through the hood playing this tape. So a few days later, one of these cats is like, "Hey dude, Bobby wants his tape back!" And I'm like, "Who's Bobby? You're lending out shit that don't belong to you?" So that's how we met up. It was like, "Oh, you're Bobby? I had your tape. You flow?" And we started flowing. Then it was like, "What am I doing with these cats when we could be doing this?" We were so hungry to rhyme and put our shit on a medium. And we were messing with this DJ but during that time, he had a vice and he was up there smoking speed and doing dumb shit and giving up his resources, so we just ventured off to ourselves. We saw the equipment we needed but we didn't have the money to do it. At one point, we did fuck with the karaoke machine. "Fuck it, I'm gonna buy this keyboard from Radio Shack." Down the line, we weren't too satisfied, so I bought a sampler, an SP-202, and that helped us make better beats.

You did most of the production on those early Rime Fytahs projects. Did you do all the beats for Us Against Them too?

   Yeah, I did all the beats for that tape, yeah.

When did you start going to Project Blowed?

   Probably like '98-'99ish. The thing about Project Blowed, there was a cafe called the Good Life Cafe. A lot of emcees would go there. There was a particular system there, one of the rules there, you can't cuss. It was a little difficult to get certain messages across unless you encrypted them in a way, you know what I'm sayin'? So when Project Blowed opened, that was a contrast because you could cuss. So there were a lot of ups and downs in the beginning. So it closed down a couple times and we got to go when it was quote-on-quote re-openening, in like '98-'99. We were already Rime Fytahs, and one of the homies was like, "You guys gotta check out this spot!" We kinda knew about it, through the music. We were already bumping the music. But we weren't able to get ourselves out there until homie actually drove us out there. We'd just stay in the den banging out music. People'd be banging on walls like, "What the fuck?" So that's what kinda got us out more. We found the balance between production and getting ourselves out there.

A little bit later you hooked up with Mass Murder Productions and formed C.O.L.A. Can you talk about how the Cola Crew came together?

   Basically me and Haewhyer, we had a certain relationship where we felt for someone to hold the title Rime Fytah, they couldn't just be able to rhyme. There was a lot tied into it. It was deeper. And we're starting to acquire more of a network of emcees and we need an outlet for them. So we started with the Sea Serpents. We kinda split it up like, "These are the guys who can freestyle." Then the guys who write rhymes down, we can have a separate unit. It was small, so it was easy to do that. Then there was the D.A.T.A. crew and they made good music. And then, of course, Mass Murder, which is based outta Ontario, it came together really fast and we realized we needed a structure in order for us to establish the who's who of what, you know? So we started Creators of the Lost Arts. It's just like an umbrella for everybody but nobody is obliged to do anything. Rime Fytahs might wanna do this, but D.A.T.A. might not wanna do that.

   It was a way for us to open up opportunities. A lot of people come to me for advice and stuff. It's more like a coalition. When you come to C.O.L.A. you learn certain knowledge and gain certain intel into how to be an underground artist. Granted, after you learn it, it might be like riding a bike and you're like, "I never needed an elder to help me take off my training wheels." That's how people might think after they ride the bike. But people need to learn those certain independent, underground artists' techniques. But no one is constrained. Everyone is free to go and do whatever the hell they want. But someone might be like, "Oh, this person shut me down! I'm not gonna make music no more." I know how hard it is to get out there. People lose loved ones, get in car accidents, lose their jobs. I want to be there. Those are things that I wanna be there for, to support my crew, so we can keep doing what we love.

Listening to your stuff, I catch moments where it sounds like there's a strong CVE/Hip Hop Klan influence in terms of your musical approach, but also the whole DIY aesthetic. Am I right that they're a big influence?

    Hell yeah! Definitely. During the initial part of my emceeing, before I met Haewhyer and before I was on the street, I was writing a lot of material, my own material, just in my own world. During this time, a lot of my family members were doing drugs and crazy shit and I was like 13-14 years old. I didn't want to be like that, so I'd be at home writing my little rhymes. During that time, you had Cypress Hill coming out. You had The Chronic coming out. Everything that was coming out was on a label. There was no such thing as underground then. If you heard an underground tape, you'd assume it was a demo tape that they'd send to a label to get signed and re-do it. Now, there's so many generations in it, people can't even fathom that mentality. Now everybody's an independent aritst. They don't really get the gist of it.

