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Interview: Roach Gigz

photographer Ariel Zambelich

Willy Staley writes the blog Nation of Thizzlam. He knows a lot—a lot—about rap from the Bay Area. If we knew him better we'd say he was obsessed with it, but it's easier (and maybe more reasonable) to say that he's just very dedicated to it. He came to us a little while ago, proposing that it would be cool to get the legendary Andre Nickatina to sit down with Roach Gigz, who was playing a New York show with him to talk about rap. Nickatina is famously skeptical of doing interviews, and decided not to talk to anyone, so instead, Staley spoke to Roach about getting confused in New York, custom burritos and—what else?—the weirdness that is the Bay rap scene in the post-hyphy boom. —Sam Hockley-Smith

How many times have you been out to New York recently? This is my second time this year. I came out like in 2009, ’cause my cousin was living in Philly. I went out to see him, and then we came out here to act a ass. We didn’t have no hotel room, nowhere to stay, nothing, but we came out here, and it ended up cool.

Where are you staying this time? Up on 42nd Street. I walked out the hotel and I saw people taking pictures, upwards, so I looked up and I was like “Oh my god, it’s the Empire State Building!” I was just amazed that our hotel was across from the Empire State Building. Then we called somebody and said, “We’re staying across the street from the Empire State Building. They were like ‘That’s not the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building is on 34th, you guys are on 42nd. I’m like, “SHIT!” [laughs] I was gonna tweet that shit, too, like, “I just walked outside of my hotel room and looked up and it was the Empire State Building.” And it fucking wasn’t.

It was the Chrysler Building, yeah? Yeah, it was the Chrysler Building.

When you're out here or in Oakland do you ever miss San Francisco? It’s too crowded. Once you go to Oakland, you just feel hella more relaxed. And I come to SF, it’s hella traffic jams and hella this, hella that. And I’m like damn, man. It’s cool when you’re on the bus, but when you’re in a car you start getting hella mad.

When you do go back there, what's your favorite burrito spot? La Cumbre. My mom always brought me to La Cumbre since I was a little kid. And it was crazy, I just saw La Cumbre on the Travel Channel. I was like, “WHAT!?” Right there on 16th and Valencia. That was my spot. Also there’s this spot right there on Church and Market, right next to Blockbuster, like right across from Safeway. Since I went there I had to abandon my past. Because the shrimp and chorizo burrito—like combine them, and they give you this fat burrito and that shit is so good.

Shrimp and chorizo together? Is that off-menu? That’s what I tell them to make me.

What are you working on now? I’m working on my real album. I’m trying to figure out the best situation to put it out. I’m getting people’s attention now—like big people’s attention. So I’m trying to figure out if I want to go that route, or if I want to go independent, or if I want to build myself bigger before it’s that time. So I’m really trying to figure all that out. I wish that I could drop that shit today. But soon, probably next month, I’m gonna drop a mixtape or EP—whatever you wanna call it— called Bitch I’m a Player with my producer C-Loz. That just started because I started saying “Bitch I’m a player” on Twitter, and everybody started saying it back. And they just fell in love with it. So I was like fuck it, I’m gonna but out a CD called Bitch I’m a Player.

You performed on the same stage as Andre Nickatina, when did you first hear him? Probably like seventh grade. Like I probably heard him a little bit here and there but that’s when I first started listening to the Bay rap shit. You had the Hot Boys and everybody else that was poppin, but that’s when I started getting into Dre and everything.

Was he the first underground SF rapper you listened to? Yup. Him, [San] Quinn, Messy Marv. I listened to 11/5, too, hella much. And RBL’s “Bluebird (On My Shoulder)” I listened to all that shit really. It was all around that time.

Do you think you'll ever have the chance to work with Nickatina? Hey, that would be dope. I think eventually we will.

Did you ever think you’d be working with dudes you grew up listening to? Fuck no, man. It’s crazy like, you listen to these people like—from Cellski, to everyone. Then all the sudden, they’re respecting you and giving you props and you’re meeting them and hanging out with them and doing shows with them and it’s just like, What the fuck? It’s incredible.

Are there other artists in the Bay you're paying attention to, as far as seeing how they build buzz for themselves? No, not really. I’m trying to do it my own way. There’s a lot of artists in the Bay that I respect. I mean, like, two of my favorite artists that I actually listen to are from the Bay. I listen to myself, and I listen to Lil B and I listen to DB the General. It’s crazy that two of the artists that I actually listen to and really like the most are also from the Bay. And they’re also young, too, and they’re also doing their thing. So I got ’em both on my new Bitch I’m a Player tape. It’s gonna be on some hyphy shit, too. People were scared to bring hyphy back. I think the Bay was great with hyphy.

Did something go wrong with hyphy though? It did. Because it became cheesy, everybody wasn’t doing themselves. They were hopping on the bandwagon, using the same words, doing the same type of beats. It looked like a joke to everybody else, even if it wasn’t a joke to a lot of people at home. But if you keep that same energy—like if you hear DB’s songs, you wouldn’t call him hyphy now, but there’s that hyphy energy. Even some of B’s songs are like that, so I’m trying to bring that energy back, and mix it up with a lot of different other stuff and stay well-rounded pretty much.

E-40 still has turf dancers in like every video he puts out, so it's still happening. I noticed that too!

Does turf dancing still happen in East Oakland? I used to go to little turf dancing competitions, I don’t really see too many of those. They might be going on and I’m just not paying attention. I don’t dance anymore, I’ll say that much.

What do you listen to from outside the Bay Area? I listen to old shit a little bit. I’ve been listening to old Biggie for awhile. I got hooked on Biggie, cause I never used to listen to him before. I listen to Wayne’s old shit. Not too many people, though, really. I’m not too on top of my music awareness I guess.

Do you think that growing up on the west coast you were sheltered from Biggie because of the Tupac stuff? I wasn’t sheltered, I was just like, Fuck that shit. It was Tupac all day. In second grade, honestly, in my after school program I had a cubby and I had a shrine to Tupac in my cubby. I swear to god. I performed a Snoop Dogg song in third grade at the talent show. Mr. Lee’s class.

Do you think its hard to be a rapper from San Francisco because it has one reputation outside of the Bay and another if you live there? I think a lot of rappers from San Francisco are insecure about that, and it comes through. I know exactly what you’re saying. And I used to think about that shit when I was younger. But me, like, I’m at the point where I don’t care. Maybe at one point I cared because I was trying to do too much of this, or trying to do too much of that. Now I don’t care, man. I’m from San Francisco, I know what it is. I mean it’s many different sides to the city, I’ve lived all the different sides, I’ve been through all different types of shit, positive and negative, good and bad, you know? Fuck that shit, man. Imma rep the city forever.

Is it hard for you to do shows in SF? I remember when I was in high school no rappers from SF did shows in SF cause shit would pop off all the time. I can’t do a show in San Francisco. I mean, I’m doing one with Andre Nickatina, that’s because it’s with Andre Nickatina. Like if it was just me, I couldn’t do it. For a variety of reasons, I just couldn’t do it. The one thing I want to do is a free show at the Potrero Hill Skatepark. I was just telling that to some dude from Thrasher that just interviewed me not too long ago, and that would be so perfect: do a show at the Potrero Hill Skatepark and have everyone come through for free. I just don’t want it to turn negative or anything.

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Interview: Roach Gigz