The Crack Emcee Interview

The Crack Emcee is an outspoken commentator and prolific artist connected to San Francisco's Haight Street music scene through various waves of musical fads and movements over the last dozen odd years. In his fourth floor Haight Street apartment, across from the venerable Buena Vista Park, his music studio is perched streetside, and one can watch, out his open bay windows, sidewalks sprinkled with wandering denizens of the Haight. We sat in his studio for an exclusive interview.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to The Crack Emcee

Better Propaganda: So if you were going to describe your body of work to someone, what would you say?

The Crack Emcee: I call the place "Crackhouse Music" because my stuff falls into a different category than most people. It kinda has the same theme as Outkast, you know, etc., where you feel outside of society, and my music tends to reflect that attitude, of being outside of the mainstream of music. I do stuff that's usually more aggressive, or usually more topical than what most people do. I'll just leave it at that.

BP: You're definitely not scared of real hard beats, i just heard one of your new tracks, and it's SUPER heavy, lots of guitars...

CE: Yeah, that one there was done with me and Uncle Ray, do you know Uncle Ray? Ray Wilcox, that's something we wrote back in '95 or something, and I just picked it up, you know, and started working with it. Yeah, it's a pretty good track.

BP: You definitely don't shy away from heavy politics in your tracks.

CE: No, no, politics is something that I'm pretty obsessed with, I read about five newspapers a day if possible, an average of three, and I'm pretty hooked into the media etc. etc., I stay on top of what's going on usually.

BP: Do you use the internet for news?

CE: A little bit, but mostly I try to stick with mainstream outlets, etc., we've got a pretty good selection here in San Francisco, so there's no shortage of viewpoints to be able to grab. Yeah, I google. (laughter) I google news a lot. (laughter)

BP: Your song "'Ho'in' For George" a little while ago actually was a minor hit, wasn't it?

CE: Yes, it was voted "One of the Best Anti-War Songs to Listen to During the War"

BP: Uh-huh. It made a bunch of college charts?

CE: It was definitely a local hit, and I found out that in Colorado, New York, etc., a few other places, it was pretty popular. It also made the Village Voice's Pass and Chop contest I guess.

BP: So you were saying you were just out of the country, and you just got your DSL turned back on, did you miss not being connected to the internet while you were travelling?

CE: Yeah, because it's strange when you're overseas, and you're in places where the outside world doesn't really exist, it's kinda like being here in a way, but when you only have like the Herald Tribune or something for your information, you don't learn a lot about what's going on back home, or what's going on in the world, period. You just learn about different incidences that are going on like in business or something, you know, how much of something, or maybe the Chinese have bought or something, but you don't learn a lot about what's going on back home, which is what I really really really wanted to know usually.

BP: Is it important for you that music is like the news - that you've got topical and relevant things in your music- or do you have music that's not political also?

CE: Oh yeah, I've got music of all kinds, I got love songs, I got goofy songs, I got blues, every style that you can play. I think that's been what's held me up more than anything, is that I don't usually stick to a particular style, I do whatever feels right, or just whatever I'm humming that morning or something. It isn't really thought out.

BP: Just looking at all your equipment here in your studio, and trying to figure out how many different things you could do in here, you have knobs and levers and buttons, keyboards everywhere...

CE: Pretty much everything except for live stuff. I can handle guitar players, but I can't do live drums.

BP: You can't do live drums?

CE: I can't do live drums.

BP: What's your live setup like? What do you use?

CE: Other people. (laughter)

BP: Do you DJ or play over CDs?

CE: In a live show, no. Usually I'm singing, I hire somebody else to do that for a live show. But here in the studio, I do it, and pretty much anybody that roams through is welcome to do something at some point.

BP: And you're right here on Haight Street, so that can't be that difficult.

CE: Nah, nah... (laughter) people are constantly coming over. I get home out of that, you know, the doorbell's ringing and someone's asking if Dave's here. (laughter)

BP: Right. And there's no one here named Dave, is there?

CE: No. (laughter)

BP: Do you think Haight Street influences your music then?

CE: Oh, of course. I get examples of every walk of life, you know, people COME here, so there's nothing that gets left out. You get the most conservative people eyeing everything, to people who come here, and they know they've found what they've been looking for their entire lives, so I get all those impressions, and they're all good for work. You hear snippets of conversation that just rock your world. Sometimes I write some of them down. I use whatever's at hand, and Haight Street is definitely at hand.

