Locksmith may not be slaying the opposition in battles anymore, but his passion for hip hop is as clear as it ever was.
The Bay Area MC who cut his teeth out-rhyming others in cyphers and battles over a decade ago has since developed a loyal and appreciative fan base, and he’s done it all independently.
Locksmith is known not only for his insane wordplay but also his thoughtful content and earnest disposition. He’s the guy that you grew up with that was an insane lyricist and you always wondered why they weren’t huge, only Locksmith has worked both intelligence and diligence to secure his rightful shine.
We recently got to talk to Locksmith about the steady climb to where he’s at now, the inherent power of words, and how he defines success in a time where record deals are by no means required to eat off hip hop.
Check the full interview below!
For our readers that might not be that familiar with your work, do you have a couple songs that you feel are like the quintessential Locksmith tracks? Or ones that you’re especially proud of?
Oh absolutely man, I just released an album in April called A Thousand Cuts. I just feel like it’s my best work, and there’s one particular song on there which I feel like, it’s a song I’m definitely most proud of, it’s called “Hardest Song Ever”.
I just believe that the importance of that song in hip hop and just music in general…it’s just detrimental to the culture. It’s actually a personal account of me dealing with sexual abuse that I experienced when I was a child and I feel like it’s very important.
Firstly, I think it’s something that’s not talked about that much in music and hip hop specifically, and definitely not from a male’s point of view. I just felt like it was a song that like – it wasn’t my intention to do a song that was so different or whatever, but music is just therapy for me – but when I saw the importance and the way the song touched so many people, and it’s importance to people who have gone through similar things or identify with the passion in the music, I realized how important and how powerful it was.
So definitely “Hardest Song Ever”.
I actually had a question for you about that because – and it’s interesting that you mention music being therapy – Tech actually put out an EP a while back called Therapy and he also actually talked about being sexually abused as a child on the song “I’m Not A Saint”, so I was curious what prompted you to bring that to light on this album?
It was just the space that I was in as a human being, as a man. Going through certain things in my life and realizing where I was at, because when something like that happens to you, a lot of times we bury that deep in our psyche almost like it doesn’t exist. I was at a certain point in my life when I was going through certain things where I just realized like yo this is something that happened.
I always talked about things – whether it happened in the past or whether it’s going on right now – I always talk about that in my music, so I was like why should this be any different? Now is the time for me to speak on this. It was absolutely therapy, so salute to Tech N9ne. I may have missed that, I gotta go back and listen.
I was doing some deeper research into your past and how you came up, and I knew you were a battle rapper but I didn’t realize you did the MTV Battle thing! I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wrekonize, but he actually won the second season. Are you still involved with the battle scene at all?
It’s funny that you mention that because I didn’t realize it was Wrekonize from ¡MAYDAY! because he looked different, like he got the beard and everything now. He was on the one after me, of course at that time I had just finished and had stepped away and was working on music here in California, and I was in a group at first and had quite a bit of commercial success like on the radio and stuff, and kind of kept in touch with the battle stuff.
Then around 2008 when internet battling kinda got real big, I got back into it to kinda make a name for myself as a solo artist. So 2008-2009 I was back battle rapping around the internet and building a name for myself as Locksmith, and then after 2009 I just kinda fell back from that and really started focusing on music and trying to just become a better artist and hone my craft as an artist and an emcee.
I don’t follow it super close now because there’s just so many leagues and whatnot, but I definitely keep my ear to what’s going on and try to watch what’s poppin’ and what’s going on in that arena, and I just have a tremendous amount of respect for the art form.
I know you’ve said recently that you’re in a great state of mind creatively, being able to make music from your heart and not have to worry about label expectations or anything like that. At what point did you decide you weren’t willing to compromise in order to attain more fame?
I mean, look, I’ll say this just to kind of make my words specific: I do believe that there is a place for compromise, but I don’t believe you should compromise your integrity.
I mean we all make compromises every day for things we do in life. That’s part of life. I don’t want to be a megalomaniac where everything surrounds my word, but at the same time I’m not gonna compromise my integrity. I just never believed in that, so to me it’s not even an issue you know? I kind of keep those forces away from me when I feel there’s something that’s going to compromise what I truly believe in.
To me this isn’t really work, the only work is like, the other things that go along with the music business. You do have to do administrative things and hustle things and there are things you have to stay on top of because this is a business.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just all having fun, and I’ve never been the guy that could just sit back and make music and just not worry about all about the business aspects because I do have a knowledge of the business and I’m gonna be a little bit more hands-on than someone who just wants to rap.
It’s really cool to see stories of people like you and Tech who really really worked hard to get where they’re at, because as much as I think it’s super-cool that the internet has allowed everyone to pursue their dreams, I think with having to work that hard with what you’ve got, you feel a little more responsibility to contribute something extra special to the culture and to the craft. I think the internet allows people to rush things because it’s just so easy to put out there.
Yeah you’re absolutely right, that’s the good and the bad. The great thing about the internet and the web in general is the fact that the artists do have control.
They can upload their stuff and build a fan base, but at the same time there’s so much and maybe people aren’t spending the same amount of time doing. Back in the day – and I’m sure Tech can attest to this – you had to invest in yourself, you had to get into a studio, videos were really expensive, probably like ten times as much as they are now. Now you can do things with technology, you can cut a lot of corners, but some corners you can’t cut. You have to put in that time and pay attention to the details, you can’t rush things. You may get away with it sometimes, but overall the fans, the people who are appreciating the art, they notice and they recognize what’s going on. Some corners you just can’t cut.
I know you’re a very passionate artist and you’re also very intelligent and speak on a range of subjects people might not know about yet. Do you ever feel like your lyrics are going over somebody’s head, whether it be a journalist or a listener? How does that affect you?
You know, that’s never been an issue, that’ never been a problem for me.
I think that’s part of the grind. Maybe it takes time. Maybe I give people too much credit, but I think people are intelligent to some degree. We all have the capacity and intelligence to learn and want more.
People do want to know what’s going on. It’s not like we’re doing calculus over here, we’re still doing hip hop, and I feel like it may take a little bit of time as opposed to someone who might be doing something more easily digestible, but I feel like if you put in the work and put in the grind over time people will…once again we can use Tech N9ne as a person who’s done that. Someone who’s put in the years. This isn’t something that just happened right away. I’m of the belief that if you work and put in the time, there’s an audience for that and people will gravitate to that and it just takes time.
Just on a side note, I was driving in LA and I heard “Fragile” on the radio and I was like…yo, I was just happy. I was like, that’s a fuckin’ win! That’s a W for the good side. Not that other people are bad, but I know what it takes to get on the radio and still be who you are, and the fans and the people appreciate it way more. Those are the little victories that mean a lot.
With all the recent controversies surrounding words and their effect on people, as someone whose art is based in language obviously, how much do you think about that when creating music, and what are your thoughts on some of the words we as a society consider to be taboo?
My thoughts on it? That’s a good question. First of all when you’re an emcee or someone who takes the art form of lyricism within hip hop very seriously, you’re always aware of that. Like to me, words are very powerful so this isn’t something that’s new to me. I know the power of words because I know the power of words and how they affect me.
I always was a fan of hip hop but I fell in love with hip hop when I heard Illmatic, and it was because of the words and the way that Nas would string those words together and what he was saying. I was like yo I’ve never heard anyone speak poetically in rap like this before, so I just totally engulfed myself into lyricism and then it opened up so many different doors and I started going back and listening to older stuff.
I’ve always been aware of the power of words and their effect, so I’m very aware and I’m very conscious of the things that I’m writing and I’ve had to be conscious of that since the beginning because that was my whole reason for getting into music. It wasn’t for the fame or the notoriety, it was the love of the art of hip hop and the love of the art of lyricism. Now at the same time, I try not to censor myself. I try to use my words wisely and to put them in a way where people can grasp them, but at the same time they can have the greatest impact on them at the same time.
It’s a fine line. I’m aware of it but I don’t let it censor me.
That’s refreshing to hear because I feel like mindful speech is something that you don’t really see as much now, especially with the internet and social media. You can tweet whatever pops into your head that second and sometimes it’s some dumb shit, so it’s refreshing to see someone that has that respect for language and recognizes the power that it has and uses that for good.
Absolutely man. Information or the spreading of information is right at your fingertips, and it’s not like years ago when artists – whether it’s musicians or actors or whatever – could just do something and then PR people could come back and clean it up. Once it’s in the universe now it’s out there, you can’t cover it up. It can’t just be a rumor, it’s documented. It’s there. I’ve seen it happen. It’s been happening to a lot of artists, but I feel like when you’re a lyricist you’re always conscious of that.
