Apparently, the Typical Cats is a new project from people that already have a long hip hop career in Chicago. What's the story of each of you?
Denizen Kane: my story, well, I started writing shitty rhymes in 4thgrade. I had just heard Raising Hell by Run DMC. Then, 1988-’89 were pivotal years. I bought 3 Feet High and Rising, Nation of Millions, By Any Means Necessary. I was kind of reclusive until I was about 17. That’s when i started going to poetry open mics, where I met cats who I do poetry with. Later, I met the Typical Cats crew, and the rest is history in the making.
Qwazaar: my story begins around ’88 or ’89, when NWA and DOC came out. I used to freestyle a long time ago, but I didn’t really get into it until NWA, Cube, and DOC came out. I got even more serious about it and started writing after I heard the Black Sheep album. Flavor of the Month, one of my all time favorites-- I appreciate rhythm like that. I took it on to high school. I went to Dunbar on the Southside of Chicago and met a lot of people there, like No Pity Committee and Chirock. And there, that’s when I met members of the Outer Limits—Lord Maniacal and Hellsent. We always talked about working on a project, and after we got out of school we made an album that got a good response and a lot of play on WHPK. While I was promoting the Outer Limits album I met up with Dan and DJ Natural at the show.
Qwel: I’ve been rhyming about 3 years, since I was 19. I found rhyming at the right time in my life, with the best people to help me grow, so here we are. I used to go to Navy Pier where they were all rhyming. I ran into this guy Pugslee and me and Pugs started hanging out. I recorded a song with him and Prime and that broadened my horizons. Pugz was the one who brought me to HPK for the first time.
Dan: DJ Nat and I are from New York. I believe he started DJing in 1993, and as the production on our album probably indicated, that was definitely a formative time. We moved to Chicago in 1996 and began hosting the Wednesday Night Rap Show on WHPK, which became a meeting point for the Chicago underground scene because of the music we played and the ill sessions. It was through the show that we all met up, and the album is in many ways of product of the radio show’s larger community.
Denizen Kane used to be Dennis Kim of I Was Born w/ Two Tongues. Why has he changed his name?
Denizen: I’ll say that the construction of self and identity is an ongoing process, and we name ourselves to give ourselves meaning.
Why "typical"? Do you cats really consider you as typical?
Qwel: tuck your pride in cause all lyrics connect at the soul. It’s just language anyway-- the attitude I have about the name "typical" is, I’m not dope, everybody else is just wack.
Qwazaar: personally, I’m a typical individual. I do typical things. I follow my nature, my instincts. I think it fits, it applies to all of us.
Are the Typical Cats just a side project for each of you or can we expect other albums?
Qwel: The Pawnshop album is a side project for me. Typical Cats takes so much energy for me, not drowning in all those flows, I need to do other shit just to relax and unwind. Typical Cats is definitely not just a side project. I got my solo album out; If It Ain’t Been In a Pawnshop, Then It Can’t Play the Blues. I should have a new 12’’on the way and we’re just getting started on the next Typical Cats album.
Qwazaar: actually, it’s far from a side project. It’s just the beginning--we already started working on the second album and we plan to do a lot more in the future. But also, everybody is coming out with there solo projects, I know Qwel and Denn are. My solo just came out on a label called Frontline Entertainment. They work with people like Juice, Slug, O-type Star, and One Man Army.
Apart from Common Sense, Chicago's hip hop scene is mainly known through All Natural andThe Family Tree, Rubberoom, The Molemen and Juice. I know that Qwel features on Ritual of the Molemen. Have you other connections with these people?
Qwazaar: they’re cool people, they really represent Chicago, but nobody’s really affiliated with them, we just support one another. Juice makes an appearance on my solo album.
Qwel: the scene is not so much a location scene. Cat’s that get into battles will run into each other more, and cats that get into conscious stuff will share the same space But yeah you run into these people, we’re too dope for everybody.
Denizen: as far as the groups you mentioned, I really don’t know the Molemen that well. Family tree is real cool, Cap. D and Marcel. That’s all love.
The Chicago hip hop scene has always surprised me for being both highly traditional and highly progressive. This is a definition that applies as well to your album. Do you deny it?
Denizen: you have been analyzing pretty well, that is how we operate. We believe in evolution, not mutation. I love cats that are trying to push the envelope, but we feel that there is something about the heart of boom bap that is essential. So we grow with one foot in that position, and the other toward the next level.
DJ Natural: that is something that we were abstractly going for at the outset. As we made more and more progress in terms of making the album, it became the sound of our music and we were comfortable embracing it. Dan and I have been around for a long time and sometimes miss the feeling of the old stuff, but as a group we are equally determined to push boundaries and explore what the music is capable of doing. Basically, we were trying to restore the possibility of making progressive rap music that also sounds banging and works within the traditions of classic hip hop.
