Every now and then, an artist kind of pops up out of nowhere. We’ve all been told the evils of downloading, and while I do agree with some of it, there is also a positive side to it as well. I’ll admit, I’m a frequent visitor to HipHopBootleggers (peace to Krooked and Deap) to peep some of the underground/obscure joints and most of the time if Krooked recommends something, there is a good chance I’m going to feel, it’s how I became hooked onto my boy Storm Davis last year. This year, he suggested Weapon X and low and behold, I downloaded his album “Portrait of a Starving Artist”, and was impressed enough with the album, it stayed in regular rotation and was mentioned in my Top 20 Albums of the First Quarter. Think of it as Jedi Mind Tricks meets the Demigodz. Or something like that. Through out the year, I’ve been bumping the album picking up on different songs and the such. One day I get an email from X himself and after we passed some emails back and forth, I thought he had an interesting story and some good music, so we set up an interview. Weapon X is a very personable dude and very articulate. The interview went rather smoothly and we even talked off the record for a good twenty minutes or so afterwards which made me a fan of this cat even more.
Don’t Dream Of Women
Road To Redemption
WYDU: Let’s start this off proper like, why don’t you let everyone know who you are and some of your background?
Weapon X: I go by the name of Weapon X. I reside out here in the San Fernando Valley, 818 of Southern California. What I’m all about? I’m just a starving artist man, just like the album title says. I’m a 9 to 5 daily worker/MC that’s just trying do to do music and survive at the same time.
W: You have an interesting background, being of Iranian decent and born in Brooklyn. Care to touch on your heritage and the east coast background?
WX: No doubt, I’m Iranian-American, both of my parents came out here from Iran. I ended up somehow being brought into this world in Brooklyn, New York. A lot of hip hop culture goes down out there or course. I grew up in a family that was unlike most stereotypical Persian families that are made out to have a lot of cash. My Dad did odd jobs out in Brooklyn and all that and my mom was a hair stylist. They did whatever they could to make ends meet. I grew up listening to a lot of music. One of the things my parents used to do was stick headphones on my head at the age of two. That was one of the first inspirations of music, it was one of the first things that would get me excited. They’d stick the headphones on my head and I used to bob up and down, up and down, but at the same time I’d be entrenched to the music and be zoned out to it. That was one of the very first influences that I can remember growing up with musically. I listened to regular 80′s music as well as a lot of Stevie Wonder while growing up.
When I was seven and a half or eight, I moved out from Brooklyn to L.A.. My parents figured I’d have better education and opportunities out west, rather being in a closed in area like the apartments and a lot of New York is. When I came out to L.A., I can say I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. That’s changed over the years, but kids are cruel. Coming in with a different ethnicity, a funny accent and at the time, the first Iraq war was going down and they were running around calling me Iraqi. I grew up with a lot of discrimination issues. That led to a lot of fights and anger at a young age. Somewhere a long the way though, I got into singing. I used to sing in the elementary music choir, I learned a lot about music through that. I used to have a good voice before it cracked. Once it cracked, I needed another outlet. At the time, it wasn’t cool to be an R&B singer. I started doing poetry, at first it was to calm my anger, cause I have some anger issues. Eventually I started getting into hip hop, I wasn’t necessarily introduced to being a lyricist in the sense, but Wu was probably the first thing I heard. Being out on the west coast, we didn’t get a lot of the traditional lyrical MC’s. I’d listen to a lot of gangster rap, you know, Doggystyle, The Chronic, Regulate…G-Funk Era, that kind of thing. The first two songs I really got into was “Regulate” and Tupac’s “Pain” off the Above The Rim Soundtrack. I figured already did poetry, I might as well translate the rhythm I learned in singing into the poetry and rhyme. From there it evolved into what I do today.
W: How was your cultural/family background effect your life growing up in the States?
WX: My Dad when he first came over was very strict in nature, and even to this day some. There was a lot of stuff he used to “regulate” on me when he had to. He’d put a whoopin’ on my ass when I needed it. He was a very strong cultural family man. He worked very hard and instilled a lot of values on us. He taught us about our culture and our heritage, as well as my mother. My mother believed we should be well educated. She taught me how to read at an early age, I was reading before I hit pre-school. I was surrounded by middle eastern music. It had some influence on me, especially during different holidays, but at the same time not forcing it down our throats. At the time, my sister and I, who is younger than me, knew exactly what our identities were and where we came from.
