Last year, Evidence sat down for an interview with HipHopDX. He strolled into a room at the House of Blues with a calm confidence while observing the area carefully. With his iPhone in one hand, he smiled as he saw something in the ceiling, something worthy of a shot. He quickly snapped photographs with his phone. He smiled again. “Sorry about that,” he said as he sat down. It was clear then and it’s clear now. Evidence has a love for the arts. It doesn’t matter if he’s talking about graffiti, production, photography or emceeing, Ev is passionate about it and he’s eager to share it from wherever he may be.

If you want to travel with Evidence, you don’t need to buy a plane ticket. Just check his photos. The Dilated Peoples’ emcee has become passionate about photography in a way that has altered how he makes music, how he views life. With over 28,000 followers on his Instagram account shadowing his every international move, Evidence makes sure to capture his travels with a flare only a photographer can possess. From Rome to Switzerland and Spain to Portugal, Evidence has it all caught in photographs. 

Photography Provided by Evidence

These photographs mean something to the Rhymesayers emcee. They have to. His mother was a photographer and teacher. She taught him about art from an early age, specifically by getting his take on photographs she’d develop, as he explains in this interview. His voice, even at a young age, was valued. She trusted his eye.

The Eyes Have It

Life is going by fast. I try to grab it.”-Evidence

Today, Evidence can stand alone. He has no qualms about that. He certainly has support for and from his Dilated Peoples brethren but he’s also a critically acclaimed solo emcee now. Still, he hasn’t forgotten his group’s roots. “Always,” he says. “Always Dilated.” He has good reason for these sentiments with many great memories and moments to show for it. The group is still renowned through the Hip Hop sphere, both at home and abroad, regarded by many as an influential team. From their inception, the group’s managed to balance underground appeal with mainstream approval. From early underground work to their Alchemist-produced “Worst Comes to Worst” or to their Kanye West-produced “This Way,” Dilated was able to maintain balance and respect in many circles. All of this will likely be carried onto the new Dilated Peoples album, Directors of Photography, which is presently being written. Still, Ev doesn’t mind also traveling alone, as he shares in this interview. Mr. Slow Flow can now stand solo too.

Solo is how the Rhymesayer will be this weekend, as Soundset 2012 kicks off (Sunday, May 27). The Minnesota festival will include Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar and several others as they take the stage. For Evidence, there’s much to look forward to but mainly he’s focused on his set. “I’m mostly looking forward to me, to be honest,” he says frankly. “I’ve done it with Dilated and stuff but I’m by myself on the main stage this year. That’s a pretty big, major accomplishment.” The accomplishment is a result of his steady working pace. The Weatherman LP gained critical praise for honest subject matter and improved delivery. The Layover EP and his most recent album, Cats & Dogs, did more to prove consistency, only catapulting the Venice representative to new heights as a microphone soloist. So as a new day is dawning in Evidence’s career, fans can still keep up with his fast journey as he continues to try to grab it. He’ll make sure you catch at least some of it, through his eyes, his photography lens, as Rakim would say. “I’m gonna be shooting a lot of photography that day,” Ev says of his next stop, Soundset. “I’ll have a lot of pictures for you to check out.”

“Afraid to come and go so I take fame in little doses / Director of these photos so the aim remains focused”

-Evidence, “Strangers”

Focused, Evidence took time to speak with HipHopDX about all of this. The “rarely candid” emcee shared much about his childhood, his love of art as a youth, his introduction to Hip Hop and his evolution as an artist. Ev also discussed how traveling has made him realize important facets of himself and why he feels everyone should have stamps on their passports. Further, he discussed the growth in his career, how he may have inspired Phonte’s own solo push and why he feels Kanye West doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Through it all, he also talks about how photography has allowed him to see the world differently and shares more on what’s next for his career. His aim remains focused.

