Ramel Wallace, better known by his stage name Real J. Wallace is a self-taught and native San Diego artist who over the span of the past decade has made the jump from humble neighborhood freestyler to a prominent, local indie Hip-Hop innovator and community leader. Comprising one half of the group Brother Nature alongside fellow emcee and long-time friend Leon St. Heron, his unique blend of classic Hip-Hop storytelling and eclectic style making ample use of incorporating blues, soul and jazz into his music has caught the ears of various fellow artists. Most notably indie label New World Color, which has supported artists in the past such as Aloe Blacc, Blu & Exile, Miguel, and Danny Brown. Since signing in early 2014 Wallace has had the chance to work side by side with L.A. legends BLu and Mainframe. With music featuring the best elements of down to earth humility, cosmic spirituality, and soulful Golden era style production Real J. Wallace kicks a unique perspective chronicling the vivid realities of the common man laced with the esoteric intricacies of the mysterious and the unexplored. Featuring an impressive roster Real J. Wallace has opened for acts such as Jeru The Damaja, Cannibal Ox and most recently a Tribe Called Red. Step Off! Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the Barrio Logan headquartered emcee to discuss the not only the origins of his early life and then-fledgling music career; but, also delve into where he’s at presently music-wise, his thoughts on the wave of gentrification currently taking siege of Barrio Logan and other communities across San Diego, the current state of the Hip-Hop culture as well as what the immediate future holds for Real J. Wallace.
Step Off! Magazine: Thank you for taking to the time to sit down and talk with us. For our readers out there who may not be familiar with your and work please introduce yourself to our readers and let ’em know who you are and what you do. Who is Real J. Wallace?
Real J. Wallace: I’m my momma’s son, I came up with a rapper named Leon St. Heron he was going by BAM CIRCA 86. I made the decision to show my girlfriend that I rapped, my radio was broke, I didn’t have nothing else to do in the car so I started rapping and started bringing my stereo in the car with just beats and it resonated with people. She (my girlfriend) actually ended up telling Leon that I rapped and I just stepped into it. I was good at it, so I kept doing it.
Step Off! Magazine: How did you get into the Hip-Hop scene? You’ve been emceeing and working in the industry number of years now, tell us about your musical influences growing up that inspired you to get into music and actually pursue it as a career.
Real J. Wallace: This year being Below The Heavens ten year anniversary, it takes me time to realize what happened in my life like to really appreciate the memories and all and I’ll be like, “oh shit I started rapping the same year that Below The Heavens came out”. I remember I was working at Macy’s with the homie Allen and we both found out that we both listened to Lupe Fiasco and we both found out we listened to Blu! And then he had invited me to this Blu photoshoot, I was inspired by BLu because Blu said some stuff that will ignite a whole other version of yourself to come out. He’s like saying your inner dialogue out loud and you’re like “What? he thinks like that?”. So I resonated with who he was as a person and plus I loved the rhymes. So I started rapping in 2007, ten years ago when Below The Heavens came out. That has to be a major spark, and then you know when people tell you something that you’re good at you gotta listen to it, that’s part of your journey, part of your path, that’s why people are telling you that because it’s part of your story; so you have to listen to your own story even if it comes out of other people. But, the BLu album coming out and my girlfriend telling people that I rapped in the car when the radio was broke those are two major elements.
Step Off! Magazine: Tell us about your upbringing and childhood growing up here in Barrio Logan. In what ways has the neighborhood molded and shaped the sound of your music?
Real J. Wallace: I mean, everything is very complex, everything, not just where I live at. My Dad was living down here (Logan Heights) so I spent elementary down here and my Mom was living by like San Diego State, like in La Mesa. So I was going back and forth, so the dynamic here was I usually spending the time with my Dad, going out with some of his random girlfriends and stuff just spending the weekends there and it was fun (laughs), also as I got older the more I knew the dynamics. Like, you don’t really know hood dynamics in elementary school, or at least I didn’t. I really hadn’t got to understand, UNDERSTAND them til’ my early twenties; that’s when I began to digest that stuff, I just wasn’t living that type of life. But, even to have to be aware of the certain colors that you’re wearing when you walk two or three blocks is just odd, and its something that as a younger person you just respect like; “ok I ain’t trying to disrespect nothing that’s going on”. I guess it shaped it in the way where it’s weird because I didn’t learn a lot of this stuff until I got older. So it’s weird how like the past astro-projects itself into the future because now I dropped Last Black Man in Barrio Logan and that’s where I really began to connect the dots. I was like, “wait, my great Grandma lived there? And my Mom ended up living there too?”, And then twenty years later Dad ended living there total coincidence. So the family has kind of just been bred from around there, but, going back now and learning that lineage the view looks so crazy. But, it’s amazing to me because everybody’s view is just as spectacular, its just taking the time to say sit down with your Mom, sit down with your Grandma and connect all the dots, because the dots to where you are right now in your current time is fucking crazy how you got there! No matter who you are, it fucking crazy! But, I was at present so fighting for my presence as I got older I slowed down and said: “what was happening my whole life to make who I am today?”. It’s weird, it shaped me then, without me knowing and it’s shaping me now.
