THE KOREATOWN ODDITY: WALK AROUND NORMAL
The Koreatown Oddity (a.k.a. Dominique Purdy) raps, makes his own beats, does stand-up comedy and writes screenplays, and probably wears his trademark wolfman mask the whole time. After heavy efforts in the world of hip-hop cassettes, he’s now released 200 Tree Rings, his vinyl full-length on the New Los Angeles label. He speaks now about his mom (who was on Soul Train and learned how to freestyle after a lesson from Ice T), what it’s like to drive while black, and why he has no regrets about pursuing his own dreams on his own terms. This interview by Kristina Benson.
Was your mom a dancer on Soul Train?
Definitely. My mom has had a lot of influence on me, especially through music just by the things I’ve been around with her. She used to be down with Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate—she wasn’t a rapper, but she made all the jewelry and she would hang tight with Ice T and Grandmaster Kaz. When I grew up I’d know but when I was 4 he was just Kaz. And when we went to Ice T’s house, I knew that was Ice T, but I’m a kid so I don’t care: ‘Yeah, that’s Ice T from the movie.’ Or the rap videos I saw. When I got older and realized who Kaz was, it was really tight. I remember him actually showing my mom how to freestyle on cassette, just fucking around. He was basically saying have fun with it, say something that comes from right where ever you are, and my mom would go, ‘My name is Doria!’ We were cleaning out the garage one time and found a rap my mom wrote me a rap when I was a kid—maybe she was assuming I gonna be a rapper or some shit? I remember it goes, ‘My name is Dominique and I’m a fresh musician / all the ladies love me cuz I keep them wishin’!’ Crazy to see that written on paper—like you thought I was gonna be a rapper? Damn. That happened!
How do you freestyle? Do you have some go-to rhymes ready just in case?
Some people do that probably. I just go off whatever’s happening and whatever comes to my mind. You have so many things flowing through your head. When I do a show I might put a beat on to rap to and tell people to talk some shit to me, and then go off what someone says and start rapping. I always bring my MPC and I perform the shit live as I’m a rapping. There are a lot of people that don’t even do hip-hop at all but like MPCs and use them for their live shows, but the reason why I do it is because it’s one of the original hip-hop things. For me, it’s records, the MPC, VHS tapes and cassette tapes.
Why are tapes such an important format for you? You’ve been into them forever.
That just happened naturally as well. I believe it was a quote I read—the gist of it was … whatever you want to do in life, do it in the way that you used to have fun with it. So in junior high and high school we made tapes all the time, and that shit was just fun. Studios were like super expensive and when I did it the way I did it, I had control over how I wanted to do it—it was on my own terms. I was already familiar with what style I wanted to lay on tape. Before I was on the internet, it was all hand to hand tapes. When I got on the internet people were like, ‘Oh, that’s that dude!’
Why is it important for you to go back to the originals? So many people just casually say, ‘Oh, I want it new—I wanna be new.’ But you want the fundamentals.
It’s the feeling of what the original style felt like—I’m technically doing new stuff but my process is classic format: chopping loops and breaks and like matching it together to make my own thing and spitting raps, like the energy of how they used to do it. I don’t rap like old style like “And THEN that …!’ but when I’m doing it I feel like I’m rapping with that heart, and I think people can tell. That’s the thing I enjoy—when I’m about to start my set, I think people look at it like, ‘This could be stupid—‘
Cuz of the mask?
Maybe! If you don’t know who it is and you never saw me, you could think like it’s some kind of gimmick. But I know the process—I’m gonna rock you with some beats, and if you fuck with that you might be someone open and not trying to front. You might be like, ‘Hey, that’s tight!’ And if you are frontin’ that’s OK too cuz I know what I’m gonna do next—I’m gonna put on some shit where I’m rappin’. I always come hard. If it’s three people in the room, I just go just as hard. It’s still going to affect somebody. I did a show because there was just three people there, because the guy before me was the headliner and cleared the room and had me go after. But in this technology time, three or four people could make shit bigger. Some guy can take a Vine or tag me on Twitter. People who wasn’t there could see it—sometimes it doesn’t even matter how many people as long as somebody is there to experience it. Sometimes I really have to humble myself to the fact that we have this thing in the palm of my hand—I know people are over it, but right now I could look up anything! Like this shit Original Man—it’s a comic book I had when I was 12, 11 … it’s like black super hero comic books. I never seen this shit before! They quote Public Enemy and like shoot police. One of the characters is kind of ‘bad’ because he kills people but he’s like Dexter—there’s this one guy who’s like cops are corrupt. And he just shoots ‘em. Original Man is more like a Superman type, like ‘What you did is crooked, and I’m going to try to put you in jail instead.’ Original Man, flat top and ducktail in the back. I just looked it up and I found a couple images of the comics and maybe I could buy some? I remember there was a time when people had to be there to experience something. I could be like, ‘Yeah, that one episode of Tales From the Crypt where the basketball came down the stairs and the kid was dead … ’ and you had to be like, ‘Nah, never saw that one.’ But now you look that up on YouTube: ‘What’s it called? Dead basketball kid? Ah, I found it!’ Something that you experienced as a kid, they can experience it right there.
