If you haven’t heard of the Egyptian-American emcee Radioinactive, then prepare to get your minds blown.
Radioinactive has been a prominent figure in L.A.’s underground hip hop scene since the 1990s, and has even worked with artists like Busdriver, Daedelus and AntiMC.
He just released his fourth studio album The Akashic Record, and the first single off the album (“Mint Tea”) was produced by the French duo La Caution over a beat which was featured on the Oceans 12 soundtrack. Check out the single as well as his brand new video for “Bury Me Standing” after the jump, but first we invite you to read our interview with Radioinactive as he discusses everything from wearing Quincy Jones’ suit in the “Mint Tea” music video, travelling through Libya and a present he got from George Harrison when he was five years old:
RMD: How has the hip hop scene changed since the early 90s?
RADIOINACTIVE: The early 90s were the golden age of hip hop in L.A. Open mics like the Goodlife Cafe had folks preparing something new each week, and people were trying to create new styles that hadn’t been done before…There seemed to be a lot of hip hop fans, but after computers came into play in the early 2000s, it seemed like everyone had their one CD. That was the beginning of the over-saturation of underground hip hop. Nowadays almost every kid has access to a computer to make music, but back then you knew one kid with an SP12, ASR10 or MPC and another kid that had a cassette 4 track, and that was it. I think today we are in the age of distractions…Folks have 50,000 mp3s in their iTunes or on a hard drive but haven’t listened to half of them. I don’t think people listen very much these days, and if they do it’s just for that short moment between sending a text message and checking their Twitter.
RMD: What was it like travelling around the Sahara Desert for three months? How did your travels inspire you as a musician/songwriter?
RADIOINACTIVE: Traveling the Sahara was a great experience. I was doing sound for a documentary which is how I was able to undertake such a trip. I made my way by Landcruiser with the Touaregs from Niger through Libya and across Egypt. We were able to pass the southern border of Libya [thanks] to some help from Lionel Ritchie and Robert DeNiro who were friends with Gadaffi. We had a security guy named Bilal who was a rebel commander from Mali, and he drove the cook’s pick-up truck, but was packing some firepower just in case. Camping in the desert, I learned real quick that it’s pretty silly to use tents because they turn into sails when the wind starts to blow, so I learned the art of shitting in the world’s largest sandbox. I met a Haussa mechanic named Gambo with tribal scarring on his face, and he wrote many songs which were all about working on trucks, so I made some cool recordings of him singing his songs in a Landcruiser with the wind blowing outside. To be in such rugged conditions for that chunk of time is inspiring; to push the limits of one’s comfort zone puts you in touch with some other ish. The more I travel the more I realize how alike people are; grimy is grimy, but people make due, find ways to enjoy life and make something out of nothing.
RMD: We have to ask…do you still rap in pig latin?
RADIOINACTIVE: I dropped a line in one of my first performances in 1988 at the Odyssey of the Mind Competition for the Gifted & Talented Education. and the writer sort of ran with that note. I think the line was I don’t gang-bang in pig latin. Right after Colors came out lots of fake gangsters were showing up in junior high, that was my commentary at the time.
RMD: What was the transition like going from hip hop to gypsy? Which genre do you plan on focusing more on in the future?
RADIOINACTIVE: I really identify with the hustler lifestyle of the Gypsy people. Lots of mystery shrouded in tradition. That is what I’m on right now: Be yourself, be original, but not just weird for the sake of being weird. Some cats don’t like it when the boundaries are pushed in hip hop which is a bunch of bull because hip hop culture is all about originality. I have an EP called The Hip Hop Helmet which will be my next release this fall, and it’s much more boom-bappy. Originally The Akashic Record was the two projects combined, but I decided to break them up to make the projects a bit more focused as far as the sound. I got so much music inside of me waiting to be made, a lot of different stuff that’s still got my signature on it.
RMD: Did you really wear one of Quincy Jones’ old suits in the “Mint Tea” music video?
RADIOINACTIVE: YES that really is Quincy Jones suit. My pops went out with his oldest daughter Jolie for many years. We got some high-class hand me downs. In my newest video “Bury Me Standing” I am wearing a camel-hair sports coat that’s also from him.
RMD: What accomplishment are you the most proud of?
RADIOINACTIVE: I’m most proud of the Analog studio that I have created for myself. I have been collecting mad vintage gear over the years and the set-up is always evolving. My house is a studio, literally. Lots of antiques from Grandma and all my travels which gives it lots of vibe. I am using the Endless Analog Clasp which is an interface that allows me to use my reel to reel tape machines (Ampex ATR 102, MCI 2″, 16 track, MCI jh110b 1/2″ 4 track) with Pro Tools HD. It’s really nice to be hitting tape when tracking or mixing and have the editing power of Pro Tools. I also have been nominated for an Emmy for soundmixing the last two years for Idol. I’m proud of that as well.
RMD: What are your plans for 2012?
RADIOINACTIVE: I’m about to press up vinyl for The Akashic Record and I got plans to tour the US and Europe this fall, and I will drop my EP Hip Hop Helmut this fall. Also I am mixing an album from some old 2″ reels recorded in the early 1970’s by a band called Herman and Company. Pretty cool ’cause no one has ever heard their stuff. A time capsule for real.
RMD: Who is your favourite Beatle?
RADIOINACTIVE: Yoko. Naah actually it would be George Harrison. My parents were friends of his wife Olivia. I got a peach colored indian Kurta from him when I was 5. I would wear it in my next video if I could…HA
To purchase The Akashic Record via iTunes, click here.
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