I first told you about Shinobi Stalin when I reviewed his debut album Zombie Skool last year (time flies!) and as he is about to release his new project entitled Invisible Man, I got a chance to catch up with him and ask a few questions. The Orlando-based MC and producer, who is part of the Vets of Kin and Civil Mics among others, has quite a few interesting things to say and it is a real pleasure for me to share those with you now. I want to thank him for taking some time to answer my questions, and Civil Mics’ creator Twist for putting me on his music in the fist place. Without further delay, here is Shinobi Stalin, in his own words…
First of all, for people who are not familiar with you and your music, who is Shinobi Stalin? I have to say the name somewhat puzzled me when I first heard it. Any interesting story behind this seemingly unlikely association?
I am just your run of the mill half Black Puerto Rican, Eastside Ozone rhyme spitter, nothing special about me except the fact that I write pretty good. My rhyme name is on some middle school shit honestly. I came up with the first part in like 7th grade. My favorite game on the Sega Genesis is “Shinobi 3″. He wasn’t a typical ninja all in the shadows sneaking up on fools. He wore all white and walked throwing daggers exploding his enemies. I took that, and saw the daggers Jewells dropped and the enemies as the minds of those listening creating the spark and big bang. The Stalin part came as a joke. My homie Kazarian and I used to make beats at his crib, play a game called “Medal of Honor” on the PC, and watch mad WW2 documentaries. We called ourselves the Axis Power Click just messing around and that’s how I got the Stalin part. I took Stalin because he was known to erase his enemies or threats from history. This dude would literally take cats names out of books, take their faces off of photographs, and send cats to Siberia, homie was nuts. 1 + 1 = 2 and the name sounded rather unique so I ran with it.
You are part both of the Civil Mics Movement and Vets of Kin, among other groups or collectives. Could you tell us more about how those came to life and how you became part of them? Is it important for you all to keep this kind of group spirit, as opposed to always working solo?
Well Civil Mics was Twisted Visionz first. This guy who calls himself Twist hit me up on Soundclick years ago about getting on a song with a couple of cats he heard on the site. He took his favorite emcees and producer and made a group where he was all up in the videos, he is like a southern Suge Knight / Diddy who likes to wear Kool Moe Dee Glasses. After Twisted Visionz, the man known as Twist took his networking prowess and started collabing with artists and producers from all over the world. The collective was really deep, then he disappeared (he had a bid to do), came back and thinned the ranks. Now he takes 90 percent of my publishing. I am now in the process of suing him, but if I see him in the streets he is getting the one hitter quitter.
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The Vets of Kin is really just family. One day it was decided we should all just start doing tracks together. We have all been rapping together and chilling with one another for years, it was only natural for us to combine forces. It’s crazy, UA and I met AMiAM, Clarity, and Juniali battling in school. MyGrane and AMiAM are brothers, Word Chemist and I are cousins, UA taught me how to write 16s, Tone Blare was there during my first recording sessions with UA when we were 14. Murdoc, Grane and Blare were doing this way before I was as the group Open Campain. JBiz naturally meshed in the crew when he moved here from Jersey. 90% of us grew up on the Eastside of Ozone. When we combine and record the stars align. We are a solar system and Hip Hop is the sun.
Vets of Kin are a unit. We all make clicks and splinter cells in the crew, it doesn’t take away from the stuff we do alone, it actually gives us all a chance to experiment and be a little less responsible. I love Vets shit cause I can just rap, I can put the pen to the page and go in.
Two of the aspects you emphasise when talking about your music are the importance of staying true to yourself, not selling out as an artist and the desire to make lasting, timeless music, as opposed to marketed products that won’t be remembered in a month time. Could you tell us more about those two elements?
I was brought up being told integrity is everything. I have been around many different walks of life and have come to the realization that honesty trumps all. If you want respect, stop fronting and be yourself. I can’t sell out because I wanna be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day. I make music I like to listen to, simple as that. I hope it is timeless but ultimately that’s up the people that listen to it. I can’t make that decision but I can definitely make sure my music doesn’t disappear next week.
