You gotta know where you’ve been before you can know where you’re going. This is true for personal journeys, histories of nations and of course, foundations of cultures. It’s amazing how little people tend to know about their histories and the basis behind their beliefs. Too often, we leave the teaching up to individuals who are working from a framework outside of, rather than within, the culture.
I was talking to a former student about Hip Hop and specifically MC’s that we found to be the most skilled, as opposed to successful. I was surprised by some of the names that he started dropping. Most kids his age can only go back as far as Jay-Z, 50 Cent – maybe Ice Cube. He mentioned Big L, KRS-ONE and then RUN DMC. That’s when I paused and started asking what he knew about Old School Hip Hop. “You think we’re too young to know about MC’s from your generation?” Well, yeah. Like I said, most kids his age don’t take the time – yeah, I know they’re the YouTube generation and can access information at will but that takes desire sometimes.
We recently caught up with a first generation MC. If there’s anyone who has the right to teach about the history of the culture, it’s L.A. Sunshine, member of the groundbreaking Treacherous Three. These dudes got in on the ground floor of a culture that’s now reaching Babylonian proportions. If you like Project Blowed MC’s, Busta Rhymes, Twista or any of the other artists that boast a fast rap delivery – The Treacherous Three were the Genesis of that style.
Here’s the first recording by The Treacherous Three. Mind you, this dropped in 1980. Check the style…
Here’s just a small segment of the conversation we had about positive messages, spirituality and reaching the youth. Some serious gems from a true pioneer…
First, can you talk a little bit about the intentions behind the messages you put up on social media?
Well, it’s kind of a long story. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what my background is. I’m a first generation Hip Hop artist. And I recently wrote a memoir called A True Story and it lent itself to me being able to purge myself – all the quotes that I post up are things that I stand by. That coupled with the fact that I’ve worked with youth in various capacities going on a little over two decades. It just became natural for me to be comfortable enough to express myself in that manner. That’s the person that I’ve always been. Those quotes have always been inside of me. I just feel much more free after penning the memoir. With all the speaking engagements that I’ve had I realized it’s imperative to just send off a positive energy and vibration to people. The worst thing I could do is to take time from someone’s day to give them some inspiration – that’s what I live by.
So, do you work in the capacity that allows you to reach the youth on a daily basis without social media?
Yeah, aside from me being an artist, I do speaking engagements and lectures on the college and high school circuit. But I also work with youth hands on as activity specialist here in the city [NYC] for an after school program. Aside from performing, the only other passion I have is for working with kids. I’ve been working with kids since 93. You name it, I’ve done it.
Can you talk about how the memoir came about?
Well, I think it’s imperative that everyone tells their story, first off. Especially being cut from the cloth of the first generation of Hip Hop performers. That’s so widely exploited and tainted. It’s not told through the eyes of the people that actually participated. To try and put it into context, there’s less than 60 people walking the Earth that can lay claim to actually creating Hip Hop, and I happen to be one of them. So from that perspective I felt it was necessary to tell my Hip Hop story but while I was telling it – I can’t tell my Hip Hop story without people knowing who the person is. So, that’s how I ended up telling my story. It’s part of a Hip Hop memoirs collection that I helped spearhead, trying to give artists from back in that day the opportunity to give their perspective. It’s been so overly exploited through mainstream media of what Hip Hop entails, where it originated from and what it actually means. So, I thought it was necessary to tell it from my own words.
How do you feel about the culture now, as you’ve watched it grow since it’s inception and become what it is today?
Well, as with everything that’s evolved, there’s positive things we can put on it. Although, it has overbearingly negative connotations to it. You mention Hip Hop now, there’s a negative stigma attached to it and that’s solely because of the way it’s sold. Generally, the perception you have of Hip Hop is catch brother-man with gold in his mouth, gettin’ turnt up, poppin’ bottles of champagne – that has nothing to do with Hip Hop. Nothing. It’s just so overtly exploited, along with everything else in today’s society. It’s an evolution, I know that. But I also know that it has nothing to do with Hip Hop. I’m glad it’s opened avenues for people to be able to make a living – an honest living. But at the same time, it’s exploitation at the highest height. They want you to think it’s so misogynistic, it’s negative, it’s what we are. The fact that it’s spreading throughout the world, gives me gratification because I’ve been one of the people that helped create it. Not too many people can lay claim to creating something that has impacted the entire world and Hip Hop happens to be one of them. In a nutshell, there’s good and bad like with everything. We should allow people to be able to eat and feed themselves, do something positive and give them a vehicle for expression. But the flip side is that the powers that be are going to exploit it to the utmost and portray it in a negative light.
Let’s switch up and talk about food. What are you trying to gravitate toward or stay away from, in terms of food?
Well, I haven’t been a meat eater since the mid-80’s. I indulge in some chicken periodically but I haven’t eaten any red meat in over 20 years. My diet is very fickle. It’s a very small diet, it’s not a very concentrated diet on something specific but I am very finicky in terms of what I do eat. I’m big on salads. I could eat a salad and nothing else for the remainder of the day. I could eat one meal a day and be fine. It’s never specific in terms of what my diet regimen is.
I feel like there’s a connection between what we eat and the energy we give off. What would you say about that connection?
I agree. If you’re not healthy, your creativity is stagnated. If you drink a fifth of vodka, you’re not gonna be very creative. Common sense. The further you stay away from things that are going to taint your perception or your reality, the better. It’s gonna be harder for you to create through your reality. You can create through a filtered reality but you can only create or respond from your perceived reality. It’s important to me to make sure that I’m always tapped into that. I’m cognizant of that when I’m creating. And even though I’m not a drinker or drugger – well, not anymore. I’ve been through my rigmarole. But just on the surface level, it’s common sense to know that whatever you put into you, you get out. I’m a firm believer in that. Let me give you a quick anecdote. I’ve been asked a lot of times why I don’t listen to certain rap music, or certain music period. I equate that with food, from my political standpoint, if I don’t eat pork or meat because I feel the negative impact it has on my body, that’s the same way I feel about the negative impact that some negative music would have on my body. If I’m listening to “I’m gonna shoot your mother and kill your father and throw your dog out the window and I’m dealing coke” – I don’t want that as part of my DNA just like I don’t want meat as part of my DNA.
