Saturday, June 4, 2016

For the Cheese: An Interview with West Kraven

King Kraven

   Following my interviews with Shamen 12, Zombie619er and Eclipse Heru, I was able to get in touch with Ruckus, better known as West Kraven. With a history that goes back to the early 80s, Kraven has come with many styles, from his abstract battle rhymes on "Telepathic Passageways" and "Spiritual Invasion" to the dark, sinister themes found on Universe Horror Nites to the hustler anthems found on the more recent Big Worm Series Vol. 1. Kraven discussed his inspirations, recording for Microcrucifiction, the Underground Improv and more...

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

     Honestly, man, as far as my earliest experiences with hip-hop, I would say what inspired me, it'd be the KRS-One/BDP era. Growing up, Rakim was definitely my favourite rapper. After that, it was Kane. So some of the earlier 80s stuff, man. Kool G Rap, the hardcore stuff, back when it was all lyrical, ya dig?

You have a freestyle on Back 2 tha Future where you mention rhyming with Define and Phenom back in '83. So your history goes all the way back to the early 80s?

    Yeah, man. It definitely does. You know, growing up there were a few experimental groups. But I've always been a fan of hip-hop, man. I was raised in the whole Public Enemy era. I was raised in the golden era of hip-hop. Basically that's the best way to put it.

In regards to you rapping with Define and Phenom back in the 80s. Was it through you that they got down with Masters of the Universe?

    Actually,  nah. I mean, I went to school with Define and Phenom. My cousin is Orko and it'd be safe to say that he made the calls on who he felt should be accepted into Masters of the Universe and they were definitely talented, young individuals. So he made that call but we all agreed that they should be there.

 
I was talking to Infinity Gauntlet a while back and he was telling me you're a little bit older than Orko and you sort of mentored him when he first started rapping. Is that right?

    Yeah, basically we're like 3 months apart. My birthday is May. His birthday is July. But we're actually the same age and yeah, growing up, I lived in Los Angeles, he stayed in San Diego but when he'd come visit me - I just had a hip-hop spirit - so he'd hear me making beats on my chest. Walking home from school and rapping, this and that. So I showed him the passion for the music, but he showed me the music business. Is that clear?

Yeah, it definitely seems like he was the driving force back then in terms of putting together projects.

    Yeah, definitely. Basically I had love for the music but he was more organized in terms of putting projects together and gettin' in the studio. I was more of a person who had love for the music and pretty much utilized it as a hobby and he was somebody who wanted to do something more than make it a hobby. 

I know Masters of the Universe kind of came together through House Klan when it was more of a housing crew, and you had Black Bradys, DNA, etc. but were you part of any crew or were you more of a solo guy?

    Well, I definitely wasn't a part of House Klan or any other dance crews. I mean, I had a partnership with two other rappers, Bassment and another cat. But it was basically more rap though, even though I could dance. I was primarily focused on rap. 

Can you talk about any memories you have recording for Microcrucifiction?

    Well, basically, like I said, me and Orko, we're first cousins. His mom is my mom's sister, you know? So I pretty much stayed at his house is what I'm gettin' at. We put a lot of that stuff on 4-track before people had any money to record. We used to stay up all night and make beats, try to put it together. And as we were putting it together, we incorporated other people. But basically it was all based on our vision then what they did is incorporate their art and talent. But it was primarily focused on the stuff we were doing.



I had heard Masters of the Universe went to the Good Life and battled there. Were you present for that battle?

    Actually me and my cousin were the first people to perform at the Good Life from San Diego! 'Cause my father stays in L.A. and like half of our family stays in L.A., and as I was saying, we were the primary forces behind the music stuff in San Diego. But I don't recall a battle in all fair honesty.

You used to go by the name Ruckus but switched up to West Kraven. Was that just because you were moving more into the horror themes in your music or did that have anything to do with Sean Price coming out around that time and calling himself Ruck?

    Nah, definitely not. When I was calling myself Ruckus I was unaware of other people being attached to that name at that time. So that was like being in the dark about that but as I started to really focus on my skills and get better, started to really put out projects - just to be honest, I called myself West Kraven because my mom made us fans of horror movies and West Craven was one of my favourite horror directors and being from the west, I just put it together.

Could you take about the Underground Improv and how that shaped you as an emcee?

    The Improv, man, that was people that went to the Good Life, like me and my cousin, people who were familiar with 2000 Crows in Los Angeles. We wanted that type of atmosphere and that type of energy for San Diego. We were dealing with some people who had the capability to put this in place, and it was actually successful. It was our little San Diego Good Life or 2000 Crows where if you didn't have the talent to be there, either you can work on it, come and observe and get better, or get discouraged, but we basically made men out of mice.