Evidence Talks About Art, Graffiti & Originally Not Wanting To Rap

HipHopDX: There was a video that Rhymesayers released before you went on tour through Europe once. In it, you were asking others to do some collage pieces in a notebook for you. Adding your Instagram account, graffiti, emceeing and producing, you use a lot of outlets to express yourself creatively. What are some of your earliest memories of wanting to express yourself creatively?

Evidence: Graffiti is my first memory of that. Living in Venice Beach or the Santa Monica pier, it was just around me a lot. My friends started getting into graffiti when I was around 11 or 12. It was something that I guess got contagious. Plus, being that my family is from the east coast, I was flying to New York every summer during early elementary school all the way to some of high school. I was spending summers with my cousins in Brooklyn. That’s where I got to see trains and a lot of other stuff. So, I would come back home and tell people about all of that stuff.

DX: How did that progress into other art forms?

Evidence: I think everything goes hand in hand. The music obviously played the backdrop for what I was seeing, especially going to the movies and seeing Beat Street, Wild Style and everything like that at that time, being real impressionable. The music, the deejaying, the dancing, graffiti and everything was obviously part of something my parents didn’t understand, something that my friends did. To me, it was like a secret code or something that I was a part of. Early on, even my baseball coach didn’t know what this was. We were hiding it from everybody. It was our thing. That was fun. Then, Rap music wasn’t really Pop culture yet so there were things we knew about and shared with each other that just made it ill.

I didn’t want to be a rapper. I never even thought about it. I was into graffiti skateboarding and things like that. It wasn’t until music landed on me when I lived next door to QDIII. When I moved next door to him, that’s when I started to think about music. Up until then, it was just a backdrop for everything else that we were doing. I grew up on MTV, so I liked Bon Jovi as much as I liked MC Hammer. I didn’t know about everything until I started to learn about it through my friends. I just knew what was on television and what was being presented to me. Then we found N.W.A. and stuff like that, so everything started to change.

DX: Then it opened up lanes for you. On “Moment in Time,” you talk about it finally clicking like, “This my ticket.”

Evidence: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was going through an identity crisis around that time. It was like the big fish small pond thing and vice versa. In junior high, I was popular and had it all figured out. When I got to high school, I really just, I don’t know. There was too much going on. I wasn’t used to that. I became introverted, dipped out and skipped school most of that year, smoking weed and becoming recluse. I was trying to figure out how it all got pulled away from me so quick. I was really messed up for 6-8 months. I had bad, really bad acne, the whole thing. It was really a confusing moment for me. But then the music thing was like, “Oh shit. This is what I want to do.” It really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. For a while, I wanted to be going out. I wanted to be doing stuff like that. But then I was doing music and that was getting real rewarding to me. The more I did that, it was like my way back in almost. I was popular in baseball and stuff like that but I hurt my arm so I stopped playing that. In skateboarding, I was getting hurt a lot. With graffiti, I was getting arrested [laughing]. Nothing was clicking until the music started working.

Evidence Talks Rakim, EPMD And Ice-T As Influences

DX: But you had all of these loves in different art forms, which probably helped bring that emceeing to life, right?

Evidence: Definitely. Now, there’s rapping and there’s emceeing. Some people know how to be lively and have a good persona before they necessarily even put raps on a microphone. Just them on a stage is attracting to people. Then, there’s other people I know who are really amazing rappers who lack some of that ability. To try to get both is the key. It’s the goal for anybody out there.

DX: Where do you feel you started from rapping to emceeing?

Evidence: Well, I started rapping when I started rapping along with Grandmaster Flash. When I started doing that, I was showing my parents how I memorized Beat Street, they didn’t know what it was. They thought I wrote it. You know, when you knew someone’s rhymes that you liked a lot, other people didn’t know what it was. So, that was always the start of the party at my house. My parents had parties and stuff, I’d be rapping other people’s songs. Even though I didn’t write it, I could already tell the reaction I would get from it since I was a little kid.

DX: Then you studied the art of emceeing?