But it’s not the same—there’s no context.
Everything is accessible. ‘Ever see this movie?’ ‘No, but I’ll go find out this information.’ On Twitter someone could say some shit to me and I could go on Google and find out the definition and respond and act like I already knew it—look it up in one minute. Look up Wikipedia and talk back to someone like you know what you’re talking about. Everything I put out I had a physical copy—maybe of 100 or whatever. I’d go out and have it on me and so if I saw J.Rocc or Alchemist or Peanut Butter Wolf or guys I’m into, i’d be like, ‘Yo, check this tape out.’ Not like ‘Yo, check it out and hit me up!’ Just check it out. It’s music. Eventually when people see it around enough, it’s like ‘Oh, that dude gave me that tape one time—that’s tight!’ Once I put a digital version out, that allowed it to pass around even more. People listen to things differently now—you can go online, listen to a whole album and then forget it right away cuz there’s so much other shit to listen to. Almost too much. You kind of have to curate your own selections. ‘I like this guy, so lemme see who raps on one of the songs and I’ll listen to that.’ Sometimes I read an article and I haven’t heard the music, but I just like the person! Regardless of genre. Maybe noise rock, and I might hear it later and be like, ‘This shit sounds tight!’ It’s crazy to me, the way I did stuff just by being like, ‘OK, this is what I wanna do.’ I make sure stuff I rap about I can repeat later to myself and explain it to people. I have to be able to say the words with truth to them or real feeling otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s crazy that when you really just do that, people will connect to that. That’s how you kinda get pulled out of the crowd. By just doing you. Even if what you do, a lot of people think it’s wack … there’s a fanbase out there for everything. It doesn’t matter who doesn’t fuck with it—it only matters who does. When I was doing tapes people were like, ‘Why are you doing this? How are people gonna hear it?’ Everyone was hating. Funny now that it’s like the standard. ‘Yo, I got a tape with my shit too!’ For people into music records never went anywhere. But I went to Barnes and Noble and saw VINYL’S BACK with a big-ass sign! And the records were like $30—Jesus Christ, I could find this for way less at a record store. And Whole Foods … I’d really respect Whole Foods if they were like, ‘Yo, we got records for real.’ Like you’d see people digging, maybe see Madlib digging in Whole Foods! That’s when you would know. Maybe that’d be a tight dis line now. ‘You like records? You got that at Whole Foods!’
Does your love of tapes have anything to do with the James Brown tape stuck in your mom’s car for a year when you were a kid?
A James Brown tape she dubbed herself—I dunno if it was a special day or something, but it was all James Brown with random little interviews with radio DJs cut in. So one time this tape got stuck in the car, and everytime we rolled in the car, we had to listen to it. We weren’t upset! It was just kinda funny. The radio didn’t work so we had to listen to that tape. I used to have this joke back in the day, like when I’d turn on the car, James Brown was like part of the car—turn it on like, ‘Uh!!’ and it’d start working. We went to the gas station one time, I dunno what I did but the tape popped out—almost like, ‘OK, that’s the end of your education for the time being. You’ve been listen to James Brown enough in this car!’
I was listening to your song ‘No Health Insurance’—has that changed with the Obamacare? Can you now write a new song called ‘Minimal Healthcare Coverage’?
The most recent doctor I saw—I got into a car accident in December and the car got totaled. The lawyer sent me to this place for physical therapy. They just hooked me up to a machine. Like other than that, no. I remember the last time I went to the doctor was a physical for football when I was 13. The doctor had me in there and had me take off my pants and my boxers. I go … OK and took off my pants. And he was like ‘Boxers too.’ ‘What? What are you talking about?’ He goes to get my dad who was like, ‘Yo, this is a health thing—nothing weird going on.’ My dad always tells that story. ‘My son, he don’t play—he’s like what the fuck’s going on here!?’
Were your parents comedians?
No—I do comedy. But it’s kinda different now. When I was younger, I was already on a crazy level with it. When I was in high school I’d perform at the Laugh Factory at night and pretty much dealt with whoever now that I think back—Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, Tim Allen, Roseanne, all these people. I would MC sometimes and random people walk in for surprise sets and you gotta bring ‘em up. I was managed by the owner of the Laugh Factory too. I’d often get really bored doing the same stuff, so I’d do all different kind of things, but the owner wasn’t about that. That made things kind of weird. I’ve never been into too much corny or corporate stuff, and that’s the deciding factor in my life taking a longer route instead of a shorter one. I work with a lot of different people that had a good chance to make me a serious amount of money, but what they wanted me to do I just felt was so corny. Inside I felt it wasn’t the right thing, and I had to turn it away.
You’ve said you feel hip-hop is your culture, but you don’t seem to refer to comedy as your culture? What’s the difference?