Since the days of DJ Kool Herc rocking the rec rooms of the legendary Sedgwick Ave apartment, a core element of Hip Hop has always been being able to rock the party. As the decades passed and styles evolved, today’s MCs have largely adapted to the formulaic approach of sacrificing lyrical content for a commercially viable single while saving their hungriest bars for their B-Sides. But some have found a way to satisfy both the lyrically conscious backpacker on their bikes as well as the wildest partier getting turnt in the club. One of those MCs is Minneapolis’ own Franz Diego.
After gaining notoriety through co-hosting Radio K’s award winning Hip Hop show, The Beat Box, and rocking the rowdiest of crowds with Illuminous 3, Franz Diego has become ‘the guy to know’ on everything that is happening within the Twin Cities. Now that he is hosting Turnt Up! Dance Nights at Honey, the WAG WZRD has decided to release his long awaited follow up to his self-titled debut, Float. Featuring the production of Acid Trap aficionado, Enron Hubbard, Franz Diego has found a way to channel his inner most dialogues on to the dance floor without missing a beat. With two years of self-discovery and embracing the existential wonderment, Float is an album that celebrates the freedom that comes from wandering through life while ‘waggin’ on the scene.
The Album That Almost Wasn’t
“I believe we started working together towards the end of summer 2012,” said Franz Diego, “I believe the whole thing was finished being recorded and we started the mixing process by about the same time in 2013 and then Enron moved out to Bayfield, Wisconsin to live with family, which meant we could no longer work on the record in person together, which slowed and stunted the process. Somewhere in the months following, the original files went missing and we were left with what we had 2-tracked. Then for months after, I was unsure what I wanted to do next and all during this time I was also working on Retrograde. I think it was spring of 2014 that Ninety said he wanted to help finish the project and make it sound as good as he could and we had it totally finished by Midsummer 2014. “
While deciding what to do with the pieces of the album, Franz Diego was left to question what his next move. While working on his next project, he decided to put Float on the shelf while focusing on the EPs that would be known as Retrograde and Equinox. By exploring the lunar energies between both the Mercury Retrograde and the Spring Equinox that were in play, he reached out to local producers, MC Harv and Xanja to capture the moments and to relieve him of his anxiousness.
“Float as it stands was basically finished before Retrograde and Equinox, but I was in a really frustrated place with music and didn’t feel like putting Float out at the time it was done. So I wanted to drop these other smaller projects first to kind of reel people back in from Sense of Self and show them that I can do other sounds and styles. The Retrograde and Equinox themes made sense for the time and urgency of those records, but Float stands on its own and to me. (It) is a culmination of all the styles of all the previous records. ”
Shortly after the release of Equinox, local producer Ninety reached out to Franz Diego to help excavate his lost album. By working with the stems of the original tracks, Ninety re-inflated the bounce and wavering trap of Float, helping to complete the album by spring of 2014.
“Ninety actually really helped get this record out….He would do whatever he could to get the best sound out of what we had left and that was a huge favor.”
His Time within the Twin Cities
As Franz Diego and Enron Hubbard began working on the album’s first song, Wag Town Roll Out, the thematic traces of the Twin Cities continues to embed itself within the its consciousness. And after a decade of being an active member of the local Hip Hop community, Float captures the spirit of the Southside neighborhood that helped raise the Purple City Pioneer. While Franz Diego continues to grow within the Indie Hip Hop mecca, he has noticed a change within the scene.
“The brief answer is the internet,” said Franz Diego. “Now, if you have the talent and drive you have more of a chance than ever. But I think people are focused more on the possibilities than the reality. If your talent and perspective is there and isn’t unique and of value to others, the internet will do nothing for you.”
Although the advent of the internet did a lot to promote and include many new artists into the scene, this new level of exposure also brought forth a new form of selection that has elevated some and depreciated others. While local editors have marked him as a familiar dissenter to local coverage of the expanding Hip Hop scene, Franz Diego continues on his quest for equality by adding his two cents in his song “Slow Motin” where he raps: “Every damn day, I’m saying something/but these stations out here ain’t playing nothing/so hella weird, people start to change frontin.”
“One thing that still holds true in the Twin Cities is that it’s extremely supportive of local music, but the issue is what local music is being supported. The stations and publications still support what’s comfortable for them and that is a white middle class audience and that is troubling… As inclusive as our cities can be, when it comes down to ‘who’ they want to become ‘successful’ and exposed on a larger platform, again they are looking for something that won’t ruffle a lot of feathers and will still make money. And who are the main spenders on hip hop in the Twin Cities? Middle class Midwestern whites. So that is the filter that we are experiencing right now and it make sense in terms of the dominant population here, however, where rap and Hip Hop comes from and who it was intended for was never that demographic and in the end, the ones who are hurt the most are the talented people of color who birthed and incubated the culture. And simply, there are just far more talented people who are not getting exposed to people who would appreciate them, because again, they have narrowed the diversity. It’s not that the ones who are being pushed up are wack, although that’s up for debate; it’s more so that they are only pushing up a sliver in a whole dynamic and diverse array of talent.”
