Interview with Innate

As his name suggests, Innate appears in his natural state on stage with a mic in his hand, making beats, and penning his musings, and today, his answers to my questions seem to flow naturally as well. Braggadocio and bravado are necessary elements in an emcee’s skill set, but there is something remarkable about a craftsman (or woman) who bears all the marks of one who could don a battle rapper’s posture, yet remains willing to admit he has a Ways to Go. All puns aside, Innate’s recent release is a powerful piece of music that feels very rooted in hip hop, while transcending the confines of any single genre. The album feels very much like the Southern California artist’s Below the Heavens, or Boy Meets World, it feels like a comprehensive summary of how he came to be the artist and man he is today; listeners are given access to the artist’s life and story with an intimacy some friends and family may be excluded from. Innate gave us full access to his life and story as well, and as we chopped it up, one truth really stood out: “Sometimes we are so caught up in the end result that we don’t realize, as long as we are working towards our goals, we are literally living out our dreams.” If we all learned to find comfort and peace in that truth, we would certainly become more fulfilled and more comfortable in our own skin, yet, I pen this intro with the delusions of grandeur of making my living writing in the back of my mind, hoping the work I put in at 1:14am on Tuesday night, knowing that I will have a classroom full of students in a few hours, might make ‘the dream’ possible. As I read and reread Innate’s words, I am allowed the realization that sharing his, and others’, story is my active participation in ‘the dream’. Here and now. Whether you caught in the cycle of the daily grind, or are living your dream, I encourage you to take some time away be encouraged and inspired by Innate’s story. Read. Listen. Enjoy. Share.

Nate Whitsell: Who is Innate?

Innate: Just a human that’s here for a little while, putting a piece of myself and my experience into the things that intrigue me.

NW: That’s an intriguing answer. Okay, so how has hip hop changed your life?

Innate: This one might need 2 separate answers.

  • Answer 1.  ( the impact the music had on me )

I remember there was a point in time when I realized that the people rapping were actually saying something, and that kind of took me for a spin. I mean, I had heard rap before but never really paid attention to what was being said. I was into punk and shit like that. The more I dove into [hip hop], the more I started to pick apart the songs and the substance within them. It became a slow process of opening up my adolescent brain. First time I heard Oakland Blackouts was probably the turning point in what I was looking for from hip hop music. The textures and rhythm in the beat, the delivery, and the pure style and cadence between Opio and Del on that jam was something I had never heard before. I immediately gravitated towards it, and I probably know every word to every song on Third Eye Vision because of it, haha. I started smoking herb around the same time and hip hop and [smoking] just seemed to go hand in hand. And when I say “smoking herb” I’m not talking about any of this dabbing send you into coma bullshit, I just mean a little bit of an awareness enhancement, haha. From then on, it was a rap so to speak. I’ve been going to shows, buying albums, and kind of immersing myself in this for the past 20 years.

  • Answer 2. ( my involvement in making and creating it)

It ruined my life haha. Nah, I always kind of joke about that one with the homies though. My whole life started revolving around it. My brother and I used to work for a dude doing cabinet finishes and shit like that and when he was moving out of his workshop/warehouse we took it over to save on rent and focus on making music. We built little rooms, (and when I say rooms I mean little cubby holes that you couldn’t stand all the way up in) put in a makeshift shower and thugged it out in there for a few years. I think at one point there were 6 of us in there. It was not the ideal living conditions, but we had some of the best times there and we (Rock Bottom) made the first project (Expanding the Cage) I was ever really proud of there. I think I grew as a producer and a writer substantially in a shorter amount of time just by purely living the shit day in and day out every day for like 3 years. Since then, every place I’ve lived revolves around its ability to allow me to create music.

Hip hop has definitely made me become more self aware. I don’t think it necessarily does that for everyone, and sometimes becoming more self aware is a difficult process. I started diving into my head a lot more and then I really began understanding what it is that separates a true artist from someone that just does art. Trying to find out the why’s to what it is that would make someone want to do this shit is a never ending task. Diving into your own head too deep can be an overwhelming experience sometimes, and I would say it is probably not conducive for a healthy lifestyle. That is not to say that to be a true artist you have to do that either. There might be something poetic, or alluring, or whatever you want to call it, about the tortured artist, until you wake up just that one morning, and look back on the last ten years of your life like, “how the fuck did I end up here?” But on the positive side of it, I honestly think it has helped me grow as a person. There is something to be said about writing a lot of your thoughts down on paper, then turning those thoughts into songs, then listening to those songs and realizing what an idiot you used to be, and for the most part probably still are, haha.