Step Off! Magazine: You have deep roots in Barrio Logan, your Great- Grandma, Mom, Dad, Auntie all lived in the same place, do you feel a responsibility to give back to the community and to help especially given what has been happening to a lot of Black and Brown communities with gentrification?
Real J. Wallace: I would feel that regardless, the thing is people don’t know how deep it goes because just as with your own life you have to sit back and look it closely. You have to look at governments and the sanctions that they do, but the main I was trying to slide in there was thing called redlining, so like public housing its interesting to me to look at the dynamics of government and I know I’m a rapper but I’ll be looking at this other stuff too, that’s part of Hip-Hop to me to digest what’s happening in the culture socially. Public housing started with white people, then they changed it around. So they would give white people loans to go build housing and start a business and they could only get the loans if they did a couple of things, one of those things is not rent to Black people. So Black people were subject to be living in certain places, like the coincidence of my family living there is probably because a certain landlord would let them live there and accept it. There was a Black community in Barrio Logan like Oceanview before, and there’s not Black community here anymore. There’s still like Black people scattered around but there’s not a community; the destruction of communities is the bigger monster that I’m trying to poke at. They’re destroying these communities with these government-sanctioned laws, kind of like in the documentary 13th, they’re not just calling you n*****, they that they’ll call you n***** will be redlining or will be gentrification. So realize that that it’s not just a one time action it’s the systematic power to take away give somebody something. It’s very systematic, but being aware of it and saying ‘ok, how can we be even more strategic?’ because that’s very strategic and wicked. But, we have these powers and elements of Hip-Hop, double language, and coding that we can speak through; and if you know it you know it (laughs). You be like ‘He’s killing those bars but boy I know he just said he’s talking on another level right there’. That’s what I think Hip-hop is, Hip-Hop is that code that we’re speaking where it’s metaphors, it’s similes, it’s like they’re telling you how to escape from the master’s plantation. But, if you have to know how to listen and what to listen for. There’s this book I think it’s called The Grey Album and the thing is they’ll tell you the wrong way to go to escape but, if you know then you know they meant to go the other way. Knowing that this path, this music, Hip-Hop I inherited that; so what am I going to do with that inheritance to match with the land that I’m a part of? And make other people aware? I feel like humans are genuinely good they just have to be aware and so many people are not aware of certain things or how they work or what the government is capable of. What they’re capable of as a human. You’re not even capable of understanding how great you are or wicked you are as a human, and you kind of have to surrender to those facts that a lot of it you don’t know and just trying to be as aware of things as you possibly can.
Step Off! Magazine: In recent years especially in Black and Brown communities there’s been a spotlight and emphasis on the spread of gentrification where neighborhoods and communities which have traditionally Black and Brown for generations are essentially being economically whitewashed and the original residents are being displaced due to this phenomenon of reverse white flight. We’ve seen it happen here in San Diego from City Heights to North Park and unfortunately, we’re kind of seeing in creep into Barrio Logan. In a tweet, I saw you point out that “Officially 4 businesses have closed in Barrio Logan over the past month”. Do you believe that’s true that gentrification his having a detrimental effect on the Barrio and what are your thoughts on the issue?
Real J. Wallace: It’s so hard because like on this street (Logan Avenue) I shouldn’t be here. Like twenty years I shouldn’t be standing here. So that’s a miracle in itself, but the displacement of people from their homes that have been here for lineages where it’s not just my story where it was family that started here; it’s a bunch of other people’s stories, that’s why it resonates with so many other people. There has to be a balance where the growth can happen, and if businesses do start to open up here more than they are providing opportunities for the people that are inside of the neighborhood not just outside of it. So I crashed this meeting, I guess it was for the big wigs and the developers. It cost like fifty plus dollars to get in which that stuff I think is kind of fucked-up, to know what’s going on in the community you have to pay. So I saw that a friend of mine was crashing this meeting so I went along to check it out. So they’re trying to guarantee that more residents can be here in general but, with that balance, there’ll be more businesses. And there has to be a balance, I might not have the answer for how the balance is going to happen but I know it has to happen. I’m in the double because I was running The Chrch, the Chrch is closed now I’m one of the four businesses. Mish Mash closed, some cat business they closed, the homie 3D left and then the tattoo shop left. So, although Barrio Logan is developing it’s still in its infancy, a lot the businesses are still developing and we’re still waiting for more people to come down here in general and see what’s going on. And on top of all that we’re fighting against our nature here in San Diego to play things down, the dopest artists be down here and they be playing their performances down! We gotta do like L.A. and play these people up because we have really dope people behind us.
Step Off! Magazine: In another tweet, you also said: “Barrio Logan will be the new downtown and as that happens it will effect the southeast”. For those who might not be from or are familiar with the layout of San Diego can you give a brief description of what you mean by that?
