Micranots

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Despite the current sucess of hip hop owing much to the inroads made by the likes of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, you don't find any mention of politics in the current batch of fluff that gets all the press and airtime. So when I read a review of Micranots "Obelisk Movements" in one of the big time Hip Hop magazines and it mentioned their political content I made a double underlined mental note about it.

A week later I was at the record store flipping through CD's skipping straight to the ones with the big USED mark on them because I was a little short on cash, but long on want of some new beats. Flipping flipping flipping BAM! Micranots! I took it up to the counter listening station to check it out and was knocked back by the gritty production and crazy good flow coming through the headphones. It's the kind of record you know you're going to buy twenty seconds into it but you stand at the listening station and sample every track anyway. You stand listening, catching glances from the guy behind the counter who thinks you're a deadbeat treating his store like it's your personal jukebox.

Obelisk Movements is deep. It's full of philosophy, history, politics and spirituality. It's deep and it's for real. No posing or toughguy stance going about women and diamonds. Atlanta based Micranots are worlds apart from that, instead choosing to take on topics like the failed drug war, the strength to be drawn from the women in your life be them your mother or your partner, community concerns, and the like. It's the kind of record that'll get you up dancing around while sparking your mind too. It's the kind of record that stays in your head for hours after you turn it off, either trying to recreate the rhymes or thinking about the meaning behind the lyrics. And those are the kinds of records that stand the test of time in my collection.

Micranots, Kool Akiem Allah as the producer and DJ, and I Self Divine on the mic, have been collaborating for 10 years or so. Between 1993 and 1997 they put out four tapes and in 99 put their first vinyl out into the world--a three song EP, All Live/Farward/141 Million Miles. In 99 they signed a licensing deal with New York based Subverse who put out Obelisk Movements.

" I base most of what I deal with off the culture of Hip Hop, meaning politically, spiritually, socially, economically or whatever. I look to Hip Hop to provide the answer to the question--the path to take. It might sound like some cliche underground zealot shit to say, but it is real--I practice that shit on the daily."

I interviewed Kool Akiem Allah through email. They have a website where you can find more information.

Describe the scene when you first remember hearing Hip Hop. What was the song? Where were you? Who was there? How did it make you feel?

There was no scene, because I was living in Cali, just a little boy. My moms bought me Rapper's Delight, my first record. I was listening to soul, disco, and rock at the time, really having no understanding of music and culture. But my moms turned me on to the Sugar Hill Gang. It became the only record I played on my Fisher Price joint. I had no idea what I was getting into. I even taped it on my little boom box for just the rap cuts. Just like everyone one else on the planet at the time I memorized every single lyric. I felt like it was the only record there was. I had no idea of what Hip-Hop was, living far from New York.

How does that experience lead to Micranots all these years later? I'm interested in the progression from being excited about the first Hip Hop song you heard to being an artist yourself. What were the milestone records, DJ's, MC's, political issues, etc. that set you on the path to making your own music?

Well I knew I had to be involved in the culture. As a youth in Minneapolis I had no connection to any real music scene at first. Just listening to the radio for the occasional record to be played on the community station. But I got into graffiti, inspired by cats from NYC hitting tags. I got myself a name and went to work. I really got ill after seeing style wars on public television. I gained a better understanding. I went out to destroy the city. I had a personal beef with the establishment and the police. I joined a couple crews and got hella fame. But I did shit to fuck with the police and they put a task force on me. Anyway snitches caused me to get caught up, they raided my crib and all that on some graffiti squad shit.

After that I got my first turntables. I had to stay in the culture, and that was the best way to stay involved. I started producing tracks a couple years after I started spinning.

This is hard to explain, but I'll come back to it: I base most of what I deal with off the culture of Hip Hop, meaning politically, spiritually, socially, economically or whatever. I look to Hip Hop to provide the answer to the question--the path to take. It might sound like some cliche underground zealot shit to say, but it is real--I practice that shit on the daily.

For example: I'm not a communist, (I could have been) because I see the value of "competition" that Hip Hop has taught me. I didn't observe that from capitalism, but from Hip Hop. I'm not a capitalist.

Another example is my outlook on intellectual property. It comes from Hip Hop's sampling code of ethics, rather than music industry created laws. Extend that into my views on property, land, national sovereignty, boarders, citizenship, etc. Everything revolves around what I can learn from Hip Hop.

