People with Passion
Interview February 23, 2009
Rob Watson, AKA Young General, rapper.
Our first meeting was for an interview on February 23, 2009. Today, two years later, I take a look at the original transcript and re-edit.
My hip-hop number one album is definitely Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z. It was the first hip-hop album that I said, “This is beautiful.” The instrumentation, the pictures that the music paints, a lot more live instrumentation. It was a completely different sound than what was out in the 90s. It was the introduction of Jay-Z, a different style of flow, a whole new swagger, a level of confidence and arrogance I’d never heard, mixed with a lyrical genius. Thought-provoking lyrics where you had to say, “Hold on.”
I’ve never had anybody paint the pictures where I can see it in my mind. I was excited. I felt challenged. That was the first time I felt like, “Wow” When you first see Willie Mays or Jackie Robinson, you say “That’s who I want to be.”
You’re always doing the mirror thing. “How am I to what he is? Am I really competitive, or am I just competitive in my mind? Am I just good like my mom says, ‘Oh you’re good, sweetie,’ or am I really good?” That’s what I want to know. That’s what pushes me. That’s why I started rapping I in the battle scene. It was confrontational, it was decisive, and it was clear if you won or lost. There’s never a doubt of who won or lost a rap battle, if you really listen to it and let it go long enough. That helped me find out that I was good.
The first time you realize you’re good at something, you have that moment, that epiphany. “How good am I? How good can I be?” Rap was all I wanted to do. It doesn’t feel like work when I’m on the stage. All the bullshit, the in-between, no sleep – when I’m on that stage, at that moment, it’s all good. It really is.
So that was it for me: Reasonable Doubt. That’s what started making me pay attention to the new generation of hip-hop. I mean, I listened to Pac, I listened to Biggie, I used to love them. But when I listened to Reasonable Doubt, it was a separation. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was another level. I felt like there was music. It didn’t sound like pots and pans banging. It was orchestration. (hums opening chords to Politics as Usual) And Jay-Z, he was the narrator. It was beautiful. It was perfect.
You know what my ultimate dream would be? My most envious moment musically was when Jay-Z did Unplugged and got to rock with the Roots live. That was my most envious moment as an artist, because I feel like the live performance and live instruments bring an aspect to music that is irresistible. Live instruments force the body to move. When you take that to a caliber of the Roots band, and then you add Jay-Z – like, why not me? Why can’t I get two tracks with the Roots? They would rock it. That would be my dream, to get with a rock band and be able to do a live Young General performance.
I did it once in Minneapolis with a group called Skywind. It was more of a rehearsal. My boy knew them. He brought me to their rehearsal. They were finishing up. He was like, “My boy spits.” And they were like, “We’re kind of tired.” They were working hard. These guys were wasted after a three-hour rehearsal. I was like, “Lemme just jump on the mic, man, and spit some shit.” I started freestyling a cappella. Then the drummer walked over to the drum set and (makes drumming sounds). Next thing you know people pick their instruments back up and we were just working.
This was the moment. This was why I do all this stuff, to hope that these moments happen. When they do, you feel great. I wish I could capture that more often. That’s the disappointing side to it. It’s like when your website gets a thousand hits, and you’re like “I wish I could get 100,000.” You always want more as an artist. You hunger to get it out there.
Young General performing “Night & Day” with FiveSTAR, Jason Gatz, and Ashley Good; Debonair Social Club, December 22, 2010. Greg Fundis, drums – Matt Longbons, bass – Marcus Rezak, guitar
Check out more of Michael Litchfield’s photography at his site, mrlitchfield.com.
Young General performing “White Sox Fitted” with FiveSTAR, Lincoln Hall, April 18, 2012. Greg Fundis, drums – Matt Longbons, bass – Marcus Rezak, guitar – My Boy Elroy, DJ