Evidence has a history as a tagger. An apt metaphor since, like graffiti, he's not loud and you can see him everywhere. But only if you're looking.
The Los Angeles native came of age in the '90s with Dilated Peoples. Since then, he's worked with and produced for everyone from the Beastie Boys and Kanye West to Linkin Park, and won a Grammy.
His second solo album, Cats & Dogs (Rhymesayers) was released yesterday. He spoke with us about what the title means, why Mobb Deep's Prodigy is on his record, and how he doesn't mind being called a conscious rapper.
You've said that the title Cats & Dogs refers to your trying to be the same person in interviews as onstage. Will you explain that?
I come from an era where there wasn't as much smiling in photos. It wasn't as much about telling about your personal life as it was about your skills, or your songs, or how hard you could rock a show. I'm grateful to be part of the evolution, but at this time it's not so much that. Everything works in cycles, and it'll probably come back to that again. But right now, where I'm at, I want to be a conversational MC, but still showin' skills.
It's ironic that I'm on Rhymesayers and I'm feelin' like that, but it's dope to see people I look up to being comfortable in interviews, and then the same voice you heard there is the same voice you hear onstage. Their conversation is the same.
Because a lot of the Rhymesayers are people who not only aren't too proud, but are over the top to be at the merch table after the show or shaking hands before the show. There are other labels and other artists who may do nothing more than hit the stage. But the way Rhymesayers are–it's something I was already doing. Dilated was always like that, so it's just nice I'm paired up with likeminded people.
Do you think the time lapse between your albums — your debut The Weatherman LP came out in 2007 — is detrimental, given the pace of the Internet?
Well, some people know everything you do, and some people only hear about you when the name comes around. And I'm not mad at them, and obviously I appreciate the people who see everything that comes out. Those people know I've done a lot since then. Put out The Layover, my mixtape with DJ Skee, in 2008, and I Don't Need Love [his Beatles mixtape], as well as producing. That's for the people who follow my career, you know? It's not for everybody. So to the world, yeah, I dropped an album in 2007 and I'm back in 2011. But the only reason I got the attention for this is because of the body of work I've put out in between.
Since you've been making music before the Internet became the beast it is in hip hop today, how have you transitioned?
Ten years ago, cats were selling vinyl. If you wanted to get heard, you could just press up vinyl, try to get it in stores and onto college radio. Now, you do a song or video on YouTube. It's a lot more technologically advanced; artists are savvier. But it's just par for the course. I'm not holding back, I'm stayin' with the times as far as that goes–when a new program comes out, Babu, my DJ, and I run it; when a new app comes out, we download it. But staying current bleeds into every aspect of your life, so while I'm not mad at it, I don't overdose on it.
You're associated with younger acts on the West Coast, but something keeps them from breaking onto the national scene–
Who are you talking about exactly?
Ok, that's fair. You know, most of those you named are not on Def Jam. [laughs] They're independent. It's a longer grind. A lot of the other new people you didn't mention, like Kendrick Lamar, they're on major labels. Not to say their mixtapes aren't getting them where they need to be; I don't think a major label made any of those artists. A lot of people are getting paid by majors because of the work they did and do, which is amazing. Blu, Fashawn, you know, sometimes it happens overnight, sometimes it takes a little longer.
So, since we're talking of being underground, do you hate the “conscious rapper” tag?
No, not at all! I'd rather be called that than unconscious. But you know, sometimes I do get so high I could almost be labeled unconscious. [laughs] I'm very much conscious, though — underground, conscious, backpack, granola, call me all that shit. I don't think it necessarily reflects me, but if I've gotta be put in a box…
You can look at the people on my record. We don't have a lot of money right now to be paying people to be on my stuff, so when Prodigy or Raekwon is on my record, it's not really about the money. It's cause they like my sound.
Speaking of your sound, tell us about the Step Brothers project with Alchemist.
Well, we never announced that we were a group, we just started putting “Step Brothers” next to the music that we created and people demanded it, so I don't know. We make music every day; we've been doing that since we were ditching high school together. There's a lotta youth energy attached to that project. When we have enough songs done, and we have the time off together to promote it and give it a real campaign, that's when it'll come out. We'll make time. Definitely.