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Casual has experienced the complete spectrum of label issues. Signed to Jive Records in the 90's, Casual released the classic 'Fear Itself' album. After label troubles, Casual and Hieroglyphics went the independent route. They set up their independent label, Hieroglyphics Imperium. Throughout the years, Hieroglyphics Imperium has grown in multiple ways. They have a diverse worldwide fan base, a lengthy discography, and are currently signing other artists (Z-Man, O.C., Encore, etc.). With complete creative control, Hieroglyphics have contributed to the essence of independent hip-hop. Casual and fellow Hieroglyphics have found peace through this musical independence
The prolific emcee has left his signature mark on wax. He made a substantial contribution to the Hieroglyphics '3rd Eye Vision' LP. After a lengthy break after his debut LP, Casual's 'He Think He Raw' finally was released. With a different sound and style, his sophomore album maintained that confident Oakland flavor. During 2002, I interviewed Casual for the first time. He also kept busy with shows and multiple collaborations. His production was featured on the sophomore Hiero album, 'Full Circle.' He also produced 'Leroy' from the excellent 'Calicomm 2004' CD/DVD (which documented the tour including Haiku D'Etat, Del The Funky Homosapien, and Zion I). He rhymed on the excellent Hiero compilations, 'The Building' and 'The Corner'
In 2005, 'Smash Rockwell' was officially born. The fun LP album has a macked-out feel without exhausting the vibe. The LP features legendary guests like Too $hort, E-40, and Young Zee from The Outsidaz. A Casual album would be incomplete without collaborations from Hieroglyphics. Opio, A-Plus, and Tajai all contribute to his LP. While some of the beats were produced by Casual, the production on 'Smash Rockwell' is also handled by J-Zone, Dan The Automator, Quincy Tones, Compound 7 (A Plus & Aagee), Bedrock, Jake One, and Domino. In the cool song 'Styles', Casual uses each verse to display his talent for rhyming. The inner-mack is let on the opening track, 'Say That Then'. Like all of the albums from Hieroglyphics, the music is diverse, thick, and captivating. My second (2005) interview with Casual displays a mature and insightful emcee. His thoughts about hip-hop, technology, rhymes, and the industry have an astute hip-hop edge. Some may think Casual may be just 'that dude' from Oakland. Casual may be that regular guy, but Smash is his inner-pimp released on the hip-hop world. Smash Rockwell is a talented emcee who helps Hieroglyphics lay some of the bricks in hip-hop's foundation. Casual has just shown us his alter ego, Smash Rockwell. Escaping the chains of everyday life, Casual is smashing through music and rocking well.
T.JONES: "What goes on?"
CASUAL: 'Chilling, chilling. I'm enjoying life. It's a nice Sunday.'
T.JONES: 'Hieroglyphics Imperium just released your new album, 'Smash Rockwell'. Tell us about the LP.'
CASUAL: ''Smash Rockwell' is my new release. It's Casual at his finest. That's what it is all about, basically. He's a spokesman. It's a little more mature. I'm just bringing it how people are expecting it, how people want it.'
T.JONES: 'How is 'Smash Rockwell' different from your last album, 'He Think He Raw'?'
CASUAL: 'It's different in a few ways. Mainly, it's different because I've got more outside production. I got more cooperation and participation for this event. On my last album, 'He Think He Raw', I produced half of the album and I had no features. It was really all done in-house. That's a good thing at times, but sometimes, it's a bad thing. For 'Smash Rockwell', I wanted to have more of the people I looked up to and the people I admire. I also wanted to have current people I respect, be involved in my project as well.'
T.JONES: 'Some legendary emcees are on the 'Smash Rockwell' like Too $hort, Dan The Automator, and E-40.'
CASUAL: 'Yeah, a lot of those people, like Dan and Too $hort, are people who I have been listening to throughout my whole career. I was like, 'Man! I want to do a song with them when I can!' Since this was my current project, I made it happen.'
T.JONES: 'Were these collaborations done with you and the guest in the same studio at the same time?'
CASUAL: 'Each was different, actually. Me and Dan worked together. Automator and I work together all the time. Me and Too $hort worked together at High Street Studios. The E-40 song was done via the mail. My J-Zone song was done via the Internet. There were different ways for different people. As long as we communicate and bounce back and forth, there are all different types of processes. For 'Oaktown' song with Too $hort, E Mac, Richie Rich, and G Stack, everyone came into the studio. We listened to each other's verses and dropped our own verses. It was the exact opposite the E-40 song.'
T.JONES: 'What's your favorite song on 'Smash Rockwell'?'
CASUAL: 'I think it is probably 'Styles'.'
T.JONES: 'Yeah, Domino produced 'Styles'. He always comes through.'
CASUAL: 'Yeah, Domino and I have been working together for a while. It's a classic combination.'
T.JONES: 'As an alter-ego or character, how is Smash Rockwell different from the Casual?'
CASUAL: 'Not necessarily different, just a perfect person. Personally, my friends have been calling me Smash for a while. You feel me? I just wanted to present that person to my fans and let them know what is going on. Where I'm located, Smash is a slang term for getting aggressive.'
T.JONES: 'There is a more pimped out and slicker vibe to 'Smash Rockwell', especially on the opening track, 'Say That Then'.'
CASUAL: 'That was kind of a comedy thing, to make you feel how we do. It's always fun to stay pimping in a way. I don't mean pimping in a derogatory way. I mean getting over any situation at hand. Someone was surprised that my album started off with me singing, 'You look like a pimp!' I let it be how I be. I love how it is. Everybody knows what I stand for in this hip-hop thing. I like just having fun. I'm from Oakland, California. If anyone can pull it off, I can.'
T.JONES: 'On 'Smash Rockwell' interlude, you apologize for punching some guy out? What really happened?'
CASUAL: 'Actually, I'll tell you the real story. That wasn't even supposed to be on my album. We're an indie label and sometimes, things slide through the cracks. I don't want to point anyone out, but I told the dude who was mastering the album, to take it out. Then, after the test press, it was on there. That was just comedy. It wasn't really heartfelt. I was just trying to make people laugh. Still, there's always someone out there who wants to test you because they think that you call yourself a gangster when you are not. If you don't represent the most ignorant things on the Earth, people try to test you sometimes. I'm not a sucker, so I'll put it in some people's faces who actually tried to test me. They got the worst side of it. Actually, there are all types of situations. Once, I got jumped by some fools. It actually happened at The Hip-Hop Summit in Oakland. Some rappers tried to jump me. It's cool because I socked them up. It's on the DVD so, it's really fun. I don't really represent that. It's just fun. You know how we get. What I don't do, is represent violence.'
T.JONES: 'Too $hort rhymes on the song, 'Oaktown'. What was that collaboration like?'
CASUAL: 'Well, I've known $hort for a while. I did a song on one of his compilations, back in the day. I think that was the first time we really, really spent together. I've known $hort since the late '90's. We were both on Jive together. It wasn't hard. I just gave him a call. I had his number. I called him and told him that I wanted him to be on the song. It wasn't a big deal because the fact he is a legend. I went to Mississippi in the 6th grade. When I came home, everyone told me Too $hort rocked at my house. He did a house party for my sister. Too $hort performed in my living room while I was in Mississippi. That's how big of a legend he is to someone like me. We have crossed paths within the industry first. We were both on Jive Records together. It ain't hard for me to talk with him. I know how to ask for a favor.'
T.JONES: 'Dan The Automator produced one of my favorite tracks on the album called, 'Critical'. What was he like to work with?'
CASUAL: 'He produced 'Critical'. That's also one of my favorites because it's more along those lines of something off of 'Fear Itself'. Me and Dan are also working on our own album right now.'
T.JONES: 'Is Dan The Automator going to produce the whole album?'
CASUAL: 'We're doing something more along the lines of 'Deltron 3030'. It won't be strictly a concept record though. It will just be songs. 'Deltron 3030' was one of the best albums that dropped that year.'
T.JONES: 'The 'Deltron 3030' album was one of the best albums that dropped in the last 10 years.'
CASUAL: 'Okay! Now, I feel that. In a piece like that, you can tell how much thought went into both sides, the production and the lyrics. Working with Dan, he brings out what people like about me. When I do songs with him, he brings that out of me. I did a song on The Handsome Boy Modeling School record. A lot of people say to me, 'Damn! You need to have songs like that on your record!' Dan is a producer and that's a producer's job. The producer has to find out how to maximize the artist. That is why I like working with him. He can bring it out of you.'
T.JONES: 'You appeared on the excellent remix for 'Calling Out' by Lyrics Born. How did you hook up with him? What was that collaboration like?'
CASUAL: 'L.B. is someone I have known for a long time. I met him in 1994. We went to Japan together. Working with him? Music wise, I'm not sure. When I went to the studio, I don't remember him being in the studio with me. He's a real cool dude. I am looking forward to working with him again.'
T.JONES: 'How has Hieroglyphics changed in the last couple of years?'
CASUAL: 'We've changed. All of the artists have changed in different ways. As for myself, I feel more mature, secure, and well rounded in life. That shows in my music.'
T.JONES: 'Which Hieroglyphics album do you like more, 'Third Eye Vision' or 'Full Circle'?'
CASUAL: 'That's a good question. I would probably say 'Full Circle', just because that's the one I like the best. There's no particular reason. They are both classic records.'
T.JONES: 'The 'Full Circle' LP by Hieroglyphics had more songs that grew on me and got better with age. The 'Third Eye Vision' LP had some tracks that instantly caught your attention. Would you agree?'
CASUAL: 'When you feel like you have something to prove, you are going to be more aggressive. 'Third Eye Vision' is definitely more aggressive than 'Full Circle'. Each record is different. On 'Full Circle', our goal was to make a more user-friendly hip-hop record.'
T.JONES: 'What musical direction is Hieroglyphics moving towards?'
CASUAL: 'I think my focus is changing a little bit. I want to give something to the younger artists coming up. Around my way, we can help the little dudes get their act together. We've being doing this for 15 years. We have established a little fan base and have our company set up well. I'm trying to find new artists and help them gain exposure. I also want to give new things to our fan base.'
T.JONES: 'Were you involved with O.C. signing to Hieroglyphics?'
CASUAL: 'I wasn't really involved in that. It was really Domino who made that happen. We just talked throughout the ordeal.'
T.JONES: 'Hieroglyphics have changed over the years in different ways. Each album and each emcee is different. Would you agree?'
CASUAL: 'Well, everyone has changed. We have to look at hip-hop as a whole. Take a look at any album released in the same week as 'Fear Itself', in 1994. Look at that artist and gauge him next to me. You'll see the equal change throughout hip-hop. Nas dropped one off his album, 'Halftime' around the time. Listen to the Nas album and gauge the same amount of growth and maturity. This happens throughout hip-hop. It's just one thing because you can't outgrow hip-hop because it's still a youth activity. Hip-hop is about rebellion and fun. You have to stay in tune with what's really going on.'
T.JONES: 'In the 'Calicomm' DVD (Decon Media), Del is a little upset as he talks about dealing with personal issues. I love his music and I hope he's doing well. Is he alright?'
CASUAL: 'I wish him the best with all of his struggles. I talked to him the other day. Now, he is perfectly fine. He's just Del. It takes a lot to have that kind of energy.'
T.JONES: 'What are some Hieroglyphics collaborations that are being released featuring you?'
CASUAL: 'There's a world of those. We work so much. I didn't do nothing on Del's '11th Hour' but I have so many songs. We're starting to put together this next Hiero record. It should be cool. I also have collabos I made for my 'Smash Rockwell' that didn't come out, but I will make them available soon.'
T.JONES: 'What's the title of the new Hieroglyphics album?'
CASUAL: 'I don't know yet. It takes all of us to put in our influence. We start our music before we start titling. I don't think we titled 'Full Circle' until we had like 30 songs done.'
T.JONES: 'You also released a compilation of unreleased tracks called 'Truck Driver'. Tell us about that.'
CASUAL: 'The 'Truck Driver' thing was to hold people over. Some of the times, we just release stuff like that and don't put them in all stores. You can get it on-line at hieroglyphics.com and fatbeats.com.'
T.JONES: 'When creating a song, do you write to the beat or approach the song with pre-written lyrics or themes?'
CASUAL: 'It happens all different ways. Sometimes, I have a rap ready. Sometimes, I have a beat to write a rap to. Other times, I have a beat to freestyle on. Certain artists do certain things. People work differently. What works for me is sitting down and taking my rhymes through the editing process. The smallest little things can make a rap worse or better. Some people talk about how they don't write rhymes because their spontaneity is so tight. That's cool. I understand that because I have been freestyling for 15 years. I still freestyle but you have to understand the reason why we scribe. It is because we can see things and can hear things. When we hear things, that is one kind of sense, but when you see things, that is a completely other kind of sense. I like seeing my lyrics as well as hearing them.'
T.JONES: 'Hieroglyphics were mentioned in the documentary, 'Freestyle: The Art Of Rhyme'. What did you think of that documentary?'
CASUAL: 'That's bullshit! I hate that movie. How can you come to Oakland, California and not film us? They came to Oakland but didn't get in touch with one member of Hiero. The Hieroglyphics spearheaded that freestyle movement coming out of the Bay, at that point and time. Maybe, it was something internal. I don't know what happened. I threw that movie away because of that reason. Straight up! They are trying to be the truest, realest, and underground movie with all of the facts. But, how can you pass up a whole era in hip-hop. That type of stuff gets on my nerves.'
T.JONES: 'When I interviewed you in 2002, you stated the MPC was your favorite.'
CASUAL: 'I don't work on it no more, but it probably still is. I'm working on my PC now.'
T.JONES: 'Besides Dr. Dre and Premier (who you mentioned in my last interview), who are some producers you are feeling?'
CASUAL: 'Everybody! Evidence is someone I'm listening to right now. Alchemist, J-Zone, and Jake One I'm feeling.'
T.JONES: 'Who are some new emcees you are listening to these days?'
CASUAL: 'I'm feeling Saigon. I feel everybody. I'm not that type. I don't get overexcited about anything, but I don't hate on it too much either.'
T.JONES: 'Word association. When I say a name, you tell me the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say 'Flava Flav', you may say 'Clock', 'crack', or 'The Surreal Life'. Ok?'
T.JONES: 'Lyrics Born.'
CASUAL: 'Bay area.'
CASUAL: 'New York.'
T.JONES: 'Dr. Dre.'
CASUAL: 'Bishop Lamont. He's a new artist signed with Dr. Dre. I did a song on his mix-tape. That's why he popped in my head.'
T.JONES: 'Method Man.'
CASUAL: 'Sack attack.'
T.JONES: 'The Coup.'
CASUAL: '99. I did a tour with them.'
T.JONES: 'Too $hort.'
T.JONES: 'Curtis Mayfield.'
CASUAL: 'Kurtis Blow.'
T.JONES: 'Funkmasta Flex.'
T.JONES: 'Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.'
T.JONES: 'Souls Of Mischief.'
CASUAL: ''93 Till Infinity.'
T.JONES: 'Abstract Rude.'
CASUAL: 'What's up? That's my boy.'
T.JONES: 'George Bush.'
CASUAL: 'George Bush hates Black people, or whatever Kanye West said.'
T.JONES: 'What did you think about Kanye West's comments about George Bush?'
CASUAL: 'It's good. I applaud my man for using his celebrity status to make a stand, whether it's right or wrong. At least he is taking some type of stand. Other people can have the whole world listening, but they don't even speak on anything. Plus, that's personal because that's really happening to our people. As for using celebrity status to say something, he was on Mtv. None of the other media that would cover him, saying that. The fact that he said something that meant something made it replayed on every other kind of media. I think more artists should take a stand. Even if it ain't going to do anything, it may put the pressure on somebody.'
T.JONES: 'Do you think that success and credibility are mutually exclusive?'
CASUAL: 'I don't think they are exclusive. It depends on how you measure success. I could consider myself as having a good rap career because I haven't worked a hard labor job since I was 16 years old. I'm 30! That's a 15 year or more career. That's success right there, but if I had a pension or retirement fund, that's something completely different. I am successful enough to live, work, and support my family with something that was once my hobby.'
T.JONES: 'Has being a father altered your approach to creating hip-hop music?'
CASUAL: 'Always. It made me throw away a lot of the BS. I try to latch down at being a more serious artist. I examine myself. I ask myself, 'What are the things am I trying to say?' Being a parent will change you by having more or new responsibilities.'
