Hip Hop and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu cross paths on more levels than one may realize. Rhythm, creativity, and improvisation are a few facets where the two intersect. Over the years, a long line of musicians has formed who've been influenced by these parallels. Most fans of the rap genre immediately think of the Wu-Tang Clan when pressed to name an artist inspired by the martial arts. However, the list of stars runs much deeper. Afu-Ra established himself as a lyrical warrior after dropping his acclaimed “Body of the Life Force” LP. From the group, Jedi Mind Tricks, Vinnie Paz continually lays down lyrics describing Royce Gracie's ferocity during the early days of MMA. Raaka Iriscience, of Dilated Peoples, has been training Gracie Jiu-Jitsu since the time the sport was starting to take root in Southern California. His first solo album, Crown of Thorns, debuted last month. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to talk with Raaka about his latest project, Fedor's most recent fight and how jiu-jitsu has influenced his life.
Chris Martinet: What was it like when you first started training BJJ at the Gracie Academy in Torrance?
Rakaa Iriscience: It was great. The first time I trained it was coming off of watching UFC 1 and 2. Walking in there seeing Royce, there was a lot of celebrity business going on. Still really early in the game. There were a lot of egos still coming in there getting tapped regardless of what their respective disciplines were. That was a a good time... definitely a great time... and to be welcomed into the family was a great feeling.
CM: Have you ever or do you ever plan on competing?
RI: Not in anything major. I've done some academy competitions but in order to compete in anything there's an obvious commitment. Regardless if you look at it as a full time job or you're one of the many great people that just do it part time, it's something that I don't want to take lightly or for granted. I've messed around with some in school tournaments but I haven't gone out there and represented the academy. That should come with a certain amount respect and gratitude for the situation and that should come with a lot more training and discipline than unfortunately I have right now.
CM: I can understand how you wouldn't find the time quite the time to dedicate your full attention to it.
RI: Well actually that doesn't have anything to do with it. I'm just not gonna represent what someone else has put so much time and so much work to build up when I'm not where I need to be.
CM: Do you hold a belt ranking?
RI: I'm a Purple belt. I train when I can but I actually just took a little bit (of time) off because of a couple injuries...but I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things.
CM: Any BJJ stars you pay attention to outside of your own academy?
RI: Of course, the whole Gracie Family and the younger generations. Even cats outside of the academy like Denny “300” out of 10th Planet Jiu-Jtisu. There's some real solid cats coming out of there.
CM: How about the current fight cards? Do you still keep up on them?
RI: Yeah, I try to but there are so many fight cards now. It used to be a situation where the whole martial arts world would stop and watch a fight. I keep up when I can but I don't get a chance to watch all the fights.
CM: Well if you keep up on the big fights did you by chance Catch Fedor vs. Werdum?
RI: I did! Man! Obviously that was a really serious, historic... gaming changing fight. Fedor stood up out of his guard thinking he could power his way out of it. Seems like there's easily three or four times he could have easily stood up out of that guard before he got caught with that triangle. But that's why triangles are so effective.... you have a little too much confidence in your ability to get free and you forget about technique. Then your gonna wake up trying to figure out what happened. Don't be surprised when it happens. I don't think he (Fedor) really respected the danger he was in until he was already swimming with the sharks.
CM: Well said. So how do you think your experiences with BJJ has influenced your music stylistically?
RI: Well not so much stylistically to be honest or even thematically. I mean I've made some references and jiu-jitsu references here, it's just more of a personal thing. It allows me to be more relaxed. It allows me to deal with pressure and stress better. It allows me to show a little bit of grace under fire which can be helpful in this business. It's a good venting system so you don't have that same build up of pressure that can destroy relationships or business situations. On a supplemental level, I feel like it's something that fits my life which in return is reflected in my music. There are still principals of balance and of focusing on technique over long hours. Relaxing, breathing, and thinking ahead are all things that interact with my music from jiu-jitsu.
CM: Your new album is getting great reviews. What's your favorite song on Crown of Thrones?
RI: That always changes day to day. Today, if I had to pick it would probably be “Assault and Battery” just because it puts me in the mood to train or a sparring mood. So it's kind of like a theme song. Yesterday, somebody asked me and I told them it was “Eyes Wide” which is a more street orientated song and that's probably because I was chilling with em' in a more street orientated environment. I feel like that album has this diverse spectrum of flavors, textures and spices of LA.
CM:You've worked with some of amazing artists outside of Dilated Peoples. Defari, Tha Alkaholics, Cypress Hill, and Swollen Members. The track on your new album featuring KRS-One is really well done. What was it like working with him?
RI: KRS is like a big brother to me. He's one of the architects and pioneers. He's one of the reasons why I approach my music the way I approach it. To be able to work with him again, you know we worked on a couple things together in the past, but to be able to work with him again and have him come down and show such love to the project.... I mean that's a blessing. One of the reasons why I do what I do and the way I do it is because as a cat trying to get into the rap game I can remember being in high school and deciding this is what I wanted to do and one of the dreams, I guess you could say, and it didn’t even necessarily seem that realistic was that I'd be able to work with KRS- One. So yeah(laughing), obviously dreams do come true. It's one of those funny, cliché situations.
CM:Do you guys share similar political sentiments?
RI: Not across the board. I mean are you talking about me and KRS or me and Dilated (Peoples)?
CM: You and KRS-One
RI: Some of them I'm sure. Many of the big ones but we're both individuals and he has his own experiences. Some of the big things that most people would agree on like human rights, equal rights, changing the environment and live and let live. All the details aren't so much as important as the general overall goal of everybody living in the best overall place.
CM: Well congratulations on dropping a great first solo album. It's getting a great response and I'm glad to see your making it as a solo artist as well.
RI: Thanks brother, I appreciate the continued support. People are starting to see that the arts across the board are connected at a certain level. You know it's like what's up with the “Hip Hop Chess Foundation.” Different arts, different types of warriors, different types of creative people. Expressive people coming to the table to build bridges and show love for development. Like how we were talking about with music and martial arts. It's good that guys are covering that and showing just how deep it runs.