EliaPhoks: «Ragazzi per Sempre was supposed to be my last album but instead…»
We had a conversation with whom, in our opinion, is one of the revelations of the Italian underground rap of the last couple of years, despite having paid his dues in the Palermo rap scene for quite a long time, a solid bond with the producer St. Luca Spenish and a huge passion for Hip-Hop culture. He told us about the making of his albums for MRGA with Gionni Gioielli, about his favorite scenes from the sicilian cult film “Ragazzi Fuori”, about his links with Nex Cassel, Louis Dee and the Palermo graffiti scene.
Hi Elia, we are happy to be able to ask you a few questions to give our readers and Italian rap fans the opportunity to learn more about your story. In fact, your name in the underground “circle” has only recently begun to get noticed, with your landing in the MxRxGxA, the label set up by Gionni Gioielli. But actually your “story” as a rapper begins more than ten years ago in the Sicilian local scene with the Combomastas crew (we even found a performance on MTV in 2007).
Can you tell us about when and how you approached Hip-Hop culture and when did you start recording your music in a more professional way? What were your first steps in the Palermo scene?
Hello lads! The Sicilian scene is very closed, it has never been united and has remained very fragmented for a long time even within the cities. However, as in every place in Italy, the scene has always had its historical representatives. My story as a rapper was born completely by chance, simply driven by the desire to do something different from what I heard around.
I’ve always listened to US rap and very little Italian rap, so the cultural gap was really unsustainable for me, since I loved the attitude and themes of US rap.
At 17 I didn’t have any expectations, for me it was always kind of a game even if with the Combomastas we also did TRL on MTV and ended up in few books of cultural anthropology. It happened a lifetime ago, in between there have been a lot of evolutions that have played an even greater role in my growth than those made through those experiences.
My very first piece was recorded for a tape, precisely the very first tape of the then DJ SPENISH (today St Luca Spenish). Back then the copies were “smuggled” by hand and I still jealously guard the physical copy of that record. I was exactly in the first song, the intro, and already from there one could clearly perceive the shawl attitude that I would have kept until today.
In your opinion, what are the reasons why you struggled to cross regional borders before landing in MxRxGxA? Actually you can boast on your “curriculum” an album produced by St.Luca Spenish (Buonanotte Phizzy Boy), producer linked to Nex Cassel, and a couple of collaborations with Nex himself on Spenish mixtapes…
I never took anything as an effort, I never wanted to be known more than I was in my circuit. They have always been mechanisms that have never interested me.
You see, now kids start out with that unhealthy hunger for success, for numbers, for anything that can be “counted.” I knew I wouldn’t be a rapper professionally, I still don’t, so I simply made music for the only reason it should be made: just to feel good and have fun.
Let it be clear that I’m not saying that I would never want to be a professional rapper, but that my first intention was never that.
The same applies to the Spenish relationship. Before being a great producer is a friend of mine, same thing Nex. I practically met him by chance in Palermo, I was already a huge fan of the Tristemente Noto saga, he came to our studio at the time of Street Food (founded by me, Spenish and Daweed) and he loved my things other than the Spenish ones(that is now history). It was all very easy. Nex is another of those people who pay little attention to certain mechanisms and makes music simply because he was born to do this.
It seems to us that Gioielli is quite scrupulous and careful in his scouting activity…how and when did he approach and recruit you for MxRxGxA?
It was practically Spenish who proposed Ragazzi per Sempre to Gioielli. The record was finished but we touched up a few little things to make it stylistically suitable for MRGA. For me it was really super cool because I’ve been a fan of MRGA since day zero.
Your first album for MxRxGxA “Ragazzi per sempre” is a tribute to the iconic films “Ragazzi Fuori” and “Mary Per Sempre”. Can you tell us about how this album was born and some anecdotes about its creation? Do you have a favorite track?
This album was supposed to be my last record. I was in a working loop that had distanced me a bit from that type of creativity and I really owe everything to the insistence of Spenish and Dj Rage who hosted me for all the recordings in his studio. The album was 2-3 pieces cut from a project with Bras that never saw the light, many new pieces were added and some beats were reused.
My favorite track is absolutely “Ragazzi Fuori“. That piece -in my opinion- manages to have an incredible melancholy typical of southern Italy places but without sounding like a drag. Then I quoted MadBuddy and self-quoted a 20-year-old myself soon after. It’s my trip eh, but when I do it live I feel really proud.
“Ragazzi Fuori” and “Mary Per Sempre” are iconic movies… How and why did you come up with the idea of dedicating your album entirely to these films? And out of curiosity, what are your favorite scenes? (Ours, don’t ask us why, is the one from Natale who bathes in the sea, after being released from prison…:D)
The album has Palermo in the background much more than my other projects, although my city is actually a fixed presence in my music.
Those films are an absolute cult, it seemed cool to tell everything using that imagery. Let’s say that we played the more obvious card, if you like, but we think the result managed to be non-trivial. Your favorite scene is absolutely one of mine too, maybe it’s the most famous and epic one.
