I know who some Ezale’s favorite cartoons are. I do not know how old he is. He’ll suggest songs for soundtracking your breakup, but he’ll refuse to comment on his personal life, even in the broadest strokes. As a rapper, the Oakland native is a bundle of dopamine and serotonin with a glinting, carefree grin. As an interview subject, he’s reluctant, if not mostly distracted.
Typically, when a rapper of note releases an album, their publicist arranges a host of interviews near its release date. Ezale, though, is atypical–our interview appears to be one of the two he granted to publicize the release of he and DJ Fresh’s The Tonite Show. (The other, with marijuana-centric Loaded Up, involved playing Connect Four and smoking a joint the size of a baby’s arm.) Our conversation, though addled by apparently weed-induced coughs and sometimes discursive responses, was still a rare opportunity to ask Ezale about a life that seems unlikely and delirious. Sometimes he answered, sometimes he didn’t. —Torii MacAdams
I noticed that in the “Too High” video there’s a Cambodian flag in the background. Did your parents immigrate from Cambodia?
Ezale:No, that’s actually my baby mama. That was her little shindig.
I’ve seen it reported that you’re Cambodian. That’s not true?
Ezale:No, I think that’s dope though.
How was your childhood in east Oakland? How would you describe Funktown for those who haven’t been there?
Ezale:Wild. But it’s actually pretty cool, also. It’s pretty diverse. We ain’t gotta grow up with the same momma in order to be brothers over here. We pretty close for a hood. Our hood is pretty big, family-oriented for a hood.
Do you ever think you’ll leave the Bay area?
Ezale:Hell yeah I’m tryna leave now–shit, what? This shit crazy out here. This shit is sick right here.
Where are you trying to move to?
Ezale:Somewhere quiet. Maybe if I do stay in The Bay, I’mma stay somewhere in the hills. If I’m moving, I’m not moving to move somewhere out of my hood; I’m still gonna be a part of my hood and still give back to and rebuild my community.
I noticed online you did an event called “Stay Warm,” Stay Blessed.” What is that?
Ezale:It’s an event where times like this it’s just showing everybody that stay blessed first of all in these streets out here cold. It really came from my clothing line, too. It’s a cold game in Oakland and people grow up cold-hearted and it just get crazy out here sometimes. “Stay Blessed…” was letting everybody know it’s still alright, it ain’t the end of the world–it’s people out here with no legs, people out here that have really been through it.
“Stay Warm” is also a double metaphor also, you know, “cold game, stay blessed, stay warm” with some warm packets that we can give to y’all: beanies, scarves, gloves. We had it going on, just giving back to the community. Let ’em know we care, going to the churches around the hood, let ’em know we here for them.
You said people grow up cold-hearted in Oakland. Why do you think that is?
Ezale:The norm is different. Maybe it’s because of TV, I don’t know. People watch these sitcoms on TV and think that’s normal life, not even knowing your outside is your normal life. It’s shit that really go on out here that you think it’s normal, that’s not normal. For example, always having a weapon on ’em, you think that’s normal? If we just sit back and think about how many people in this world [that live] in poverty areas and struggling in this world that really got a weapon though. That’s crazy–they really feel like they’re in a war.
Do you ever feel like that?
Ezale:I don’t think that’s normal. For sure, from where I am, for sure.
You mentioned in another interview that your father was a hippie. Do you think that affected your childhood?
Ezale:Hell yeah. Papa was a rolling stone, you know? He was crazy, he did his thing. He did his do.
Have you noticed a lot of changes in Oakland? I know that a lot of people who work in tech are moving to Oakland, and that the city’s real estate market is exploding.
Ezale:It’s good for a businessowners, right? Like if you own a business it’ll be good for you? If you own anything, because now new people are coming in, that’s a new market, correct? A new kind of people are moving in, they can afford to live [here] so it’s just evacuating individuals that are barely making it, living check to check. Somebody can afford [higher rent], now where you gon’ go? To the hood! And then they damn near gon’ move your ass outta there after that–again.
Who did you listen to growing up?
Ezale:I can’t really say the name; I know the genre. ’80s shit, old school shit. Just a lot of the older, funky, groovy shit. If it sounds good I like it, brother–from jazz, to disco, to whatever. Everything that I do, I always have a type [of music], you know what I’m saying?
Does that music speak to you more than rap does?
Ezale:Hell yeah. That’s tight. It really do. Them old school songs…some Zapp & Roger. You got a girlfriend, Torii?
I do, yeah.
