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The Hip Hop Files

Meet Smash Rockwell

Casual maintains a confident balance in the often overly complicated world of rap music. He earned his stripes in the seminal Bay Area hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics -- a group of MCs championed by college radio and so-called conscious listeners -- but he also works with rappers that are edgier, known to squares as "hardcore". With his latest album, "Casual Presents Smash Rockwell", the Oakland MC brings a stable of Bay Area vets and underground lyricists to the table. He spoke with SF Station after a recent San Francisco performance.

SF Station (SFS): Your new album is out, how do you feel?

Casual: I'm feeling cool, it's getting a good response. Now I'm thinking about recording the next one.

SFS: Tell me about Smash Rockwell, is that your alter ego?

Casual: It's being perceived as my alter ego, but it really comes from my friends that have been calling me 'Smash' since my last record. I hooked up with the Handsome Boy Modeling School and Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul's alter ego in his collaboration with Dan the Automator) said you need to be Smash Rockwell. I adapted Rockwell, but used Smash Rockwell because Casual Rockwell doesn't sound as good. But people in
the streets and all the people in my area have been calling me Smash for a minute. I just wanted to present that to my fans.

SFS: So is Smash related to Chest?

Casual: Smash Rockwell is Chest Rockwell's second cousin (laughs).

SFS: You have several guests on the new album, which is something you haven't done in the past, what prompted the change?

Casual: There are a lot of people I've wanted to work with for a long time just to pay homage. I finally got a chance to do so. I've got E-40 and Too Short on the album; dudes like Young Z from the East Coast, an underground legend; and Psalm One, who is new to people. It's a little bit of everybody -- people whose music I really appreciate.

SFS: What has been motivating you to write?

Casual: Hearing new creative people, new artist and new music. I don't listen to old music and I don't listen to myself. If I've done the song already I barely even listen to it. I like creating, it's a thrill to create.

SFS: A lot of people have been saying Bay Area rap music is on an upswing right now, and artists here are on the verge of getting more exposure nationally. What are your thoughts?

Casual: The Bay Area needs it. We need to take it upon ourselves to network more and fight the system that is not really giving the Bay the light. We need to start doing things on a national scale and not always regional. We need to all drop albums and be on each others records to bring it back to a family affair.

SFS: You've been working with a lot of Bay Area rappers who have a harder sound, have you gotten any negative feedback because you've gone in that direction?

Casual: No, because I don't think there is a way around it. Honestly, with my last album I didn't even think I had a national audience. I just made songs for people on my block and made it Bay-ed out. With this album I added different people, and I also made sure that I put that natural element that people love about Casual on songs like "All Around the World" and "Hieroller" with Opio and Tajai.

People really have got to respect who I am, because they really don't know. The album that people champion most in my career should be this one. I feel more mature lyrically and I feel like it's a more well rounded product.

As far as working with so-called gangster rappers, those are people I respect from my hood. I could be doing as much gangster stuff on the mike as anybody else, but that's not my style. I really want their fans to hear my album, and vise versa .I want my fans to feel E-40 and Too Short because they are raw to me.