After 20 years of East Coast hip-hop dominance, fans of the Wu-Tang Clan are quick to associate their existence with the streets of Shaolin (i.e., Staten Island). But as one of the pre-eminent producers of the Wu's worldwide rap syndicate Killa Beez, Las Vegas and California dweller Supreme I-Self is more than happy to contribute his gritty beats and rhymes from the suburbs of Sin City. In fact, it's the peacefulness of a neighborhood outside of the glitzy big-money debauchery that inspires him the most.
"It's surprising that there's so much stuff there to do outside of the Strip," he says. "There's waterparks, hiking, fishing, and there's snow in Mt. Charleston, so you can go snowboarding. There's a whole world outside of the Strip that I never would have known when I was just performing there as an artist. It's great."
Though he's played a role in working directly with members such as Method Man and RZA, Supreme isn't a household name. But that doesn't mean he hasn't experienced success. When he's not zipping across the country to play shows or maintaining a Las Vegas residency, he's in the studio, helping to craft songs.
Born Lamont Compton, Supreme always balanced producing with emceeing. He experienced tepid success with his earlier groups, including an aborted deal with Arista Records.
For the better part of the past decade, Supreme has quietly been working on Supreme Life, his first solo album. After seamlessly gliding in and out of projects outside of Wu-Tang–including those with the likes of Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg and even Dr. Dre's legendary Detox that has yet to see the light of day–the time finally came for him to release his own album.
"Time passes, and you take on so many projects that you write and record all these songs, then another project comes up," he says. "Then when you're finally ready to put something out, another two or three years will pass before you even realize what happened. I've had it done, then I was fine tuning it and adding a song here, removing a song there. Finally, I got to the point where I had to stop and say this was the record."
In addition to the straight-forward hip-hop he's often associated with, Supreme blends elements of guitar rock and electronic dance music on this album. Though this is his first solo recording as an MC, he says he has at least three additional albums' worth of material ready to go.
Next Wednesday, he'll be performing at Proof Bar's Ninth Anniversary Party as part of his Wordovmouth biweekly night.
What drives Supreme is a sense of community and the necessity to teach through his lyrics. Whether that means eating healthier, exercising or educating oneself (he holds a business degree from UC Berkeley), the rapper believes people can push themselves to be better, even if it means cutting down on their lavish lifestyles.
"Just because you have a mansion doesn't mean you have to have gold toilets," he says. "You don't need to have dumb excessive shit when you can feed people. You don't need tens of millions of dollars. You can take money and start a foundation, or give it to a charity and help people. Everything we do can be better, and as MCs, we need to be responsible and teach and to encourage people through music, since they will always respond to the truth and live a supreme life."
Supreme I-Self performs at Proof Bar's Ninth Anniversary Party at Proof Bar, 215 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 953-2660; www.proofbar.com. Wed., 8 p.m. 21+. Free admission.