When you hear the word Yahzilla, images of a giant dinosaur-like monster crushing skyscrapers and spitting fire may come to mind. You're partially right. Yahzilla isn't actually a monster but a New Jersey MC who does indeed spit fire.
It's that kind of heat that helped him win first place in the 2012 National MC Search. Organized by S&H Public Relations and sponsored by Hip-Hop Wired, Conspiracy Worldwide Radio, and KevinNottingham.com, this competition set out to find an original MC who represents what Rap music is truly about: lyricism and bangin' beats. Hundreds submitted their music, and judges Torae, Rapper Big Pooh, and filmmaker Kareem Fort had their hands full sorting through the good, the bad, and the ugly. But at the end of the day, Yahzilla took the crown.
In an industry saturated with mediocre rappers and played out themes, it's refreshing to hear an artist who actually respects the artform and prides himself on pushing the envelope. B-Boys and B-Girls, introducing Yahzilla.
HipHopWired: Let's start off with the obvious. How did you find out about the 2012 National MC Search and did you feel confident you'd win, considering the fact that the music you make is much more in the vein of traditional East Coast Hip Hop than what's hot nowadays?
Yahzilla: A member of my team who does a lot of promotion for my music goes on a lot of Hip-Hop blogs and visited Hip-Hop wired and seen the ad for the competition. He told me about it and we agreed it would be a good look, so I signed up. I feel confident about the music that I make, but wasn't sure if I'd win the competition because I've never really done something like this before so I can't say I knew I was going to win.
“The average young rap fan doesn't want lyrical rap because they're not being exposed to it.”
HHW: Plenty of aspiring rappers are probably reading this and thinking to themselves that given the chance, they'd have won the MC search. What do you think makes a good MC and do you think today's average young rap fan doesn't seem to find interest in more lyrical rap?
Y: I think a good MC is someone who can put words together better than the average person. Someone who is clever enough to say something in a way that makes the listener react, or listen closely “rewind that again, he said…” kinda thing. A good MC has an effortless flow, unique to him [or] her, they make it look easy and it feels good whether it's a downsouth bop or a Midwest style or other…it's genuine.
The average young rap fan doesn't want lyrical rap because they're not being exposed to it. They haven't been around it so if they hear it, they don't care. It's like playing Aretha Franklin to someone who only listens to Japanese Pop music all day long, they'll say turn that off. If the powers that be play lyrical rap, more of the masses will develop a taste for it. Until then, the only people who will be into it, are people who go look for it, like on the Internet. I found out about Kendrick Lamar because of the Internet blogs and friends emails about him, not because my local big market radio station played him, because they don't, and look how successful that guy is.
HHW: Let's talk about your music. Is there a recurring theme found throughout your lyrics or is it just about what ever comes to mind at the time of writing?
Y: There might be a few themes that show up while listening to my music. Like the whole monster/Godzilla/Yahzilla theme shows up in my music. I tend to use an English accent every once and a while in some songs for a few lines. And I know I tend to refer to my Somali heritage or my African American heritage. Just to give quick reminders of the origins of some of my thoughts. Ultimately I just create songs about thoughts that come to me when I feel inspired to make tracks.
HHW: Who are some of your influences? And I'm talking about producers too since you make some of your own beats. Y: When I was a kid I wanted to be Big L, Slick Rick, Canibus, the Fugees, and Mase all balled up into one rapper. Common is really like my favorite MC, to go along with Mos Def, Kanye, Nas and MF Doom. More recently Jay Electronica is one of the best out. My favorite producer is J Dilla. Madlib, Hi-Tek, Kanye again as producers are heavy influences too.
HHW: You have roots in Africa, Somalia to be exact. Does that impact your music in any way and are you in tune with any of the Hip Hop coming out of the continent?