NW: Man. Sounds like hip hop has a significant hand in shaping the man answering these questions today. I’m curious, where did the name “Innate”come from?

Innate: in·nate:


inborn; natural

synonyms: inborn, inbred, inherent, indwelling, natural, intrinsic, instinctive, intuitive, unlearned


originating in the mind.

Bumps the Goosegot gave me the name in like ’05 or ’06. I was going by the name Provoke before that, but never really dug it. I think I had talked to him about wanting to change [my name, my moniker]. With my real name being Nate, he was like man you should go by Innate, and immediately I felt stupid for not thinking of that before, haha. I always dug it when emcees tied their real names into their stage names. It seemed like less of a facade to me.

NW: That’s dope. Your veteran’s poise and robust delivery won me over as a life-long fan within the first verse you spit at HipHopWeds’  Hip Hop House SD at the AC Lounge. When/where did you develop your stage presence? How long have you been performing?

Innate: Thank you, and shouts to Kahlee, Karlo, Kill C Rey, Eddie the whole Platform Collection and everyone else involved with what’s going on down there. The stage presence is and has been a continuous process. The first time I grabbed a mic and rapped in front of people was in like ’02 or ’03, somewhere around there. I think it was a house party or something.  So I’m not an ‘old head’ just yet, or maybe I am, haha, but I’m not exactly new to it either. The better my writing gets, the better my stage presence gets. It becomes much easier to rap with conviction and I think that makes all the difference. There is an immediate difference between someone performing something that is truly them, and someone trying to be something they are not. Audiences pick up on that shit right away. It takes a while for some people to fall into themselves. I know it did for me, but I think that is the trick, taking your true self, amplifying it, and letting it shine unapologetically. It might sound backwards, but the more I chip away at my ego, the easier it becomes to perform in front of people. It’s something I believe every human being is capable of, if they want to put in the effort to do so. Time, dedication, and persistence are the ingredients to anything you want to do with your life.

NW: Damn. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you are such a composed performer when your “man Qwel” (of Typical Cats) as you mention on “Refiners Fire”, is giving you pointers. Iron sharpens Iron. How did you cross paths with the legendary underground wordsmith? Can you tell us a memorable story of sharing space and time with Qwel?

Innate: My dude E.P. had actually been in contact with him for a little while. E.P. was always on the Galapagos 4 message boards back in the day. I think he reached out to Qwel about doing a song with us (Rock Bottom). We were pretty naive at the time and we thought it would be dope to get a bunch of features for our projects by people who we thought were dope and were already known. Qwel was and is, in my opinion,  probably one of the best to ever do this shit, and that is something we all agreed upon. To be completely honest, I don’t think we had any business being on a track with him at the time, but we ended up doing a jam together called “The Summit” for a project we put out called Help. He ended up being a real cool person and he would crash at our place sometimes when he came out to Southern Cali for shows. He ended up taking us on the road a few times exposing us to some of our first out of state shows.

Qwel was one of the first people to really make me question why I was even trying to rhyme, just by the simple fact that he is truly a master of his craft. Rock Bottom joined him and Maker for part of their “So Be It” album tour back around ’09 or something, and we were up in San Francisco doing a show at the Elbow Room. We had some friends that lived up there and it was one of their birthdays, so there ended up being a decent sized group of girls that came out to the show. I was kind of in my head for the whole show. We had a pretty entertaining show on the nights we were on point, but I kind of had this complex like we didn’t deserve to be there just yet. Qwel and Maker have made some of my favorite hip hop albums, so all I could really think of is like, “how and why are we sharing a stage with them right now?” Any how, that definitely had an impact on our set that night, it was pretty lack luster. Bumps was the only one that held it down that night. As soon as we were done we went to the bar and grabbed a beer and Qwel pulled us aside and asked, “what the fuck was that?” He looked strait at me and said, “oh it’s that easy to get pussy right?” referring to the fact we had a group of girls there to see us, insinuating that that might be my motivation for being on stage. I think I gave the homegirl a birthday shout out or something, haha. I’m not really into using this shit for getting girls, but I think I got laid that night anyway, haha.  So I proceeded to make up some bullshit excuses like, “we were performing old material and I didn’t feel it as much,” or some dumb shit like that. He just looked at me and said very bluntly, “then write better rhymes.” That’s where the line, “Been searching for better ways of displaying what’s on my mind, My man Qwel told me well, then write better rhymes,” came from. The next night we had a show at the Terrace in Pasadena, and smashed it. There were only 2 mics and we did a lot of back and forth rhyming between the 3 of us so we had to play hot potato with the mics. I think it almost added to the show. Maker was telling us that [San Diego DJ, formerly known as DJ Willow], the Gaslamp Killer was there, saying we were dope, digging our set or whatever. It didn’t mean much to me then because I didn’t know who that was at the time. Later I came to find out it was DJ Willow from Access with no dreads and a mustache, and I thought that was kinda cool, haha. Although I try to take any praise or criticism with a grain of salt, it’s kinda cool to get a nod from people who have been around for a while. They’ve seen it all, so as silly as it sounds, it feels like you’ve earned it a bit more. I get more pumped if the door man or sound man give props – they’re there every night and they’re usually the most jaded and cynical people in the room because of it. If I can make them feel something then it means I’m doing my job. I guess the moral of the story is, a little tough love never hurt anyone. All this “great job, pat on the back, every kid gets a trophy” shit is getting out of hand. Sometimes you need to tell your homies they suck, and some people need to get booed off stage. It only makes you stronger if you’re willing to get back to it. If you’re not willing to get back to it, then you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

