Hot Karl: Honesty Is The Best Policy

Hot Karl and Kanye West

At first glance, Hot Karl just looks like your run-of-the-mill white rapper, but at a closer look, he’s much more. This white emcee, who grew up in the suburbs of California, is different than other emcees of his color. Instead of trying to be something he isn’t, Hot Karl sticks to his guns and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about his life and background. That’s what separates him, from other white emcees who tried to portray an image not their own.

Coming up with Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate as a teenager, then gaining the attention of Mack 10, who showed up at his doorstep with $50,000 in cash in an attempt to sign the rapper on the spot, Hot Karl has proved he has enough rap skills to generate an interest his budding rap career.

Choosing Interscope 4 years ago, led Karl to record an album with the likes of Kanye West, Mya, Redman and Fabolous. But just as super stardom looked to be in his immediate future, the label shelved his album, leaving the gifted emcee without a deal. Feeling like Interscope tried to fit him into a formula and image he did not want, he re-grouped and fell off the radar, as he re-thought his plan in hip-hop

Now, years later, Karl has re-emerged with an indie label and has finally dropped the album he wanted to drop in the first place — something honest and true to himself. Karl may not rap about packing a gun or selling drugs, he does something better — raps about being himself.

With his debut, The Great Escape, in store now, Karl sat down with BallerStatus to speak about his past, how he came up, his struggles with being white, and everything in between. For those who haven’t heard of Hot Karl, give us a little info on your background, how you grew up and what inspired you to start rapping.

Hot Karl: I grew up in a small suburb right next to Malibu called Calabasas, California. I grew up somewhat middle-class, which was considered poor where I was brought up. There were just so many rich kids and so many fluent people, and the thing is, I always kinda looked up to that and grew up within those standards. But the truth is that hip-hop music has been my favorite topic always. I studied it, and pretty much followed it my whole life. I was there when I was a kid — I rapped with Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate and Donald D was my manager at the time. I’ve went through the whole thing, but I’ve never really could say the same lyrics as an N.W.A., even though I looked up to them so much. What I wanted to do is take my experiences and my upbringing, and kinda plug it into the hip-hop art form I loved so much and studied for so long. I’ve always tried to bring my upbringing into the music, because I can’t talk about violence or gangbanging — that’s just not me. That’s where Hot Karl came from — just trying to be myself on the tracks. You mentioned you came up with Ice T and Rhyme Syndicate. How did you hook up with those guys back in the day?

Hot Karl: Weirdly enough, when I was 13 years old, I went to a birthday party in my neighborhood — which is filled with music industry people. At the time, Eazy-E and Jerry Heller lived in Calabasas. What I was doing was mimicking the words to a Black Sheep song at the party, and this dude comes up with me and says, “Do you wanna rap?” I was like, “Yea, I’ll kill it,” so he hands me the mic at the party and I just killed it. The guy comes up to me after that and says, “I’m putting together a show next week with Tone Loc and Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate, and I want you to open.” At the time, I had a little rap group that I put together at my middle school, and I was like “We’ll do it.” So we went, practiced for a week — never had a mic in our hands or anything — went and just killed it. We had done talent shows since the third grade, but we never actually opened for anybody. That was actually the first time that I was able to get that shot. I opened for Rhyme Syndicate, and Charlie Jam, who was Ice T’s road manager at the time, and Donald D came up to me and was like, “We would really like to work with you,” so I worked with them for about 5 or 6 months and we went our separate ways. Being that you are an up-and-coming emcee and also being white, talk about some of the struggles you’ve had to go through just trying to come up in the hip-hop game.

Hot Karl: I’d like to pretend like it was real hard and stuff. I think my main problem — whether I was black, white, Asian or anything — I think people get caught off-guard because I’m being really honest on my tracks and not following any of the topics other rappers speak about. I think it’s just coincidently, I’m white and grew up in that upbringing. But as far as in the industry, to be honest, [Eminem] made it easier for all of us. Growing up, I was only around other white kids, so they weren’t really ready to hear hip-hop for a very long time. It wasn’t until like a Nelly popped off, that everyone at a Frat party was yelling like “Uh Oh!” Until then, people weren’t 100% ready for it, and I think that was the only struggle I had being a white kid. The people around me weren’t really ready for me to start rapping. When I wrote my first lyrics in 6th grade, I had read them to someone and a kid literally turned to me and was like, “That’s only for black people.” I was like, number one: that is super racist, and number two: no, it’s not — there was 3rd Base and there was the Beastie Boys. That’s what influenced me to write my own rhymes. I can’t ever say I had that big of a struggle — as much as I’d like to think my life was like “8 Mile” — I just never had the surroundings of other rappers. Before your latest debut album, The Great Escape, you were signed to Interscope Records. Your album got shelved and you were dropped from the label. Tell me about that whole situation and why you feel your album was dropped?

