By Internet standards, Chali 2na's an old man. He's not really an old man, but the deep-voiced, highly quotable co-founder of hip hop preservationists Jurassic 5 has been thrown for a loop the last few years.
Blame that blasted Internet. The past decade has done wonders for savvy younger bands but for those who came of age when the music industry was still traditional, it has been... well, a little baffling.
"It's been definitely baffling, just coming from my perspective of age. Just watching things change in your face is like watching David Blaine or Criss Angel for the first time. It's like, 'Are you serious?''" he says with a laugh.
Baffling as it may be, however, he's staying on top of it. He'll release his second solo LP, Against the Current, in five online installments.
"I wanted to do something different," he says. "I didn't want to fall in line with exactly what was going on, hence the title Against the Current. It's a volatile world in the music game right now. Nothing is traditional. Nothing is happening like it used to."
He's keeping details about the album scarce for now, though he says that Ivan Neville of the Neville Brothers (and son of Aaron) will make an appearance on the album.
But fans can expect an accumulation of his work so far that will include elements of his blues roots as child, the genre-defying hip hop of Jurassic 5 and the urban-Latin funk he helped popularize as co-founder of Ozomatli.
He's speaking with Pique on the road to Santa Cruz, his second stop of the tour. He says it's a warm-up tour, where he'll preview much of his new material.
"I'm just letting people know that I'm still out there man, because I know the rule of thumb exists that if you're out of my face, you out of my mind," he says with a laugh. "It's just to once again display the skill and try to entertain folks and let them know I'm still out here."
Jurassic 5's brand of traditional hip hop served as a counterpoint to the post-2001 ghettoization of hip hop in the early 2000s. The group's very existence was a conscious push away from the negative black stereotypes and misogyny being portrayed in mainstream hip hop at the time.
The group was critically and commercially successful but in 2006 their DJ Cut Chemist left the group. The band dissolved a year later and it's uncertain whether there will ever be a reunion."
"Time heals all wounds man, but bad marriages break up and some of them never get back together," Chali says.
But he speaks fondly of the early days when they were rising through the social ranks together, moving on up from whatever humble beginnings they had emerged from.
"We were historians. We were trying to preserve a certain aspect of it. It got lost. That technology era that was kicking in to where people weren't necessarily paying attention to what was happening in the past, it was just whatever they were exposed to when they first got into that sound.
"That's what they would be loyal to, and I've been saying there's a lot of things that came before that," he says.
As such, one would appreciate his opinion of the new generation of hip hop artists that have emerged over the past two years. He sees a new generation of kids carrying the torch, but it's a varied group. He doesn't like it all but he certainly respects it.
"The one thing that's been consistent with hip hop is always going to reflect what's going on around it. It's going to talk about what people don't want to talk about. It's going to reflect the current state of the kids that are participating within it," he says.
He continues, "You have a lot of hipster cats, new cats and swag addicts and things of that nature who were born into a world that was already filled with hip hop, that was already filled with computers and things. You have a different generation with a different grasp on reality, and a different reality because of it."
Nearly 20 years into his career, he's taken on the role of the cool uncle who wants to coach the kids and expose them to positive aspects of hip hop — not the bling or whatnot, but the freedom of creative personal expression that has been the reason hip hop latched on to Western culture in the first place.
Which is cool and all, but it certainly makes him sound a little...well, you know...mature.