Off Key (Print)
Q&A interview for Art Nouveau Magazine

Words by Dominick Brady

“Since 1995 I haven’t had a job," recalled Charles Misodi Njapa, better known as 88-Keys. Under the moniker 88-Keys a signature sound was created. The sound matured while recording with artists from Musiq Soulchild and Macy Gray to Talib Kweli and Kayne West. Starting his career as a vinyl scout for the infamous record collector John Corerro, 88-Keys rubbed shoulders with the likes of Qtip from A Tribe Called Quest and later The Large Professor of the influential early 90's Hip Hop group Main Source. It was a chance encounter with such Hip Hop legends that would launch his career.

“One day Qtip brought over Large Pro and I was playing the ensoniq. Then he started freestyling to the beat," recalls 88keys in a recent phone interview.
88-Keys sold his first beat to producer Mike Zoot shortly after. As a follow up he worked with Mos Def and Talib Kweli on their “Black Star” project before later collaborating with Most Def on his first solo project "Black on Both Sides" and with underground emcee J-Live. 88 stepped from behind the keys and in front of the mic after becoming frustrated with music he was hearing in today's marketplace. “I got tired of buying an album where I only liked 2 or 3 of the songs and one of them were the single," says Keys. “One of the reasons I stopped purchasing albums is as the years went by people’s albums became wack. If I’m not saying something valuable, then I want to say something clever and witty.”

After working on his album “The Death of Adam” for two and a half years, he, “made sure to treat each and every song like it’d be someone’s favorite song. I made sure it didn’t have any filler.” He wanted each song to stand on it’s own. With a template to approach future albums, 88-Keys has been on the road to support and promote his last effort. Art Nouveau magazine caught up with 88-Keys just before a secret MySpace show in New York City.

Art Nouveau Magazine: What are you up to lately?

88-Keys: Man, right now I’m trying to do this show tonight–the MySpace show. I’m going to try to to record a song before I leave for the show, which might be kind of tricky.

ANM: Tell me about touring off your latest project, “The Death of Adam.” Had you been on tour extensively before this album?

88-Keys: Extensively, no. I have been on a few tours with Common and Qtip. I went on tour with Aceyalone. It’s all fun. I learn something new every time I hit the stage.

ANM: What kind of things have you learned on stage? You are normally in the background as a producer. What have you learned getting out in front of the people every night?

88-Keys: I’ve learned crowd control. I’ve learned how to maneuver a crowd when things aren’t working out to my liking and more importantly I learned to have fun. I always (try to) have fun with anything I’m doing anywhere. Anything that I want to do and I’m doing it, I try to have fun doing it whether the crowd wants to be on my side or not. At the end of the day I’m having fun and I’m getting paid so for me it is always a win/win situation.

ANM: So it’s always been about maximizing fun?

88-Keys: Yep. I would not be doing anything I do unless I’m having fun. The minute I’m not having fun doing something, I won’t do it. That’s stems from my career into my personal life at home. If I’m not having
fun doing something, I won’t do it.

ANM: Do you sometimes miss out on an opportunity because of that? Do you make a decision to pass on an opportunity because you don’t think it will be fun?

88-Keys: Yeah, yeah I’ve passed on at least half a dozen opportunities just because I didn’t feel like doing it or represent the brand they wanted me to promote or represent. Like with clothing, I’m not wearing anything outside of Ralph Lauren. So people could come up to me with a big check to pose for a company, I’m good. I’ll never rock that stuff.

ANM: You’ve been known as an obsessive when it comes to Polo gear. Do you have a particular ritual or way of transporting your wardrobe while on tour?

88-Keys: No. Not at all. At the end of the day it’s just clothes. I just so happen to be fond of this brand of clothing only. I don’t have any rituals or a personal shopper. The closest I get to a personal shopper picking stuff up for me is my wife. No special treatment with my laundry or anything. It just bugs me out that people are tripping now that they find out I’ve worn Polo for the last 16 years of my life. It’s like somebody tripping that I got a haircut.

ANM: It’s natural for you.

88-Keys: Yeah, yeah. I appreciate all the attention I’m getting off of it. I denounce all those claims where people say I’m the Polo King. I will never refer to myself as the Polo King. I think I may have been seen on video somewhere saying I’m the Polo Don, but I stricken that from my record. I’m just a dude that loves Ralph Lauren’s Polo clothing line and that’s pretty much the bottom line. I may wear more than the average person but I’m not the king of it.

ANM: Changing gears: you’ve worked with several well-known artists over the years. Who do you look forward to working with next?

88-Keys: I look forward to working with this Rock group called The Morning Benders. They’re my favorite group right now. I’m slated to work with them so that’s in the works already. Pretty much anyone I consider dope is who I look forward to working with.

ANM: What makes you consider an act or artist “dope”?

88-Keys: Many things go into it. It could be the artist or rapper’s rapping voice or singing voice or their flow, their ideas. For instance, I like Jadakiss a lot. He’s got that crazy voice. I like different people for different reasons. I remember I like the originally I liked Slum Village because they were making up their own words. I remember chilling with them in ‘97 and asked them, “What’s that word you said?” He was like, “I dunno. We just made up a word.”

ANM: How long will this round of touring last?

88-Keys: I re-join a tour August 1st. Right now I have a little break at home. But it’s not really a break because I have so much work I have to get caught up on. I have features on people’s albums and mixtapes.
I’m working wth Peter Bjorn and John on their stuff. I’m working with the rapper Blu from the west coast. I have a bunch of stuff I have to get done on top of working on my second album and my second mixtape.

ANM: So we can expect a follow up mixtape and album?

88: Oh yeah. I’m in this for the long run. I’m not just a producer turned rapper looking to put out one critically acclaimed album and then just disappear. This is my career and I’m having fun doing it so it’s all good. I want to keep doing it and keep putting myself out there.

ANM: Do you think the second album will also be a concept album?

88: I’m pretty sure it will be. That’s what I’m leaning towards. Itwill not be like the “Return or album.” Adam is dead and buried. He’s pushing up daisies– six feet deep.