Comprised of three major cities: San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, the Bay Area is a place that once held focus for Gold Rush prospectors and is now a backdrop for the booming Tech industry. Home to both #BBQBecky and #PermitPatty, the bay gained viral notoriety in the first half of 2018 and has come to reflect so much of the changing times we live in, giving voice to a new slate of spitters.
“It used to be much more eclectic,” the Berkley-bred, Caleborate tells me, ice cold Grolsch in one hand – speaking into my phone as our conversation is recorded. Settled into a makeshift green room, downstairs in the Old Blue Last, (a pub located in the heart of Shoreditch), we sit side by side on a worn leather sofa; a cool respite from the swampy heat presently parading as summer in the capital. The soundcheck threw up no issues and Caleb ‘Caleborate’ Parker is looking forward to headlining his debut London show later in the evening.
Celebrated for his down-to-earth approach to lyricism, Caleborate, “started rapping out there like seven years ago, and so, my voice comes initially from a different place than what’s happening in the bay area right now.” Every year since 2014, there has been a new Caleborate project, beginning with ‘#theusual’, ‘Hella Good’, ‘1993’ and 2017’s ‘Real Person’. Driven by a desire to create music that is timeless, Caleb leaves nowhere to hide for himself as a musician.
Caleborate is seemingly in a good mood and I ask him to tell me more about the place where he’s from. As the spate of recent videos bear witness, it is a place where selling water on the street can form the grounds to call the police, “There was a very progressive, chill mentality and way of living, that – because of the tech boom and the opportunities to be taken financially, the culture is changing. There’s differences in culture of people that work in that field. That didn’t always used to be our main export. Now, our main export is becoming technology, data, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter – so it’s like a whole new world of college students that are graduating in those majors, bankers that wanna buy and sell – it’s becoming such a different place to live.”
It’s the classic story of gentrification known the world over, an area that has long been overlooked or regarded as ‘dangerous’ is suddenly desirable, ‘edgy’ or ‘up and coming’. Local people become disgruntled and wary, while the new influx of residents blindly march over the cultures and communities already in situ. For rappers, much of their identity is tied to the area where they live and – either driven by a yearning to leave the ends or a life long allegiance to the area that grew them – hometowns retain an integral role in the come up of any musician. “I think if you really say you care about the Bay and you’re a dope artist, then you have to use your voice not only to make music but, to be doing something to help the people get through this hard time. So, once it changes I’ll probably go back to having more fun with the music in an artistry sense; but I definitely see myself having a responsibility to use my voice for others y’know?”
My ultimate goal is to tell stories and make everyday life on a personal level more bearable for people, because it can be hard.
Drawing on real life experiences, Caleborate has quickly carved out a name for himself as one of the realest MC’s of his generation. Thoughtful, funny and introspective, Caleborate is an artist who has no problem speaking truth to power, but being the best political MC isn’t the mission he is on. “We need music for so much more, not just to listen to but to help younger generations because they’re lost y’know? I’m an artist, I like to make new creative shit. I don’t necessarily wanna have to talk current events because I’m not a politician. I don’t mind talking current events – I can use my artistic abilities for that – but I just wanna make new progressive music – my ultimate goal is to tell stories and make everyday life on a personal level more bearable for people, because it can be hard. I don’t only want to be political – woke – talking about the president in my raps. Morally, my compass does say that if I can use my voice to help them then I will, so I do.”
Truth and transparency go hand-in-hand, and Caleborate’s emotive style hits just as hard on the melancholy of ‘Wanna Be’ as it does in the humour of ‘Bankrobber’. “I think living in that environment,” Caleb says swinging the conversation back to the present day bay area, “I’ve had to take more of like, an active role in the community, more active role in other people’s lives and really less narcissistic and focused on myself and use my voice for other people, y’know? Most people start off rapping about themselves or their emotions or what they want to have, or wear, or what kinda girls they like. Most people start with themselves. Most start when they’re young, and when you’re young you only care about yourself – I’m a bit older – I’m 25 now – so I care about myself too, I’m a human – but I also care about other people and I definitely care about the place that I live.”