W: How did your parents handle your “profession”, your excursion into hip hop and being an MC.
WX: That’s actually a really good question. When I first started rapping, actually not even there, but when I first started to perform. When I first started, I didn’t think my shit was any good. I used to write in my notebook at school, because I’d get bored and I’d zone out in class. I wasn’
t the ideal student. I was smart, but not motivated. I’d write rhymes in my notebook, but I wouldn’t let anybody look at it. I remember one day, one of my friends wanted to know what I was writing and snatched it away from me, he looked at it and said, “Whoa, this stuff’s pretty good, you should try your hand at this”. I figured I would, but at the same time I didn’t really want my parents to find out. I didn’t know how they’d approach it. They support me in whatever I do, but in my culture, they have a very strict ideal system. You know, with a rap artist, that isn’t always a high priority. They ain’t no doctor or lawyer or something. They are not the people with six figure salaries that they can brag about to the family. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to tell them.
They accidentally found out one day, when my friend left one of my old, old CDs in his car, some old EP shit from back in the day. He had let his mom borrow the car and my CD was in it. So my friend’s mom came was talking to my mom and said to my mom, “Your son raps nice”, and they were like, “My son raps?” Everything kind of blew up from there. They took it pretty well. My dad used to clown me at first, he didn’t know if I’d take it serious or not. Also, the old middle eastern mentality is that rap is crap blah blah blah, making fun of rap and stuff. But now, they are totally supportive. My whole family supports it and now my extended family knows, they are all embracing it. I never thought they’d be this much behind it, I mean I knew they’d support it, but now they are actually pushing me to do this.
W: That makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it?
WX: Oh yeah, when I was hiding it and broke, I was running around to different places to record. I had to make excuses to go out and the such. This makes it a lot easier, now I can do it at the house. I got a set up at the house, I got a little studio at the house, I don’t have to worry about keeping it under wraps.
W: Do you have an exact moment where you said, “Hey, I want to do hip hop?”
WX: I don’t know if there was an exact moment, I think it just kind of progressed. When I first started doing hip hop, in that evolution from doing poetry to rap, it helped me vent my anger I was feeling at an younger age. Eventually when I started being told I was good at it and I was pushed to do it, I wasn’t really confident at first. It just grew and I realized I was becoming legit and people were giving respect. I figured that I always loved music, I was good at it, not because I think I’m good, but people are telling me that they think I’m good, and not just my family and inner circle of friends, but people outside my inner circle, I figured I owed it to myself to give it a shot. By no means was it one of those thing I just walked into. The more my confidence grew, the more of the realization that I wasn’t just some guy that can rap as a little hobby. I am an MC, that’s who I am and who I’m destined to be. Once that all sunk in, there was no stopping me. At that point that’s who I wanted to be. After that I focused on mastering the craft.
W: Coming from the west coast you don’t have the “traditional” west coast sound as an artist. What kind of role does the west coast sound play in your music?
WX: There are west coast influences in my music, it’s just not prominent. It doesn’t slap you in the face. If you hear what I’m rapping about, you can tell which coast I’m from. As far as my rhyme style and beat selection, I’m more influenced by the east. I’m east coast born and west coast raised. The east is what molded me and gave me my thought processes. I listen to all kinds of styles.
Musically, I can switch it up. I listened to east, west, south, midwest and even worldly music. Beatwise, I’ll admit, as far as what you hear on my album “Portrait of a Starving Artist” and even some of the Basic Weaponry EP is more east coast influenced. I’m more comfortable over those beats and a lot the people that made those beats, come from that background. The east coast beats have more room for lyricism, where as the west coast “bounce”, which I can rock to any day of the week, is more “sittin’ in your whip” type of music, it’s stereo system type feeling. It’s Cali music, slow and drawn out, and that’s not a knock, that’s the stuff I grew up on before I started getting into the real east coast type shit. I just feel more comfortable over east coast beats.
W: Speaking of the west coast is there still a “traditional” west coast sound?
