Group members Newman and Maanumental talk to Pidgeon to set us straight on a few important facts and give us their thoughts on the UK and our hiphop.
Possibly the freshest thing to come out of the US since Doug E Fresh, the Fresh Prince and Ugly Duckling's 'Freshmode'. comes Giant Panda.
Like Doug E Fresh, they aren't all yanks. Like Duckling, they're about to invade the UK for a full scale tour. Unlike the Fresh Prince, they don't show any sign of turning rubbish.
First up, for those who don't know, who are Giant Panda and what do you sound like?
Newman: Well, I am Alex aka Newman, and I make beats and rap.
Maanumental: Jamaan McLaren. I usually rap, sometimes make beats, always dope. We sound like us rapping over dope beats and having fun!
Newman: Chikaramanga has a real name, and it is Chikara Kurahashi. He makes beats, raps, DJ's at most of our shows, and makes some banging miso soup. He also runs Tres Records and is mad busy at the moment, but he says "what up?!"
You're a varied bunch. Multi lingual, multi racial, members from different continents… How did you all come together to become Giant Panda?
Maanumental: Newman and I met in the 4th grade and Newman met Chikaramanga & Superbrush 427 while in college.
How does that diversity influence your sound?
Newman: Honestly, our surface diversity doesn't really inform our sound too much. I think the diversity of our influences shape our sound. We are all into the same kinds of hip-hop, but then there is some shit, hiphop and non hiphop, that these guys might not dig too hard that I love, and vice versa. Finding the middle ground that we all can vibe on I think generates our sound.
You released your debut album "Fly School Reunion" on Tres records, the label started by Thes One of People Under The Stairs. Why did you decide to go for such a small independent label?
Newman: Well, Thes One didn't start Tres. He has been the guiding light for Tres in many ways, but Chikara and his old buddy Sausen started the label. That is why we went with Tres. And obviously putting out records on our own terms is appealing, and so was not having to shop demos.
The artists on Tres all seem to be pretty close, to the extent it's even been known for you to jump onstage unannounced at each other's shows. Are you the 21st Century's answer to Native Tongues?
Newman: Naw, that's the Soulquarians! Haha. I haven't met Alibi face to face, but the vibe I get from him and everyone else is that we are all down to earth peoples. I feel like we are the kind of dudes you could introduce to your parents and they would think we are all really nice guys. There isn't a whole lot of ego trippin'. We are all some dudes who love music, love making music, and like to meet people who make and love music. Damn that's soft. Let me thug this interview out for a minute: Guns! Buck Buck!
How important is it to you to be part of this group of like-minded, creative people as well as standing out on your own?
Newman: To me, being around like-minded folks, it's essential to being happy in life. And at the same time, you need to have your own space to shine and be you. I think when you have both in life, you know you are surrounded by good peoples.
Maanumental: Working with my fellow pandas helps with making universal music, 'cause it doesn't end up being one sided music, but rather a middle ground/compromise kinda thing.
My first introduction to Giant Panda was when I picked up the EP you put out with Thes One under the name Bloquera. The EP was dope, but the story behind it was doper. How did that came about?
Newman: Kind of a long story. Basically, Thes mentioned to me a long time ago about this spot in Baja, Mexico that his Grandfather had hooked up back in the day. He mentioned he always wanted to go down there with some friends, hang out, fish, and maybe record some joints. I loved the idea, he ran it by the other guys, and everyone was into it. Next thing you know, cats are getting time off work and buying swim trunks.
Maanumental: Such a fun trip, and I think the music and videos convey a lot of the joy we had. Not all of it, 'cause much stuff you just had to be there.
You headed over to the UK for a few dates at the end of last year. How was it?
Maanumental: It was cold, but a very warm reception. Big up to Big & Little Lough, Chloe & Mark, and all my peoples in the Dub, Diggs & Tim in London, and everybody else. Can't wait to go back.
How do you view the UK audiences as a nation of hiphop lovers?
