interviews: my pain, my misery, my balls.

Posted by hajipaji

(according to interviewers, this is the only photo i've ever taken.)

Brace yourself. Im going to tell you something. And when I tell you this…you may be rendered comatose with chagrin. Chagrin is a dope word. People should use it more often. Like, “B*TCH! My dog just died, Im chagrined as HECK!

Sorry. Back to my manifesto. Here it is….*sigh*

Being interviewed terrifies me. I know. Its a complete contradiction to my otherwise thugged out and indomitable demeanor. But, its the Abe’s-honest truth. Its way beyond my comprehension. I can speak to gatrillions on stage (which is a low estimate for the average show), but when it comes to intimate conversation…I get boner-dead. My brain hits the “PEACE, NIGGA!” button, and leaves me defenseless against audio and visual recording devices.

For a visual, you can peep my “Yo, Haji P, you on crack, dawg?” jitters here. But, you can also keep reading to peep the interview I did with with Mat Weir for the Streetlight Records blog.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, rap was more than just bling & hoes. Hip-hop was about finding inner strength to rise up beyond your surroundings and personal faults to achieve something higher; sometimes it was about just having fun and appreciating the good times because they never last. Luckily, Santa Cruz’s own Haji P. remembers the true essence of hip-hop and spits its knowledge whenever he can.

Born in Hawaii and raised between the islands and family in New Jersey, Haji experienced the beauty of life while still staying grounded in the projects. While attending college in North Carolina, he began working at a radio station spinning an array of hip-hop and started the rap duo, Brown Co. with longtime friend, Dun Dee. In 2007 the two released Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; a compilation of heavy beats and rhymes ranging from making the most out of life to dealing with the realities of modern day racism. Later that year Haji decided to head for the West Coast, landing in our dear Santa Cruz and later releasing his solo album, Welcome to the Neighborhood.

Like BeautifulWelcome is an album littered with witty rhymes about the obstacles of every day in the life of an independent hip-hop artist. Haji masterfully weaves together stories of dating while broke, the realities of not-so-hidden racism in a politically correct world, and trying to make it in life all while maintaining a positive mental outlook. This is hip-hop for the true fan and anyone who might just be looking beyond the glitzy image for something real and close to the heart.

Mat: How are you doing man?

Haji: (laughs) Very intimidated! (points to the recorder) I feel like I shouldn’t be because [the recorder] is so small. But I’m doing great, fantastic. Fantastic times ten.

M: Right on. Fantastic times ten, that’s pretty good, man. (laughs) First thing’s first, how’s the album, Neighborhood Kid, doing?

H: In my head it’s doing phenomenally. Naw, it’s actually doing pretty good. I’m pretty proud of the work it’s done. It’s getting recognized outside of my general area, so that’s always good.

M: I love the line on “Neighbor” when you say,” What? You’re going to burn down my church but I can’t get a cup of Kool-Aid?” That cracks me up.

H: Man, that song is real. That’s a real song. (laughs). I mean, everything on the album is loosely based on reality, plus some imaginary points. But we had a neighbor, Dunny and I, who—at the time we also worked at a toy store, so we had the coolest stuff that would come out. We lived in a nice cul-de-sac in a nice townhouse. We were the youngest kids in our neighborhood besides parents with kids and our door was always open. You know, we’d sit outside on the porch and everything was cool. We always had new Playstation games or whatever, fighting with toy swords outside, so kids liked hanging out with us. Know what I mean? Like the neighbor’s kids loved us, but every time we were outside, their dad would pull them back in the house. And every time he saw us in cars or whatever, in the house, he’d always give us smug looks. So we would always assume it, but I mean, you never really know. You don’t want to be so presumptuous as to say, “I know what you’re thinking.” But one day, we were getting out of the car as he was getting out of his and his daughter comes out and she says, “Like those kind of black people, daddy?”

M: Oooo

H: And we were, “Awww, I know whatever he said it was nothing good.” So that’s what that song was about, it was about that neighbor. That dude was so ill to us, just super ill.

M: Damn. I just don’t understand that mentality. Especially since you work at the Boys & Girls Club. Obviously you’re good with kids.

H: I mean, I understand any parent’s position. If I don’t know that dude I’d be like, “Why is my kid always hanging out on that porch?” I fully understand that. But we made friends with all the parents. It was a small area, so we made friends with everybody. It was nothing if the whole family came over, or whatever the situation was. It was just that particular family, Or not even the family, because the mom was cool. Mom was cool with us, it was just the dad. He was not feeling us at all. (laughs) He’d be like, “So, how’d you get that car? What do you do?” Know what I mean? Just these little snide comments. We lived in a pretty nice area, we had pretty nice stuff. We were doing it. I’m a college graduate, goddamn, I deserve it! (laughs) I deserve what I earn, know what I mean?

M: So you moved out here in 2007 then?

