[Interview + Podcast] Evidence talks avoiding the pitfalls of fame, being raised by N.W.A, and why he thinks the world could be a better place

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Coming of age in California in the late eighties, it’s natural that Evidence says he was raised by N.W.A. Their sound dominated the West Coast and epitomized the gangsta rap era. As a teenager, living next to Quincy Jones III and seeing his rap idols right outside his window, it seems like destiny that years later, his own music would come to raise the next generation of West Coast hip-hop heads through the groundbreaking group Dilated Peoples. Forming in 1992, the Los Angeles crew captured the imaginations of the hip-hop underground and managed to survive throughout the years, even as those around them rose and fell from fame. It’s a testament to their longevity that twenty-two years later, the group is back with 2014’s Directors of Photography, an album that sounds as good as — and perhaps even better than — anything they’ve done to date.

We caught up with Evidence to talk about avoiding the pitfalls of fame, growing up on N.W.A, why he thinks the world could be a better place, and much more. Listen to the podcast above and read the full interview below.

TCUS: Since The Come Up Show is based in Canada, I have to draw attention to an interesting fact: you have two JUNO Awards. How did you and Swollen Members first connect?

Evidence: I met Swollen Members at a b-boy summit in San Diego. Madchild had some amazing weed, and at that time, weed wasn’t what it is now. If you had it, you were the man. I had a long drive, and the fifth gear of my car had broken down, so I had to drive back to LA in fourth gear at like 45 miles an hour, and he said, “here, smoke this,” and gave me some amazing weed. That was such a big deal to me that I was like, wow, I gotta hang out with this guy. We started talking, and he told me his favourite rapper was Saafir, and I just felt like this was somebody I should hook up with. He did a video with Jason Goldwatch, who was also [someone] we were working with during our first videos for “Third Degree” and “Work The Angles” back in ’98, so we had mutual friends. He brought me, Dilated, and Aceyalone to Canada for the first time for a show. Ever since then, I’ve been really tight with him.

TCUS: I want to get into a couple musical influences. I watched your Crate Diggers episode and noticed Beatles memorabilia everywhere. What significance do they have to you?

Evidence: I just like [them]. My mom was a Beatles fan; I grew up listening to it, so it holds a special place in my heart. I really like the Magical Mystery Tour album. I know everything on it: “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever”…

TCUS: Speaking of that episode, tell me a little more about “Jam on Revenge” by Newcleus.

Evidence: That was one of the first hip-hop records I heard. I saw people dancing to it on Santa Monica Pier, and the sound coming out of the speakers and what I was witnessing at the time was like sensory overload for me. I was like, what are they doing? What is this? I just couldn’t process it. My mom found out what the song was and got me the tape, and that was a big deal to me. I didn’t really listen to much of the other half of that album; I just kept playing that song over and over again. It was what really made me want to be a part of the culture and was the first rap I memorized.

TCUS: On “Show Me The Way,” you rap about being raised by N.W.A. How influential were they for you growing up?

Evidence: Well, we were all raised by N.W.A. If you’re from LA – and probably [even] if you’re from outside of LA and near my age group or anywhere close, [you were raised by them]. Before that, it was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, because I was getting what MTV and KDAY were presenting to me. I had never heard anything like N.W.A before. It was the first thing I had to listen to that I couldn’t play loud enough, because my parents might hear it. It was shocking and exciting at the same time. Whether we bought the albums or not, we were all – one way or another – raised by N.W.A.

TCUS: Tell me about growing up next to QD3.

Evidence: He was a big producer at the time, the son of Quincy Jones. It was the first time I ever saw how rap music got made. I didn’t understand it up until that point, and he welcomed me into the studio. I was young, so I could go over there and wild out and do whatever I couldn’t do at home. My friends found out he was a rap producer and that big artists were coming through, so they’d come to my house and we might be able to go over to his crib. It was just exciting.

Most people [thought] of producers at the time – this was pre-Kanye West – I didn’t know what a producer was. Even though those dudes were making beats, I just didn’t understand it. I guess Marley Marl was probably one of the first artists that had his own album saying “I’m an artist,” but prior to that, producers were behind the scenes like an engineer or anybody else. They weren’t the star. But for me, to start to see it from QD3’s eyes, I saw it as more of a party, because he would chill at home and rappers would come through, they would leave, he would stay working on the music, and he was having fun. He was scoring the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and doing all this stuff, so it just made me understand production. It was my first introduction.

TCUS: What kind of artists did you see come through the studio at the time?