NW: Qwel seems to be one in a tribe of “men in [your] life” who you’ve looked to as mentors. You actually break it down a bit in “Long Road“. Can you tell us the inspiration for that track and perhaps your view on mentorship ? Why don’t you think more of the older heads are willing to mentor up-n-comers in Hip Hop?

Innate: Although I have a lot of respect for Qwel as an artist, and have learned a lot about emceeing just by watching him perform and listening to his music, I never really considered him a mentor. He’s someone I hold in high regards as far as rhyming goes and his music has had a huge impact on me though. My mentors probably came more in the form of my peers. My brothers Bumps the Goosegot, E.P., and my younger brother, Dan Diggable; those guys are the tribe so to speak. I’ve learned so much from every single one of them. We’ve been growing as humans and creating together for the past 10+ years. The line, “and I’m the man that I am due to men in my life,” is referring to my father, my stepfather, and one of my best friend’s father. I learned how to be a man from all three of them. My pops gave me the boot from the house at 18 or 19 and I wasn’t prepared for adult life. My Mom lived out in New Mexico, and they would have welcomed me out there but at that time leaving California was unfathomable. My friend’s family let me stay with them for about a year. His dad helped me out in ways I could never possibly repay him for. He did that for a lot of the friends that were around then. Mike was a fucking awesome human being! He passed away a few years ago and the third verse on the song “Moving On” is about him. “Long Road” was actually supposed to be for a second Innate and E.P. album, that’s why E.P. is featured on the song. Life goes in the way that it does and unfortunately that album never came to fruition so I decided to use it for my album.

I think every kid needs a mentor or positive role model in their life. My dad instilled core values in my brother and I, and taught us to be men and for that I’m forever grateful. There are a lot of young kids who do not have healthy role models growing up, so I consider myself very fortunate to have had a number of them.

Hip hop has always kind of been this amplification for the Ego, with a few groups here and there that were sharing the knowledge of the infinite. You have a lot of fucking grown babies rapping who might as well trade their mics in for pacifiers. There are so many insecure people who are just begging to be accepted and they think that being in front of a crowd of people with a mic in their hand is the fastest way to get there. It’s something that constantly makes me question why I’m doing this. There is this never ending talk and desire for the elusive “number one spot” which is as ridiculous as the Grammys, the Oscars, or the P.O.T.U.S. Those positions do not ever properly represent the reality of what is going on in the world or the community, they are bought and paid for in one form or another. This talk of being the best has always been a huge part of rap, it almost revolves around it. And although competition often fuels people’s desire to get better at what they do, it’s no wonder there is not much room for mentorship. It cuts down on the competition, haha. It’s all very understandable though, Hip Hop was born out of a reality where people had to fight for everything they have. It’s a song born out of struggle. It is truly the music of the street. I have a feeling that the thought for a lot of cats is, ‘I had to go through all kinds of shit to get to where I am, why would I just hand it over to you? You probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway!’ And they might be right. There is a beauty in figuring things out for yourself, and in my opinion it’s usually the best way.

NW: I sort of cut to the chase with this interview. Hope that’s Ok. Your music just has a seriousness to it, even the ‘fun’ stuff. After chewing on the content this week, I’m wondering where the spirituality that is woven into your art comes from? Do you consider your music spiritual?

