As individual MCs and with their other projects and collectives, Lateb and Oblivious have touched Greater Boston’s hip-hop scene in various capacities over the past several years, bridging the heady underground sound that has dominated around here since the aughts with more contemporary rap that bumps nationally. Collectively, however, they are W.O.K.E., touching on topics ranging from creeping fascism and artificial intelligence to prison and debt. Their music is hard without fronting and even addresses the studio gangsterism that is so damn prevalent in commercial hip-hop. I sat with them for an interview on my Disrupt Boston radio show, The Young Jurks.
Tell us about W.O.K.E.
O: It’s a collaborative effort from Lateb and myself supported musically by super producer Jon Glass. Over the past few years we have recorded songs and we’ve finally been able to narrow it down to the ones we believe best represent not only ourselves but the message we are trying to portray. This project represents a testament to our growth—not only as individuals, but as artists. We were both extremely proud of the effort and look forward to sharing it with the world.
I’ve known you through your music and activism for decades now. What would today’s Oblivious be telling the younger version of yourself?
O: You have a lot to learn, never stop! Oh, and it’s OK to love yourself.
You touch on a lot of topics, where’s the inspiration come from?
O: Just life in general, trying to be as conscious and observant as possible, also being fortunate enough to have an extremely diverse group of people around me to constantly push me to grow and do my best to understand and document the world around me as I see it. Nowadays it’s not all puppies and rainbows.
L: Oblivious really makes me step up my game substance-wise. He has a vast wealth of knowledge and we are both very opinionated, but at the same time, not naive. Observation is key, and my lyrics on a project like this are inspired by things I personally have experienced. I am a victim of Sallie Mae to this day; I have been targeted by police, and have felt unsafe many times, as have many people in my life. I have been in the prison system and seen the ugliness and the mindstate of people who can’t get out of their own minds. It’s a vicious cycle. Not everyone will agree with our views, but as long as we make people question things that maybe trigger new thoughts and ideas, then the goal is accomplished.
I recall seeing you, Oblivious, at Occupy Boston in 2011. Looking back, what’s your feeling about that movement today?
O: Occupy, I mean, though I was young and full of leftover teenage angst, I guess I still believe in what myself and many others set out to accomplish. Successful or not, it taught me a lot about myself.
You mention Colin Kaepernick on this release. Do you want to elaborate on why you wear his jersey?
O: I guess it is my wordless letter of solidarity to the plight of the indigenous and melanated peoples—not only of our country, but worldwide.
Any advice for struggling creatives today?
O: Greatness is attained through hard work and dedication. Study those that came before you and mastered their crafts. Most of all never compromise your integrity for anybody or anything. Be yourself.
L: There is no substitute for hard work. You can enjoy something and not be passionate about it and that’s OK. Your passion can be your hobby too and maybe you luck out and blow up, but we know 99.9 percent of the time that doesn’t happen. My advice first and foremost is to look within yourself and ask yourself if you have enough passion to go through the struggle to sacrifice much more than even an above average person, to fight for it. Musically my advice is to force nothing. If you don’t feel it, don’t do it, but mostly keep learning, reading, researching, trying new things and don’t burn bridges, because you never know when things will come full circle.
Where do you see yourself over the next decade? Longer term goals?
O: Wiser. Established.
L: Living of my passion with the ability to help people other than myself. Being Peruvian I would like to help underdeveloped Central and South American countries in some sort of way. I’ve seen what good nonprofits like Worthy Village based in Guatemala have done. Maybe that’ll be my swan song. A Grammy would be nice too, but it’s not the ultimate goal.
What’s your hope for the future of hip-hop?
O: Ain’t shit changed but the date. There has and always will be different styles and approaches. There will be the innovators there will be the imitators. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
L: In death there is also rebirth. People with less talent became popularized and simplicity more glorified, but with it came the introduction of melodies into the genre which was previously deemed not hip-hop. I’m a fan of music, so while I too disliked a lot of music during that cultural shift [identified by Nas on Hip-Hop Is Dead in 2006], I took from it some good things that we now even on this W.O.K.E. project have incorporated. Hip-hop will always exist. It may shapeshift at times and give birth to things we don’t like, but there will always be those exceptional talents that are unquestionably great in any era.
#WOKEISCOMING DROPS IN SPRING. CHECK FOR W.O.K.E. SHOWS AROUND BOSTON IN MARCH AFTER LATEB AND OBLIVIOUS RETURN FROM TOURING EUROPE.