Y: Being half Somali always gave me a different point of view growing up here. I have no accent, I am American and all that. But as I got older I started to ask my father a lot of questions about Somalis and Somalia, and even though I haven't been yet, and I'm still in the process of learning my Somali side more, I'm learning a lot about myself that makes sense. It's funny my father hated me doing rap, when Somalia is called “The nation of Poets”. There are so many famous poets and artists from Somalia. K'naan is one of the best rappers/poets/singers in the world right now. So in some ways my point of view in my music is impacted by the way I was raised in a multicultural household with my mother being from here… Detroit, to my father from the horn of Africa.
HHW: The song “Yahzilla…the Movie” is the song that got you voted as winner of the MC Search. Speak on the song and the album it came from as well as any new upcoming projects we should be checking for.
Y: A week before I made the song “Yahzilla…the Movie” I was working on a completely different album and music. I had a few records done, and I was in Detroit with my family for Thanksgiving. I was riding in the car with my brother and my cousin when we got pulled over by the cops, when my friend Gyasi called me and said that my record “the Facade” was being played on Sirius Satellite/G-Unit radio by DJ Caesar and that Pete Rock was in the studio and was praising me. I was shocked a legend would praise my music like he did so when I got back to Jersey I made a new beat out of this Aretha Franklin sample and I was watching a lot of Godzilla flicks and I made the song “Yahzilla…the Movie,” including the audio from Pete Rock talking about me.
The next weekend, DJ Caesar played it on air again, and Pete Rock had another great reaction to it. So I scrapped the album I was working on, and made a concept album surrounding that one song. Through my good friend Godfrey Tabarez, who is a music video director killing the industry right now, he put me in touch with 9thWonder who eventually invited me down to NC, and I met up with Godfrey's other friend and talented MC Aquil and we made a collaboration album EP with 9thWonder and his Soul Council. Aquil+Yahzilla The Bright Lady Sessions is out now… And I'm currently working on my next solo record Yahzilla Vs the World.
Aquil+Yahzilla Bright Lady Sessions EPK
HHW: You're not only an MC and producer, you also do film. I know that you have a comedy show called Supa TV, which had me in tears when I watched it! How did you get started in that field and what are some of the projects you've been involved with?
Y: Supa TV is a Hip-Hop/comedy/variety show based around Violator DJ Supa (who happens to be my brother) And the idea of the show came out of me wanting to direct something that was 100% ours. The idea was a mixture of Amanda Seales' old online show Diva Speak TV mixed with Robot chicken mixed with Chapelle's Show. Something fun, something Hip-Hop, something for us by us, if you get my drift. We just shoot it guerilla style and we love how it comes out. We had Big Sean, David Banner, 9thWonder, J.cole, Diggy Simmons, and more appear on the show…check it out people of the universe supatv.net .
As a director/cameraman/editor I've shot for the Source Magazine, Okayplayer, Red Bull and violatordjs.com. I've shot many artists [like] Rick Ross, Mac miller, Chris and Neef, and Wiz Khalifa through concerts, interviews and so on.
HHW: What do you see for the future of Hip-Hop five, ten, even 20 years from now? Will it be straight Pop music or is there any chance that Hip Hop will evolve without losing what made it unique and exciting?
Y: It could go either way. I can see Hip-Hop becoming straight Pop music…and Pop music isn't a bad word by the way, it's popular music. Everyone wants to be popular, but usually pop music has a certain manufactured, corny, forced, sound that's given to the audience. So yeah, popular isn't a bad thing, just what the powers that be think is popular and tell us “What is popular” is what bothers most of us.
Our opinion should matter the most as fans, not what we are told. Too many zombies just nodding and agreeing and everyone afraid to call something wack in fear of being called a hater. Anyway sorry I forgot the main question. But I think Hip-Hop could go back to being innovative, and not copycats, and dope, and fresh, and set trends and be all of what it was historically, mixed with new ideas and executed in a dope way. With people like myself, and Jay Electronica, and Kendrick Lamar, and Big K.R.I.T. making genuine music, Hip-Hop might [return to] the new Golden age… There's a lot of wack sh-t out there, but there's a lot of great things happening right now. Pay attention people.
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