Born into a family with rich musical and artistic traditions, Umar Rashid (aka Hi-Fidel aka Frohawk Two Feathers) lives to express. The quick-witted metaphorical storyteller has provided the lyrical backbone for three highly regarded albums: Traveling Between St. Louis and Chicago, FF Express: The Company of Wolves and Friday Night. Of the three releases, Friday Night (a collaboration with Serengeti that tells the tale of two friends, a missed date and a car crash with two transvestites) has been his most fully realized project to date, garnering accolades from esteemed publications like Okayplayer, Creative Loafing Atlanta and UGSMag.
As a fine artist, Hi-Fidel metamorphosizes into his alter-ego Frohawk Two Feathers to create even further-reaching multi-media sensations that often spotlight mankind's gorging of natural resources and the subsequent destruction that follows. His work has been featured in numerous books and galleries, including a recent exhibition at Taylor De Cordoba in Los Angeles. And as if he wasn't busy enough, Fidel just finished up Saturday Night (the follow-up to Friday Night), and is currently working on a folk album with Jesse Peterson entitled Crocodile Company. Centerstage corresponded with Fidel at his home in LA to talk about how his career as a fine artist/MC started.
I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how you got interested in music.
I got into music initially because of my father. He used to play all different kinds of music really loud when I was a kid. And when I say all different types, I mean soul, funk, jazz, reggae, psychedelic rock, The Stones and The Beatles. I come from a theatrical/musical background too. My grandfather played tenor sax with Lionel Hampton and there were always instruments lying around my grandmother's house.
Regrettably, I never learned how to play them very well. My father was not much of a singer, but ever the performer. He teaches acting at ETA Creative Arts on the South Side to this day.
Could you take me back to your first performance?
My first musical performance was in a giant cipher in Grant Park during the Taste of Chicago in '92. My brother and I rolled up on the cipher and proceeded to outshine the wack emcees that initially kicked it off. A high school friend, who I still believe to be one of the greatest beat-boxers of all time, happened to be nearby and provided us with beats. It was a fun and exciting time. I was just 15, and didn't have many written rhymes, and my freestyle was only potent after a few rotations, so I started spitting my friend's rhymes, Mike from Mass Hysteria. I didn't know that my friend G-Field, also from Mass Hysteria, was in the audience until later and was met with looks of disapproval. I have never been able to live that down. But hey, it was the summer of '92, the greatest summer for Chicago hip-hop. The summer of love.
You also make art outside of the music medium. Have both creative outlets gelled or are there separate mindsets for both ventures?
I try to keep my alter-egos separate. I generally stick to one per genre. In the art world I'm known as Frohawk Two-Feathers. I rap as Hi-Fidel. I do performance art as Kent Cyclone. I use my birth name, Umar Rashid, interchangeably with all of the disciplines. I've always enjoyed creating different characters.
Even as a graffiti artist, I would frequently change my name and my style. I like to think of it as evolving along a single line. A lot of my friends would criticize me and say things like "how do you expect people to recognize you?" and I would say "they won't, at least not all at once." Sure, all of the things I do are "connected" to a degree, but each manifestation is a unique, stand-alone entity. For me, it's more fun this way and I can reach a broader audience.
You did the cover art for the Yoome album, right? Why weren't you credited?
Yes, I did the Yoome album cover. It was a drawing from a series in an art exhibition I did here in Los Angeles at Taylor De Cordoba. Geti and I have been friends for a long time and he asked me kind of last minute to do the album cover. I was working on a new show, and didn't have much time to create something new. Geti then explained that if I had anything that was good, send it over. I did, and they used it, but I guess they didn't have time to credit their Two-Feathered friend. Oh well, I'm over it now [laughs].
Could you talk about your time here in Chicago and some of the inspirations you pulled from the city?
Chicago will always be my home and my favorite city in the whole world. I love everything about it from the architecture to the people, the rivers that criss-cross the city, the great lake, the food, and even the mindless internecine battles that are waged daily, with chivalry and savagery, upon its broad avenues. Maybe that last bit of poetry should find itself in the "things I hate about Chicago" column.
What was it that prompted the move out to LA?
I moved to L.A because it was the only affordable city with a large arts and entertainment scene that happened to be in the middle of my home, Chicago, and my wife's home, Sado Island, Japan. Plus, I've done brick and steel so why not surf and sand? Geography and large bodies of water are important to me, but other than that I have no real concrete explanation for my presence here. Maybe I'll end up on a sitcom.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the Friday Night album. I think it does a great job of telling a story without sounding convoluted. How did it come together?
Thank you. Friday Night is by far the best album I think I've done so far. I've always wanted to do an album with Geti [Serengeti]. We were supposed to make one in '99 but I was too busy staring down whiskey bottles.
Here's the skinny on how it all went down. Geti flew out here to record an album with me and the Breakfast Kings. We listened to beat after beat, wrote down some lyrics and were content to make a run-of-the-mill backpack rap album. We didn't have enough time to complete anything so we just recorded a few sessions. No excitement there. About six months later, Geti flew back to finish what we started but with a few additions. He said he wanted the album to sound like a Friday night and from there the magic happened. The Breakfast Kings retooled the beats from backpack soundtracks to packed club bangers. We decided to call our union Friday Night, and set out to make songs that reflected our personalities and ambitions. It was a very freeing time. The narrative was generated from the need to tie the songs together, and the more outlandish things became, the more we were inspired. The skits and hilarity that ensued was the byproduct of all of that. I can't wait to make the follow-up, but we need people to actually purchase the first one so, buy away people!
What’s the current status of the follow-up?
We are gearing up to work on the follow up-album, Saturday Night, later this week. It will follow our unscrupulous heroes on another crazy adventure. This time, everything takes place on a Saturday night. Hopefully we can get Black Spade, Micah James, Teluv, Kim Haden and the 87 Sick up kids on this one.