Choosey Interview

Between gospel music in church and his grandfather’s role in the Latin Jazz scene of Los Angeles, music has always been a factor in Choosey’s lineage. His debut album Black Beans (read our review here), which was released earlier this year, conveys the less represented perspective of growing up Afro-Chicano. Hailing from LA by way of San Diego, Choosey uses Black Beans to make important statements in favour of black and brown unity at a time when his voice is most needed. 

“I wanted to provide a different approach, I wanted to write songs that are solution based, that offer some sense of hope. I wanted to feel the love and beauty of my people instead of regurgitating and restating why we’re angry.”

– Choosey.

Autobiographical moments such as the Darondo infused ‘I Did’ follow in the footsteps of other Exile produced projects including Blu’s masterful Below The Heavens and Fashawn’s Boy Meets World – Exile’s soulful production as always bringing honesty and introspection out of the Dirty Science alumni. 

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Choosey during a break in his European Tour.

How’s the tour going so far? 

Very early stages of it. We’ve already had two shows so far and we’re just kind of hanging out right now in Berlin but it’s been good so far for sure. 

There was a prolonged period of time between your first project Left Field and your new LP Black Beans. What were the differences between the two projects leading up to their releases? 

They are definitely significantly different projects. Left Field was a mixtape, it wasn’t really an LP, Black Beans would be my official debut album. But the difference between Left Field and Black Beans? Left Field was right when I met Exile and I had songs I was working on with no real direction but we still wanted to put them out because they were cool and we wanted to add a few that he produced as well. We were working together on a compilation of songs but we wanted to get a project out before we released our own collaborative LP so we put that out and we called it Left Field because it kind of came out of nowhere, I hadn’t been around the Dirty Science crew or on the label, I was brand new. But the difference with Black Beans is that we sat down and conceptualised the album and took our time and geared ourselves in an actual direction, we had premeditated things we wanted to convey. So that’s why we delivered Left Field as a mixtape, like a collection of songs opposed to an album. 

What was the reason behind the length of time it took between releasing Left Field and Black Beans

Yeah, there was a lot going on at the time. The actual creation of the album did not take four years. I wrote ninety-five percent of the songs in three months. I was working on two albums at once during that time, Left Field came out then I moved up to LA with Exile and we started working on Black Beans, I had already started writing for another album that Exile and I have to release in the future, so I was working between albums. The delay came from how we wanted it to be mixed. Black Beans initially was going to be another mixtape before an LP but we kinda started liking what we were doing with Black Beans and wanted to give it more attention. At first we were just going to come out real quick and not really produce too crazy, it was going to be more like loops and just a real quick feel but then the songs started developing and more live stuff started getting put into the songs – we started bringing in singers and live instrumentation so it was more like an album. So the delay, in short, was that we believed in the Black Beans project more than we intended too. 

Another reason for the delay is that we wanted to find the right home for it. I knew I didn’t just want to put it out and see what happens, we wanted the right backing, the right PR and more so, we wanted to get it distributed how it eventually did with Fatbeats. So Fatbeats was our main pick, we wanted something like Fatbeats that felt like a home, we didn’t want some random record label, we wanted to still do what we do as Dirty Science but still distribute it the right way.  

You mentioned there about the live instrumentation and backing vocalists. The LP is very much brimming with optimism and unlike other Exile albums I’ve heard, it’s very much tailored to you I’d say with the horns, guitars and other Latin influenced grooves. 

Definitely. I mean I had my hand in the production as well as far as like the angle we wanted to take or the samples. We would go through samples or I would bring samples to him and I would want him to flip certain things, it was a group effort like that but definitely different from other projects he’s put out, it’s pretty unique in that sense. 

A couple of the samples that I picked up on when listening to the album were things like Darondo, Sister Nancy, Brenton Wood… 

Yeah!!

The overall sound that you guys created is very much a feeling of nostalgia with overwhelming sunkist elements, was this the intention? 

Absolutely man, you hit it on the nail, the perfect description of it. I definitely wanted to put something out for my first LP that provided joy more than anything you know? I still wanted to include the realities and hardships of life but I wanted it to have a sense of hope. A lot of it is reflecting on my past, a lot of it is nostalgic because I wanted to deliver a good understanding of who I am and where I come from for my first album. There’s a lot of looking at where I’ve come from and what was important to me to give me the character I have now. So it was definitely intentional. Considering the subject matter and the lead singles ‘Low Low’, it all touches on the Afro-Chicano roots I have, the sound was right, you said it, the sound was sunny, I come from San Diego so it’s sunny ninety percent of the time there so I really wanted to capture that and put it into the project. That was another reason why it took a while, we wanted it to drop right before summer. 