Real J. Wallace: Downtown is very metropolitan, it has a stadium, it has the high rises, it’s very expensive. Right when you go east and under the Coronado bridge you see the dynamics of the city change right there and then you see Barrio Logan. So there’s this economical structure that leads over to Coronado and there’s Barrio Logan, the economical structure will be built by the poor community and then it some ways it’ll destroy it (the community) in the long run, it’ll be a slow death whether it be because NASSCO is down there or because the smog is killing you. So it’s interesting to me because on top of killing you slowly they also separated the community as well. It was a Black and Brown community, Blacks and Browns together like lots of them not just when you go to other parts of San Diego and there be like two other Black people, no it was a full-on community. Other dynamics, drugs pushed the Black community more south to south-east, The Brown community stayed there but it’s developing faster and faster and so is downtown, so as downtown develops it’s going to spill into Barrio Logan. As that happens, that Brown community is going to spill in south-east; and south-east is already going through its own series of things that are putting funding into it and raising the pricing on housing. I think people were mad at me for saying that, like I think it was read wrong like ‘this is what I want to see happen’ it’s like no this IS happening. The same thing that’s happening in Oakland, same thing that started with San Francisco. Gangs are dope, but, the power that white people have is crazy scary! Like you’re not just gonna stop that alone, that takes a whole community sticking together and vocally speaking working together economically, spiritually on all sorts of different types of levels which I’m trying to learn how to do that myself but, it’s hard. That’s not something that I want to see happen, but it’s something that we have to see and look five, six, ten years down the road and say where are we going to be? Right now I’m paying out the ass for the Air B&B, trying to stay up on the business. I feel like the modern person has a job, a side gig and something else. Shit is tough, and is it gonna get tougher in the future? I guess that’s my question, what’s about to happen? But, we gotta keep pushing certain technologies, it’s a blessing I can do Airbnb, so just chasing those new ways to get money and build community at the same time. But I don’t got the answers! (Laughs)
Step Off! Magazine: Do you think that demographic changes and fluctuations are just a natural course and progression of change or is there something more insidious at play when we have modern gentrification?
Real J. Wallace: Oh yea, this is the Hunger Games! All cities are shaped the same way, they’re all shaped the same way just like the Hunger Games. You got like the center capital, then you got district 12, you got the rich district where you gotta have a certain amount money it’s all like that. There always seems to be an economical structure, same thing with the beginning of Hip-Hop. It was economical structures like the subway where people were building these certain things and it was the poor communities that were building them, and at the same time, it was shipping them away to go elsewhere. So there were no jobs, there were no opportunities and out of that mist of darkness and people burning down the Bronx, Hip-Hop got developed. But, you have to look at these certain economical structures are doing to the people that are oppressed and the people that are building them, it’s displacing them every single time. It’s like we’re building our own prisons, and like we’re not even able to be a part of certain things. It’s like we can only build the place, we can’t run them. How can we run them though?
Step Off! Magazine: Now you actually recently released a short film called The Last Black Man In Barrio Logan, which was actually inspired by the Last Black Man In San Francisco, tell our readers what role do you and your music play in fighting gentrification and other outside sources trying to infiltrate the neighborhood and ultimately reclaiming the community?
Real J. Wallace: Well I think it was like two years ago we actually did a project with Parker Edison, Odessa Kane, Leon St. Heron and it was called Reclaiming The Community. All the politics has always been inside of my music in general and that was a platform that allowed me to start a GoFundMe to keep the music studio inside of the Chrch. So that was in the midst of things where we had just lost the Chrch, I had like three or four partners that all went different ways just because of life and I was left running this space for three months and I learned the hard way that I couldn’t do that by myself. So I was in this position where I was like lose it all or come and start thinking of things. And it’s in that midst of not really having anything where you kind of look inside of yourself, you look inside of your experiences as an artist and say, ‘I can create things, I can document my life, and I can tell people what I’ve experienced’. Hopefully, people can learn, if not today then maybe sometime in the future from what I’ve been through. So it’s kind of my purpose to document my life. Sitting there not having nothing really made me realize that, so going back and learning about my family, talking to my mom, calling my sister a little bit more. I’m not the best at those things (laughs) but, every time I do that I get a certain gem and I know I’m not doing this for nothing. There’s a certain path, there’s these coincidences, these miracles that are happening, and I need to remind myself that all of this is not just coincidence. So looking back at Last Black Man In Barrio Logan and seeing my family linage here it’s a reminder that I’m doing the right thing. So hopefully people can get that reminder themselves and just be self-aware and realize that all of these situations have brought us to where we are right now. It’s a gentrification of the land as well, it’s the gentrification of certain job titles, it’s the gentrification of college, it’s the gentrification of more than just material things; it’s the gentrification of occupations. As a Black person you feel like you’re not supposed to have a certain job, or be like, ‘naw don’t do that, that’s some white bullshit’ type of thing. And usually that white bullshit is getting paid more (laughs), and I want the getting paid more part so I can sustain my family and future daughter or business and be able to hand that down to a family. I want sustainability, so people initially think of it as just the land but also the ceiling of what you can do.
Step Off! Magazine: In a tweet, you said that you’re currently in a transitioning moment and that your community work is now surpassing your music work. While music is a very important aspect of your life, do you think it will take a back seat to the community work that you’re engaged in?
