Tuesday, December 26, 2017

RIP Ganjah K

Keshaun McClendon, aka the legendary Ganjah KMC

Danksta Life: An Interview with Ganjah K

    As the late great Guru once said, when it comes to hip-hop, it's mostly about the voice. Combine a dope voice with top notch lyricism and you get another class of emcee. Add to that the complex vocal stylings of the Good Life and you have Ganjah K, possibly the most underrated and slept on rapper on the west coast. This is largely due to a lack of material being available. Other than his Danksta Life album and a handful of guest features and soundtrack appearances, the only thing most listeners had heard until recently was a God awful dub of Harvest for the World, which only whet the appetites of heads fiending for more material. Fortunately, Ganjah came through and over the past few years dropped several albums through his Bandcamp page, taking the first step in claiming some much deserved recognition for his innovative styles and contributions to the art form. I had the opportunity to chop it up with KMC about his past, present and future in this in depth interview.

I wanna start at the beginning. Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and some of the early influences that inspired you to start rapping?

    I would have to say my first experience with hip-hop was when I heard the Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight." When I heard that, I thought it was so dope, and it seemed to speak to the common person, to the point where I thought, "That's something I could do!" That's what inspired me to start. But when I first started though, I started as a DJ. I started mixing records and got two turntables. There was this Belizean cat who stayed upstairs at my cousin's house who had this massive DJ system. He had these big ass speakers. It was a little ass apartment, but he had these massive speakers. Then you'd go to the back of his room and he had all these records and he had two turntables and a mixer, and I was really awed by that. I was really young, like ten or something like that. He was mixing these records, Jamaican funk and all these jams and shit. I was like, "Damn! I could do that too! I wanna do that." So since that was something I seen happening in action, I gravitated towards that at first. Then later on, I was hearing rapping from artists like Cool J and, you know, different artists coming out at that time and it made me pick up the mic. That was around junior high school. 

When I talked to Sach, he said he felt you really found your style and came into your own after you started rapping at the I-Fresh. Can you talk about how that came about and that whole era?

    I can't put my finger on exactly how I met Ben [Caldwell], but we became pretty close. He started this thing called I-Fresh and we'd perform up at Southwest College, at different radio stations. He had that same spot where Project Blowed is being done right now, that was I-Fresh. We'd go there and put on acts and do our thing. Sach was one of the artists who was there. We had Deryl with the Curl and Tuxedo Tee. We were all just in Leimert Park, getting down on the mic. That's when I started battling and stuff like that. I have never lost a battle. I did pretty good at the I-Fresh. Me and Ben became very close because he really believed in me, as an artist. When you see somebody believing in you, and when you start winning battles, you start getting more confident. So that's probably why Sach felt that's when I found my style. That's basically what it was. It was just understanding that, "Hey, I'm a pretty dope emcee!" [laughs] I started realizing that.

   In junior high school, that's when I really started winning battles. That was a thing back in the day, you had to hold down your school. If you called yourself the rapper of the school, you had to hold it down! Anybody who comes from anywhere to check in to the school that raps, you had to take 'em out. If somebody came from another school, you had to take 'em out. Anybody who went to that school, you had to take 'em out. So that's when I started really becoming who I was. They used to call me Pee Wee Jam because my voice was so high at the time, but I used to kill people on the mic.

So how did you end up going to the Good Life?

    Well, before I went to the Good Life, I met Myka 9 and Acey. We were workshoppin' together. Me, Mike and Ace, and Jup - Jup was in and out of town - but me, Mike and Ace would get together every day. I mean every day. I actually met Mike and Ace through Meen Green. He wasn't a rapper at the time, but he just knew both of us and he knew we all rhymed hard. Then since we met, me, Mike and Ace, we was thick as thieves ever since. 'Cause, see, I had my own group, The Chronic, which was me and Bombay.

Well, I know a lot of people actually thought you were part of Freestyle Fellowship because you were on the cover of To Whom It May Concern... But that was just you guys hanging around a lot?

