Now my next interview features one of the illest writers I know! East 3! East 3 resides on the beautiful island of Hawaii, and has definitely left his mark in hip hop culture globally. Not only is he a true inspiration to me as a hip hop head, but also as a person. East has been passionate about hip hop culture for nearly 30 years. You might be familiar with his work with Thud Rumble or even his legendary flyer designs for the Rock Steady anniversaries… (just to name a few). In this interview, East breaks down why you shouldn’t use the word “graffiti”, the importance of being a culturalist, the importance of being a student, honoring your ancestors, etc. East is simply a man that stays true to carrying on tradition…
Lean Rock: You mentioned to me before that the first time you got the chance to visit the mecca of hip hop (NYC) was in 1994… How important was this trip to your life and career?
East: My trip to NYC in 1994 was a pivotal point in my life and career. That trip was the precise moment I began to feel the emotional attachment to the culture and started to live Hip Hop verses just doing Hip Hop. Being raised on Oahu, Hawaii (in the early 80’s) gave us very little exposure to the culture and we as a scene had to improvise and fill in the blanks. In NYC I had the privilege of being exposed to many ideals, historical viewpoints (from Bronx River Projects to Delancy ST) and experienced what I would consider the last years of the way Hip Hop once was. The Rock Steady Crew Anniversary (held at 98th & Amsterdam) was my primary reason for going to NYC and I helped celebrate their 17th Anniversary by creating the artwork for the anniversary which was used for the collectable t-shirts design and flyer ads. After the 1994 trip I went to NYC frequently and continued to build my knowledge and contribute to RSC Anniversaries. It was an honor because I got my blessings from Doze Green to be his successor at Rock Steady Park to carry on tradition. I could go on and on, lets just say I learned a lot and experienced so much! Learning is a constant and free flowing experience! Always a Student – Master Culture.
Lean Rock: You state that the legendary Phase2 (P2) is your mentor. It must be an honor for you to have someone like that mentoring you. Could you give us a little history behind your relationship with him?
East: Yes, Phase2 is a Big Brother to me. He has been my mentor since 88’ as well as one of my family. I consider him much more than my Art/Writing mentor, more like a life coach that has guided me through good times and adversity. He is the most humble & private person I know. P2 does not seek fame and his creativity and love for the arts comes from passion and desire & never driven by his ego (a rare breed). P2 has shared so many perspectives about the Writing Culture and Hip Hop and I am grateful and honored to know I am going to be able to contribute to his ‘Living Legacy’ thru his teachings.
Lean Rock: Can you breakdown why we shouldn’t call writing or aerosol art “graffiti” aka the ‘g’ word?
East: It’s a simple answer, its fact. If you ask any pioneer from the early 70’s like Coco 144, Riff 170 or Phase2 (to name a few) they will all tell you that the origin term for the art form is Writing and not ‘g’. It also make perfect sense because when you are painting letters you are literally ‘writing’ your name not ‘Gr@ff!t!’ your name. The ‘g’ word was labeled by the authorities in the late 70’s to give the art form a name that had best described a criminal act. Soon to follow the ‘g’ movement was the media, (wack) promoters and art galleries who adopted the language and heavily influenced the active Writing scene through publicity and opportunities such as art gallery shows, tours & movies/documentaries. In the documentary “Style Wars”, you will see the transitional & pivotal point of the younger generation of Writers (of the late 70’s early 80’s) labeling themselves as ‘G’ Writers and combining the 2 words together. Within the documentary, pay attention to how the galleries had influenced the artist’s perception and ideals towards the art form.
“We didn’t call ourselves Gr@ff!tt! Artists, society called us that” _Rammellzee.
Since the 80’s the internet, hash tags, key words for search engines and meta-tags has made the ‘g’ word the standard online for searching the art form and has continued the mislabeling of the arts. There is hope, people like Paulskeee (Mighty4) & Lean Rock who are campaigning to restore the true language of the art form within this era.
It boggles my mind when I think of how other Hip Hop cultural words such as Bboy & Emcee were so quickly corrected (without question) as the true cultural name verse the media influenced versions break dancers and Rappers. My question to the reader, who does this culture belong to? The media, opportunists and capitalist or the people who belong to it and love it?