Real J. Wallace: I don’t know, I feel like before when I was growing up you couldn’t do two things. You had the Bo Jacksons when they did it, not it’s like I’m going back and forth with it. I don’t know if people can do two things still, because people still pay attention to the one and then they kind of discredit the other things; kind of like the whole Kanye thing where he’s like, ‘I’m a rapper, but I’m a fashion designer’. Now I’m not trying to do that but, I do so much political things, like going out to the schools, I do that so much I might actually be better at it. I may be a dope rapper, but I might be more consistent with that on a day to day basis. I feel like people are noticing that more and they’ve forgot I rap; some people don’t even know I rap.
Step Off! Magazine: Now on the musical end, we’ve interviewed several people in the past and they believe that in regards to attempting to do both roles there’s a push back when they do drop knowledge whether it’s political or social matters. Like people will suggest a book and people get mad that they step outside of that role of just being an artist or entertainer.
Real J. Wallace: Yea, my homie Luis says, “you can’t be a nudist Buddhist”. You can either be a nudist, or you can be a Buddhist. I don’t know I fight with it, I feel like yes you can I think people are fighting with themselves and the idea of a human dynamic. It’s like, you can love your mother, you can be so angry you want to kill somebody; there’s not just one perspective of what a human is. You’re all these certain emotions and go in and out of them. And it’s like a commodity, a commodity is easier to digest if it’s like this all the time. I don’t my perspective to be one dimensional, you don’t have to discredit one thing that I do because I do something else. I feel like people censor themselves (which I have a problem with to) so when you censor yourself from the inside you end up not even knowing yourself completely because you only allow yourself to accept certain thoughts. So you’re limiting yourself from so much of yourself that you don’t even know yourself by the end of it. And it’s hard to turn that into a commodity and say this is what that is.
Step Off! Magazine: So you said that the moment you realized there wasn’t anything you wanted to do more than make music was in high school, now around that time you actually took a poetry class in high school, Grossmont High School to be exact. What role did that play in you wanting to become an emcee and what impact did it have on you?
Real J. Wallace: You know what I was watching a lot of Def Poetry Jam so that’s why I signed up for that class; I was like “I’m gonna fuck these people us!” (laughs). Yea I got into class and we talked about how to write, different ways to write, going into certain subjects. I had this one poem called ‘My Nose Is My Name’ and I performed it in front of the whole audience in the auditorium. It was Black History month and that was huge step because I saw how powerful it was because; I did the poem I think my homegirl Cici and my girlfriend at the time Christina were in the back putting up the black fist and shit it was radical! (laughs) And then towards the end, because we did it three times the last one they (other people) started throwing up the fucking white power sign! like heil Hitler type of shit! I couldn’t even believe it, I was trying to think of their thought process of it and I was like ‘damn’. This hit the people that I didn’t expect my words to affect them that much, I wasn’t even thinking of that other dynamic like, ‘oh shit that just hit them right there!’. I’m like ‘you just walked by me yesterday’ (laughs). But I remember those moments, to be able to perform it and show other people instead of just being in the notebook and watching it on Def Poetry Jam.
Step Off! Magazine: So as you got older, you and your Mom actually progressively moved closer and closer to East County. East County has this reputation of being where all the rednecks and white supremacist element congregate in the county. Was there any sort of culture shock moving out to East County and going to school out there? Because it’s not always blatantly in your face but, when you see it you see it.
Real J. Wallace: I just got back recently from Arizona visiting my Moms and when I came back it was like in a retrospect position. So when I went to Grossmont, I just had this odd anxiety and looking back yes it was very much a culture shock. You just had these people that had been sheltered from the culture, and they didn’t know what to do around Black people. There was a lot of people that did, but, for the majority, it was like ‘time to ask my Black people questions (laughs) and this one’s nice so let me go HAM’. And the questions that you get asked are very interesting, like “Do you bleed black?”. For real, it be the simplest type of ignorance where they don’t even know regular stuff. I was in the dental office when I was younger and this little white girl had come up to me and she was like, “why is your skin so dirty?”. She didn’t even know about Black people (laughs) I remember my Mom giving her Mom the evil eye like, ‘this is the first Black person your daughter seen?’. I was watching James Baldwin the other day and I had never digested or saw when he discusses ‘Who is a n*****?’ thing and he talked about it saying he never understood himself as a n***** so long story short he’s saying they must have been projecting that on them because I’m not a n*****, they must be. I guess one way to digest it is ignorance because that’s another way to digest the word is ignorance. And the education system isn’t doing them any favors, they’re not really teaching them about other cultures. I shouldn’t have to learn about Black people starting at slavery, that’s just the dynamic difference from other people learning about their linages and empires. We’re learning about each other in little snippets like you get a Snapchat fifteen-second clip of other ‘minorities’ and other cultures. But yeah, East county is like that but there’s good people out there I connected with.
Step Off! Magazine: The Chrch, the business you were running recently closed down actually, which served as an event space, art gallery, storefront, recording studio, production services, business services, and office space. Tell us how you became the President and co-founder of the Chrch here in Barrio Logan, and for our readers that may be unfamiliar can you tell us what the Chrch was and the origins of how you came to found the space?