You mentioned you’re from mixed heritage, Afro-Chicano. Being of both African American and Chicano descent, what has it been like for yourself living in America at the moment with a lot of the police brutality towards black youths and the inhumane immigration policies that are currently in place?

Man… That’s where all of the subject matter really came from. That’s where the drive of the album came from. A lot of the drive to put out an album like this did come from what I was seeing as of recently. In reality it’s been happening my whole life and it’s been happening a long time before I was born, everything you just mentioned the subject matter, immigration, police brutality, it’s been happening. But now we’re just in a place where you can go to an Instagram and see it all over our phones, go to any news source and you can see it. We’re in this big brother age, everyone has a camera and it’s not like ‘big brother is filming us,’ we’re filming each other, we’re filming ourselves. But back to your question, yes these things are going on. I live in a border city, San Diego is right beside the border of Mexico. I mean everyone I grew up with probably has a good chance that they’ve had someone come over the border illegally, my family, my closest friends and my African-American side, we’re a target in a whole different way you know? Post civil rights, all this is still active.

“The determination I’ve already been programmed with growing up, I’m beginning to understand that has propelled me and pushed me and has helped me achieve things musically. A part of my process is falling a lot and I’m down to fall in order to land it, I’ll do it to no end.”

– Choosey on the relationship between music and skateboarding.

A lot of these songs initially were angry songs, songs of rebellion and more a of revolutionary militant mindstate. I started writing these type of songs first. Like the human emotions, the first thing we have access to is anger, it’s the easiest human emotion to access when something goes wrong, you get mad you get angry, people want to break things, it’s very easy to access, after that anger then what? After you’re angry is everything solved? A lot of times no. I wanted to provide a different approach, I wanted to write songs that are solution based, that offer some sense of hope. I wanted to feel the love and beauty of my people instead of regurgitating and restating why we’re angry. A few years ago when I was writing these songs, a lot of albums were coming out expressing this anger and we’ve heard that, we all know what’s going on, we are angry but at the same time, there’s still a lot of beauty in life. I wanted to be the voice that still provided a sense of hope. Love, hope and a little bit of sunshine. 

You speak about your love and admiration for your family throughout your latest album. I wanted to ask about a few members of your family if that’s okay? 

Yeah, not a problem!

Your grandfather, I believe his name is Rafael Vasquez Jr, he played double bass in several jazz bands and left his mark on the Latin jazz scene on the west coast. What influence did he have on you because I seen you’re a dab-hand on the keys? 

His influence on me man, really powerful. Probably now as I’m older I’m probably reflecting on it more about the influence he has had because at the time I might not have seen it. He passed away, rest in peace, some years back and just like everyone else when you lose a loved one, you start to really tap into what they left behind for you and these moments become clear as day. Everything is 20/20 in hindsight. As of recently, and during the creation of the album, every little lesson as a little kid until now are more and more clear. Growing up he would teach me little songs on the piano, little things, small melodies, nothing too major. Even when I was in a jazz band, in middle school I was in a jazz band and I played trombone for a little bit, even then I would be talking to him about technical things within music and reading music and stuff. He had perfect pitch, he knew how to read music in his sleep but even when I would try to talk to him about the technicalities of it, he would instantly shut it down and talk about the feeling of the music and where it’s supposed to come from and how it’s supposed to be received, how it’s a conversation first and foremost before it just being a piece of music. He taught me how to listen to the question and the answer in the music and that stuck with me. If you break down a bar in music there’s a question there and there’s an answer. Little lessons like that where he would apply his understanding of music to life and humanised it more than made it technical, those things stuck with me. Even now it’s a lot clearer to me, I understand how to start a song a lot more now because of him, I used to not think about that too much but now I make sure those little elements are there that he taught me. A lot to do with feeling and emotion. 

Something else that I was impressed by is that your cousin is Louie Lopez and he won the Tampa Pro a while back, he’s a very talented skateboarder. And again, you’re a dab hand at skating too, I particularly enjoyed your kickflip to bs boardslide down the rail. I wanted to know if being a part of the skateboarding scene growing up helped mould your tastes musically as the skate scene is very much a melting pot of individuals from different backgrounds from what I’ve experienced?