H: Yeah, late 2007. It took a minute. It wasn’t home, you know? And when I left Wilmington, I was so glad to leave. I was like, “I’m going to leave here and never remember you guys again. Just because I had been there for so long, know what I mean? But the minute I got out here I was like, “Yo man, this ain’t the same. (smirks) There’s no biscuits, no racism (laughs). What am I going to do?” Plus, it was another culture shock again. So it just took me time, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do. But now that I understand what’s happening I freakin’ love it! I still miss home to no avail, I learned in Wilmington that that’s my home. But I definitely like where I live now. Wilmington will always be there when I visit but I’m loving Santa Cruz.

M: Let’s get into the music. How do you write?

H: it’s kind of weird. Usually I can finish a song in the car. It’s just in my head. I don’t need to freestyle everything, so I just repeat lines in my head and as soon as I get home I write it down before I can forget it. But if I’m just at home and something hits me, I can’t sit down and write. So what I do, I don’t know if this sounds vain or not, but I have to stand in front of a mirror and move so I can watch myself like I was performing. I write it like I was performing it. So while the beat’s playing, I’ll come up with a line. And while I’m searching for the next line, I’ll just keep repeating the first one. Plus it helps when I do shows because I’ll have the song memorized before I even put it down on paper.

M: Yeah, exactly. And that way you’ll know what you’re going to do on a certain line.

H: Exactly. So unless I’m in the car I can’t be still when I write. I have to be moving around.

M: In your music, you make a lot of references to a lot of different things. For instance, in one line you talk about the Black Panthers.

H: I guess there’s no specific literature that I’m into. There’s one book, called Ishmael, it’s the dopest book I think I’ve ever read. I don’t know if it’s an introspective book so much but it’s about a young boy. The opening title is, “All I’ve ever wanted to do was save the world,” and he ends up talking to a gorilla in a glass case. I don’t want to spoil it if anyone reads the book, but he’s asking and answering a lot of questions about himself to this gorilla in the glass case. But I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s going to read it. It’s an awesome book. But I guess I read just more introspective things. As far as literature about the Panthers and Black History, I do but a lot of it was fed me growing up just because I am African-American, you know? I learned a lot about it growing up, I learned about it through personal experience etc.

M: But that’s cool you were fed it growing up. I mean, just because you’re African-American doesn’t mean you have to learn it all.

H: I guess it doesn’t, but I have a very strongly rooted family. My family is very proud of obstacles they’ve tried to overcome—have overcome—you know, trial and error. So they instill a lot of that in me. And usually if my mom talks about something –and she was very big on this—if she tried to tell me something, she’d say, “You don’t believe me, read it.” And then, as the defiant kid, I’d say, “Pfff, fine, I’ll go read it, whatever.” Then, once I was done, “Damn, she was right. Damn she made me read!” (laughs). Dirty trick! When I’d get grounded, I would have to write essays about why I’m grounded. But nowadays, I thank my mom at least once a week. I call her back and I thank her once a week. My mom’s my dawg, dude! She gets mad at me, though, because I won’t write a song about her. I told her I wouldn’t because, “you should know already.” I don’t have to write a song about it.

M: How did you get started at the Boys & Girls Club?

H: Good question. I don’t know. I got started at this Boys & Girls Club just because I came down. I came down here on a whim, I had no plans. I gave away everything I owned, and what I could sell I sold. So I came here with no money, no job, and I was like, “Crap!” One of my homeboys—I know it sounds like I’ve had a trillion jobs, cause I did!—but I used to do personal training at a YMCA and while I worked in radio I was volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. Long story short, I got the job and started working my way up. I’m doing a lot for the Club, and kids outside of the group. I do a lot of community work with kids, I’m very big on that. Very big.

M: I definitely could tell. On Record Store Day last year, there was the one, lone kid dancing and you gave him a couple free CDs. I was like, “Alright, you practice what you preach.” I thought that was cool.

H: I know I need it personally. I’ve had my not-so-great moments with kids too, plus I have smaller cousins who have gone through all kinds of stupid stuff that kids don’t really need to go through. So I try to do a lot for children. I’m in the process of legitimizing a charity called the “Neighborhood Kid Foundation,” and it will do a lot of work for the Boys & Girls Club specifically, just because that’s the program I work with. But there’s other child organizations that I’d like to raise money for too.

M: Musical influences?

HThe Muppet Show. (laughs) People ask me that all the time, and that’s not even a snarky remark. That’s the dead honest truth. I watch a lot of Muppet Show. I like Jim Henson and a lot of the interludes—early Muppet Show, not Disney-I-just-bought-Jim-Henson. The real, 70’s show, it was Ralph the Dog to Electric Mayhem. Watching them perform, I know this sounds friggin’ weird, but it was off the hook!

M: Hell yeah, Dr. Teeth!