Real J. Wallace: The Chrch is still there but it’s in a different state, right now we have one of the other founders in Texas right now opening up the Chrch. I’m still out here so less projects are going to be us together as the Chrch, and I’m going to be running the studio which is almost like a sister company of the Chrch. We had a program in 2012 called Break Bread TV out of Platt College, I was an emcee looking for a studio to record at and they were willing to let me record for free if I was part of the program. Because the students needed someone to record, they needed to work with artists so I gave them an opportunity to work with me and do a few albums. So we did that for like two years, then we linked up with Frank Luna who does most of the editing on the Chrch videos and we kind of combined his production company and Break Bread TV and we opened up the Chrch. That’s who we were, this is the Chrch, art is our religion, we’re going to use this place to congregate all the videographers, photographers, artists, the folk singers, the people that do voice-overs and we’re going to put them all in the same room and give them the tools that they need to water their talents and we did that for like three years. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next with the Chrch, I might go out to Texas; but right now the focus in the Holyfield.
Step Off! Magazine: The Chrch served as a springboard for many people, in fact just down the street Beat Box Records actually use to be part of The Chrch and rented out space in the store’s early days. How does it feel to be a platform for artists of different mediums in San Diego to use your store as a platform to serve as a springboard for their careers?
Real J. Wallace: I might not know how it feels all the way until like a couple years from now. But, it feels good to see people that you are friends with do good. That’s one of the most inspirational things that you can experience, to see that the homie made it or they got their own store. I want everyone else to do good, but I want to do good as well. So I get eat, maybe not financially but I get to eat like spiritually and inspiration wise when that happens. But is just be the little seeds though, we don’t do the watering. DJ Inform was selling vinyl from his house and we were like ‘you know you could do it here’. And he did what he could with that seed, not everybody plants a tree; it be people that we link up with that are already kicking ass that ends up doing it. So it was me but it wasn’t me; I was just an element to it but there’s so many other elements, including those people that have drive. It’s crazy when you see people with that much drive seeing what end up doing so I’m glad to be a part of his story.
Step Off! Magazine: Now you actually recently released a short film called Spiritualized which debuted at FiveSpace here in San Diego. What can you tell us about the film and what was the catalyst that inspired you go out and shoot a short film?
Real J. Wallace: The director is Benjamin Huerta and I was telling him that he’s in the boat; you may be in the boat too, it’s in the ‘niggas need to know boat’. He’s in that boat where people don’t know him, they know him from like the Block TV and it’s dope but he doesn’t really have creative control over that too much. Spotlight, he got a little bit more control but he was like, ‘yo I want to be filming these things, I want to be that person’. So Spiritualized was him flexing his first film saying ‘this is what my work looks like when it stands by itself’. I love working with the dude because I just vibe with him, like when you vibe really well with someone the product is just going to be really natural and you’re going to want to kick just as much ass on the project. Like when I’m working with someone I fuck with I’m like ‘dam I need to get this done!’. But, we’re talking about gentrification in the film, not just gentrification of the land but gentrification of the contemporary world, the gentrification of occupations.
Step Off! Magazine: Will you be screening the movie again for those that missed it?
Real J. Wallace: We’re trying to go around the nation. Benji don’t fuck around, he’s young and got that energy. There’s going to second screening, there’s going to be a third, fourth, fifth I’m going to keep pushing that because that’s also the unfolding of an album called American Boy. All the music that’s in Spiritualized is from a future album, if you listen to my music I don’t know if you’ll understand that quantum leap to that new sound.
Step Off! Magazine: How big of a role does spirituality play in your music and your own personal life as well?
Real J. Wallace: Well the Chrch idea that was Hip-Hop to me, that was spirituality. That’s how I talked in codes to my ancestors, and to be able to slow down my life enough to hear those certain thoughts from them. To me it’s all spirituality, you don’t get these thoughts from nowhere. So when I get certain thoughts that enter my brain I have to wonder where they come from; it’s all spiritual to me it really is.
Step Off! Magazine: You have a gift as an emcee of being a natural storyteller, you’re able to effortlessly paint a picture for a listener to see in their head. Where do you think your natural abilities as a storyteller come from?
Real J. Wallace: I just rap a lot, (laughs) I rap a lot. I might not put out as much as I rap but I’m always working on something; and always sounds shitty at first. It always sounds real, real, real, real bad; and then I practice it and it becomes much better. They after ten thousand hours you become a master of whatever you’re doing? I think that’s what it is, the repetition of it and putting a purpose behind it. To me it’s so important to be able to tell my stories because I realize all the stories from my demographic were lost. Because people lost wars, because people didn’t write certain things down, so I wanted for myself what stories I would have wanted to hear had they wrote them down. I found my Mom’s book of rhymes and love notes, so a majority of my life I learned so much from that.
Step Off! Magazine: In 2014 you actually signed with indie label New World Color. NWC has a reputation for supporting artists such as Aloe Blacc, BLu & Exile, Miguel, and Danny Brown and you actually had the chance to work side by side with BLu and Mainframe. What was it like initially signing to a label and working with well-respected artists in the industry that you not only respect but admire as well?
