James “Nocando” McCall titled one of his first solo releases, “Nocando is a Virus.” And like any virus, he's innately aware of the importance of mutation. By 25, the Leimert Park-raised rapper had toured the country with Project Blowed avatar, Aceyalone, won Scribble Jam, dropped a pair of albums with former crew Customer Service, and become the Resident MC at Low End Theory.
Then he started to forge a legitimate solo career as a caustic West Coast eccentric — in the days before Supreme-clad and skinny-jeaned squads rolled deep. Over the last 18 months, he's significantly raised his profile with the excellent solo debut, Jimmy the Lock, a national tour with Murs, and the distinction of being asked by El-P to remix “Time Won't Tell.” He's also turned his Alpha Pup-distributed Hellfyre Records into arguably the city's best young indie rap imprint–with Open Mike Eagle, Pistol McFly, and Sahtyre, among three of the latest notable releases.*
His next record, 10 Haters, is a full-length partnership with underground king Busdriver, under the moniker Flash Bang Grenada. Snatching asteroid-dense beats from a belt of Low End Theory producers (Nosaj Thing, Shlohmo, Mono/Poly, Mexicans with Guns), the pair run loops around drum patterns with caustic wit and warp-zone speed.
Able to switch between rapping over futuristic broken glass production, yet raised on West Coast G-Funk, Jimmy the Lock was an ideal choice to kick off the Weekly's Replay Series, which he does on Wednesday night, July 20, covering DJ Quik's Rhythmalism at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood. The show is free, and is followed in coming weeks by Sun Araw doing Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque on August 3, Nite Jewel doing Kraftwerk's Computerworld on August 10, and J*Davey doing The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta on August 17.
*Full disclosure: I'm putting on a Nocando show of my own at Freak City on Thursday.
What made you want to pick DJ Quik's Rhythmalism for an album of cover songs?
I actually wanted to do Safe + Sound. That's my favorite Quik record, but when I started telling people about it, everyone said they wanted Rhythm-al-ism. There didn't seem to be a point of doing the DJ Quik album that no one wanted to hear.
As for Quik, he's just one of the greatest. He's scathing and snide and smooth as hell. He's almost like the best battle rappers in the way he composes his lyrics. His lines break people down to the fragments of their psyche.
Even on his latest album, he still has the most ridiculously funny insults. Quik doesn't call you wack or lame. He says that he's a dignitary and you're a lonely beggar.
I imagine him on a horse-drawn wagon coach being pulled through some old English town, and a beggar comes up to him looking for money, and he just brushes them off, saying, 'Sorry, I don't have the time.'
What's your favorite Quik hair style?
From the Safe and Sound album cover, the red hat, the straight perm. It kind of looked like a bob.
It's the Gangsta Page Boy look.
You could say that.
How did you get into Quik? The radio?
My step dad was a D-boy, and he used to take me to school every morning. So we'd drive around South LA, and Quik was always being played–all of the gangsta rap stuff. It was the '90s. I liked a lot of it, but Quik just had a shitload of personality. I always preferred him. His wit always made him stand out to me, and it still does in every song, record, and interview that he does. He's just the kind of dude you want to kick it with. He's smart, but not self-consciously intellectual. He's just a cool dude.
Are you going to wear a perm for the show?
I don't have any hair anymore, but if I did I'd get it pressed and permed. I'd probably put a red hat on too, and try not to get shot leaving the venue.
Who are you going to get to play Suga Free?
How did the Flash Bang Grenada project with Busdriver come about?
Well, I don't like to work with too many people, because it's hard to trust people or vibe with them sometimes, but Busdriver is a positive dude and fun to work with.
The first time we worked together was on “Least Favorite Rapper,” and it immediately felt like we were doing something new. Then we did “Two Track Mind,” and well, it was different. I don't have another song like that in my catalogue. Sometimes, when I collaborate with other artists, things feel too formulaic. I feel like I do the Nocando part that I'm supposed to do. That never happens with Busdriver. He's always challenging me, and Flash Bang Grenada is basically a continuation of that same vibe–that carefree, self-deprecating, LA underground, post-Blowed swagnosticism.
What do you have against the island of Grenada?
I have nothing against the island of Grenada. I just thought that sounded good. I'm, actually in love with anything that comes from the Caribbean, so I'm trying to Flash Bang Grenada, it really means I'm trying to find a chick from Grenada to flash and then bang.
How did you end up working with El-P?
He played at Low End Theory and it went from there. I've been a fan of him for years. In fact, I remember sneaking into his show with Customer Service and my five-months pregnant wife, when he played at the El Rey in 2002 on the Fantastic Damage tour. That was a glorious moment.
Basically, when he was at Low End, we met and I got his e-mail afterward and mentioned that I was working on my record and would like to maybe get a beat or two. He was busy and then I forgot about it. But then one day, he sent me the “Time Won't Tell” beat when I was on tour in Japan, and said I need you to do something to this beat. So I immediately found a place to record while I was still in Osaka, sent it through and he really liked it.
And you're going to have a beat of his on your next solo album too.
Yeah, he's about to tour in Europe and said he's going to send one when he returns from the trip. My entire next album is written and recorded already except for that track. I have the general concept of that song though. The tentative title of the El-P song is, “The Secret to Winning Friends and Influencing People While Your Rich Dad Shoves 48 Laws of Power up Your Poor Dad's Ass Sideways. ” On second thought, maybe I'll shorten it.
[You're a big Max B fan. How does someone like that influence the way you think about music?
Max B is the most influential non-mainstream rapper around. You basically only know about Max B if you're into underground street rap. I hear little bits of influences of Max B in a lot of places. Listen to a song like “On my Level,” with Too Short and Wiz Khalifa. It sounds like a Max B chorus. He's the most influential crooner in hip-hop and he's super prolific, yet the quality of his music is really good. He's almost like the modern day Leadbelly–if he could stay out of jail, he'd have a great career.
What makes someone wavy?
You've got to just go with the flow.
How would you define swagnosticism?
I feel like swag is like the tooth fairy. Swag is like fucking non-existent. Everyone says it now, so it has no real meaning. I've heard kids say, “Look, I've got my hat to the back, that's so swag.” It's like motherfuckers are like Pokemon–they can only say one word but with different inflections for different meanings. It means 100 different things. It's like the Japanese word, “Kame;” it can mean hair, gods, or turtles.
What you do believe in?
I believe in chaos. I believe in the wave. The dollar and my dick. Guns, germs and steel. Saucer for the rich. I don't really believe in anything.
You once told me that E-40 was your favorite rapper of all-time? Is that still valid?
I wouldn't say that E-40 is my favorite, but he's definitely the rapper that's most consistently been my soundtrack. My step dad brought home “The Mail Man” tape from the Slauson Swap Meet when I was 12and it's been on since then.
“Captain Save-a-Ho.” Wise song or wisest song?
I don't want to answer that question. I want make a statement. Back in the day, it was not cool to save a ho at all. Now the game's all about saving hos. It's cool to save hos. We need to get some balance back. We can't totally not save hos, and we can't totally buy them Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo's. We need to bring it into the middle. It's too much saving hos. Back in the day, everyone was going too hard on the hos and they were getting trampled. No one had girlfriends back then, now everyone has too many.