By Daniel Kohn
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If big-budget hip-hop could translate into Hollywood car chases and heart-attack photomontage, Awol One's economical, matter-of-fact stories of self-assessment would best suit Errol Morris' straight-to-the-camera documentary confessionals (though Awol himself is more a fan of horror movies and certain cartoons). And if he's an emo rapper—as certain magazines so strangely claim—then so is anyone else who ever rapped about what they were thinking about all day—"if they're real with it," he says. "I wish I was more normal/All sick and distorted/I shoulda been aborted," he says on "The Unwanted" (off his new Killafornia EP on Alpha Pup), which sounds pretty stark, but it's a character sketch (outlined with the laconic slow-grow delivery that's become Awol's signature style) and not a pity party: "This is a song about a kid—an aspiring MC, the one you see at every local mic, on his computer in the middle of nowhere." As a guy who grew up in Montebello and was hiking out to Good Life as a young white new guy at age 16—and who now lives in wild La Habra—you can see where he got the idea for the track.
OC Weekly: What kind of ideas for songs does life in La Habra offer?
Awol One: Luckily, I get to travel a lot, so I see a lot of different stuff—I've been subjected to a lot of different lifestyles and people, and that always gives me fruit. There's things almost every day—something like a commercial on the radio or something somebody might say or something I overhear. But I'm so stupid from, like, years of being stupid that I'll think I'll remember it tomorrow and then I don't—I always think I will and I don't!
So there are some lost Awol One classics out there?
Have you spent more of your life with hip-hop than without it?
More than half my life, if you count just deejaying and rapping at parties—I never really thought about it like that.
How has your music changed since you first started, then?
When you're 16, you can't talk about losing your wife or your kid or your job, or having to collect off the government to survive, you know what I'm saying? The older you get, the more you've been through. It gives you the right to say that stuff. And the older you get, the more you've got to say. I hear stuff from kids who do records, and while some of it's good, it's like—don't talk about it till you've been through it.
How did becoming a father change your songs?
Before I had a daughter, I viewed women totally differently. Like growing up listening to gangsta rap and shit, you view women a certain way. But now that I have my daughter, I'm like, "I don't want other guys talkin' about my kid like that!" For sure it's eye-opening—at Christmas, you've got other people to worry about besides yourself. It's not like going out and playing the bar for free drink tickets. You gotta worry about mortgages and car insurance and making sure your kid stays in dance class.
Have you been able to get any of your music in cartoons or film yet?
I totally dig on the background music of movies—I feel eventually I could maybe score some cheesy horror movies. Definitely the cheesier, the better.
So you're not approaching the Spongebob people?
Actually, Spongebob is pretty sick—I'd love to score an episode of Spongebob.
Do you listen to your own music and think, "This would work really well withSpongebob"?
Honestly, I hardly ever listen to my own stuff—I don't know if it's subconscious or what, but I'm not the type of person who drives around listening to their own shit.
Do you know people who do that?
I could name a couple.
Since you've been in hip-hop so long, what life lessons have you learned by now?
Life is a process—you gotta learn everything at the right time. There ain't no Cliff's Notes for life!
AWOL ONE PERFORMS AT DIPIAZZA, 5205 E. PACIFIC COAST HWY., LONG BEACH, (562) 498-2461; WWW.DIPIAZZAS.COM. CALL FOR TIME AND COVER. 21+; AWOL ONE ALSO PRESENTS AN OPEN MIC AT THE LION'S DEN, 200 STATE COLLEGE BLVD., BREA. EVERY WED. CALL FOR TIME.