Monday, October 1, 2007
Although he adamantly refuses to be defined by it, Andrew Roufa's wrenching personal history and its influence on his hip-hop persona, Adru the Misphit, is difficult to ignore. Born in Texas and raised in Manhattan, Kan., the 33-year-old Roufa has spent many of the last 10 years in mental or correctional institutions following an LSD triggered slide into what doctors diagnosed as bipolar manic-depression. Frequent psychotic episodes led to sometimes brutal encounters with the law in Manhattan and Kansas City, nearly costing him his freedom and potentially more.
Relocating to Lawrence, the world weary MC has since taken control of his life and redoubled his passion for music. The end product of these therapeutic sessions is "Dying on My Feet," the Misphit's first full length album. The album is a who's who of area hip-hop luminaries, featuring production and guest appearances from Nezbeat, Miles Bonny, Johnny Quest, iD and others.
"Dying on My Feet" intertwines cutting social commentary with haunting beats, taking the listener on a grim journey not just through Adru's personal travails, but the American psyche as well. It's a journey the Misphit hopes will serve as both warning and inspiration. Roufa joined us to talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of "pegging" the Bush twins.
Although he adamantly refuses to be defined by it, Andrew Roufa's wrenching personal history and its influence on his hip-hop persona, Adru the Misphit, is difficult to ignore. Born in Texas and raised in Manhattan, Kan., the 33-year-old Roufa has spent many of the last 10 years in mental or ...
No-fi highlights from the podcast
lawrence.com: You came up in the Manhattan hip hop scene-there's a Manhattan hip hop scene?
Roufa: To be honest with you man, I've been to Manhattan once in the last eight years, so I'm not sure. I've got some friends in Manhattan who are still trying to do their thing and I think there's a love for hip-hip in any community you go into. When I was a kid, when I first discovered hip hop, it was about '84. That was about the time that hip-hop was becoming really trendy. You had the "Breakin'" movies, and they had McDonald's commercials with people pop-lockin' and shit like that. It was really kind of a trendy thing at that point in your suburban communities. When I really got locked into hip-hop was when I saw the "Beat Street" movie, which is really more of an authentic portrayal of hip-hop culture than the "Breakin'" movies and stuff. The first hip hop album I got was the soundtrack to that movie, and pretty much after that I was listening to a lot of hip-hop music. I always listened to a lot of other kinds of music as well. When I was a kid I was really drawn to a lot of soul music-I actually wanted to be an R&B; singer as a kid.
"Dying On My Feet" is, lyrically, a very dense album-what influences you as a lyricist?
I would say, as an MC, my main influences are probably Chuck D, KRS-One, Nas, Hieroglyphics-which some people might find a little bit suprising, if they know Hiero's music. A lot of people don't give Hiero credit for being some of the first cats to put syllables together in a really intricate way, and that's really extended into the way I approach my stuff. In the beginning, for a long time when I was younger, I pretty much just focused on battle raps. My entire life revolved around coming up with punch-lines and one-liners and shit like that. I was kind of known as the "battle cat," as having mad battle raps and shit. When I started going through a lot of really serious things in my life, I started to add a lot more substance into what I was writing. I got to the point where I didn't care about bragging about how dope I was-I was just talking about what was happening in my life. Still, that rhyme structure and my cadence kind of stayed in that same area.
Dying On My Feet
- "Truth Where Trouble Lies" (feartuing iD, produced by Beatbroker)
- "Change" (produced by Nezbeat)
- "Lucifer's Jaws" (produced by Nezbeat)
- "S.E.E.D. or Sending Everlasting Eternal Devotion" (produced by Detail)
Based on the track "KCPD" off of "Dying on My Feet," can I assume you got along smashingly with the authority figures in Kansas City?
I could go into so much in that area. You hear me talk a lot about my quote-unquote mental condition on the album. I've had moments in my life where I've really been on the manic side of things, and it's been during some of those times when I've had run ins with the police in Kansas City. A lot of the police there, they come from smaller towns surrounding Kansas City, and a I think it's pretty common knowledge that a lot of cops get into the job because they have certain biases towards certain people. They have a power complex and they really want to vent their frustrations. A lot of cops, any chance they get to let some of that frustration out, will take full opportunity of it. It's pretty well documented that people taken into custody that have some kind of mental stuff going on have a greater tendency to be brutalized than your average cat.
You think you were mistreated because of your psychological problems?
