"We'll be out there for about two weeks, but I try to do four to six weeks at least once a year," Mr. P Chill tells me of his current Life Sentence Tour. The Sacramento-based MC is in Oregon for a couple shows and will soon visit New Mexico for the third time in recent years. But even these smaller jaunts weren't the norm just a few years back. "It was actually my wife," he says. "She's the one who pushed me to get out and tour again; I had been more involved with my visual art." He's talking spray-can art—he used to do massive pieces on boxcars and buildings—but hip-hop and live performance will always be his first love.
A combination MC, producer and political mouthpiece, Mr. P Chill has created hip-hop since, he says, he was about 12 or 13. His first release was a cassette single in July of 1992, and to this day he's got a throwback flow layered over DIY production. Take "Funk 25," his newest single released in celebration of that past 25 years hustling: The beat has a pop hook, but it's gritty; the vocal cadence feels more late-1980s. It's sick.
"I became politically aware at a younger age," he expands, "because a lot of the music I listened to was politically inspired hip-hop like Chuck D or Ice-T, and as I got older, as I started to perform more, I started to feel like I had the platform to really be saying something."
He grew up in a mostly-white neighborhood in Sacramento, but as a bit of an outcast. Either bullied or ignored by the kids in his neighborhood, P Chill turned to hip hop "for the storytelling and the realness. … Looking back, I was disenfranchised and never accepted, so I think the political hip-hop and rap spoke to me because of the anger."
This is evident throughout his body of work, but nothing hits quite as hard as "Dear Crooked Cop," a short yet hard-hitting beef track released earlier this year in response to rising police violence in an already explosive era. "You inflict pain in the name of holding justice," he raps with a barely subdued rage. "The far right says they had it coming. Really? A death sentence for running?"
Of course, P Chill understands this may be difficult for some to swallow, but he'd rather focus on something real than crank out poppy fluff. "It really bothers me when I hear people with no substance in their songs, especially if they've achieved mainstream success," he says. "I guess it's not up to me to judge them, but I try to use my platform to really be saying something."
This has become an even more important ethos during the Trump presidency. "Sometimes it really gets me down, but sometimes it gets me really fired up," P Chill says. "There are days when I've wanted to go out and create, but I'll feel helpless—I keep thinking I'll wake up." In his younger days, he'd have been out in the streets protesting, but now, he says, his music is the message. "I don't deserve or expect any praise for what I'm doing, I'm just trying to change the world in a positive way," he says. "Younger P Chill probably would have had something different to say, but as I get older, if I'm gonna keep with that kind of attitude and keep judging my success based on what other people are thinking of the music—no. That's just gonna break your heart."
Life Sentence Tour with Mr. P Chill, Mr. Hooper and Cleen
Saturday Oct. 28. $5. The Underground, 200 W San Francisco St.
Friday Nov. 3. Free. Mine Shaft Tavern, 2846 Hwy. 14, Madrid, 473-0743