WX: I’m going to be honest, very people are doing the traditional west coast sound. The west coast right now, to me in the terms of sound, don’t seem to be solidified. It seems like ever since the old Dogg Pound, Dre, Death Row hey days, it really hasn’t been solidified and the sound has been lost. There are still artists out here with that sound and still doing their thing, one would be Crooked I. I give that dude the utmost respect, he’s really kept that traditional sound. He keeps that traditional gangsta rap flava with great mcing. He himself even says he created a new genre, gangsta MCin’. Others like Ras Kas also keep that sound going, but overall, even people like Snoop who back in the day created the sound, he’s not doing that west coast sound anymore. He’s rhyming over Pharrell and that such. Then you got the cats up in the Bay doing the hyphy sound, which doesn’t have the traditional sound, not to knock any of it. The west coast is struggling to find it’s sound. With a few cats like Crooked, hopefully the west will find it and be back.
W: Your debut album in titled “Portrait of a Starving Artist”, which I’m sure is an indication of the struggles coming up in the game, just how difficult is it? What have you had to go through to get to where you are at now in the game?
WX: A lot of the struggle is explained in the album, that’s why I called the album “Portrait of a Starving Artist”. To elaborate for the people that haven’t heard the alb
um yet and to give deeper insight to those that have, I consider myself a starving artist. I’m not getting paid for my craft, I work a 9-5, sometimes not even that, I’ve been laid off numerous times. I don’t live a life style that is lavish. I’m lucky to have some supporters, family to keep me off the street. At the same time I’ve gone through my share of stuff. Everything is incorporated into that title. I’ve had my share of trouble with the law, I won’t say what, I’ll keep that low. I’ve been through financial issues where I haven’t had more than a few bucks to my name. I’ve had issues with alcohol, depression, but all in all, these are things a lot of people go through, not everyone, but a lot of people can relate to these issues.
Then I’ve had different issues than the average person. Coming over here when Iraq and Iran weren’t looked upon in a favorable light, then of course it got even worse after 9/11. Fortunately for me, I’m very light complexion and I can pass for a white person. But if a cop pulls me over and looks at my I.D., he knows exactly where I’m from. I was at O’Hare airport, I got patted down. I went to Toronto, they were checking me for SARS. I’ve been through racial discrimination, all that stuff. I’ve been harassed by cops, along with the regular day issues.
Even as far as being respected in this game. When I started doing this, it wasn’t everyday that someone from the Middle Easterner pops up out of nowhere saying “I can rhyme!” I’m still earning my stripes. I’m still struggling, financially to making a living, these are the struggles of the starving artists portrayed on the album.
W: Let’s discuss the album, “Portrait of a Starving Artist”. Talk about recording the album…who are some of the producers and guest artists you worked with on portrait? How much time has the album been in the works?
WX: Writing the album actually took place at a progression rate. The album came out in January of 2008, after I came up with the concept and figured out what I wanted to do on the album, I started conceptionaly writing the album around September/October of 2006. I didn’t mean for it to take that long, but I had other things on the side, such as regular life issues that always slow things down. It was recorded exactly how a starving artist would record it, straight out the house! No professional studio. I was learning as I went along, which is why it comes off as real and gritty, which is exactly how I meant it to be. I started writing songs for it and I was going through a period of extreme depression. I had lost my job in that moment in time and money was tight. Beats were not easy to come by, which was another reason the writing was extended out that long. I think it was meant to happen that way. As I progressively wrote, as I was going through this, it was incorporated and added an element of realism to the rhyme. It painted a picture of exactly what I was going through.
So from about September of 2006 to late 2007, I wrote the album and recorded the early joints . In September of 2007 to about November, I started recording and mixing all the joints. From there, I just decided I was going to drop the and just go with it. I was originally aiming for release in September of 2007, but something happened, but the packaging was held up, then the licensing was delayed, I didn’t want no one to jack the music. By the time all this was done it was January.