Along with his displeasure with the local gatekeepers, Slow Motion also sees this as being part of a larger problem of how the media industry largely influences topics of conversation and developing a sense of apathy as heard within his lyrics: “People being harmed in every way/but the media be looking the other way/Just seen my brother do it the other day.”
“Without a doubt there is an agenda,” said Franz Diego.” “I think as a culture dominated by media we have lost something of utter importance within it and that is diversity. There is an agenda to push a mono-cultural view that just is not realistic or healthy. We need difference, we need contrast and juxtaposition and conflict. It’s necessary.”
Even with his frustrations, Franz Diego does not allow Float to be blogged down by negativity as it offers an air of nostalgia throughout, giving the co-host of the LISTEN to MPLS podcast to share his stories within a larger audience. One song that captures this sentiment is “White Sands” where the Minneapolis native reminisces over the summer of 2006, former loves affairs, working for the Yo! the Movement Celebration of Hip Hop with Toki Wright and a tense altercation on 4th Ave. where the Wag WZRD came face to face with a disgruntled driver and his gun.
“One night my lady at the time and I were heading from a going away party in Uptown to where she lived at the time in Dinkytown at 3am in the morning. I was on my longboard and she was on her bike, we were in the street riding down 4th Ave by Franklin Ave and a car began to slowly trail us for a block or two. I kept waving him through, seeing as there was no traffic and we weren’t taking up the street. But once I got a little ahead of my lady, the car went in between us at an angle and stopped; separating me from her. I picked up my board and went to where she was on the passenger side and the driver got out of his car yelling at us about how we shouldn’t be in the street and he’s tired of us ‘kids’ always doing whatever we want. I told him I understand, but he could’ve simply gone around us and wanted to lecture us more about how we should never be in the street and how he could whoop my ass. I had my board in my hand and told him it would be a shame if something happened to his car and that it’s not a big deal and that he should just keep going. He didn’t like that response, so he reached in his car, grabbed his gun and put his shirt over it resting his arm on the roof of his car pointing it at me and continued to tell me how he’s tired of our generation thinking we can do whatever we want. I told him, that might be true and he can do whatever he wants to do too, but then I asked him laughingly, ‘do you really wanna be the dude that shoots a kid in the street for skateboarding?’ That angered him even more; he cursed us out some more and then got in his car and sped off.”
Along with these stories, Franz Diego also crystallizes his bittersweet memories of the late Abdulle Elmi on the song BLK WZRD, whose life was tragically cut short in a mysterious shooting in Toronto in 2012. Remembered as the MC Free-One of the T.U.S.S., he was regarded as the first Somali to perform on some of the biggest stages in Minneapolis. Since his passing, Franz Diego and those close to him have taken WZRD titles as to pay tribute to his life and legacy.
“The thing about Abdulle is he was probably one of the hungriest people I’ve ever known. He was hungry for life. He was hungry for music and experience and conversation and justice and love and information and art. He wanted it all and he was one that was so bright, I believe whatever he truly wanted he could have got. He was taking college classes in high school and had scholarships for his academics and was a true intellectual, and he loved hip hop culture so deeply and truly he could make anyone a believer in it. When he passed, of course naturally everyone who knew him congregated and came together to share and support. When we began to talk about all of our memories of him, we started realizing that Abdulle was responsible for a lot of the present day relationships we have today and these are relationships that extend across social classes, races, genres and genders. Abdulle was an appreciator of everyone and he brought so many of us together for the right reasons. That is something that is so valuable to me and my friends and I am truly grateful for his spirit.”
Struggles with his Psyche and Society
As listeners will be gravitated into Enron Hubbard’s electro-centric cultivations and positivity that blossoms in songs like “Slow Down,” some might overlook the darkness that brooding behind the minimalist bass as Franz Diego revealed that a major source of inspiration was a moment of depression that consumed much of his perspective.
“I went through a deep depression before I made this album. My outlook on life became extremely bleak and I did something I thought I would never do, which is consider suicide. It was ultimately a conversation with my father where I terrifyingly shared my problem with him on Christmas night and after all the people I reached out to, it was him that showed me how much I did not know and that mystery was everything. That, coupled with a suggestion by my friend, Nasimiyu, to be ‘gentle’ with myself really made me realize how hard and extreme I can be with myself. From then on, I embraced life full force, I’ve embraced the unknown and humbled myself and let life do the work. I often don’t plan anything and make minimal commitments and it really has made life enjoyable.”
As he adapted his sense of self-awareness, Franz Diego points the finger towards the exhaustive measures of the modern industrialized world that has continued to leave many people burned out.
“I think my depression was a symptom of this society. There is so much that it asks of us and we know so little, so we become victims. My Father told me to not think like a victim and it has been one of the hardest challenges I have ever received. I am a very sensitive person and I’m receptive to everyone and everything, so I get pulled in a lot of directions and that is fine as long as I know myself and my limits. In terms of positivity, it’s very simple; you can either have hope that things will get better and keep living because hey, who knows? Or, you can act like you know exactly what’s gonna happen and then hey, what’s the point of living it out? I recognize that I don’t know everything.”
