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How many times have you freaked out because your car because the radio did not work, a CD was scratched, a tape got eaten, or a new album was unattainable because the local record stores were sold out? The human heart beats to a rhythm. Do you honestly think that you do not need music? Like any other music junkie, Defari is an emcee who cannot live without rhythm. Hailing from Los Angeles, Defari first gained critical acclaim with the single, 'Bionic' along with various collaborations with The Alkaholiks and Dilated Peoples. His debut album, 'Focused Daily' was an underground gem with more than just a West coast vibe. Though he represented the West Coast, his style was more down-to-earth because his love of hip-hop ran deep within his veins. While heroin addicts put needles in their veins, Defari injects music into his soul via his ears. His heroin is a 12' vinyl record. His syringes are 2 turntables and a mixer. Classic collaborations gained him more fame. From his standout verse on 'Some L.A. N*ggas' (from Dr. Dre's '2001' LP) to countless other collaborations, Defari always left a strong impression. His equally powerful live show also earned him a solid following. Released on High Times Records, his sophomore album, 'Odds And Evens' faces obstacles due to problems within label. Some fans never even found a copy. With his business sense intact, he co-founded ABB Records. Artists like Little Brother and The Sound Providers helped to give ABB both respect and credibility. These groups are also addicted to the opiate of music. Meanwhile, Defari wrote songs over DJ Babu's production. The chemistry between Defari and DJ Babu (from Dilated Peoples and The Beat Junkies) was so special, they decided to form a group together, Likwit Junkies. One member from The Likwit Crew and one member from The Beat Junkies formed a whole new musical drug. Their debut album, 'The L.J.'s' (released on ABB Records) is filled with soulful samples, varied emotional themes, and a deep love of music. While Babu produced and mixed the entire LP, Defari stood strong at the lyrical helm. The prodigious musicians stood their ground. Together, they follow the footsteps of hip-hop's legendary duos like Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Eric B. & Rakim, and Gangstarr (Guru & DJ Premier). As an emcee and songwriter, Defari has come full circle. While his solo albums have a West Coast sound with a gritty attitude, Defari's maturity shines on 'The L.J.'s' LP. Maturity has not slowed him down. He can still have fun, move a crowd, and rock a microphone. On a sweltering Spring day in 2005, I spoke to the legendary emcee. Both of us are so addicted to music, we could not stop talking about the industry, recording, songwriting, live performances, etc. Our conversation was so in-depth, the tape actually ran out. We were just two music junkies on the phone, jonsing for a fix of rhythm.
T.JONES: 'What goes on?'
DEFARI: 'Sh*t, man, just chilling after a long day.'
T.JONES: 'You formed a new group with DJ Babu named The Likwit Junkies. The album is called 'The L.J.'s'. Tell us about both.'
DEFARI: 'Pretty much, it is myself and DJ Babu. Due to the success of the previous songs we did, we felt that we needed to collaborate and make an album or something. Now, we have a group. Here we are.'
T.JONES: 'Since DJ Babu produced the entire album, did you have a different approach to creating the LP, as opposed to other albums with different producers producing different songs?'
DEFARI: 'It's definitely different, because we had a group element going on. Production was Babu's job. My job was to write and hold down the vocals. Basically, we took the Gangstarr approach, with the influences of great superheroes like Gangstarr, Slick Rick and Dougie Fresh, Eric B and Rakim, and Pete Rock and CL Smooth. We basically took that aura and did our own thing. We used that same framework of the super duos of the past.'
T.JONES: 'Do you have a favorite song on 'The L.J.'s' LP?'
DEFARI: 'It changes all the time. 'Change' is one of my favorites, but I think 'Ghetto' is also one of my favorites.'
T.JONES: 'How is Babu different from the other producers you have worked with?'
DEFARI: 'He is a lot more soulful than most producers I have worked with. His background in soul music is very similar to mine. That's why we clicked. He has a real soul bone in his body. He can take any type of loop, that I may think of, and can make it a beat, in a heartbeat. Other producers may try to chop it up, rip it, and only do a certain part. Babs has no qualms about doing any idea that I have. At the same time, the beats like 'Keep Doin It' and 'One Day' are different. 9 out of 10 emcees can't ride those beats. Those beats prove very difficult for any other rapper. For me, it's nothing. I can kill any beat.'
T.JONES: 'When dealing with breath control, flow, or riding beats, how do you prepare or strategize?'