Then I suffered another setback, which I still regret. When I had everything ready, I was going to release the album on the 22nd, a Tuesday. Some other unforeseen things happened. Then unfortunately my friend and producer Clockwork, who did the majority of the beats on this record, passed away due to some screwed up circumstances. It’s always been in the back of my mind, I always wished he would have heard the finished product, the retail finished product. If I only didn’t have that delay and dropped it earlier. I was looking forward to sharing this with him. He would have loved to seen this appear out there and appear on the blogs, there was a magazine article I wish he could have seen. Those were some of the difficult times in trying to release this album. God bless his soul, I hope he can hear how many people are enjoying his work, cause it’s his work as much as it is mine, where ever he is at.
W: So Clorkwork did most of the beats on the album then?
WX: Yes, Clockwork was responsible for the majority of the beats on the album
W: There is some nice stuff on there. Who you are some of the guest artists you have on the album? You seem to have a network of others you run with. I’ve seen the Basic Weaponary EP and seen you guest appear on other people’s projects such….
WX: All the people that show up on the album, those are all my boys. I’m most grateful for them. Let’s see, let’s start from their appearances on the album. There is Mayo, Mayo actually did two of the beats on the album that Clockwork didn’t do. He also lent a verse to a track. He is a young talented kid, both with his beatmaking and his lyrics. We weren’t sure the track he did, “Run”, was going to make the album, but it was just so dope and fit the theme of the album so well, we had to include it. He resides up, if I’m not mistaking, up in Washington state.
AnP, is from money making Manhattan, back from my home on the east coast. He has two albums out right now When is The Metabolic Chronicles Vol.1 and 2. AnP is actually a very big influence of mine. He was one of the biggest forces behind getting Portrait of a Starving Artist off the ground. He told me “You got some talent, put out an album” and once I started to working on the album, he lent his talents toward it.
Then on the track “You Can’t Hide”, which features Louis Mackey, Grevious Bodily Harm and Askani Son. Those dudes are all talented. Askani is from, I forget the exact city, but from around Baltimore. Louis Mackey is from Illinois. Grevious Bodily Harm is out from the UK. I forget exactly how we came together, but I guess we just respected each others work, I can say that for everybody. We recently were going to do a group project. Louis Mackey is currently dealing with some school issues, but that should work itself out. Together we don’t really have a name, we just call ourselves the “Clique”. We’ve been pretty much appearing on each others projects. Grievous just dropped an EP which I’m featured on, Askani is working on a project that I’ll be featured on. Both will both be on the second project. That is like my tight nit rhyming family right there. They were people I wanted on the album, it wasn’t I just reached out to whoever, they are part of the family.
W: I’m sure every track is important to you, but do have one track that means more to you or stands out more than the others?
WX: I don’t know if I can pick a particular personal favorite. I can pick tracks that I had the most fun making. I loved making “Mentally Unstable” with AnP. That was just a monster of a track and we just let loose of our inhibitions and just spoke our mind. Obviously I loved “You Can’t Hide”, I love posse tracks anyway. Every once in a while, I can hop on those and test my skills. Actually come to think of it, my favorite track on the album is “Road to Redemption”, the last track, not counting the bonus track. After all the bull of the whole concept of me speaking my mind and troubles, it’s that little ray of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s me opening up, expressing my gratitude at the same time letting know people that through all of this, those that stuck by me I really appreciate it. It’s not taken for granted. The whole track is serving gratitude to all that I’ve been given despite what I’ve been through.
W: You also have the new Basic Weaponary EP, which out for free download with Basic….
WX: Yeah, Basic is my homie from here, in the 818. We are actually apart of another group, with Baisc, myself and Apoetnomadali. The group is called Basic Poetry X. It’s also a hip hop group, but it’s more focused on the Iranian-American demographic. We do stuff on that side as well. We are in the process of recording that album. That’s how I got to know Basic. We have a strong friendship. The EP basically came about when our friend and partner was going through a really tough time, it was kind of difficult for him to make music. He is also down in Orange County, more than an hour away, while Basic and I both live in the San Fernando Valley in the 818. We figured to keep the name going and out there, we’d combine our talents and get together for an EP. Not just for the promotion, although it’s a good way to do it, but to combine our fan bases and give the people back something. I’m not going to get rich off of my album. I’m trying to make back whatever I can, at least break even or a little extra would be cool. We really just wanted to have fun with it. Basic also happens to be Iranian-American, in case I didn’t mention it. We had fun with a lot of the tracks. It’s a dope project. We just wanted to make it fun, which wasn’t always the case on our individual albums. So far, it’s been accepted very well.