Evidence: The emceeing…The rappers that made me want to rap were in the EPMD era, Yo! MTV Raps era, Special Ed, certain people I was really into. Those people made me want to rap. They were more like projected, pronounced rappers. That’s why I could always dig their message and hear their words. I knew all the words to [Special Ed’s] “I Got It Made.” Even though I loved Rakim and everything before that, I was more in awe at all of that. Around that EPMD time and a little bit after that, I started thinking about writing, reciting Ice-T lines and stuff like that. All those rappers were real pronounced so I always wanted to be like that more. It wasn’t until later that I got up on Freestyle Fellowship, Organized Konfusion, The Pharcyde, Hieroglyphics and other people who were pushing limits lyrically. I didn’t know about that right away. So, I would say the origin of my style was based on something more pronounced.

DX: How do you feel that’s progressed throughout your career, from Dilated to your solo work and so on?

Evidence: For a while, there was a time during my Dilated career where we recorded everything to tape. There wasn’t anything to Pro Tools. There wasn’t any shifting of lyrics or moving anything around. We didn’t try to do a lot of takes back in the day. The faster you could nail it, the doper you were or whatever. So, to me, the expression and what I was saying was always more important than how I was saying it or hitting the beat. Sometimes I’d listen back and I’d be like, “Damn, on that one part, I could have said it more like how I wrote it but oh well, I didn’t get it on that one but damn, it’s still cool.” I’d leave it. I wouldn’t even trip because that’s how it was that day. I was really about that. When I go back and listen to my old stuff, I really love the innocence of that. But as time went on, I started knowing what a pocket was. People started bringing things to my attention like rhyming on the snare. There’s other things where you shift your lines and you can push it to make the drum beat flow better when you rap. I never thought about that. Everything I wrote for my first Dilated albums was literally like, “Put the beat on and what I write from my heart, I’ll write it down fast and then I’ll just say it.” I’ve definitely become more conscious of that and that’s made me better to listen to and that’s good. I also think I’ve definitely become less guarded as far as staying behind the curtains, so to speak. I’ve let people in more into who I am as a person, not just a rapper. In the era we came out in, it was more of a guarded era. People weren’t smiling in their pictures so much; it was more of a b-boy stance or some shit [laughing]. Well, I mean, not literally but you know. So, times change and things evolve and I’m glad I’ve evolved with that, not just rapping about rapping but rapping about things that happen to me without tipping the emo scale over. That’s good. I think there’s a good balance happening there. But I think my younger stuff has this innocence there that’s cool.

DX: I heard you once say that you cringe when you hear some of that younger stuff, maybe not Dilated Peoples, but maybe even before that.

Evidence: It was before the Dilated stuff but even some of the Dilated stuff. I don’t know. If you sit around and listen to your old stuff all day, I need to talk with you to figure out what makes someone do that but I think most artists should. I take pictures on Instagram and I look back at the first ones I took and those make me cringe. I think with anything, as long as you’re pushing yourself and trying to get better, that should happen. If you’re comfortable with all of your first stuff, that might mean you’re not really pushing too hard.

DX: Speaking of that creativity, traveling fuels creativity. Sometimes it can open your eyes to things you didn’t know about yourself. What has been your greatest lesson through your travels?

Evidence: Oh [pausing for a couple of seconds]. I’m definitely okay with being alone.

DX: It wasn’t always the same?

Evidence: No. I think it was but this has definitely helped me realize it. When you’re thousands of miles away…Like, I think I’ve been in certain parts of Australia where you’re the farthest you could geographically be from California in the world or some weird statistic like that. When you’re sitting there, it’s a testament to yourself. You could get on social networks, Skype and do all kinds of stuff to make yourself feel connected but if that’s not happening or if you don’t turn it on, you really get to check yourself out. You go walking around another city and feelings come up. It definitely makes you look at America differently. I don’t mean to start getting political but definitely that as well. Traveling is good. If your goal is not to get at least a few stamps on your passport, you’re buggin’.

