Hailing from the West Coast’s Quannum Projects (home to DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, Tommy Guerrero, etc.) Lateef The Truthspeaker is a longtime MC with deep histories that precede him. As half of Latyrx (with Lyrics Born), half of Mighty Underdogs (with Gift Of Gab), and half of The Maroons (with Chief Xcel), there hasn’t been a shortage of work from the Oakland native. What is noteworthy is that, after all these years, all the tours, all the revered tracks, and a Grammy to boot, Lateef finally debuted with a long-awaited solo album, Firewire.
“I’m very happy with it,” he says of the new album. “I always try to keep busy but it was nice to finally focus on just my own songs.” Lateef’s focus has been what’s driven him and his crew since they were college-aged kids in the early ‘90s, known as the Solesides collective. It’s this early work that catapulted their subsequent careers, a body of work that ranks amongst the best the West has ever offered. And while “Lateef” translates as “gentle” in Arabic, Lateef the Truthspeaker is a vicious MC with a catalogue that precedes him. Here, we talk with this son of Black Panthers about work ahead in both political and musical realms, touching on some history, the time he battled Murs, the forming of Latyrx, old recordings and of course anticipated new ones.
How was finally working solo and how do you think it affected the final product?
I think I was really able to take some risks and stretch out as an artist. A lot of producers I work with can be very focused on their vision of what they would like me to do artistically, and on both Firewire and the Truth @ Sea mixtape, I was able to follow my instincts and create from a very pure place.
You did a track dedicated to Oakland. Tell folks about your hometown and all that comes from there.
Oakland is great. It is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and that goes from separate ethnicities, to every ethnicity wrapped up in one person. There is an intense hodgepodge of cultures and opinions, and yet everyone, for the most part, seems to get along—outside of the shootings. But there is a very real element to the people in Oakland that is specific and identifiable, and that is what I love about the city. The people.
What’s your outlook on Occupy Oakland?
Mishandled. The Occupy movement in general is a difficult creature for politicians to deal with. It’s kinda like a positive, physical incarnation of an internet troll crossed with a griever. You can’t react aggressively to it, or it wins, and you lose. It’s coordinated, but decentralized so attempts to squelch it just result in the people returning. The Occupy movement is also peaceful, so any aggression towards it makes you instantly look like a bully with an agenda to protect the rich. Ultimately the movement is a sign of civil unrest with the imbalance of wealth and power in the United States, and until that’s addressed, there’s not really a cure.
Tell folks a bit about your parents’ history with the Black Panthers. Did their activism affect your upbringing and outlook?
My parents were both in the Black Panther party. When I was younger, I can remember “Auntie Angela” Davis coming to birthday parties. It was never a big deal. I think it informs the way I receive information and think about the world. I think it’s one of the reasons hip-hop spoke to me at such an early age. But mostly, I think it makes me comfortable with speaking my mind.
Let’s move on and talk a bit about your history. When and how did Solesides begin?
A bunch of college kids, fresh out of high school, get the crazy idea that they are gonna start a record label. Seriously. That was it. And not everybody was even in college.
How did Latyrx form? What is your personal favorite Latyrx track? How was making that?
Latyrx formed out of the song “Latyrx” which was featured on my very first single, “The Wreckoning,” way back in the Neolithic period. The song “Latyrx” was considered by many to be groundbreaking, leading Lyrics Born and I to do more songs together, blending solo projects we had been working on individually into one, juggernaut of an album.
You mentioned your first single, “The Wreckoning,” which was produced by DJ Shadow and considered a Solesides’ classic. Talk about the making of it.
DJ Shadow got me that beat, and I just really tried to harness what I felt like was the subtle menace of the track. I wanted to make a battle-type song, but I wanted it to be intelligent and have a theme. The idea of a kind of cinematic, almost creepy coroner-like explanation of how an MC had been killed in a battle, then taking it farther and exploring the post mortem process came to me while I was at work one day. The song kind of wrote itself after that.