Music Rags: Chali 2na and the preservation of hip-hop culture

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Despite its relatively young age, hip-hop comes from a deep, rich heritage. And like anything that grows and evolves, as it ages its roots get harder and harder to see. Luckily we still have people like Chali 2na, famed baritone pivot-man for Jurassic 5.  2na has been around since the birth of the culture, participating in the various aspects that once formed the basis for the hip-hop lifestyle.

“This music was started on a tradition. It was seated in a culture that was being created within an inner city movement. It was created simply because of angst, crime and all these different things that were happening. It was an escape. I think the way we had discipline in the culture of rap, not just the music but the culture itself, the way that all the early cats participated in that has faded,” says 2na, talking to me from the beaches of California.

“Rap got most popular and because it did that it made the most money and because it made the most money a lot of people started to see it as more of an escape—this is just my opinion. They see it as more of an escape than something to participate in and have fun with and a passion for. It’s like the crack game. A lot of cats don’t really wanna sell crack, but if that’s their only way out, then they’re going to do it to the best of their abilities and I think that’s what’s been happening with hip-hop as of late.” The man is clearly a student of the culture.

As successful as he’s been in music, with trail-blazers Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, it’s not the music part of hip-hop culture where 2na has his roots, but rather in the visual art – graffiti. “I always was an artist. I always painted. I was always a poet to an extent, but I didn’t take it as seriously as the drawing and painting until hip-hop music came along. Once the music hit, my interests switched,” says 2na of his first artistic love. “I always kept the painting to myself. It was kind of anonymous as a graffiti writer and I wouldn’t want, necessarily, people to be able to point out who did what back in those days, out the gate. Now, as an old man, I want to be recognized for the work that I’ve done.”

2na is keeping graffiti, the art form that was the impetus for him to enter the hip-hop culture, alive and strong with murals on display throughout the world, including Amsterdam, L.A. and Melbourne. Having been taken off course by his music career, 2na only just managed to have his first art show, at age 41, this past February. The event became a kind of refilling of the inspiration cup for him. “That was amazing. It was like a dream come true. To be perfectly honest I got kind of intoxicated by it the same way I did the very time I got cheers and applause from rapping. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt that shit. It’s a rebirth of that feeling like, ‘I gotta do this.’”says 2na.

Even with all acclaim flying at him in two different artistic disciplines, tours around the world and fancy art shows, 2na remains the most humble of homies. “I just love my job, dude, like nobody’s business. There’s probably nobody who can say it and mean it like I mean it,” laughs 2na. “With the skill level of someone who could be working at a Starbucks or McDonald’s, I mean I didn’t finish college and shit like that. I was an early dad. It’s just a trip. I get a rush from the crowd. I get to meet new sections of people. I get exposed to different cultures and I get to learn from each and every experience. Recognizing that is why I continue on. If the term, ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,’ is applied in my lifetime, then what better job to have than the one I have.”

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