H: Hell yeah! (laughs). I just thought it was rare because it was really animated. I just thought it was cool that you had puppets in real-life situations. But, rap wise, real stuff, artists like De La Soul, Bush Babies, Pharcyde. Just any type of group that #1) I’d think, “I want to hang out with those dudes.” Just creative groups. I’ll never make a divide between underground and commercial rap because it all has its place and I like all of it. I’m a rap fan, I like all of it, you know? My personal favorite is Sean Price. Sean Price is probably—and M.O.P.—are the most violent rappers I can think of. But I’m like, “Dang, these dudes make shooting people sound like fun!” I don’t want to go do it, and I don’t want to be the recipient of a bullet, but they’re creative. So just genuinely creative artists. I mean I could go on for days: Redman, Boot Camp Clik. . .

M: Have you had any favorite shows?

H: My favorite show ever was in Puerto Rico. This was years ago, probably early ’07 or whatever. I did a show in Puerto Rico with a friend. It was a place called the Pool Bar; there was a really high stage and in the center was a pool. The pool was pretty big, and on the other side was cement and the bar; it was all outside. So, there were all these people that showed up and they were all enjoying it but there was only one dude in the pool; and the guy in the pool was loving it! Like, “That dude is clearly enjoying the pool!” I was thinking, “Man, when I finish my set, I’m going to jump in the pool with everybody and it’s going to be amazing!” But nobody else was in the pool! Why was nobody in the pool enjoying it? I mean, this guy was clearly enjoying it. I thought maybe he was a drunk dude, but he wasn’t drunk enough to be annoying. I do my set and I get really weird after a show, I just don’t want to be around people. So I go off to the side and he comes up to me. He doesn’t really speak any English, but I pretty understand what he’s saying. “Musica! Musica!” And he’s “thumbs-uping” me and making a gesture for a CD. So I give him one, and he wants me to sign it. Hell yeah! I’m in Puerto Rico signing autographs! But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why nobody else was trying to talk to me. Like, “Damn, I just did a great show and he’s the only one telling me I did a good job.” No One! And nobody’s coming around him either. Finally, the guy who booked the show comes by me and whispers, “You alright?” And I was like, “Yeah, great! Me and this dude were just hanging out for a minute.” Turns out, that guy was a hired hand in the Rancoon Mafia and there were friends of people he killed in there. That dude was a certified killer!

M: At least he liked your music!

H: For real, I’m glad this dude’s on my side! After he left, my friend debriefed me and gave me the whole story. “People around here don’t really mess with that dude.” “Naw, I’m down with him!” (laughs) “Clearly he was my friend!”

M: You’re album, Neighborhood Kid, has a Brer Rabbit style dialogue throughout the whole thing. What made you want to do that?

H: That’s one of my favorite stories, #1. I really like that story and I’ve been compared to Brer Rabbit, a lot. In the sense that I move around a lot.

M: Getting into trouble then getting back out of it.

H: Pretty much! That’s pretty much, exactly it, know what I mean? Like, every time I’m in a certain position, or things get boiling hot I just get tired of it and it’s time to do something else. I go somewhere else where I don’t know nobody, you know? I just start over. But every time I go somewhere new, it’s always the same thing (laughs). Plus I felt it was right. When I left Wilmington, I had known so much of the town and a lot of people knew me. I’m not a saint, I have my troubles, you know? When I left, I just wanted to go somewhere and leave all of that, just forget about it. Came here, started fresh, but as soon as I got used to the place the same things started happening all over again! I was getting into the same trouble I was back then, so it seemed fitting.

M: And talking about trouble: the song, “Trouble,” is that loosely based on real life?

H: Everything on the album is based on real life, I just tend to be highly exaggerative. Is that a word? If not, I just coined it. In my head, even in the worse situations, it comes out like a cartoon. Like, “Oh man, that was fun.” But naw, it was based on a real life scenario. I dated a girl and she had a problem thieverin’, amongst other, past, no-goodness. (laughs) So yeah, it’s a real-life story, I just got creative with it. Clearly she wasn’t part Godzilla.

M: As soon as you put the album on, there’s humor. I mean, you take your music and your art seriously, but at the same time, you don’t take yourself too seriously. Like you said, it’s kind of cartoony and that makes it fun. I listen to it and think, “Dude, this guy is on top of his shit.”

H: It’s just because I don’t want to be miserable, you know? When I read something, I don’t want to be sad. When I listen to something I don’t want to be depressed. When I write something, especially, I don’t want to be feeling all somber and morose, crying myself to sleep. So whatever the situation is, I gotta make the best of it. If it didn’t kill me, I’m lucky. I write it down and make it into something entertaining.

M: Do you have anything else coming up in the works?

H: I want to do more personal songs. I don’t do a whole lot of personal songs, you know? I mean, I do, but then I mask them with some type of clever, humorous, exaggerated story. Usually every project I do will have that one “Here’s what I’m really like” song. “Fine, here you go, feel like we’re friends now?” And those are always the songs that people seem to love the most; they’re loving my pain! (laughs) But naw, there’s just a lot of real things I want to write about. I’m pushing old age and I’ve seen some real life experiences and I just want to do a lot less of the clever metaphors and just a straight, “Look this is it, I’m regular as hell” and that’s what I’m going to write on this record.

Stolen from Streetlight Records.

2 Responses to “interviews: my pain, my misery, my balls.”

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