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Unagi Interview

Written by Chris Rolls   
Friday, 17 July 2009 08:48
Bay Area hip-hop producer Unagi just wants us all to feel good.
The proclamation that hip-hop is dead seems alarmist at best. Sure, popular rap has been reduced to preset synth sounds, autotuning and cut-n-paste lyrics; but deep below the surface some producers strive to keep loop-based Hip-Hop alive.


One such producer is Unagi. Hailing from Massachusetts but based in San Francisco Unagi mines obscure vinyl in search of the ever more elusive unused sample with which he can construct his signature dusty tracks. Unagi's seamless blend of funk, jazz, fusion and early electro music is often reminiscent of vintage porno soundtracks, minus the sterility. Some tracks induce involuntary head-nodding while others cause an almost meditative contemplation of good times had and the prospect of more to come. Essentially it is feel-good music and that is exactly what Unagi sets out to create: music that recalls the glory days of hip-hop when the point was to celebrate life in the face of adversity. And given the current state of rap music we could all use a sincere reason to celebrate.

Unagi has just released his fourth solo album, Reinventing The Eel. We caught up in his Mission flat to discuss the album, his collaborators, and his affinity for love raps.

Some folks are not familiar with who you are, so can you talk about your sound and what Unagi represents stylistically?

Unagi is raw funk, a lot of obscure samples - the music is very sample based. I play a drum machine live on a lot of the stuff and also use breakbeats, loops and whatnot. I think it is hard to describe; it sounds old and it sounds new, too. It is not throw-back or retro but it definitely isn't auto-tuned and doesn't sound like the stuff on the radio that is out now. It is feel good music.

Let's talk about your releases. This new album is your second with emcees.

Yes. This is the second full-length but the fourth Unagi album: second full-length with guest rappers. The last album was called It Came From Beneath The SFC and came out a couple years ago. This new one is called Reinventing The Eel.


Where does that title come from?

Well, eel is unagi and this album is the first one I recorded on a computer versus a four-track or eight-track. This one is the first one that has been professionally mixed, mastered and you know, the first I am playing midi keyboards and virtual instruments on. So you know, it's new and reinventing but it is still the eel.

Still Unagi.

Exactly. If you are familiar with the older stuff you can tell it's on the same vibe but it sounds better. Hopefully people will dig it.

You have Motion Man on this record – how did you link up with him?

Yes! Motion Man, one of the best emcees in the game easily. He is a Bay Area cat who has been around for a long time. He has done a lot of stuff with Kool Keith, kutMaster Kurt and a lot of people your're familiar with. You know, we have known each other for a while. He is on the new album and we are working on another album called Adult Situations. He is just a good dude and a sick emcee so I hollered at him to get on a track, which is the lead single called "Grown Man Flowin." I think it came out real nice.


There are several other emcees on the album. Can you name a few and what it was like working with them?

Totally. There is a lot of guest emcees on the album. From the Bay there's a dude by the name of Linkletterz who was on the last album as well. There is Gigio from Napa who I just linked up with in the past year; he is super talented and I think he will be doing a lot of big things. There's a guy named Orukusaki who is from the East Bay – a real dope dude that is down with Melina Jones. Let's see ... there is a group called Substitute Teachers from San Jose who are up and coming and who got some heat. There is a guy named Chee Malabar who used to live in the Bay but now he is in LA. Also Eddie Meeks my homeboy from Atlanta who used to be in a group called Prophetix. There's Uppanotch from Queens who are down with X-Ray and Mindbenda. So, you know it is people from all over so it is not only the Bay or West Coast or you know, also there is Infinito 2017 who I did an EP with a couple years back.

You know, I think the album has a wide range of sounds and styles that complement each other – that complement the beats.

Where do you think you fit in with current hip-hop... with preset electro? I mean what would you like to get across to people with your music?

Ok if you like hip-hop but are not feeling the corny stuff that is out right now dominating, you know, and I am not just talking about the radio but the "underground," whatever - there is a lot of cheesy stuff from both extremes. My stuff does not fit in with either one of those - you know it's straight ahead beats and rhymes and good times.

You are known as a ladies man, you know, through your music.

(laughs) Yeap.


You like to rap about the ladies. Let's talk about your decision to rap on Reinventing The Eel because you have gotten some heat for it.

(laughs) Well, you know heads ain't ready and that's what it comes down to. But you know, one of my all time favorite artists of any genre is Nate Dogg. I am big fan of love jam raps and I don't mean dudes singing with the robot voice but rather the old school like LL with "I Need Love" type stuff.

So yeah I rap on a song on the album called "You Stole My Heart" that is roughly on that old school tip. Some people think it is cheesy but that's ok... I think it is good and you have to have a sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously. There is a lot of fronting in hip-hop, you know, people pretending that they are cocaine kingpins or that they are a super thugged out dude or that they are whatever whatever nerdy I-like-sneakers-guy...


(laughs) But you are just a guy who is in his bedroom making beats and you have been for...

It has been awhile.

For like over 15 years, right?

Something like that yes it has been awhile. It has been a minute. You know, I am just a guy trying to make music for the world to enjoy. I feel like you know, I love hip-hop music but I have a hard time finding new stuff that I actually enjoy, so I just make music that I want to listen to and hope that other people will be into.

So the album is Reinventing The Eel.

Yes... Reinventing The Eel. It is up on-line in spots like iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster and all those joints. If you are in the Bay they have it at Aquarius and Amoeba. And I also have a couple physical distribution deals so it will be available worldwide. You can also check out 442 Records, which is my label and a reference to the 442 Infantry. Oh and Myspace dot com slash Unagi.

Alright there we go.

That is it.

Buy the album.

Buy the album. Go cop that.

Interview conducted by the Fecal Face Music Editor, Chris Rolls - chris(at)fecalface.com
Photography by Dave Franklin

Come celebrate the release of Unagi's new album "Reinventing The Eel"

live performances from:


Good Hip-Hop - Giveaways - Dancing

Saturday July 18th
Cafe Du Nord (2170 Market Street)
$10 Doors at 10pm 21+ {moscomment}


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