When it comes to choosing a region to represent, I’ve always claimed the great Northwest. I might be on the outer edges of the region, but it has always felt “right”. Since my own home town, the little “City of Trees” is kind of lacking in any kind of hip hop movement, we watch Portland and Seattle do their thing in the game (there is Salt Lake City to our south, but, really, c’mon now). Neither city will be confused with New York or L.A. as far as their contributions to the hip hop world goes, but both cities do have a rich history that goes back to the early 80′s. Portland had mixtapes from the groups like Freshness at Work, the Dynamic Soundmachine, the Aladdin Two floating around in the early 80′s. Cool Nutz and his Jus Family Records have done a lot for the culture in Portland and groups like Old Dominion and Life Savas still holding down the region. Seattle jumped started things a little earlier. When someone asks me about the history of Seattle hip hop, two early names come to my mind immediately, one being Sir Mix-A-Lot. The second man, who I consider a LEGEND in the great Northwest, recently offered to sit down with us and talk about everything from the early Seattle scene, his roll in creating “Swass” and his own prolific career. The man who was originally known as Kid Sensation was instrumental in getting the Seattle hip hop scene out to the rest of the nation. He would team up with Sir Mix-A-Lot at a very young age and help create a Northwest Classic in the form of “Swass”, which Kid appears all over in one form or the other. The classic single “Posse On Broadway” contained an opening line citing, “Me and Kid Sensation at home away from home…”. Kid would also appear in the fan favorite track, “Rippin’”, which he spits a dope verse and drops an ill beat box routine that really put his name out there.
Over time, Kid Sensation would start releasing his own solo albums. The regional classics “Rollin’ With Number One” and “Power Of Rhyme” would make a name for him in the game. But a hard lesson in the industry rule #4080 would plague future releases and stall his career. Despite the negativity of the industry, the man now known as Xola Malik has avoided the negative energy and remained positive and is preparing to make some noise in the industry once again. Armed with a funky flow, immense creativity and the crucial positivity that is lacking in the music these days, Xola is poised to continue the momentum that has been built up in Seatwon with a rash of good releases over the past year. If anyone deserves to be heard, it’s Xola Malik.
WYDU: What’s up man? Would you mind giving us the low down on who you are?
Xola Malik: My name is Xola, I’m a recording artist from Seattle, Washington and I’m just here to present myself as a different piece of the music business, you know?
W: You have a long history in the hip hop game, you were first known to the world as Kid Sensation. How did you originally get into hip hop?
XM: It was the love of the music man. I just kind of grew up listening to hip, listening to a lot of the old school artists. It’s such an infectious music, it was always telling such great stories back in the day, there was always something that drew me in. The main thing was just the message in the music. So I just started really listening to the music a lot in the terms of becoming a fan. What really started getting me into the music was hearing the greats do what they do and feeling like I could contribute to the music as well. I would buy a hot 12″, flip it over to the instrumental side and make up my own rhymes to it and I thought “I can do this. I think I got a little something to say.”
W: What were some of your early influences then? What did a young Xola used to spin back in the day?
X: More or less, I listened to a little bit of everything back then. I liked a lot of the old school artists, definitely Run DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Ice-T, a little bit of everything man. Then more or less I started mixing in a little bit of that influence with the old school funk and R&B. Growing up with my mom, she was into the Motown stuff, stuff that came out before I was born, but it was classic. So I grew up on the classics, some Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Diana Ross and all kind of crazy stuff from the 60′s and 70s It was real hot, I loved it. I grew up on 80′s music as well, a mixture of different types of music.
W: People tend to overlook the whole Northwest region when i
t comes to hip hop. I know you are pretty instrumental in the history of hip hop in Seattle, how did Hip Hop come to be in Seattle?
X: I was definitely one of the ones to help put Seattle on the map and make that happen, but to be honest, Seattle always had a nice little hip hop scene bubbling on the underground. You know how Texas or Atlanta had their own defined sound, well Seattle didn’t really have that. LA had a particular sound back in those days, you know with the bass and electro thing and New York had that gritty and uncut flavor. Seattle had just a variety of different sounds. You can tell we are influenced by a lot of different musical influences. Now some guys are starting to make some noise developing a unique 206 sound. Don’t sleep on 253 either, Tacoma is really doing their thing as well. .