Maanumental: The UK keeps it real like Schlitz Malt Liquor. Really, to me there's no difference, but in the UK, per capita, there's still a lot of true school heads. In the states I would guess the ratio is lower.
How do you view the UK as a nation of hiphop makers? Which artists that have caught your ear?
Newman: Chikara bought Sway's mixtapes, and I like dude. Some of his beats are straight garbage, but as a rapper, dude is flames. He has good charisma and a good message. That new joint, 'Little Derek' is full dairy butter. Ty is no joke, as are the Next Men, but I haven't really heard too much of their new ish. Lewis Parker is doin' it as well. And Mr. Scruff got flavour for days.
Maanumental: I'm gonna keep it maybe too real. For us, it's important for lyrics to ride the beats, not supercede them. From stuff I've heard, it seems like a lot of cats don't know how to maximize the British accent over beats. It's completely possible and I've heard it done to my liking by a number of cats, but there are a lot of weak dudes out there. Same as the states, I guess.
You're planning to come back early in '06 to tour with Ugly Duckling. To those of us who haven't caught a Giant Panda show already, what can we expect?
Newman: A whole lot of pumpin, and a cardboard cut out of Chikaramanga.
Maanumental: Cold Bustin, Cold Gettin Dumb, & a splash of Funky Cold Medina.
Conversely, what are you expecting from the experience?
Newman: A chance to show and prove to cats that might not have heard of us, that we are some no joke hiphop dudes who can rock a show and put a smile on your face. Hopefully sell a few more records, make a few more fans, meet some more cool ass blokes, and maybe see a couple sights this time round.
Chuck D famously called rap 'the CNN of black America'. Putting aside any issues of race and geography, can you give us a rapper's eye view on these current news stories?
President Bush has said alternative fuels to compete with petrol could be produced within six years.
Newman: Shit. Alternative fuels could've been made sixty years ago. I'll believe it when I see it.
Maanumental: Brazil is an example of how to do it right, but they barely cite it.
The Japanese company behind luxury heated toilet seats, is to open a factory in Mexico in a bid to keep up with surging demand in the US.
Newman: I want one! I didn't even know such a thing existed! I just hope that the Japanese company pays them decent wages.
Maanumental: Mexico, the new frontier of near slave labor. Yeah! (sarcasm).
Electronically tagging and freeing prisoners as soon as they become eligible could save taxpayers £9.3m every year, say spending watchdogs.
Newman: Tagging humans? Save that shit for condors and bald eagles. If we really want to solve our criminal justice problem in America, we could start with eliminating drug offences and pouring more money into schools and work training. It would save money as well. Putting one child through a year of schooling is far cheaper than sustaining a prisoner for a year. We could also encourage major American companies to bring back factory jobs to America so people could once again have a well paying job they are proud of. I'm stopping here because I could go on and on.
What's next for Giant Panda?
Newman: Well, obviously the tour with UD. Maybe some more touring after that. Hopefully before we leave we can finish up this project that I've wanted to do forever called, 'Sly School Reunion'. If we finish it, we'll be selling it on tour. Really cheap! Ummm… I'm working on a project called 'New Jack Hustle' with our friend Shawn Jackson. After the tour or touring, start working on the next album. Hopefully have it ready to go early '07.
Maanumental: I'ma get on some solo stuff and brush up my production skills, as well as knock out more Panda hotness.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Newman: How addicting is myspace?
Maanumental: I keeps it real addictive!
Finally, anyone you want to shout out?
Newman: Big up to all of our people out in the UK and Ireland! Can't wait to see all of you again. Special shout out to Deal Real, Scenario, Fat City, All City, Joe Ransom, Marc 7 and Shredded Pete. YoYo Po at putsonline.co.uk, Digs, Real Time, Primary, Choice Cuts, Darling Dept and Mr. Scruff and Treva Whateva. Of course all of our Tres Records label mates and street team reps. That's it!