Even if you’re only a casual hip hop fan, you’ve heard Numskull rap. Hell, even if you’re not a fan of the greatest artform on the planet, you’ve heard Numskull’s music. As one-half of The Luniz, he’s probably responsible for one of the greatest songs about weed smoking ever.
But Numskull is more than just weed. At this point in time, he’s an elder statesman in hip hop. A bonafide hip hop legend and I had the opportunity to chop it up with him about Oakland, music, education and the youth of today.
TD: Now being from Oakland, can you expound on what it was like growing up in Oakland for the outsiders who don’t know.
Numskull: To me, Oakland was the best place to grow up, best place in the world. I wouldn’t want to be from nowhere else than Oakland
TD: That’s what’s up! Now a lot of people when they think of Oakland, they think of crime, dope and big time dope dealers, when you were coming up in the game, the dope game meant what to you?
Numskull: The dope game was a way out of the hood you know, a way to get paid, but it was more structured then you know what I mean. People ran it, they gave you what you needed, showed you what to do, you know, put you out there! You went to school back then, you know what I mean?
Nowadays you don’t go to school, we not teaching our youngsters how to do it. I’m not saying we supposed to be teaching them how to sell dope or anything like that, but if we do, we should be teaching them how to do it right! We don’t do that now, we fucked up with this generation right now, that’s why it’s so fucked up in Oakland. But back when we was growing up, we knew the ins and outs before we even got into it. We went to school for this shit, you know what I mean?
TD: Now musically, who was the biggest influence in your house growing up?
Numskull: Old school, I’ve ALWAYS been influenced by old school. Earth, Wind and Fire, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye. I mean even now as a rap artist, I don’t even listen to rap music. If it’s not my shit, I’m listening to old school R&B man, you know.
TD: I feel you, I’m the same way. I mean respect every rappers/artists craft, but it’s like I can’t really get into this weirdo rap shit that seems to be the norm today and flooding the market.
Numskull: Yeah of course, but I don’t respect it if you ain’t saying shit! Yeah, a beat and a hook, that’s some shit people can dance to and they love to dance to it, but if you’re not saying nothing ok, YOU’RE NOT AN ARTIST THEN!
TD: I’m in that same boat/frame of thinking. The era I grew up in, I was born in ’77 so I’m 39. So I grew with my brother putting me onto The Sugarhill Gang, when I was in the car with my parents and we’d take trips to Sacramento, he’d be playing Marvin Gaye, BB King and Bobby Blue Bland, I hated that as a kid, I wanted to hear some Michael Jackson or some rap music.
Numskull: But you appreciate it now though!
TD: Yeah, I appreciate it now, when I hear the stuff that’s passing as music now, I think about the fact that you’re no different than anyone else, you’re saying the same thing. I remember listening to Paris and Public Enemy and all of those rappers of that period that were influential and actually had a message… LITERALLY and said something to people. What do you feel about the current state of hip hop/rap?
Numskull: Well, the industry right now won’t even let you get on the radio if you’ve got a positive message. They want you to keep talking that same shit that they can sell, that’s it! The generation right now of kids are basically STUPID AS FUCK TO ME! I wouldn’t give a fuck if they bought my shit or not, cause if that’s what you wanna listen to go head. But the industry is not going to let you do anything positive.
I’m not saying that I’m a positive rapper at all, but I’m definitely gonna say what I think is wrong about something and what should be changed, you know what I mean? I’m going to put that in raps all day, it’s even in the first Luniz album, Operation Stackola [A classic West Coast album, in my opinion] You listen closely, we talking about some shit, you know what I mean!! But the industry is fucked up, period. And I’m glad we’re not a part of that anymore.
TD: How do you as what we call an O.G. stay with your ear to the street, well I guess I just answered my own question!
Numskull: I have kids, that’s exactly how I do it. My daughter, she picks singles from artists that are coming out, every time she’s right. She hasn’t been wrong yet! She always picks the single of the artist coming out. I’m like that shit is so fucking amazing to me, so I listen to the kids. My son is one of the best rappers out there right now, he’s so raw, and they know what’s going on. I listen to them.
