Fusion is the spice that keeps life moving. The Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The 36 Chambers first fused Asian film and philosophy with hip-hop sensibilities (which RZA did further with his book The Tao Of Wu) before Shinichiro Watanabe merged the two from the other side with his anime Samurai Champloo over a decade later in 2005. Champloo introduced me and countless other young listeners to the music of Nujabes and Fat Jon and primed me and countless others for hours of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Sailor Moon reruns. Another one of those kids was Jarred “Noveliss” Douglass.
“Samurai Champloo to me is the greatest anime ever just because it’s hip-hop and anime together and it meshed so well,” he said during our phone conversation last week. Noveliss’ voice carries a stoic confidence holding back excitement about references to Gurren Lagan and Rage Against The Machine. Even if I hadn’t heard his Mic Swordz EP already, hearing his phone voice get the same charge as his verse on “Brand New” was the best kind of shock. That energy level keeps him moving throughout the day. “People look at me and see that I have two kids, play sports all the time, and still manage to make music, but you can’t let your life ruin your life, if that makes any sense,” Noveliss explains, and he refuses to get caught up. His day starts at 6AM when he clocks in as a chef at Cantebury on the Lake. After work he jets off to pick up his kids (son Jayliss and daughter Nova, whose names combined make up his stage name) and his girlfriend before he heads to the gym, the football field, or to practice Wing Chun kung fu – all while penning rhymes: “I write 90% of my rhymes sitting in the driveway of my house or running at the gym or cooking at work. I go to the studio strictly to record.” Heavy support from online fans (self-made CDs frequently sell out on Bandcamp) allows him to stay independent and craft his upcoming debut solo full-length the way he wants.
The work he’s managed to put in both by himself (last year’s Toonami Tsunamis is another must-listen) and as a member of Detroit rap outfit Clear Soul Forces is astonishing, considering that life is pulling him in four other directions. Noveliss isn’t the first rapper with a blue collar job and he certainly won’t be the last, but that hardened ethic helps the fusion of father, emcee, athlete, chef, and anime fan that is Noveliss move toward his dream of rapping full-time.
Check out our conversation with Noveliss, where we touch on Marvel’s hip-hop variant covers, wrestling podcasts, how Royce 5’9″ helped form Clear Soul Forces, and why Detroit is the Mecca of Black music. Our conversation has been edited for time.
WL: Where did the overall idea for Mic Swordz come from?
N: I’m not the biggest GZA fan, but I’ve always liked the idea of the Liquid Swords album and I always liked the cover of it. I’ve wanted to do something called Mic Swordz for a long time, then I finally had the time to do it. My art guy Aaron Hendrick, man. He’s incredible. He actually did the cover for [Clear Soul Force’s] Fab Five album. You can literally tell him exactly what you want and he’ll do it. I told him I wanna be holding the sword and I want the handle to be a microphone, I wanna be wearing a Trunks jacket and a Naruto Leaf Village headband. He just knows how to do it exactly how you describe it.
WL: The first time I saw the cover, it reminded me of a Final Fantasy game because the picture looks like a 3D character model. That’s not easy to do outside of a video game, so that’s dope. What was the first song you made for Mic Swordz?
N: The first song I made for Mic Swordz was actually “Preem,” the song with DJ Soko cuttin’ on the hook. When I start doing a project, I don’t really organize it like that. I have lot of music that didn’t make it onto the project, but “Preem” was the song that I felt needed to start it off. Shepard Sounds made that beat and “Brand New” and “Stryker.”
WL: “Preem” definitely has that introductory vibe to it, especially with Soko’s cuts in there. What’s your favorite song off the project?
N: My favorite song is “Stryker.” I love the beat, the hook, the rhymes I was kickin’ on there. I like “Stryker” and I like “Hashirama” on there, too. That’s the kinda song that the average person isn’t gonna get, but I don’t really care (laughs). Every time I talk to someone who worked on the joint or a fan hits me up, everyone’s got a different favorite song. That makes me feel like [I did] a good job because when you make a project and everyone has the same favorite song, it makes you feel like “I hit that one outta the park, but what about the rest of ‘em?”