    Well, actually, I'll give you a wild story. The first Freestyle Fellowship was me, Mike and Ace. We were all solo artists but we entered a rap contest in Compton and we wanted to all enter together, because we all kicked it every day. We wanted to enter that contest together, so we said, "What're we gonna call ourselves? We'll call ourselves Freestyle Fellowship."

Wow! That's crazy.

     Yeah! [laughs] See, Sumbi, he was me and Bombay's DJ. That's why I'm on the album cover [of To Whom It May Concern...]. We were supposed to have a song on there. But John (Bombay) was always workin' at the time so we were never able to get a song on To Whom It May Concern... But Sumbi, he was me and John's producer. So, of course, I introduced them to Mike and Ace. But the first Fellowship was me, Mike and Ace. We entered a contest in Compton. Then after Bombay died, they had signed to Island Records and they asked me if I wanted to come on in. But I think I was still grieving. I didn't want to enter another group because I felt that was betraying him. I kinda wish I had joined them, because I was one of the originators of these styles anyway, but I just felt I'd be betraying John. He had just passed away. So I decided not to do that. Sometimes I regret that, but you never know, man.

Well, like you said, you were one of the originators of those styles and fortunately you did release a record in 1991 on Wild West Records where you are styling like that. That was also a record where you and Bombay were credited as The Chronic, again, in '91, before the Dre album. Can you talk about how you hooked up with Wild West?

    That was through MC Torche - he was a graffiti artist in junior high school - we used to call him Gumby. He started rapping after junior high school. 'Cause see, Marc the Murderah, me and Napom, we all went to high school together, you know what I'm sayin'? But I was the only one really rapping at that time, I believe. With Wild West, when I reconnected with Gumby, he was going by Torche and was working with Wild West. He told me to go up there and meet them, so that's how that came about. We did a few songs with them. That's how I believe I met Bird. Bird did a lot of production on my demo.

Did Bird also produce the original version of "Scud Missile" that was on your demo?

No, the original version, me and Bombay wrote it, but before we were able to record it, he passed away. Then Matt (Mathmattiks) from the Earthquake Brothers, he did a beat and me and P.E.A.C.E. - 'cause P.E.A.C.E. was part of First Brigade before he was part of Fellowship - we did "Boomin' Scud Missile." I went out to see him last summer and he doesn't have a copy either. I wish I had a copy of that. He did John's parts. That song was really me and John going back and forth. He'd say a line, we'd say a line together. When we performed it at the Good Life, we tore it down! It was over with. Me and John was like the coldest west coast Run-D.M.C. you ever heard. We'd come in, "BOOM! A scud missile." We'd be going back and forth stupid! He'd say one line, I'd say one line. We'd come together: "Three blind mice, three blind mice, see how they run!" It was just ridiculous. That was my brother in rhyme, man. I still, to this day, miss John. I was just in my room recording, thinking of old rhymes he said. I was recordin' them over some beats Fat Jack gave me. I was recording that just the other night, some real old rhymes!

    So getting to the Good Life, this is the way that I remember it. I was talking to Mike or Ace about it at the reunion and they seem to have a different recollection than I do, but this is how I remember it: when we were getting together at Ace's spot, he said he knew a little cafe where people were busting, and was like, "We should go up there and see what's up." So we started going up there. Then the Good Life was born. We started going there and doing the styles we were doing at the house, mixing in jazz, playing with the microphone like it was a trumpet, you know, doing styles like that. All that came from using our voices like instruments. That's kinda where it derives from. If you really listen to what we're doing, it's like we're playing an instrument but doing rhymes with it. Then, all of a sudden, a lot of people caught on to it, and everybody started doing their version of it. That was the whole underground movement, how it was born.

Well, you were part of the Good Life, but you were also doing stuff with RBX and Tha Dogg Pound, which is the other side of west coast hip-hop, so you had your feet in both those lanes.

   Yeah, that's true. See, Mike actually knew Reality Born first. I didn't know RBX. Mike brought him into the circle. He had this song, "Every day I fight a devil." It was so dope! The song was just ridiculous. So when I got to meet him, we became cool. He had this DJ called Create.

