122: Kassa Overall
Kassa Overall will tell you, “I love being the first thing of a thing. It’s one of my favorite things.”
Kassa will also tell you that grew up in the cut. Between two kinds of music. Between two neighborhoods, in Seattle, that were “actually divided and separated”. He related more to the black neighborhood that he lived in, but he went to school mostly with white kids. “Looking back on it now I realize we’re all from the same stuff” but at the time it felt like he was in the middle of two worlds.
In fact, Kassa Overall will tell you a lot of things. That’s because Kassa Overall is a lot of things. Drummer. Rapper. Producer. Taker of cold showers.
As a drummer, he says “I had the old cat thing. Even though I was a young cat, I had something on drums that none of the other young cats had.” That’s how early on he caught the attention and found work performing with a formidable list of artists, including Christian McBride, Donald Byrd, Vijay Iyer, Wallace Roney, Ravi Coltrane, Gary Bartz, and many more. He also spent several years as a key member of pianist Geri Allen's Timeline band and works regularly with trumpeter Theo Croker's ensemble.
As a rapper and producer, Overall has collaborated with Brooklyn-based hip-hop outfit Das Racist, is a member of the duo Kool & Kass with former Das Racist member Kool A.D., and has DJ’ed with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert's house band, Jon Batiste & Stay Human.
And apparently Kassa is in the midst of a Wim Hof cycle of breathing and showering in cold water. That’s not really as important as the rest of the biographical story, but it does give you a sense that the guy is working on it at all times.
Overall kept his hip hop / electronic identity separate from his jazz-self for a long time, thinking that it would be a stretch to bring all of those influences into one project. “I limited myself,” he says. But ultimately he relented and made his latest solo album Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz, a startlingly cohesive array of compositions and production styles representing Kassa's diverse skillset.
In our conversation he talks about the intersection of jazz and hip-hop, the importance of getting “comfortable with being bored so you can get better at your instrument”, the relationship between great drumming and the sounds of nature, how growing up far away from the “scene” gave him a strong sense of personal identity, and what it takes to be a “cat who is going for it”.
Along the way, he discusses the influence of many of his collaborators and teachers including Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd, Arto Lindsay, Roy Hargrove, Billy Hart, and Elvin Jones.