Izza Kizza is the Willy Wonka of rap music. Not Johnny Depp’s wacko-jacko Wonka, but Gene Wilder’s Wonka who goes from Technicolor candy maker to stern mastermind in a split-second. Izza’s rhymes are a galactic funk collage of pop culture, good times, and hard life delivering crazy rhymes like:Bahama mama punani, piÃ±a colada punani. Rum-pa-pa-pum-pum that Unibomber punani to stark realities: I used to break in folk’s cribs, ’cause the kids had mo’ shit. White folks got problems too but back then, shit, I didn’t know that. It’s that unique flavor that brought him to the attention of rap mega-producers Timbaland and Soul Diggaz. They’re not the only big names batting for this up-and-comer, Missy Elliot, David Banner, Lil’ Wayne, Birdman, and others have all teamed up with Izza for his free, album-length internet mixtapes. The mixtapes are an on-going project, two and counting, with no end in sight the perfect thing to tide you over until his first album drops later this year.
When CoS reporter Cap Blackard called Izza Kizza, he found the rapper caught in a frigid New York City rainstorm. Kizza had recently shot a demo reel with Last Pictures, pursuing creative outlets beyond rapping, and, later that night was going to head off to Seattle for a performance with a little bit of extra time to see the sights (volcanoes and shit we ain’t got over here). Izza mentioned that he’d also been hanging out with his good friend, Missy Elliot, who’d been teaching him how to be more discerning with his beats.
How long have you known Missy Elliot and how’d you meet up with her?
Izza Kizza: I’ve known Missy for four years now. I was working with Soul Diggaz and Soul Diggaz was working with Missy on a lot of projects. She heard my music and she was feelin’ it. We just ended up kickin’ it from there and the relationship goes past us just doing music. If I’d never done a song with her I would’ve been cool with that, ’cause I’ve got a relationship with her where we just hang out. She hits me up when she wants to go bowling and shit or when she wants to go to Six Flags, we just do stuff like that. It’s a blessing all the way around to be able to hang out with people who inspired you from your youth. It’s crazy. I’m living my dreams.
I did a song called Living My Dreams and it was kinda about the perspective of being able to do everything that I dreamed about when I was young. Outkast, Missy, Busta, are all some of my favorite artists and I’ve met all of them. That’s kinda it to me and I’ve met a lot of other people who’ve inspired me too. I’m actually about to get busy on some records with Kwamé and he’s a hip-hop legend. I’m working with him and a couple of other people I just met on a spur of the moment type thing, so I guess it’s all about being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people.
The way you’ve been releasing your music is really unusual. Your mixtapes are free, album-length, and have some huge names on them, what led you to releasing music this way?
Izza Kizza: I think it’s the new way of doing things. For me, as long as I can get my music heard I’m good. That’s cool to me. You might have people in some crazy country part of Alabama who do records every day but no one gets to hear them but them and they homies. I mean, I’m one of those people from Valdosta, Georgia who was walking around beat boxing, doin’ records and putting ’em on tapes. I’d take somebody’s beat and try to do a record and me and my homies would record these tapes. We’d make our own tape covers- draw some kinda’ thing, get some construction paper, some kinda flair, clip stuff outta magazines, insert that in our tape case, and that would be our tape.
I was fascinated with having stuff I could play that was mine. This is blessing, getting my stuff heard, and I think that working with those artists and putting that stuff out is just me paying my dues to the game. One of the things that I’ve learned is to make everything the best, make everything to your best abilities even if it’s a mixtape, make it the best mixtape, and what better way to get people to listen to your music than give it to them for free.
Are the big names you’ve been working with on the mixtapes into the free format as well?
Izza Kizza: Basically, we reached out to David Banner, David Banner was with it. We reached out to Colin Munroe Colin Munroe was with it. Lil’ Wayne and Birdman, I never actually met those guys and we didn’t actually get in the studio so I don’t want to mislead people like that. It’s Goin’ Down is a record that I though had a lot of credibility and never got the credibility that it deserved. Actually I never told nobody this before, that record comes from an old Miri Ben-Ari album. Anyway, we brought those vocals in and redid the whole record. So now it feels new and it sounds new.
When I’m working with those people like that, whether I’m physically working with them or not, I’m gonna match it with my best. I don’t want to have somebody’s name on my record just for the name. You can’t have a wack record with a dope name on it it just don’t work out. I put my best into a record when I’m doing it so when these other rappers are put beside it I’ll be showing people that I can stand up next to a Lil’ Wayne or stand up next to a David Banner and collaborate and do good music with people like Colin Munroe.
