Chris Steele got the nickname "Time" while playing basketball in elementary school. Like time itself, evidently, he fancied himself unstoppable. Steele still plays basketball regularly, but since his school days, he's also become one of the most eloquent and literate rappers out there. He grew up in northwest Denver and became involved in the local hip-hop scene as a teenager during the late '90s. When he was just thirteen, he met Main Flow, Dead Prez, Jeru the Damaja, Last Emperor and Medusa at a Voice of the Voiceless show, where he got a chance to show off his skills.
As Time, Steele earned early critical praise for his 2004 album, Litterture, and launched his Dirty Laboratory Productions imprint around the same time. Over the course of the past decade, he has released four other albums, including one with Chavo "AwareNess" Trejo as .Calm and his latest and perhaps most fully realized work, Newstalgia. We sat down with Steele recently and talked about the new record.
Westword: You're calling your latest album Newstalgia?
Time (aka Chris Steele): It's about not waiting to reflect on good memories, but creating them now. And in the midst of that, all life is reflection. The album is pretty autobiographical. I lost my grandma while writing that album. My mom lost her job, and she and my dad lost the house that I grew up in, which is where my dad grew up — and which his dad built.
You were also involved in the Occupy movement with Sole, which ties in to why your parents lost the house and to big banks being bailed out, with most of us bearing the brunt of the cost of their fiscal irresponsibility. But you don't sound particularly angry on this album.
Not really angry, just kind of reflective, I guess. Trying to see things for what they are. The song about my grandmother, "Nona," is not a tribute to her life or an autobiography. It's more like a scrapbook of memories. What's cool is that it's over an electronic-sounding beat. Ceschi Ramos lost his grandmother the same week, and he and I were talking, and he did work on that song. Now he's in prison on some nonsense.
Kyle Jones was involved in the making of this record.
I met Kyle Jones through Chavo Trejo and Damon Jevon. Kyle used to be the bass player in Damon's band Fresh City. They let me come over once, and they re-created "Universal Battle" with the band. I was still in high school then, and it was cool. Kyle told me he did mastering and work for the Roots. He's platinum now with [Flobots'] "Handlebars." When I gave him this album, he said, "I'm not just going to master this; I'm going to help you produce this." Kyle mastered the .Calm album Anti-Smiles and [Time CDs] Fantastic Reality and Naked Dinner. Kyle had a much bigger part in this than on other albums.