“I believe that if God wanted every man to be a Muslim, or to be a Christian, or to be a Jew, or to be a Buddhist, or to be whatever it is; if he wanted everybody to be these things then we would be… these things. It’s said that we are all different to learn from each other, not to separate.”
Now, that’s deep. But for this underwater being that has left the school to swim dolo, it’s nothing for Chali 2na to navigate these currents, with a little help from above.
“I’m a Muslim, y’know, out the gate. I mean, I’m not the most perfect man; I got faults, I got shortcomings, I got shit that’s wrong with me, just like every other person that walks this planet. But, I’m not afraid to say that that is what it is.”
What it is is that monotonic, multi-syllabic, sometimes robotic Chi-town stepper turned LA rhyme sayer Chali 2na of the now-defunct Jurassic 5 is probably one of the realist dudes in hip hop today. No, not that bootleg street cred shoot-up-ya-hood real. But, that genuine, rock a 90 minute show and jump offstage to picture, autograph, and dap, then post up at the merch table, answering questions about just how tall you really are until the last fan leaves, then interview for 45 minutes while wolfing down a sandwich you just slapped together after fasting all day on the second to last day of Ramadan, real.
His humble persona may be due to a traumatic event that occurred while he was touring with his former six-turned-five man collective.
“They kidnapped us,” Chali says as he describes the harrowing experience. “[They] brought us to the hotel room, locked the door, told us we couldn’t go nowhere!”
The episode he’s referencing took place in England in 1997—during J5’s first overseas tour—where Grandmaster Caz, Dot-A-Rock, and Special K decided to school the then-young group to the ways of the business.
“Grandmaster Caz just laid down everything he knew from when he started until now,” he recalls. “He broke it down! All that! I mean, he broke it all down to us.” After getting lost in the memory for a moment, he continues, “It was just an amazing thing to say, hey… this is one of the architects. You can’t get no better than that, I don’t think.”
The pioneer apparently broke down more about the story of “Rapper’s Delight.” “Big Bank Hank, how [Caz] wanted to choke that dude for awhile; all that shit.” He also dropped gems to the group about staying in a group.
“[He also] told us shit that we needed to do not to break up.”
So, either Caz isn’t too good at giving advice, or the young eMCees weren’t listening.
“It’s fucking ironic, it really is, that some of the shit he told us is some of the reason—without exposing it—why we broke up.”
Though the group’s disbanding came as a shock to many fans, the inner turmoil was something the members were dealing with for some time.
“We are two groups of friends that became a group,” Chali says of J5’s start. “[We] grew up and turned into men and businessmen with each other; turned into sharp ass instruments with each other,” he continues, “but still carrying baggage from when we was high schoolers between each other.”
Protective of his home team’s privacy and “not wanting to expose each other’s shortcomings,” he only mentions that there were some “things that were not discussed, not dealt with, not addressed, swept under the rug that maybe made a knot, a pile—[chuckles] you know what I’m saying?—a disruption in the smoothness of the carpet.”
Though he’s traded the wall-to-walls for hardwoods and kept it moving, Chali still shows love to the crew he laid the foundation with.
“The event of Jurassic 5 in my lifetime was one of the best things that ever happened.” Somebody grab the Kleenex. “I love them dudes to the fullest, whether I disagree with them or not, and they know it,” he professes, “and it ain’t really about a fan knowing it more so than them knowing it.”
Now that the love fest event is over, 2na is “scouting” new talent.
“Casual, Elzhi, Ladybug, Rahzel, and DJ Dez from Slum Village… that’s the team!”
Before the bloggers start spreading rumors of the formation of a new J5, this one is just make believe. That list is his fantasy roster if he ever had a chance to create a new group with himself as one of four eMCees and two DJs. Though, he’s had his eye on one spitter just because she’s chill like dat.
“I love that woman!” More professing. “Big up to her from when Digable Planets was out,” he goes on, “I had a fuckin’ super crush on her!”
After taking a quick poll to find if everyone in the room co-signed to also having a crush on the Ladybug Mecca, he revealed why she may have been on his mind.
“I got a chance to work with her,” he says of the project they both co-starred in. The Prince Paul-produced children’s album, Baby Loves Hip Hop, features the two, along with Wordsworth, Scratch from The Roots, Ursula Rucker, and De La Soul all playing baby dinosaurs that rap and play sports.
“What Prince Paul wanted to do was make a children’s album without it being super corny.” Mission somewhat accomplished, as the entirely child-appropriate, annoyingly catchy tunes could easily have the same effect on youngsters as Barney, Dora, and the Backyardigans, if it was animated. And the running story throughout the CD, a la Three Feet High and Rising, sums up into a warm and fuzzy afterschool special-like moral of the story.
