Noel Vinson is his name, but V.I.T.A.L. Emcee is his alter ego who aims to conquer the hip-hop world. V.I.T.A.L. is a rapper, songwriter, artist and activist from Long Beach, California who looks to revitalize music and even life itself. He sums it all up very nicely here: “Noel Vinson thinks and speaks, but V.I.T.A.L. makes you listen.” Nuff said! I had the chance to get to know this talented musician from Cali and I must say I really learned a lot. Watch as V.I.T.A.L. Emcee lays it all out on the table with nothing to hide; time to operate!!!
Jimmy Rae: So V.I.T.A.L.–I see that you’re from Long Beach, California and wanted to ask if Cali has always been your home and if so what was it like growing up there?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: Cali has always been my home. I was born and raised in Orange County, actually, so in heart and swag I will always be a Cali boy. Growing up was as typical as anyone else around me I would imagine–nothing too crazy unless we brought it on ourselves, but for childhood it was typical middle class families and tract housing. Nothing wrong with it in hindsight, although I’m not a fan of tract housing or a lot of the politics around there. Nonetheless, it is my foundation and I’ll never forget where I come from no matter where I find myself. It’ll always be with me and I support every local artist who represents it with me.
Jimmy Rae: How did the name V.I.T.A.L. Emcee come about and what does V.I.T.A.L. represent to you?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: In all honesty, the name V.I.T.A.L. came about one day when I was really stoned. I ran around in the late 90’s as Mr. Dutch Master, and god-forbid, Dutchy the Son-in-Law, but around the new millennium my style and subject matter had changed to more conscious issues. The way I perceived myself also grew. Then as if a random twist of fate, one day I bought a drink called Vital C (something that never quite made it) and I sat there staring at the bottle and it hit me: Vital Emcee. My buddy Chapter ONE gave the name its first acronym: Victorious in the After Life. Then new ones stemmed like Visionary Intuition Tapping All Levels and Virtually Impossible to Annihilate Lyrically. Thinking about it now that was all great, but to me currently, V.I.T.A.L. represents following your own path. It is a state of mind, faith and action that finds confidence in being that sore thumb. I know I don’t come off as what one thinks of as a typical rapper and I prefer to be the odd duck. Noel Vinson thinks and speaks, but V.I.T.A.L. makes you listen. We are all our own individuals and I always like to stress that there is equality in individuality.
Jimmy Rae: Do you consider yourself a west coast guy all the way or are there other spots you like to visit regularly? Going off of that, what is it about Long Beach, California that does it for you?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: Like I said before, I will always be California to the heart (queue 2Pac), but that stretches up the coast to places like Portland and Seattle. I’ve always looked at myself as a bit of a nomad, so traveling is key for me. Anywhere I am able to get myself; I will go, monetarily or otherwise. As far as other spots, I’m a fan of New Orleans, Sedona, Dallas, Austin, Houston, New York or anywhere in New England really–I’d actually like to hike the entire Appalachian Trail sometime before my 40th ,so that definitely gives me some time. Outside of the US, just show me a map and give me a dart (or 20)–wherever it lands is where I’ll go. Besides, how can you really appreciate where you are without the knowledge of other cultures and lifestyles?[youtube XY2CVb5hdn4 nolink]
Speaking on Long Beach, I think it’s one of those Meccas that attract people of a liberal mindset. I’m not trying to get overly political, but in the sense of artistry it’s almost everywhere you look. I love that. I also love the diversity of people that reside here and the support that the locals give to others. Sometimes it’s like the rat race doesn’t even exist.
