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Defari – A Gallant Talent


27 April 2002 No Comment

In the mighty jungle of underground Hip Hop there is a king waiting to take his subjects by storm. Prowling the scene, Defari is the super-intellectual cremator of any emcee who dares to challenge his firey grip on the mic. After living a humble life – first teaching, then emceeing with his fellow Likwit Crew members – a man of many means is taking his flair for flow to the next level.

Born into a family of educators, Defari pursued the challenging career of teaching while simultaneously building a foundation in Hip Hop. In the ’80’s era of the culture, he was a dancer in the reputable Soul Brothers crew – and while the fun of the spotlight might deter some people from keeping their nose to the grindstone, Defari had bigger things in mind. He attained a Bachelor of Arts degree from UC-Berkeley, and went on to get a Masters in Education at the esteemed Columbia University. Defari dabbled in deejaying and emceeing, and pressed his first real demo in 1994. He hooked up with E-Swift of the Alkaholiks, and was later involved in the Immortal Records compilation Next Chapter: Strictly Underground in 1995.

He taught tenth grade students for close to five years at Inglewood High School, but eventually he reached a crossroads in the direction of his artistic passions. Defari’s gruff voice is soothing and gentle as he explains that phase of his life. “I was always one hundred and twenty percent professional – extremely professional – and I was one of the few people in that district who actually cared about the kids. Did I ever like teaching? I never liked it, ever. I would always say that in my interviews. It was a gig to me – I couldn’t really stand the gig but I liked the kids. I got into it because I’m a natural at it – sometimes we’re naturally phenomenal at things that we actually don’t like doing. My mother is an educator, my auntie is an educator, my god-mother is an educator, my auntie’s husband is a principal – so that type of shit runs in my family. My mother, she’s been a Head Start teacher for twenty-five, thirty years – she’s a natural with the little kids – she’ll blow your mind – her ability to talk to them and relate to the little kids is incredible. But me, I had the natural ability to do the gig but I never liked it, so I was gonna be out of the gig anyway. It just so happened that I landed my record deal at that time. It was just kind of an easy transition.”

The respect Defari garnered from his first ABB Records singles “Bionic” and “People’s Choice” led him to signing with Tommy Boy Records, where he released his first full-length, critically acclaimed album Focused Daily. After a few years of touring with his Likwit Crew family, leaving Tommy Boy, and having the opportunity to work with various independent projects, Defari found that the professional demeanor he established through teaching aided him in the music business. “I think it’s helped my communicative abilities in terms of dealing with people, however I’m in a business of snakes and a lot of garbage individuals,” he growls. “A lot of those communicative skills that I learned in the classroom are not even relevant to the industry I’m in. The industry is full of men who hide behind other people – it’s a pass-the-buck industry, it’s not full of real men. Men come and talk to you face to face about things. In the industry they’ll get their secretary or their business manager to call you – shit like that. I don’t have respect for a lot of people in this industry – they’re garbage to me. The business side of things is real cutthroat – you get to the point of ‘how much money am I gonna make – okay cool’ – it’s not like that in teaching. Teaching was more of a moral responsibility everyday to be upright for these kids. You get paid okay, but not really worth the amount of school I put in, nor the fact that I went to an Ivy League school to get my graduate degree. Teaching wasn’t really worth what I went through.”

In terms of moral responsibility, Defari laughs loudly when he’s confronted with the question of his lyrical morality on Tha Liks’ song “My Dear”, for which an impromptu video was performed in the Tha Liks newly released DVD Alkaholiks: XO The Movie Experience. “What I give out is positive energy. ‘My Dear’ is a song where in an age of simpin’ and trickin’ for all these women, we just wanted to diss ’em, that’s all. And that’s real talk cuz I’m a grown man, so I can talk like that. ‘My Dear’ is not a song for no high school kid, unless they been through that – it’s a grown folks song. I really don’t feel any responsibility pertaining to that particular song. In terms of Tha Liks DVD, I’m not smoking nothing on that – they probably seen me around the bud and whatnot, but they don’t see me smokin’ no bud.” He laughs some more, but not without conveying the serious bottom line. “I feel that the people who have the most responsibility to kids are their parents.”