    So during this time, the way I grew up, with the major influence of my family, gangs and shit, there's a prison influence in my family. Prisoners utilize everything around them to make it an art. You have prisoners that know how to make picture frames out of Camel cigarette boxes. You got prisoners know how to make clocks out of wood, all this stuff. So when my uncles would get out, it'd trickle down to me, so when I was a kid I was always into how to make something out of nothing. So when I was writing rhymes I was always like, "I'm gonna do my own music." I had this picture in my head. So one day - I don't think it's the cassette I borrowed from the homies - I think it was a cassette I got from my homegirl Rebecca. She knew some of the guys in the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. This is kinda pre-Psycho Realm, these fools were trying to be Cypress Hill's openers, you know what I'm sayin'? So she knew them and she was like, "Oh you wanna be flowin'? Let me take you to these fools crib." But they went to get high and I was just kinda standing there in front of these turntables, not doing anything [laughs]. All that shit was just coming together and when I heard this tape, it was just full of fuckin' hiss. I had just finished buying Midnight Marauders, Pharcyde, "Passing Me By." And the beat production, it was coming back to more of a vintage sound, a vinyl sound. And this song came on, "Are you ready for the vibe? Are you ready for the flow? Are you ready for the Kaos Network, Project Blowed?"


    And you had people chopping, even like JJ Fad. They'd chop, but not through the whole verse. It kinda pumped me up 'cause I wanted them to keep going! So I was writing my own shit that was like that, so when I heard Blowed was doing it, I was like, "Hell nah! There's other fools doing this shit?" I was like, "This is what I want to hear!" I want to hear that cheesiness, where they just grabbed a Casio keyboard and make that shit. This is the shit that I want to hear. It was like a breath of fresh air for me. So once I heard that, I found where I fit in. So they were definitely an influence. Everybody from the Blowed, Puzoozoo Watt, fuckin' Medusa, 2Mex, Riddlore?, the whole CVE crew. When I lost Haewhyer too, I had my own particular style, so I felt I needed to incorporate him into my style too. A lot of the shit I do, like lowering my voice, that's paying homage to my boy.

I'm glad you mentioned the chop style. I spoke to Syndrome about this, and Imperator as well, about how you had people chopping, like you said, JJ Fad, and you even have guys like Kool Moe Dee rapping kinda quickly in the early 80s, and Jay-Z & Jaz did "The Originators" in the late 80s. What do you feel was the Good Life's role in regards to the chop? 'Cause it already existed, so would you say they adopted it as their main style and took it to another level?

   Yeah, I think it's exactly that. I think it was their stylized form of delivery. During that time, the style of delivery was very structured. Boom-boom-snare, "here's a flow, here's a flow," boom-boom, punchline. The Good Life, and later the Blowed, was so stylized. It really was exactly that, a Kaos Network. There was chaos but it was so stylized. It didn't have structure, it had its own structure. You hear Myka 9 bust, look at Innercity Griots or To Whom It May Concern, "Be advised they'll come," the style is so different. Then, on top of that, being able to freestyle, being able to freestyle and chop. Anybody can freestyle. In fact, freestyling was invented on the east coast. I mean, if you want to go even deeper, it probably goes back to like, jazz musicians, but when it comes to the west coast, there's so much more. Like... [Quaesar spits a dope freestyle]

[laughs] Nice!

    The thing is, you're communicating with street people. 'Cause me, as a street kid, I have to be able to spit fire. I can't afford to be a slow thinker on the streets. In order to survive, you have to be a quick thinker. And if you're getting down with cats? You have to be able to think fast and spit it fast and freestyle fast and absorb it fast and understand it fast and kick it in fast. Some people, I can understand, they don't get it. I don't mean to bruise egos - I know people want to say they're hard - but you're probably not from a certain demographic. That's usually what the case is. I'm not trying to put anybody down, but that's the way it is. Some type of music you may agree with more. I just happen to agree with this music more. I just clicked up to Afterlife, Hip Hop Klan, CVE. It's like, we're from the streets but we have a college education, so I can either smack you in the face with my books... [laughs] We weren't trying to gang bang. We had to walk through gangs. What do you do then? Do you bow down? Do you succumb to the crack? Do you succumb to the prostitution? Nah, it's easy to do that. Anybody can pop pills, fuckin' shoot up heroin, pimp prostitutes, sell their own pussy. The hard motherfuckers are the ones who don't do that shit. The hard motherfuckers are the ones who get their families out of that shit! So when these little boy toys try to act hard, I can see right through that shit and I don't fear motherfuckers like that. They don't even have the mental capacity to survive a motherfucker like me. They want you to be scared. "I'm covered in tattoos. I've got my head shaved bald." That's the same reason there's a cop car around, to remind you not to steal. This is something I was told: "Real motherfuckers don't have to show off. Real motherfuckers just gotta to show up."

I really like how you kept using the Rime Fytahs name after Haewhyer passed, kinda like BDP, and included verses from him on more recent projects. Do you feel like Haewhyer is still present on those albums, kinda like how it said "overseen by Scott La Rock" on the BDP albums?

