The Indianapolis hip-hop scene achieved peak levels of quality in 2015 and with several anticipated projects due for release early this year, it looks like 2016 will be another great year for Naptown's rappers and producers. This week brings us the release of veteran Indy MC Sonny Paradise's Pharoahgami album. Pharoahgami takes inspiration from classic New York hip-hop artists like Nas and Rakim, and the LP succeeds in crafting a sound that stands respectably alongside the best work of the icons from hip-hop's golden age.
Sonny Paradise will hold a release party for Pharoahgami this Friday, January 8 at The Emerson Theatre.
NUVO: You were born and raised in Indianapolis and you've been part of the Indy hip-hop scene for a significant period of time. When did you first start rhyming?
Sonny Paradise: I've been rhyming since I was 13. But I met [rapper] Ace One when I was 16. We were at this spot called the Festivilla on Massachusetts Avenue. So I've been writing since 13, but I didn't manifest until 16.
NUVO: I understand there was a transformational experience in your life that inspired you to start writing.
Paradise: When I was 13 I was sitting in the projects in Mississippi while visiting my aunt's house. Me and my cousins would hustle because we didn't have nothing else to do. Somebody had been watching me all day and the next thing I know I'm sitting on the porch and I got robbed at gunpoint. It was from the side and I didn't even see the person.
So what am I supposed to do at this point? Am I supposed to continue hustling and keep putting myself in this position at a young age? Or try to find an avenue that best fit what I needed to become and needed to grow into? When that happened it was a like a switch came on and I realized this is not what I'm supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be in Mississippi having fun with my family, not hustling.
After that happened I went back to my aunt's house and thought about it. I was watching Yo! MTV Raps and the first video that came on was "Night of the Living Baseheads" by Public Enemy. If you remember that video, the same reality going on in that video was going on outside and I was part of it. Once I pulled myself back and analyzed it, I began gravitating towards more consciousness. I was involved in a lot of things that could've got me killed. You wouldn't have recognized me then, because I was bad. I wasn't nice. I didn't have knowledge of self. But I saw "Night of the Living Baseheads" and I acknowledged it for what it was and I went back outside in the same chair I got robbed in and wrote my first rhyme. And that's what I've been doing ever since.
NUVO: Your bio refers to you as a "political MC" and I've heard other MCs refer to you as a "conscious MC." Is that incident what set you down the path towards greater consciousness?
Paradise: That incident is definitely what made me. I would say there's a consciousness in what I write, but I would call myself responsible. I'm a responsible MC. Once you write on that paper and the words leave your mouth, they ain't never coming back. You can't get them back and you can't change the reality of the repercussions of what happens once somebody gets those words and how they take it.
NUVO: You shared an advance copy of your Pharoahgami album with me and I was really impressed. The LP is filled with excellent beats created by great ex-pat Indianapolis hip-hop producer Joe Harvey and your lyrics are exceptional throughout the entire project. One track in particular that really stuck with me is "What's Good."
Paradise: I wrote the lyrics to "What's Good" at the Indiana War Memorial park downtown in the year 2000. It took 15 years to record the song the way I've wanted it to sound.
Rusty Redenbacher, when he first heard it was like, "Bruh, this is a song you can not take out of rotation. This is your anthem. If you do not do this song for the rest of your life as an MC people will be mad." Honestly I've heard from Tony Styxx and a handful of other MCs that when I don't do that song, they get mad.
If it wasn't for Joe Harvey the song would not even exist. I didn't have a track for it and he had the right energy and the right vibe for it. He came up with the most classic, Golden Age hip-hop production I've ever heard outside of Dilla or ATCQ or anything of that nature.
NUVO: Finally I wanted to ask about your artist name. You performed under the billing Son of Thought for many years. Why the change to Sonny Paradise?
Paradise: I felt like Sonny Paradise was an evolution of me getting people to understand the light in music that could possibly take them to paradise. That's what hip-hop is about from my perspective. I try to stick to the core principles and foundation that created me.