DX: To go along with that, you’ve already mentioned Instagram a couple of times. You’ve taken images from around the world, which you’ve posted on your account [Evidence’s Instagram name is “mrevidence”]. I know you have a love of photography. How has photography been a catalyst to help you see the world differently?

Evidence: In a lot of ways. We’ve always had phones that took pictures but now that technology is catching up, there’s actually a way to make them look decent. I know a lot of real photographers and you see some iPhone pictures and people can’t tell the difference if you know how to not overkill it. It’s real easy to overkill it on the iPhone. But back to the topic, it’s making me wake up a little earlier in the morning to take a picture or something like that.  It might be the difference. A lot of times when you travel, you just see the airport, parking lot, the stage and hotel and on to the next place. Having a camera on you at all times, well, a phone but a decent one, it might make you see the cities as you get out a little more.

Evidence On His Mother Jana Taylor, Her Influence In Photography

DX: I know your mom was a photographer. It’s also in the interview on “I Still Love You.” How did your mom’s career with photography lead you in that artistic direction?

Evidence: I’ve been around it all my life. I’ve seen her go through the evolution of becoming a photographer, from not being one to becoming a really successful one. She was her own boss. That always was real inspiring for me to want to be my own boss. She set up her photography studio in the garage of our house. Ironically, I have a studio in my garage at my house. I’ve done a lot of things to emulate what she did with her career without even realizing it. That’s great. And then, just the eye. I saw the way she was looking at everything and what she was shooting and stuff. I’m nowhere near, obviously, what she was doing but I still think I’ve got the eye for it. I’m just trying to take it a little more seriously than taking pictures of my food but at the same time not be boring. I’m trying to keep it balanced. It’s real cool. I like it a lot. The similarity is, she would always develop pictures. She’d show me A and B, like, “Which one do you like better? Should I color this more?” I gave her a lot of opinions without even knowing just because she trusted me as a kid, to be honest. There are so many choices and filters that you can use. So, I pretty much now know what I want. I can just hit the “Go” button instead of pondering so much.

DX: I’m sure the decision process is similar to the recording process with music where you ask, “Should I use this verse? Should I say this bar this way or a different way?”

Evidence: Yeah. It’s teaching me everything, too. Plus, looking at everybody else’s pages teaches me a lot about people. Some people overkill the fuck out of their pictures and that shit is a fried mess. I can then relate that to how they are in their lifestyles. Some people’s pictures are dark or happy or whatever. It’s funny how I look at people’s pages and that shit tells you a lot. Photography is ill, man. It’s definitely gonna give me a different way to look at music. The same shit applies. I’ve always said that graffiti is the same thing. Rakaa’s said it too. It’s like outlines, fill in, compositions, highlights. It’s the same thing with music.

DX: It’s interesting you say that dark pictures help you see the way a person might view the world. In speaking with Brother Ali this year, he said you’re really fun to be around. He said that you’re real fun to be around and that you want everyone around you to have fun, too. He also said that it’s not always reflected in your music.

Evidence: Yeah, that’s true.

DX: Why do you think that’s the case?

Evidence: Well, art imitates life and vice versa sometimes but not all the time. I’m sure if you hung around Stephen King, he tells plenty of jokes, too. I’m sure he’s not walking around all day with a mask on and simulated cut wrists and shit [laughing]. You know? I don’t know. That’s just what inspires me, that darker sound of music. I guess it’s just me being inspired by repetition of dark loops, Digging In The Crates-type shit. I don’t know, man. I really don’t know. Maybe it’s the amount of weed I smoke. Maybe it’s that Venice Beach is always gloomy and the rest of L.A. is always sunny. I don’t know. It’s just how I am. I mean, it’s not all dark. I have moments of fun. The funny thing is, if you see me perform, I’m pretty much way more turned up than a lot of people are but, I’m still kind of rappin’ monotone which is an interesting balance compared to some people who rap real hype but their shows ain’t that hype. I think there’s ways I compensate with visuals and performances that help the music take on different dimensions.