Jimmy Rae: I noticed that you’re a rapper, songwriter, artist and activist and that you’ve been going strong since 2003. Obviously a busy man, but what really interests me is the fact that you are an activist. What causes are you for and how do you go about being activist for these particular causes?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: I wear my heart on my sleeve in a lot of things that I do, as anyone who’s listened to my music could probably attest to. I have a really strong inclination toward equal rights: gay, straight, black, white…we all bleed red. It angers me when I see people discuss and judge something that they do not experience themselves, especially when it’s based upon bias and man’s interpretation of a religion. Love is love and there is nothing stronger–check “I Don’t Wanna Be Right” off of the VERSUS album as it discusses the whole Proposition 8 issue that we faced in California a while back. With this comes AIDS and cancer research.
I also have a spot in my heart for kids who come from broken homes as my father was a faithful alcoholic and I know how it can feel with mood swings escalating into violence. In a perfect world, I’d love to donate a bunch of music equipment or other artistic tools to an orphanage or halfway house to give some of the folks an avenue they may display interest in. Thank God I always had music for therapy in my younger years.
I am also passionate about sustainability and eco-friendly practices. I’m not a pariah for this or anything, as there is still a lot for me to learn, but I do believe that we have to take care of the Earth if we expect it to take care of us.
Jimmy Rae: I know that you are very eclectic when it comes to music & styles with influences ranging from: Michael Jackson, Prince, Run DMC & LL Cool J to Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Judas Priest and 2Pac. Definitely a wide range of artists and genres here and I’m wondering what started it all? What sparked your interest in music and when did you realize you wanted to become an artist yourself?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: I really don’t know what started it all other than me being naturally attracted to music as a kid. My first record (gulp) was a 45 of Physical by Olivia Newton-John and at 2 years old, I loved it. From there it was Thriller, which opened the floodgates of everything that came after. I would always ask my mother for records and tapes instead of GI Joes and Legos. I realized I wanted to do my own music when I pretty much memorized every song that I had ever been in love with. Though finding my own voice was a hard road to travel.
Jimmy Rae: During my review of your album Versus-Verses, I picked up on your phenomenal rhyming right away and also that the beats were top-notch. For me, the record sums up what hip-hop should sound like. I’m curious when you got started with rapping and how did you teach yourself to spill rhymes effortlessly? I’d love to know how the whole process works from start to finish in terms of coming up with lyrics, tracks, beats–the whole 9!
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: As with anything, repetition is the key to learning. Subconsciously, my brain soaked music in and I would have a song memorized before I was even cognizant of memorizing it. As I got older, and into Hip-Hop, I would write down other people’s lyrics and memorize it. This taught me cadence–especially when I started on cats like Spice 1, 2Pac and OutKast. Once Bone Thugs-n-Harmony came out, I made it a mission to learn everything about what they were saying and how they were saying it. This taught me how to spit in double time. From there, it was trying to put my own words in their own perfect rhythm.
The creation of a song really stems from inspiration. Sometimes you have a particular beat to write to and other times you just write. It’s magic really because sometimes you lose track of everything and when you come out of it, you may have a concept, a verse and a hook. There have been times where I’ve been in conversations with a friend and someone will say a phrase that just gells in me until it becomes its own concept. There are really so many ways to come up with gold that it would be an insult for me to try and widdle it down into a cut and dry process.
Also, when I work with a producer, we always want to make sure that we are on the same page when it comes to building a song from its embryonic stages. Once everything comes together, you get in the booth and let the next phase of magic get captured in real time.
Jimmy Rae: What I enjoyed most about Versus-Verses is that there is so much substance evident. You get party tracks, guest musicians like Lauren Coleman who added some impressive chops on “Boomerang” and “Against The World” and then you get songs that pack a powerful punch lyrically. Was this the intention all along and did the album turn out exactly how you wanted it to?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: VERSUS started more in the vein of a mix tape that was to be called A Primal Symmetry: The Perfect Contradiction. I was living in Oakland at the time and had amassed a great amount of songs that had nowhere to go. I would fly back down to LB and record a few songs here and there to finish up what I thought the album was going to be at that time. As life would have it, I ended up moving back down home and reconstructed the whole project from the jump. New concepts were birthed and Optimist became a beast with production, so it was only right that we put more time into it in order to get more quality out of it.