In Kansas City, you see every day that people are getting profiled and harassed, people being beaten, people being robbed. I lived in some pretty sketchy places at times and there's been times when you see SWAT members jump out of trees with fucking automatic weapons with laser sights pointed at your head. I literally had money taken out of my pocket by police officers for just walking down the street, you know what I mean? I've seen countless people mistreated in jails, mistreated on the streets-it's really pretty ridiculous. I really don't think a lot of people have a full grasp on how violent and how sadistic a lot of these dudes are. I realize that there are good hearted police out there, but at the same these good cops are seeing all of the crooked, bad shit that's going on and they're still doing nothing about it. They've got their blue shield or code of silence or whatever. To me, that makes them just as bad.
Are your encounters with the Kansas City police what led you to move to Lawrence?
Not completely. One of the reasons I came to Lawrence was just to get a fresh start in general. I had a couple of friends here who were doing music and I really wanted to try and pursue my music again. I just wanted a fresh start. I had so many crazy memories in Kansas City. If I take a walk through midtown right now, it just feels surreal. It's almost like it's a movie set or something. Everywhere I look, there's just some memory.
How does the hip-hop community in Kansas City compare with the hip-hop community in Lawrence-or do you think there is a hip-hop community in Lawrence?
You know, sadly, there isn't a huge hip-hop community in Lawrence. I know there are some people that dig some hip-hop and there are people that listen to some stuff, but for the most part the cats that really live and breathe the hip-hop lifestyle and culture-there's probably going to be people who read or listen to this and think that's comedic to say, "hip-hop lifestyle," but it is, you know? It's kind of depressing when you do a show or go to a show and it doesn't even look like a hip-hop show. It's really frustrating. I'm not trying to degrade Lawrence in any way-I think it's a great place. As far as Kansas goes, it's probably the best place you can be. I respect and I love a lot of indie rock and punk rock, but a lot of these people don't have the same respect for our music. I don't think a lot of these indie rock artists appreciate how much work it is to make a hip-hop song. We're writing 24 bar verses-most rock songs are 8 lines, chorus, 8 lines, bridge, chorus. Especially the kind of stuff that me and the people that I work with do, we don't just take an hour to write a song. We put a lot work into it. We try to put a lot of wordplay into it, metaphoric stuff, complex imagery-it's really not as simple as a lot of people may think it is. I don't think a lot of people are exposed to the real shit. They hear what's on the radio and they assume that's what hip-hop music is, and there's so much more to it.
Rap is the latter-day equivalent of punk rock and is the musical expression of revolution and struggle. Is there not more of a hip-hop community in Lawrence because there's not as much to struggle against in Lawrence?
Not necessarily. I realize there are mad people living in Lawrence who have been through all kinds of crazy shit and a lot of us are struggling against certain things. I think all great art, whether it's music or whatever, stems from struggle and stems from pain and deep emotion. Hip-hop and punk are equivalent in a lot of ways. It's like, "Fuck you if you don't like what I'm doing and I'm going to do it anyway." That's what good art is to me, period. When people are doing what they do in order to convey things in a way that hasn't been seen before, or open people's eyes to certain things they may not be aware of. That's just good art in each genre.
What was the collaborative process like on the new album?
When it comes to collaborations, Nezbeat would pretty much put my foot in that door so far as meeting people in music. I didn't really pay for any beat on this album. It was all just out of love and out of mutual respect. A lot of people blessed me with some really dope tracks that were really perfect for the songs I was doing. I'm forever going to appreciate that and I feel like I'm in debt to a lot of these dudes. This album was something that I wanted to do for years. I stopped doing music for a long time and my main motivation for doing this album was for me personally. A lot of people really helped it become what it is. I wasn't going into it thinking I was going to make a 20-song album, but it kept evolving and I kept re-recording stuff and re-writing stuff and a lot of people contributed to it. It's dope.
"Dying on My Feet" is very topical and socially conscious-do you just watch CNN until something pisses you off and then write a song?
I don't necessarily watch CNN, because I can't afford cable. Obviously, we're all seeing what's going on in the world right now. We're at a real critical point right now where things could get better or things could get a lot worse. I think a lot of people's eyes aren't open to what's going on in the world right now. We know about things like Katrina and the war, and a majority of American's are really frustrated with what's going on, but a lot of people don't understand the roots of where this is coming from. They don't want to face the true history of this country. So many of us live such an empty existence and we spend our days slaving away at meaningless jobs for corporations who are putting out products and services that we really don't need in the first place. It's the point of a lot of my music that there should be so much more to this life that we're expected to live in America. A lot of people don't realize how much of a wasted life they're actually living, even if they've got their SUV and their big house and their two kids and their corporate job-there's just so much more and there should be so much more to life.
