Oh, these critical days of hip-hop. In the era of YouTube fame and other forms of rap exploitation, there are always the folks who stand up for the truth of the evolution in society. Things have changed, and every now and then, an artist puts their account of life's changes into play, all over phat beats. Molina is that artist. A culturist who balances his revolutionary politics with his ability to rap like no other, Molina is not your average "conscious artist." He's a lecturer, a brilliant hip-hop philosopher, and a participant in the revolution, and evolution of rap's place in the social structure.
His latest album, Name & Town features artists that represent the spectrum of change and artistic expression in today's hip-hop. The album is a collaboration with Diles, a producer from New Mexico, with whom Molina has worked with on occasion.
We caught up with Molina to get the full story on his partnership with Diles and to discuss the new album, which, of course, led to a conversation on the ills and spills of hip-hop and society.
Westword: You've been involved with so many projects, both solo and collaborative. Speak on the many hats you wear as Molina.
Molina: I'm a man. I'm a father. I'm a student and teacher of hip-hop music and culture, an MC, poet, and playwright. I live the living word. I work for my communities in many capacities. I work for the youth, because we're borrowing time from them. I'm focused on building with people and living this life fully.
Name & Town has a strictly hip-hop feel to it, whereas your previous projects have contained the elements of hip-hop but could also play well in other genres, too. What kind of space where you in when you were writing and recording for this joint?
I've been on the gritty Industrial/Experimental tip with CHiTT Productions and the hip-hop/neo-soul tip with Aju and DJ Icewater. I'm always down to push my own artistic boundaries. With Name & Town and my recent 7-inch single, "Fam Biz" with DJ Icewater, I circled right back around to where I started as a hip-hop head. This joint with Diles was born out of challenging circumstances and transitions. I needed this, and hip-hop was there for me. So were the homeies I collaborated with.
You tapped several local heavy weights for this album, like Mane Rok and Venus Cruz. What did each feature bring to the project?
Mane goes hard on the title track, and I dig our chemistry on that cut. Nothing but respect for that vato. Been down from the day I met him; he's a stand-up guy. Venus contributed much-needed feminine energy and soul. Her lyrics at the end of "Again" really tell my story, again and again.
You tend to get classified in the vein of "conscious hip-hop." Is that annoying, seeing as how the root of hip-hop is rooted in awareness?
Boxes, labels, and lines drawn are annoying altogether. But I've also done my fair share of labeling music this or that in the past. At the end of the day, I own the "conscious" label with pride, because Hip-hop is conscious, period. Hip-hop is rooted in intelligence and creativity. We have yet to see how high this music and culture will elevate us. I'm down 100 percent with our elevation as people. I'll drink to that, any day of the week.
Regardless of classification, you speak on the politics that affect people of color in our society. Does an artist have a responsibility to discuss the ills of society and also balance the world of entertainment? How?
As a Chicano with indigenous roots, I understand that we are interconnected with everything that lives, everything that exists. The Earth nurtures us, so we have a responsibility to give back to it. In terms of my music and broader work, I rep for the ongoing Black and Brown liberation struggle, and for cross-cultural movements among all people. I don't expect all artists to take this on, nor should people expect me to take this on 100 percent of the time. I have songs about sex, one night stands, references to partying and bullshit. Balance. Hip-hop is a cultural revolution, a political movement and party music. I respect this culture from all angles.
What is your aim with this project? In concept, and also in theme, what are you bringing to hip-hop?
"If you're here say it loud, Name & Town/They'll remember when you walk through the streets next year." Shit is really critical right now, personally, culturally, socially, politically, environmentally, economically... This is for everybody who knows they gotta represent, on whatever level...
How did the partnership with Diles come about?
I have strong ties to the spoken word community in Albuquerque. I met Diles through my friends and fellow poets Carlos Contreras and Hakim Be, who also have features on Name & Town. Diles has put in ridiculous work making beats and producing artists in Burque. We connected in '09 and knew that we would collab when the time was right. Diles is really set to make a name for himself in the world of music. I'm blessed to be on his roster.
What is your creation process like when working almost exclusively with a producer on a project?
I'm a fan of the concept album. I'm interested in the entire story, start to finish, all the details. Working exclusively with a producer, I can really vibe off his creative energy and focus on the threads that tie everything together. With that said, I'm in the lab conceptualizing a few projects that will feature various producers. I plan to bring some Denver producers into these works.
Is there a track that, for you, stands out as a true representation of Molina?
"Again" and "Friend in Me" are riddled with some of the most meaningful moments of my life, complicated, painful and beautiful, honest. But every track I lay down is a true representation of some piece of me. I think every MC would agree with that idea.
You've evolved from Molina Soleil to just simply, Molina. Why the change?
I've been known by many names as an artist. Always in transition, always reclaiming and renaming. Right now I'm simply representing my last name -- my family name, my roots, ancestry, all that I am.
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