DEFARI: 'I have this new song I did with Fred Wreck on 'Street Music'. The style that I'm using on there is like, there is no breath. I can only describe it in melody. (Defari hums the melody) The style is like a waterfall. To perform live, it is very difficult. There is literally no breath in it.'
T.JONES: 'When recording a song, do you go into the studio with pre-written lyrics, or themes, or do you hear the beat first and then, write to the beat?'
DEFARI: 'I wrote most of the songs to the beat. I get the beat from the producer and ride with it. I just beat a block with it and punch in the lyrics into my Trio. That's pretty much how I do it. I go into the booth with my Trio. I used to go into the booth with my 2-Way, like 5 years ago. If the only thing I have available is the pen and pad, of course. I rarely use the pen and pad.'
T.JONES: 'You started out as a DJ. How did you make that transition from DJ to emcee?'
DEFARI: 'It was a natural metamorphosis. One record stood out at the time. 'Eric B. For President' inspired me to write my first rhyme. From there, I wrote and recorded a gang of songs before I ever came out with a bunch of songs professionally. It wasn't just an overnight thing. That's for sure. I recorded a whole bunch of songs through that whole black medallion era and the high-top fade era. I was writing, but I never felt I was ready, until I did 'Big Up' with E-Swift. When I did 'Bionic', I really felt I had an itch.'
T.JONES: 'You founded ABB Records?'
DEFARI: 'Yeah, I co-founded ABB. We dropped the 'Inaugural' single with 'Bionic'. We followed that up with 'Third Degree' by Dilated Peoples, featuring yours truly.'
T.JONES: 'Did you have anything to do with Little Brother signing to ABB Records?'
DEFARI: 'Nah, I didn't have anything to do with Little Brother. They came out on ABB. While I was doing my thing, touring, bouncing around on different labels, and being on the grind, I brought a lot of acts to Ben. Planet Asia, Krondon, and Dilated Peoples. It's a trip because the 'Work The Angels' single is probably the biggest independent hip-hop single ever. 'Bionic' is a close second.'
T.JONES: 'How did the whole connection between you, Dilated Peoples, and The Alkaholiks come together?'
DEFARI: 'I hooked up with Dilated on 'The Next Chapter'. We both had songs on the record. Coincidentally, I hooked up with E-Swift and did my first single, 'Big Up'. I've been down with Likwit ever since. That was 1995. From there, the tree just blossomed. OG's like Dr. Dre. The funny thing is, I was born and raised in L.A., and so are Rakka and Evidence from Dilated. Actually, only J-Ro from the Liks and myself are the only cats from the town. When I came back after touring, I met a whole new era of cats. When I was in high school, there was a whole different era of cats I knew in L.A. You feel me? A whole slew of cats came. The people I'm talking about now, in this interview, don't even know these new cats. It's a trip.'
T.JONES: 'Is everything still cool between Xzibit and The Liks?'
DEFARI: 'Yeah, old as Magic Johnson.'
T.JONES: 'How has your live show evolved?'
DEFARI: 'Now, I have a new one. I have new songs. Now, it is about picking the songs I want to do.'
T.JONES: 'What is your favorite part of your live show?'
DEFARI: 'Probably, when I first touch the stage. When I'm on tour, I think my favorite part is when I leave. (laughs). You feel me? It depends how tired I am and what city I am in. But, really, wherever I'm at, that first part I touch stage with that first song, is my favorite part. One part I really loved was, when I used to sit down and do 'Keep It The Rise Part 2'. I would act like I'm driving. I would sit in a chair and act like I'm driving through the town. I would blow a blunt and do the song. It was a really cool change of pace. I don't do that song anymore, but it was dope.'
T.JONES: 'Do you open up with the same song all the time, or does the first song of your live show change?'
DEFARI: 'It changes. Now, I'm opening up with new songs, but I don't want to let the cat out of the bag. I open up with different songs. It depends.'
T.JONES: 'What are the signature songs you always perform?'
DEFARI: 'The people will always get 'Bionic'. Also, 'Smack Ya Face'. Those are signatures. I like to do 'Spell My Name', but I like to stay fresh and exciting. I like people to think that I hit them with different jams, but also the classics they know me for. 'Behold My Life'. There are so many songs, I can't do them all. One of my favorite parts is when I do the Dr. Dre song 'Some L.A. N*ggas'. I do my verse from there. It's a call and response from the crowd. No matter where I'm at, the crowd goes bananas.'
T.JONES: 'I heard you are working on your third album.'
DEFARI: 'My third album will be coming out. It's called 'Street Music'.'
T.JONES: 'Who is handling production for the 'Street Music' LP?'
DEFARI: 'I've got tracks from Mike City, Fred Wreck, Evidence, Babu, E-Swift, Superstar Formula, and DJ Revolution. Once again, I recorded too many songs, like I did with Likwit Junkies. Some songs have to get cut, but hey, that's what happens.'
T.JONES: 'Who are the guests on 'Street Music'?'
DEFARI: 'Right now, I have Noelle singing on a couple of joints. I have Channel Live on the album. I have a local cat, Boo Capone. I have a song with The Liks and another one with Dilated. The rest of the album, I take it to the face, for the most part.'
T.JONES: 'What are some problems you encounter when you release albums?'
DEFARI: 'You have to set it up for the people. You can't just drop it and expect them to know about it. Because we are indie, we like to feed the people with good singles. That is the formula. I'm on a 3 single formula. I'm not like what you see on BET, where you hear 1 single and then, the album's out. That is the major label philosophy and that is why they lose more money than they make. We take it to the old school. Likwit Junkies dropped 3 singles before the LP came out. That's what it is about, the music. This whole industry side of the game lost sight of that.'
T.JONES: 'In the song 'Interview', you state that you are addicted to music. Can you expand on your addiction?'
DEFARI: 'I can't live without music. It's funny, because I'm a big fan of what I do. I'm glad to be apart of the stuff that I'm a fan of.'
T.JONES: 'Which producers would you like to work with?'
DEFARI: 'I would like to work with Alchemist again. I would like to hook back up with Al.'
T.JONES: 'I was surprised you were not on his album.'
DEFARI: 'You were just as surprised as me.'
T.JONES: 'Who are some other producers you would like to work with in the future?'
DEFARI: 'I think Kanye is dope. I wouldn't mind working with Kanye West. I would like to work with DJ Quik too. That dude is a genius.'
T.JONES: 'What have you been listening to lately?'
DEFARI: 'Mix CDs. Today, I was bumping The Game album. I was bumping 'The L.J.'s'. I've been bumping a lot of stuff that is not even out yet, like my stuff, some Strong Arm Steady stuff, and Dilated.'
T.JONES: 'For the people who do not know, can you enlighten them on the meaning behind the name, Defari?'
DEFARI: 'Yeah, it means 'The Kingly One'. It is also a savage way of saying, 'Def are I', which is 'I'm def.' It's a b-boy proclamation.'
T.JONES: 'Do you still freestyle?'
DEFARI: 'Yeah, when I got the feeling. Primarily, I focus on elevating my songwriting ability.'
T.JONES: 'Compared to the older days, do you have a different songwriting approach?'
DEFARI: 'I said it in 'Bionic'. I said, 'I rhyme over 10 million beats, 50 million topics.' I feel limitless in terms of topics and my ability to create a story or a picture that people can get into. For 'The L.J.'s', I really wanted people to see a different side of my songwriting abilities, as well as showcase Babu's production talents. I think that is what we've done. This is why you get songs like 'Change', 'Good Green', or 'Brother'. Yeah, man! You get 'Salute'. You get all these types of stuff because it is a sort of left-turn from the typical Defari stuff, which is more street or rap oriented. With 'The L.J.'s', you get me and Babs trying to give the people a breath of fresh air, that is brand new and cutting edge. You can tell it has the old influences but it is not stale. It's not soaked with guns and other things. But, hey, that has a place as well. I like that stuff. The music is supposed to be entertaining. My point is, with Defari, there is always a conscious undertone to it, without being blatant. There is a consciousness riptide to all my stuff. Even with songs like 'Slump', that has a conscious in there. You may say, 'How is that song conscious?' Well, 'Slump' is me at the club, and me going home and getting hassled. It is a song for people who have been through that. 'Leave me alone, I'm enjoying myself'. That is the moral to that song. With 'The L.J.'s', I really beat my brain to give the people a breath of fresh air and a new challenge to my songwriting abilities. For 'One Day', I'm going 150 on that. A lot people can't go 150. The term 150 is what we call double-time, here on the West Coast. I have a new song called 'He's A Gangsta' where I go 150. I kill them! For me, that style is easy. That's like remedial for me. I'm having fun with it and that what 'The L.J.'s' is all about. That is what my new album 'Street Music' is all about. You'll see the beats are knocking. They are over the top. It truly is street music and the beats are supposed to knock and be over the top.'
T.JONES: 'Which artists would you like to work with in the future?'
