Published Feb 28, 2012If there is still a space in your heart for late '90s-style, rhymes-past-the-margins cipher rap, then Planet Asia should be your go-to MC. Black Belt Theatre — the Fresno, CA spitfire's umpteenth release, if you count all the mixtapes and side-projects, but his first proper solo LP in four years — is a front-to-back assault of rappity raps and sample-based beats. When grown folks talk about "real hip-hop," this is the soundtrack. There are few surprises here. Asia, now 35 and a father of three, is of the generation that spent its summers honing skills battling older cats on hot concrete basketball courts. Black Belt even bares all the true-school trappings: kung-fu and blaxploitation film sound bites, cameo verses aplenty (Raekwon, Ras Kass, Camp Lo and Fashawn are just a few who chop it up), scant R&B influences and a bulky track list (20 songs). Although indie-heralded beat-makers Khrysis and Oh No contribute, the work of production duo Dirtydiggs holds the project together. If Black Belt were a film, the sax-loop flip on "Mach One" and the scrunch-faced soul of "Tell the World" would be standout scenes. For those who grew up before Odd Future, this is comfort food; it's familiar and reliable, but when you're in the right mood, nothing's better.
Were you into karate as a kid?
I think every boy is into karate or else you're kind of different. If you wasn't into karate as a kid growing up, I don't know. That's boy-boy shit — real man shit. I don't know one kid that doesn't go outside kicking and punching like he's a Power Ranger; it's in you. Everybody can relate to that, even women. I know chicks that tell me they used to wanna be ninjas. Like, "Yo, I used to want to be a ninja," not knowing that a ninja is a straight assassin.
You used six different producers on this album yet it maintains a cohesive sound. How did you achieve that?
I kept my ear. Coming off doing an album like Pain Language [which was produced entirely by DJ Muggs], I learned to identify the sound I'm trying for and staying in that lane. That's a technique in myself — that's a difference between a mixtape and an album. You see on my mixtape I have the two slow, Down South joints at the end because [anything goes]. As far as the album, it's a movie; you don't wanna go from a western flick to a kung-fu flick to a comedy flick.
What movie character are you most like?
Master Killer, because he had to go through all the levels. He started at the bottom and made it to the highest degree, which was going out into the world. That's how I feel; I had to go through all these levels with the rhyme shit. If you listen to my old albums, I don't sound like none of that. And some of my supporters don't like how I rhyme now compared to how I used to rhyme, but what they don't realize is those [old] rhymes I was throwing any kind of punch and any kind of kick. It was like fighting blind. You can't be kicking and punching with no target. I'm better now because I can actually see the Matrix. I can do anything I want now. I'm the dude that can fight with his hands behind his back. (Wandering Worx)