Hot Karl: Well, what had happened was they spent a ton of money getting my album together — there was production from Kanye West, and Sugar Ray was on there, Mya, Redman and Fabolous. They spent over a half a million dollars and everyone seemed excited, and all this stuff involving the project. Then outta nowhere, things just turned. No one was looking at me in the eyes, and the office just seemed a lot colder. I saw the writing on the wall. No one was talking about my single really, so everything got pushed back. Rather than me sit there and try to figure out what happened, I just asked for my release. They willingly gave me my release pretty quickly. I think it was kinda a blessing, because a lot of that music wasn’t really from my heart. It was kinda half-assed, because they were forcing me in there with a Redman and Fabolous — people that aren’t really my friends. I like making music with friends. I mean I don’t really know those dudes that well. [Interscope] paid them a lot of money and we hung out in the studio for a day, but it wasn’t organic and fun like this new record is. I also heard that Mack 10 was interested in signing you back in the day?

Hot Karl: He didn’t sign me, but he tried to. Me and him have been close for a long time. He had heard me on the radio, when I was doing Roll Call on 100.3 The Beat (Los Angeles) and won 45 days in a row. I was the overall champ of all-time. Mack actually came to my parents’ house when I was living at home. He found out my home address, came through with $50,000 in cash, and was like “I’ll sign you right now.” I was like “Umm, this is awkward and very Suge Knight-like,” so I wasn’t really feeling it at the time. But luckily, even though I didn’t sign with him and ended up going with Interscope, he has been nice to me ever since. He always helps me; he’s like my big brother. Anytime I have a question about the industry, I call him. He’s been real nice and hopefully he can help me out with this new project as well. I was listening to your new album. You have these funny skits where you are in the studio and you have a producer trying to make you do things that are considered “hot” in hip-hop right now. And you kinda diss the producer every time, telling him that is not you. Is that kinda true, as far as the why you were treated in the industry?

Hot Karl: Yea! At Interscope, I had heard a lot of “This is your DJ Clue mixtape track” and I’d be like, “NO, it’s not.” It was just like everyone was trying to make it more of a formula. They were trying to make it fit into the mold they are used to, which is what the industry is all about. No body wants to take a real risk and do something different. They would rather just make a ton of money and follow what’s going on. That’s why you don’t hear a lot of new things coming out. That is where the [skits] came from. That and my manager and A&R at the time were both asking me to change lyrics here and there. On the Redman/Fabolous song, I referenced the “Simpsons” in it; they were like “I really think you should change it. This ain’t that type of crowd.” I was like, “Who doesn’t watch the ‘Simpsons’?” It was just that type of stuff over and over. People were just trying to get me to fit within that bubble and that’s where the skits came from. A lot of those skits actually happened at my days with Interscope.

It’s funny in one of the skits, there’s a record label executive who tells me that he wants to sign me. So I ask him, “Have you heard my music?” And he’s like, “Naw, I haven’t heard it” (laughs). That actually happened to me before. That was just so weird to me ’cause there was this $400,000 deal on the table and the label hadn’t even heard my music (laughs). You got the new album, The Great Escape, coming out. Talk about the album a little and what people can expect from it.

Hot Karl: It pretty much hits every genre I’m into. It hits all the hip-hop eras that I have studied. I really tried to make it kinda a full CD of new sh– — of all different types of vibes, and different types of experiences. There is the straight up hip-hop tracks, there’s the more Rock tracks, there’s funny songs, and just all types of stuff. It just represents different parts of me. Honestly, if you go out and buy the CD, the thing you will get most — even if you don’t like the record — you’re gonna get honesty and the truth, and the fact I’m actually trying to be myself on these records. I didn’t give in to saying the same sh– as everyone else. That’s kinda my goal. Do you think the hip-hop audience won’t be able to relate to the things you talk about on the album?

Hot Karl: Well, I hope not everybody. My goal is to really speak to people who wanna hear the truth. The fact of the matter is I don’t know what its like to sell crack — only a handful of people do — but everyone buys the 50 Cent record and loves it. I listened to N.W.A. like there were directions to find my kidnapped mother on it; I studied that sh–. It’s just one of those things that just because I can’t relate to it, I can still respect it. And I think that’s what I’m asking for — the respect issue. Do you feel like white emcees don’t get the respect they deserve in hip-hop?

Hot Karl: sh–, I think white emcees get too much respect. I’ll diss people; I don’t care. I think that Stagga Lee guy was horrible, but everybody talked about him ’cause he was white. It’s like ever since Eminem, people are looking so hard for that second dude that everybody gets a chance. I think Bubba Sparxxx is great; I think he’s a good rapper with more than just that “Ugly” single. His last record was phenomenal. I think [white emcees] get a lot of respect, but you know everyone gets compared to Eminem. He’s a great rapper, but it’s not fair to get compared to him. Let people be themselves. Bubba for example, he’s a great rapper, but no one cared.

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