In 2009 Rita J released her long awaited debut album Artist Workshop. Nearly five years later the Chicago emcee is back with her sophomore album appropriately titled, Lost Time.
The album features production by !llmind, Proh Mic, Kenny Keys, Black Spade, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Guest starring on Lost Time are Mr. Greenweedz, ADaD, Wes Restless, Nina Rae, Isa Starr, Doc Brrown, GQ Tha Teacha, and Rasheeda Ali.
Rita J spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the Chicago Hip-Hop scene, the status of the Family Tree crew, and her new album, Lost Time.
TRHH: Explain the title of your album, ‘Lost Time’.
Rita J: Lost Time. Lost Time is basically just a collection of songs that I got down to sound cohesive as an album. I figured since it had been about four years since my last album, Artist Workshop that it was just time lost, i.e., Lost Time.
TRHH: How is Lost Time different from your first album Artist Workshop?
Rita J: I think it’s just a fresher sound, an updated sound. Again, when I put Artist Workshop out it was a little late. It took five years for that album to be released. Lost Time is a little fresher. I worked with international artists on this album. It has a more cohesive sound. I have less producers on this album as well.
TRHH: The song ‘The Dough’ seemed a little bit different from what we’re used to hearing from you. What inspired that song?
Rita J: That beat was made by a producer named Proh Mic based out of Seattle, Washington. I had been listening to a lot of music and he has a really funked out West Coast sound and vibe that I was really diggin’. I just wanted to see what I could do over some of his music. He actually has four tracks on the album and he mixed the album. I got to work with him more and we connected. I don’t want to give credit to solely him, I know I’m on the song too but I feel like that’s his style and represents his style of music.
TRHH: A couple of songs on the album have different sounds to them, like ‘Survival’. Was your aim to take this album some place unexpected?
Rita J: For me, yeah. After a while things can get boring. I feel like you should change it up and mix it up. I’m always looking for different interesting songs and vibes that I feel like can still come across on. ‘Cause not everything is for me. I definitely wanna get more into different instrumentation and live music. It’s just pushing me closer to that point.
TRHH: The last time I interviewed you, you were in Atlanta. Are you back in Chicago?
Rita J: I am back in Chicago.
TRHH: What brings you back?
Rita J: I think my time was up in Atlanta. I had some things going and it kind of got to a point where I just made a decision that this is not really for me, I don’t see myself growing here, so maybe it’s time to go back home and work on this album release and get back in tune with my Chicago family, and that’s what ended up happening. I got offered to go to Brazil which was my first trip out of the country as well as being able to perform. That kind of kicked things off after Artist Workshop got released – this was 2010. I got back to Chicago and ironically as much as I said I would never come back and didn’t want to come back, I came back and things fell in place and it gave me the opportunity to travel more and be able to go overseas and stuff. I think it was a good move.
TRHH: What’s it like performing overseas versus performing in the states?
Rita J: I just think it’s a different energy. The energy over there is more refreshing. They’re more eager to hear what you have to say and what you’re brining to the table versus here I feel like people are a little more jaded. They’re like, “I’ve seen that and heard that before. We need you to burst into flames on stage!” Here I feel like people have an agenda where it’s like, “Let’s work together, let’s do this, let’s do that,” but there they’re just listening. They’re enjoying the music, they want the CD, and the t-shirt, or whatever and they’re cool.
TRHH: That’s interesting. Are you familiar with the comedian Patrice O’Neal? He passed away about four years ago.
Rita J: Yep.
TRHH: He had a joke where he said American’s all think we can make it. We all think we have a lottery ticket. We all have that hope that we’ll be something better than somebody else. I never thought of it that way but it’s really true.
Rita J: Yeah, it is true. Everybody is someone, but everybody thinks they’re someone so it’s overcrowded in my opinion. It’s harder to weed people out. Who really stands out anymore with the influx of so many artists? Music is everywhere, on the internet — it’s so many people that do music that it’s overwhelming. I’m still trying to get out here in the states. I find it harder to book shows in the states. I don’t get to tour the East Coast, West Coast, or the South, but when I go overseas I’m hitting all different cities and countries so it’s like a disconnect here.
TRHH: What’s your opinion on the current Chicago Hip-Hop scene?
Rita J: I’m considered old school or something now [laughs]. This new scene which is titled “The Drill Scene”, which I just found out because I’m not hip, is like Chief Keef and all these kids or whatever. That’s what comes to mind when people think of Chicago Hip-Hop now, but I’m coming from a Common era, or even a Lupe or Kanye. They’re not here anymore. They’re global and worldwide. My goal is to just expand or do more than what’s considered Chicago Hip-Hop. But there is a scene here, it is active, there are plenty of things to do, shows to perform if you want to, but it’s at that same level.
TRHH: I talked to a lot of artists from Chicago about the Drill scene and everybody has a different opinion. Some people think it’s detrimental, like Rhymefest and Lupe. But some people say they like what the kids are doing.
