“I know that I can’t change how the world sees hip hop.” It’s an odd statement to hear from Wildchild, a man who has spent nearly a decade entrenched in the underbelly of West Coast hip hop. In the early days of the genre’s emerging bicoastal identity, Wildchild cut his teeth by dancing in break circles and battle rhyming outside his high school in the Oxnard, a rough-and-tumble Los Angeles burb. He and some school chums spent their time breakdancing and rapping and eventually started rhyming at parties under the name Lootpack. When they finally recorded, their M.O. was to cure the world “wack MCs and nonbelievers” through a dialogue of articulate, purist rhymes. If Wildchild’s pedigree doesn’t enable him to change the way the world sees hip hop, maybe no one’s does.
“In the eyes of most people — in and out of the music business — hip hop is mostly about the image,” Wildchild says. “You know, cats having money and the cars and all that in the videos and putting on big productions. I look around at a lot of the best hip hop happening right now and I don’t see the artist driving those cars, do you? I know I can’t change that image, I just try to have a positive look at things and make music that reflects that.”
It’s true that Wildchild’s career has adopted a sunnier outlook than most voices in independent hip hop. His standout lyricism with Lootpack helped distinguish the group from the ocean of rhyming hopefuls, but it wasn’t until he released his lauded solo debut, Secondary Protocol, in the spring of 2003, that Wildchild’s unusual positivism was properly introduced to the world. The record was released by producer/DJ Peanut Butter Wolf’s ambitious indie label, Stones Throw, and doesn’t have the slightest echo of the jewels-and-jerseys braggadocio that dominates commercial hip hop. Instead, Secondary Protocol gives up a series of personal scenes from Wildchild’s real life, about friendship and fatherhood. Under the rhymes, classic hip-hop elements are rearranged into forward-looking, experimental beats one moment and old-school B-boy block parties the next.
“We would joke that we wanted to have a futuristic party thing going on,” he says, laughing. “The whole vibe I want is one of real rawness that you could feel. We wanted the beats to be real bouncy and the statements to be real grounded. A lot of people try to follow different trends, but I was just trying to put together something completely different than what everyone else puts out. I wanted to do something with my person in it, a real solo record and not just a Lootpack record with my name on it. And the only thing I wanted to get across was a party. A musically raw party. I don’t live in LA and I can’t portray the funk or gangster vibe that LA is about. I just wanted to make a party record.”
In support of Secondary Protocol, Wildchild is taking his party around the country with a label-sponsored Stones Throw Tour. The tour, masterminded by P.B. Wolf, features performances by Wildchild and DJ Romes (also of Lootpack fame), the soul-singing/rhyming of Dudley Perkins, and hip-hop/soul mash-up turntable sets by Wolf himself. The traveling showcase is a succinct sampling of Stones Throw’s motley roster, a rare treat for underground hip-hop heads in the flyover states. And even though performers all stretch conventional genres in different directions, they are bound together by dance floor-motivating, countercultural ideas about hip-hop culture.
“I think it’s difficult to see live hip hop,” Wildchild admits. “Especially if you are seeing an artist for the first time and you don’t own their records. But when you see someone with real talent, it really shows through. Performers who have been in battles or situations like that are affected in a way that is difficult to put into words.”
Without coming off arrogant or patronizing, Wildchild understands the difference between those with it and those without a clue. He sees how hip hop, like any other pop form, is full of poseurs and fakes.
“You can tell the people who have been though it because of their soul — some people have it and some don’t. But when it comes to battling or even breaking, a lot of people take it so out of context that the whole image of hip hop just gets twisted. I don’t do battle rhyming anymore. Back in the day it was different, but lately, I embrace the positive and leave the rest alone. That is what I try to put up there for people, and that’s what I want them to take from me.”
Wildchild and the Stones Throw Tour hit Fifth Avenue Downtown (2100 Woodward Ave, on the north end of Comerica Park) Thursday, Oct. 30. For info, call 313-471-2555.Nate Cavalieri is the itinerant correspondent for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org