    Aw, hell yeah! All the time. There's certain things that happen where it puts a smile on your face, like, "This motherfucker is still here." How certain things come together. The whole spirit of it. I mean, it's a little bit different now because I'm older so I've changed. I'm a lot more patient. Letting people slide or get by. Some people might even feel safe because of my patience [laughs]. That's why a boa constricter lets you get real close. The closer you are, the better it is for me. So I still use the spirit of Haewhyer, but now we're so much in unison, you can't split it up anymore. It's just all one now, if that makes any sense.

One of my favourite albums from you is Raw on Tape which doesn't have much info online. Is that a recent one? I thought I caught you saying 2012 on one track.

   Yeah, yeah, that's a more recent CD. Raw on Tape, I kinda reverted more back to a Rime Fytahs, Us Against Them, original type'a style, the scheme of making my beats - I returned to that. And also, that being said, we used a lot of samples. And on Raw on Tape, I used a lot of samples. That's the reason I released it for free on the internet.

Is that why the song titles are taken from past Rime Fytahs albums?

    Exactly. I wanted to put it together in that way. I was trying to bring it back and pay homage to stuff we already did. I actually have Raw on Tape: Side B coming up, which should even be a little bit nicer than the first one. 

The most recent Rime Fytah's project was Prescribed America. I read that you were inspired to do that album after working as a pharmacy tech. Can you talk about that experience and the concept for that record?

    When my mom was still around, I was actually taking myself to college out here at L.A. Trade Tech. During that time I was taking nursing. I was studying to be a registered nurse. I was in the medical field. After my mom passed away, I started working. When she passed I had to pay my own rent 'cause I was living with my mom and her friend. I couldn't stay there anymore. So I started working as a student nurse and quit school just to pay my rent and shit. So probably from '99 I was going to Trade Tech.

    Recently, I started working manufacturing pharmaceuticals. Not a pharmacy tech, but manufacturing pharmaceuticals. We would make blood thinner at this company and shit, and there was just a lot of shit I'd see. Not only from nursing, going through that field, but also tying into the pharmacy field. They're two different fields, in a way. The way it all tied in, I was able to bring out this Prescribed America CD.

    And believe it or not, during the time I dropped that album and I started working as a pharmacy tech, I had not realized it but I had an ulcer in my stomach and I was bleeding internally. I was getting real sick. If anybody's ever been shot, that's basically what it felt like. You're basically just losing a lot of blood. You have a real bad headache. For me, about a week went by and it was getting worse and worse. I'm pretty sure if someone gets shot they feel it in a second [laughs] but this shit took about a week to progress. I started getting real pale, waking up with headaches. I couldn't get through the day almost. It was hard walking up stairs. I mean, your blood carries oxygen and if you lack blood and your body and your organs lack oxygen, your muscles need oxygen to move. I wasn't putting it together. I'm saying it now, from my medical standpoint, but at that time, I was a patient. "Aw, this isn't happening to me" mentality. I had to lay down and shit. I couldn't breath. I had to walk up stairs and lie down.

    One day it got so bad, I started dry-heaving. I was like, "Fuck this, babe, you have to take me to the emergency room." They said I was pretty close to having my organs shut down because there was so much blood loss. They couldn't believe I was able to walk in. I had to get like six different blood transfusions. I had to take Nexium to close my ulcer up. I got pretty close to dying, you know what I'm saying? It took me a while to recover, believe it or not. Your organs are like sponges that absorb blood. And when you take all the blood out of these sponges, the oxygen, you can't just put water back into a sponge and it'll be back to normal. You have let the blood soak into your organs for them to function properly. I honestly had problems with my lung capacity. This right here is some exclusive shit you're getting. A lot of people don't know, they're thinking, "Why isn't Quaesar's show up to par?" Sometimes it's hard to put air in your lungs. My tongue, I couldn't fuckin' chop sometimes. It was because I was recovering. It wasn't until a couple months ago that I feel like I've fully recovered. So I apologize to anyone who felt my live show wasn't up to par, but I was at a low point health wise. And even relationship-wise, 'cause while I was doing bad, people close to me started trying to take advantage of me. But it was a blessing in disguise because it showed me who was really true to me. I'm glad it happened, in a way, because now I know who's real and who's not real.

Do you have any upcoming projects or plans for the future you want to mention? And I also wanted to ask if you're gonna be on that BullySquad album Syndrome and Casper are putting together.

   Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm on there. I sent them a bunch of verses [laughs]. I got some shit I'm working on with my boy Skruf One. That should be dropping pretty soon. I'm also working on another Rime Fytahs, but I'm taking my time 'cause I want to have more hands on it. I want it to be like more listener friendly, in a way. I don't like to make too many drastic changes on my Rime Fytah projects. I like to keep it consistent. But I'm gonna get somebody else to mix it down, do a couple other touches so it sounds a little more up to par in terms of production, to keep my fans happy.