Real J. Wallace: The signing to the label thing is just something you got to do, I mean not like you have to do it but as emcee, it’s like, ‘yo, I got signed’ (laughs). The reality of it though is that there’s much more to it though, with the work that goes into it and the work that’s matched. I read that you shouldn’t sign to a label where a rapper’s running the label, or putting themselves as the main person because like BLu is going to keep riding, he’s creative. Mainframe was the one I was kind of dealing with and learning from, but, it’s cool to be honored in that type of way. But, I’m from San Diego so a lot of my stuff is here. For that to work completely I feel like I would need to be in L.A. Like King Choosey is out there in L.A. he’s running with them, I would have to do something like that, but, I’m out here. Me and BLu did two albums and it was crazy, and it was interesting, it was really interesting. Real quiet dude, you could see his defenses up to look at celebrities and see how it affects people. I don’t think it affected him in the greatest type of way, how people were looking at him and digesting those expectations. BLu’s like a Black father, where with the relationship you were never able to fully express with each other. But he was cool, I was really inspired by his lyrics and his beats. I can hear a Blu beat and I can know that it’s a BLu beat unless he changes how he uses the snares I can always tell. I don’t even know how I caught him, the music was amazing I feel like I really stepped up. But the fact that I caught him, this is almost like a modern-day MF Doom type of mothafucka, like how did I capture BLu? So from there I put the album out on his label and it was on the New World Color Bandcamp. I also sold it at Access Hip-Hop, and those were the only two places that I sold it. Because digesting seeing how he was feeling, in the state of music I couldn’t put it out. I could have made whatever X amount of money off of it, and maybe I should have, looking back at the situation but it just seemed like he felt that people were using him and I couldn’t be a part of that. The accomplishment of even being able to vibe with him and write music with someone that I was looking up to and started rapping the same year I heard Below The Heavens that was enough.
Step Off! Magazine: In 2015 you were honored as Delta Airlines Innovation Class winner and you were mentored by Grammy Award-winning producer Ryan Lewis and got sent to the Grammy’s. Can you describe to our readers what kind of impact that experience had on you and your music?
Real J. Wallace: Well there were two things, Ryan Lewis did not want to go to the Grammy’s. This was the year right after Mackelmore had beat Kendrick Lamar. So even they were like, ‘I do not want to go to this thing’. And when you do go to it you see the dynamic; you see what people are talking about. You see Verizon, and other big companies; and they be like their families are there. Usually, the whole company will be invited to these bigger type of events and that’s who it was for, it was for that type of dynamic. It wasn’t for us, but, when I was there I was at the top; I saw Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney perform ‘FourFiveSeconds’ and the quality was so fucking nice! It was so nice! And it’s not like the quality in certain lyrics, I like that song particularly but if you look at it as a whole the quality is the nicest sound. There’s so many people, there’s so many Blame Ones, Odessa Kane’s; there’s not so many but there’s a lot when you dig down like Masters of the Universe. Their quality should be like that quality, but they can’t get that quality unless they take off whatever or put on whatever they need to, to get into that building. So looking at that face to face you start to think do you shatter that mirror because that quality needs to have that quality because it’s not fair to these independent artists. Fast food music is served at that dinner table and it makes no god damn sense. The stuff is too powerful, if the music was used how it needed to be and put on that platform in a healthy type of way people’s brains would start changing; people themselves would start changing. So it’s put into this other category because it’s so powerful, the most powerful things are hidden. Gold is in the middle of the Earth, oil is in the middle of the Earth, all of that stuff is hidden. So to look at that social component and look at it in a more universal aspect universally most of the great things are hidden, it’s not on the surface level so you gotta try and pull the universe inside out so the gold’s on the ground.
Step Off! Magazine: Your latest project is called Aloe Vera with producer Dayfade, how did that collaboration come about?
Real J. Wallace: That one was recorded at Platt college as well, we were just trying to fly on all the creative people we knew. So I had asked my friend Mark to link me up with Dayfade, and from there we just linked up in the studio pretty much started living at Platt (laughs). We were fucking shit up and just recorded all of those experiences while at the college.
Step Off! Magazine: San Diego has a relatively small but dedicated Hip-Hop community as you were saying compared to other regions in California such as L.A. or the Bay Area. Do you agree? And if so why do you think that is and how has that impacted your experience here in San Diego in regards to the Hip-Hop scene.
Real J. Wallace: It is much smaller and it’s way more controlled. San Diego is a military city, people come here to die, it’s a weird dynamic. I don’t know I think people are just more low key more so about what they’re doing. There’s probably a lot more underground emcees, not in the sense that its underground music, it’s just that they don’t actually put it out. That confidence doesn’t resonate out here like that. The stuff that I grew up with it was just so much like an acceptance type of thing that’s why I loved it. Hearing Orko, hearing Odessa and this is like early twenties when I started to really listen to them and even influences outside of San Diego like MF Doom you start to realize there are no rules. You can sound like anything! And no one sounded the same, that’s what I was really intrigued by. You could come up here spit you stuff and be unique to whatever you are, whatever your experiences maybe are unique to that. And to see these kinds of community of such dynamics was like oh wow they’re just accepting people off of wherever they’re at type of thing. So the dynamics and diversity was really cool, but, then it also kind of gets harder to label. People like to say San Diego sounds like this, a lot of people not from San Diego may know like Mitchy Slick and more of the gangsta side; and to them San Diego sounds like this. From my own ears San Diego did sound like that one time in my life but, then San Diego sounds like this other stuff too. You got the new stuff which I think is really dope and is a mixture of the gangsta stuff and the weird which is like psychedelic hardcore Hip-Hop. And what’s demoralizing is that a lot of them left or felt like they had to leave to blow up and get big which is too bad.
