International and national Hip Hop veteran Capital X onslaughts in his new video “Truth Be Told.” The record also produced by X is taken from his forthcoming album ‘Beats & Rhymes.’ In the in-depth interview below, X shares the inside scoop on the album, the premise of the video, his signature style to exploit harsh truths, contributions to Hip Hop for the past 30 years, and more.
MJ: When people hear the name Capital X there’s a lot that comes to mind and resonates, from Hip Hop culture to activism. Your career began in the late 70s and the early 80s first as a breaker and then as MC. Talk about your entrance into Hip Hop and your transition from breaker to MC.
X: Though I was from New York, I was actually first introduced to what would become the culture of Hip Hop in Patillas, Puerto Rico in 1977. I was visiting family and my cousin Flex was a member of the Dynamite Kids, an Outlaw Rockin crew. I instantly fell in love with everything about it. I get an adrenaline rush all over again just thinking about it. Upon returning home to NY, I sought anyone that was into Up-Rockin. I ended up getting down with the SepaRock City Crew. SepaRock was a collective of MCs, DJs, and B-Boys in the South Bronx. They were all originally from the West Indies. So I not only found a crew to throw down with, but I also got to be around MCs and DJs doing their thing. I was also instantly drawn towards the mic, but I loved Rockin so much, I stuck with it. We started working on routines that we would perform locally and we also battled whoever wanted it. I kept dancing till 1982/83. The last few years I was break dancing. I started writing rhymes on the DL. I just pretty much naturally evolved. The mic had a gravitational pull on me. I made my first professional demo as an MC in 1983/84 while I was in California. I was out there breaking and the opportunity presented itself. From that moment forward I considered myself retired from break dancing. I divorced the floor and married the mic.
MJ: You are originally from Brooklyn, NY but moved to Norway back in 2010. How is the Hip Hop scene overseas? How does it differ from here in the States? Also, talk about that major crossover and the decision that led up to it.
X: I was very fortunate to have started touring in Europe around 2005. I was shocked at the Hip Hop scene out here. I felt that the states being so oversaturated took the culture for granted compared to Europe. In Europe, they appreciated every aspect of the culture where everyone and their brother was out to be a rapper in the US and everything else kind of got ignored. In Europe, they pay homage to the pioneers and just have so much respect for the foundation that Hip Hop was built. France and Italy had the best scenes in my opinion with Germany following close. Touring through Italy and France felt like I was living Hip Hop in New York in the 80s all over again. I eventually made my way to Scandinavia. I first rocked in Denmark which also has a dope scene, then I got booked in Norway. There was and still is something about Norway that just does it for me. Though the Hip Hop scene in Norway falls short compared to other European countries in my opinion, I fell in love with the peaceful atmosphere and chill people. Coming from the hectic background I was used to, Norway felt like I found paradise on earth. I remember telling the promoter that booked me as I looked over a fjord for the first time in my life, that if I lived in a place like this, I would become Gandhi-like in no time. The opportunity presented itself for me to move to Norway and it was a no-brainer. I was tired of the killing in the US on the streets and by the states themselves. I was tired of being preyed upon by law enforcement agencies. The stress was killing me for sure. Norway remedied all that, and it healed many of the battle wounds I had sustained throughout my lifetime.
MJ: You wear many hats as an MC, recording artist, producer, graphic designer, and videographer, as well as CEO of your indie label. What are some challenges, if any, that come with being a one-man army? What are the wins?
X: Great question. I love my freedom. Freedom definitely comes at a high price though. The biggest challenge of being a one-man army as you put it is time management. There just never seems to be enough time in a day. I of course get/seek out help from time to time to lighten the load but for the most part, I enjoy being independent. You have to be good at rolling solo. Years spent in solitary confinement prepared me well for that. The wins are first of all the freedom. Answering to no one but yourself. Taking on all these different aspects truly hones one’s craft of being a creator which is also a win. Not owing anyone anything is another huge win. I remember signing my first deal back in the day. My crew all believed we had made it when we got that check. I felt that yoke being locked around my neck. For me, having less is actually having a lot more. I am not a commodity anymore to anyone. Being this independent allows me to be a true creator. That is the overall win for me.
MJ: Outside of music you are an activist, which stemmed from your time in prison. During that time you lost out on some major music deals. Upon your release, you went full throttle into creating a lengthy music catalog including 2 albums, an EP, 20 singles, and 17 videos. Talk about the moment of empowerment you thrived on fresh out of the gates, versus giving up on your career.
X: Though there was a time when I hoped to “make it” I never really looked at what I do as a career. For me, this is a way of life. Of course, getting paid to do what one loves is the ultimate goal for many artists. But getting paid or not I love what I do. Not living Hip Hop was never an option for me. During my last prison bid, I worked hard on myself. I transformed myself into who I am today. I was inspired and motivated by Malcolm X and how he transformed himself. I was so obsessed with the life of Malcolm X for many years. Cats started calling me X while I was on Rikers Island and I ran with it. I did look to get signed again when I first got out from my last bid but as a solo artist. That was in 2002. I was quickly reminded of how shady the industry is. I was spitting conscious lyrics and they offered me a deal if I would rather write gangsta raps. I wasn’t about to compromise myself so I walked. Meeting rappers such as Slug of Atmosphere, Ill Bill, and Immortal Technique motivated me to be an independent artist. I started out well, but relocating to Norway leveled me off for some years. Now that I have my feet firmly planted, things are once again starting to pick up. But I never stopped being/living Hip Hop no matter what.