X: Yeah, we had no choice but to follow certain trends. Let’s face it, hip hop was created in New York, that’s where everything was centered in those days. That wouldn’t change until other regions started developing their own sounds. I think Seattle has kind of built it’s name off of being a culturally diverse city and that shows in the music. From Jimi Hendrix coming out of here, to Kurt Cobain and that grunge sound, Sir Mix-A-Lot, myself. One of the dudes from Digable Planets went to Garfield High School and is from here. Digable is about as East Coast as it gets. It depends on who it is. Even now, you have a lot of cats makin’ noise. I don’t know if you heard of Blue Scholars….
W: Yeah, one of my favorite albums from last year…
X: Yeah, it’s more on a conscious tip and an east coast sound.
W: You had a lot of early music with Sir Mix-A-Lot, how did you and Mix hook up?
X: Man, I was just a little kid hanging around that dude (laughs), just trying to find my way. It was great. Just a teenager hanging around the big boys back then, being in videos, being on record covers, making a little bit of name for myself. I was under Mix for a minute, but then I started branching out and trying to do my own thing. I really loved hip hop and thought I had a lot to offer and give. Earlier in my career, you could hear Mix’s influence a lot more heavily on me, but a lot of people used to think, “He was just a clone of Mix-A-Lot, he was just one of Mix’s followers”, but more or less me and that dude created that style together. Mix-A-Lot had a lot of people around him who influenced who he became and I was certainly one of them.
W: Who exactly made up that crew in the early days? You always heard names being dropped on the albums and such.
X: It was myself, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Maharaji, and a cat named Attitude Adjuster. We were the main four. There were other dudes he mentioned on tracks, like PLB, DJ Punish, MC Fury, E-Dawg, Strange and a lot of cats that he had around him that were a part of the influence on how his sound developed and how it became. So yeah, there were a lot of cats that helped him become who he is.
W: You were pretty heavily involved with Mix’s debut, “Swass”, the videos, the tracks…..
X: Yeah I became a more active participant as it went on during the making of “Swass” and the shows that followed, but then I started to grow and doing my own things and I was less prevalent in his next album.
W: How did the experience with Mix-A-Lot help you become who you became?
X: The most important things I learned from that cat was how to be a recording artist and in some sense, a professional. I learned how to go handle business and how to handle different personalities in your group. You have certain responsibilities and you have to make sure everything is smooth.
W: You did some pretty some of the pretty major hip hop tours in those days….NWA, LL Cool J, Public Enemy…..
X: Man, we did a lot of shows with a lot of those cats. It was just so crazy. A lot of it seemed lik
e it just happened over night, for both me and Mix-A-Lot. There were guys here that had a lot of talent as well, but we were just very fortunate and got that break. We got to tour and see a lot of things. We saw incredible parts of the world, met lots of people, saw places that I never dreamed of seeing. I mean here we were touring with dudes that I was watching on TV only a year before, all of a sudden there we were rubbing shoulders with these cats. I’m sure it’s like a high school kid that ends up in the pros and playing with his idols. One day you’re hanging out with your buddies watching Allen Iverson on TV, the next you are playing against him. We were sharing the stage with people I had admired and respected.
We had to go out there and hold our own too. When you are on tour, you are trying to shine. It’s not like you want to be some under card on LL Cool J’s show. You want people to remember who you are. You want to make a name, to give it your all and make sure the crowd remembers that ’cause when LL hits the stage, he’s going to shut it down. I was really trying to go out there and make my name and make people remember me. I didn’t leave the stage without kickin’ and screamin (laughs). I’m going to make you hate me or love me, but you’re definitely gonna remember me.
W: (laughing)…..”Remember my name, dammit!”……Alright, after all that…..Let’s talk about the first album you dropped, “Rollin’ With Number One”. It sounded like Mix had a lot of influence over that one. How much creative control did you have over that one?