Step Off! Magazine: There seems to be a disconnect between rap music and the world of current events taking place in the world. In today’s current climate in the country, with so much exposure and emphasis on police brutality and racism, the blatant corruption and just utter contempt for the poor and communities of color form the White House. You think more people would producing more angry, call-to-action. You’d expect to hear the next Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, Brand Nubian, Ice Cube or Dead Prez right about now like we saw in the late 80’s and early ’90s, but right now many artists aren’t addressing the issues with the aggression that is clearly being typed on social media but not properly placed in music. Why do you think that is?
Real J. Wallace: I tweeted this the other day, I said that “advertisers rule the world” and it’s harder to advertise negativity. It’s just easier to advertise escapism nowadays, and people rather escape into certain things. But, music is a lot more powerful if you use it to incite people’s brains; and I feel advertisers, companies, governments know that and they’re not going to allow it to be used like it was used in the sixties. It was used in a powerful way, talking about Bob Marley, the Beatles; it was a reflection of what the times we’re going through. You have that music now, but you have to dig so deep to find it; it’s not going to be that song that’s playing on the radio over and over and over. In many ways we’ve been gentrified from the radio, those voices you’re not going to hear them now you got to go dig for it. Music is too powerful, they know what’s up they’re not going to let the Public Enemy thing happen again. They had everybody out in the streets that video for Fight The Power was crazy; and wasn’t just a video that happened! But I love the new stuff too though, I mean I like to escape (laughs) but I don’t like to only just escape.
Step Off! Magazine: Well you mentioned the new stuff, on the flip side, some would argue that in recent years we’ve witnessed an increase in social consciousness and even activism outside of music from Hip-Hop artist which we have not seen in the genre on a mainstream level at least in a very long time. Do you believe we’re currently living in an era where activism and social consciousness is making a huge comeback in Hip-Hop now? Do you think artists are doing enough right now or do you think there’s still work that needs to be done?
Real J. Wallace: Thank you for reminding me of that too because it be so easy to be reminded of the other stuff, people are hitting it pretty hard. J. Cole I could listen to his interviews, his interviews are on point especially when he’s talking about social and political things I really like what he’s doing. Kendrick is killing it, Killer Mike is killing it, that stuff is still happening. There’s so much stuff I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to process this transition in time. I remember in middle school and realized I had like ten thousand songs on my computer and thinking how am I going to be able to remember all of these things? There’s so much good stuff that’s happening, there’s so much bad stuff that’s happening, there’s so much policy, so much war; how could we possibly digest all of this? Is it even possible? But, all of those people are killing it and I’m very happy about all of that stuff.
Step Off! Magazine: Hip-Hop is one of the most powerful and significant musical genres as well as social movements of the past few decades. Tell us your thoughts about Hip-Hop’s power to educate as well as fuel and inspire change in society.
Real J. Wallace: I mean, the shit is magic. We have the power to speak the future into existence. We’re creators, we’re the gods that’s how powerful it is, to make something out of nothing. Its complete magic, it can transform things ain’t nothing more powerful than gods and Hip-Hop is comprised of gods.
Step Off! Magazine: On that note, let’s get into more about your personal opinions and tastes in the current Hip-Hop scene right now. There’s a debate within certain circles in Hip-Hop about what people have dubbed “Mumble Rap”. Some people say that it’s not even Hip-Hop, it’s not rapping while some others argue that these artists are just expressing themselves and taking the genre in a different direction like artists have in the past. What’s your take on the whole “Mumble Rap” phenomena?
Real J. Wallace: The main thing I’ve been more concerned about is when people only talk about the drugs that they’re doing, but, they don’t talk about why they’re doing them. That’s what I have a problem with, I like the dynamics that they’re flowing with. I do see people copying a lot of patterns but, a lot of emcees tried to rap like Big Daddy Kane, they’re still trying to it. So I can’t hate on it too much I want to push people to create but, more so I find it problematic with studio drug rappers who all they do is talk about drugs. I got no problem with them mumbling, especially if they got a dope mumble. I’m not hating on them but it be like bubble gum ice cream and when you first get bubble gum ice cream you be like, ‘oh shit I’m about to fuck this up!’. But, when you get like five bites in you’re like, ‘I don’t ever want this again!’ (laughs). I like the samples, I keep myself to sampling I would like to see it change a bit more to get a better sense of balance. Cyhi the Prynce can do some mumble raps that are dope and I think Black Thought has a mumble rap type of thing and it’s dope I think he has some shit like that. It’s just that the fact that they can’t flip it up at some times, like whatever you do switch it up, talk about something else don’t just talk about the same things. Even though this is just silly ‘Zannies’ is a good word, there was probably a moment in time when ‘mothafucka’ was used too much in rap because mothfucka is a good word it almost fits in with blah blah. Zannies is the same thing, it has the same amount of syllables it just goes with shit. But just try harder that’s it, I’m not trying to hate I bump some stuff but I just can’t do it for too long.
