Itís nothing new for a rapper in this day and age to get involved in a multitude of side projects that fall outside the realm of hip-hop.
We hear so often about a rapper embarking on a misguided acting career, or launching a money-grabbing clothing line that itís become something of a stereotype of the genre. But for Chicago-born MC, writer and painter Chali 2na, most known as a member of one of the most celebrated rap groups of all time, Jurassic 5, craft has always come before career, and the love he has for hip-hop is evident throughout all of his creative pursuits.
ďIíve always been a painter from Day 1, more than any of this other stuff. Itís cool that visual art was the gateway to the whole culture of hip-hop for me,Ē said 2na, born Charles Stewart, who began writing graffiti in the early Ď80s, and now works in a variety of mediums. ďI have accumulated so (many paintings) that I felt like itís finally time to show the world that this is something that I do, because being a graffiti artist you try to remain anonymous, whereas now I want to start showing people the talent I have other than just being the Ďverbal Herman Munster.íĒ
As a founding member of both J5 and Grammy-winning salsa funk outfit Ozomatli, 2na has struggled to find time to devote to his true passion of painting throughout his career, but with his pieces being featured in exhibits around the world, and a coffee table book of his art in the works, the Los Angeles native is making a name for himself in the galleries as well as the mic booth.
ďEverybody canít say they love their job, but I can actually say that,Ē he said. ďI love the craft, I love to paint, itís something Iíd be doing if I was homeless or rich in a palace on top of a hill. Itís the same way with writing rhymes, I just feel really blessed that Iím able to take care of my family with the art form, with my talent and identity.Ē
Now in his forties, 2na has long been a strong supporter of all the different elements of hip-hop culture, from graffiti, to rap, to DJing and breakdancing. Itís that respect for the history of hip-hop culture he feels is missing from the younger generation of MC today.
ďI think the public eye has strayed away from the traditional aspects of what we call the culture of hip-hop. Itís just focused more on what rap is. I feel like the only way kids who are born into this craft, born into this culture, and donít know the world without hip-hop, they donít know the world without Internet, and have never really heard of an encyclopaedia, these types of kids need to be taught the values of hip-hop and thereís just not a lot of us out there trying to teach that,Ē he said. ďI ainít trying to be some self-righteous cat who is trying to spread what I think everybody should be doing, moreso Iím just saying you donít know your future without your past. Show these kids exactly where all of this stuff came from and let them make their own mind up.Ē
One thing the young hip-hop heads at this yearís Coachella Festival were definitely nostalgic for was a taste of Jurassic 5ís energetic live show, the first performance by the iconic group since they disbanded seven years ago. Fittingly enough, it was a piece of advice from the leader of another one of rapís most celebrated crews that led to J5ís reunion, according to 2na.
ďWhat prompted it was Chuck D, who said it best. He told me that one day the group itself, not any individual member, but the J5 brand would take on a persona of its own, and it will tap you on the shoulder and tell you itís ready to be paid attention to again. I was like ĎGet outta here, man!í Heís like ĎThatís what happened with us. We were all doing our different stuff and all of a sudden Public Enemy tapped me on my shoulder,íĒ he said. ď(Jurassic 5 has) been doing very well, just trying to gel and get our chops back, you know what Iím saying? The world still really wants to check out what we were doing back in those days. It feels good to put the jacket back on.Ē
Chali 2na performs live at the GLC Friday (Sept. 13) at 9:30 p.m. with special guests Kayo. Tickets are $20, available at the GLC, Billabong and www.ticketzone.com.