One of your most pointed lyrical moments is on the track "Vintage," when you say "I fantasize about Mary Cheney banging Bush's daughters." Any deeper political significance there?
Actually, it's "pegging Bush's daughters." I got that phrase from a Dan Savage column, which I think he originated, about using a strap on. I just thought it was a dope line.
Religion is a frequent target of your social commentary-do you consider yourself a religious person?
I consider myself a deeply, deeply spiritual person. I was actually raised in a Jewish family, although I don't consider myself a Jewish person anymore. I do pull inspiration from different faiths, but I think it should be obvious that organized religion has been a detriment to people's lives in all kinds of ways. I know so many people that have so many guilt issues because of the way they were raised and the religion they were raised in. A lot of people look at this war that we're in right now as a war of Christianity against Islam. It's just crazy. I think the roots of all religion are good and I don't think Christianity is some sort of evil religion, but I think a lot of evil people and evil things have come from Christianity throughout history. The roots of it are good, but when people become judgmental of others based on religious beliefs, when people are losing their lives because they don't look at God in the same way as someone else, it's really a sad thing. I believe in a higher power, I believe in a spiritual realm-I've been through so many things in my life where I couldn't believe that.
Adru's new album will be released Oct. 7. Find it at fine local music retailers including Kief's Downtown Music and the Love Garden.
For now, he has no performances scheduled.
Are you an agnostic or an atheist?
I'm not either one of those, man. I can't give you a concrete definition of what God is, but I definitely don't believe in heaven or hell. I think those are ridiculous concepts created to keep people in line. I do know there's more to this physical existence than just this world-I'm absolutely positive of that. I don't think God would want us praising him in a million dollar church. I think he wants us out there living good lives, living righteous lives, and looking out for other people. I really don't think he would give a damn if we think we can be saved by Jesus or by a golden statue. As long as we're good people and living how we're supposed to live, I don't think you should have anything to worry about. So many of these Christian fanatics say if you don't believe in Jesus you're going to hell. If that's the case, Gandhi is in hell, Malcolm X is in hell, all the Native Americans are in hell-a lot of people are in hell. It's really sad that so many people actually do think like that.
You offer a good contrast to what passes for mainstream hip-hop these days, where so many of these guys are obsessed with material possessions and violence, but are quasi-Jesus freaks.
I think a lot of those guys really do have deep spiritual beliefs. I'm not going to say that there's anything wrong with having some decent material possessions if you've earned it. Believe me, I hate to see hip-hop or any form of entertainment that glorifies extravagance and stuff like that. A lot of stuff that's main-stream is just a terrible influence on kids. This might come off as corny to people, but I really don't care-you hear so many times from entertainers and athletes that they're not here to be a role model, that it's the parents responsibility and all that shit. The fact of the matter is, you are a role model. Kids are looking up to you and kids are looking up to you. I really wish more people would take responsibility for what they're putting out there and realize they're putting some crazy stuff in kids' heads. I guarantee you there's thousands of kids locked up or dead right now because they're trying to portray a certain image, or there's somebody locked up in an institution out-of-their-mind crazy because they wanted to experience the same thing some rock star did who wrote some genius song about doing 80 tabs of acid. If they're going to talk about things like that, they need to talk about the consequences that come with it. In my music, when I talk about my criminal past it's nothing that I'm proud of and I try to talk about the consequences that came with that-there were some pretty severe ones. But I also wanted to show that you could come back from all that stuff and live a positive life and have a positive impact on society. I think most of the kids who get in trouble aren't bad kids, they're just making bad decisions.
Even though "Dying On My Feet" documents your very dark journey, do you think it's a hopeful album?
To me it is. I think that, just the fact that I'm in the position to make an album, says a lot. There were times when they thought I'd be in an institution for the rest of my fucking life. I was so gone on an LSD psychosis that they didn't think I was going to come out of it. I was in places where there are still people who are in there from the late '60's who never left because their mind never came back to them. While the album is dark, there are a lot of songs where I talk about how far I've come. That's usually how I try to do it. If I'm talking about some bad shit that I've been through, I try to bring it back to what I've become and where my life is at this moment-which still isn't all great, but it's a lot better than where it's been in the past.