“It’s about [being] yourself; don’t be scared because you might be different.” Spoken like a true Tyrannosaurus Rex, 2na’s role in the story. Not to spoil the ending, but the rapping carnivorous reptiles do form a group, mysteriously named the Dino 5.
Other than the musical stylings of fictitious pre-historic creatures, Chali 2na is also a fan of other non-hip hop tunes.
“I’m enjoying a lot of that dubstep shit, man,” he says. “This dude Rusko is a beast!”
Aside from the synthesized flavor that artists like Rusko bring to the table, Chali also shops the organic aisle.
“Everything is turning, like, super electronic,” he says, “but I just feel like I’m around some incredible musicians.”
The eMCee is referring to his supporting stage performers: three-man band (Corey Cofield on 7-string bass, Pete Antunes on drums, Anthony Brewster on the keys), and his physically-polar-opposite brother/hype-man, Laid Law, who trades verses on stage with his older sibling throughout their set.
He continues, “I feel like we can bring a musical project back, something that feels musical.”
Chali says when hitting the road solo for the first time in promotion of his debut, Fish Market Part 2, he had to create a show that was “all about dynamics.”
“I was part of a group, man,” he explains, “where we used to do a magic act on stage, you might as well say J5 did!” he laughs. “As a solo artist, either I was gonna come with one [or both] of them crazy ass DJs, or I had to think of another way to be as dynamic and as relevant on stage.”
For him, it’s about being entertaining, and not just spitting lyrics.
“Some of the dopest eMCees that I look up to, I’ll go to the show and I’ll be like, aight, that’s cool,” he sighs. “I love your lyrics, but I could throw the CD on if that’s how you gonna do it.”
When asked to elaborate on who he may be referring to, Chali screams, “AHHH! You ain’t gettin’ me like that, Okayplayerhaters,” a term he says he picked up from Talib Kweli pertaining to some of the ill-fated reviews they’ve both received from time to time on the OKP boards.
He does go on to quote Andre 3000’s verse on “Rosa Parks,” stating simply: “I’m mad cuz my favorite groups ain’t comin’ wit’ it.”
To ensure his fans never share that sentiment towards him, Chali has decided to enhance the musical elements in both his recorded tunes and stage show.
“I know you looking at the stage and you see three dudes on instruments, but it feels like it’s millions of motherfuckers up there!” he says. “That’s the vibe I’m tryin’ to bring, where this shit sounds super big without the help of extreme synthesizers and things of that nature.”
The plan is for the same ideas to be produced throughout his sophomore studio LP, not to be confused with his mixtape releases.
“The Fish Market series has been a blessing to me because they’ve been like snacks before the meal, so to speak.” As is current culture in hip hop of late, 2na put out a well-received mixtape before his debut, and has dropped a second volume in anticipation of his next release (tentatively titled Against the Current) on which Rusko makes a featured appearance.
Outside of music, the self-proclaimed Renaissance man is “addicted to the sound of the ball when [he] shake the can.”
“To be perfectly honest, man, I’m a painter who can rap,” he says of his first love. No Kleenex needed this time around, though. “Graffiti got me into hip hop in ’83, ’84, just painting on fuckin’ everything,” he continues, “especially shit that moved, like freights, trucks [laughs].”
After tagging his block’s name (27th Street in Chicago), he decided to shorten the nickname his father gave him, and went with 2na as his tag. Though it did change a few times (including Chicago 1000), graf was how he initially began his notoriety in his newfound home of Los Angeles.
“There used to be this place–called the Belmont Tunnel,” he tells of the often painted locale, where graf artists would get up for usually no more than a week before being painted over. “One of the pieces that I did lasted there for like, shit, almost a year,” he proudly boasts.
From the old school vibe of his first group, to the Chicago swag of his adolescence, to his peace within his religion, to the Latin funk and soul of his other former outfit, Grammy-winning band Ozomatli (his input in the band, he says, was likely influenced by his dad’s love for Latin music as a child), Chali 2na is nothing if not well-rounded. Or better yet, real.
“Hip hop is a mosaic, it’s pieces of all of Black culture and beyond. I just think that you can’t exclude anything when it comes to hip hop.”
- jaythreeoh (for more, see slowFlowOnline.com)
*Headline photo by Scott Stewart.
Make sure to pick up Fish Market Part 2 today, just click here.
For more Chali 2na, check out the debut of his new video for “Step Yo Game Up,” below: