Punks and Rastas reign supreme with rock in between, ain’t nothin’ but a South Bay thing. Let’s face it: hip hop, or rap, is not the most popular channel in the heart of our Beach Cities. And that’s why I found this story so damn fascinating!
It was only of recent occurrence when a close friend informed me that an old RUHS pal of ours is actually a hip hop artist. I was shocked. I mean, it’s just not something I hear everyday, or ever. Sure, us kids who grew up in the ‘80s and came of age in the 90s watched Def Leppard videos give way to Yo! MTV Raps and the establishment of hip hop culture as part of popular culture; but here at the beach the whole rap thing seemed to be a passing phase that was good for grinding at school dances and house parties, or feeling badass while driving your first car around with the seat reclined way, way back. Most fellas eventually pulled their baggy pants back up and moved along. It was different for Nathan Haskill, though. Touched by the music and art n’ craft of the matter, he ran with Run D.M.C. and hasn’t looked back.
Ain’t Nothin’ But A Nerd Thang, Baby
Upon meeting Haskill, you’re likely to discover that the 33-year-old, blue-eyed, red-bearded Italian-Norwegian sporting a curly brown afro is a rather well-mannered, respectable and respectful young man full of smiles and beaming with positive energy. You might not be quick to realize that he’s just released his 3rd full-length hip hop album. This was the crux of my fascination. A veritable white-boy rapper from the Beach Cities. Refreshing.
Even more stimulating was to learn that Haskill isn’t busy being too cool for school rapping about bitches n’ hos, sipping on gin n’ juice, F your mother this or that…
“The things I rap about, it’s almost like nerd-rap,” suggests Haskill. While acknowledging that he’s 100 percent underground hip hop, he’s also referred to his own material as underground-heavy-lyric-fun-nerd-rap. Cracking up, he says it couldn’t be any more underground if it were a tree root.
He explains, “I rap about comic books and ‘80s cartoons and wrestling and movies, and I hit on some current topics, but I don’t try to pretend I’m something I’m not. Nowadays it’s only cool if you rap about bein’ rich or havin’ a bunch of chicks or sellin’ dope, or if you have a song for the club…That’s just not me at all, I don’t try to be tough.”
He doesn’t even curse very often, he says. “There’s about 20 cursing words in my whole CD, which would be 20 songs. But it’s not wholesome in the fact that like little kids are gonna listen to it and learn something fuckin’ groundbreaking from it.”
Well, so much for the cursing. Wait, did he just say a minute ago that he raps about comic books and ‘80s cartoons? Like most lucky kids who grew up in the ‘80s, Haskill took many the adventure with He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats…To clarify, he explains, “I don’t rap about Transformers and G.I. Joe and wrestling and stuff, but I wrap those references into my song content.”
According to Haskill, song content is exactly what the basis of being an MC is. It’s about wordplay and being the best at it. Deeming himself a wordsmith, he says, “Anybody can rhyme cat in the hat and baseball bat, that’s a very easy thing to do and nowadays anybody who thinks they can put two words together thinks that they can rap. But I’m an MC; I handcraft and pick every word. It’s the metaphors and puns and wordplay that’s the fun part for me.”
“I have a line in one thing that says, ‘Yeah, I’m the dude rappin’ about G.I. Joe, but ain’t it better than Nelly yelling andale andale mami e-i, e-i, uh-oh?’ I just hear some of this stuff on the radio [like that Nelly song], and it’s like, ‘Really dude, you took time to write that down?’ And people are like yeah, that’s the one dude! They’re nothin’ but hook MCs.”
Weary of hook MCs pumping out such catchy and intelligent choruses as “Rack city, bitch, rack city bitch,” or “That’s my fuckin’ problem,” Haskill says, “These dudes have figured out all they need to do is say the same thing repetitively in a hook and all of a sudden people think they’re great rappers or MCs, and it couldn’t be any farther from the truth.”
As for himself, he says, “I literally am just trying to be the most clever MC while using references from things that both shaped my childhood and drew my interest. It might not be for everyone, but if at anytime in your life you enjoyed cartoons, comic books, movies, or wrestling, you can rest assure I’ve got something you can relate to and enjoy.”
But to be sure, there’s much, much more happening in Haskill’s music to relate to than comics and cartoons. He’s a bit of a vocal mofo to begin with, but musically his tracks are slick, nasty, funky, soulful, mulit-layered mixes providing the canvas upon which to splatter colorful paintings of endearing, intelligently crafted lyrics. But oh yes, Decepticon, Cobra, and He-Man references and inferences, and their relative sound samples, are woven in with seamless abundance.
The Super Villain of Hip Hop
On his own DYI label Cobra-La, this week saw the release of Haskill’s newest album What If The Villains Won?
“I was all about the villains as a kid,” he says. “Skeletor… Cobra Commander… Mumm-Ra… Master Shredder… Megatron… I was always rooted for the bad guys, because I’m always an underdog – I’m a Clippers fan, for Christ’s sake… I always wondered, what if they won? What if one time they actually won? But if you peel that banana a little bit, though; I call myself a super villain of hip hop. Because consumers have made today’s popular rap artist heroes; and if they’re the heroes, I wanna be the villain. If driving Maybachs and havin’ big chains and poppin’ bottles in the club and driving airplanes, and that’s what everybody has made into the good thing, into the good guy, that’s what everybody wants to be, that’s what everybody gets shoved in their face – I don’t wanna be that, if that’s your hero. If that’s hip hop’s hero, then I wanna be hip hop’s villain.
“I’m like The Joker of rapping, of MC-ing. The Joker was a super villain, and he wanted by all means to destroy the world, or to rob that bank, or to kill Batman… And he was dead-serious about it; but he did it laughing. He couldn’t do it without having a good time. And that’s what MC-ing is to me, it’s a good time. And I’m dead serious about being the best at it. But if I couldn’t smile and laugh, what fun is that? Who wants to be the fuckin’ serious guy all the time?”
After recently performing at Saint Rocke alongside Reason (South Africa’s top rap artist), Nathan Haskill’s third full-length album dropped August 20, titled What If The Villains Won? Album available for download now at Nathanhaskill.bandcamp.com.