Indianapolis MC Diop Adisa is set to release his debut LP July 7th. Judging from the quality of Diop's recent singles Driving on Faith will be a must-hear Indianapolis hip-hop album. I caught up with Diop to talk about family and Indy's new class of hip-hop emcees.
NUVO: Your parents are entrepreneurs and activists. Your father started the KI EcoCenter. How have they influenced your work?
Diop Adisa: A lot of things that have molded me have come from those two characters. They did a lot of work to empower communities in Indianapolis.
They came from an era where black nationalism was important in shaping self identity. So they changed their names and gave their children names that reflected a cultural meaning. They were real flexible, spiritually. They encouraged me to explore everything, and warned me not to become too dogmatic in my beliefs.
NUVO: What were they listening to at home while you were growing up?
Adisa: My mother listened to R&B, Anita Baker and Luther Vandross. My dad was heavy into jazz, and not just the usual jazz. He was really into Sun Ra. I used to wake up hearing Sun Ra. He was into Gil Scott Heron. He also likes a lot of rap. The first CD he gave me was the Jay-Z album with "Hard Knocks Life" on it. He said if you're going to listen to rap you need to hear this.
NUVO: Why did he think that was an important work for you to hear?
Adisa: I think he appreciated that Jay-Z was not just a musician, he was also an entrepreneur. He wanted me to see that if you're going to walk an independent path, and be free you need to have a variety of skills.
NUVO: How did you get started making music?
Adisa: I've been making hip-hop since 2003. But I wasn't very public with it until I finished up college. So, in 2012, I decided it was time to figure out how to share my music with the community and the world.
There were two artists that got me into hip-hop: Outkast and Nas. Outkast broke rules and got away with it. I loved that. I like the soul and message they brought. They could talk about anything from street culture to politics. They were never boxed in as political rappers, but they never dumbed things down either. With Nas, I think he's lyrically phenomenal. He paints pictures with his words.
NUVO: There's a new school of MCs in Indianapolis that have emerged over the last few years, artists like Sirius Black, Pope Adrian Bless, Oreo Jones, Grey Granite and others. Do you think there's a distinct Indianapolis hip-hop sound emerging?
Adisa: Yes, and all those names you mentioned are out there grinding. They're doing what they need to do to grow the Indianapolis scene. They're out touring and spreading the sound.
We need to build our market in Indianapolis. It's not a Houston, Texas or New York. You can build a hip-hop career in those cities without ever having to leave. We need to let people around the Midwest in Ohio and Illinois know what's going on here in hip-hop.
NUVO: The beats on your releases are always excellent. Tell me about your producer Mandog?
Adisa: Mandog is my main creative partner. When I first started working with him I didn't even know how to rhyme on his beats. I had to sit down and really listen. He pushes the envelope of what's considered hip-hop. within the same beat Mandog will change-up the rhythm, the vibration and feeling of the song. He's a Dilla fan, and you can hear that in his beats, but he looks everywhere for musical inspiration. I think he's a genius.
NUVO: You're releasing your debut album this week. Tell me about Driving on Faith.
Adisa: The concept and title bring together everything I've learned trying to get my music out to people over the last couple years. Sometimes as an artist you might not feel you're getting the respect you want, but you never know how the work is impacting people. Sometimes it takes weeks or years to find out what your work meant to someone.
The title came from an incident that happened last November. I was recording late at night and I left the studio dead tired. On my way home I fell asleep at the wheel. I hit a tree and totaled my car.
I tried to figure out how this incident connected to my journey. When you're out driving you're going on faith that you'll reach your destination. You might not have a map, and their are times you may stumble or crash. But the important thing is to start the journey, and to continue following your path. Over time you'll see how things come together. Your art will grow, and you'll connect with fellow travelers. That's the vision behind the album.