Evidence: A lot of people. I saw Ice Cube, I saw Everlast, I saw Too $hort… people that I had their albums, right next door to my house. I couldn’t bother [QD3] every time someone came over, so sometimes I’d just peek through my window, or I’d see them leaving or pulling up in there, and I’d just be like, damn. Sometimes he’d bring me to the studio with him, and I’d see him working on something [while] Ice Cube was in the next studio all night, coming in and checking out what he was doing. At the time, Ice Cube was the best, so it was a trip. A lot of times when you get to meet your heroes, by the time you get to meet them, they’re not in their prime anymore, and they’re not the person that you loved them for. They’ve grown up, or they’ve moved on. But hanging out with Ice Cube and to see him next door to my house in his prime – with the Jheri curl – was pretty amazing.

TCUS: What was your biggest “wow” moment from meeting one of these guys?

Evidence: The Pharcyde. Redfoo – from LMFAO, the dude with the big hair – was a big rap producer. His father is Berry Gordy, and I actually introduced him to QD3, so that’s how Quincy Jones’s son and Berry Gordy’s son became friends, which is crazy. They’re both half-Swedish. It’s like they were long-lost brothers. But he went through a lot of stages before he was in LMFAO. I hooked him up with my friend Joey Chavez, and they made this remix of the Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” – or one of those songs – right back when Pharcyde was poppin’. I was really into [them].

We went to the studio, and I was sitting on the couch while they were working. All of the Pharcyde came in the studio, and I didn’t have any weed, and they were smoking all this weed, and dude was like, “why aren’t you smoking?” I was like, “I don’t have any.” He said, “come here, put out your hand.” I put out my hand, and he put this big green bud in my hand, like, “now you’re the man!” [Laughs] At the time, I was 14 or 16, so you can imagine [how cool it was].

The other [big moment] was hanging out with B-Real, because The Whooliganz – who were Alchemist and Scott Caan’s group – went out with [Cypress Hill] on tour. [I remember] B-Real pulling me aside one night in the club and giving me the Cypress Hill link, like “yo, rock this.” You know what I’m saying? Little things like that. You just do a nice gesture to be cool, but you don’t realize how inspirational that is. So anytime somebody wants an autograph or wants to talk, I try to do it, because even if I’m not realizing, it might mean something to somebody. The little things always stay with you.

TCUS: Your Dilated Peoples album, Directors of Photography, came out back in August. I want to get into a couple quotes off of this record. I’ll start with one from “The Dark Room.” You rap, “This body’s grown up and still clinging to these kids’ dreams.” Tell me about that line.

Evidence: I guess when you’re getting older, you say, “I still feel young.” I hear people say, “well, I don’t feel like I’m 90.” [Laughs] It was just yesterday, right? I guess it’s just more of that. My energy is still pretty [full]. I’m a creative person. I don’t have [any kids], so I wake up and make my beats every say, still do everything I did [when I was younger]. I’m kind of living an adolescent life in a lot of ways, you know? So you look in the mirror sometimes and you’re like, damn, that’s crazy! I don’t feel the way I look. Even though I look amazing [laughs].

TCUS: In another song, “Cut My Teeth,” you talk about your history of being a graf artist and tagging. What’s the best piece you’ve ever done?

“I remember how it all began/ I used to switch graffiti tips on cans with both hands/ No chance, I knew they couldn’t stop this rush/ Our bus bench was a stop, and they ain’t stoppin’ the bus.” – Evidence on “Cut My Teeth”

Evidence: Damn, I don’t know. I think when you’re doing pieces, you think every one’s the one, you know what I mean? It’s just like in music or in anything else you do. When you look back, time will tell. I really don’t know; I’ve never thought about that.

TCUS: What about the best spot you’ve hit?

Evidence: You know, more than a crazy spot, probably like the little newspaper thing or a pole that just never went away after 10 or 15 years. Just a straight permanent, you know? You did all this crazy shit and hung off all this wild stuff and ended up getting busted two weeks later, and then you have a sick little pole tag or a bus bench that just won’t go away.

TCUS: Here’s a quote from “The Bigger Picture”: “Shit, they shot a Beatle, do people still imagine?/ I think the world could be a better place.” Can you dig into that?

Evidence: I do think the world could be a better place. Especially if you’re on Twitter and see the world unfolding by people’s texts. It’s like news 24/7, you know? I quit watching the news on TV, but ironically I’m on Twitter and there’s more news than anywhere else. Sometimes I’m just like, humans are crazy. I don’t want to get too deep right here, but I do think it could be a better place. To do better, I try to be better: feed the squirrels in the morning, ride my bike places instead of driving, smoke weed, drink coffee, and try to eat okay. As long as I’m putting good energy out there, that’s what I can do to make the world a better place.

TCUS: In “Good As Gone,” you rap, “what’s fame? A thin line.” In “Let Your Thoughts Fly Away,” you rap, “in the line of fire is fortune and fame.” Tell me about the connection here.