TD: That’s what’s up! The kids do tell us what’s hot/going on in the streets. They know what’s poppin, see what’s happening and have that first hand knowledge, so they’re the liaison to us older cats.
Numskull: My son told me he wanted to rap, instead of going to college, he had already been rapping but he wanted to really pursue it. I said to him: “If this is what you want to do, then you you have to go back and listen to everything from the beginning of rap!” My son is very knowledgeable about everything now and you can hear it in his music. I didn’t want him to be like these motherefucling artists today, not at all.
TD: Who would you say, out of the all the artists that are out today that you haven’t worked with that you would want to work with?
Numskull: J. Cole. J. Cole is one of the best artists that are out there right now to me. J. Cole, Weeknd, yeah.
TD: What would you say it is about J. Cole that makes him someone…
Numskull: [He actually started answering before I finished the question] I feel his music! I don’t he’s think lying AT ALL YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN! The way he describes certain situations, he can’t be lying. Nobody knows that type of shit unless they go through it. He can talk about women, he can call them a bitch but make it sound good. That’s artistry right there.
TD: Where does that artistry come from, is that something innately in you?
Numskull: The love of music, you can tell he loves music. You know, it took me a long time to get that too, it took me a very long time to get the love of music and what music was, not just getting in there and rapping, you know what I mean? That’s why I can’t wait for people to hear my album that’s coming out. I sat a long time in that prison man, I sat seven years, you know what I mean and I look back on my career and me myself, like I said I’m not positive at all, I’m not that type of dude, but I’m just on some shit right now. I’m gonna speak my mind, straight up.
TD: What is it that makes artists afraid to speak their mind/speak up about certain things? You think it’s the label that they’re with?
Numskull: I don’t think they have a mind, I don’ think they even know what to say. I think they following what’s going on, you know. Real artists make their own way. Me and Yuk, we were selling dope man, I mean we was grinding brother, we was grinding hard, you know what I mean and we made our way in the music industry, we made it ourselves. We didn’t go out and try to shop no shit, we went out and put our shit out and it was just true street shit, nowadays they don’t have that. Ain’t no minds on these youngsters now.
TD: Yeah, it’s rough for me to listen to music being in the business that I’m in and doing what I do. I have to listen to it, but I have to step outside what I would want to say, you know, outside of a music editor.
Numskull: But you know what, I understand that cause that’s your job, but how do you feel about that? Cause me, if I couldn’t speak my mind, I wouldn’t feel right.
TD: Well, it’s not the fact that I can’t speak my mind, it’s more so I don’t wanna come out and say “Yo, this shit is TRASH”, you know what I mean. That would burn a lot of bridges, I don’t want to do that, especially just starting out you know what I mean. I’d rather just say “It’s cool, but not for me, it might be for the next person”
Numskull: Yeah, I’m political with it like that too, but Imma let you know I don’t like it.
TD: There are time when I hear some shit and think “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?”
Numskull: If it’s trash, IT’S TRASH, and Imma say it! I’ve always been known for never holding my tongue, EVER! Even when I was in the pen, muthafuckas would come up to me like “Lemme spit something for you”, I’d tell them STRAIGHT UP, “If it’s garbage, Imma let you know, so don’t rap to me if you can’t take it.” A couple of niggas, you know, got upset (laughs) but they got the truth.
TD: Yup, and at then end of the day, the truth is all that matters.
Numskull: I mean, at the end of the day I think everybody should tell the truth. I ain’t gone lie, I used to be the greatest liar and manipulator, THE GREATEST, I don’t think nobody could fuck with me. Right now, I don’t even like telling lies at all, I really don’t. Imma tell you the truth cause if you don’t love me for it, then fuck you!
TD: My mom always told me if you tell one lie, you gotta tell another to cover up that lie! It’s hard to remember what the fuck lies you’ve told and keep that shit together.
Numskull: I’m going through it right now with somebody. If you gonna tell a lie, keep it consistent, say the same thing next time when I ask you that question, make it consistent!
TD: Well right on, I appreciate the time you took out and sitting down talking with me, I really appreciate it.
Make sure you catch the May 7th show in Anchorage Alaska at Koots, if you happen to be in Alaska, and follow Numskull on Instagram @nummy.num!