Innate: All good, what rapper doesn’t love talking about themselves in depth, haha. I think all music is a spiritual experience. Some is on the surface of it, and some I think is simply God (or whatever you want to call it that connects us all) talking straight through it. When a person like Jimmy Hendrix played his guitar, or John Coltrane played his horn, you can’t tell me there wasn’t a hint of something beyond us. As far as the spirituality in my music, I definitely try my best to express it. I grew up going to church, so part of me is recovering from the fear instilled there, and part of me is embracing the lessons learned there. The thing about church and places like it, is they make us humans more comfortable with the unknown by giving us “the answers”. The older I get, the more I surrender my fears of the unknown and embrace it as part of the life cycle. I’m ok with not knowing. Music, or any art for that matter, is just another way for us to document our human experience and try and relate it to one another while we are here.

NW: Emcee first or producer first?

Innate: Emcee. I always looked up to emcees who produced too. Cats like Q Tip, Thes One and Double K, the Beatnuts, Large Pro, Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Havoc, A+, Evidence, Oddisee, Aesop Rock, Ohmega Watts, and the list goes on. Those artists all inspire me on the rhyming and production tip. Some of them are better lyricist than others obviously, haha, but all of them have inspired me in one way or another. I know I’ll stop rapping before I ever stop producing though.

NW: Favorite deep-thinker emcee? Favorite fun-loving nonsensical emcee?

Innate: These are always impossible for me me; I like too many, for too many different reasons.

Deep thinkers: Black Thought, Qwel, Aesop Rock, and Eyedea, Andre 3000, R.A. Scion are all up there though.

Fun loving, non sensical: Kool Kieth although he may be on a deeper trip than anyone else, haha. Most of the fun loving emcees I dig still make sense or have depth to their rhymes.

NW: As a producer which emotion inspires you the most? Why do you think that is?

Innate: Probably melancholy or some cheerful funky shit. I find it easy to write to both. Maybe I’m bipolar, lol. I’ve been making a lot of serious music, but I still love groups like ATCQ and People Under the Stairs. Besides, it makes it a little bit more difficult to rock a party kicking some sad, let’s think about the problems of the world shit, haha.

NW: You bare your soul on “Sand In Our Eyes” where you share that you can’t “hold down a girl or steady job”. What helps you continue past those two symbols of success in American society and toward your dreams? Can we get specific? What is ‘the Dream’? What does “making it” look like for Innate?

Innate: I used to have dreams of being an emcee, I used to have dreams of being a producer, I used to have dreams of making records, and I also used to have dreams of rocking in front of crowds of people. I had all these dreams while I was actually simultaneously doing all of these things. I think the trouble comes with the amount of expectations we have. Sometimes we are so caught up in the end result that we don’t realize, as long as we are working towards our goals, we are literally living out our dreams. I don’t dream much any more; I set goals for myself and work towards accomplishing them. I still want to emcee, I still want to produce, I still want to make records and I still want to perform, so I do exactly that. My goal is to get better at all of the above. If I made a ton of money doing those things, would it make them any more legitimate? Would it make me any happier? Not me particularly. My biggest fear is stressing too much about an end result. By the time I get there, a lot of times it’s no longer that important to me anyways, that’s just how I operate. The idea of selling out shows at major venues around the country and my songs playing every hour on the hour ’til I want to shoot myself in the face is cool and everything, but if that were to actually happen, I could totally see myself looking out into a sea of people just thinking to myself, “all this shit is an illusion.” I’ve seen friends who are in pretty successful bands go through that reality.

As far as a girl and steady job go, I know it’s kind of the evolution of the modern life. That’s what you do, you get a career and start a family. So I think it’s only natural to trip on that shit at certain points in life if you haven’t accomplished either. It is literally pumped into our subconscious from the moment we are born. For now I am thoroughly enjoying the freedom of not having either. I’m planning a bike trip with a good friend of mine from Oregon to New York this summer. It might have been a bit harder to make a reality if I had either, haha. That’s not to say I never want them, but not having them right now is working out just fine for me. I always loved that Phonte line, “I want a girl, when I want a girl, and when I don’t want a girl, I want a girl who understands that”. That line is fucking genius! Phonte is another favorite.

I also do woodworking and enjoy it, so as far as life goes I can see myself growing old doing that and being happy. The rap thing is for now, the beats will probably extend past the rapping, and the family thing, well we’ll see, it’s not like the world is in desperate need of more people though, haha.

NW: Speaking of making it, you definitely made strides with Ways to Go. You seem to have some sort of deal at least with this project, with Dezi-Belle. Tell us a bit about Dezi-Belle, how you linked up with them and how/why the project was put out with them.

