By Daniel Kohn
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A veteran of OC hip-hop groups 2 Drunk'n Poets and Seekret Socyetee, V.I.T.A.L. Emcee—alias of Noel Vinson—is stepping out on his own. Last month saw the release of the conscious rapper's debut The Secret of the Invisible Man.
OC Weekly:Does V.I.T.A.L. stand for something specific?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee:There are three of them, but the main one is Visionary Intuition Tapping All Levels.
What are the other two?
Other people have made these up. They are Victorious in the After Life and Virtually Impossible to Annihilate Lyrically. I prefer the one that I chose.
So what's your story?
In grade school, I would rap. It was just something that's always attracted me. But I grew up with metal. My stepdad listened to metal. He was a born-again Christian at the time, so it was a lot of Christian metal, but he also listened to Judas Priest. I know their whole catalog. People would probably want to kill me for this, but once I heard DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Parents Just Don't Understand," it was strictly hip-hop. But I'm a person who likes everything. And I believe that hip-hop embraces everything.
I have to ask every rapper this. Do people dismiss you because you're from Orange County and you create hip-hop music?
There are definitely people like that, but I want to embrace everything that has made me as a person and an artist. You are a product of your environment, and I grew up in Orange County. As far as people naysaying—I dare them to listen. Your location doesn't define who you are. I want to transcend barriers. I have no problem with saying that's where I'm from, but it's also not something that's going to limit or hinder what I'm trying to do.
Who are your favorite local bands and musicians?
The RX Bandits, they're one of the most talented bands I've heard. There's this group called Sinizen. They've got that reggae/punk/ska thing going on. After Miles. Hip-hop-wise there's a group called the Messengers, and also Technicali, Last Writes, May Lay, the Optimist.
What's your day job?
I work at Guitar Center.
As a rapper, do you get treated differently at a place that's so rock-oriented?
It's funny. I'm the only rapper there. But I got a guy in a Metallica cover band saying he digs my album.
Do you see a difference between mainstream hip-hop and underground hip-hop?
The mainstream stuff doesn't really do much for me. I have a little bone in my body for that stuff, but it doesn't really inspire me. I want to hear something that makes the wheels of my mind turn. There is a lot of hip-hop that does that, but it's mainly "underground." I like the vibe and the energy that the mainstream might have, but the message and the content don't stimulate me. I'm trying to bridge the distances between the mainstream and the underground, meaning you can still bob your head to it and have a good time to it, but if you actually listen to things I'm saying, there's more going on than just, "shake your ass," or "I've got these cars and look at all these bitches I have." That's just not my nature.
The term "conscious hip-hop" is thrown around a lot describing rappers like you.
I think "conscious hip-hop" is a good term. I don't like to label anything because once you place a label on something, you kind of limit it. As far as "conscious," it's being conscious of who you are. This is who I am, I'm not a character, and I'm going to tell you my trials and my tribulations. It's therapeutic and it's cathartic.