T.JONES: 'What is hip-hop lacking?'
CASUAL: 'It is always lacking originality, but that is not because of the heart of hip-hop. Basically, all of the corporations and mainstream media affect the minds of the young or aspiring artists who want to do hip-hop. I'm glad I came up in the era that I came up in. Back then, the radio wasn't supporting hip-hop. I had to dig through crates and examine what was really dope by myself. I wasn't forced into liking a song on the radio that is played 40 times. We don't let the youngsters listen to the radio. When they do listen to the radio, they hear the same song 30 times in the same day. No matter what song is or who the artist is, the song becomes hot because of that. If they didn't like it before, they like it now because of the repetition. If they really want to be a rhymer, they are going to start looking up to people who really aren't the top choice picks.'
T.JONES: 'Any non-Hiero collaborations coming out?'
CASUAL: 'I've been on the road lately and working too much. I don't remember. Wait! I'm trippin'! I just did one with The Wu-Tang Clan on that 'Think Differently' album. I have a song with Masta Killa, Tragedy-Khadafi, and Roc Marciano. Roc is raw.'
T.JONES: 'Who have you been listening to during the last couple of days?'
CASUAL: 'I-Tunes. I buy all of the top albums. I only buy the actual CD if I know it will be dope. Now they are making music so convenient, so you don't buy the bullshit. You can turn on the computer, go to I-Tunes, and buy what you want. One problem with that is the record company has to have enough money to be featured on the front page of I-Tunes. The companies control all of that. If I'm an artist who doesn't have a budget to get on I-Tunes, I'm losing out on a whole new genre of money that's out here. It's crazy, man! I've been buying what's out. I've got everything from Little Brother to Jay-Z. I put my music on party shuffle, just to keep it cracking on my computer. I don't even sit down and concentrate on the record. I just like listening to new music.'
T.JONES: 'As a producer and emcee, how have you evolved?'
CASUAL: 'As a producer, I haven't been producing as much as I used to. Evolution in production is far easier to describe because we are not really instrumentalists. Basically, if I switch from an MPC to something else, you can tell that it sounds different. I just switched up equipment. How much you sample effects your sound too. I've been trying to put samples in my production too. Production can't really go through a complete evolution at the point where I'm at. I feel like a master, like a 6th level black belt. I just want to take a piece of clay and mold it to sound completely different from what I've been doing. That's how I view creation. The older stuff, that people are fascinated by, doesn't thrill me anymore. We need to find the 'Fear Itself' album for 2005. I want some young dudes to come out with an album today so I can admire it. I'm not trying to recreate myself as someone 17 years old. Now, I'm 30 and a whole different person now. I want people to hear that I'm wiser and sharper. You can hear it in the album. You can hear it in the rhymes. There is a lot more depth and more clarity in everything I'm saying.'
T.JONES: 'On Guru's 'The Street Scriptures' album, Talib Kweli states that Pro-Tools made producers lazy. Do you agree?'
CASUAL: 'Yeah, definitely. Technology is the art of making things easier, but all things aren't supposed to be easy. You aren't supposed to just turn on a computer program that has every song. That's not the art of what we are doing. We are supposed to go to the record store, find the rarest record, and turn it into a hip-hop song. Computer programs now have 20 million breaks. Half of the art was simply timing. Let's see if I can get this one record to go on-beat with this other record. Then, let's add a drum loop from another record. The final result will be my song. That's all timing. Now, they have programs where you don't even have to be on time. You can play it close to how you like it and the computer will fix it. Technology is messing up a lot of things, not just hip-hop.'
T.JONES: 'What's next for Casual?
CASUAL: 'I'm doing some videos and I'm about to put out a new album quick. We have the O.C. album coming out on Hiero. We have a bunch of stuff. Del's coming out with a new record. A-Plus is coming out. We're supposed to have another Hieroglyphics album next year. We stay busy.'
T.JONES: 'Any final words?'
CASUAL: 'Thank you, Todd. Thanks for supporting Hiero. Check out Casual's 'Smash Rockwell' album.'
Thank you Casual !!!
Interview by Todd E. Jones (aka The New Jeru Poet)
NOTICE: This interview is property of Todd E. Jones and cannot be duplicated or posted without written permission.