Rita J: I think we should definitely be free to do what we wanna do and say what we wanna say. I don’t believe in censoring words, the n-word, what type of music you do, or whatever. Because you don’t know who you can be inspiring so just do what you do. I do not condone negative behavior and violence and I’m not particularly interested in hearing anything about women being degraded or taking drugs. It’s just not my thing. Do I feel like it’s destroying the community? Not necessarily. A lot of things are destroying the community – the fact that there are no grocery stores with great food in it, outlets for children to have activities to do after school, gun laws, TV, so I don’t wanna put that on the Drill scene. But like I said, I’m not into the negativity of what that scene seems to be involved in.
TRHH: Me either, and I think the Drill scene is a result of all this stuff in our communities. I interview a lot of those kids and I really like them as people. I can’t necessarily get into their music but I really like them as people. They’re really nice kids, but something is off here. I can’t put my finger on it.
Rita J: I think that they’re attracted to what they think they’re supposed to be doing. Since Hip-Hop is worldwide now, is corporate, and making money, a certain type of rap is being promoted so that’s what they kind of go for. So they go, “What’s selling?” and it’s somebody talking about how many cars they have, how many girls they have, and how many drugs they smoke. Being young you kinda don’t really know what you need to be doing if you don’t know yourself. So I think they get caught up in thinking that’s what they’re supposed to be rapping about. They don’t see Rita J, Elzhi, or whoever else and they aren’t into it because who are we? We’re just some underground rappers who aren’t on the radio, aren’t on MTV, so they don’t think of it in terms of that. A lot of these kids don’t have the long vision.
TRHH: Back to the album, On ‘Peace, Love, & No War’ you worked with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, how’d that collaboration come together?
Rita J: I was in the studio one day with the All Natural crew, Cap D, MC ADaD, Proh Mic was there, and some other people. We basically were trying to just record some songs and we had a long list of beats that we were going through. Producers weren’t listed and that beat was the first beat listed on the tape. I chose that beat to work on and I just ended up writing to it and nobody hopped on it with me. Down the road I revisited that song. Even though it says his name on the track it never really clicked to me. I was talking to Tone B. Nimble and he was like, “Yeah, that’s an Ali Shaheed track,” and I was like, “What?!” So basically Tone B. Nimble and Cap D, All Natural, they source beats and they get beats from different producers and whatnot. I think Cap might have a relationship with Ali. It was just one of those things where I chose a beat and didn’t really know much about it and it ended up being Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s beat. Of course I wanted to talk to him, see him or something and give him the song. I almost had the chance to this summer in Switzerland but I didn’t meet him. Proh Mic saw him in Seattle and gave him the CD. That’s as far as that got. I’m still waiting to meet him [laughs].
TRHH: That’s so cool to have a beat from Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Rita J: It’s so rare, too. Who has that?
TRHH: Nobody. You mentioned Cap D and them, what’s your relationship like with Family Tree? Does Family Tree exist still?
Rita J: It exists loosely I guess you could say. I don’t see any reunions happening any time soon. Everybody completely went their separate ways. Everyone is older now. Cap D and Tone have families. Cap D actually moved out to Oakland and he’s the attorney for the Golden State Warriors. I still talk to them as much as I can, but we don’t hang out and aren’t in the cyphers outside the clubs anymore. They’re doing great things. We’re just growing as people so everybody kind of split off into their own things. I think Tone B. Nimble’s focus is like gospel music now.
TRHH: What happened to Iomos [Marad]?
Rita J: I’m not sure. The last I heard he was living in Minnesota. I heard he was still doing music up there and was a teacher. I heard he was doing gospel or spiritual rap but I haven’t heard too much from him lately. The Twins [Daily Planet], I think they moved out to California. Greenweedz of course is still around — he’s the booking agent at The Shrine.
TRHH: What’s next up for Rita J?
Rita J: I just wanna continue to put out good music. I’m gonna keep promoting this album, it’s still pretty fresh. I just released that video ‘Survival’ in Paris. I’m trying to get back to Paris. I’m trying to get back to Europe in general this summer to tour. I’m also interested in booking shows in the states, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it if it doesn’t happen because there is a lot of interest overseas. I just wanna broaden my horizons and incorporate a little more art into the things that I’m doing. For example, my release party, I’d like it to be more of a collaboration of artists and not just, “Oh, I’m at the club drinking and doing songs.” I want it to be an art gallery, somebody is painting bodies over there, and somebody is playing the drums – just more of a livelier set. I’m just brainstorming of different ways to approach the music creatively because I do understand that it gets boring and people get tired of seeing the same old thing – I mean I do. So to keep it fun I try to think of different things to do. That’s basically it. I’m just brainstorming on how to keep the ball rolling.
Purchase: Rita J – Lost Time