MJ: This leads us to your new single/video “Truth Be Told” which is taken from your forthcoming album ‘Just Beats & Rhymes.’ You hold no punches when it comes to exposing harsh truths on how Social Media brainwashes and turns humans into robots, attacking capital punishment, calling out rappers who use their music to glorify violence, drugs, and street life, and you even, so boldly, exploit the music industry…Take us through the journey of “Truth Be Told” from the thought to creation, to production, to the final canvas, and to what audiences can expect to take away from the video.
X: When I get on a mic I feel I need to be saying something. One of my biggest influences when it comes to being an MC is Melle Mel. Melle Mel’s verses back in the day hit me so hard, that I can still feel the impact. I can’t rhyme just to be rhyming. There are plenty of lyrical acrobats out there that are way better at doing that than I ever will be. But there aren’t many slanging truths. I always loved the MCs that challenged my mind with what they were saying. Kool Moe Dee, KRS ONE, Rakim, Wise Intelligent, Chuck D, Guru they made me want to seek knowledge and I did, and still do. What better way to share knowledge and wisdom than in a rhyme? I once lived blindly and I see multitudes of people living that way today and it’s painful to watch. The microphone is where I speak the truth, you can take it or leave it. During the pandemic, I got back into production. I had toyed around with production back in the day. I actually sold my E-mu SP-1200 to help me move to Norway. After producing a few tracks for the legendary Lifers Group which is now out and doing their thing, I decided to self-produce an entire album for myself. Truth be Told was one of the first tracks that came to me. I love that you said I “boldly, exploit the music industry”. That’s how it should be, and not the other way around. With so much information out there I find it hard to believe how many artists are still willing to sign deals. To be owned. The demise of so many rappers in the last few years was definitely a motivating factor behind the track. I have also kind of grown tired of hearing the coke and gun bars as well. I lived that life for real and paid dearly for it. Our communities are nearly looking like when the crack epidemic hit back when and I feel as though as artists we can be doing better. Aside from what I have spent on equipment which isn’t much honestly, the recording, release, and video for Truth be Told didn’t cost me a dime. I want artists to know that. I shot the video using my old Samsung Galaxy S9+. I edited it in an outdated version of Adobe Premiere Pro that I jacked from a friend like 15 years ago. Making something from nothing is what Hip Hop is all about. That’s what it was in the beginning and should still be, not no million-dollar budgets. I hope that one person is moved by what I am saying enough to take action at least in their own lives. If I move one person, I am good.
MJ: Some might consider the video to be controversial, some might consider the video difficult to digest, some might want to sweep it under the rug, and for some, it might open eyes. What do you think about the adverse reactions you might receive?
X: I am used to adverse reactions to all the music I put out. For well over a decade I only spoke about the death penalty, the prison industrial complex, and the crooked criminal justice system. I got more hate mail than fan mail and more death threats than I could count on my fingers and toes. Either way, it goes, I provoke thought and spark up dialogue. I’m good with that. I think it was Plato that said “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth”. I believe our history reflects that. The bottom line is I would rather be hated and despised for speaking the truth than be loved for spreading lies.
MJ: Does “Truth Be Told” set the tone or theme for the upcoming self-produced album ‘Just Beats & Rhymes?’
X: Actually it doesn’t. Though there are other tracks that sit well next to Truth be Told, “Just Beats & Rhymes” goes in a few different directions. A few tracks are older rhymes I dug up and felt they still deserved to be heard as they are still very much so relevant. So I created beats for them. The newer rhymes are definitely more about current social issues and topics. I also have a couple that touches upon my personal growth coming into Knowledge of Self. There are even a couple of tracks where I am just having fun with it. But you will still find a gem within those tracks. Overall the album is just what it says it is, Just Beats & Rhymes. No collaborations, no fancy production. I even went as far as using no vocal effects on nearly all the tracks. It’s just straight-up dry vocals not even a hint of reverb. Just Beats & Rhymes will drop later this year.
MJ: As a vetted artist living his life true to the culture, elements, and essence of Hip Hop for over decades, what are two essential gems you can share with the newer generation of Hip Hop?
X: Two gems I would drop here is one: learn the history of Hip Hop. Embrace the roots of this culture we all love so much. Without roots, there will be no real growth. Knowing the true history of Hip Hop is empowering to say the least. Secondly: be yourself. If you have yet to learn who you truly are, work on that, and find out. Dig deep till you reach the real you. Those in our culture that are now in their late 40s, 50s, and 60s are still active, is because they are true to themselves. They are the ones to look up to. It’s not about who has the biggest bank account trust me.
MJ: Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
X: In closing, I would like to say I love this culture of ours. It has given me everything I lacked coming up. It gave me a history, an identity, a purpose, and a reason to live. I don’t have a mansion or fancy cars. I am far from being rich, but because of Hip Hop, I am as wealthy as they come. I don’t have multitudes of fans, but I have some real die-hard supporters and I love every one of them. By society’s standards, I ain’t shit, never was and never will be. But “Truth be Told” I have lived Hip Hop for over four decades. To me, in “My World”, I am a huge success. Never allow others to define who you are, are what your success is, or should be. Peace be unto you all.
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