BP: What's the hip thing on the Haight Street music scene right now, there don't seem to be a lot of clubs open...

CE: No, there isn't. I think where punk used to be the staple of all things for awhile, now hip hop is the staple of all things for awhile, it's the constant that's running below all the individual tastes that are out there.

BP: So how are people experiencing hip hop on Haight Street? In their cars?

CE: Cars, in the stores, headphones, you know, every imaginable medium. Guys with big boxes walking down the street, you name it.

BP: But there isn't a venue for it, is there?

CE: No, no, there isn't much in San Francisco. At least for me, I've been around for awhile, so there isn't as much in San Francisco as there used to be at all. The options have really dried up.

BP: This street used to be full of nightclubs, didn't it?

CE: Yeah, there was Nightbreak, the I-Beam, there were a bunch in the Lower Haight, over on Divisadero there used to be a bunch, Brave New World was just a few blocks away, and then you had all the Cafes that allowed people to do poetry and play, etc., they're all gone.

BP: Do you think the internet provides a new sort of community that isn't reliant on physical space, do you get that?

CE: I think it has communities, but how strong they are is left up to anyone's imagination. Considering how easy it is to get into arguments over petty things, etc., it makes you wonder how viable it is. I think in time it's possible, it depends on how things go. Right now we're in a war, so, you know, as far as I know, the internet could be just a blip in our imaginations right now (laughter) I'm just doing it day to day in the meantime.

BP: Do you distribute your music online?

CE: Yes. Yes, mostly through CD Baby.

BP: Do you think more people get to your music through the internet than they would through stores?

CE: Yes, because it's available to more people. People overseas can get it. Even here in San Francisco sometimes, it's hard for me to get it into the stores, because I don't try and position my stuff to be the next Jay-Z, or anything like that, I just do what I do, and sometimes the store owners don't understand what I'm doing, maybe because of the name Crack Emcee or Crackhouse, they think it's a negative thing. When I hear it used in a whole lot of hip hop songs, and I don't always think they're always using it a positive way, I'm just being a bit more explicit about it. I don't talk about John down the street who uses it, I'm talking about me. (laughter) You know. You know. So I don't know. I seem to get held to a different standard.

BP: I usually like to ask artists when I interview them, where they would stop and censor their own work, and I see that you're actually like trying to figure out, you know, how come your stuff doesn't fit into the square peg and round hole machine.

CE: Oh no, I understand it. I just think that it's wrong. (laughter)

When I hear stuff like Outkast, for instance, you know I'm being more explicit than they are about drug use, or whatever, personal issues I would say. I don't just stick to 'hey girl' songs, you know, and 'my baby' etc...

BP: Your beats are way harder too.

CE: I think, or I've been told, and I guess I agree, that the kind of stuff that they are starting to get into, with Andre 3000's influence, I've already been doing it (laughter). You know, the whole rock thing, the blues thing, all these things that have been popular recently: there was a blue revival based on Hey Brother Where Art Thou, I went through my blues period already; there was a rock period, you know, which I've already done, there was a jazz thing; everyone's talking about the Roots, rapping over a live band, I've done that. (laughter) So now, I really am trying to think, okay, what haven't they done that I can do, you know, because it is, it's wide open. If it comes naturally to you, then it isn't like you're trying to strike a pose. You know, all these bands now, they're all trying to do the same thing, because they're looking at each other doing it. I think I do these things more naturally, so it's gonna be easy to kinda step into a position and go "okay, you guys aren't doing this, maybe next year, or in a couple." (laughter)

BP: So this is an election year, and I know that your work can be very political, do you have any plans in 2004 for Crack Emcee?

CE: Yeah, I'm working on an album now called I Give Good Head. And- having been overseas for awhile- I have come back with a slightly different perspective on politics and our version of democracy. I think I'm going to talk about some of it quite a bit, especially just the sound of everybody arguing now. When I left, everybody was pretty quiet. On the last album, I had a line "Crack Emcee to the underground/I ain't seen you around/Are you out there somewhere?" After 9/11, everybody got real real quiet, and that was when I thought everybody should be yelling their heads off. And now I come back, and everybody's yelling their heads off, (laughter) and I'm looking at them and thinking, "wow, it's a beautiful noise." To me it is, it's the sound of democracy, and the sound of freedom, you know, it's like something you don't just feel when you're over in other places. It's really cool that everyone doesn't think the same, that we're not all agreeing about Bush or anything else, I love it.

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