Issue 52 (2003)
Once the new LP hits stores Rasco and his partner in rhyme Planet Asia (who together form the underground duo, Cali Agents) will begin working on the follow up to their highly successful collaboration, “How the West Was Won.” With the bar for success raised Rasco and Asia have already started planning on how they can make the new album bigger, better, and more focused. On West there was no going home to work on verses, Asia and Rasco would just hit the studio with something to drink and smoke and did the writing and song development right on the spot. This time Rasco plans on switching up the method.
“We’re going to sit down and conceptualize the album a little bit more,” assures Cali Agent #1. “[On the first one] we just wanted to say whatever we wanted and it didn’t really follow any lines. This time around we’ll probably do three tracks with different people and I know for sure we will definitely get bigger name producers and that will make the record different. I already have beats from people I’m saving for Cali Agents and he’s doing the same, but as far as writing I want us both to be stable, either me in L.A. or him here so we can put the album together. I’m looking forward to it to see what we come up with. On this one we already talked about doing something that people ain’t really expecting from us and with me and him that’s concept stuff. I think this one is going to be more of a challenge to come together on songs about what I want to talk about and that he wants to talk about.”
“It’s gonna be real stupid this time,” spits Planet Asia speaking on his upcoming Cali Agents collaboration with Rasco. “We gonna flip it around a little bit. The beats are gonna be a little bit thicker and better. It’s just gonna be a fresher record. Last time we just had to hit emcees over the head and let them know that there are some new cats [on the scene] and we’re not like none of ya’ll. [This time] it will be more conceptualized and it’s getting more conceptualized by the day.”
Though there is about a seven year age difference and the emcees possess radically different personalities their styles seem to somehow homogenously blend together on wax. Rasco plays the elder statesmen and generally provides a calming influence to the younger, wilder Asia. While Asia’s machine like work ethic and top notch flows raise the rhyme bar and brings the best out of Rasco. Instead of clashing, conforming or competing with each other the two emcees understand that they both bring something unique to the table and respect each other’s music and style.
“[Rasco’s style] is like upright rap, but not soft, it’s barber shop haircut rap, get your shit lined up and all your pants ironed,” remarks Cali Agent #2. “He’s like a general. He got the authority type rap. Rasco’s a straightforward person when it comes to his voice. His shit sounds like a train going straight. He’ll find a pattern and stick with it when he’s writing a rhyme. I think he represents the era of hiphop I like as far as the people in his age bracket. [We work well together] because we the cats that come from that golden era, but in two different age brackets because he was in college and I was in high school and we were doing the same thing at the same time.”
The two have known each other for years before Cali Agents was even a real possibility. Rasco peeped Asia doing his thing with his Skhoolyard crew back in Fresno where he always stood out amongst the group. The two started writing together and built a relationship culminating in Asia’s appearance on “Take It Back Home” off of Rasco’s first LP. They worked so well together Asia decided the two should work on a full album and came up with the Cali Agents name and concept.
“I don’t know where I got that name Cali Agents from, it just came to me I don’t know how I came up with that but it’s old,” states the twenty six year old emcee. “Rasco don’t know, but Cali Agents is just a made up name when I was in my first group. It was a group out of the Skhoolyard called 3rd Element. It was me, Shake, and Khemet and we all had like side names. Shake had the Powertree Committee and I was like yea I got the Cali Agents. Me and Rasco wasn’t even planning on being a group at that point and time, but I always had that name Cali Agents cuz I thought it would be a dope name. So when we started doing our thing I was like yo we gonna do a record and be the Cali Agents.”
While the two are excited to begin working on the new Cali Agents project, Asia has some unfinished business to tend to. His new album, “The Grand Opening,” will soon be hitting the market to provide the streets with anthems filled with hard beats and lyrics. Production will be coming from Supa Dave West, Jake One and Architect and to ensure that the best album would be put forth his new label also gained access to his previously recorded collabos with Wu Tang banger Ghostface Killah and DPG Alumni Kurupt. Independent label Avatar Records saw a golden opportunity with Planet Asia and quickly signed him to become the label’s first artist.
“It was a good situation,” remarks Asia speaking on why he chose to sign with Avatar. “I could put out the type of music I want and get a cool little promotion behind it. That’s all I really needed with the type of audience I have. I’m a developed artist a lot of these other cats need artist development. I develop myself. I try to let the labels know that it ain’t even about the music, it’s about how you make my shit look [because] people don’t even give a fuck [how it sounds]. If your appearance is straight I already know how to rock my shit. I did a lot of footwork and I think that’s what’s really getting people. I got them anxious.”
Avatar has made Asia their top priority. The label has just as much invested in him as he does in them. The Los Angeles label plans are to market Asia as their flagship artist and are doing everything they can to make sure the album is a success. Avatar, albeit a much smaller label than his previous home at Interscope Records, provides Asia with the backing and support that he felt he needed and deserved. In two years with the major label Asia only released one single. His album, “Life As it Is,” was scheduled for release in 2002, but was eventually put on the backburner and slid lower on the label’s order of importance. “You would get your studio budget, but then if you weren’t coming with Dre or Timbaland nobody was listening so I had to leave that situation,” remarks Asia.