X: Really, I had all of it. I bought myself some equipment. But, Mix did help me a little bit with production on a track or two and he guest appeared on two tracks. I had moved on, I was working on my own thing by that time. I don’t know how excited or eager Mix was for that to happen, but I had to grow and do what I needed to do. I had to do my own studio time and produce my own record. Here I am, a 17 year old kid, trying to put together a major release. I didn‘t have the proper team around me, the proper people around me to help me. I was just a kid doing what I thought was the right thing to do at the time. It was cool though, it was a great experience. I learned a lot from doing all that. I ended up with a record that people respected which ended up being one of the Northwest’s hip hop classics.
W: You had a wide variety of topics on that album, from straight up hip hop, to racism, even a jam for the ladies with “Skin to Skin”. Was that intended or was that just kind of the way it all came out?
X: All I could really talk about was what I was living at that time. There was the song “Legal”, and I used to get sweated by the police all the time. There wasn’t too many young brothers rollin’ in nice cars, so I used to get hassled a lot by the police. I wanted to “kick knowledge”, if you will, so I had to drop a little social commentary with “Prisoner of Ignorance”. I wanted to mix it up a little and make something for the ladies, so that’s when “Skin to Skin” came in. I wanted to be seen as a rhymer, so I had “I S.P.I.T.”, “Emergency” and “2 Minutes”. “Back to Boom” was a little party joint. I was trying to mix it up and make what I thought people wanted to hear from me. The only thing I really feel like I missed out on was to be able to make the music that just came from the heart. A lot of times I would write thinking “how are people going to take this” or “Oh I have to put the song together in this structure and the song has to be 3 1/2 to 4 minutes long”, rather than just letting music take place, see what I’m saying?
W: Yeah, definitely…..
X: Certainly you have to think about stuff when you are making a song you want to be commercially acceptable, but now I’ve learned that it’s okay just to make music. If you listen to some of my music now,I don’t always “follow the rules”. I might let the song groove for a minute then I might start spitting some lyrics. Or I might let it play, then do the hook and then get into the track. Sometimes instead of three verses, I’ll only do two, like this joint I have called “Diskotek”, it’s got two verses. I learned that it doesn’t always have to be three sixteens and choruses. It’s cool to break things up sometimes and not put so much emphasis on structure. Sometimes, you just got to let go and just make music.
W: Is that just growing as an artist then?
W: The second album, “Power of Rhyme” seemed to be more you. It seemed like you had stepped out from Mix-A-Lot’s shadow and the listener got to know you, as an artist better on that release. You had more of your own crew, the E.C.P. (Emerald City Posse) and it seemed like a more rounded album, do you mind discussing that a little bit, how did you feel about it?
X: At that point in time, I really felt like I wanted to let my dudes shine a little bit, that’s why E.C.P. was on that album a lot. E.C.P. actually dropped their own
CD a little later. It didn’t make a whole lot of noise, but they were able to do something. It felt good being able to put someone else on. When I was coming up, it wasn’t exactly mapped out for me. I think at that time (early 90′s) a lot of dudes were trying to do what Sean Combs and Dre would do a little later. Learn how to put together a conglomerate, with different artists and different aspects of the business. I had my merchandising, my touring, I wanted to produce artists and have my own production company, my own recording studio and of course myself as an artist and then eventually get into acting and other forms of entertainment.
A lot things would take place right about this time. Nastymix, my label, would go bankrupt. So the album didn’t really have the right team behind it, whether it was the legal tea or business managers and it didn’t get promoted properly. The infrastructure at that time wasn’t real good. I couldn’t build on it. But you live and you learn and I’m still learning. But I have strong legs on the newer stuff versus what I had going on then.
W: How do you feel about that album?
X: Ahhhh, man, sorry I got a little sidetracked there…(laughs)….I really think it was some of my best work back then. There were some cuts on there that were really cuttin’ edge. Some of it was really kind of revolutionary for the time. If you listen to some of the production, like “Ride The Rhythm”, “Rollin’ With The Posse”, “Kid’s Groove” “Comp Stompin” it wasn’t typical music out at that time. The beats were really different, the vibes were just different from what was out there at the time. I felt like it represented me a lot more. I was out from under the influence of Mix. It was more “me” on that album.
W: I can’t remember, did you do the beat for “Ride The Rhythm”? That beat was cool as hell.