You also touch upon the importance of education, which was most obvious with your album Zombie Skool, as well as certain social issues. You are not one to dumb down your lyrics and you provide people some food for thought. Do you think listeners are receptive to this sort of message?
Some are receptive others aren’t. This music wasn’t meant for the ones who do not wanna work to understand. I went through a phase where I was contemplating dumbing the bars down, I woke up though, I am not doing anyone favors making this shit easier to decode. I love when the supporters come and tell me that they get it and understand what I’m trying to do, they keep my motivation up. Jewell dropping will always be part of what I do as an emcee and if cats got any questions about what I’m saying just get me, I’ll try my best to explain what I mean. Accessibility is important; you can’t give peeps a map without explaining the legend.
At the same time as there is some seriousness to your craft, you clearly have fun making music and working with your crew, as is visible in the latest Vets of Kin video for Ceremony for example. Is it necessary for you not to always take things too seriously and to enjoy what you’re doing?
You know you are the only person I have talked to that said that about the Vets video (laughs). Ya we have fun. I definitely would not be rapping if I was not having a good time. The Vets always keep me on my toes lyrically and beat-wise. We are all trying not to be the wack link in the chain. A lot of rappers take this music stuff too serious, you can still be a tough guy and laugh. Most of these so called super hardcore ass Neanderthals shrink their skinny jeans and watch romantic comedies when they’re by themselves. There is so much more in life to be serious about than art, but do not get it twisted I doos this for real.
Something else that you seem to enjoy a lot is performing and sharing your music with an audience. Is this inseparable from making music for you? Do you plan on touring in the US and maybe abroad in the near future?
Performing is great, I don’t like unwanted attention but I love getting on stage with DJ Stranger, Word Chemist, and any of the Vets. Millions of people make songs but the true test is how you present it to the crowd. Sure you can do tracks and never perform, but to do that is to sell yourself short. I have fun on stage, the show is always precise though, no games, and we celebrate afterwards (laughs). If the crowd isn’t having a good time I haven’t done my job as an emcee. Touring is mos def in the plans, trying to get to your side of the pond ASAP. Anyone that wants me in your city get at me.
You are currently working on a new album. Could you tell us a bit about that?
I got a new album coming out called Invisible Man on Fly Def Music Group. It is a metaphor for my position in society and the hip hop scene. I am not literally invisible, more like I exist but am not important enough to garner interest. The album’s theme is finding your place. It’s on some that day after going out celebrating your wins hangover, having to deal with work the next day if that makes any sense (laughs). I got the Vets of Kin, Kap Kallous and the cat who taught me how to emcee on there. Production is handled by Reeplay, Abbott, Tone Blare, Tek the Intern and me. Rhymes are dope, beats bang and I’m looking more into self than the last album. I’m ego tripping with chip on my shoulder at the moment. It’s what you expect from me plus some.
On top of this new album and collaborations with other Civil Mics or Vets of Kin members, you are also working with other MCs and/or producers. Is it important for you to expand your horizons and get to connect with other artists outside of your immediate circle?
Yes, I do work with other heads. I would like to plug some more shit but some of the things I am not at the liberty of bringing up at the moment. Since I started emceeing, I always made sure that I always did joints with heads that were on the same wavelength musically. There is no reason for me to eat alone and the talent out here right now is crazy. I would be doing myself a disservice not expanding my horizons and seeing what other people have to offer. Don’t get it twisted though, when it’s album time it’s family time.
Anything else you would like to add?
Support your damn local artist and favorite ones! Peace to Civil Mics, the Vets of Kin, #Getsome Clothing and Fly Def Music. Salute to all my warriors in the Ozone. Thank you to all the fans and supporters that like what I do. Good looking out to all the blogs, DJs, and radio shows that always show love. Look out for Invisible Man coming soon. PEACE cause at the end of day it’s all karate…
In case you missed it, or just want to enjoy it again, here is the video for SNM (Just Skate), off his debut album. Feel-good music right here!