Q&A: Hieroglyphics' Casual on Being a '#RapGod' and Battle-Rapping in Middle School
For his latest project, the Oakland-raised rapper Casual has anointed himself a rap god. It's a lofty and arrogant title, but one that the Hieroglyphics crew's undisputed battle champ has earned the right to coin, having now clocked up a near-20-year recorded career with new album He Think He #RapGod. Headed up by the scuzzy, electronic lead single "RapGod," which features Casual sparring with his Hiero pals Tajai and Pep Love, the project is another blast of high-caliber Left Coast lyricism. So with its Twitterish use of a hashtag in the title, we polled Casual on which other rappers he follows on Twitter -- and got him to reminisce about battling kids on the school bus and playing with his favorite Star Wars toy characters.
You grew up in Oakland, right?
Yep, Oakland, California. Mainly in East Oakland, all around 82nd Avenue.
What were your earliest memories of growing up around 82nd Avenue?
Just memories of all the time I spent playing with my toys with friends while inside. I remember wishing that I could go outside and play, but I was always inside with my toys.
What were your favorite toys?
GI Joe and Star Wars toys.
Who was your favorite Star Wars character?
Basically Boba Fett. I liked his costume; his costume was dope. He was the only one with the unique costume and the T-shapes for his eyes.
When you were allowed outside, where did you hang out?
Just on the street -- pole-to-pole is what we called it. The system was that you couldn't go past the street signs and you had to be back inside before the street lights came on. So I really spent a lot of time inside -- just like I do now. It's beneficial to stay inside in certain areas.
So was it your parents who didn't want you playing outside?
Yeah, and I began to prefer it after a while to stay inside as I got used to it. But, yeah, my parents didn't want me to go outside. But I also started rapping at an early age -- so I'd be inside breakdancing and all sorts. Hip-hop pushed every kid's creativity. I was only seven or eight years old when I first heard hip-hop music. I remember breakdancing to things like [Kraftwerk's] "Tour De France" and all the old stuff.
You mentioned you started rapping early on too, right?
Yeah, and one of my first rhymes was my own version of [U.T.F.O.'s] "Roxanne Roxanne." I wrote my own version because I wanted to battle somebody at school who had their own version of the song. That was right around Fifth grade -- although I can't remember the concept or what happened in my version of the song!
Did you always go by the rap name Casual?
Not always. I was Jammin' Jay when I first started! But since about ninth grade I've been Casual. I was actually a talent show king at school: I rocked Seventh, Eighth and Ninth grade talent shows, all through middle school. Then we used to do the rallies at high school -- that's how you made a name for yourself in the city in those days.