Evidence: I think I’m saying the same thing twice, just different ways. It’s like this crazy little tipping point. You don’t realize it. You can be applying pressure, pressure, pressure, and nothing happens, and then just one little push, and the whole wall falls down. It’s crazy. I’ve seen a lot of people go up and go down – shitty on the way up and nice on the way down – and learning from that, [I’ve found that] certain choices I make could literally put me over the edge.

“What’s fame? A thin line. I’ve been thinking/ Walking over the edge, but keep blinking/ Taking two steps back to my zone for no reason/ Call it comfort, and that is not the best for my art.” What I’m saying is, I could easily push over that line and try to go pop or do something I’m not comfortable [with], but comfort is not the best for my art. It’s this trick line: do I go for it and go out of my comfort zone, and walk into something I know isn’t cut out for me? Or do I stay in my zone of comfort and be safe? I think every artist goes through that.

TCUS: You’ve been in hip-hop for quite awhile, and you’ve been able to see people come and go. What do you think the key for you has been to not cross that line? How have you maintained longevity and also avoided falling victim to some of the pitfalls of fame?

Evidence: I just love music. I love doing it. I take photos, and I love doing it. Lately, I’ve been getting paid to do some photo stuff, but I never thought about that when I was just shooting on Instagram. I never thought about the money; I just wanted KRS-One to know my name. You live at home, you don’t have bills yet, your motives are more pure [back then]. I always revert back to that. I think about what I felt like going over to QD3’s, or what those real moments were like.

Having people I model myself after like Gang Starr [has helped], or always thinking about what made me want to do [this in the first place]. Reverting back to the blueprint. The architecture might be different, but the building is still solid underground, and that’s all that matters. Growing up in Hollywood, seeing a lot of famous people, being around famous sons and daughters [and] not being so desensitized by it, seeing Beat Street and Wild Style but then also having Venice Beach there… the movie was real life to me; it wasn’t like I just saw that on the screen and then lived in a cornfield or something.

I’ve seen a lot of people experience it, so it’s not like some big pot that I can’t touch. I’ve also had a lot of encounters with it. But for me, if you could go really pop and all that stuff by doing the kind of music that I like, then I’d be all the way pop. It’s just the music that you have to do to be popular all the way is not genuinely what I love, so I just take it as it comes.

TCUS: I have two pieces of advice I want you to expand on. The first is this: “Never get too excited when you win, and don’t get too down when you lose.”

Evidence: Yeah. [Recites lines from “You”]: “One’s a lonely number, two is the first loser/ So how the f—k can you win? Become a drug abuser.” [Laughs] [You’ve got to] have balance.

TCUS: Here’s the other piece of advice: “avoid the unhappy and unlucky.”

Evidence: Great word of advice. Some people have bad luck – you might not be able to figure that out right away. But avoid the unhappy for sure, because life is short and energy is contagious. You can literally get sick from bad energy – it can turn physical, just by not having the right energy around you – so try to find people who enjoy the whole day, not just the latter half of it. Don’t hang out with anybody you wouldn’t want to eat a meal with.

TCUS: What’s something that you haven’t done yet that you would still like to do?

Evidence: Just keep getting better. Most people start young and they’re the best when they’re young and don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders yet. They haven’t experienced the hardship of life, so they’re really free to write. They have a lot of time to dedicate to it. As you get older, it seems like life gets in the way, and because of that, I think people fall off. I don’t think people forget how to rhyme ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ or clap their hands to a kick or snare, you know what I mean? You [just] get less motivated and because [of that], you do less. Before you know it, someone slides right up in your spot, and that breeds lack of confidence and that spot [disappears].

With me, I’m at a place in life where I’ve worked really hard, I’ve got my house I wanted, I’ve got my car I wanted, I’ve got the little things I wanted, and I’m in a zone where I can really create right now and practice my craft. The weight of the world [has been lifted]. I dealt with my mom passing away and some real heavy things, and if I can get through [those things], then boom, there’s room. Staying hungry, listening to people like Fashawn and new kids, as well as the classics, will always keep the balance for me. I just feel like if I can get better [at photography], why can’t I get better on the mic?

If you have the desire, what’s stopping you? Most people’s answers are, “I gotta feed my kid,” or “I gotta do this,” but I’m finally getting to a place now where I’m okay in all those situations. I don’t have kids. I’ve been working hard, so [I’ve got some] money. I feel like I have room to create without the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, I’m looking at the world optimistically. I can improve if I have the desire to improve.

TCUS: When all is said and done, what do you want your legacy in hip-hop to be?

Evidence: Getting better. [I want] the end of the catalogue [to] kill the beginning of the catalogue.

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