When I'm in the studio, I'm strictly thinking about the beats, the rhymes and the song. The decision I make once the songs are created, and there's a barcode put on the package, and I'm out there in the street selling it, those decisions as a businessman are different than the creative decisions you make.
It doesn't get any more underground, conscious or indie than Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, but because they got a couple of really big pop hits, actually some of the biggest pop hits that hip-hop has ever seen, people are missing that part of their story. People are not counting that blessing.
I'm a fan of Bjork, a fan of Premier, you know, those are the first two names that come to my mind. You know, I've learned a lot from every person I've collaborated with, from Madlib to Jean Grae and Hi-Tek, to Mos to DJ Quik, to even somebody like Jermaine Dupri. I've taken something important away from every experience.
If I focus on being an activist and my job is to be a rapper, I'm not going to be as good of a rapper. I need to focus on hip-hop and focus on making the music, so that when the activists come to me and they need my voice to create a platform, then I've got enough people listening to me. Not because I'm conscious, but because I'm dope.
My musical influence is really from my father. He was a DJ in college. My parents met at New York University. So he listened to, you know, Motown, and he listened to Bob Dylan. He listened to Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones, but he also listened to reggae music. And he collected vinyl.
Artists look at the environment, and the best artists correctly diagnose the problem. I'm not saying artists can't be leaders, but that's not the job of art, to lead. Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte - there are artists all through history who have become leaders, but that was already in them, nothing to do with their art.
My personal take on politics is I deal with social situations and cultural situations in my music and in my life. I have said on record many times that I haven't voted. I'm not the type of person who says, 'I'm never going to vote.' I think it's clear to me that our system has failed us.
I think the line is where you're in the studio, you're creating. That belongs to you as an artist. Nothing should taint that. I shouldn't be thinking about what the fans want, I shouldn't be thinking about what the radio wants, what the label wants, what your manager wants, a song for the chicks, a song for the street.
My fondest memories were watching the Beastie Boys get prepped to come on stage. They had a lot of antics and they play a lot of basketball... then they were giving out cameras to the crowd, and performing from the bleachers. The most important thing I learned was that you control your crowd, not the other way around.