Interview: I Self Devine

I Self Devine (Minneapolis)
Published in The Pulse of The Twin Cities
By Kandis Knight

Kandis: What does an artist like yourself currently bump in your CD player? I Self Devine: I am listening to the instrumental beats for my next album. Beyond that I would say anything from De La (De La Soul), Curtis Mayfield, Coltrane. I collect a lot of records, I listen to a lot of older music, mid ’80s rhythm and blues, early Hip-Hop.

Kandis: How long did it take to complete The Emperor and The Assassin?

I Self Devine: The Emperor and The Assassin went through different phases. First and foremost Akiem and I weren’t living in the same city so we had to go back and forth with all of that, actual recording time two weeks and a month or so of actual mixing down and mastering. The album has been finished for a year and a half though.

Kandis: Why did it take so long to release it?

I Self Devine: Just trying to observe the interworkings of RSE [local Hip-Hop record label Rhymesayers Entertainment]. We were trying to get more qualified staff. RSE has a small group of people.

Kandis: What would you say sets The Emperor and The Assassin apart from your other releases?

I Self Devine: I would say Obelisk Movements was more commercial in that it reached more people outside of Minneapolis and Atlanta. Obelisk Movements was made purposely for the heads who check for Hip-Hop though. Obelisk Movements was an album that was made in 2000 but could have been made in 1988. Those were the aesthetics of that album, it was definitely more dense, more complex. Obelisk Movements was more like Marshall Law. With Emperor and The Assassin we were more interested in individual people who made up the movement The Emperor and The Assassin will be more personal to people. The original title of the album was The Emperor and The Terrorist but prior to 9/11 we changed it because we didn’t want people to think we were trying to tie the album into that event.

Kandis: For those who are not necessarily “old school,” The Micranots have been around for a long time. As you watch Twin Cities Hip-Hop evolve what are your hopes for the local scene?

I Self Devine: There is a lot more division now versus how things were here back in the day. Now you have your white Hip-Hop and you have your black Hip-Hop, it is not as cohesive as it once was. In the early ’90s people were performing everywhere because there was more support. I have saw a lot of emcees go crazy and loose, emcees who were really good and should have made it. They just burned so bright and so fast and their fan base couldn’t catch up to them, they were literally ahead of their time and the city was not ready for them. That was one of the reasons why we left for Atlanta. It was good that we left because there was a glass ceiling here and artists could only get so far.

Kandis: What is it like being a part of RSE?

I Self Devine: It is a family. We left for Atlanta in 1994 and when I came back in 1996 the vibe at RSE was different, it was like a second coming. Things changed you could tell it was changing. The age range, the class and the color of Hip-Hop changed in this city, the entire climate changed. When I came back in 1996 I made a conscious effort to become a part of RSE. I said to myself “These people right here are going to play a big part in shaping Minnesota Hip-Hop.” And we wanted to be a part of that, a lot of things had changed and we wanted to add to that “cultivation” of local Hip-Hop.

Kandis: Who were some of your favorite old school local crews?

I Self Devine: Eloquent Pheasants, there was a collective called Rap Steady, there was The Metro Unit, Mixed Breed. Mixed Breed and Metro Unit were the groups that Eloquent Pheasants and the Micranots came out of. At the time Truth Maze, Society, Much Words, Hidden Rhythm and Ground Zero were all in the Mixed Breed and in the Metro Unit it was Akiem X, Squeek, Baby Professor (Ace), Fulfeel and myself. Truth Maze came to The Metro Unit and joined Akiem and myself and we formed the Micranots. These groups were as good as national acts back in the day they just didn’t have the market or a scene to support their work.

Kandis: How old are you?

I Self Devine: I will be 32 this year.

Kandis: What messages do you hope people derive from The Emperor and The Assassin?

I Self Devine: I wanted to show the conditions we grew up in. I came to Minneapolis in 1989 from Los Angeles. People ask me why am I Afro-centric or why am I so political. It has a lot to do with the things we saw growing up that shaped our ideals and goals. I grew up in L.A. the epicenter of the crack trade and gang warfare during the Regan era so naturally I have a lot to say. I witnessed shit firsthand and I saw how it destroyed lives and killed people. Hip-Hop was an alternative to gangs for us. Through our music we always want to show our background.

Kandis: What is your favorite song on the album?

I Self Devine: “Amerikology,” I like the mood of that song. I like the message behind the song. I am an optimist but I am also very skeptical. The song is about the perceptions of our government and how people are not informed as to what goes on in the world. Basically everyone outside of America seems to know more about America than Americans. People need to read between the lines. For example, a Senator dies in a plane crash, I don’t see it as an accident but an assassination. This song deals with how I feel about America.

Kandis: So what is the future for the Micranots?

I Self Devine: Well, the way things are looking this will be the last Micranots album.

Kandis: Why do you say that?

I Self Devine: Many reasons. Space, different ways of working and the love is not there basically. If the love is not in something you are doing then it becomes really twisted. I feel trapped by the Micranots right now to tell you the truth.

Kandis: Will you go solo?

I Self Devine: Yeah. I feel like the Micranots are an entity that are larger than Akiem and I. It is hard to do conscious Hip-Hop nowadays because you either have to prove how conscious you are or how street you are. Right now there are plenty of emcees to talk about this and that and the other. First and foremost I am an artist. Back when we hooked up with RSE, and I was putting out the Semi-Official album, I felt that album captured what Hip-Hop was to me. Now Akiem will go and do production so all you emcees out there looking for production, contact him, and I am going to work on my solo project.

Kandis: Good luck with your future endeavors and we will look forward to seeing you and Akiem reach your next phase.

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