X: My buddy Giovanni did the beat and I did the finer aspects of the track, so we kind of worked together on that one.
W: That was one of my favorite beats on that album, real cool. There was a remix too for that one, right?
X: Yes, the remix was put together by a cat named Al Eaton.
W: Definitely one of my favorite songs on that album. Going back to Nastymix going bankrupt and you ended up on Ichiban…..
X: Nastymix, contrary to popular belief, was not owned by Mix-A-Lot. It was named after Nasty Nes, a hip hop promoter and radio DJ from Seattle. The name came from those two guys names put together. The label owner was Ed Locke and Nasty Nes worked for the label and Mix-A-Lot was an artist at the label, that’s how that was. The situation that arose at the time was Mix was getting pretty big by that time and those dudes were trying to keep him reigned in and control him and dictate who he wanted to be. By this time, Mix along with myself had started seeing a few things. We didn’t really know the business when we first started, like so many artists in those days just started out. We were just happy making music. We were just local at first, so we were happy to be making a name for ourselves. Mix, Nes, and Ed Locke decided to make a record and put it out. It started catching on in Seattle, then it caught on in the state of Washington, then Oregon, then it blew up in California. Before we knew it the whole west coast was suckin’ it up and it was doin’ good and we were going around the nation and started shooting videos and the record was really pickin’ up.
When we got out there on the road and started meeting people, we began to then realize that things with our contracts weren’t quite right. People were tellin’ us “Man, this and that are missing… you should be getting publishing, ya know.” So after the second Mix-A-Lot album, “Seminar” did well, Mix tried to leave the label and it ended up being a lawsuit. The lawsuit ended up driving the label bankrupt. My royalties that were supposed to be paid to me and all that, that never happened. That all went into the label fighting the lawsuit. It went into them having an office in the Tower building downtown and having $50,000 dollar rent and their view of the city. So the mis-management of funds and bad business practices caused Nastymix to really fall apart and they went bankrupt and Ichiban bought them out. During that whole process was when “Power of Rhyme” was supposed to be being promoted and all that, so it was just an overall crazy situation.
W: Why didn’t you go with Mix to his Rhyme Cartel label at that time, or where you still contractually obligated to Ichiban still?
X: Actually I did go with Mix. I turned down the deal Ichiban offered me to renew my contract and went with Mix to Rhyme Cartel and signed with them. I was signed with them for almost two years and nothing happened. Dude never gave me a release date, never released a record, never explained why I wasn’t coming out. I submitted maybe 35-40 songs and nothing happened. He’d tell me, “It’s Rick Rubin, Rick Rubin sai
d that this needs to happen and that needs to happen. Oh Rick Rubin said that this song need this”. I never got to talk to Rick Rubin, my manager never got to talk to Rick Rubin. I was always promised I’d get to talk to Rick Rubin and it never happened. It was just one of those weird situations. I had to move on. I couldn’t sit there stagnant and never put a record out. I had to move on.
W: So that’s why it took so long for “Seatown Funk”, your third LP, to drop then, right?
X: Yeah, man, part of that delay was that I didn’t handle things right. While I was signed to Mix-a-Lot’s label, I went and signed another deal to get back with Ichiban. It was a foul move, dude, but I did what I had to do. I was going broke with no sign of relief in sight. That landed me in some serious hot water, because Mix sued me and I had to settle with Mix and give him back the money he had given me. So, yeah, I had to go back to Ichiban. I felt like it was a label I could trust, it was a label I knew and a label I could depend on. They would drop “Seatown Funk”
W: You had the title track and I always thought that was on smooth, drop-top, summer time of music and while it did make some noise, it didn’t seem like it was pushed right either….
X: To be honest with you, there were some very key errors made in the release of that album. They had actually put together a good marketing campaign and were going to do some good promotions. But there were a lot of technical errors made on the CD, the mastering, the mixing, all of that was messed up. That just cost us time and we had to go back and redo things. Then while they fixed everything, the marketing was already going on, so that was badly timed. The hype had passed by the time things had been fixed because the release had been pushed back so many times. So many things were just not done right. The craziest mistake that happened was the version of the single “Seatown Funk” was not the one that ended up on the album. It was wrong. When the single went out to radio, it was the wrong version, as crazy as that sounds. I didn’t know, so that error wasn’t fixed until it was already out there. All the radio stations got this bad mix of the track. It hurt things a lot. The song ended up, after things got fixed, going gold in Germany and got nationwide play here. It was just a trip how much turmoil went down and I think it really hurt what potentially could have been a really big record.