A good example of this would be “Boomerang.” I had the first two verses written for about 2 years before the song was actually recorded. The reason it waited so long was because I did not have any idea where I wanted the story to go, although I knew it had to be tragic (something the theater major in me would approve of). One day I just started writing on a whim and came up with the last verse, which tied everything else together for the narrative. DJ Zero One had already done me up a beat and I brought it in to Optimist who loved the idea, so we recorded it. We brought Lauren in to do the hook and let her have control over her portion, although I did want the lines “life is like a boomerang” and “deceitful as a ricochet” utilized. She took it, ran with it, and brought back the most beautiful melody. She really makes the song and I am proud of anytime I get to work with her.
Jimmy Rae: I know I mentioned Lauren Coleman already and her stand-out singing performance, but I heard a ton of talented guest musicians on Versus-Verses. What was it like working with all of the guest artists and how did the collaborating come about?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: Anyone I asked to collaborate with on this album are good friends of mine, whom I respect for the talents they offer. I’ll be rolling with Optimist until I’m on my death bed, so it’s no surprise that he has the majority of the production credits. I was also excited to work with LD of Technicali because his ethic is only overshadowed by his talent and when like minds get together, they create something special, as in the case of “Whiplash.” Other than that, I’m really easy to work with as I only tend to control what comes out of my mouth. I don’t see any need to censor anyone else’s creativity. The concept is generated and we all come to the table with our view of that concept. A lot of the cats who are featured on the album are sick lyricists and artists in their own right and I am sure we will hear good things coming from the lot of them.
Jimmy Rae: I mentioned during your review that “mainstream hip-hop music is in trouble right now” and that there is “not much to offer the public today as far as quality-driven rap music goes”. Do you agree with this statement to an extent and if so how can V.I.T.A.L. Emcee change this?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: I don’t necessarily disagree with the statement, but I don’t think mainstream hip-hop is exactly a gloom and doom forecast…yet. My biggest concern is that everything sounds the same. There are still talented artists out there selling millions of downloads (because records are an endangered species) and I can’t hate them or their hustle. I just think that a lot of hip-hop is more watered down when it comes to the mainstream as far as a “sound” goes. Don’t get me wrong, I like things that are in the Top 40, but there is a market for everything. The sound that saturates the airwaves is controlled and manufactured by the labels and, as consumers, we keep getting baby fed the same recycled sound.
It also looks like today’s listener is changing. Beats are still more important than ever, no matter how redundant they may be, but content is being sacrificed. If this is the case, artists become mere puppets and that’s pretty fucked. The generation gap just becomes apparent at this point. I can remember the days when gangster rap was pure and new (which probably dates me), but I will always subscribe to Dr. Dre before I ever settle for Justin Bieber–sorry Justin.
How can I change this? One simple answer. Being me and releasing quality music while standing strong in my convictions. This is not to say that I wouldn’t ever do a dance song…I’m human and there is a vibe for every emotion. As I get older, I want to compliment more of those positive emotions anyway and give people a good time. I was too self-righteous in my younger years and perpetuated a dark energy with the Invisible Man record. That was a catharsis. As much as that record is a triumph for me, I’ve released the energy that went into its creation. So now what follows is me full circle. Ready to take on the mainstream and carve out my own niche.
I also take pride within my live performance. I’ve always wanted to bring that element from 70’s arena shows into a smaller hip-hop venue. One of the reasons I love metal music is because it is so theatrical live and it imbues its audience with that kind of power. Because of this, I will always be more than the guy who shows up, plays his beats, spits his lyrics and leaves. It’s about a connection and giving the audience an experience which they will not forget. I’ve done Bruce Lee, Catholic processions in Priest garbs and V for Vendetta masks. I’ve entered as Hannibal Lecter in a strait jacket complete with restraint mask and watched the audience cheer. I’ve even sat for 4 hours to become a legitimate Pinhead for the VERSUS release party. Now I’m doing Hunter S. Thompson. So if you are ever present at a V.I.T.A.L. show, you know you can expect something amazing. And if the paramedics aren’t being phoned during an encore of “Funhouse” then you’ve only witnessed a half-assed imitator.
