Evidence has built a career and a legacy on being true to himself.
As a member of Dilated Peoples and as a solo artist, the rhymer has always kept his eyes squarely on the art, and on his latest album Unlearning, Vol. 1., Evidence is continuing to evolve.
"I don't think there's any one cycle where you say 'I'm starting this' or 'I'm ending that,'" he explains to RTB. "A lot of people when they're making their next record, they're still doing shows from the last album; or they're still recording even when the previous record is being promoted. There's no window on when one cuts and the next begins - at least not for me. I stay working."
With the specter of a harrowing 2020 still looming over so many creatives, and as a return to so-called normalcy brings about reflection for many people, in general, Evidence admits that the impetus for Unlearning wasn't really any pandemic-related epiphany on his part.
"I wouldn't say this record was influenced by COVID or 2020 or anything like that. I have records that were made previous to that and none of us knew that was happening. And then there are some records that were made during that time, as well. Life, in general, for me, has been a rollercoaster. But I like to work through shit. Music is therapy, music is good for me, music is healthy for me. Maybe the physical side of sitting in a chair in a dark room all day and smoking too much weed might not be, but, I feel like what it gives me for my well-being fights all of that off. That's how I justify it."
The fourteen-track effort features Evidence’s own production alongside that of The Alchemist, Nottz, Sebb Bash, Animoss, Mr. Green, V Don, Daringer, Khrysis and EARDRUM (QThree). He explains that this project was born out of his ongoing creativity since his previous release. He just simply hasn't stopped working. But it does represent a shift, away from the "Weatherman" persona that debuted on his first solo album from over a decade ago.
"I've been creating nonstop since Weather or Not," says Evidence. "I think the defining difference is I've made four albums under my 'Weatherman' moniker, introduced in 2007; [his 2008 EP] The Layover, Cats and Dogs -- those are all in me in my superhero [mode] that I created for myself."
Progression is natural and change is healthy, but Evidence doesn't want to overthink things. He just tries to adhere to his own creative spirit, without trying too hard to upend what he's known for. There will be no running in place.
"[This] is just not necessarily sticking to the blueprint of what I've formed my ideology around for my solo career. There are songs from this that could've fit on other things, maybe, and there are songs that couldn't. But as an artist, I'm hoping that everything wouldn't fit. [This album] is not a follow-up to Weather or Not. It's its own shit. A lot of us get comfortable as we go along. We gravitate to that and we repeat that."
Boldy James, Conway The Machine, Fly Anakin, Navy Blue, and Murkage Dave all make appearances on Unlearning and every collaborator on the project feels like an inspired choice. There's a casual belief amongst some music consumers that an artist's creative growth means their music has to become more ornate and self-consciously elaborate, but Evidence decided that pushing forward meant stripping down.
"Some people think they have to add on," he says. "That means it gets bigger; they need a tuba, six drummers, or a band and wild shit. For me, I was like 'that's one way to do it. But how did I make my first shit?' I did it in a bedroom somewhere. At KutMasta Kurt's house. That's how we started Dilated."
"Some people might want to add more, my version is to peel back."
The idea of stripping things way down was tethered to Hip-Hop's early ethos.
Evidence is still drawn to the spirit of those early rap records and the kids who were making music in parks. They were finding their way and built a new sound by breaking things down.
"The thought of how Hip-Hop was created is what I'm still attracted to," he says. "In my mind, it's a kid in New York who doesn't have an outlet because music isn't so much in school. He's figuring out what to do, and he's listening to his Dad's shit on his turntable and he hates the song but there's one part of the song he likes a lot. He adds another turntable and they start playing the shit back-and-forth, a human sampler is built."
"They play it outside and nobody's dancing, so they pitch it up to plus eight and now it's outta key. But people are starting to move though! fucking with it. It's adolescent. It's some fuckshit and it's anti. But I like anti. I never liked conformative things. Hip-Hop, yes, it's musicianship, but there's always been an anti element to it. That's why I'm such a fan of DJ Premier."
After years in the game, and with the Hip-Hop landscape forever changing via streaming and online platforms, the term "underground" has come in and out of fashion. Evidence doesn't bristle at being tagged an "underground rapper," but he refuses any limitations that the outside world may put on that term.
"To me, EPMD was underground even though it was going gold," he says. "It wasn't mainstream. The intention, in my mind, wasn't pop-intended. Even if it graduated to that place, it wasn't made with that in mind. I always thought the term 'underground' was incredible.
"I didn't like that [people] started to [think] 'underground is broke' and 'mainstream is paid.' Or the limits you put on underground or trying to make it a sound. That's weird to me. I don't think there's a sound. But now, instead of 'underground,' people are calling it 'lo-fi' now."
"In the same sense, I don't think somebody who has bars, who has hit records, feels good about being called 'pop,' either. Labels suck. But we need 'em."
*HEADER CREDIT: Evidence of Dilated Peoples performs a live concert at the Arena Stage during Roskilde Festival 2014. Here rapper Evidence is seen live on stage. Denmark, 04/07 2014. (Photo by: PYMCA/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)