Lean Rock: When did you know you wanted to be in this culture for the rest of your life?
East: I would have to say my biggest influence was picking up the book ‘HIP HOP’ by Steve Hagar in 1984 and seeing the culture as a whole. Especially 2 pages within that book where I first seen Phase2’s “Evolution of Style” where he show cased the numerous styles of progression and innovation that he contributed to Writing. That set it off for me. However, in reflection, Steve Hagar’s book does mislabel the arts within the culture but as stated earlier, living in Hawaii (in the 80’s) gave us very little options. I’m glad I made numerous journeys’ to the Hip Hop Mecca (NYC) and learned thru my fam Phase2.
Lean Rock: I don’t really know much about Hawaii’s hip hop history, but it would be nice to know more. Could you give us some insight on who were some of the pinnacle figures to lay things out over there?
East: Man, that’s gunna require a book not paragraphs lol, I’ll share a general timeline and save the specifics for a video interview some day. Hawaii Hip Hop started with Locking and Poppin in the late 70’s. In 1983 I started to see Writers throwing up tags and in early 1984 the Bboy scene started to emerge. In 86’ was when most of the scene started to die out and freestyle dancing was popular. There was a resurgence of dancing came back in 88 when the culture created music and dance moves that were considered social and everyone could participate in. Writing came back heavy in 90’ and the bboy scene resurfaced around 92’. Since then our scene has sustained its self and carries on from generation to generation. I do encourage the scene to go to NYC to learn, observe and witness the pioneers and the energy of the South Bronx before its too late so they can pass down the same knowledge I have acquired for future Hawaii generations. Every year that goes by more and more pioneers become our Ancestors (Rest in Peace).
Lean Rock: It seems as though writing has kind of died down in my city over the past 10 years. Have you seen any growth or decline in the Hawaiian writing scene over the past 10 years?
East: I think it safe to say that the Writing scene everywhere comes and goes in waves. I think this happens because every scene at some point of its peak is hit hard with a crackdown and task forces that divide and conquer the scene. In Hawaii the scene has slowed to almost a halt approximately every 5-7yrs. Here’s the break down, there are 2 kinds of goals/purposes in Writing, cats who want to get up and go all city (rocking tags, bubbles and quick pieces) and on the other side of the coin cats who want to put up quality work and elevate the art form. I believe ‘why’ we do what we do has changed from the original reason that cats started this movement, if Writing has been adopted into Hip Hop culture then it’s ideal to focus on the elevation of the art verses the replication should be considered by the artist and the Hip Hop scene as a whole. Phase2 always tells me “getting up, we been there done that…whats next, how far can you take rocking a fly piece”. Imagine this, Bboys (of today) with no development and refinement of style & dancing to the beat or only rocking back spins to shoulder rolls and no air flairs and one move power combos, Emcees still rocking cadences and rhyme patterns of the 80’s and Djs who only play the same songs from back in the day and do simple stabs and Herbie Hancock scratches….Every other part of culture has changed….something to think about.
Lean Rock: Could you give us some insight about the Polynesian and Eastern influences on your writing?
East: I believe if the art is to grow it has to retain some of its foundational elements and combine it with different perspectives and cultural approaches. My name ‘East3’ is all about that progression. I made the name to represent The Eastern (Asian) Hemisphere as a whole. I also have a branding in which use and Japanese/Chinese character and fuse it with a 3 as my logo. I do not just focus on my heritage, I love culture and I am a ‘Culturalist’. I have an interest in every culture around the globe and beyond. Currently I’m developing styles that go beyond the English 26 letter structure and using different languages, numerology and symbolism to create the new ish. For example, if you check out Arabic calligraphy (and how they fuse words into animals, characters and different shapes) you don’t have to understand it for you to instantaneously know it took skill and it’s amazing! Doap is doap…think outside the box and elevate the mind. So the next time you see a complex piece/burner admire it as a whole and don’t discredit it cause you cant read it. That’s how Hip Hop started and that’s how it will progress and evolve.
Lean Rock: If you weren’t into writing as much as you were, what other element would have you been a serious practitioner of? But if you were a bboy, mc, or dj at one time… could you give us some history?