I know when I put certain words out I know that it’s gonna…I mean you’re saying it because you want it to make an impact. You don’t just want it to get looked over you’re like “Yo, I got something to say so you need to check this out,” so that’s already part of your makeup as that kind of artist.
Did you happen to see the Larry King interview with Tyler The Creator? Tyler was explaining that for kids his age, they grew up in a time where you can kind of choose whether or not to give those words power, and I was curious if you agree with that or how you feel about that.
Yes and no. I mean absolutely, I do believe you can choose whether or not to give those words power, but at the same time you cannot deny the social implications and the historic values that are attributed to whatever words.
So I mean it’s yes and no, reality is based on the person who perceives it, but at the same time you can’t be so caught up in your own reality that you don’t understand how it can affect other peoples’ reality too.
I feel like it has a lot to do with where that specific person is in their life, so Tyler’s opinions are valid to him because of the space he’s in in his life, but at the same time you have to deal with the implications that go along with that.
You wanna go around and use this kind of language, you’re saying, “Look, I’m going against the social norms, I’m giving the words my meaning” and that’s fine, and you’re gonna have to deal with the consequences and the way people perceive that, because you’re saying “look, this is my reality” and you can do that, but others might perceive it differently so you gotta be ready to deal with that.
Do you find that to be….is it inconsiderate to do that? Is it inconsiderate to try to impose your own reality on those words or is that just a necessary step in the evolution of the way we think?
I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, all I can do is speak from my personal experience.
I know that growing up…like if you heard a Locksmith rap from when I first started rapping 10 or 12 years ago, the language that I use and the stuff I was saying is probably different than the way I use it now, just because my consciousness has changed as opposed to 10 years ago.
It’s just different, I’m just socially conscious of the world a little bit differently than I was 10-15 years ago, and Tyler’s probably will be different 10 years from now too,but who knows, I just know that I would like to think that the level and the way that I’m thinking is probably a little different than it was 10 years ago when I was in a different mindset.
Totally, I was thinking about that in the case of these Justin Bieber videos, how accountable can you be held for shit you said when you were literally a different person? I know I’m not the same person or of the same consciousness as when I was 15 so…it’s tough I guess to be in the spotlight and have their evolution of consciousness documented at every point.
Yeah, that’s the thing. Because everything is under a microscope and it’s put out there, but you know, that’s what comes along with being a celebrity.
Yep. How do you define success?
That’s another good question. Being an independent artist having to work for absolutely everything within this process, I find success in connection. When I see music connecting with people… for instance I had an event, a private event for my album release and it was just for dedicated loyal followers of what I’ve been doing, and somebody asked me “what’s been the greatest moment of your career?” and I was just like “Man, this moment”.
Within this process when you’re on this grind and you’re deeply embedded within this process, there’s new great moments every day, that’s the beauty of it. I’m very grateful for everything…to still be making music and making music that I love and I still..I still fucking love writing raps. I still love making beats. I still love creating this music. I’m deeper in love with it. These are the successes that you have. I mean I have an event and I have people that are completely appreciative of my music and I’m just as much appreciative of them.
These are the successes that keep me going, to see that people are like, “Yo man, this music connected with me in a certain way,” and to be able to actually do this and to be doing music for the last some time now…I don’t have any other job. I had to make that decision like yo this is going to be what I’m going to do, and it’s scary but there’s a certain freedom.
This isn’t all what you think it is, you’re out here walking without a safety net and you’re putting your all into this process so you’re really appreciative of all the steps when you see yourself moving forward, like doing an interview like this, to have this acknowledgement, it means a lot to independent artists, at least for me.
I know that aside from being a contributor to hip hop, you’re also a fan, do you have a collaboration you’d like to snag that you haven’t yet?
Uh yes, Tech N9ne [laughs]. Yeah I mean, of course I love what Tech is doing. I got a chance to – I don’t know if it’s the first time I met him, but I reconnected with him at SXSW.
I would love to work with DJ Premier, I would love to work with Dr. Dre. Yeah, those are great artists that I love. Rick Rubin, I would love to work with him. I guess I’m more on the producer side, but I definitely respect new coming cats like Kendrick, Drake. I’m very much still a fan of the music.
Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap this up?
Yes, just man, thanks again for the time and thanks again for everyone paying attention to the music. If you want any information about my music or new videos or merch, all that kinda stuff… tour dates, just go to iamlock.com and just check out the music.
My album A Thousand Cuts is available on iTunes and everywhere so you can check that out.
Let us know in the comments section below!