Interview by Matt Conley, southcoast247.com National Correspondent. Photos Courtesy of www.brettbeyer.com and www.petertoh.com
Yak Ballz, seen here performing on stage, says "the dynamic of playing live and experiencing that certain unique feeling that comes from it is special
With his latest album Scifentology II in stores, Yak Ballz of the rap group Weathermen took some time out of his promotion schedule to discuss his rap career and his new record. Scifentology II, which features appearances from Cage, Tame 1, Peter Toh, and others, is getting a strong industry buzz for its witty lyrics, raw beats, and creative production. Beyond discussing the story behind his rise through the ranks of rap and the record itself, the first thing on our minds was what’s up with the name Yak Ballz?
247: I’m sure many people often wonder where your stage name came from. What’s the story behind the name Yak Ballz?
YB: It was given to as a joke when I was 16 years old by my friends Angelo Baque and Bobbito Garcia. It stuck with me up until this point. I’ll never live it down.
247: Can you describe what led you to a career in rap music?
YB: My love for music as a child. I used watch a lot of music videos growing up. I did one of those 80’s laser music videos on the boardwalk to a Beach Boys song with my sister as a kid. I think that’s what might have done it.
247: What do you bring to the industry that you feel sets you apart from other rappers?
YB: Probably just being myself and taking risks.
247: What were your earliest musical influences and how have the trends and varying sounds of popular, and underground, music changed you as an artist over the years?
YB: A Tribe Called Quest, Michael Jackson, Organized Konfusion, and Mobb Deep, to name a few. Learning how and why pop music can reach such a broad audience is one factor I’ve been affected by and always appreciated growing up. I constantly look for ways to evolve as an artist so having the freedom that goes hand in hand with independent music has helped me grow and develop my skills.
I’ve become even more focused and I’m just always aiming to sustain a high level of continuity in my music. David Bowie is playing in my head right now.
247: You grew up in New York. How did that environment help shape your music?
YB: I was born in the 80’s so the 90’s was my era in terms of being old enough for important memories and impressions to stick with me until now. New York in the 90’s was more edgy, unsafe, and, for lack of a better, word "iller." Terrorist threats were never as prevalent as they are now but the threat of getting jumped for your sneakers or backpack was a reality.
Shit was real. Graffiti was better. Style was original. Hip Hop was inspiring. I’m a product of all these things. The production I chose was very raw and I wrote about what I knew, saw, and what my life consisted of, which wasn’t much of anything else beyond the parameters of city.
247: You first really came on the scene in the late ’90s during a period of time when underground rap was really taking off and being recognized by a more mainstream crowd. Where does underground rap, or indie rap, stand in 2008?
YB: Independent Hip Hop has broken a lot of barriers and is bigger than ever, which translates into us as artists to actually be able to make a legitimate living in doing what makes us the happiest.
In the ’90s I don’t think people ever thought they would be seeing what was considered "underground" playing at shows with thousands of people in attendance and seeing their favorite independent artists videos aired on MTVU or MTV2. Then again those mediums didn’t exist either.
247: What has your experience with Weathermen been like? And what is it like to drift between solo projects and group collaborations?
YB: It’s been pretty amazing. With any group there will be differences and sometimes people don’t all grow as one unit so changes are made. Weathermen is a progressive and forward thinking movement. Everyone involved now is on the same page creatively making some really profound music together. Collaborating and doing solo stuff is the beauty of Weathermen.
Every person in the crew has a solo career but the relationships between all of us are so tight that we find ways to work together all the time. It’s been a great pleasure and an honor to have such brilliant musicians around me for so many years now.
247: Do you prefer the confines of the studio or are you more into performing live?
YB: Both worlds are equally as important, but depending what kind of mood I’m in I prefer one to the other. I get anxious sometimes and the thought of playing a show is not a happy one but when I’m up there it’s not so bad.
However, other times I really can’t wait to get on stage and rock. The dynamic of playing live and experiencing that certain unique feeling that comes from it is special. I couldn’t pick one.
247: Your latest album is Scifentology II and it’s out in stores this month. How do you feel this album measures up to projects you have done in the past?
YB: Scifentology II, to me, is a cut above all of my previous projects hands down. I took the advice of my friend EL-P who told me to dig deep and give it everything I have in me on every track. At this stage in my life, I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice but to do so, and previously the sense of urgency wasn’t nearly as strong as it is now. I was in school and music was what I always wanted to do full time but it was impossible devote myself one hundred percent. Now music is my lifeline so nothing I’ve done before is remotely fucking with this album.
247: What projects are you currently working on besides promoting Scifentology II? And what other plans do you have for 2008? Also, what can fans expect from Weathermen?
YB: I’m forever working; thinking and writing.
However, at the present time all my eggs are in the Scifentology II basket. I work closely with Scifen, the clothing company, and (I am in the process of) getting the right people aware of the product. My friends and label mates Slow Suicide Stimulus are working on a new record and I’ve been in the studio with them as they record and staying pretty involved in the process of good music being created in my circle. I’ve already got a few songs written for a new record.
I think my next goal is to get some type of column in a magazine. I love magazines. Fans can expect solo projects from Cage, Tame One, and Camu Tao as well as a Weathermen record that is speculated to be released some time in ’08. We’ll see.
247: On behalf of southcoast247.com I want to thank you very much for your time.
YB: Thank you for having me.
For more information on Yak Ballz, visit his MySpace page by clicking here.
Check out "YakBallzTV" on YouTube by clicking here.
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Check out the Original Post at http://www.southcoast247.com/music/stories/yakballz.shtml
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Yak Ballz Monday, March 17, 2008
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