La Habra MC Awol One Cleans Up His Act for His New Album

Hours to Go
La Habra MC Awol One is cleaning up his act but not slowing down

Awol One talks in a wheezy, stoner-dude voice, one that is friendly and cordial but speaks to hard living. Approximately halfway between Cheech N Chong and the Great White North, its inflections imply both street smarts and an affable politeness.

The 35-year-old rapper, whose real name is Anthony Martin, was born in East LA to a Portuguese father and an Irish mother. He has lived for years in La Habra, where he recorded the bulk of his new album, Owl Hours, his second collaboration with Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, producer Factor. But more than anything, Awol is a child of hip-hop, having spent nearly all of the past 15 years recording and touring. He has made music with KRS-One, Kool Keith and his local crew, the Shape Shifters, and he has seven full-lengths to his credit. Though he remains a beloved rap fixture known by most everyone in the game, he lacks a break-out hit and harbors no illusions that one is around the corner.

“I donNt have these delusions of grandeur,” he says. “ThereNs really no big-time. Money comes in clumps, and youNre either going to rap or youNre not. INm just doing it, man.”

Still, if Awol One were going to break out, this would probably be the time. Owl Hours is a tightly produced, roller-coaster ride of an album that serves as an excellent showcase for the MCNs esoteric, existential style. It is executive-produced by rapper/actor/automotive-aesthetics consultant Xzibit, whom Awol One became acquainted with when he was 19. “There was this open-mic thing in LA, and we met when we were smoking outside,” he says. “[Xzibit] had just moved to LA from Albuquerque, so he didnNt really know too many people, and we just connected. We used to roll around in my truck and smoke weed and listen to beats.”

Has Xzibit ever pimped one of his rides? “INve driven in a couple of his whips, but INm still driving my 2003 Toyota Corolla,” he says with a chuckle.

Awol One adds that Xzibit had a somewhat-hands-off approach on Owl Hours. “A few of the songs we did together in the studio, but mostly, I did something, and then brought it to him,” he says. “He had a lot of input on the sequence, and he came up with the name of the album.”

Owl Hours refers to the MCNs propensity for late nights. In the past, he says, he spent the bulk of them getting as high and drunk as possible. “I didnNt really give a fuck about tomorrow,” the MC says. “That wasnNt my style.” But now, with a 14-year-old daughter, he says thatNs no longer an option. “Now that sheNs getting older, I definitely want to be somebody that sheNs proud of. I kind of had an epiphany. I never even thought INd ever get to be fucking 35 years old.”

Part of his maturation process has been expanding his hustle. Awol One now co-helms a company out of his garage called Soundclash, which designs and manufactures hip-hop-themed skateboard decks ( “My roommate, Scott Weber, had a skate distribution company,” he says, “and he asked me out of the blue, ‘Yo, man, want to make some Awol skateboards?N I said, ‘Why donNt we do a whole hip-hop/skate company? I know pretty much every rapper you can think of, and INm sure they would want skateboards, too.”

The outfit now sells decks featuring underground MCs such as Devin the Dude, Pigeon John and indie supergroup Living Legends. “ItNs not a big-time thing, but itNs some grassroots shit, and people are hyped on it,” Awol One says, adding that it helps him to cobble together a living. “I donNt have a job. I tour, I do a lot of custom artwork for people, and I design skateboards. Between those three things, I do pretty well. I get by.”

His touring will take him as far as Dresden and Paris this summer, but while previous sojourns were an opportunity to act like a jackass, he says heNs now able to keep himself under control. “INve learned now that I can tour and not be a drunken mess or be on anything. I can treat it as a business,” he says, adding that most everything is coming into focus for him these days.

“I came to the realization that INm still alive,” he says. “I looked around and saw INve got all sorts of good shit still around me.”

Awol One can be found online at Owl Hours is out now.

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