I saw that you said you were going to be doing mixtapes once every other month, that’s really ambitious.
Izza Kizza: Either once every other month or once ever quarter. I wanna get something new and fresh out there.
Do you have any plans for a traditional album release?
Izza Kizza: Right now we’re looking at releasing the album, which is still untitled, somewhere around August. Late August or early September. Maybe on my birthday, maybe August 16th that’d be the dopest birthday gift ever. We’re also looking to do a lot of things before that. I’ve got records that I’m just gonna leak and release. I’ve been working for years, just stacking up records, so I’ve got random record releases that I wanna do just outta the blue.
What goes into making the average Izza Kizza track?
Izza Kizza: I don’t really physically write that much. I pretty much write everything in my mind. I don’t get in the studio and straight freestyle it like a lot of people might say they do. Every record that you’ve probably heard me do I’ve recorded it myself, so before it gets to the engineers I do my thing to it. I get a beat that I feel is a dope beat and I just zone out with it for a minute, try to feel it out. With Top of the World, we knew that was a dope record. I do a verse and I send it around see what everybody thinks, we get the poll on it, and we see how many people like it. If people say that they think it’s cool, well I don’t want it to be cool I want it to be hot! So sometimes I go in on these records and I do six or seven versions of them until I find the version that’s married to the track.
I try not to think too hard when it comes to the records, some of them are conceptual, but for me I’m just such a creative person that it flows. If I get the creative flow going then I’m good. Some of the records may be hot, some of them I just can’t connect with, and those are the ones the people won’t hear. I always try to make the beat and my voice a marriage and use my voice as an instrument on the record. I go in the studio, I put my mic up, I sit right there at the computer and I lay my vocals down. When it’s just you sitting there with the mic you’ve got this freedom to just build, and build do stuff that you can’t write. It’s not difficult, but it’s not simple. In some kinda weird way it always ends up making sense and then I build off of that, and try to create a masterpiece.
Records like Cocaine Dreams I felt out for like a minute before I started dealing with it. I was like, “Man I love this beat. Lemme see what I can do to it, it’s gonna be super dope.” Cocaine Dreams might be one of my favorites on the mixtape. Top of the World is a really dope record and Too Close For Comfort, damn man, it’s got a lot of the real stuff in there, the real Izza Kizza. It’s more personal about how I felt comin’ into the game, how I felt family-wise, and all these different issues in my life that I don’t discuss on other records. It’s real relative to people too. It’s got something that everybody can relate to, like: Michael J. Fox, this ain’t back then. This ain’t TBS and we ain’t actin’. People have fond memories of that kinda stuff and things like, stress’ll kill ya quicker than second-hand smoke. Hide behind your ego and mirrors and smoke. It’ll bring the truth out and have some folks bring the truth out of themselves takin’ a look in the mirror.
Testimonial and Me and Keesha (Boy Meets Girl) are also really personal tracks, they sound like non-fiction, is that the case?
Izza Kizza: Me and Keesha is one of those records about somethin’ that everybody goes through. It’s like me, but not me particularly because everybody’s got their Keesha. It’s a typical boy meets girl and they fall in love thing. It just unfolds their relationship a baby-father baby-mother relationship that don’t last. In the beginning you meet ’em and you love ’em and it’s crazy, and then you hate ’em. By the time you have a kid you just can’t stand ’em. It’s real typical and it reaches out to everybody, it’s just my story of it.
With Testimonial I was listening to that beat for the first time and it starts with so I decided to tell you… I was like, I bet you didn’t know this. I was like, let me tell some secrets, let me open up a little bit. You know, rappers are all kinda fuckin’ crazy. I think all people need an outlet. There’s some stuff that if you don’t talk about it it’ll mess your mind up. Some people go to therapists, but hip-hop and rap is therapy, that’s how we’re able to express ourselves and Testimonial is pure, unadulterated expression. I wanted people to see where I was comin’ from; I haven’t always been some rapper dude in a studio, I used to have a rough life. When I mention stuff like me sleeping in the Marquis, the car that my mother gave me, at that time I was goin’ through a rough patch in my life and that’s all I had. I remember waking up in that car in the daytime with kids runnin’ around outside and thinkin’ aw man, how am I gonna get out this damn car without nobody seein’ me. It was an embarrassing moment, but it was real and it’s something that I respect that I went through. A lot of people can’t handle the struggle, and I’m one person who knows that if everything goes back to normal and all of this goes out the window tomorrow I could still survive and I won’t be stressed out. I can make it through life’s rough patches.