    A funny story: me, Mike and RBX were doing a show in Vegas at the Thomas Wright Center, right? So we're in the van, me and Mike, going to Long Beach to pick up RBX. And we're waiting in the back of the van like, "What is takin' this motherfucker so long?" So when he finally gets in the van, we're like, "What the fuck?" And he's like, "I was just battlin' my cousin Snoopy. I had to show him what's up." We're like, "Man, we're trying to do a show. Who the fuck is Snoopy?" So we drove out there, performed in front of all these students. The Thomas Wright Center was packed. But we didn't know the little dude he was talking about battling was Snoop Dogg!

    I got so many stories. We was at one of those hip-hop functions, like a summit type thing. RBX was like, "Why don't y'all come over and meet my cousin. You know, Dre and them, Snoop, whoopty whoop." So we like, "Alright, fuck it!" We went over, me, Mike and Ace, and met all those cats. Me and P.E.A.C.E., they really liked us, so we started kickin' it with them a lot. We all became pretty close. I got pretty cool with Dre but mostly it was Snoop and Daz - and Kurupt of course, he came from the Good Life before he got into the gang banging and all that shit. He got a lot of respect at the Good Life.

   I know one time [laughs], me and P.E.A.C.E. went to Kurupt's auntie's house in Inglewood. We wanted to get in our freestyle so much, we were just freestyling at the table at two in the morning. His auntie kicked us out and me and P.E.A.C.E. had to find our way home from Inglewood. I just seen Kurupt this year actually, him and Warren G. It was good seein' 'em. I was tellin' Kurupt how proud I was of him. He was like, "Ganjah, we just gettin' started." He was treating me like a star.

So we kind of talked about this off the record, but for the readers, there's a rumor that you had an album prior to Harvest called Season of the Chronic but that was just a single song from your demo, right?

Yeah, it was a song called "'Tis the Season" by The Chronic. If I remember right, it was, "Tis the season, welcome at your own risk, to the fortress, the First Brigaaaaaaaaade! Chronic!" I dunno, I think Bird did the production, or it might've been one of the Earthquake Brothers. Freestyle Fellowship was there. They helped us on the hook. So that's probably how people mixed that up and put that together and thought it was an album.

   I have another story: I had a song that me and Matt did. After John passed, Matt from the EQB did a lot of my earlier shit. I had a song called "Hip-Hop You Don't Stop." I was performing at Guadelupe's and Treach from Naughty By Nature was there. I was performing my song, which was a tribute to hip-hop. "Hip-hop, hip-hop, you don't stop!" Then I hear "Hip Hop Hooray," right? So I always thought, since Treach was there, there was some connection, but I couldn't put my finger on it. So I'm at The Gavin watching Diamond D perform, just by myself in a crowd of people. Then this guy starts coming toward me, through the crowd, and it was Treach. He reached out and shook my hand. We didn't even say nothin'. He just shook my head. And we kinda both knew what it was about, you know what I'm sayin'? And he left and I haven't seen him since.

So your first album then was Harvest for the World. Did that album get shelved when Pallas folded? Is that what happened there?

    Yeah, basically. That basically sums it up. It got shelved, not once Pallas folded, but once the CEO of the label got fired, and they got a new CEO of the company. There was a guy from Japan who actually funded the label, but a guy named Jerome, they put in charge of everything, including all the artists. That was me, Muhammad, which is Phoenix Orion - they had Alien Nation - and Supernatural was part of that label as well. That's how I met Supernat and we became like brothers. I was actually in New York when Supernat had that battle with Craig G. I was at a photo session. Then when I got done, he was like, "Ganjah! They set me up!" I was like, "What are you talkin' about? Calm down. What happened?!" He was like, "Maaaan, I was up there for a freestyle exhibition and they got Craig G!" I was like, "Craig G from the Juice Crew?" He was like, "Yeah, man! He started dissin' me! It was like he knew it was gonna happen. He had lines ready!" I think that was like the first battle he ever lost, so he was hotter than fish grease on a Friday night! [laughs]

    So when I'm back in L.A. he calls me up like, "Ganjah! I got that motherfucker back, man!" I think it was Supernat's birthday. He was like, "I was walking around New York and I found out he was doin' a show and I went up there and smashed the mic! I got that motherfucker back!" [laughs] That's my guy, Supernat. We was just talkin'. I introduced him to the Good Life and that's how he became cool with everybody out here.