Innate: Perception is all relative, we’ll see when the first check comes in, haha. Dezi-Belle is a hip hop label based in Berlin, Germany. They put out a lot of Instrumental hip hop on vinyl. I have a few homies that live out in Germany who know some of the guys there at Dezi-Belle, so they shot it over to them. Dezi-Belle hit me up shortly after saying they were interested in pressing it, so we put things in motion. It’s my first time ever having a record on wax and being a record collector/lover myself, it was a pretty cool thing. We’ve always been used to doing everything on our own for the most part so we’ll see how it all plays out. I’m grateful for their willingness to release the album.

NW: Since they are in Germany are you planning a Europe tour anytime soon? Who is your Ideal travel/tour crew?

Innate: We’ve spoken briefly about trying to get out there. There has to be a demand for it though. Either that or I need a good booking agent/marketing team. Suggestions are welcomed, lol.

As far as touring/travel crew, whoever is down. As long as their heads fit through the door with out having to turn sideways I’m with it, preferably someone I could learn something from.

NW: The album has been out since October. How do you feel about its reception? What’s been the most encouraging feedback so far? If my interest is piqued by this interview, how do I cop it on vinyl (or digitally)?

Innate: I think it’s being received as good as any album that has had basically zero money put into it’s promotion, aside from video efforts, can be received. These things take a while to reach people sometimes. That’s just the reality of it. There are so many artists to choose from I’m thankful anytime someone chooses to listen to what I have to say. I welcome any and all feedback, some of the best feedback has been from my friends though. They are the one ones who I am most self-conscious about showing shit to anyway. They actually know me, haha.

The vinyl as well as the digital can be found at Either that or you can always come peep a show and cop one in person.

NW: Which song on the album still gets you when you hear it? Whether it brings a tear to your eye or a smile to your face. Why is that one so emotive?

Innate: I’m pretty happy with all the songs on the album, I think it is some of my best production work up to this point and some of my best writing as well.  I like all of the songs for different reasons and have a special connection with each one of them. I think the title track  ‘Ways to Go’ has the most replay value for me though, just because I like the energy of it – it doesn’t sound like a strait up hip hop song to me. It’s something different. “Moving On” Is a very personal song. The first verse is about someone I was in love with, the second verse was about my mom, and the third verse was about my friend’s father, as I mentioned earlier. That one definitely choked me up a bit during the writing and recording process. I like “Big Sur” as well, it was my first time working with a singer and Nate Jackson is super dope! I’m a fan of his band Devil Season, and had them out to perform at my album release party along with 18 Scales, shouts to all of them. Nate also plays the bass on that song and a couple others on the album as well. I sourced a lot of different records to make that beat, pretty much every sound is from a different record. Come to think of it, most of the beats on the album were made like that. Producers like Damu the Fudgemonk, Marco Polo, and RJD2 do that kind of stuff all the time, but some of it was my first successful hand at it. I had to do some wizardry with the horns to to make it sound ok. I chopped them up and stacked them in different octaves to beef them up a bit and kind of give it the illusion of a horn section. To get samples in key and make them sound cohesive is a somewhat daunting task sometimes. I did that with the horns for “Refiners Fire” too. Some producer nerd stuff, haha.

NW: That’s dope. I was listening to “Big Sur” as I was editing that last answer and that gave it another layer as I listened! Alright, you get four bars as your last words. They can be yours, or another artist’s, which words do you leave the world with?


“Life is always up and down steadily,
I just romanticize the memories,
I believe God will get you what you need
what you want is on you, but never beyond view” -Big Zach

NW: As we begin wrapping up, what’s something you’d like to share with hip hop culture?

Innate: I think there are only a few things I’m really capable of sharing at this point, and that’s my time, my perspective, and a little bit of love.

NW: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other artist (especially from California) who you see as comrades, and who you also see as helping progress the scene?

Innate: Man there are too many names to name and I don’t want to leave anyone out, so I won’t. Just know that if we’ve ever rocked shows together, done a jam together, had a jam in the works that didn’t make it, have a jam in the works, chopped it up at a show, bought an album, if I’ve bought an album off of you, if you’re throwing shows, hosting cyphers, running blogs, shooting videos, taking photos, doing interviews, running independent labels, making beats, writing rhymes, mixing jams, spinning records, doing graphic design, whatever your involvement is, I got love for you. Some of you I like more than others, but I got love for you all, lol. You’re what makes the scene go ’round.

NW: Finally where should readers go to connect with you?

Innate: Instagram: @Innatebeats

Twitter: @Innatebeats