It’s only February but Planet Asia is excited about this year. He’s got a new album coming out this month, Black Belt Theatre. The new disc is a star-studded album, one that features Talib Kweli, Paul Wall, Raekwon and many more. But, there’s more than that. He’s also got what he considers “a classic” coming out later in the year with his Durag Dynasty project, an album completely produced by The Alchemist.
That excitement is also hard to knock if you understand his story. “That’s what people don’t know,” he explained. During this piece, he shared all that he went through as a kid, losing both parents, seeking his own education and trying to make it out of Fresno, California with a goal and a mic. He also shared his excitement for others, talking about how proud he is of Fashawn’s success and what that has meant for his career. Excitement still kicking, Planet Asia is poised to make this a year to remember. But it all begins with his upcoming solo album, Black Belt Theatre, due out February 28.
Planet Asia Explains Black Belt Theatre Input From Raekwon, Others
HipHopDX: I read that the process with this Black Belt Theatre project was a bit different for you. What can you say about the producers and artists on this album and how they allowed you to bring something unique to your discography with this one?
Planet Asia: The bulk of the album was produced by these kids named Dirty Diggs. They’re two Filipino cats that’s brothers that live out here in Los Angeles. I’m a big fan of their music and they do a lot of crate digging so I wanted them to do a bulk of the album. I plan on putting them on. They down with Gold Chain [Military]. Twiz The Beat Pro’s a new cat, too. He’s pretty dope. He did like three joints on there. You already know Soul Professor because he did work on the first Cali Agents album [How The West Was One]. Then there’s Oh No, which is Madlib’s brother. You ain’t gotta say no more. Oh No’s crazy with it. Khrysis is amazing with his beats, too. I think it all fit who I am as Planet Asia and what I’m known for…Also, shout out to Wandering Worx, Daddy Real and Nature Sounds [Records] for backing up this project. Those three cats, they definitely doing their thing with this project.
DX: What about the emcees who came along? We see a lot of familiar faces working with you, longtime collaborators but also others like Raekwon on “No Apologies” and more.
Planet Asia: Right. Ah, man. It was a blessing to get [Raekwon] on the album, especially after the success he’s had over these past couple years. For him to get on my album was an honor. That just goes to show me that I’m still relevant because I know he ain’t gonna do no bullshit. So, it was a lovely thing.
DX: It’s also interesting to hear balance on the disc. You got Rae on there, but then you got Paul Wall as well.
Planet Asia: Right, right. I always thought Paul Wall was ill. He’s one of the dope Southern emcees, so sooner or later, I had to get him on the album. That was always one of my plans to do a song with Paul Wall. I ended up meeting him through Strong Arm Steady and we hit it off ever since. He’s dope, man. Paul Wall is a dope cat.
DX: The balance is in the fact that you have Paul Wall (“All Mine”) and Krondon (“The Line of Fire”) on it. You have Phil Da Agony (“The Line of Fire”) and Fashawn (“Fuck Rappers”) on there. You have the veterans and the more new emcees. You have different regions represented as well.
Planet Asia: It’s crazy, man. I can’t wait until the world hears this album.
Planet Asia Sheds Light On Education, Upbringing & High School
DX: When they do hear it, they’ll hear lines like, "Killer with the heart of a monk" and then you talk about being "a thug with esoteric verses." That speaks to balance yet again. How crucial has that been for you, to have that balance?
Planet Asia: When I got into Hip Hop, that’s how music was for me. So, that’s an element I kept, where it’s street but it’s still has this esoteric-ness to it.
DX: Some of the lines here really stood out. For instance, on “Tell the World,” you have a line that says, "High school had me agitated." What do you recall about those days that had you agitated?
Planet Asia: After your ninth grade year and the middle of your tenth grade year, you realize, like, I was done with this high school shit. I was already wondering what I was gonna be doing with my life. “Am I gonna try to go to college and get a regular job?” I knew myself so to lie to myself would have been bad. If I would have just went to college for the sake of my folks or whatever, I would never have been doing what I love to do and who knows if I would have accomplished what I needed to accomplish in life. I had to go for mines. I graduated from home studies because I got tired of school. The funnest thing about high school for me was I had a Jazz/Hip Hop class. I actually had a band and I got a grade for rhyming. After that was over with, I didn’t really want to go to school no more.
DX: It sounds like that but then you do say, “But still graduated and wasn’t mad I made it.” Why was it important to graduate?
Planet Asia: I wanted to make my parents proud. Getting a diploma is everything. I didn’t want to be one of those dudes that late down the line would have to get a G.E.D. or some bullshit. I was like, “Let me at least get my high school diploma and I’m good with that.”
DX: That’s seems like a real intelligent move for a young man to make.
Planet Asia: Oh, yeah, for sure. Education is important. Now, when I was in school, I can honestly say I stayed in the library. I always knew as an emcee, I wanted to be an emcee and the best emcees knew shit so I stayed in the library when I was in high school. I read every book that I could get my hands on that dealt with African history or anything dealing with culture, not even necessarily Black history but all history.
DX: But soon after that, you explain that you "got this Rap thing figured out." When did you feel you finally had this game figured out?
Planet Asia: Well, when I got out of high school. When I got with Rasco, that’s when I figured I had something going f’real, real, when the world heard me and not just the block. When I first left California and left to London, just as a hype man, I knew I was in store for something.
DX: Take me back to that because for someone who is obviously driven to learn more about culture, and about history and about the the world, what was it like to actually experience that?
Planet Asia: You know, that was just the second time I actually left California. The only time I ever left California in my entire life was to Atlanta for a Rap seminar. That was my first time as a young man leaving California and it happened to be to London. I was on the road with Rasco and the Jungle Brothers and that was my first time doing anything that was real. Rasco was signed to Universal [Records]. We on MTV and all kinds of wild shit. To go from being a local little dude doing my little Rap thing to bam, you on MTV, it’s like wow. It was quick. It happened real fast for me. It let me know that I didn’t do all that work…Before that, I went through a lot of stress, man. That’s what people don’t know. I grew up with a lot of weight on my shoulders. I didn’t grow up with my mom and dad. All I really had was my grandmother taking care of me. I had a lot of pressure on my head about wanting to be something in life. It was just a fear of mine, to be a nobody in life. I didn’t want to die being a nobody. You know what I’m saying? You know that stage, when you’re 18 years old, 19 years old, that one little stage when you don’t really know where you’re going with your life? That shit is some scary shit. You know what I mean? You work at a regular-ass job like, this can’t be it, you know what I mean? There gotta be more to life than this. That’s why I encourage young people to leave your area. If you haven’t traveled outside the city you’re from, I advise you to do it if you’re young. You’ll thank yourself later.
DX: You spoke on that pressure. How did that drive you? I imagine it’s obviously scary, like you were saying, but also that it must have pushed you to great lengths.
Planet Asia: Yeah, not only that but a lot of my friends died. A lot of my friends got killed or they got locked up. Seeing that too, I didn’t want to be a statistic. Having the stress of being a young kid without a biological mother and father, you don’t want a double whammy. I was smart enough to know, “My life is already kind of fucked up. I don’t want to make it more fucked up than it already is.” I know the rabbit hole could’ve went deeper. The only time I ever seen the flowers bloom was within this music. That was my best bet.
DX: You spoke about figuring Rap out, but was there ever a point where you thought the opposite? Was there ever a point where you asked, “Do I really have this figured out?”
Planet Asia: Um, I never really had a bad experience with this Hip Hop thing since the time I picked up a mic. I probably had like one bump in the road but it didn’t make me question it. It made me question the people around me at the time. Other than that, nah. I wouldn’t rhyme just for the sake of rhyming. I rhyme for the reaction. The reaction I’ve always gotten from people was the reaction to where I was like, “Damn, I must really have something because people never really treated me this way before.” I’m not just talking about being famous. I’m talking about before I actually picked up a mic in front of people. I’ve never been considered really wack. You could tell if you’re wack or not because no one likes your shit. But the majority of the people are like, “Yo, your shit is ill!” People that don’t know you tell you that then you kind of know you’ve got something. It’s different if people that know you tell you that. I can’t really believe that shit. You go somewhere else and people are like, “Yo, you got something!” I’ve been getting that since I was eleven years old. Literally, since I was 11 years old, people been telling me I was dope.
DX: It’s similar to what you say on the album about basketball. You say, “Used to hoop a little but it never was my dream. If I ain’t going to the League, man, fuck a team.”
Planet Asia: Yup. Same shit. I was alright at basketball but I wasn’t NBA status so I was like, “I’m not gonna waste my time trying to go pro when there’s a million dudes around the world that’s way better than me at this. But, there ain’t a million dudes around the world that’s way better than me at this! You know what I’m saying? Let me master this.”
Planet Asia On Bond With Fellow Fresno Native Fashawn
DX: Now, I also wanted to talk about Fashawn. There was a show last year, I believe it was his first headlining show in Los Angeles. You didn’t have to be there and you didn’t have to be so kind. But you were incredibly humble to the people around the crowd. Then, you went up on stage. I wanted to ask, how has that relationship progressed over the years. He’s always talked about you being a great mentor and friend. I know you always support him. How has that relationship progressed over the years?
Planet Asia: Man, that dude…I’m so proud of that dude right there to the point where I don’t even know what to do with myself when I see [Fashawn]. Our lives are kind of parallel too, as far as how we grew up and the weight we had on our shoulders. If you ask him, he’ll also tell you he had to grow up real quick and learn to be a man early. To see someone make it out of the hood where we come from, it’s hard to make it out of Fresno. I don’t think people realize that shit. It’s one of those places where it feels like no hope at times. If you not being productive and you don’t have a goal, that city could suck you up. There’s a lot of talent in Fresno, a lot of talent. I’m just happy that me and him, our music is universal enough for people to check. So far, we ain’t missed. You know? I’m just proud that he took the road that I took, not scared to be yourself. Even though we from a city where it’s a lot of street, gangbang, black market, dark lifestyle shit going on, we were still able to take that and incorporate this thing we call Hip Hop and make something out of ourselves. I’m proud of that. I really get a kick out of that.
DX: Obviously you brought fans to Fashawn as a mentor, but has that relationship also brought new ears to hear you?
Planet Asia: Hell yeah! Fashawn is from another generation so the cats that didn’t necessarily know about Planet Asia get to hear me He’s like 10 or 11 years younger than me so his fan base is part of the new generation. They listen to Wiz Khalifa, Wale or the Drakes and all that. I’m still relevant. I’m able to live through Fashawn. He didn’t stray away from where we come from, as far as the way we make our music. He dind’t come with some local sounding type music. He came with some international Hip Hop type shit. He carrying the torch, man. He’s someone I can be proud of. I could chill now, yo. We got this.
He definitely is an old soul. I know he had an older brother. I’m just like, “That energy transferred right into you, G. Dudes your age don’t rhyme like that.” That’s how I feel about Willie The Kid. He’s another one of my favorites in that age bracket.