With this record I thought, let me just tell this a little bit. Like when I say, I celebrate Christmas but I won’t never let my grandma see it’s ’cause my grandmother’s a Jehovah’s Witness and my family grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness culture. My mom used to sneak us little toys here and there, but Grandma wasn’t with it. If Mama put a Christmas tree up we’d have to snatch it up if Grandma was comin’ around. It’s stuff like that that I think brings out the individuality in artists. People can relate to that, they’ll be like, this dude ain’t all just fun and games, this dude’s been through something. That’s what I want people to see, that I’m just like everybody else, but I was blessed to be led in the right direction and to meet certain people that have helped me carry out my career as an artist. There’s gonna be more of those personal records comin’ out because they come in spurts, and I feel like you have to talk about that personal stuff on albums. You have to talk about yourself and your life so people can get you.
In contrast to your personal tracks, you’re really well known for your funnier, pop culture-referencing raps.
Izza Kizza: Comedy is one of the best reliefs ever. If I pissed you off right now and then I told you a joke that made you laugh, you’d be over the pissed off part. If you’re stressed out, if your rent is due, and I tell you knock knock who’s there? and you laugh your ass off for a split second you’re not worried about the stress and the harsh realities of life. Sometimes people sometimes need to just lighten up. It’s not that serious. Enjoy life, live life, don’t be so worried about what haters think, ’cause they’re gonna be there. I make music that people enjoy without feeling a threatening emotion, or a lonely emotion, is a feel good type thing.
Your track Millionaire is in EA Spots’ Madden NFL 09. Do you play any video games?
Izza Kizza: I have to keep myself from games ’cause I get sort of fanatical when I play them. I had to literally cut myself off of Call of Duty: World at War because I was goin’ in so heavy. But it’s a good way of promoting and reaching out to certain people. Say you’ve got 20,000 people online playin’ Call of Duty and they see Izza Kizza up there. When Madden 09 came out I would play it and when I would go online people would see my name and they could play me, which is cool. It’s even cooler when they beat me, then they can go, ha! I beat Izza Kizza while they’re listening to my song. It’s a pretty dope thing, man.
Did you record Millionaire exclusively for the game or had you written it beforehand?
Izza Kizza: We were just working on my album when that came up. A lot of the songs that I’ve done on the mixtapes are for my album. Top of the World is for the album, Cocaine Dreams is for the album, Connect the Dots is for the album, O Mighty Kizz is for the album, and one thing I’m never gonna stop doin’ is creatin’. I’m always creatin’, and I’m gonna keep makin’ hot records, so why am I gonna try to hold onto a record, you know? If it’s hot, and I got a mixtape comin’ out, I want my mixtape to be hot as opposed to having a bunch of okay songs. People are harsh critics, but if I love what I’m puttin’ out I won’t worry about what anybody else is gonna think about it, ’cause I love it. We went through a lot of stuff with that mixtape tryin’ to figure it out and I was like, man, fuck that. We’re not finna be holding onto those records. Let’s just put those hot records out and let people know we mean business. We make ’em so they feel like albums. I think that those records made the difference and stepped it up.
Are alternate versions of those tracks going to be on the album coming out in August?
Izza Kizza: Definitely. There’s a lotta records that we had on Kizzaland that we didn’t play all the way through because we’re gonna bring those records back for the full album. Ooh La La, Living my Dreams- we haven’t put out the full versions of those. I’ve got a lot of new records I’ve been working on. Like I said I’ve been workin’ with Missy, I’ve been workin’ on some other stuff with Soul Diggaz- new stuff all over the place, man. I wanna excel on every record. Kizzaland was good, Wizard of Iz was better. Can I do better? I think I can. I’ll have to try harder to make a better joint than Wizard of Iz, that’s a real challenge. I’m on it though. I’m all about stayin’ innovative.
What’s been the highest point in your career so far?
Izza Kizza: The dopest thing that’s happened to me so far was my mixtape release party. It felt so good to see people up on it. It felt good to know that all the hard work that you’ve been working on your whole life is finally beginning to pay off. It’s the best feeling any artist could ever have.
You said you’re going to perform in Seattle this weekend, are you going to be doing any touring in the near future?
Izza Kizza: Yeah, we’re looking at doing a two week tour in Europe comin’ up. I’m on a mixtape with Santastic right now and we’re supposed to be headed to japan soon. I think Japan and Europe are gonna be this summer, and then God willin’, I’ll come back. In the fall we got a situation where we’ll be tourin’ to forty-nine colleges in two months. I can’t wait. We goin’ in. I’m just gonna keep doin’ more and more things to take me to the next level.