Chali 2na: lyricist, underground stalwart, the ‘Verbal Herman Munster‘… painter and photographer?
For nearly 20 years, Jurassic 5’s Charles “Chali 2na” Stewart has wowed fans with his complete package of lyrical acrobatics, subject matter, and one of the most distinguishable voices that hip-hop has ever known. Now “creepin’ on 50,” as he playfully puts it (okay, he’s only 44), 2na is finally ready to show the world that he can get busy with a mic and a beat or an easel and a brush all the same.
“I’m so grateful that people have recognized what I’ve done as an MC, but now at this point in my life my son is 24 and it feels good to be able to say to him, ‘okay, here’s something else that I can show you,'” says 2na, who is gearing up for the release of his first ever book, Against The Current.
He is currently midway through a European tour with his Jurassic 5 brethren, one that just might be the group’s last tour for quite some time. European crowds have always been extremely receptive to hip-hop acts in a way that American crowds have not, so J5 is enjoying the time overseas with a steadfast dedication to rocking every crowd, whether at festivals or single show venues.
“To be perfectly honest, the people outside of America know us better than the people at home,” says 2na without a hint of irony. “Our career really took off in Europe around 1997 when we first set foot in the UK, and we’ve always gotten a lotta love out here,” he says thoughtfully with a pause, before reiterating: “a lotta love.”
When asked why Europeans seem to appreciate hip-hop shows more than those of us back home, 2na gave numerous thoughtful reasons. “I’ve always thought that Europeans share music the way somebody would share a good book… They understand that it’s harder for us to get to them so when we do come out there they support it to the fullest… also, America is a trend-designing place, so there are lots of places that want to be like us in some form or fashion, especially in a social scene like music,” he says.
Those of you who follow Chali 2na on social media might have noticed his love for photography, which is far from nascent. He is constantly sharing his most recently snapped photos — an art that he aptly dubs “2natography” — that chronicle his life, and they are all very impressive (not impressive for a rapper, impressive in general). Check out some of the recent ones he’s posted of his J5 group-mates, which he’s been using to promote their current tour:
Against The Current, which 2na’s manager Mike Lanza describes as a “coffee table art book,” will be “loosely chronological” in format, with one specific connection that didn’t fit in chronological order. It will include many of his photographs and paintings from over the years. “The new book is a little bit of everything, man. It’s a chronicle of my life as an artist from a visual perspective, so you can understand what was going on at the time I painted this, or how Jurassic was connected to this, you know what I mean? It’s like a blueprint for my fans who know about my whole renaissance,” 2na says with a hearty laugh.
For an MC who is twenty-plus years into an excellent career, giving longtime fans a visual blueprint to his life — a sort of accompaniment to the music — may seem like an obvious idea, but it wasn’t until something life-changing happened that 2na really decided to pursue it. “My father passed away three years ago, after getting sick four years ago,” says 2na. “I was picking his brain about everything that I could before he left this Earth, learning about myself as a person and a lover of art and music. I started thinking that to honor him, and also to show my fans that I’m more than just the Verbal Herman Munster, I could put it all together like this, you know what I’m saying? Because I’m a painter who can rap, not vice versa.”
2na, who has been painting since 1981, is an audio-visual learner who literally paints his verses in his head before writing them. Against The Current will serve the two-fold purpose of honoring his father’s life, as well as showing his son and his fans the full spectrum of his talents. True to Jurassic 5’s roots, the book was financed independently through a successful PledgeMusic campaign, which 2na calls “a blessing,” and may receive full-scale publication soon. “The concept of this book is strictly ‘for my people,’ the people who have supported me all these years. So they’re the ones who are going to get the book,” he says.
For more information on when and how to obtain a copy of ‘Against The Current’ this fall, download JamFeed for free, follow Chali 2na, and stay tuned for the release announcement. It will be pushed straight to your phone as soon as it’s made. You can also follow Chali on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.