    Back to the Pallas thing, after Fab Five Freddy took over Pallas Records, they decided to start fresh and new, so they got those guys from Chicago, Crucial Conflict, and put them out through Pallas. Then that was the last of Pallas Records. But me and Fab Five Freddy became kinda cool. I dunno how he took over the label, we got dropped, and I got cool with him. I have no idea how that happened [laughs]. But I mean, I was still serving the industry. I was getting emcee money without even being out, off of hustling. I was one of the first rappers in High Times magazine.

Yeah, you also had some soundtrack appearances around that time. One of them - we talked about Bombay earlier - was a tribute to him, "When Your Homie Dies." I wanted to ask, you used a melody from an Earth, Wind & Fire song on there. Did that song have some significance, or was that Fat Jack's idea?

    That was just one of my favourite songs. That whole concept was me. I just had Fat Jack put it together. I wanted it just like that song from Earth, Wind & Fire. So DK Toon, he was Lil Cartoon from 60s. So then Big Cartoon from 60s got out of jail, and he had this amazing voice. I was like, "Lil Toon, is it cool if I get Big Cartoon on this song?" He was like, "Eh, I dunno." He wanted him to himself. They were from the same set. I get that. I get the ghetto get-down. But I was like, "C'mon, man! Let Big Cartoon get on the song." And that really made it. 'Cause there was no way in the world I was gonna hit those notes [laughs]. And me, DK and Dutch did an album too, called 3 tha Hard Way.

When was that one recorded?

    That was recorded between '98 and 2001, somewhere around there. 

And you're still planning to release that one, right?

Yeah, I just don't know all the ins and outs of how to load that up, all the technical shit. Only reason I got what I got now up is because Jizzm came through and helped me out. But he's been busy doing his thing. I've got these two albums to post, plus I got two new albums. But I still have The Ganjah K Chronicles and 3 tha Hard Way. I just need someone who's hip to that who can help me load it up. Jizzm did the album covers for me too. He was able to get Harvest for the World, Possession of Sales, the First Brigade album, and I appreciate him doing that. I just gotta get these other ones out.

Well, one that did get released back in the day was Danksta Life 'cause I saw someone post a pic of the CD. Did you just press that up and sell it independently?

    Yeah, Danksta Life was right after Pallas folded, and the G Funk was out, so I had Danksta Life. So I put that out independently. It came across pretty cool. A lot of people dug it. Harvest for the World was really my first release. John had just passed away. Fat Jack did a lot of that one. Plus you had The Nonce doing "Green Acres," which was also part of my demo, J-Sumbi, we had Abstract doing the hook on "All I Need." It was a dope record.

This isn't really a soundtrack appearance but one of the things that really tripped me out was when I heard "Scud Missile" on The Sopranos. Did they approach you for that, or how did that come about?

     Man, I just seen that last year! I used to be in the streets too much to see The Sopranos, but I was goin' through all the seasons and I see the guys in the car, and I'm hearin' my voice, and I'm like, "Fat Jack! Did you know our song is on The Sopranos." He was like, "Ganjah, I dunno man, I released all the rights to my music. I was done with it. So I dunno what happened." I had to rewind it back like sixteen times to make sure I'm hearing what I'm hearing here. So I wait for the credits to see if they say my name and there's nothing on the credits, no nothing.

It's funny 'cause if I remember right, the son is playing that in his car right after they catch him smoking weed in the garage, so it's pretty appropriate [laughs].

    [laughs] Yeah, man. It was a fuckin' shock. You're watching Sopranos and you hear your song. It fucked me up, man. But, you know, I didn't get paid but whatever. It was a long time ago. It was more of a shock to hear myself on this worldly recognized fuckin' show. It blew my wig back. It's crazy 'cause nobody told me either! Like, "Hey, man, your song was on The Sopranos." But nobody told me.

