By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
Life Unscripted, the second full-length from Miami hip-hop stalwart Garcia, is technically a solo album. But speak to the man for a just a few minutes, and it becomes abundantly clear the disc was a family effort. He almost never uses a singular pronoun when discussing his music, instead preferring we — the we being the collective Crazy Hood, Garcia's record label, crew, and extended family.
Lounging in the Crazy Hood nerve center, a series of warehouses in West Kendall, the 29-year-old Cuban-American is open, friendly, and articulate. Soon DJ EFN (famous nationally in his own right as a mixtape DJ) appears, clad in a black T-shirt advertising Garcia. The 32-year-old with a salt-and-pepper goatee is Garcia's sometime DJ and hype man, occasional babysitter, role model, and best friend. It's impossible to talk about one without involving the other; the two share an almost telekinetic bond as they quickly take turns answering questions.
EFN is also the executive producer of Life Unscripted, along with partner N.O.R.E. — yep, that N.O.R.E., erstwhile half of the classic Capone-N-Noreaga, the reggaeton dabbler now back to his hip-hop roots. But his is not the only big name connected to the disc. Among the producers hip-hop heads will recognize: Midi Mafia, Reef, the Diaz Brothers, Omega One, and even Scram Jones and DJ Honda. Among the guest MCs and vocalists: Sway (of MTV and Hot 97 fame), Bun B of UGK, and, of course, N.O.R.E.
Anchoring it all is Garcia, who proves himself a powerhouse MC with an enviable range. His delivery is gravelly and intense, but nuanced; eloquent but still street. There are moments of Southern swagger, and others of down-tempo East Coast-style introspection. And with bangers like the sweaty, Latin-flavored workout "Dejalo," featuring sultry vocals from Liza Quin, there's no reason why Life Unscripted shouldn't get heavy radio and club rotation.
Further, Garcia and EFN have wrangled a deal that most rising artists only dream of: major-label distribution (by Koch Entertainment) but with full indie control of their product. You'll find the record at Best Buy and f.y.e., but you won't find the Crazy Hood clique answering to corporate goons. You'll also find Garcia rocking alongside hip-hop heavyweights when he plays the second stage at Rock the Bells, at Bayfront Park on August 4.
In the spirit of the album's title, we let Garcia and EFN speak about it themselves.
On what, exactly, Crazy Hood is:
Garcia: Crazy Hood is an independent label and EFN is the president. We've been together as a crew of friends for over 10 years now. We just all have the same goals in music, to make records with a reputable company that releases and distributes its own product.
EFN: We're a marketing company, management company, record pool, and independent record label.... There's a bunch of us, like eight of us. Big Drain, Icky Hood, Oso, Eddie Gigs, Charlie Skins, Hazardous Sounds, Rich, Boris. We could go on, but that's the core of people. Oh, and of course Heckler, who's an MC.
On Crazy Hood's roots in Miami's original early/mid-Nineties hip-hop heyday:
Garcia: People didn't really get [hip-hop]. That's how Crazy Hood became Crazy Hood. Back then you'd get called "hoodie," because people would have their hoods up. It's not like now, where everyone's into hip-hop. You had a small group of kids in the school who were into it, and then everyone else was into bass or freestyle music.
EFN: The thing is, there was a scene people didn't know about in Miami. DJ Raw, Mother Superia — she made up the term bottom of the map. There was actually a hip-hop scene that was thriving, and a sound that people now wouldn't think was from Miami. Groups like Black Forest, the Funky Bastards. Clubs like the Carver Center in Overtown, the Zoo in Coconut Grove. That's the scene that we came out of. But somehow when these people got signed, they got dropped. So there was a gap.
If they would have blown up, Miami's scene would have been different. But something happened there, and there was a gap, and the next thing that came out was Trick. So we kind of rep that era and teach people that there is a history of hip-hop before Trick. We like Trick, but there is a history. But that's why we sound the way we sound.
On getting a big-time distribution deal, but staying independent:
Garcia: We had a bunch of different deals coming at us from different companies, but nobody was really giving us what we wanted, which was basically to remain as an entity and a label but get major distribution. Everyone just wanted to take me solo or just take me and E and have E manage me. But we didn't want that — it's a whole team of us that works together.
On the importance of hip-hop family:
Garcia: It's the deal we made when we first started connecting 10 or 15 years ago.... This crew is a we. There is no I in this crew.
On Garcia's growth as an MC:
Garcia: On my first album, Anti-Social, I was still coming into my own as an MC. I used to try to fit a million words into one bar, but I realized that less is more. I've learned how to hear a track and really attack the track for what kind of song that is. I've learned to cover every subject in my life, from partying to my parents getting divorced. I really want to come with a song, almost a story, on every track. Because the last time there were some expressive tracks, but it was really more like, "I'm a better rapper than you." Now there are actual topics, subject matter. There's real content to the music.
On his preshow rehearsal ritual, and his ability to rock any crowd:
Garcia: Our shows always change depending on who we're opening up for. You have a certain audience you've got to cater to. I rehearse 95 percent of the shows. I perform in Miami a lot, so to keep the crowd interested I have to change it up.
I rock over our production, and I'll rock over known production as well, to keep the crowd involved. But when you pick those beats, you want to be smart about the beats you're picking. Luckily I feel like I'm diverse enough to rock any kind of beat. For instance, I'm not going to rhyme over Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones" opening for Trick Daddy. It's just not going to work!
On being stylistically diverse, but making it work:
Garcia: Being raised in Miami, you have the influences of Southern music and Caribbean music, and being Cuban I have that music.
My album has a lot of different sounds on it. All hip-hop, but it's East Coast, Latin-flavored, and down South. But sometimes producers will come at me real extreme with a certain style, and I don't really get extreme with any style. If it's too over-the-top-sounding, dumbed-down and simplified ... like, I don't do snap music. I just don't do it. And I'm not going to start doing it just because a formula works. Or reggaeton. It's just not going to happen.
On the N.O.R.E. connection:
Garcia: We've been friends with N.O.R.E. for a long time.
EFN: One of the first things I told him when he came down — he bought an apartment downtown and started working out of our studio, and one thing I told him: No reggaeton. He's done with it. We're back to hip-hop. I'm A&Ring his new project, called Global Warming.
On not sweating easy comparisons:
Garcia: It was the worst when reggaeton blew up. I was getting hit from every Latino label, left and right. No disrespect to those people, but that's just not what I do.
EFN: We're Latin, so we have no problem sampling a Latin beat, doing some Latin things. But we don't rap in Spanish.
Garcia: You know, here's this Cuban rapper from Miami, wears a gold chain, and he lives in Little Havana but grew up in Kendall, and he's got all these Cuban guys around him. So you figure it's going to be a reggaeton Wu-Tang, but it's not! We do hip-hop.
And Pitbull.... I respect Pit and everything that he does. People can compare me to whatever the hell they want, but I don't pay attention to it anymore. People understand now what my style is and how I'm different. Yeah, we're both Cubans in Miami, but there are a kabillion Cubans in Miami! It's not fair to make the assumption that we'll be exactly alike because of that.
On the future:
Garcia: I'm going to Disney World! Nah. Basically I have to just hustle and get my name everywhere I can. Because I am independent. We're not Def Jam. We're looking to sell a decent number, and then from this album hopefully take the stepping stone into the majors.