MC Yogi grew up in the rough world full of drugs, gangs, pimps and hoes in the Bay Area.
At around 18 years old, he discovered yoga, and later applied his new philosophy on life to making hip hop.
Today, he's independently sold over 100,000 albums. And this weekend, he performs at the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival.
Here's what he has to say about the fest, 2 Live Crew, Gandhi, Slick Rick, and Buddha.
Crossfade: Watup, yo? You ready for the Grassroots Festival?
MC Yogi: I can't wait to be there. I've never been to Florida at all. I'm really excited.
You ever hear of the Grateful Dead? Yesterday, I was with one of the founding members. Bob Weir invited me to his recording studio. Willie Nelson's son Lucas Nelson was there, and so was Sammy Hagar and a couple other people checking out the studio.
How the hell you know them?
It's a crazy story. My first yoga teacher Larry Schultz used to travel with the Grateful Dead and he taught them yoga. Originally, the class was, like, two hours, but they all said, 'Hey, we're the Grateful Dead, we don't have time to be spending two hours doing this. We need to make this short and to the point.' So Larry developed Rocket Yoga and that's how I got into it. With Rocket Yoga classes. Larry passed away last year and then I connnected with Bob.
Who is Hanuman?
Hanuman is the heroic monkey warrior. He's the people's champ. He represents the power of love and devotion, and selflessness, and the breath. In the yoga tradition, it is said that when you take deep slow breaths, you slay all the demons in your mind. You use the breath and your love to conquer all your fears.
That's a great song you wrote about him. It really tells a story.
That's one of my favorites. Slick Rick, for me -- I love storytelling in hip-hop. I went to India and studied with teachers over there. I learned the stories and put them to hip hop. I'm gonna be working on a music video and comic book for that one.
Are you familiar with the history of the festival grounds, Virginia Key Beach, being a "colored-only" beach that the people had to do a "wade in," like a sit-in lunch counter protest but at the beach, just to get the government to give them a place to swim?
Nah, I had no idea. That's amazing. We were just in Memphis? Somewhere down south. We just got back from Jamaica. It was at the airport. Maybe Atlanta? And I saw something out of the corner of my eye and it was Dr. Martin Luther King's suit on display next to a book about Gandhi. MLK was a student of Gandhi. It took my breath away to see the suit worn by Dr. King. I'm a student of Mahatma Gandhi too, and the thing that turned the people's movement around in India is when the people went to the water and went down there to harvest salt as a protest against the British tax on it. The British army was going to crush them, they were beating them with batons, but the protestors never raised a fist back, and the soldiers were so moved they dropped their weapons, turned around and left. The beach is a powerful symbol. That's an amazing honor to be performing there.
You recorded your most recent album in India, right?
Yeah, I worked with a bunch of master musicians over there. One musician was the 15th generation master musician in his family. it goes back so deep. I studied with these musicians that played for Maharajahs, for kings and queens and it was incredible.
How was the studio?
The studio in India was like a little apartment in a super busy huge city with all the newest gear. It was a modest place, but up to date. This guy made Indian food and tea everyday, the people were super kind and friendly, and it was a real nice vibe there. The people were really down to Earth there and really cool.
What kind of plans you have for your show down here?
I'm gonna have my DJ Drez with me, depending on our set time and the lighting we have a whole visual show, sometimes I have a full band. This is gonna be like, a lot of jumping, a lot of fun.
I'm trying to picture it live. Do you sit there and do yoga stuff while you perform?
It's not like that. We will be doing some kind of yoga on the dance floor, but not what people expect. It's the yoga of happiness, smiling, dancing, jumping.
What's it like to make music that's blatantly joyous?
I love it, I think that music is designed to lift you up. I think it's incredibly difficult to be in a body and be human. Joy is medicine.
What do you mean about painful in a body?
It's painful to be a body. Getting old is not easy. I've been in 3 or 4 major car accidents in my life. I've been at deaths doorstep, and that's when I started practicing yoga. I'm grateful that I'm still alive. I have a lot of friends who went to war, got into gangs, drugs, are in jail. A lot didn't make it. I feel fortunate to have found yoga. That makes me grateful everyday.
How can people get into yoga for the first time?
Just listen to my record and take a deep breath. A lot of time people want to try it out and jump into a class they're not ready for. Learn the basics.
You're doing some actual yoga classes though while you're down here right?
We're gonna teach some workshops there at the Green Monkey.
Who are some of the characters in yoga?
Ganesh has the head of an elephant, hanuman is the monkey warrior, Shiva is the king of yogis meditating in the mountain with the ring of fire...I just wrote story about Buddha, Ghandi, monks, mystics, and warriors. I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to yoga.
This guy said there's so many phones and radios now that even a yogi can't be at peace, what do you think?
I have heard that argument and I don't think its too far from the truth. There's so much noise in the world, you have to find a cave inside your own mind. Even when it's chaotic on the surface, we can feel some peace inside our self.
Has any Miami music influenced your sound?
Growing up in high school we had lowriders. We used to put on the Miami bass music that would shake the neighborhood. You couldn't hear anything. It was engineered to be the loudest sound. We would just mash around with that.
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Hell yeah, what about 2 Live Crew?
2 Live Crew, I remember my first cassette of that you couldn't play around your parents, but I loved it. All that booty music... In yoga, there's buddhi, that's the word where you get Buddha. My music is buddhi music of a different kind, it's the buddhi of the enlightened mind.
Virginia Key Grassroots Festival 2013. Thursday, February 21, to Sunday, February 24. Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Key Biscayne. Four-day festival passes cost $90 and up via grassrootsstore.org. Call 786-409-5261 or visit virginiakeygrassroots.com.