W: That’s crazy, for real. You’ve been kind of quiet since your fourth album, “Aka Mister K-Sen”, what have you been up to since then.
X: I’ve been doing a lot of production for for TV shows commercials, sports teams, corporate clients and websites. I’ve found ways to keep myself busy. I also recorded a CD for a Seattle Mariners baseball player, Ichiro. Me and him signed a deal with Virgin Records of Japan to release the CD and Upper Deck even supplied a limited edition baseball card in the first 20k CDs. Ya know, I’m keeping it movin’ til the next solo CD drops.
W: That was actually my next question, you are a pretty big sports fan…..
X: Definitely, definitely. That’s how I started getting into a lot of the sports anthems and things like that. I was friends with a lot of ball players, so that opened up some doors. I made the music for Shaun Alexander’s weekly TV show. I made music for Fox Sports so it just kind of came together with knowing different athletes. It lead to some different endeavors, it’s just a cool thing.
W: You know I gotta ask you about your joint with Ken Griffey Jr on “Power Of Rhyme”, how did that come together.
X: (Laughing) Yeah me and Ken were really tight, we were like best friends when he was playing in Seattle. One night I got him to come into the studio and we were just having some fun. He did a pretty good job on that one, for someone who had never rapped before. I wrote his rhymes for him and we just had a good time. Then he took me down to spring training and put me into the batting cage with the balls coming at me 85-90 mph. Then I understood what he was going through behind the mic.
W: (Laughing) Yeah man, that was a good cut, I played that a lot back in the day. Let’s talk about your charity work. You are big in the Boys and Girls Club in Seattle. Can you talk about what it means to you and what it means to the kids?
X: Honestly I couldn’t live my life without giving to others. It’s something super important to me. The Boys and Girls Club was a natural fit just because I grew up there as a kid. I give to kids because I was given to when I went there. My Pops wasn’t around to be there and instill good values, but people at the Club were there to embrace me and make sure that I stayed straight. It was wonderful because it was part of who I became. I want to repay some of that back by helping some of the young cats by giving them some wisdom and give them positivity. Our little run down Boys Club is still a place kids can come after school and get help with homework. We serve them meals and there is a place to shoot some pool and play hoops. We talk to the kids and hopefully they can open up over a game of pool. It’s really a great experience and real
ly a good way to give back to the kids.
W: That’s real cool man, real cool. What other kind of charitable events are you doing?
X: Personally, my family helps serve the homeless and less fortunate, especially around the holidays. We serve turkey dinners and help families during the holidays. We try to keep it unheralded and keep it hush hush, cause we are not in it for that. It’s not about making a mockery of it and get free press out of it. I try to provide things for Christmas, give out stuff like shoes, some Jordans, give them some stuff they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. I’ll give out some Xboxes so they can have some fun. Also give them stuff they need. I don’t want to give them no junk. We meet with the parents and find out what they want and what the needed and give them dream gifts and hooking them up. Sometimes it’s just about giving them hope and if something like that gives them hope and keeps them straight then it’s worth it. We just try to help those families out with coats and such. If you have the resources to help someone else out then I think you should. It makes for a better world.
W: Positivity breeds positivity, absolutely. Let’s talk about what you are doing currently musically. You are starting to work on new tunes now, right? What can we look for in the future from you, any plans for another album, anything you want to leak out to us?
X: For sure man. The myspace page (www.myspace.com/xolamusic) gives a little bit of a sample of what we are working on. I’m going a musical direction that really has some depth to it. I’m trying to talk about different things. My manager, Anne McCloskey puts it the best way, “Xola, I think your goal is to make a difference and make a living”. I obviously want to balance making music that is enjoyable, fun, marketable and people can have a good time while listening to it, but at the same time make a difference and put forth a message that uplifts. Maybe even provide some solutions to the problems we are facing or even just telling a story that can inspire someone. Sometimes if you just tell your story, it might not have a happy ending, but people can relate to it and it might help them cope with what they are dealing with. The music is going to be an interesting ride. Life covers everything and I want my music to be a reflection of real life.
