Raaka Iriscience Interview

In the realm of Hip Hop, cross cultural exchange is a common thing. One of the greatest of those exchanges has been martial arts philosophies into Hip Hop.In the realm of Hip Hop, cross cultural exchange is a common thing. One of the greatest of those exchanges has been martial arts philosophies into Hip Hop. While most people just think that the sound bytes from kung-fu flicks and references to the UFC in rap tracks are just for the hell of it, some cats are out there really training.

Rakaa Iriscience, of the world famous Dilated Peoples is one of them. Oral poetry and martial arts are two ancient ways of expressing the spirit. It makes sense that they came together.

I was lucky enough to find out via rapper Encore, writer Ethrina Gotico and Hip Hop photojournalist Vivian Oh that Rakaa was into Gracie Jiu Jitsu (GJJ). Encore was kind enough to lace me with the # and we got to talk about his migration towards martial arts and what it has given him inside and out. Rakaa Iriscience is a truly cool, real humble brother. So, here’s how the talk went.

Adisa Banjoko: How long have you been training GJJ?

Rakaa Iriscience:I’ve been training since 1999.

AB: How did you get started?

RI: I became aware of the art after watching Royce compete in the first UFC. I’d studied Tae Kwon Do and other arts when I was younger, but Jiu-Jitsu seemed to fit my personality better. A friend of mine, Glen Flojo, began to train at the Gracie Academy in Torrance and later invited me to take a free intro class. After the first class I was curious, after the second class I was hooked!

AB: What has jiu-jitsu given you personally or otherwise?

RI: First and foremost, it’s one of the most effective combat proven martial arts ever. It was developed to be an equalizer, then neutralizer, in combat and self defense. Jiu-Jitsu has helped me to get in shape and develop balance- mentally, physically, and spiritually. Beyond that, The Gracie Academy is an extended family and support system.

AB: I know Ryron and Rener are your main teachers. Are they into Hip Hop?

RI: Actually, Ryron is my main instructor. He left for a summer to train with his grandfather, Helio, and suggested that I train with Rener while he was gone. They are both extremely skilled as fighters and teachers. I still train primarily with Ryron, but I enjoy Rener substituting sometimes or supplementing with his perspective. As for Hip Hop, they are both into it. They’re even on the inside cover of Expansion Team! They come to the shows and hold it down and party like everyone else, but they’re disciplined cats and have their priorities straight. I represent Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in music and they represent Dilated in tournaments. If you listen to my lyrics you’ll hear about Rickson, Pride, certain moves, etc. If you watch them fight you can feel the Hip Hop… Not to mention them being known to rock a Dilated patch on their Gi!

AB: What do you do to stay on top of your game while on the road?

RI: It’s difficult to train regularly while on tour, so I stretch and breathe to stay sharp physically and meditate and visualize to stay sharp mentally. I just got Renzo and Royler’s book which is really good, and I watch a lot of tapes. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Episode One has been very helpful in trying to balance training and touring.

AB: I know that the dancer from Electric Boogaloo’s Steve DaSilva aka “Suga Pop” is a Nova Uniao Black belt. I HEARD Will Smith is a purple belt under Royce Gracie (but that was NEVER confirmed). I do know that Will has a 2 dogs- rotts, named Tyson and Gracie though. I think Saafir used to do Muay Thai, Tajai from Hiero does Japanese Jiu Jitsu, and Rass Kass did or does the Filipino stick fighting art of Eskrima. I know Gohstface and RZA train with Shaolin Monk Shi Yan Ming fromtime to time as well. Do you know any other Hip Hop cats who grapple, or do any fighting arts?

RI: Uli from Ozomatli trains at the Gracie Academy. Afu Ra studies Tae Kwon Do, DJ What?! from The Beat Junkies studies JKD and BJJ at The Inosanto Academy. I just saw Sugar Pop (Steve DaSilva) at a concert with Dilated and the Rocksteady Crew. Ed O’Neil, who plays Al Bundy, also trains at the Gracie Academy. I know that he’s not Hip Hop, but it shows that GJJ is continuing to make its mark on the entertainment community.

AB: OK, it’s plug time, tell me about the Dilated Peoples album.

RI: Dilated Peoples is continuing to tour and record. Expansion Team, which features Alchemist, Premier, Black Thought, Tha Liks and many others, is in stores now. The album is still Dilated doing what we do, just being better at it. We just started the rough sketch for our third LP release, due early 2003. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

AB: Who are some of your favorite fighters right now?

RI: John Lewis, Nogueira, Renzo, Royler, Vanderlei Silva, Sakuraba, Jean Jacques Machado, Carlos Newton, Royce, Ralph, Frank Shamrock, Yuki Nakai, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Shonie Carter, Marco Ruas, and of course Rickson Gracie. Ryron and Rener are devastating in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and will surprise some people in NHB (no-holds-barred fights).

AB: Tell me about the surprise across the street from D&D.

RI: Studios in NY ( For those that don’t know, D&D is a popular place for many rappers to record) D&D Studios in Manhattan is where we worked on about a quarter of The Platform and over half of Expansion Team. I’ve spent hours, even days, passing time while working at that studio and wishing that I could train. The last time I was in New York a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to pass by Renzo’s school. When we got there, to my surprise, it was right across the street from D&D! Not that I needed a reason, but that was a very good one to continue recording there. Next time I’m taking classes.

AB:. Any last words?

RI: I would like to congratulate you on getting your blue belt, and Ryron and Rener on their victories at the Copa Pacifica. I would also like to thank you for continuing to fight for progress and for helping to build bridges between the arts. Peace.

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Adisa Banjoko