Rakaa Iriscience / Before the launch party for his first solo project, Crown of Thorns, at Don Ho’s, Rakaa Iriscience plans to relax, reconnect and pay respects to a dear friend.
The Weekly caught up with the Dilated Peoples emcee, who grew up in Waimanalo and now lives in Los Angeles, to talk about creativity, living aloha in LA and his connection to Hawaii’s hip-hop scene.
Why, after 18 years of success with Dilated Peoples, did you decide to come out with a solo album and why is now the right time?
We had always planned to do solo projects, but Ev and Babu [Evidence and DJ Babu] just focused on theirs first. I’ve been handling other business, including most of the management and international booking duties for Dilated, but I have always been collecting my thoughts and taking notes. The time is right because it is ready.
What made recording the album a new experience for you?
Just having 100 percent creative freedom for the first time ever, having total responsibility and the intensity of putting out my first solo album and my first full-length, fully independent album all in one. I could say and do anything I wanted so I simply picked the beats that interested me and spoke what was on my mind. That became Crown of Thorns.
Two decades in hip-hop is a long run. With all these new rappers out there, is remaining relevant important to you?
Of course, but the type and level of relevance is not as important as it was in the past. I know what I have contributed, and I respect everyone else for their contributions. I guess the goal is just to be respected and appreciated for my work by those that I respect and appreciate.
Describe your inspiration for Crown of Thorns in three words?
Heavy light shining.
Going by your personal standards and what you think the album stands for, what will make Crown of Thorns a success?
It is definitely a success in my eyes and in the eyes of the vast majority of those that have shared their opinion. As for commercial success, time will tell. This isn’t a pop album, but it is armed with the types of songs that can produce a unique hit record at any time. The business is ugly, but the music is pure.
You are friends with Hawaii rapper Tassho Pearce. Talk about how this friendship came about and what eventually led to Pearce being featured on the track “Ambassador’s Slang.”
That’s family. We met on the first Dilated trip when we rocked Pipeline the first time. We linked again and ended up recording the song “Pearl Harbor” for his The Opening Act album. We stayed in touch and we chill in LA and Hawaii. He has dope gear too. When I was designing my album, I knew that he was one of the people that I wanted to touch the mic and rep Hawaii to the fullest. That whole song is about letting the world know about the diversity and level of talent that exists, and about returning the hospitality that I have been shown by numerous incredible artists all over the world.
The album release party also serves as a benefit for the late Walter Saole, known in Hawaii’s hip-hop community as High Chief. What are some of your fondest memories of High Chief?
Wow. Yeah. Just the Uso showing me family love. Always a big smile, eating a lot of garlic chicken and fruit punch with him and Big Dave, and them telling me that Hawaii is my home too so I should get back more. I miss my Uso. We made crowds scream for him every night on our European tour last month. It’s sad that he is not here in the physical form, but I know that his energy is still in full effect. I feel that.
Are there any aspects of your personality that may stem from the time you lived in Hawaii as a youth?
The aloha spirit helped me to navigate the ’80s in LA. Hawaiians are definitely not punks. In fact, cats on the island may even be more down to scrap when it comes down to it, but that is tempered by a certain inner calmness, closeness to nature and respect of culture and tradition.
Will you have time to experience the island? What is on your short list of things to do while here?
I’ll spend a few days in town. I will be doing the release party/benefit, then recording some stuff for the Aiga album, but I will also go visit High Chief and go pay respect to his family. Beyond that, I plan to just eat a lot, be in some water, relax and recharge.
Being a hip-hop artist from Hawaii is often viewed as a negative because we are so far away from the major markets. What’s your opinion of Hawaii’s hip-hop community and what positive aspects do you see Hawaii artists building upon?
It’s a difficult situation because of the geography and stereotypical image of Hawaii. The talent is obviously there with Tassho Pearce, Creed Chameleon, Mo Illa Pillaz, Jimmy Taco, East One and many others that get busy in their fields, but touring is a major problem when you can’t just fuel up and jump on the freeway. It will take creative approaches to [get] tour support and fundraising, strong social networking, unique press and promo, more geographical branding at a world class level–such as Tassho’s hit “Honolulu”–and, most importantly, it will take unity.