    I had some other soundtrack appearances too. I was on Playing God, Thin Line Between Love & Hate, Next of Kin, Dead Homiez. We did Action Jackson. There was another movie about a little white kid and the black kid who played in Family Matters. That was one of the first soundtracks I did. So as far as soundtracks, I've had my share of those. Thin Line Between Love & Hate was due to RBX. He took me right into Warner Bros., and was like, "Look out for my boy, Ganjah K." They were like, "We got this new movie. If he can give us something for that, we can put him on that." RBX, we became pretty close. That's my dude right there.

You were supposed to drop an album called Puff Daddy back in the early 2000s on J. Sumbi's label, Beats & Rhymes. Did that album ever get finished?

    I don't know nothin' about Puff Daddy...

It was on a website he had for his label, Beats & Rhymes, and he had, coming soon... Puff Daddy.

    [laughs] It's called Puff Daddy?


    The only Puff Daddy I know is... Puff Daddy [laughs]. Maybe it's supposed to be something else? Like... puff, puff, pass? I had a rhyme about Puff the Magic Dragon. Shit, I don't remember that. Who was supposed to be putting it out? J-Sumbi?

Yeah, it was on his website, "coming soon, Puff Daddy."

   [laughs] I gotta see that.

A lot of people have been asking me if you plan to release any hard copies of these albums. Is that the plan, or are they gonna be digital only?

   Yeah, I do plan on putting out hard copies. You know, I had this box of cassette tapes. A big box. It was deep as hell. I put it in storage and didn't pay my storage fees and they auctioned my shit off. I guarantee you, if I had that box of cassettes, I would have me and P.E.A.C.E. doing "Scud Missile." I would have shit that nobody heard. I think about it a couple times a year, about what it could've had in it. But at the time, it was getting in my way, it just seemed like nothing. But God, I wish I had that box now. It had all my old shit. But, you know, that's what happens when you just take for granted that shit is just around.

    I also got offered to be part of Tha Dogg Pound, but, at the time, I just decided to do my own thing. But, you see, Dogg Pound wasn't out yet. I don't even think Snoop had done Doggystyle yet. But I wish I took that opportunity. All I had to do was get on somebody's album and shine. It would've lifted myself up. But hindsight is 20/20, you know?
On your more recent stuff, like Possession of Sales and Swaggerific, you've adopted a more modern sound. I know a lot guys feel they need to stay relevant but in your case, it kinda sounds like that style comes naturally to you. Am I right about that?

       Man, it really does. I made vow to myself that hip-hop will never pass me by. I promised myself I would always be able to get whatever's going on in hip-hop. So the reason it sounds like it comes natural is because I get it. I want to get it. I don't want to be one of those old guys who were like what old guys were like when we were young. "Oh, you doin' that boom bap? What's that?" I didn't wanna be like that. These guys who are like, "Oh, this ain't the old hip-hop anymore!" We sound just like them. We were tellin' them, "You old school. You don't get it." Now they tellin' us we don't get it. But if I do have one qualm about the new school today, it's that everybody fuckin' sounds alike! That's the only thing I don't get. If you close your eyes, everybody sounds like one artist. He sounds like him, and they sound like them. That's the only thing I don't get. But knowing how to spit on there, it comes naturally to me because I understand it. Plus I don't listen to the radio every day. If I was listening every day, I'd probably be doper! But I hear it, at clubs when I'm out, and I get it. But back in the day, with KRS-One, Rakim, we listened every day. These new songs, I couldn't rap any of their lyrics. If you put a million dollars in front of me, I couldn't do it.

Do you have any new projects in the works you'd like to talk about? Napom told me you guys were planning to record some new stuff, and I know you have solo records in the works.

    I have probably recorded about two or three albums worth of new material because I do it here at the house. I was gonna do Danksta Life 2, of course, and I was gonna do another album called Back to My Roots, on some hip-hop shit. Goin' back to just straight melodic hip-hop tracks, you know what I mean? I have some other things in the works I can't reveal now, but it's some crazy shit in the works.


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