From your website: "Today's rap industry is a mental wasteland of studio gangsterisms, fake mafia figures, false prophets, cloned thugs, imitation revolutionaries, biters, perpetrators, and bland predictable ignorance." By some standards, it could be argued Hip Hop is at it's height right now, as far as popularity, financially, etc. On the other hand, I feel, the growing popularity of Hip Hop has depended on the stripping out of content. (Where are the PE's? Where are the BDP's?) So that now Hip Hop is hugely popular, but to get that way it has had to stop having a message beyond getting money and women. My question is this: Do you feel that Hip Hop being so huge brings in fans who listen to whatever is on commercial radio, but eventually trickle down into real Hip Hop? Like maybe some people eventually found Micranots only because Eminem turned them on to Hip Hop in the first place?

"Today's rap industry is a mental wasteland of studio gangsterisms, fake mafia figures, false prophets, cloned thugs, imitation revolutionaries, biters, perpetrators, and bland predictable ignorance."


It's possible. Hip Hop is destined to be the first world wide culture by design. And it is because of this that it is more able to be used by the powers that be to reach the most people as well.

The powers that be, because they are the powers, will automatically harness the power within anything they deal with, Hip Hop or otherwise. It is the natural state of current affairs. But as the lowest common denominator is brought into Hip Hop more and more, so is the number of people striving to be involved in it. If you compare 2000 with 1989, personally I think that more banging albums were dropped in the 2g. But more trash as well. We will see stand out classics from every year in the end, they just have to stand the test of time. The trickle down theory existed in 80 just as it exists now.

My mom put me on to Rapper's Delight--the gem that was buried in all the disco and rock that was out there. You always have to take the best part. Sometimes it is given to you, some times you have to search for it. But it is always only seen and able to be played by those with the insight to do so. The rest is to take up the time of the masses (who want there time wasted anyway.) So really the mass of people "embracing" Hip Hop now is a natural part of its expansion within the paradigm that we are dealing with.

My prediction is that as the first world culture it will retain the seeds of world paradigm shift that it holds now (my esoteric views of it being proof.)

Anyone complaining about the over abundance of wackness out there now is being lazy, point blank. No, you probably won't hear my music on commercial radio now-a-days, but you wouldn't hear Paid in Full, Straight Outta Compton, or Nation of Millions back then either, huh?

Do you think the current popularity of Hip Hop will, in the end, be beneficial to the art form? Will the mainstream popularity galvanize the underground and strengthen it?

Well, I don't think there is an "end". Think about it, Hip Hop has been more expansive, all inclusive, and world permeating then rock was at its early stages. And rock isn't dead. I'm sure that Hip Hops' history will "in the end" prove to be a hell of a lot larger than rock. And ultimately Hip Hop's mass appeal is really inconsequential. It looks like this big massive thing, but in reality it is just the exterior shit that the culture gives off for free. The heart of the culture can not be bought and sold--it is intangible.

If for some reason the industry just abandons Hip Hop altogether, the effects on the core of the culture would be minimal, it would still be expanding at a given rate. The people who are introduced to Hip Hop through the mainstream are really only dealing with a cloned version--an exterior reflection of the culture, most of them will never delve into the depths of the realities of it. It goes right over most peoples heads and really was just some shit that was on the radio, or some shit they wasted extra cash on. Some shit they wasted some of their time on like TV. At the end of their life they really made no exchange with the essence of Hip Hop--it was nothing to them, it meant nothing. Anything could have been in its place for them. But a percentage of those people will delve into the depths of the realities of Hip Hop culture. But the same amount of people would have found it without the mainstream. I found it. I was listening to disco and rock when it started to reach out to me. If Rapper's Delight didn't get commercial exposure would I have found Hip Hop? Of course I would have. I dubbed an early NYC mix tape a year later, saw my first tags, and met bboys from NY. It matters not how it reached me, commercial or otherwise.

So ultimately commercialization is inconsequential. A lot of fools are worried about Hip Hop's image in the mainstream reflections. Who gives a fuck about what so and so says about Hip Hop on whatever show? Fuck them. If you are someone that is going to be all persuaded by the comments about all the violence, misogyny, materialism or whatever negativism they want to put on it, fuck you, this shit isn't for you. It's not for you to understand if you're caught up in, and give worth to the words of these people. The reality of Hip Hop is for those with the insight to understand it. If you don't understand it, you are a lost cause anyway. People will say: "but Hip Hop could be used for the good of all people, blah, blah, blah" No. You can't teach people Knowledge, you can show them where it's at and how to get it, but its a solo mission--it's self discovery. It's not something that can be given, only realized.