Step Off! Magazine: Rap music and Hip-Hop culture, in general, is more mainstream now that it has ever been in the genre’s existence. You hear the music in commercials and films, there are television programs dedicated to it like Empire, The Get Down, The Breaks, Marvel’s Luke Cage features music and artist regularly within the show. Where do you see the future of the music going? Do you think the genre in a better place than it was several years ago?
Real J. Wallace: Yea they better be careful, before we take over everything! (laughs). It’s cool that people are being a lot more open, I don’t know where it’s going to go. Hopefully it leads to something, and that stuff is amazing to see it’s reassuring. Again, the truth will always be hidden, or you’ll have to listen to the codes. I mean we already this, Hip-Hop has been the most influential form of music for a long time they’re just finally recognizing it.
Step Off! Magazine: Who are your top artists in the game right now? Who are the artists that push you to step up your game when you hear their music?
Real J. Wallace: I have to go off of who I’m listening to right now. Anderson.PAAK, he’s killing the game right now. Killer Mike just got bunch points for where he put the kid on his shoulder at Lollapalooza, he got a bunch of Hip-Hop points for that one. And Joe Budden, he’s not rapping but he’s killing it right now! But, there’s so many more that I’m probably forgetting right now.
Step Off! Magazine: Who would you say are your top five emcees of all time?
Real J. Wallace: I’ve been trying to say this to myself for the longest time. Tupac, Kanye, Blu, Mos Def and the last one is when it gets hard because I always want to put Ice Cube and Black Thought on there, I’m kind of stuck right there. But, I’ll definitely say those six were very influential. Especially Ice Cube because he was N.W.A., people might be mad because I said Kanye but I like him.
Step Off! Magazine: Who are some local artists and talent that people should know about if they don’t already?
Real J. Wallace: Ganjasufi, Prayers, Rob Stone, Rossi, St. Leon Heron, and Piff California Herrera are all dope artists people definitely need to get up on! I think those are the top ones. Blame One is in that category, King Choosey is in that category and Odessa Kane is in that category. All of those cats I’m really proud of them.
Step Off! Magazine: Are you currently working on any new music? Tell us what you can about any upcoming projects you have lined up for the future.
Real J. Wallace: American Boy is the next project I’m pushing, we’re seeing how we want it to roll out. Putting on the finishing touches, if some other life experience comes along it might have to get captured. That’s what albums normally be, some kind of life experience captured. So if something happens, or even this whole transition of the Chrch changing that might incite another song. So if more story happens in life that part of the story might have to be added to the album.
Step Off! Magazine: How much longer would you like to remain active in the music business, that is you ever plan on stopping doing music?
Real J. Wallace: See I don’t know if you’ve heard people telling me to stop rapping, there have been people telling me to stop rapping. I don’t think you should ever stop, I’m never going to ever not be making music. I’ll be old still writing raps just cause. If it helps one person by listening then that’s great! It’s just something that I love to do, some people love to play sudoku, some people like to skateboard, I like to write raps. I like to sit and reflect on myself and my life cause it makes me look at my life a little bit better. My memory’s also not the best so I think when I have it in the rhyme pattern I remember it a lot better. There’s a movie called Alive Inside, and what they do is play the music that is culturally relevant to when the person with Alzheimer’s was young. What it does is it revitalizes their memory; they might be immobilized just sitting there and they won’t talk or say anything. Once they play the older music all of a sudden it takes them back almost like if you smell certain things it takes your memory back in a certain way; they play that music and all of a sudden they can remember all of these things and they’re all responsive. I figure I could do that to myself, like paint my life as it’s happening. If something happens you can play me back my own life which is culturally relevant to myself and I’ve made my own medicine right there. I have to keep doing that and I have to my own future daughter, son learn about life through my music; from all the successes and the failures that I do. To use music like this is the purpose, people that I know use it in the same type of way.
Step Off! Magazine: What advice do you have for young artists, musicians, and performers who want to get into the music industry and entertainment business, especially those that want to send a positive, uplifting message?
Real J. Wallace: Speak in codes, be very creative and just keep going with it. The confidence and the drive, those are the two main things. No matter what keep going with what you’re doing and if it can be developed into something be open. Because you set those own expectations on yourself on what you can be, and if you set them you can also adjust them. You built that wall, you can move the wall, you can open up the door, you can make a window. So play around with your own expectations because you set them. So you can let go of what those are, so just be open and you’ll be able to be aware of more.
Step Off! Magazine: Where can people find you and follow you online to hear your music and get all the latest updates for shows, promotions, and other events?
Step Off! Magazine: Any closing comments or anything else you want to let our readers know about you or the Chrch?
Real J. Wallace: I don’t got the answers! (laughs)
Step Off! Magazine: Real J. Wallace, its been a pleasure! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk to us today!
Real J. Wallace: Thank you!