Ezale:If she ever make you mad, I got the song that’s gonna make you break up with her ass.
What’s the song?
Ezale:If she ever makes you mad, the song is called “’I Keep Tryin’.” [Mimicking an argument] “I’m through with you! You clean up! The fuck?!”
How many girlfriends have you broken up with using that song?
Ezale:Not a lot.
Did you ever think about having a life that didn’t involve rapping?
Ezale:For sure. That’s what I went to do first. I wanted to go to school to be a teacher; I wanted to focus on my community. I love my city so much, I just wanted to re-do it. I wanted to make Oakland like Miami, where people come out here and they know everybody, where the best football players and the best rappers come out here and be like, “Oh yeah, Oakland, that’s where it’s at.”
It feels like it’s turning into that right now but it’s like, I’m really trying to reach to these kids with some righteous shit. Even though this music, it’s awesome entertaining–I’m here for them. I was trying to start a non-profit organization to promote positivity and productivity. In my hood there was an area where all the old geezers went to jail so it was really hard for us to get some guidance. For my age group, in our area, when we growing up in my hood we didn’t have the OG’s–it was an era where all the OG’s were going to jail, so who do we get the guidance from? So I’m trying to bring it back and restore these streets around here.
Why did you start rapping?
Ezale:Just listening to old school E-40, Tupac, Too $hort–all them ones back in the day. I remember rap was just cool. Remember that [Lil’ Troy] song ‘Wanna Be A Baller?’ That shit was hella tight when you was little, huh? You remember The Box? That shit was hella tight! And remember at the end, The Box started being hella weak at the end. They also played that [Mo Thugs Family] song “Ghetto Cowboy.” I used to call the request line from a pay phone–that shit never worked.
What would you have requested?
Ezale: You know what I would’ve requested on The Box? They’d only play it every once in awhile. It goes “’Frisco–it ain’t nothin’ like The Town. Richmond–it ain’t nothin’ like The Town”—Baby Ray’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Town”!
Do you feel like Bay Area rappers haven’t gotten the attention they deserve?
Ezale:Hell nah, but we on the up and up. We on the up and up, we taking this shit over, we going for the top. It’s about time we gon’ get some acknowledgment. Whether we get a co-sign or not the world gon’ know us, for sure.
So why’d you pick the name “Ezale?”
Ezale:It’s really “E-Z-E-L-L.” It rhyme with “pur-pell,” and you know “EZ got that pur-pell.” That’s what it was and it didn’t look right when I was writing it. It didn’t look right on how we was gonna promote and we switched it up.
How did Drug Funnie happen? Was that just something you did spur of the moment?
Ezale:Drug Funnie was really hella old songs and a couple new songs. It was like, ‘Might as well drop something,’ you know? Did you watch Doug?
Yeah, all the time.
Ezale:Doug was hella tight. He was high, he would be going into his own world. And the character Skeeter was hella tight–that was his road dawg.
Were you a big Nickelodeon fan growing up?
Ezale:Nickelodeon was tight–I fuck with Nickelodeon. Dragon Ball Z, too. You don’t like Dragon Ball Z?
I never got into it.
Ezale:For real? What about Avatar: The Last Airbender?
Nah, not really.
Ezale:Well them the best cartoons. You crazy. What cartoons you watch?
I watched a lot of The Simpsons.
Ezale:That’s one of my favorites for sure. What about Recess?
Yeah, my friend’s mom was actually one of the people that made Recess.
Ezale:Stop playing. I needs to meet her, I needs to meet her. My favorite [character] was Hustler Kid. You remember Hustler Kid? You remember when Vince had a brother, and he was trying to make it seem he didn’t know who he was? If you love your brother, hug your brother, nigga. You ain’t gotta lie. That’s your brother, nigga, the fuck?
Do you ever feel like an outsider in rap music?
Ezale:Shit, it depends on how you look at it. The words “outsider” and “adopt”–like “Is you adopted?”–no this is shit that’s in my blood. This is the only thing I know, is this Town shit. That’s how I feel. I guess, not really. This is what I do, this is my life every day.
Do you identify with young Bay Area rappers like Nef The Pharaoh and Kamaiyah?
Ezale:Hell yeah. We just all tryna get a check man, at the end of the day. Provide for our families and loved ones and get a check and see ya! That’s all we trying to do. People really trapped in the struggle. People can rap all they want, and somebody can say whatever all they want–you never gonna know where somebody came from, like they whole struggle. You’re never gonna know why this person makes certain decisions. You’re never gonna know what happened in his life that traumatized him. It’s, like, post-traumatic stress.