DEFARI: 'I would like to work with Slick Rick, Ice-T, and Rakim all on the same song.'
T.JONES: 'Would that collaboration have a theme?'
DEFARI: 'I don't care. (Laughs) It would just be dope. It would be just living a dream.'
T.JONES: 'Many collaborations are recorded in separate studios. Some artists do not even meet. For 'The L.J.'s' LP, how were the collaborations recorded?'
DEFARI: 'That was not the case with Likwit Junkies. Everybody was family on the record. Even though some of the vocals were recorded at different spots, we are still family. I took them to Pro-Tools sessions. Me and Rakka did 'Dark Angel' in the same place. Noelle came through and I coached her how to sing that song. She's just on the job. She's on my new album too. The Steady recorded their stuff at their studio and Asia recorded at his. Pro-Tools is a beautiful thing. Babu mixed it all. That's another thing readers should know. Not only did Babu produce the entire album, but he also mixed the album. Besides the fact that he is a world-class DJ with so many belts that they had to ban The Beat Junkies from competitions, his technical talents are worthy of mentioning.'
T.JONES: 'Do you have plans to do another Likwit Junkies album?'
DEFARI: 'Oh yeah! Definitely. This is not a one-off. This is not a brand of tennis shoe. This is the real deal. We are a real group and this is our first album, our debut album. I invite everybody to check it out. It's in stores everywhere now. It is also on I-tunes and stuff. We are here!'
T.JONES: 'What was the last incident of racism you experienced?'
DEFARI: 'The last one? Just the other day, a lady clutched her purse when I walked by. She was an old, white lady. It has happened all my life, so I don't even trip. She actually switched her purse to her other hand. It was the good old clutch. It is probably something so deeply embedded in her, she didn't even realize it.'
T.JONES: 'Where were you on the September 11th terrorist attack? How did you handle the day?'
DEFARI: 'Man! I was in L.A. The wife was like, 'Man, check the TV out! A plane crashed into the Twin Towers!' I was like, 'What!?' That was when I got out of bed and checked it out. Then, I saw the 2nd plane hit. That was just surreal.'
T.JONES: 'Word association time. I'm going to say a name of a group or person, and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say 'Chuck D', you may say 'Revolution'. If I said 'Flava Flav', you may say 'Clock', 'Crack' or 'The Surreal Life'. Okay?'
DEFARI: '(laughing) Yeah.'
T.JONES: 'Wu-Tang Clan.'
DEFARI: 'One of the best collection of brothers, ever.'
DEFARI: 'Incredible emcee.'
DEFARI: 'That's my dude.'
T.JONES: 'MF Doom.'
DEFARI: 'Scooby Doo.'
T.JONES: 'Del The Funky Homosapian.'
DEFARI: 'Oaktown! That's my dude from back in the day!'
T.JONES: 'Pigeon John.'
DEFARI: 'I'm not too familiar with Pigeon John. I know of him, but we never met. I would say the word, 'respect'.'
DEFARI: 'One of the greatest.'
T.JONES: 'Gil-Scott Heron.'
DEFARI: 'One of the greatest dope heads.'
T.JONES: 'Curtis Mayfield.'
DEFARI: 'One of my top three.'
T.JONES: 'Smokey Robinson.'
DEFARI: 'My favorite singer of all time.'
T.JONES: 'If you could remake any hip-hop song, what would it be?'
DEFARI: 'Probably, remake 'Peter Piper'.'
T.JONES: 'What was the biggest mistake you have made in your career?'
DEFARI: 'The biggest mistake I have made in my career was probably being misunderstood and misquoted. Actually, the biggest mistake I have made was f*cking with High Times Records.'
T.JONES: 'The 'Odds And Evens' LP was released on High Times Records, but 'The L.J.'s' was not. What happened?'
DEFARI: 'Exactly, but High Times Records was a fictitious label. It was not a label. Thank God for Devin Horowitz, man. If it weren't for Devin, his goodwill, and good nature, people would not have been able to get such great albums. There were a limited amount of people who actually did get it.'
T.JONES: 'You collaborated with Scritti Politti on 'Mystic Handyman (remix)'. How did that happen? What was that collaboration like?'
DEFARI: 'Now, that was a highlight of my career. Tash called me and asked, 'Do you know Scritti Politti?' I was like 'What!? Hell yeah, I know Scritti Politti!' Tash said, 'Come down to the studio. They want you to get on this remix. They love your stuff.' I went there and I had a blast. My man, Green! If you are reading this, Green, you're a class act. Those guys are a class act.'
