Scene-straddling MC C-Rayz Walz grew up in The Bronx watching the originators shape hip-hop culture. During adolescence, he committed crimes, freestyled with icons on street corners, palled around with Mobb Deep in high school. Ambition and talent trumped the thug-life jones, though, and the budding battle-rhyme master turned from wasting his life to wasting all comers on the mic.
These days, following an astounding spate of self-released singles, mix-tapes and guest appearances — including a spot on one of underground rap's touchstones, Cannibal Ox's Cold Vein — C-Rayz is known as the founder of independent Sun Cycle Records and a member of Stronghold, a freestyle-is-our-specialty collective. He's built a rep as a blindingly original rapper with two full-lengths on the acclaimed label Definitive Jux.
His street experience, observant nature and head full of quick poetry have joined forces to make him one of under-the-radar rap's most unique, well-rounded and lauded voices. It's easy to believe he might be the MC who will bring the underground into the mainstream.
On the eve of his latest American tour, I had a phone conversation with C-Rayz Walz about inspiration and expectation. Well, "conversation" isn't really the word — I asked him questions, and he freestyled answers. To all of them. In seconds.
(NOTE: Apologies to C-Rayz Walz — a few couplets were lost in static.)
Are you on the road right now?
I'm off the road like in yellow bricks,
But I'm still like the Wizard of Oz because the flows exist.
Which came first for you, freestyle or the notebook?
Freestyle, watchin' Busy Bee and Grandmaster Flash
In the park, thinkin' yo, I could do shit like they ask.
Do you still do rhyme battles?
Right now I'm focused on making hits for the
So I can form myself out of the clay like Cassius.
Why did you burn all of your notebooks of
lyrics before you started working on ['05's
full-length] Year of the Beast?
'Cause I lost my goal in my infinite stories
And my manager was on some lying-ass
And I had to go through Phoenix
So I thought burnin' my books was convenient
Now I'm free of the past and I'm new to the
I'm reborn and now I salute you.
It seems like a lot of MCs feel like they have to pigeonhole
themselves as a sort of character: the funny MC, the
revolutionary MC, the intellectual MC. It's like you can't be
funny and serious. But you don't subscribe to that. Is it
something you work at, or does it come naturally?
It's not something I really premeditate on
It's just reflection of the fact that I'm human
They say I should rap about girls and guns and money
I tell 'em I rap about everything, honey
I will not change, I'm still rhyming the same
I'll talk about everything, 'cause everything affects the game.
There's a sort of perception that you're the guy who bridges
the gap between the indie scene and the street scene.
Are you conscious of that?
I'm conscious of that, I definitely do that
Make the cats on the corner selling crack [say]
Yo dude, that guy can make cash and rap
I can make both of them connect and match
The bridge between, both unattach and attach
By attachment we can regain a connection
And that is my hip-hop perfection.
Do you feel a responsibility to fill that role?
I do, being that I have this gift
I can't use it to reciprocate death and the pessimist bliss
That comes from ignorance
Every rhyme I write is intimate
Making sure each ear and mind is into it.
How much do you draw from all the bad shit you got into
as a kid?
Well, you ain't go through the bad, you can't appreciate the good
The reason I go well in the 'burbs is why I'm street in the 'hood
The past presently predicts my future
And the present is the future of the past, true dat.
Do you think you draw a more diverse crowd than other artists in the quote-unquote backpack scene?
I think I'm the most diverse artist in existence
I can do a track with M.O.P. then go record with Limp Bizkit
Terrence Trent D'Arby to Genghis Khan
A song to go with Al Green won't be wrong
I'll do some shit with Avril Lavigne if she bring the stamina
The next track I'll do with Coheed and Cambria.
What's your reaction to the idea that you could be the
breakthrough that'll take Def Jux, and underground
hip-hop in general, to the mainstream?
Well I've really given up on that dream
And now I'm just doing how I am, manifesting my
I don't think Def Jux has the action to fear
To make the concept of C-Rayz perfectly clear
So this year I'm connecting by flooding the market
Hitting a different chance by aiming at various
The next label is Draft Records, that might be
I don't think the albums'll be coming out on
Def Jux or Rhymesayers
So if everyone can't get the albums, you know
Just come to the show to witness the flow.