As a form of retaliation, Franz Diego decided to concentrate his angst against this system of stress with his song “Long As Im Alive.” Engaging in a classic form of nihilism that would make Tupac Shakur stand at attention, he takes a sinister aim at various institutions responsible for many of today’s societal ills from high college tuition rates, the depletion of natural resources, and the failed war on drugs.
“That song is the song that makes me the most nervous to show people and I don’t know why exactly. I suppose one of the things I’m trying to communicate in that song is that laws are not truth, they are simply suggestions and those suggestions aren’t always correct or just, along with the people who implement and enforce them; which therefore means you need to be clear with your own morals to decide how you want to navigate all this. We are taught one way to live initially, but after that, we have to think for ourselves and live our truth. Unfortunately, I don’t have huge faith in humanity as a whole being good to itself and that hurts. So I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but what I can do is try to be clear with myself and loved ones about what I believe are right and wrong.”
Within Long as Im Alive and the album’s closing track, Out of Space In Outter Space, the Illuminous 3 MC does carry an unconscious thread as he contemplates leaving the high paced city life to pursue a new life ‘off the grid.’
“I suppose it’s a fantasy or a dream, but I have been disgusted with how are society operates since I was a child. It just has never set well with me. I have often thought about and researched the ways in which I could get land and build a space for myself or have no space and simply move around and I do believe it’s possible, however, I have not made the decision yet whether I want to have children or not and to me, that’s the ultimate deciding factor. If I have kids, I don’t want to have an off grid lifestyle because I don’t believe that would be fair to them. However, if I don’t have kids, I don’t see what would stop me.”
The Practices of A Party
When it’s time to hit the town in Minneapolis, everyone knows that they have made the right choice when they see Franz Diego enter the building as he has become one of the most prominent faces of the Twin Cities night life. As Franz Diego continues to wags his way through the hottest parties in the state, Float reflects this side of his exuberant energy throughout. While some might dismiss partying as an over indulgence, Franz Diego is quick to point out that for him, it is a much more enlightening practice than most would consider.
“I really look at partying as a way more deeper and spiritual thing than I think a lot of people do. To me partying is congregating and sharing energies and information. It’s celebrating life and ourselves and releasing natural things that we should release. Humans have partied in some way, shape or form for as long as we have been around. It’s prehistoric and it’s not just limited to our species; many species party. There is something truly sacred about partying and it is something that is important to me. I think everyone should party and I don’t believe there is one way to do it. It’s more about allowing your spirits to be free and free flowing. In terms of key elements of a good party, I would say safety, good and strong sound, a receptive and future forward DJ, women and cheap/easily acquired intoxicants. As far as things not to do within partying, I would say don’t do anything that intentionally causes anyone any type of serious harm and know your limits.”
One song that highlights this sentiment is “Yamagucci” as he flips the famous figure skater’s name to emphasize the “Gucci” in her game. While one party anthem would suffice most albums, Franz Diego made sure that Float has two different versions of the song: a regular and a Turnt Mix.
“The 2 versions came about because I actually had first wrote the song to the beat on the “Turnt Mix,” but then Enron thought it might be too turnt, so he offered the more laid back beat and we both thought it fit well. We weren’t going to put the “Turnt Mix” out but when Ninety heard it originally and he was going to mix the whole project, that was the first and only song he worked on with the stems so he could really make it bang. When it came time to wrap the album, Ninety reminded me how good it sounded and we decided to leave it on kinda as a bonus/hidden track.”
After two years of headaches and making headway, Franz Diego will be the first to tell you how relieved he is to finally share Float with his fans and to cement its place among the ages. But while releasing two projects in the midst of its completion, many question how Float will fare over time. Many critics may choose sides over validating their opinions, but Franz Diego is more than content within his own criticisms.
“In terms of how it’s aged, for me, it has aged surprisingly well, this is the record out of all of mine that I like the most and don’t cringe or feel weird when I hear it again and again. I think it is a unique and pleasant sound and the perspective is genuine.”
As the status of classic is out for debate, fans will surely not be disappointed by Enron Hubbard’s multi-layered productions that help paint the portraits within Franz Diego’s multi-dimensional mind. After clocking in over 56 minutes, Float stands as a testament of these turbulent times. Where the beatific promises of tomorrow dwindles into the threats of uncertainty, Franz Diego reminds us to enjoy the present for all its glory and move to the mysteries that unravel the momentary marvels that make life worth living. For this is the task of a true master of ceremonies: to capture and congregate the energies of all within the spot to foster hope, happiness and change. And for Franz Diego, this task is one that is sure to help him and his fans roll with the rising tides.
Float can be found at Franz Diego’s bandcamp page and be sure to mark your calendars for its album release party on Friday, October 17th at the Kitty Cat Klub with the help of Ninety & Conneye, Metasota, Greg Grease and DJ Just Nine. And you can keep up with Franz Diego at his Twitter and Illuminous 3 website here.