Even in his most aggressive conversational tone, Defari still projects a thoughtful respect for the person who is interested in hearing his confident wisdom. “[I show that] because that’s all people ever been to me. I can only speak for me – all people have ever shown me is kindness, and those who haven’t – I nip them in the bud, I deal with them like a man, face to face. Whether it gets physical or however it gotta go. And the thing is, the insinuations from those questions about… it sure is ironic…” he pauses, seemingly frustrated. “I think I thought the people were trying to say about my former profession ‘sure it’s ironic that he was a moral representative to the kids and then now he’s in a field where some of the morality can be questioned’. But I’m thinking like this – my heart… even before I met one single kid in the classroom I’ve always done music, one. Two, my heart will always pump righteousness. You can listen to a Defari album, yeah, you’re gonna hear about sex, money, drugs, the streets – because that’s the environment I live in. But the whole tone of any album that you ever hear from me or any verse that you ever hear me kick – except for ‘My Dear’,” he laughs, “it will always have a righteous undertone. Always.”

Considering his exasperation with the educational system and his own unconventional career choices, Defari insists that he would still recommend that young people strongly consider college. “They ain’t got shit else to do – unless they’re eighteen years old and they’re looking at eight-thousand a year. I would always tell the kids that – when you graduate, unless you’re looking at eighty-thousand a year, not fifty – or if your looking at an entry level gig where in two to three years you’ll be making eighty or ninety grand, then yeah, fuck school. But shit, that’s a dream. I tell a high schooler, ‘go to school, because just being a bum hangin’ out at your momma’s house – she’s gonna get mad at you and tell you to go out and gig anyway, and you’re gonna end up wanting to go to school’. Depending on the industry you want to be in… if you want to be in entertainment then you don’t need to go to school. Come out of high school and be an intern and you’ll move your way up over years. There’s only a couple industries where you can even do that. For most kids, if you don’t know what you want to do – and that’s most kids – if you don’t want your momma and daddy pissed at you – go to school! You’ve got the most free time when you’re in college and it’s fun. You get a whole ‘nother four or five years to figure out what you want to do. It’s a lot better than chillin’ at home, broke.

“Another thing they don’t talk about in this society is – school is not for everybody – there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, you’re just not good in school – it doesn’t mean you’re a perpetual fuck up. You take some of these dudes who jump into the NBA outta high school and these old farts fuckin’ downing these cats for going to get their money – but a lot of these cats, school is not even for them. Rags to riches stories are far and few, but they exist. If my son was eighteen and the NBA wanted him, I’d be like ‘boy you betta go get that money, cuz you can always go to school’. If he was eighteen and wanted to be a rapper, I’d say ‘man, I respect your creative ambition, but you gotta go to school dawg, cuz rap don’t make no money – you’ll be broke,” he laughs quietly, but Defari’s conviction on this issue is evident.

“If you’re looking at me, I’m an exception, I’m from a known crew, worldwide, of professional emcees – we all pay our bills from this shit. I support my family from my craft through the low times and the high times, but man I paid a lot of dues to even get to this minimal level that I’m at. A lotta, lotta dues. It’s funny because it seems like the white power establishment always wants you to think that in America you got to master one thing. That’s bullshit. When I’m three hundred and sixty degrees of man, you can’t tell me that I’m not good at whatever I wanna be good at. You can’t tell me that I can’t have two, three, four, five hustles. You can’t convince me of that because I know otherwise – even though most human beings in this country are caught up in one gig, and they’ll do that gig for twenty-five years and they’ll retire with a little bullshit pension, and then that’ll be it. With me, I can look in the mirror and say ‘D, you did what the hell you wanted to do, brotha – you pursued and followed your dream’. You gotta stick with it, because being a recording artist – you be broke. I’ve seen big checks, and then you know… shit… I’ve been broke. But I’ve been blessed, and I’ve still never been as broke as when I lived check-to-check teaching. That’s crazy to me.”

Despite the disarming sincerity in his powerfully spoken words, Defari consciously focuses on remaining humble in the way he delivers his message. “I’ve never believed in preaching to people, because people tune you out when you do that. My whole goal in the rap game was to convey complex thoughts in the most simplest fashion and form that I can. That, to me, is the mark of a very good emcee. That’s what I like about Jay-Z. Jay-Z can always convey any concept or thought he wants in simple terms, in layman terms – that’s what makes your phenomenal leaders, your phenomenal speakers – that’s what makes even a good preacher. When people can understand something complex but it’s in their language – and that’s what Defari represents in the Likwit crew. I come deeper than just ‘party’ – Ima shoot to people with different concepts and different ideas for them to think about than just partying down and shit like that… or trying to be some fake-ass gangsta. Ima shoot to people what real grown men talk from the city of Los Angeles. Inner-towner talk that we go through every day as [people] out here, but people don’t never hear, because they’re always flooded with a certain type of angle from Los Angeles – and that angle is usually gang bangin’. I love gangsta music – real gansta music – I love it – but that’s not me. My music is a total different thing from L.A. that people ain’t even heard yet, and that’s what still excites me.” He pauses, and his intensity draws me into his enthusiasm. ” Dove, that’s what excites me because people ain’t ready. They heard it a little bit on Focused Daily, they’re hearing it kinda with Dilated – but watch when they hear my next album.”

