" 'Cause everybody got to be underground at one point."
Planet Asia: Part One
[Part 1 of 2]
Planet Asia was nominated for a Grammy, signed a deal with Interscope and received critical acclaim for his 2000 debut, The Last Stand, his sophomore full-length, The Grand Opening, on Avatar, his work with Cali Agents and his guest spots. But people still don't know what he's about. By the end of 2004, hip-hop fans should be more familiar with him. In addition to his sophomore solo album, he's released Head of the State the second album from Cali Agents with his West Coast colleague Rasco, and has appeared on several mix tapes. Prefix sat down with the Fresno-raised emcee and talked about major labels versus indies, spirituality, Jean Grae and Ghostface.
Prefix Magazine: What was it like growing up in Fresno?
Planet Asia: Part One: I had a regular life. I was raised by my grandparents, so I was kind of spoiled. She was a school teacher at one point, so I came into school already ahead. I played some sports. Just regular shit until about '85. That's when the hip-hop really took off for me.
PM: Were you an only child? Planet Asia: Part One: I grew up as an only child, but I had my cousins around usually. But I got sixteen brothers and sisters. PM: What do you mean? Planet Asia: Part One: See, I was raised by my grandparents. I got sixteen brothers and sisters across America. But my mom only had me and my sister. PM: Do you have any memories from Fresno that really stand out? Planet Asia: Part One: I have hundreds of memories, good to bad. I lived in Fresno until I was 21. PM: How did your grandparents spoil you?. Planet Asia: Part One: You won't believe this, but I stayed in the same area where everyone else stayed, middle-class African-American community -- not ghetto, but you got poor people, middle-class people, and nobody's rich. But me, I had cable in my room. I had my own phone in my room. I used to get breakfast in bed. That's why I love my grandmother to this day. [Laughs] I probably didn't make my bed 'til like I was 13 or 14. I used to go to people's houses and trip out because I would see the difference. I had home-cooked meals, and I think that's why I'm like this to this day. The women I choose to deal with -- I can't just have a super fast girl who's on the move and didn't really have time. I'm not saying I'm looking for a housewife with an apron, but you do need to know how to cook. I can't fuck with no girl that doesn't know how to cook. Straight up. I was raised by a woman who cooked for me all my life.
PM: No Hungry-Mans? TV dinners? Planet Asia: Part One: No TV dinners. PM: And then, in 1985, you started getting into hip-hop. Planet Asia: Part One: Yeah, the whole Def Jam era. PM: When did you decide to really pursue it? Planet Asia: Part One: I really started participating in '85, as far as rapping. Fat Boys was the shit at the time; everyone used to beat box. Doug E. Fresh was the shit too. Just reciting or even knowing a hip-hop song at the time made you hip-hop then. If you could sing someone else's song and no one else had that joint at the time, if you just recorded it off the radio, you was the shit. That part of hip-hop is missing, 'cause of the Internet and all that other shit. Back then, you would see a record and think, I know ain't nobody got this, I have to buy this. It didn't even matter what was in the store, because you could just trust everything in the store. PM: Let's fast-forward. Planet Asia: Part One: So, yeah the whole Def Jam era, man. That's what really inspired me. The L.L. "Rock the Bells," Run-DMC era. PM: Then things picked up. You won that Source award for independent album of the year with Rasco for Cali Agents. Then you were nominated for a Grammy with Mystic. Then you're signed to Interscope and it seemed like everything was going well. But then it seemed like a lot of bad stuff started happening. Planet Asia: Part One: It was like, fuck, man. It wasn't really bad, but when I got signed to Interscope, I got signed by a different president. He was cool, but then he left for Warner Brothers. That's when Jimmy Iovine came, and it was a different situation. I didn't even get a chance to show my shit. But I'm here now, so I ain't even trippin' over Interscope. I'm glad I'm an underground artist who got signed to a major who also got to see how the machine works. PM: You've said in the past that you're totally different than how the critics have written you up. You said your 2000 debut, The Last Stand, should have been called The Misconception of Planet Asia. Do you still feel that way? Planet Asia: Part One: To a degree. That's why I got all these mixtapes and all these things dropping. They really can hear how I get down, 'cause they ain't heard me in a couple years. PM: It's been four years since The Last Stand. What've you been up to? Planet Asia: Part One: I've been recording a lot of material. Another Cali Agents record called Head of the State dropped in May. It's an eight-song EP. I have an instrumental album with Protest called Checks in the City. It's featuring Protest's tracks, all instrumentals. The track called "The Beat Game" has Protest spittin' and telling cats about the beat game. It's a dope-ass song. It's so fresh. It's a dope concept. PM: Was it a tough decision to leave Interscope when you decided to? Planet Asia: Part One: Nah, my lawyer was handling all the business at Interscope at the time, so it was easy to get off. If it was any other lawyer they would've probably tried to get something out of it. PM: What about comparing life at a major vs. indie? Planet Asia: Part One: Being real man, all that shit is bullshit unless you're winning. You just have to win some kind of way. All labels are bullshit, they're setup to be bullshit. That's why every contract you have to take to a lawyer. If record labels weren't bullshit, you wouldn't have to take it to lawyer. The first contract you get, it's automatic bullshit. If you get a contract, you have to do the whole contract over, especially with a major. You've got like 150 pages of small print. PM: I read that when you're on Interscope you wanted guys like Kanye West on a track, but label politics prevented that. Was there anyone out there you wanted to produce tracks on The Grand Opening who didn't? Planet Asia: Part One: I got everybody's shit man. There really isn't anyone I can't get to. I got a CD book right here in my bag that has more than five hundred beats from all kinds of producers. PM: Now you're on Avatar. How did that deal come about? Planet Asia: Part One: That came about through this cat named Larry Robinson. He heard about me through the underground. He knew I left Interscope. So I was like, Fuck it, let's do this indie thing right quick and come out with an album, 'cause I was silent for about two years. I was doing a lot of shows and people didn't know the songs, so we needed an album out there. PM: A lot of people associate you with labels like ABB and Stones Throw. Did you ever think about joining one of those? Planet Asia: Part One: To be honest with you, I'm cool with that genre over there; I don't have anything against ABB and Benny B. I loved doing projects with him because he always paid me on time. But I don't really want my name attached, 'cause I'm not really like that. That's why I was talking about the misconception people have.