Rapper Kokane is a G-funk era lynchpin, a former Ruthless Records artist who collaborated with NWA and Above the Law, the latter helmed by his first cousin Cold 187um. Kokane is also all over Snoop Dogg's Tha Last Meal and is on Dre's 2001 cut “Some L.A. Niggaz,” to go along with about a million other guest spots over the years. He calls himself the most featured artist in history, and there's little reason to doubt it.
Originally from Pomona, he lives these days in Seattle and runs a label called Bud E Boy, whose artists include son E3 (Eazy-E's second son, who voiced his hologram) and Christian rapper Justified. Kokane's most recent track is the stirring “Chicago,” which is produced by Meech Wells and uses that city's rash of violence as a jumping-off point to discuss the sorry state of American socio-politics generally. You can also see that video below. We talked with him about his recent projects and the bad old days.
Obviously the themes of “Chicago” could apply to plenty of cities and the U.S. as large, but what drew your attention to that city in particular?
It’s a prototype for everything that’s going on in suppressed environments all over America. With the economy going bad, someone has to be the sacrificial lamb. When you go to Chicago, them homes and neighborhoods been like that since the ‘30s and ‘40s. What’s happening in Chicago is happening in St. Louis, and all parts of the country right now.
Nowadays popular music is like a robot — it’s lacking a soul. Back in the day you had Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan. NWA was saying “Fuck the Police” and Public Enemy saying “Fight the Power.” Now, there’s no substance or balance in music whatsoever. Instead, it’s mostly about drug use. I don’t knock anyone for their hustle, but I wanted to show, with “Chicago,” a modern day “What’s Going On.”
You raise a lot of intriguing questions in the video. What are some specific things local governments and the Obama administration should be doing to help address them?
A lot of things have been taken away from us. It starts with education. Teachers need to be looked out for. Whenever you don’t have education, and you’re economically distressed. We need to get government cleaned up. Government needs to be opening up dialogue with the people. Otherwise everything’s going to stay the same, or it’s gonna get worse.
With Obama, we have to do some real cleaning up, but it starts with initiating and engaging in dialogue. We need to bring in some money for these schools, for the kids that have been swept under the rug.
How many artists are on Bud E Boy?
We have seven different artists. We don’t go by the regular guidelines of how you put out records. The technology allows you to innovate and do different things. I didn’t want to just sign artists, I wanted to mold artists. Everyone on my label has their own subsidiary, because when you have different chips in different baskets, it can help you grow your brand. We have a variety of different artists — gospel, Christian, reggae, my daughter — and we focus on musicianship. i don’t consider myself a rapper, I consider myself a musician. We call ourselves the new Motown.
What made you decide to link up with E3?
I’ve been knowing nephew for a minute. Eazy-E had his sons around, they soaked up game. About five years ago I was telling him, “Your whole family, the Wright brothers, you’re ready.” I’ve long wanted to work with him. So we came together properly on this single, “Resurrection.” We wanted it to have some sentimental value, so we filmed it at the house [where Eazy grew up]. Props to Mrs. Wright.
How did you first meet Eazy-E?
Through [Ruthless Records associate] Laylaw and Above the Law and Cold 187. When Above the Law came out with their first song in 1990. I did a three song demo in Pomona. 187 did the beat. Laylaw took it over to Eazy. The record came out on in '91 [“Nickel Slick Nigga,” above], and was credited to “Who Am I,” instead of Kokane, because Epic Records was so afraid to call me Kokane. It was a problem, because people would go into the record store and be looking for Kokane. The name Kokane came from the idea of being a “dope MC.” But I would have to work my buns off so people would know who Kokane the rapper was.
You knew Snoop Dogg very early on, right?
Snoop was called Slim back then, he was known for freestyling….In fact, Above the Law was about to put out a Snoop Dogg record, but didn't because he wasn’t a signed Ruthless artist. Dr. Dre never discovered Snoop, it was Cold 187. Snoop couldn’t wait on my album [which was next in line], and so Warren G brough Snoop over to Dr. Dre.
What was Snoop like back in those days?
He had a little mustache, and he would always have his hair faded up, a little fade. I ain’t see him with the gheri curl yet.
But even despite the Ruthless/Death Row beef you guys were cool later on.
Yeah later on Snoop and I squashed the funk. Snoop wanted to start this thing called Dogg House in 1999. He had this group in mind called Eastsidaz. Because we’d been friends. Before he was Snoop, he used to come to my house. He was gonna be part of [our] movement.