5th Avenue and Plush Lush
Long before I knew what it meant, I remember seeing stickers around town with the Neighborhood Watch logo draped in a dookie rope and adorned in Cazals. The logo stood out and commanded attention, and most importantly sparked curiosity and made you think. It is no coincidence that the hip-hop collective that the logo represents posses the same qualities. A crew of many, The Neighborhood Watch consists of several factions and solo artists alike, and as the crew’s founder 5th Avenue explains it, serves as a network of like-minded artists whose focus is to ignite thought through music. 5th Avenue, alongside Plush Lush make up one of branches of the crew, and under the name Rogue Scholars, they create feel good music with substance. The Sacramento natives are focused and intent on bringing a change to Sacramento hip-hop, and as 5th Avenue said in the closing of the interview, “We aren’t getting younger, but we are getting better.” And to be honest, it’s not difficult to feel comfortable and confident about the state of affairs with the Neighborhood Watch and the Rogue Scholars on the job.
Prior to meeting each other what were each of you doing musically?
5th Avenue: I always loved music; it’s in my blood. I got relatives who play, like my uncle plays sax in Mumbo Gumbo. Also I started writing poetry at a young age and also performing in theater. The performing background was there, and then just the passion for words sparked my interest in hip-hop. At the time we met, I was very new to it myself. I had been performing for a couple of months, but I was doing a lot of spoken word. I went through this transformation though to where I wasn’t really feeling the poetry thing, it doesn’t have as much freedom.
Plush Lush: I started out in a punk rock band when I was 14. The band was No Regard, we had lightweight success, but some members went on to form Tera Melos. I was doing that from 14 to 21, doing vocals and all that, but while I was doing that I was always into hip-hop and was writing rhymes on the side.
For each of you how does poetry and theater backgrounds come into play with your rhyming, and then Plush how does the punk rock background work itself into what you do?
5th: I hear from people I’m very animated and bring a lot of energy. That is just me being comfortable on stage, me being in my own zone. Being on stage has always been my release, and growing up I didn’t have many outlets but I always lets loose when I was on stage. That energy just transferred to music.
PL: It’s something I always try to keep with me. The punk rock ethic, just working really hard, doing things yourself, the DIY approach, that all molded me. By the time I started rhyming, I had already done 100 horrible shows where no one came. You have to endure that, and keep going and always give 100 percent regardless. One thing we try to do is always give a good show regardless. For him though, the between songs stuff, just talking to the crowd, the theater and poetry stuff comes out a lot then.
Can you talk about the formation of Neighborhood Watch and how it all came about?
5th: Cats look at me as a founder, and I hate to take that title, but I brought a lot of people together. By chance, all these people I had known all came together and just meshed really well. It was a big network that nobody realized was there until everyone sat down together. It was a culmination of things. I had a falling out with this one crew, and then I was developing some ideas of my own that I thought could progress hip-hop in town. That all catalyzed the Neighborhood Watch. I was living at this spot in south Sacramento and we would have a lot of sessions there, drinking cheap beer and just ciphering all day. Before we really tried to make music and throw shows we became friends. I think that’s what has kept us so strong. We’ve grown a lot since. Everyone is doing their own individual thing, but the Watch is still strong.
PL: It’s one of those things where the sum is greater than the parts. Definitely we’re a crew that is a lot of separate entities, but none of us use it as a crutch. We’re just always trying to expand and grow, and that just makes the crew stronger. I’ve heard people use that as a negative, like you got 100 people in the crew, you don’t do shows as a crew, or whatever, but the truth of it is we all grinding real hard separately and that just makes the name bigger.
You mentioned the different entities, can you talk about the Rogue Scholar name and what the two of you bring as a group?
PL: At this point we’re both college dropouts. College dropouts with the intent of going back, which is probably the worst type, but at least we work [laughs]. But I feel if you listen to our music, I feel like it has a lot of depth in terms of lyricism and we do things that maybe other people wouldn’t do. We don’t dumb it down; we smarten it up. We want to teach you but we are subversive about it. We question things, question the media and authority, and that’s where the rogue part comes in. You know we try to make it smart and intellectual, but also make it so that it could be understood by many.
5th: I think a part of the Rogue Scholar mantra is to get out the information that you don’t get taught in school or get in CNN or mainstream media. If you listen to his album, you’ll get a lot of stuff that a lot of people don’t want you to hear about. The aim is to really promote critical thinking and bring hip-hop to a place where you can debate it intellectually.
PL: I think we have a fresh subject matter. We talk about a lot of stuff the average political or conscious rapper might not talk about. I’m from Sri Lanka, which has been under decades of civil war and terrorism, and with my music I’m always trying to bring that out because it’s a story that’s not covered. With 5th, he’s constantly exploring things that aren’t the norm and being creative with it.
5th: That’s the thing. We try to come at it with different angles. We’re very sincere, like you’re not gonna get some fake shit with us.
You can download 5th Avenues’ mixtape The Coolest Hoods In The City Of Trees for free at www.myspace.com/theneighborhoodlum, and purchase Plush Lushs’ debut EP A Blind Mans Dream at Dimple Records.