Over the years after having dealt with several labels Asia has definitely been schooled on how things in the industry work. He realized that sometimes in order to be successful in this business you have to conform a little. As a former member of the Nation of Islam and current student of the Nation of God he understands there are messages to be delivered and lessons to be learned and that the music can be one of the best tools to do so.
“It’s all a way of teaching people and approaching people,” Asia remarks on the ideas behind the Nation of God. “It’s really a life thing its not really no rap shit. You have to do a lot of contradictory when you’re making hiphop music. [Because of that] you’re not gonna hear me hella coming out of the book of life rhyming because I know how people think. [When] you’re established I think that’s when you should deal with that. Coming up you can’t do that. Not the way I want to do it. I don’t want to candy coat nothing.”
However, before he can truly open up and drop jewels to the masses he needs to make sure everyone is listening. What’s the best way to do that? According to Asia it involves a little trickery where you give the people a taste of what they think they want. You satisfy the labels and at the same time you get the product into the homes filled with jewels.
“When you want to make that so called hit just put a little water in it and bullshit it,” Asia bluntly states. “That’s it just don’t try hard. Try as less as you can people love that shit. Don’t super think it or make nothing tight. Think opposite goals and just water it down. It’s easy. You do that one that everyone is trippin off of and then you kill em with the real. I call it the Malcolm X theory like in the movie when he let him hit the bruno and then he came back looking for the bruno, but he didn’t have no bruno for him he had them jewels. So you gotta give them a little bit of that pork. Rap is just a tool to be famous where you can actually say something when you have the people’s attention. Feed them their food and once you get their attention then you get them.”
It’s the line between what the streets want to hear and what the labels think the streets want to hear that Asia is trying to merge. By being out in the hoods Asia is in tune with the hood but it’s difficult to get people who are not familiar with the streets to understand what the fans are looking for and what really affects them. For Asia he doesn’t want to make hiphop to relate to the streets he feels the streets and hiphop are synonymous.
“Whatever the streets like that’s what hiphop is. The same things that happen in the streets happen in hiphop. You got brothers building and you got brother killing each other. Everything in the streets is in the music, [but] it’s not the streets telling you you’re not good it’s that the label is scared because they want you to sound like what blew up before you and not even take a chance on being different. So you end up dealing with a lot of one track minded people. Then you got rappers who need to step their game up because you can’t dwell on the past either. It ain’t really about the past, those things [just let you know] what to do and what not to do.”
What those rappers who need to step there game up need to do is not record a track with Asia because he might just embarrass you on the mic if you’re not brining you’re a game. In the past Asia made it his point to shine on everything he could and to this day his whole goal is still to maintain that attention. Asia seems to think it may be even easier these days because a lot of emcees need to get their bars for him to take them seriously.
“A lot of people are wack so [it was like] I didn’t really care who I rhyme with as long as when you hear my verse or my voice it’s fresh,” quotes Asia. “I even secretly did little things on people’s tracks they might not have even caught but they’ll catch it sooner or later. I’ll throw a sneak jab in there because it’s all friendly battling anyway. You can’t let the other person get you. It’s not like a power dis [but a note to] step your game up.”
To Asia the reason why so many emcees need to step their game up these days is because they lack the influences of the generation before them. With so much copycat music flooding the airwaves the upcoming emcees don’t have anything to inspire them.
“The real hiphop comes before we make the music,” explains Asia. “We take stuff from earlier music and that’s how it’s created. Michael Jackson is hiphop because he’s part of our era. I’m one of those babies. By the time I even understood music there was Sugar Hill Gang and Off The Wall, them two things went hand in hand with me and then Rock The Bells came and then Thriller. You listen to LL, but then you listen to Michael Jackson at the same time so he goes hand in hand with hiphop. Today it’s like babies making babies [because they don’t have those same influences].”
Those influences were key in Asia’s development. He always knew there would be a place for him in the hiphop culture but in 4th grade things got specific. LL hit the scene and changed Asia’s world. Once he heard L on the mic he knew emceeing was going to be his trade of choice. He would do covers of Cool J at talent shows and assemblies and absorbed all of the great emcees out at that time and points to that era as the whole reason he rhymes to this day.
“LL, Rakim, Fresh Fest, Run DMC that golden era made me want to rhyme,” explains Asia. “Before that we were just breaking and pop locking being kids. But when Rock the Bells came out it got real. I was living hiphop and found something I liked out of it. Other than that I would be a strong supporter or fan. I think that’s one part of hiphop people don’t recognize, the people who just enjoy hiphop, enjoy looking at graffiti, enjoy listening to the music and enjoy watching people dance. That’s what creates the person doing it you gotta be exposed to something first. I was exposed to it all. Hiphop is like in my DNA.”