Jimmy Rae: I want to say congratulations for being included on the official 2009 and 2010 Grammy Ballot. I saw that you are listed under many categories including ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Artist of the Year’ just to name a few. This is a tremendous honor and I’m sure you’re extremely excited! Wondering if you’ve made into the top five nominees in any one of the categories?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: First off, thanks, that is much appreciated! Secondly, no for ’09 and I don’t know yet for ’10 lol.
Jimmy Rae: What else are you into besides music?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: I am a huge movie buff…and even that is an understatement. I own about 300 DVDs and Blu-Rays so once history repeats itself, I’ll complete one of the many screenplays I’ve started in the last few years. I used to want to be an actor and follow in the footsteps of some of my favorites like Jack Lemmon or Jack Nicholson. Now I think I’d rather be behind the camera and choreograph a story rather than acting it out.
Aside from that, I am more into health and fitness these days. I try to eat healthy and keep up a steady regiment at the gym. It keeps me well for the live performances. In addition, I love traveling and being outdoors–especially since so much of what I do involves being indoors.
Jimmy Rae: Any secrets, pet peeves and/or funny stories you can let out of the bag for all the loyal Skope readers?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: I’m a diva. Nuff said lol. I actually wanna start a boy band called A La Mode. It will be a cross between the Backstreet Boys and 2 Live Crew. I’ll let your readers figure that one out for themselves.
Jimmy Rae: What are you most proud of to this point and this can be anything in your life?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: The thing I am most proud of is that I have progress to show for everywhere I’ve been in my life, internally and externally. I have 4 solid albums to my credit, the 2 solos made it onto the official Grammy ballots and I see no signs of slowing down. The biggest point of pride for me is that I find myself even more driven than I’ve ever been! I am more positive and hopeful, thus I hope that when people catch me at a show or something, they are no longer intimidated by me. I’m really a nice guy, so if you’re a fan, please don’t ignore me and make me feel like there’s something wrong with me lol.
Jimmy Rae: I heard through the grapevine that you will be filming a documentary soon; are you able to go into details yet? The Skope Universe would love to know!
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: This documentary is turning out to be more of a mockumentary. It is called “A Day in the Life of V.I.T.A.L. Emcee” and will be shot for BombTV.net. The more we go into it, the more of a spoof it becomes. It’ll probably come out something like Spinal Tap. Without going into too many details, it follows my usual day and takes an unusual turn. I didn’t want it to be too serious as I think that’s a misconception certain folks may have about me. I actually have a sense of humor that could put me behind bars. I don’t mind being an idiot.
Jimmy Rae: What’s next for V.I.T.A.L. Emcee? How is 2011 lookin’?
V.I.T.A.L. Emcee: Well last year I really went big on theatrics, as I revisited some of my old Hunter S. Thompson books and did numerous shows channeling his spirit. It brought about a great response, so this year it only means bigger and better, by bringing that true entertainment back to the live performance we previously discussed. All of this will lead into my next scheduled project: Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles where all will be revealed. It truly is the time for me to ‘take it to the limit’…just like the Eagles. Stay tuned and tell a friend to tell a friend.
Absolutely nothing will get in the way of Noel Vinson’s quest to achieve greatness and make a difference. Complete success seems to be a short distance away for V.I.T.A.L. Emcee. For more info on V.I.T.A.L., here are some great sites you should definitely SKOPE out: www.vitalemcee.com, www.sonicbids.com/vitalemcee, www.twitter.com/vitalemcee1, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/VITALEmcee and www.reverbnation.com/vitalemcee.
By Jimmy Rae (firstname.lastname@example.org)