T.JONES: 'Weed has been a recurring theme in your music. What is your favorite way to smoke? Bongs, joints, blunts, or something else?'
DEFARI: 'I take the answer D, all of the above. To be honest with you, a good old zag. I'm Cali to the bone.'
T.JONES: 'Since you have some songs that are basically about or devoted to weed, do people come up to you and expect you to smoke all the time?'
DEFARI: 'Actually, no, because I don't give that off. If I gave it off more, they would. I don't. If it is 4-Dub, forget about it. Everybody is coming up!'
T.JONES: 'What does hip-hop music need these days?'
DEFARI: 'I think music needs variety. That is why when you hear Common and Kanye together, it is really stuff that we were doing years ago, but today, it seems brand new and fresh. You feel me? That is because the Lil Jon stuff, the 50 Cent stuff, and the other stuff are flooding the airwaves. It all kind of sounds the same. I also think that radio stations should go back to breaking artists, instead of playing the same song 30 times per day. That's weak and that is why satellite radio is taking over. People want to hear music. When I was coming up, we used to make 'pause mixes' on a tape recorder. If I heard a song that I wanted to record, I had to get it then, or I would never hear it again. That is what made that song special. I think the public is getting cheated. It closes the doors for the artists who are trying to make it, especially new artists.'
T.JONES: 'How are East Coast audiences different from West Coast audiences?'
DEFARI: 'For me, it depends where I'm at. If I'm in New York, the audience is pretty much the same as L.A. In big cities, people are spoiled by live performances. If I'm in Vermont, or San Diego, or Ottawa, Canada, people go bananas. They go crazy. If I'm in S.O.B.'s in New York, they nod their head lookey-loo style. They give respect and say, 'We feel you. Do your thing'. If they are not booing you, but nodding their head because they are into it, that is a sign of respect. It is the New York way. In Philly, they will boo you in a heartbeat. I've been through Philly, on South Street, a few times. Remember when they booed Kobe in the all-star game? One time, we got there during that week. I had on a 3XT, but underneath was a Lakers jersey. We were so hype because they booed Kobe. My DJ and my guy setting up, both had Lakers shirts on. The crowd was booing them. They stopped the music and I said, 'We're in the city of brotherly love. We love y'all!' They were like 'Yea!'. I said, 'We love Dr. J! We love Bobby Jones! We love Lotus Malone! We even love Billy Cunningham!' They were like, 'Yeah!'. Then, I said, 'Don't ever let me hear you boo another Laker!'. That's when I peeled my shirt off. They were like 'Boo!'. They were giving it to me! It was fun, though. Then, we dropped 'Say It Twice', and the crowd went off! They went crazy! They loved it.'
T.JONES: 'During a live performance, how do you control the crowd?'
DEFARI: 'You have to feel at home on that stage. I'm at home, especially in places like L.A., New York, or Philadelphia. Any urban metropolis will eat you alive if you don't know what you are doing. I don't go up there with a hype-man. I take it solo like DMX.'
T.JONES: 'Did you ever have a hype-man? How was performing without a hype-man different?'
DEFARI: 'Yeah, I used to. The energy is different. Me and my DJ have enough energy. I travel with Barbershop Kiz. He's been all over the world.'
T.JONES: 'What are the 3 best things about living in Los Angeles?'
DEFARI: 'Sunshine, women, and kush.'
T.JONES: 'What are the 3 worst things about living in Los Angeles?'
DEFARI: 'Police, jackers, and guns.'
T.JONES: 'What is next for Defari?'
DEFARI: 'Likwit Junkies. We're putting together a tour, coming this summer. Look for us in your local neighborhood. I have a song coming out called, 'The Bizness' and another song, called 'Powder Coat'. It's a double A-side. We'll have it for you. The public and DJs choose. The Likwit Junkies are releasing a new single for 'Ghetto' with 'Brother' on the b-side. A lot of DJs want that. Man, I'm working on getting 'Street Music' out there for people by the end of this year.'
T.JONES: 'Any final words for the people who will be reading this?'
DEFARI: 'I want to thank anybody who supported Defari and Likwit Junkies. Go to www.defari.net or go to myspace.com/defari Go to your store around the corner, if you have to. Go to Itunes. Buy the album. 'The L.J.'s' is the name. Liquid Junkies is the group. DJ Babu and Defari. I want to say thank you to everybody! Thank you, Todd. Thank you, out to all you guys!'
Thank you Defari!