Galapagos4 is one of the most promising hip hop label to appear in the last months. What’s your own involvement in it?
Qwel: they know what I’m capable of and I like our working relationship.
Denizen: those are just some homeboys from Chi trying to put out music they dig. Offwhyte and I became tight, and that’s how I ended up meeting all of them from the G4 family. We had a meeting, talked about some shit, they said we would like to make our record, Qwa fell asleep, and the rest is history in the making.
It’s now time for my standard questions : What is on your playlist right now ? Hip-hop or non hip-hop?
Dan: I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s new album a lot. I picked up Aesop’s album and that L-Fudge record and was feeling both of them. But if you asked me what’s in my walkman right now, it’s the Leaders of the New School’s T.I.M.E. album and I got the Juggaknots in my bag, until I get Qwel and Qwazaar’s on tapes.
Denizen: Bush Babees—Gravity album. I was just listening to Resurrection last night (Common Sense). Ben Harper—Burnt to Shine, that is ridiculous. He is slept on. The new Qwel and Qwa joints of course. I think Jay Z’s album is hot also.
Qwazaar: I got Lauryn Hill, I’ve really been rotating the Black Sheep shit lately. I’m really feeling the Beenie Siegel. I’m pretty much open, there’s a lot of things you can find me listening to.
DJ Natural: I’ve mainly been listening to a lot of old records, looking for samples. I’ve been bumping Qwel’s and Qwa’s solo albums.
What do you know of French hip-hop?
DJ Natural: not enough. I don’t really know that much of the more obscure stuff, but I remember listening to Solaar. So I don’t know that much, but I’m always interested in hearing dope music and I know there’s a lot going on in France. I’ve seen a lot of dope French dj’s. Also, the movie Hate had us really interested. Let us know…
Denizen: wow, I apologize straight up. We all new MC Solaar. La Haine soundtrack. I know of a group called Nique Ta Mere, I also know they were banned and shit. Hip hop is global but we often sleep on each other’s scenes. It’s dope that you guys found us, that’s love. I look forward to learning more about French hip hop.
Qwel: I know about The Family. Those motherfuckers are wicked, it was ugly shit--really good dancing, foot work, smooth as hell. France has some ill graff also. I know they gotta do a lot of work to stay up there. There was some wack shit too. I saw this toy motherfucker that bombed on a beautiful 20 foot tall fountain. I’ll break his arm just for being stupid. I bet he was 16. Anyway…
Qwazaar: French hip-hop, I’m not too familiar with. I just like what I hear. I’m not too familiar with Chicago hip hop, New York hip hop, or any hip hop by name or location. I just like listen to what I like and care about whether its dope or not.
Would you enjoy playing in France? Do you think this would be possible in a short or middle term?
Qwel: oh come on. Hell yeah, I’d like to come out there. Please, don’t even ask, are you offering? Right now, fly me out. I’ll swim and shit, by canoe, whatever.
DJ Natural: yes, very much so. We’re really happy with the way things have been going, and you can be sure that if we fly over 3,000 miles we’re going to rip every show we do.
Most of French people do not understand English lyrics. Does it bother you as emcees?
Qwazaar: no, I don’t believe so. Words are the closest we can get to translating emotions. So if people hear the tones and feel the emotions, I know they feel it regardless. Good music has a universal quality to it.
Qwel: nah man. Just peep everything that I do—it’s about rhythm and soothing sounds. I’m here to chill with you—I know the most relaxing way for your head to bob is when your blown as hell, I’m sure we think alike there. If you feel what I’m doing, we just agree with it. Not even to be cocky, but people who don’t like my music are often people I don’t get along with anyway. That’s my soul, and if you don’t feel that, you’re not going to feel me. Whether were speaking, rolling a joint, playing video games, that’s me. But it shows that your listening to exactly what I’m trying to do. Life has rhythm, that’s what poetry is. Slow down the beat to what stress feels like, when time slows down, and just relate to people.
Sometimes people get lost in the language.
Denizen: no, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. I think that so much of hip hop and mcing has to do with flow and presence it’s a legit experience listening even when it’s not in your native tongue. I dig Japanese mc’s, I don’t know what they are saying. I believe that there is something in the soul of the music that is extralingual—beyond the tongue.
Any final statement or message to end this interview?
Qwel: get off the dick! No, I hope you enjoy the new shit. Qwa’s new shit. Dennis. I’m glad they enjoyed the first one, but we’ve all grown so the music will also.
DJ Natural: peace to Hip-Hop Section, Wax Express, and anybody else in France checking for Typical Cats. We’ve been happy as hell that people have been able to enjoy it out there.
Qwazaar: thanks for all the unexpected support. Hopefully we can come out there and show you all exactly what it is you all like.
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