However, I remain very attached to the scene of Carmelo who goes to buy a shirt with the money from the drugs selling without his own money being able to take away his face and the “malacarne” attitude that are irreparably part of him.
Last year you repeated the excellent success of “Ragazzi Per Sempre” with “10.5”, again for MxRxGxA. This time you have adopted a totally different attitude and concept, inspired by sneaker models. What can you tell us about this project? How did the idea behind this project come about and what are the main differences in terms of implementation and approach compared to “Ragazzi per Sempre”?
Gioielli and I were super excited about making a record, especially since we’re two different rappers who have always worked well together. His invite on 3 tracks in #FREECRAXI really empowered me and the next step would be to rap over his beats.
I absolutely wanted an icon like Fabrizio Miccoli to be part of the imaginary of the new record but Gioielli thought that connecting once again to a Palermo imaginary told at 360° was limiting. From the number 10 on the shirt and my, or rather our, passion for sneakers, we imagined the cover and therefore the concept, where actually my culture still remains in the background without becoming the main focus.
If we talk about the approach to the realization, we are talking about two completely different albums in that 10.5 has been worked on from a distance. Many things at a distance are less immediate and it is more difficult to get quick feedback but, equally, I think the final result is the best we could have wished for.
Inside, 10.5 also features famous artists such as Ensi and Louis Dee. How were these collaborations born? Louis Dee in Palermo is a point of reference for the Rap scene. How did you meet and in general what is your relationship with the Palermo scene?
I start by saying that I consider all collaborations within 10.5 absolutely illustrious. I had the honor of rapping with the sacred monsters of Italian rap, with the so-called “favorite rappers of your favorite rappers”. Really, no one excluded. We have been friends with Louis Dee since long time and, together with Daweed, he is my all time favorite Palermo rapper. He is also present on Buonanotte Phizzy Boy in a super dreamy track with an A$ap Mob flavor, the stars realigned after years and I decided to invite him in the piece with Montenero (another rapper with indisputable history and caliber).
Ensi, on the other hand, despite having established a relationship of friendship and sincere respect for a while, was the feat I found it most difficult to ask for the verse. He has enormous charisma, he’s a giant, he’s been doing this by profession practically forever. For a rapper closer to an amateur than a professional like me, the risk of looking like a fanboy is very high. Luckily he was immediately enthusiastic and I’m overjoyed with how the piece turned out.
Who are in general the MC’s that have inspired you the most throughout your career?
In the early 2000s I was out with the west coast, Chronic 2001 remains one of the best albums I ever heard. Then I definitely loved all the stuff the Neptunes came up with and especially the Clipse records. That kind of rap remains my absolute reference!
We imagine that you’re a sneaker enthusiast: when and why did this passion of yours begin and what are your favorite models?
My passion for sneakers and streetwear is inextricably linked to the HipHop culture, to the rappers who wore certain shoes because they were worn by certain sportsmen.
If I have to wear a Raiders jersey it’s clear that I’m doing it because it reminds me of the NWA rather than football. Michael Jordan is a pop icon of the 90s, the Bulls, Space Jam, my first love for shoes comes from that kind of imagery.
Over time, tastes evolve, the way of dressing changes, one looks for the classics or abandons oneself in favor of something more modern. Basically I love timeless icons, shoes with less hype, the ones that are a certainty in the wardrobe of anyone who is the least bit stylish in dressing. Even a very common Chuck Taylor if worn with the right attitude is worth more to me than any limited edition.
I think the sneaker with the most sentimental value for me is the Jordan VI Carmine, which is the first numbered Jordan I owned and which I was finally able to buy when I grew up with my own money. My favorite, however, remains the Jordan VII Bordeaux.
There is also a solid graffiti scene in Palermo: do you have any particular connection or experience about it that you can tell us about?
Absolutely, I myself have been doing graffiti for years and have been the first love once I came into contact with HipHop culture.
There were a lot of epic writers here that I’ve always admired. Seno, in the TSF house, has always been the most iconic in terms of style for me. For bombing I loved PK and 617 crew, they were real savages. I distinctly remember the story of a throwup done on the trunk of a police car.
On February 18th there was the first official MxRxGxA live. Unfortunately we were unable to be there: can you tell us how it went, the best moments and some particular anecdote that happened? And do you already have new projects in store for this 2023?
The live performance was just amazing. Since there were no pre-sales, it was a complete surprise. Gioielli told me “look, there will be about twenty people in line, take a look outside”. The queue at the box office practically went all the way to the street and persisted even after an hour.
We started super late and it was incredible to feel the rush of people when Doye came in for the opening. There we understood that in the audience there were the real rap “fans”, no “casual” listeners but people of all ages and who understood exactly our journey.
When we entered one by one we were really overwhelmed, people were shouting all over the bars, they were really having fun and there were very few mobile phones in the air. The atmosphere was magical and I hope it will be also in the next dates that we will announce shortly.
2023 will bring with it several surprises, truly unexpected news beyond everything expected (or not?) from MRGA. Furthermore, I will finally take care of the launch of a small Palermo rap reality that I will have the pleasure of taking care of. I certainly won’t get bored!
Thanks guys and see you soon!