W: How does the internet affect an artist such as yourself, the “Starving Artist”? You hear a lot of debate, does it help the small artist, does it hurt the small artist, what’s your thoughts?
WX: It depends on where you are in your career. Obviously, the options on the internet are ever changing. It happens on a day to day basis. For an underground hip hop artist, yes it does take a bit of money out of our pockets, alright, it takes a lot of money out of our pockets, we’re not talking just a little bit. Unless you are a Canibus, or Chino XL or a well known underground artist, and even them such as the case of Kool G Rap, who has kind of been lost in the shadows, the internet helps with letting people hear music they won’t on the mainstream platform, or on the radio. It gives us the exposure we wouldn’t normally have.
It has made making music more accessible. Everyone with a microphone in their home can make an album these days. Everyone can be a producer or an MC now. Yes, it’s hurting us with over saturation and exposing us to a bunch of crap. I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, but you know, rapping is probably not for them. It hinders in that way. But for the established artist or the ones that sincerly have talent, it helps us by expanding the our fan base and getting our music to people who might not have otherwise heard it. They don’t play a lot of music from someone like me, or Ras Kass, or even Crooked I. The internet helps keep it going, otherwise there would be no medium for people to hear some of the music. It’s keeping a lot of the original culture alive, from the music aspects. Without the internet, radio would probably just wash it all away. The original essence of culture would be lost. But yes, we are taking a hit though there is no doubt about it.
W: How much has it helped you personally, because I know your album leaked on the internet as well…..
WX: Oh yeah, I certainly do. I may not be making a whole lot of money, let’s face it. Considering this my first album, I didn’t stand to make a whole lot of money anyway. I’m not a signed artist, I’m not even signed to an indie label. Any money I make off of grinding it, I appreciate it. At first I was like “Ahhh, the album leaked!”, now I look at it and people are enjoying the music and I got a bigger fan base. Since this is an issue in the industry anyway, people are going to download your album, the real money is to be made doing shows. The more people that hear my album and like it, the more people that are likely to come to the shows and watch me rock the stage. That part is not really hurting me at all. If the album wasn’t available on line and I was just hustling out of my backpack, which is no shame in that, I do that all the time, but if it was just based on word of mouth, it’d be a lot harder, no doubt about it.
W: What do you have going on the future?
WX: Obviously there is going to be a second LP. I’ve had enough positive feedback and people wanting the music, I feel confident going through with a second album. I mean, I’d probably would have done it anyway, but just kept it to myself, but the music is obviously being appreciated. I’m working on the details as I go along.
As far as other projects, I’ll be working on the Basic Poetry X album. That’s in the very near future. We are going to get started on that very soon. It’ll be aimed at the middle eastern demographic, but it’ll still have a very strong hip hop influence. Then there is something have in the works, in it’s beginning stages. As it stands right now, Grievious Bodily Harm and I will be doing a collaborative album, going on the name of Eastern Condors. The concepts and are being worked out. In between that sometime, I’m going to release another EP for the people just for the hell of it. It’ll be a solo EP, just working on it. Don’t know what I’m going to call that one as of yet. Who knows what else, but you’ll catch me on people’s albums. I’m willing to be a ’98 Canibus and show up on people’s albums and just rip shit.
W: Alright, let’s wrap this bad boy up, you got any last words?
WX:I’d just like to thank my family for being so supportive, My regular affiliates, AnP, Mayo, Askani, Mackey, and GBH along with my boys APNA and Basic. I also want to thank you all at Wake Your Daughter Up for giving me the opportunity to partake in this interview and speak
my mind.In addition want to thank everyone along the way thats supported me and my music this far, it’s because of you I do this. Lastly for those who are just getting acquainted with me you can hit up my myspace at www.myspace.com/wxmc and feel free to download the Sleepless Sessions EP for free as well as cop the album Portrait of a Starving Artist. Myself as well as other, indy artists really put a lot of work in our craft and we don’t have a whole lot of cash to do it with so every little bit of support helps. Support Real Hip Hop and lets keep the culture alive.