Right. We’re about spreading that message. A lot of times we, as a society, become very passive about what we take in…
No matter what it is. People just think that nutrients are food that go into your mouth but the same thing is true for what goes in your ear, what goes in your psyche, what goes into your eyes, what goes into your pores – it’s going into you. Music is supposed to do something for your soul. Music has a vibration. Music is supposed to take you in a certain direction. You lose the ability to tap into it depending on how in tune you are. Another example: The older children get, the less pure that they are because the more they’re exposed to that negativity.
Where does spirituality fit in to all of this?
It has to be personalized, that’s first. A person’s spirituality can be whatever they deem spiritual to them. It’s removed from religion wholeheartedly because I don’t have a religious bone in my body. I never have. But I’m more spiritual than I’d like to know. I think a person’s spirituality is equivalent to their peace of mind or whatever provides you with that level of peace of mind. So the higher level of peace of mind, the higher level of spirituality but it has to be whatever works for you. I don’t knock a person that has a specific religion that they follow, if that’s what helps you get up in the morning that’s your avenue to being able to attain some level of spirituality. And of course there are variations of what levels there are. But for the most part, yeah, I subscribe to that concept.
Is there anyone in particular that you look up to, that inspires you or influences what you’re projecting?
No. I try to be a sponge, I try to be open. I’m a firm believer that anything is possible. I give anything the benefit of the doubt but at the same time it has to be very, very logical to me. As a matter of fact, I dropped out of school in eighth grade. I’m kinda self-taught, if that’s what you want to call it, just being a sponge and receptive to all teachings. And then I tap into myself, if my inner being says, “nah, I don’t think that’s gonna work for me,” I stand firm in that belief. I can’t explain what that is that makes me do that but after so long it’s become second nature.
“Music is supposed to do something for your soul. Music has a vibration. Music is supposed to take you in a certain direction. You lose the ability to tap into it depending on how in tune you are.”
What are you focusing on now, aside from spreading positive messages?
I’m actually involved in a stage play production called “From the Ashes” about the beginning stages of Hip Hop. All of the pivotal elements and events that kickstarted Hip Hop in the mid-70’s and early 80’s – how Hip Hop came to fruition. We’re gonna be reenacting some of those pivotal events that made it springboard into this multi-billion dollar industry that it is now.
I do a lot of community oriented work. I’m on community boards and such. I’m also working on a television show. I’m doing a pilot called “L.A. Confidential” where I just speak to current events and have conversations and dialogues such as I’m having right now with various moguls and regular common folks. Mainly just on their takes and perspectives on some of the things that I pose and what they get out of it. Just trying to generate some positive energy and dialogue because of the state that we’re living in in this day and age. I’m just trying to put forth some positive energy.
What would you say are the biggest obstacles and struggles that we need to get around in this country?
I think we, as a collective, get in our way. For one, we buy into a system that doesn’t work for us. But we’re so robotic and conditioned to follow that system, we know no other course of action. But with that said, the bureaucracy of the system gets in the way of the productivity of the people. An example I use is if a man in a vest walked in the middle of the street and said “everyone come this way.” We’re so conditioned and programmed that everyone’s gonna go that way. He’s got the vest on, we gotta go this way. We need to be able to be more individualized. But people are afraid to do that, we’re reluctant to stand alone. If you’re standing for something, you’re running the risk of standing alone because people gravitate toward the masses. The main reason why most people do what they do is because everyone else is doing it.
What are the biggest challenges in getting your message across to the youth that you work with?
One of the things that I apply to my mindset when working with youth is that they are jaded and I’m not surprised by anything they do. I also have to know that this generation, unfortunately, are so – and I think it’s done intentionally, are so desensitized, so disconnected and very defensive. My approach to that is being aware that they are that way. Couple that with me having my own trials and tribulations and speaking from experience. It makes it much easier for me to have dialogue with them and be relatable with them. I’ve been blessed with the ability to have a certain rapport with them.
I’m hoping you’re already familiar with The Treacherous Three and what they’ve created. If not, I’m sure you’re already setting aside this evening so that you can familiarize yourself with their catalogue as well as their contributions to films like Beat Street. And they’re still doing it, y’all. They still perform together occasionally and were recently inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame. I mean, these were the guys that influenced the Run DMC’s and Big Daddy Kane’s of the world. Nuff respect!
Be sure to follow L.A. Sunshine on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (lasunshine). He’s always dropping little gems similar to our conversation. If you enjoyed his positivity here, you’ll enjoy following him on social media.
Finally, I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you to pick up his memoir. You can (and should) cop it HERE. If you like to support artists directly, this book is self-published and he just may sign your copy. It’s an incredible memoir – one of the best I’ve read. L.A. has an incredible writing style. At times he will describe a situation from three different points of view (Me, Myself, I) and he personifies ideas like Depression and Karma as characters to help tell the story. I can’t say enough good about this book. It’s got an introduction from Chuck D (Public Enemy) and an outro by DMC (Run DMC). He shares all of the details of his life, some things he had to come to terms with in writing the book, as well as interesting tidbits about game changing performances that he was a part of. A must have for Hip Hop heads! Know your history and get to know one of the dudes that brought the world a New Rap Language (and style).
“Not too many people can lay claim to creating something that has impacted the entire world “