For the last 15 years, Matthew Kelly has been entrenched in the Colorado hip-hop scene. Although his stage name has changed over the years, Kelly, now known as Babah Fly, has been one of the most consistent artists in the scene. Whether it's as a solo artist or as part of groups like Bugaboo, Babah Wird or Denver Avengerz, you always know what you're going to get from Babah Fly: boom bap hip-hop paying homage to the foundation of the culture. We caught up with Babah Fly recently and spoke with him about his new project, its inspiration and how he feels about Colorado hip-hop in 2009.
Westword (Quibian Salazar-Moreno): You've been in the local scene for close to 15 years and have had several stage names like Subtle MC, Fly Jedi, Tha Fly and now you're known as Babah Fly. What does your name mean?
Babah Fly: Subtle was a graffiti name back in the day. I started to use the name Fly Jedi, because I'm a fly Star Wars nerd and my MC powers are very similar to a Jedi's powers. Fly Jedi is sort of still the name, its Babah Fly Jedi, my friends and family started calling me Babah because I got lovely children. I'm still a Jedi, but it's kind of a secret.
WW: What inspired the theme of your new album, "Electro-Sufi," and what does the title mean?
BF: I'm inspired by Sufi practices and other ancient mystical studies, so that's the Sufi part. The electro comes from my inspiration from Afrika Bambaataa and Planet Rock hip-hop. Electro-Sufi is my take on the parallels between those inspirations -- the ancient mystical practices of the Sufis and the elements of hip-hop culture.
WW: How would you describe the "electro" hip-hop sound that you're creating?
BF: I wanted to see people poppin' and lockin' to the electro-type beats! When I get inspired to create some music, it comes from being somewhere and the energy of the people, the conversations, the style, the music and how people are reacting to it. I try to pay close attention to what moves people, so what I write in the lyrics is about movement in an enlightened conversation. The beats are the "pulse" in the conversation and the electro beats came from the pulse I was feeling at the time. I also wanted to create a sound that people could vibe to, no matter what musical genre they favored.
I get a lot of non-hip-hop people telling me that they just can't listen to hip-hop anymore, but when you remind them of some classic hip-hop they're like "oh yeah I listen to hip-hop." Nas came out with Hip-Hop is Dead a few years ago, and a track that stood out to me was called "Carry on Tradition." To me, that's what keeps hip-hop alive, its traditions. Those two words: "hip" and "hop" are true fundamentals that I follow. I keep hoppin' to the hip stuff, while the music industry tends to compartmentalize the genres.
WW: You've been in the scene for a very long time, what are your thoughts on how it was ten to fifteen years ago to where it is today?
BF: I think that back in the day it was a lot harder for people to get on in the hip-hop scene. You definitely had to have skills and the right flavor whether you were an MC, b-boy/b-girl DJ or graffiti writer. People use to heckle and try to battle the MCs if they were wack. I got heckled a few times! Nowadays hip-hop is more accessible to everyone, and it's safer. There are still a bunch of us keeping that raw hip-hop vibe alive today, though; that will never go away.
WW: You're also involved with some other groups. What is Babah Wird and what's the latest?
BF: Babah Wird is a group with Mike Wird, DJ SD and myself. We were actually in a group together before called Bugaboo. I've been blessed to be able to work with some very talented people. Mike is a super b-boy and a super MC, and DJ SD is a phenomenal DJ. Any show I do I try to rock it with these dudes. We're working on an album now. We got some beats from Headnodic [Crown City Rockers, The Mighty Underdogs], myself and a couple of other producers.
WW: Who are the Denver Avengerz, and what's the latest?
BF: The Denver Avengerz is another group of talented cats that I'm blessed to work with. We have Lavell Flemon on the bass, Felix aka DJ Fast4Ward on keys, guitar and flute, Bradley Stevens on drums and percussion, Mike Wird and Myself emceeing. We've been playing out at clubs and events like the Dragon Boat Festival for the past two years. Right now we're recording in the studio, so that's another project that's coming out very soon.
WW: You were at one time working with the Five Points Plan which featured former members of Ground Zero Movement. Whatever happened with that?
BF: D.O. the Fabulous Drifter and I just put out a mixtape with Sol Powa from RRAAHH Foundashunn called the ARS Nova mixtape. I've been working with D.O. on a new project called "The Go-Getters Union" that has been getting a lot of buzz on the east-coast.
WW: What do you think the Colorado hip-hop scene needs to break through like the Colorado rock scene?
BF: I think the hip-hop scene is on its way to breaking through. I remember in 98' seeing Flobots tapes and now they are platinum selling artists! That's a good sign for the rest of us that have been doing this a long time. There's a lot of talent here too, so it's just a matter of time before Colorado Hip-Hop is on the map. I also think that since basketball is like the 6th element of hip-hop that if the Nuggets won the championship, Hip-Hop would be thriving in Denver!
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WW: Who are some of your favorite Colorado hip-hop artists?
BF: I'll have to start with the DJs because that is so essential to me! DJ Musa Bailey, DJ Knee, DJ Chonz, Style N Fashion, DJ SD, Peter Black, DJ Low Key, DJ Sound Supreme, DJ Timbuk, Lazy Eyes, DJ Chris Nathan, Eclipse Show Crew and Basementalism crew..
As far as MCs or groups go, some of my favorites are: PAAS, Apostle, The Reminders, Distrakt, Whygee, Sunken State, Kid Hum, Grow House Allstars, Future Jazz Project, Spellbinder, RRaahh Foundashunn, D.O., Dent, Pirate Signal, Isolated Generation, DJ Cavem, Mike Wird, Zero Hour, Future Reference, Shella, April Fresh, Basheba Earth, Street Pholosophie, and a number of others that are slipping my mind at the moment.
Babah Fly, Electro Sufi release party, with Mike Wird, Denver Avengerz, DJs SD, Low Key and Lazy Eyez, 9 p.m. Saturday, October 24, Shag Lounge, 830 15th Street, free.