DX: Speaking of that, I’ve heard you once say that the child version of you equated music with happiness and smiles. Your music can evoke that, like you were saying. You have “Chase the Clouds Away,” which was a real success for you and it was really positive, uplifting song.

Evidence: Right.

DX: That’s there but your music also tends to evoke other emotions, making people think and being introspective. When did you realize that music could be more therapeutic and not solely about making people dance?

Evidence: Probably most after my mom passed, that whole time was probably the most therapy I’ve had through music. That was the most therapeutic. Doing a song for her helped me deal with her passing away more than a lot of other stuff did like working out or running in the morning or something like that. That was good, to just sit down and write something about it and then share it with people. For them to relate to it and receive it well was a definite bonus for me where I was real happy. It definitely gave me a lot of reward and it was just very therapeutic in that sense. That was probably the most. Otherwise, what we were talking about before. I know it sounds like I’m whining but when you’re a kid and you go from popular to not popular, that shit sucks. Trust me. [Laughs] When you’re 14, that’s wack.

DX: Why was that?

Evidence: I was a baseball pitcher and I hurt my arm. So, then I wasn’t trying to pitch and it wasn’t working out. At that time, you play a short distance. Then, you go to high school and it becomes Major League [Baseball] regulations. Instead of 45 feet, you’re pitching from 60 feet. My arm was hurt and I’d have to throw for an extra 15 feet. Kids were starting to hit the shit. So, then I started smoking weed and whatever else I could wildin’ out in Venice Beach and found some other shit and that kind of shit. I stopped fitting in with the team sports and started getting into other shit. My hair is curlier when I grow it out so I started to have dreadlocks and it was just an interesting time. [Laughs]

Evidence On Inspiring Phonte’s Solo Career & Support From Dilated Peoples

DX: When you dropped the Weatherman LP, you really broke out as a solo artist. It was similar but somewhat different from what you were known for with Dilated. Phonte mentioned to me that you were a big influence in his own transition form being a group member to a solo artist.

Evidence: Yeah, he told me that. That was a big compliment. I didn’t really know how to take that because I look up to him a lot. That was ill. I think, I mean, that’s crazy. I think he saw a lot of that because he got to see me opening up for them as a solo artist whereas the tour before that, they were opening up for us as Dilated. I think he saw the attitude didn’t change and the determination was still there. Being on a bus with me every day gave him a firsthand experience that may have led him to even say that. But that’s a huge compliment. It ain’t easy to go from a group. It’s so hard to shake the “of.” You know? You have to really rebrand it and take time to do that. My goal was always to not be Evidence of Dilated Peoples, even though I am Evidence of Dilated Peoples. It’s just the same way we don’t say Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan anymore.

DX: Yeah, Phonte said one of the most interesting parts of going on tour as a solo artist is just seeing your name up there and not seeing your group name up there anymore.

Evidence: Yeah, man. That shit is weird. It’s still weird to me.

DX: Why?

Evidence: Just not used to it. But you shouldn’t get used to everything.

DX: On that note, what do you think is the greatest effect in your music as a solo artist that others can benefit from knowing?

Evidence: I think it’s rare that an artist goes solo and it’s for the right reasons. I’m not solo right now because our group went sour or someone stole money or the nightmare horror stories you hear. I’m very involved with my group and they’re really involved with me. The support level is still high. I think it’s good to show people that you can do a solo record without jealousy, envy or any of that negative shit attached to it. Group members want to express themselves and they’re supporting other elements of the group. It’s like a graffiti crew would if someone got called out in a battle. The crew would show up while the homie was battling, representing your crew. I’m always representing Dilated and Rakaa is too. When we do another Dilated record, people can’t say shit. We came together as solo artists to form Dilated. We just couldn’t do our solo records, as many have learned by now, under our Capitol Records contract as easy as we wanted to. We waited it out and got off the label in 2006. 2007 came the Weatherman LP, 2009 came Layover, 2010 came [Rakaa’s] Crown of Thorns and 2012 came Cats & Dogs. So, we’ve been putting a lot of work in. It’s definitely dope to have a solo career with the support of your group.