And this galvanization of the underground is an illusion--wishful, uncalculated thinking. I have beef with certain underground characters. It causes me to excel in certain situations. If I were to go around embracing everyone one the basis of their "undergroundness" I would be bringing hella weakness into my cipher. It's about balance. A "unified underground" is nothing, its stagnation. You don't get props for just being underground, what will that accomplish? People who set out to be "underground" super obscure, or exotic are tricking themselves just as much as anyone who sets out to embrace the least common denominator. Anyone who makes selections based on obscurity is fooling themselves just as much as the fool who will point out "yeah but so and so is making dough, pushing units". That's why I have an admiration for folks like Outkast, RZA, or even Timbaland sometimes. People who ain't afraid to experiment in the "commercial realm." That's heart, that's love, and that's self worth. Fools setting out to be all obscure and shit is garbage. Innovating is one thing, and complicated experimentation is cool, but going into it with the mindset of "I'm going to be so obscure and off beat that no one will ever be able to figure out what I'm doing" is shit. If you ask me Hip Hop is about rocking the set, formulating concepts, not mystifying people with obscurities, or even watering your shit so soccer moms find something redeeming about it.

Where does the political/spiritual feel of Micranots come from? I ask because most of the Hip Hop out there I find is not political, but of all musical genres going, you think it would be the most politically charged.

"The MC is the star of the show, the producer is the star of the record."


Well, the Micranots is a reflection of Self's life as well as my own. Politically and spiritually he and myself are very similar, having similar upbringings and being down with each other for a very long time. Going through similar situations, being involved in the same organizations. But we do have certain differences of opinion concerning certain aspects of politics, spirituality and Hip Hop. So obviously as he is the lyricist the views in our music tend to be more of his rather than mine. Sometimes he will listen to my perspective in the lyrics sometimes he won't. I usually let the lyrics be his and the beats be mine. I have other outlets for my views if they aren't coming out in our music.

Basically I am of the Five Percent.

Who do you see as your peers in Hip Hop? Meaning who do you see or hear out there and think you're on a similar path with?

Actually this isn't a question I like to answer because I don't see the real reason for it. I'm sure it's so people who have never heard of us have some point of reference to begin from, something that may attract them to us but if I name groups who no one has ever heard then the purpose is lost. Then if I answer truthfully in a meaningful way, with known points of reference, and say NWA, PE, DOOM, MADLIB, OUTKAST, DELTRON, DE LA, WU-TANG, GOODIE MOB, KOOL KEITH, would that tell you anything about us? I don't think so. People should just listen to our music fresh, without preconceived parallels. A lot of times people's vision is colored by what they hear about an artist before they hear an artist. A lot of people, if told we sound like WU, will hear WU in our shit.

That might not have answered the question exactly...

I am on my own shit, I don't see a certain path to follow, or join in. I try to come with pure creativity. I don't look at what other people are doing to decide what I'm going to do, yet still I try to rock the set regardless...

What grabs your attention when you hear somebody else's songs? Like when you hear a new record, or see somebody perform live, what makes you take notice?

The beat. As a producer that is the most important thing for me. That is the foundation that the lyrics ride on. It is possible for me to enjoy a record with dope production and weak lyrics. But live, that is a different story. I like so see the MC come off, do his thing first, the production is like there to back him up. It's still the foundation but a show is dependent on the MC more than anything else. The MC is the star of the show, the producer is the star of the record.

If you had to name the 5 records you've listened to the most in your life, what would they be?

Ultramagnetic -Critical Beatdown BDP -Criminal Minded GZA -Liquid Swords Big Daddy -Long Live the Kane ODB -Return to the 36 Chambers

But, in the last year or so MF DOOM -Operation Doomsday Qusimoto -The Unseen Del -Deltron 3030

Final thoughts? Upcoming plans the people should know about? New music?

Well if I can motivate these MCs to put it down within this hectic time frame, I have a solo project I'm working on with various MCs. Otherwise it will be an instrumental project. I'm heading up to NYC to do graphics at Subverse. The Micranots have a couple singles on the way, we should be starting a new album, but that is up to Subverse, unless we deal with another label, as we are free agents...


Tired of Boy Music? Check another story at Portland, OR-based webzine MixedTape: Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls
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