Defari: Steroid Music

In 1999, Defari’s debut Focused Daily gave Tommy Boy Records one of its final notches in the catalog during the independent Hip-Hop glory years. Since then, both the artist and the label have heard cries from the masses on bringing it back. At least one of them appears to have listened.

Now on the ABB imprint he helped found, Defari has delivered Street Music, a gritty album that bypassed the backpackers and met the Los Angeles artist’s demographic from the earliest, undefined years. The same guy who helped spawn the careers of Dilated Peoples is also a close friend of DJ Muggs and Snoop Dogg. Defari expresses dislike for being pigeon-holed between those two worlds, and discusses why his album may break down the walls. For starters, conceptually what does the title, Street Music, represent, both, to, and for, you?

Defari: Well, it was just a culmination of my life, and how I wanted the album to knock. It’s how I really wanted it to sound. It’s kind of a best descriptive sort of title, and the album is strictly the bang out. So, it’s custom built for car stereos that are super, ya know? What prompted your decision to, literally, return back to your musical roots on Street Music ?

Defari: I had took the advice of all my fans, and they all constantly tell me, across the world, that my best [album] was Focused Daily. So, with this record, I took it back to Focused Daily in terms of principle, but I just turned it up times 50. Lyrically, where do you find your inspiration?

Defari: Well, this album, I just was really focused on flows, and more rhyme patterns, and crispy lyrics. So, this album isn’t, per se, as conceptual as some of my other s**t in terms of the different type of songs, but it has its moments – like “Vultures”, “Either Dead or in Jail”, and “Burn Big”, and stuff like that. But really, I just hear the beat and I go from there. I stay with a full clip. Production-wise, I notice you worked with Alchemist, Evidence from Dilated Peoples, Mike City, among others. How much input do you actually have when it comes to the whole creative process of the records?

Defari: A whole lot! If I don’t like the beat, then I won’t use it. But, at the same time, I take the advice of some of them dudes. Sometimes they tell me to spit the verse again, or maybe I need to hit a line this way versus that way, and I take they advice. In your vast career, it seems as if you continually walk a fine line between catering to both the streets as well as the backpacker generation. Do you ever feel pigeon-holed as an artist? <br?

Defari: You hit it on the nail, bro. It was pretty much recognizing that perhaps I was in a middle-ground. That middle-ground really was a place that, of course, I’m good at, but I don’t need to be there. I need to be running my own lane to the fullest. And so, I went back and looked in the mirror and I said, “Man, you gotta do what Defari does best.” So, with Street Music, just like you said, we coming harder than ever, man. I’m coming harder than ever before, and I’m getting so much praise and great response, especially like on my MySpace. I’m getting so many good comments and whatnot. The album’s custom-built for the fans. It’s not about me, and it’s never been about me. I thought Odds & Evens [2003] was my best, but the fans are the expert, not me. Last year saw the release of the anticipated Likwit Junkies’ record, L.J.’s, a collaboration with you and DJ Babu. Although a strong project, commercially it didn’t fair too well, why?

Defari: Well, I just think we should’ve toured. Babu, he was entangled in his Dilated [Peoples] responsibilities at the time, so we spot dated but we should’ve toured. And, the proof is in the pudding, [because] when people see us live, it’s just like when they see me [perform], they ready to buy my s**t immediately when I get off stage. That’s all it was. Take me back to your early beginnings, when did you first become interested in pursuing music?

Defari: Professionally, I first started in ’95 with a song called “Big Up”, [by] myself and E-Swift from Tha Liks, and that’s at the same time that I got down with the Likwit Crew. And, that was my first professional release. Then, the very next year, myself and Beni B created this label called ABB Records. We put out a song called “Bionic”, and after that, we released a Dilated Peoples first single, which was called “Third Degree”, featuring myself. From there, I went to do a song called “People’s Choice”, in ’97, and then I signed on with Tommy Boy in about ’98, and I put out Focused Daily in ’99. Then, Dilated went on to put out one of the biggest independent singles of their era, which was a song called “Work the Angles”. And, pretty much that was history, man. ABB was, pretty much, etched in people’s minds in terms of this Hip-Hop. And, so was Defari, and so was Dilated Peoples. Then, here we are today still doing it, man – and thankful to be doing it. Who were those artists that influenced you to do what you do today?

Defari: Ah, man, a lot. Ice-T for example, Slick Rick, Rakim, people like Schooly D and Mantronix. And, I loved JVC Force. The old Jungle Brothers, Gang Starr, and all that era of Hip-Hop — That was a lot of my inspiration. What has kept you relevant in this day & age of Hip-Hop music?

Defari: Well, that’s a great question. Two things; really one word defines the key to my success, and that’s desire to be great. And then the second thing that has enabled me to stick around for a decade is my back-bone, and that’s the people around me, the people who care about me, and the people who help me so much in the business. When it comes to the industry, I’m well loved by a lot of legendary cats in this business, and they just show me a lot of love. From my own crew, Tha Liks, to Dilated Peoples’ crew, to B-Real of Cypress Hill and DJ Muggs’ Soul Assassins, Alchemist, I can go on and on down the line, to Snoop Dogg, to DJ Jam – all the people I’ve known for all these years; they’ve showed me a lot of love. Futuristically speaking, is there anything else, maybe even outside of music altogether, you also aspire to do?

Defari: Well, outside of music altogether, yeah, I’d like to just hit the lottery. [Laughs] Yeah, I mean we would all like to be as successful as we can be. So, I am on a quest, and a mission, to do that in my life musically, and just in my life period, man – for my children and whatnot. I’m venturing into other things in terms of executive producing some other projects where I’m not artistically involved. I’ve ventured into doing different songwriting projects. Myself and Tuffy from Channel Live, we got a little songwriting team (and) we write songs for different people. But really, I’m focused on Defari, and being the best I can be for all these thousands of fans across the world who show me all this love. In your off-time, what do you enjoy doing?

Defari: They might find me at the beach doing the pull-ups and the dips, or on the rings or something. They might find me with the homies, in a brand new pair of exclusive Nikes, walking down the block, just wildin’ out. [Laughs] Or, they may see me out with one of the prettiest women in the world…that being my wife. Who knows what they’ll see me doing.

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