W: So you are planning on dropping an album then?
X: Most definitely. A full solo project this year.
W: Very cool. Are you working with anyone or is there anyone in particular you want to work with?
X: Yes, there are some people I want to work with. There is my “dream list” of who I’d love to work with then are some people I’ll likely work with. I’d certainly like to find a medium in between and get a lot of that going. I’ll put it to you like this, the cats I want to work with probably aren’t your typical “guest list” type of people. Everyone is like “oh I want T-Pain on a track”, well okay, everyone has had T-Pain on a track. I’d love to work with Lenny Kravitz, I’d love to work with Maxwell, I’d love to work with Lauryn Hill. I think it’d be cool to work with Rev. Run from Run DMC. There are a lot of influences from hip hop to R&B to rock that I think would be completely magical. I mean Tony Bennett, how cool would that be.
(WYDU chuckles a bit)
Nah for real man. People are like “Whoa, Tony Bennett“? It would be ridicoulous…
W: If cats can use Frank Sinatra samples, then I’m sure Tony Bennett might work….
X: Yeah. For real though, I have a creative imagination. I think given the opportunity to work with those people I think we could end up creating some real incredible stuff.
X: I’m producing a couple other acts. Some R&B and some hip hop. I’m trying to incorporate a band, we got the players already together. I’ve learned a few chords on the guitar, some I’m starting to incorporate into my set as well. It’s becoming something. I want to be musically rounded, I don’t want to just make a rap record.
W: Well rounded artist, nice. How do you feel about all the changes that have taken place in hip hop since you first started. The whole way music is promoted, the demise of the labels, the role internet plays into it all, it’s all very different than what it used to be.
X: I think it’s going to bring out some really creative ideas. With what I’m doing now, with Nascar, the NFL, the soundtrack that I’m working with, the movie I’m reading for, we as hip hop artists aren’t just going to be doing the same thing anymore. We have to find ways to become creative to survive. The days of turning in a demo signing a record deal and going platinum are, I don’t want to say over, but much more difficult. You have to find another way to make it happen and it’s great. That’s why I’m doing some of the different endeavors that I’m doing. Things change. Look at the record industry. These record execs have jacked up the prices to CD’s when the price of the medium has gone done and the price to create the record went down, but there for awhile, CD’s were going for as much as eighteen dollars. They were making record profits, but after awhile it got to point where cats can put together their own studios, cats can burn their own CD’s, they make their own artwork and they can promote their work. It’s makes me wonder why I would need a label. They are charging all this money against the artist, they are skimping on royalties and jackin’ it up on the fans, they want all the creative control, they just want everything, but now it ain’t gotta be like that. I think that dinosaur is lumbering to a slow halt. It’s a new business model.
W: You mentioned the Seattle scene earlier. You brought up the Blue Scholars, a group I really enjoy then you have Common Market, the Boom Bap Project, how do you feel about the scene there now?
X: Yeah man, I think it’s great. I got a lot of love for Common Market, those are my dudes. I did a guest spot at their ’06 Bumbershoot show. There were about 8k people there, it was bananas. There is good diversity and a lot of cats are starting to make some noise coming out of Seattle. It’s just as diverse as it was back in the day. There is no one particular sound coming out of Seattle. There is so much different stuff. It’s bubblin’, I’ve gone out to different shows and the cats are rockin.
W: How do you think your legacy is looked upon in the Seattle area?
X: A lot of people recognize that I was instrumental in putting Seattle on the map. I’ve heard people thank me on all different levels from CD’s to on stage. To be honest though, the entire story isn’t finished yet. It’s a “to be continued” and I hope my legacy is a continuing legacy and I’m going to keep trying to make sure that is the case.
W: Nice. Any last words before we wrap this up?
X: More or less, I appreciate you and I appreciate your time and long live good hip hop and peace and God Bless my dude!