DX: Doing a solo album likely let you delve into topics you wouldn’t have otherwise touched on with a Dilated Peoples album. How has the transition been going back to the group setting now?

Evidence: Doing solo songs and doing Dilated songs are totally different. There’s nobody there to tell me, “yes” or “no” with my shit. I could just go. That could be great or it can be bad. Sometimes it can be great because no one’s there to make me second-guess something that I think is the right thing.  Sometimes it can be wrong because there’s no one to check me like, “You’re bugging on this one a little bit.” You know what I mean? I have some that I trust like Alchemist, Babu and certain people that I go through. So, that’s that. Also, being in a group, you have to balance topics and consider somebody else. There’s a lot of greatness and downsides that come from that, if you’re not careful. I think Rakaa and I have found a great balance in that., figuring out a good balance between both of us, knowing when it’s too lopsided one way. I think that’s the great thing about our group.

Making another Dilated record is gonna be interesting. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’m pretty much interested like you all, which is good. I think it should be good. We haven’t done it in awhile but we have been working with each other so that makes me know we’ve got this, in a certain sense. But then another side of it doesn’t want to make me say “we got this” because I want to be honest and say, “Yo, it’s been a long time.” I think that nervousness is gonna turn the pressure up and make us push a little bit. I think we have a chance to make one of our best records. We’ll see once we get in there.

Evidence Talks About Rhymesayers, Kanye West Being “Amazing”

DX: There seems to be a sense of family with Rhymesayers. I know you still consider yourself Evidence of Dilated Peoples but you now rep Rhymesayers as well. How has that been a sense of family of support for you and how has that been a transition in your career, to become a member of the RSE family?

Evidence: It’s one I didn’t rush. I’ve been there since the end of 2009, beginning of 2010. I’ve gotten to know everybody, toured with a lot of people. I’ve done long tours with artists there, collaborated with artists on music and I’ve been around the world with them, literally. You get to know people and it’s dope to know the staff well. Funny thing about it is that from the artists to the staff, one doesn’t feel more like the other; one kind of feels like we’re all on the same mission. I know where I stand up there now. It’s nice. I feel comfortable as far as everyone understanding me. I don’t feel like I have to overly push my weight around, trying to kick down the door. I feel like I’ve earned some respect over there and that’s dope. I’m looking forward to building and doing more stuff over there. It’s definitely a dope place. If business stays on point anywhere, people don’t get the urge to go anywhere else. There you’re taken care of properly and you’re dealing with dope people.

DX: It’s always interesting when emcees aren’t afraid to big up other emcees. Earlier, you mentioned Hip Hop used to be more guarded. People didn’t always want to give emcees their due. You don’t seem scared to give others their props. Earlier in the year you tweeted Kanye is an “amazing” rapper. What was it that struck you to say that? 

Evidence: I was listening to “Good Morning” [from Graduation]. I was listening to it because I stole the drums. He’s always talking about how he’s jacking peoples’ drums. The drums are wide open at the beginning so I was stealing the drums. Then, I was just letting the record play passed that. I was listening to him rap and he’s dope. I hear people saying he’s not great all the time. Some people are just unanimously fresh. Like you never hear anybody say, “Crooked I is not a good rapper.” You know what I mean? Everyone agrees. But people don’t seem to agree on that with Kanye. I can’t understand why. Any song he’s on with anybody, he does just as good or if not better and he’s done songs with everybody good.

DX: Including Dilated.

Evidence: Yeah. He did real good on that one, too.

As noted, Evidence will be playing Soundset this Sunday at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Atmosphere, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Lupe Fiasco and P.O.S. are just some of the other names present. Evidence is also working on LMNO’s next album, producing the album in its entirety and rhyming on one track. The album will be called After the Fact and it will feature Evidence’s photography as well. 

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