Breaking From the Pack

Photo courtesy “Gimme one sec—I'm trying to get some gas, and I gotta pick up my wife,” says Wildchild, weaving his car through late-afternoon traffic in Oxnard, a city famous mostly for its sugar beets and—just recently—the Dallas Cowboys Training Camp. The guy multitasks like an air-traffic controller—right now, he's getting gas, running errands, wondering if you can supersize a Happy Meal during a drive-through stop at McDonald's, and doing this little interview. But lately, it's been his solo career by day, wife and daughter in between, and writing hip-hop a cappellas for Madlib after most people have curled up and fallen asleep at night. “I usually write late,” Wildchild says, one hand on the steering wheel. “I never write in the day because I'm usually busy taking care of business.”

Since the early '90s, Oxnard has been exporting hip-hop artists, and most of the boxes stamped “ready to rhyme” end up on the doorstep of LA's Stones Throw Records, a label that only puts it to wax if it's going to bubble up some kind of buzz. Besides Madvillain's Madvilliany—Madlib and MF Doom's current record, turning heads all the way up to The New York Times—Stones Throw presses classic remixes such as Dooley O, old-school funk reissues such as Stark Reality (a record described as “the holy grail of psychedelic jazz funk”), and finally Wildchild, the man who's next in line to become a cult classic like his old friend—and current producer—Madlib.

It's hard to read an interview about Wildchild without Madlib and the Lootpack showing up, but when you're one-third of one of the hottest (and most underappreciated) groups in the underground hip-hop community, it's something you have to live with. And maybe that's not a bad thing at all. Wildchild, Madlib and DJ Romes started Lootpack in the early '90s, their first jab at the hip-hop game since Wildchild and Madlib met as sixth-grade breakdancers in the '80s, back when carrying a boom box and a big piece of cardboard didn't necessarily mean you were homeless. The trio pushed their mix tapes on college radio and eventually caught the attention of Peanut Butter Wolf, a man with taste finely honed after a lifetime spinning records at parties and clubs around the world and who in 1998 released the Lootpack's first EP, The Anthem, on his label, Stones Throw.

But Secondary Protocol is Wildchild's first release as a solo artist, an album filled with songs about his family (“Kiana,” a song dedicated to his daughter) and slightly sarcastic rhymes about the industry, such as “Operation Radio Raid” (featuring LMNO), “where good music and decisions get made” and artists “never had/never will/pay for airplay.” He's got an oddly smooth and mellow voice, even when he's angry about something—think Mos Def if he were a high-school guidance counselor—and he's always got scrumptious beats, courtesy of Madlib (who shares producer credits with younger brother Oh No). Protocol was a chance for him to shine alone after several guest appearances on albums by the Alkaholiks, Quasimoto and Peanut Butter Wolf, as well as on Oh No's new album, The Disrupt.

Protocol—thanks to Madlib and/or Oh No—has an edgy, funk-inspired old-school sound, seamlessly wrapped around Wildchild's energetic rhymes and laid-back, nasal delivery. “Wonder Years” is a classic track with a classic battle-style punch; unlike other rappers who run so fast their words blur into static, Wildchild offers waterproof rhymes you could even sing along with, if you wanted. Vapors magazine says Protocol may take a decade to really get the recognition it deserves.

But Wildchild's already working on his next EP, The Jackal, whose release date has been pushed back to August 2005 because, he says, money is sometimes tight in the independent hip-hop bank. And Wildchild, Madlib and DJ Romes are also laying the groundwork for another Lootpack album, the first since their well-received Soundpieces: Da Antidote in 1999. Still, as a group, they're finding it hard to sit down and lay out a plan. That's one more thing to get done for Wildchild—but now that he's got $20 worth of gas in his tank and a plain cheeseburger Happy Meal with orange drink (not lemonade) for his daughter Kiana, he gets to finish his interview and hang up his cell phone. And he's now got one less thing on his to-do list.

Wildchild performs with Slick Rick, Black Eyed Peas, Big Daddy Kane, Jazzy Jeff, Blackalicious, Murs and Q-bert, plus an MC/Bboy-bgirl battle at the Aquadome (formerly the Spruce Goose Dome), 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Sat.-Sun. Call for times and age restrictions.

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