Dec. 7, 2012 04:25

Keepin‘ Current

Chali 2na applies discipline to create his lyrics and paintings


Chali 2na is an underground renaissance man whose baritone voice and rapid-fire mic technique is evident from the very first verse. Born Charles Stewart, you may recognize his stage name from groups he’s worked with before—Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli—but his latest solo work, Against the Current, is a five-part installment of genre-bending EPs that incorporate elements of the music that influenced him the most.

“[The EP] will be a mixture of everything to come so you’ll get a little hip-hop, that Caribbean aspect, electronic and so forth,” Stewart says.

Because people consume music in such a different way than when he started out in the ’90s, you almost have to do something different to stay relevant.

“[Against the Current] is a double entendre for sure, how to go against what’s actually out there. The current,” he explains. “Everything is really dumbed-down and simplistic, and that’s not a bad thing, but that’s not the era that I’ve come from.”

Stewart says he wants to stay true to traditional hip-hop that fostered his growth as an artist.

Just like his other solo works and side projects, the fish metaphor is a key element to him as an artist. But to understand the name, we need to go back in time.

“My father came up with this [Chali 2na] name when I was, like, 5 years old,” he says. “I was named [Charles Stewart] after my dad and his nickname was Pee-Wee. He didn’t want to call me little Pee-Wee or something . . . He was watching TV and a commercial with the StarKist Tuna came on the tube. A deep-voiced blue tuna said, ‘Tell ’em Charlie sent ya,’ and it just stuck.”

Chali 2na was born, and that nickname has influenced the rest of his life.

“I actually got into the genre and culture and way of life of hip-hop through graffiti and not the musical aspect of it,” he says. “The discipline that I learned from being an artist—the patience, the detail, the attention to detail, things of that nature—I attribute all of that to trying to be the best visual artist that I can be.”

Nowadays, he's still using what he learned in those early years of life to create paintings and lyrics.

But Stewart still logs in plenty of time spittin‘ in front of live audiences—and paying respects to cannabis. This month, the rapper will be bringing his trademark style to The Emerald Cup in NorCal, “the world’s only outdoor organic cannabis competition.”

“Whatever makes people get over their ailments from a holistic and natural perspective, cannabis is a plant and I’m for that aspect as long as it’s not abused.” Stewart says, who counts California Kush and the “good grape stuff” as his personal favorites.

He also has a more personal reason to support MMJ.

“My father just died of lung cancer and couldn’t eat for a while,” he reveals. “It helped him eat for a minute, and for these types of things, I’m all for it . . . It’s not like some of these new drugs. With cannabis you know what time it is, the side effects: you’ll be hungry as a motherf*@ker, you gonna laugh and want to go to sleep.”


Emerald City

In 2003, Tim Blake of Laytonville and a friend formed an ingenious plan to showcase and decide the best bud grown in Northern Cali. At the time, Mendocino and Humboldt were getting more and more attention for the quality organic cannabis they cultivated outdoors, deep in the mountainous regions. Nine years later, The Emerald Cup is still held each December featuring more than 150 strains, concentrates and a photo competition. Among the Cup awards is the Person of the Year, awarded to dedicated activists in recognition of their efforts to end cannabis prohibition. This year’s Cup on Dec. 15 in NorCal will feature the musical talents of House of Vibe (featuring Chali 2na) and the House of Vibe All Stars, as well as attorneys, activists and industry leaders slated to discuss about the movement’s latest happenings in this vigorous, post-election season. The first prize for Best Medicinal Cannabis will be an all-expenses-paid, seven-day trip to Jamaica. Ya, mon!

(CULTURE writer Stephanie Bishop contributed to this report)
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