East: Im glad you asked this question! I once was a Bboy & DJ as well as a writer. I was dancing back in the 80’s and practiced heavily with the RSC Hawaii chapter in the 90’s. In fact, I learned how to ‘Rock’ and I taught the steps and count to Hawaii RSC in 96’. Through the years of dancing and playing basketball I torn both meniscus in my knees and had to retire. My Dj career was short lived but during the years of 96-02 I had collected over 1000 records and spun at several clubs around the island chain as well as trained under Dj Qbert while he resided in Hawaii. I did this because I loved the culture as a whole. My Dj ambitions slowed down when I realized that my hours of dedication towards my art was being split by my passion to mix, scratch and juggle beats so I went back to concentrating on what I loved the most. Venturing so deeply into Dancing and Dj’n allowed me to feel the soul of the elements which now transfers through my artwork. Not many Writers walk that path.
Lean Rock: You have recently got involved with the Mighty 4 Arts Foundation. How important are programs like these for the future of hip-hop and why?
East: Hip Hop has to be sustainable in order for it to be in a non-compromising
position. Mighty4 is a great vehicle to carry on the spirit and legacy of the
culture by becoming a self sustaining entity and not relying on corporate influences/direction or concerned with profit margins and especially commercializing the event to relate to the masses. Mighty 4 will keep the integrity of the culture and pass it down to the next generation to replicate and sustain themselves doing what the love verse what they have to do to earn a living. Its all about the youth.
Lean Rock: It seems like Thud Rumble keeps you busy with work. How is it working with them?
East: I been designing for Qbert and Thud Rumble since the early 2000’s and every Project presents a new challenge in which I embrace. No project is ever the same and the team at Thud Rumble and Qbert give me total creative control which allows me to create some of my best work. I like working with Qbert on project because he is my mentor as well and we are both taking a spiritual journey that translates in the records, music and art. Peep the Super Seal 4D art in the gallery of this interview.
Lean Rock: Evolve in style, but honor your ancestors. How important do you think this statement is?
East: Evolving is a state of mind. Its usually coincides with all parts of your life because it’s a process and a journey that never ends. As Bruce Lee would say “its formless like water”, evolving is constant and fluid. You gotta have an open mind to expand it. For most, ones Hip Hop career will first be inspired by striving to be the best and your motivation drives from ones ego. After 2-3 decades you start to realize that your reason for continuing becomes passion based for your artistry & opens up more avenues for evolvement. I am at a place now where I am no longer the creator of my art work and I give all praise and appreciation to my Ancestors for allowing me to channel this gift through me verses taking credit for the art on a physical or mental level. I was enlightened and humbled by a special friend and Shaman Liv Wheeler(www.ancestorbridge.com) about connecting to my Ancestors and how the art that channels through me can heal and bring light. Liv is very special and unlike any Shaman I have encountered. As I have been blessed to be guided by Phase2, Liv is also blessed being guided by an extremely special West African Shaman named Malidoma Some. Our storys have similarities because Liv has also visited her mentor in West Africa and paid her homage to her spirit guide in Africa numerous times.
Lean Rock: It seems as though many of the younger heads including myself need to work on getting a nice handstyle. How do you feel about the lost art of “handstyle” in hip hop?
East: This is the short version of the history (as told to me) of the Handstyle and how it extends to other element/practitioners within Hip Hop outside of the Writers. Writing was the first element that surfaced within the culture. Many Bboys/Bgirls, Dj’s, Emcee’s were Writers first before they got into the other elements that surfaced after Writing. That’s why many of the pioneers emphasize having a nice handstyle. It makes perfect sense to develop a nice handstyle because it’s the visual identity of your character. I believe it authenticates the passion one has for the culture 360 degrees.
Lean Rock: Could you talk about some of your up & coming projects?
East: I am currently working on a limited special release from Qbert and Thud Rumble. This album is called Super Seal 5 and will be ground breaking for all Dj and collectors. I am also getting ready to do some traveling projects with Mighty4 In 2013. I have several West coast fashion brands I will be collaborating with as well as launching 2 clothing brands. There’s a lot more so check me out on www.east-3.com for updates.
Lean Rock: Any last shout outs or any last words you want to say to the people?
East: Stay positive and humble. Always a Student and never a master….
Be sure to follow up with East 3 on these sites:
Facebook: East San
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