Oh my god, yes the best! I always tell people, I’m into a lot of music and when I say I listen to everything, I really do listen to everything. A lot of that is to do with skateboarding, the songs we would hear in skate videos. No matter how into hip-hop I was there was always a punk element, psyche rock, reggae, everything you know, all kinds of music that comes along with it. I feel it’s a DIY culture in general anyway, especially when I started skating we weren’t looking at it like this a career opportunity, we were just out here on some counter culture shit, it was very punk rock, it still is very punk rock, you know what I’m saying, before all the millionaires in skateboarding [laughs]. Man… dude I think the way I approach music and pretty much everything I do is pretty much a reflection of a skateboarders mentality. Like metaphorically, I mean it sounds like you skate too or you grew up skating? 

Aye, I grew up skating, I have an Alien Workshop deck I still need to break-in. 

Yeah, AWS! So like, metaphorically skateboarders, we have to fall hundreds of times before you land that trick usually, and a lot of skateboarding involves falling down a lot, a lot, a lot and getting up then you land it. The determination I’ve already been programmed with growing up, I’m beginning to understand that has propelled me and pushed me and has helped me achieve things musically. A part of my process is falling a lot and I’m down to fall in order to land it, I’ll do it to no end. We weren’t born knowing skating tricks we had to learn them, figure them out and land them, now we have them for life. Same thing, you want to learn new tricks, put in the work, fall down, put in the work, you know what I’m saying? [laughs] So with music, thankfully, I’m not physically falling down, music is very lightweight for me to fall. I figure I’m going to learn it, put my mind to it and I’m going to land.

It must’ve been a bit of a trip for you that your music was featured in a Transworld skate video? 

You saw that? Crazy. That’s so dope… That’s been crazy. I have great relations with all the homies that are skaters and pro skaters, like you said Louie Lopez is my cousin. We all have a good relationship but I don’t try to push my music on them but I do have a deep desire to be a soundtrack for skateboarders as it was for me, all my favourite music was in skate videos. But as you say, for it to come full circle and have my music in Transworld and different people embracing it and using it in video parts, it’s amazing man, I want to keep going. I have some other things in the pipeline, other skateboarders that I’m about to make custom parts for their stuff you know. Shoutout to Transworld bro, they’ve been holding it down for some years now.

The last person in your family I wanted to ask about is your father. The album cover is a portrait of you and your father and I recently read somewhere that you only recently realised that he is the same age in that photo that you are now. That surely must make the LP that little bit more contemplative? 

Oh my god, yeah dude. We realised it after the project was pressed-up and I showed my sister the vinyl and we were all excited about it, everyone was talking about it. My sister said “wait, how old was he there…?” and we looked at the original photo and done the math and realised that that photo was taken when he was the same age I was when we put the album out. I’m a pretty spiritual person and I don’t believe in coincidences too much, my whole life… Basically if I ever get time to write a book about my life you’d understand. These  special things happen in my life more often than not, you know? Everyday I wake up and there’s some kind of sign or spiritual alignment and I think ‘okay that’s why this has happened.’ That felt like confirmation from the universe that it was coming out at the right time, like everything was where it was supposed to be. Whatever relationship people have with God, I have that relationship with the universe and it’s undeniable for me. The album was going to come out a few years back and it didn’t come out and I was a little frustrated with that but when you get these signs from the universe, it makes you feel like this is the right time for it. 

We like to finish out interviews on a recurring note at SOUTHSIDERS. We like to ask artists their opinion on two albums that seem to be separating our writers at that time. Currently we are debating over ATLiens and Aquemini from Outkast. If you had to choose one of these LPs, what one would it be and why?

Oooooooh yo! Look! [laughs] Okay… wait. I’ve already been down this list before and I know my answer but what did you go for? 

I went with ATLiens

What?!

The reason I chose ATLiens, it’s the production on that album as well as the rhyming of course – Andre & Big Boi are never going to let you down. But sonically, that album took me somewhere else, it sounds so ahead of its time, very minimal too.

It’s so good dude! You’re right. The production quality, I mean it’s before Aquemini but the production quality was as good as it was in ‘98. 

I could put ‘Elevators’ on any day of the week and it sounds like it was made yesterday. 

Yeah, from that level I see where you’re coming from but undeniably, for me, I’m going to have to go with Aquemini for sure. Lyrically, oh my god bro… I had never heard songs like this! ‘Liberation’?! That brings tears to my eyes. That’s like my anthem. ATLiens, like the production, I could listen to the instrumentals and lose my mind but if I listened to the Aquemini instrumentals it would just be cool you know? But lyrically Aquemini, nah, I can’t even begin bro. I got to listen to that album at least once every month, front to back.

Choosey is currently on a European tour with Blu, Exile & Pistol McFly. Purchase tickets here and get the physical copy of Black Beans via Fatbeats.

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