You rap a lot about hustling and drug dealing. How much of that is based in fact?
Ezale:I do? Damn. I rap about drug using. I’m a drug user.
What are your favorite drugs?
Ezale:It depends. Give me a mood and I’ll let you know.
Ezale:Gotta be the pills. I like coke, too–coke is cool, but you usually gotta add so much to the coke like some drank, or another pill, then fire up the ‘Wood, then another line, then maybe the ‘Wood next, then another…It’s like fuck all. Gimme the pill and I’m gonna go about my business. I be loaded every day. It’s raining over here right now so I’ll sip that little bit of syrup I got right there and be cool. I’m a chemical imbalance.
Why do you think the Bay Area is so into ecstasy?
Ezale:[Mac] Dre. Gotta be Dre. Ecstasy been out. $5 pills. I remember being little, coming down the stairs, and seeing my brothers up for days, like, “Damn, what is they on?” But they still functioning, then they sleep maybe 2 or 3 days. Then I find out these motherfuckers is on pills.
When did you first try it?
Ezale:Ecstasy? I tried a lot of drugs. I tried ecstasy for sure during the Hyphy movement, like ‘05-’06.
Did you know right away that it was gonna be your thing?
Ezale:Right away! “Right away this is the drug for me, right here.” Some people can’t handle ecstasy, some people get mad off the shit. How you gonna get mad off this, bruh? How you really mad off ecstasy?
Do you feel like you would be the same rapper or the same person without drugs?
Ezale:I really don’t need drugs. Drugs need me.
You said you spent a year and a half working on your edition of The Tonite Show. Where does your perfectionist streak come from?
Ezale:I just wanted to work with DJ Fresh. Now–and especially back then–he’s still the nigga. That’s DJ fuckin’ Fresh! If I worked with DJ Fresh, it had to be something that I was really going to put my time into. [I cut] like 6 songs from the album. A song’s gotta groove. What’s your favorite song on the album?
“We Want Some Pussy.” What’s your favorite song on the album?
Ezale:To be honest it’s the interlude and intro. Bump the interlude at night one time. You’re gonna be like ‘Damnnn, this song slap.’ Especially at night.
Did you pick the samples for the album?
Ezale:I picked the beats. Those samples came from them producers Hawk and DJ Fresh. Hawk Beatz–he’s the best producer.
What did they say to you when they came to you with that 2 Live Crew sample?
Ezale:I didn’t even wanna get on that song, I’m not gon’ lie to you. He was like [Ezale adopts a raspy voice], ‘Nephew, do this one for me.’ I said ‘For real?’ I said ‘Man, I don’t even know how I’m gonna rap on this bruh. How the fuck I’m supposed to rap on this, bruh?’ ‘Find a way, nephew, do this one for me.’ Then I said ‘Bitches love me ‘cuz I’m nonchalant/’Ey, baby, just pass the blunt.’ I was like ‘I got it, I got it.’
Sometimes I’m just hearing the beat it’s not even mixed and mastered at all. I’m just hearing the beat. I let [“We Want Some Pussy”] drag–I hoped he forgot about it. He ain’t forget about it. ‘Nephew! This is the one!’ I’m here studying the beat, studying the beat, then I hit ’em with that ‘Bitches love me ‘cuz I’m nonchalant…’
You’ve mentioned in a song and an interview that you’re a father. Has parenthood changed you at all?
Ezale:Hell yeah. For sure. I gotta think of him, for sure. Every move. Going to the studio and make sure you’re knocking something out, and then everything.
Do you have any regrets about becoming a rapper and not a teacher?
Ezale:I’m still a teacher. I like that I can still be a teacher without a credential. The credentials is only for me to compete, and be able to go to certain schools and teach. I’m still a teacher–I just learned that I just have to go to school to get a credential. I can still be what I wanted to be when I was younger. Now I think I got a bigger force–now I have a voice. I didn’t need the credentials–I have a better credential. I have a voice. People listen to me. I’m living righteous.
Do you have any fears?
Ezale:Fears? Fuck no. Boy, I’m Jackie Chan. What is Jackie Chan scared of? Nothing! Taxes! An ulcer–fear of getting another ulcer, for sure. Fear of dislocating my arm again, for sure. Was on a trampoline, bouncing on that motherfucker, did a flip, and almost flew off into Downtown L.A.
Where did you get the Gucci bulletproof vest from the “Five Minutes of Funk Town” video?