Currently in the studio, Defari’s next project Odds And Evens, will feature the majority of his longtime friends in the industry. “[The album title] means that I beat the odds and I’m finally about to get even,” he explains, “and two, it also means pick any muthafuckin’ number you want, it’s here.”

Although it has was previously rumored that Defari might sign with Xzibit’s label, Open Bar Entertainment, Defari is adamant that the deal will never be inked. “The home for my next album is still undecided, but nonetheless I’m stuck recording it though. I got ideas of where it’s gonna come out on, but I don’t really want to speak on it until it’s an official thing. Right now I’m working on a lot of the meat and potatoes of the album, because this album is gonna be more thorough than Focused Daily. In terms of the people, I’m gonna invite them into my world this time, and they’re gonna get to know me a little better. Focused Daily is a dope album actually – an exceptional album – but it was more of a freestyle exhibition. It had certain conceptual songs on it like ‘These Dreams’, ‘Lowlands’ and ‘405 Fridays’, but most of the album was a freestyle exhibition. This album will have the fun cuts, but it will be really beefed up with real songs that are conceptual and invite people into my brain, into my history and all that good stuff.

“I’m still fuckin’ with the backbone of people that got me where I am – Evidence, E-Swift, and Alchemist – and also I’ve branched out so this time around I would like to work with people like… well I really don’t wanna work with a gang of people – I would work with somebody like Quik, or I would work with Battlecat – but really, I’ve got a slew of new producers too. I’m big on real Hip Hop shit, bringing to light the new sounds – people that you ain’t even heard. I be swamped with beats in terms of local cats that I know off the top that I would be inclined to work with before somebody that I don’t. And the trio of people I got from Alchemist to Evidence to E-Swift – I could do an album alone with them three dudes right there. I’m big on comin’ out with new people too, instead of bandwaggoning and being formulated, I want people to get the raw essence of me. Real rap music is… you come out with ‘your’ sound – whatever form that takes – if it takes a million dollar producer or if it takes a fifty-dollar producer. I don’t have no allegiance to nobody but the three cats that I named off top.”

There have been guest appearances and new projects in the works for Defari in addition to his own album. “The whole Likwit are expanding, we’re doing an album, we’re trying to have a Likwit crew wherever we go. Me and Phil [da Agony] have a group called Pico Long, and I’m just really trying to expand in the game and do as many albums as I can. I’m a workhorse – I’m the type of dude, man, if I could I’d do ten albums a year. My whole thing is that, along with Suave Management, we’re just trying to elevate.”

Defari has a featured interlude on Dilated People’s current album Expansion Team, and his latest single “Bionic2” is backed with the standout track “Behold My Life” which he performed with Dilated Peoples. “That’s an example of giving them that breath of life,” he says excitedly. “I’m so thankful those dudes got on the track with me, and Babu did the beat – and Babu is ill too, a lot of people don’t even know. We all came up together. When I say came up, I hope people understand what I really mean. I’ve known these dudes for seven years. I’ve known cats for a long ass time – it’s no overnight thing. The stuff we do is not overnight – it’s dues paid – both through friendships that have failed and friendships that have excelled. It’s not just wake up tomorrow and be a rapper. The biggest challenge is not quitting. Financially it’s not adding up sometimes. The biggest challenge is doing what your momma and daddy always taught you, and that’s follow your dreams and pursue them – stick with it.”

The man whose emcee name means ‘The Kingly One’ – and dissected reads simply but savagely ‘Def-Ar-I’ – is on the way to mastering his future. In the way that a lion possesses his pride with double meaning, Defari duly accepts the duality of his role as a leader and a logical lyricist in the rap game. The time has arrived for this strong-minded man with the lion-sized heart to seize the throne that is rightfully his.

Dove ~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~ courtesy of Elemental Magazine – Elemental Magazine.

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