On Sept. 9th, The Wild Detectives will host the Wordspace sponsored Utopian Fantasies event, featuring rapper Fidel, filmmaker Michael A. Morris, and writers Lee Escobedo and Patrick Patterson-Carroll. Curated by Randall Garrett, it will be the second of nine multimedia art events for the Utopia/Paradise themed Freefall Festival beginning Sept. 8th and ending on Dec. 17th.
“Just some thoughts for the mind/I take a glimpse into time/Watch the blimp read ‘the world is mine.’”
–Nas, If I Ruled the World
Jared Rodriguez, aka Fidel, is a Dallas MC by way of East Orange, NJ. Despite only two mixtapes and little performative experience, Fidel is a young artist with classic sensibilities. Talking to him is a real treat; a unique insight into all things hip-hop. Whether musing on the form itself or the business behind it, he displays an understanding of the game that is not unheard of, but is rare in most young MCs.
His first mixtape, Oldie but Goodie, had him spitting over his favorite beats. Designed to pay homage to the MCs and DJs who’d inspired him, he used the material to shine a light on himself against a crowded field of aspiring hip-hop artists. Though littered with pert jabs at his peers, the approach to Oldie is a counter to the raw power and audacity of Kendrick’s Control verse by focusing on general critique rather than wholesale deconstruction of individuals. True to the meaning of his moniker, Fidel delivered with the verve and fun reminiscent of the golden age.
The latest release, Utilization (2014), builds on some of the same lyrical themes from Oldie, only backed by original production from G. Garcia, DJ Don’t Sleep (Jose Hernandez), and No$ae. Not surprisingly, the EP, subtitled, The Prelude, is a more cohesive effort in which he finally occupies his own space, comfortably navigating it with more substantive critiques (social and artistic), boasts balanced by introspection (gravitas; equal parts honesty and hubris), and a delivery that sounds fresh despite his classic approach to attacking the beat.
So before he occupies The Wild Detectives on Sept. 9th, I had a chat with Fidel.
Patrick Paterson-Carroll: Given the event’s Utopian Fantasies title and the overall theme of Utopia therein, talk about how your work fosters Utopian ideals.
Fidel: A way to show that Hip-Hop isn’t one-sided. That you can have diversity, balance, and still cater to everyone at the end of the day. I try to show people that aspect of utopia with my music.
PPC: One of the goals of the Freefall Festival is to pit ideas of Utopia against Paradise. In the past, we’ve mused on beefs in hip-hop. Two of the more talked about beefs are Pac vs. Biggie and Jay-Z vs. Nas. Which MCs embodied one or the other, and where do you stand? Is there another beef to which you can apply the same metric?
Fidel: I feel like when it comes to Pac and Biggie, Big represented paradise and Pac represented utopia. When you listen to Biggie, he’s telling you the perfect rags to riches story. But he also embodies the paradise aspect because he’s talking about his riches, his cars, clothes, women and everything else that’s his. Not to mention his affiliation with Puff, who is the epitome of a man in paradise. But there’s nothing wrong with that because it makes Big the best yin to Pac’s yang.
Pac represented utopia because you felt like he wanted what was best for everyone. You could hear it in his voice, tone, aggression, lifestyle, music, and actions. Even in past interviews, you can hear the passion for wanting to do good for other people. His mother being a Black Panther and an advocate for social justice only makes it more evident that Pac was a man who had the people’s interests in mind. That’s what makes Pac and Big so great. They are two sides of a legendary coin, and I can never compare them. It’s still bittersweet that the beef never got resolved.
As far as another beef in today’s world that I can argue utopia versus paradise, I can’t think of any. As we all know, ‘beef’ doesn’t have the same meaning it had in ‘96, ‘97, and 2001.
PPC: Have you ever sat down and mapped out a trajectory for your career a la Kanye or are you more playing the hand you’ve been dealt?
Fidel: Yeah I’ve mapped out goals that I’ve set for myself. I feel like every artist has. But as everyone knows, it can be a tricky process. There are plenty of things in life that can become roadblocks for me and my map to success. Some because of life being life, some because I’ve brought those roadblocks upon myself. Which is why I mostly stick to my guns and play the hand I’m dealt. And I always try to be prepared and ready for when good opportunities present themselves to me. I feel like you have to because sometimes things don’t always go according to plan.
PPC: You name dropped Nas’ classic debut Illmatic on one of your songs. Was that the feel you were going for with Utilization, and if so, how close do you think you came to that realization?
Fidel: With Utilization, it was more of a way to show and prove who Fidel is with original production. To show the world what I could do when left to my own devices. It was like a test for me. That’s why there isn’t any features on it. That’s also why I started off with an EP. To give everybody a glimpse into my mind and what I’m capable of. I don’t think that full circle Illmatic moment will happen for me until I drop my next full length release. It’s coming very soon. I want to give people my interpretation of a debut album.
PPC: You have a lot of opinions about other artists in hip-hop. How do you balance the critiques of your peers with your love of the artform?
Fidel: I welcome the critique of my peers. Everybody gets critiqued at the end of the day anyway. It’s interesting getting critiqued by fellow artists though, because on one hand, they’re pretty much the only people outside of first time listeners or long time supporters who could understand your point of view the most. On the other hand, for some artists, a peer’s critique is the last thing they think they need. You know how the saying goes, ‘I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit.’ I feel like as long as it’s love and from an honest place, critiquing is all good. It keeps the love for the art form alive. We as artists must always do our best and make sure that fellow artists are doing the same thing.
PPC: Since The Wild Detectives is a bookstore, what is your favorite book?
Fidel: My favorite book? I think I would have to say Common’s autobiography, One Day It’ll all Make Sense. Common is one of my favorite MCs. I don’t care what anybody says. Top 5. So it was interesting reading more about his life and his story. You learn more about his journey and things he hasn’t spoken about in his music.
Ya’ll are probably gonna laugh at me for this, but another book that I found enjoyable was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Not only did I spend a whole summer reading the book, I studied it. It gave you so much info on Voldemort’s past and everything. Plus, I read it the same year the movie came out, and I can honestly say the movie was wack, yo! I know that movies based on books don’t cover everything, but that movie did not do the book much justice. They got it right at the very end when Dumbledore died, fam.
I also need to re-read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it once in high school because one of my teachers recommended it to me. Shoutout to AP aka Alejandro Perez. But there were things in the book that I wasn’t able to catch and understand. Now as an adult, I have to read it again. Some more books on my list to read is a book my dad gave me about a corrupt cop called, Breaking Rank, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and The 48 Laws of Power.
You can listen to Fidel here. He will be performing at Wild Detectives on Sept. 9th. at 8 P.M.
Patrick Patterson-Carroll is a writer, artist, and co-host of the "What is Cinema?" podcast. In 2014, he published a "I Dig Symmetry and Six Other Stories" through Thought Catalog and was a sometime contributor there. He has served as contributing web editor for THRWD Magazine, and has also written for Arts and Culture Texas.