How the fuck am posed to not go insane/These kids love they twitter handle/More than they last name
– 4 Willem
2017’s ‘Real Person’ LP marked another leap forward, no longer finding his voice in an hyper-capitalist American landscape that feels as fractured as ever, Caleborate is instead stretching his own depths. Throwing nods back to the greats like Tribe Called Quest, Caleborate manages to innovate his own hip-hop style without making it a route one, boom bap rehash. Producers were each chosen for their ear, talent and collaborative spirit; Adrian Per, Chonchies, Chose1, Drew Banga, Ian McKee, Lege Kale & Willem Ardui.
It’s not really hard for me to admit something on a song if I can admit it to someone already.
“It’s a lot easier now,” he says thoughtfully. No longer having to search for who he is within the music, Caleborate is realising his narrative voice and owning that wholeheartedly. There’s a scratch of his chin, another swig of beer, before; “it wasn’t always that easy in the beginning, but you have to drop your ego and accept truths for what they are – that’s come with age and maturity. It’s not really hard for me to admit something on a song if I can admit it to someone already. I admitted to this girl the other day, I met in Paris – sorry, I forget her name, but she was really great, we had a great conversation. It wasn’t romantic y’know? Just two grown ups talking – and I told her like, one thing I’ve noticed I do a lot since I’ve been travelling, is I generalise. And, she said ‘yeah, you have to be careful of that because then you start stereotyping.’ She was right. Maybe I need to look for things beyond what I’m generalising. Sometimes I say men are more consumed in this, or our personalities have the potential to be more toxic; but I don’t necessarily think I should look at it on a sex basis or race basis or anything. Like, I need to look on a more literal basis. What is it that’s making this person’s personality more toxic? I learn everyday and just try to grow with that as an artist, that’s like getting over my ego. Everyone’s just figuring it out y’know? Nobody’s God or anything so it’s okay to be wrong and stuff.”
And this is the heart of it. There’s a humility that is evident in his work, Caleborate is not an artist hiding in the shadows of himself, instead he has uncovered what most of us come to realise sooner or later: no one knows what the fuck they’re doing. Being a ‘grown up’ is as much about unlearning childish preconceptions about adulthood as it is about redefining success in your own terms. Caleborate is a performer who was raised on the greats Marvin Gaye, Common, Tribe Called Quest, these are the influences he has brought with him on the road.
“Chance The Rapper is a good one, he really gave me like, the idea of wanting to perform with energy. The way he performs? he’s personally enjoying the song himself and sharing that with the audience, I’ve always thought that was really nice and, in my private time I enjoy music like that, so he helped me understand it’s okay to be like that on stage. Amy Winehouse probably one of my fave performers because of how candid she is, how natural: dope. I feel like every show is different with her, she looks absolutely beautiful doing it because it’s her element. So I definitely apply that to my shows as well.” Earlier in the day, Caleb tells me, he made a personal pilgrimage to Camden to pay homage to Amy and her legacy in person.
“To be honest,” he says, feeling for the right words and taking the time to measure his thoughts out concisely, “I think it also makes the experience for listener, for the fan, better. ‘Cause I seen so many made up artists that, listening to someone being able to verify their experience in the world and mine co-existing at least in the same universe is nice. Sometimes people make themselves larger than life – I’m not afraid to say, ‘yo, I think my breath stinks right now. I just had some bad food’ y’know? I don’t get mad or feel embarrassed. That’s why I’m transparent because it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, y’know? it can just be the truth. It’s okay, the truth is cool.”
It’s an interesting time for hip-hop and 2018 may yet come to be known as The Year of Fallen Idols. But, for Caleborate, for now, he’s a musician who doesn’t shrink away from growing in front of our eyes. His transparency, is what makes him cut through the static white noise of drill beats and triplet rap flows that dominate the landscape at present.