Do you recall who did the beats on Universe Horror Nites?

    Orko and Puddi are the only two I remember producing on that tape. 

 

Early on you had "Telepathic Passageways" which was more abstract and later on you had horror themed stuff, but more recently you deal with more reality based subject matter. When I talked to Delon Deville he told me he felt people weren't relating to his earlier stuff and wanted to bring it back down to earth. Was that a similar thing for you or did it come naturally to deal with that subject matter?

    You know what? In all fair honesty, when I started making music all my stuff was reality based. But my cousin, he had the dance groups, and we all loved hip-hop but we were hanging around different people. I was more in the hood, around ghetto people. I'm not saying he wasn't but my observations, my reality, where I laid my head at night, where I went to school, who I hung around with, it made my rhymes a little bit more street. But at the same time, when I was around him, or around the dance crews, it was a different type of flavor. It was a little more lyrical. Even though I was always lyrical, he was like that all the time, you know? That's the best way I can put it.

I know improvising was a big part of what you guys did. It sounds like some of the stuff on your solo tape is freestyled.

    We definitely took freestyling seriously. We used to have this little spot, like a shack that we had made. It used to be hot as hell. No windows, no nothing, and we'd be 10-12 people deep. And we used to make each other battle each other. Like, you and him, you and him. Kinda like UFC. That's what we used to do, you know?

You had an EP called Income but after that it kinda seemed like you disappeared. Did you take a hiatus from music or were you still recording?

    Well, basically, me and my cousin were the people who kinda figured out we want to put some stuff out. I put out my first record was I was 21 on vinyl, with my own money. With me, I know in San Diego there's no music industry here. There's no labels. So either you're gonna work and save up the money and put it out yourself, like on some Eminem 8 Mile shit [laughs]. You gotta put it out yourself or it's just not gonna see the light of day.



The most recent thing I heard was the Big Worm Series Vol. 1 but I also saw other titles: Paperboy Series, Thank God For Haterz. Are those all unreleased albums, like do you have a ton of unreleased music? 

    Paperboy Series is first and foremost, it's a t-shirt. There was never a Paperboy series. There was never a Thank God For Haterz series and as far as my name, West Kraven, there's somebody in L.A. or the bay who DJs who calls himself West Kraven, and I had some words with him. He kinda felt like, "Well, I'm a DJ. You're doing the rap thing. I'm over here, you're over there." And he didn't wanna change it. Of course I'm not messing with my name because I was first and I earned it. Then there's another person from my town who started calling himself West Kraven and he don't wanna change his name 'cause he's got his little followers. At the same time, man, I made West Kraven. I'm the first person to do that. Everybody knows that to the point where it's a respect type of situation. There could be 20 more West Kravens that pop up but everybody will always know who the real West Kraven is. That's my brand.

Well, none of those other West Kravens will record a Universe Horror Nites, that's for damn sure...

    Yeah, it's like, it's gonna be 20 other people... I've had people turn around and call themselves Stephen King off'a me calling myself West Kraven, you know? Just that type of shit, you know?

 

You've recorded a lot of stuff with Shamen 12/Delon Deville. Were you guys just hanging out a lot or how did those collaborations come about?

    You know, man, me and Deville, that's my boy right there. You can put that on record right there. Deville is a talented individual. We both love Curtis Mayfield and hustle music and this and that. We did music before we understood the music we wanted to make. Does that make sense?

So you think as you got older and kept recording you grew into that style over time?

    Yeah, just because when we recorded, it just made us feel different. Of course being lyrical is great and you always want the lyrics, but at the same time you want to represent for your environment. It's like, okay, you're going outside, you see all these cats hustlin', you see your peers playing football, you see the type of music they're listening to in their cars. If you're making a type of music that's different eventually the music is going to have to reflect the environment you're in.

I know you've got a clothing line The Fly Clothing. Is the website (thefly.clothing) the best way for people to get shirts?

    Yeah, the website is actually the best way to go. It's not no bogus type of situation. You just click on what you want and it'll get to you.

My last question: do you have any music-related projects you're cooking up right now that people might expect to hear in the future?

    I'm working on something right now. I have a couple of songs recorded but the music and other issues have been keeping me from being as thorough as I need to be. But I'm definitely thinking about something I may release. I'll put it out there right now just in case someone takes the title since that seems to be a problem in my career, just so you know I did it first. It's gonna be called What Dreams May Come.