Whether you like his music or not, you have to respect Hot Karl for being himself. As your average white emcee from the suburbs, Karl has embraced the fact that he doesn't fit in the rap game. He's never sold drugs, never shot a gun and he's not a P.I.M.P. He's just Hot Karl, an everyday guy with everyday tales of life. Karl first made his mark while he was in college, winning a daily battle on a L.A. radio station for a record 45 days. After that, every major label came knocking on his door. Mack-10 even offered Karl fifty thousand dollars in cash out of his car trunk to sign with Hoo Bangin' Records. Eventually, Karl decided to sign with Interscope Records, as Jimmy Iovine wined and dined him. The label put a lot of steam behind his debut project, as Karl had guest appearances from Kanye West, Redman, Fabolous, Sugar Ray, DJ Quik and Mya. However, as rumor has it, his label mate Eminem was not pleased, and eventually Karl's project was shelved. After his release, Karl kept working hard at his craft and now his debut album The Great Escape is finally here. Karl tells his remarkable story to MVRemix in an interview that will give you a greater appreciation for the emcee.
MVRemix: Where were your born and raised, and what was it like growing up there over the years?
Hot Karl: I was raised in a small suburb in California called Calabasas, which is only a few miles from Malibu. It’s a super rich area, but my parents and I were always somewhat middle class, living on the border between Calabasas and Woodland Hills. So I always had this weird observational vibe to the area. I loved watching these ridiculous lifestyles and watching the weird shit that happened in my neighborhood. I grew up with the Menedez Brothers in my high school. And a kid I graduated with, Jesse James Hollywood, was one of America’s Most Wanted for over 3 years. Kids had all the money in the world, but they still did the most fucked up things. It was a weird dichotomy.
MVRemix: What is your first memory of Hip Hop?
Hot Karl: My first memory of Hip-Hop was seeing the cover of UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” at my cousin, Robbie’s house. I remembered being totally baffled by it. I had heard “Rapper’s Delight” before, and a few other rap tracks pre-1984, but I had never seen any actual product with hip-hop music on it. And I was only 5 years old, so I was more focused on kid’s music at the time. Once I heard the record, I wanted to go out and buy every rap record that was on the market.
MVRemix: What was the one album you always listened to growing up?
Hot Karl: Cactus Album by 3rd Bass. I felt that everything they said was honest. I was just drawn to their shit, not only because they were white like me, but because they just came off so genuine, and you knew they loved the art form of Hip-Hop. Each member had a story, and the album as a whole worked together with the skits. Then later in life, I became addicted to listening to Gravediggaz Six Feet Deep. I’m just a fan of concept heavy records that are cohesive as a whole. And I love production styles like RZA, Prince Paul and Sam Sneed. Just grimy samples.
MVRemix: How did you first get into rhyming?
Hot Karl: It really wasn’t until 1988 that I wanted to rhyme my own words. Once YO! MTV Raps hit MTV, when I finally got to see images to go along with the songs, I was hooked. I got to see these groups in action, and I knew I wanted to do it too. I was inspired to write about my own experiences and humor once I saw these music videos and became enthralled by the many amazing personalities of Hip-Hop. From seeing Biz Markie wild out in his videos, to Kool Moe Dee’s tough ass battle rapper persona to even seeing Salt N Pepa dance with Herbie Luv Bug, I just became heavily wrapped up in the world, and wanted to be part of it too, just with my own upbringing and voice.
MVRemix: How did you start to make a name for yourself locally, and then on a larger scale?
Hot Karl: I actually won 45 consecutive days on an L.A. radio show hosted by the Baka Boyz in a competition called The Roll Call. It’s where you battle other rappers with two separate two bar lines. I seriously was on the radio for like 2 months, everyday, here in LA. I eventually had to retire myself, mostly ‘cause I was in college at the time and finals were coming up. Later that year I competed in the All-Time Roll Call championships, and took home that crown too. The radio exposure really helped get my name out here in LA, since about 2 weeks into the competition, I sold out the Key Club here in LA, and I had only about 3 original songs under my belt. It all happened really fast. I think I’m still trying to make a name on a larger scale. I haven’t really achieved that yet. But having a song on an NBA Live game (as well as being a hidden character) and releasing all my underground 12-inch records has started the ball rolling.
MVRemix: How did you get the name Hot Karl?
Hot Karl: When I was 13 years old, I was in a rap group called “X-Tra Large” and we were managed by some members of Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate, most notably Donald D. These guys would force me to battle other rappers almost every day. It was like Hip-Hop boot camp. Anyway, I ended up meeting Ice-T and he was like, “So, this is the kid that was shitting on everybody?” And a Syndicate member, Tracey, was like “Yea, he’s Hot Karl’ing them.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but once I hit college and figured out what it meant, I loved its translation as far as my battling skills.
MVRemix: For those who haven't heard your music, how would you describe your sound or style? What are your strong points as an emcee?
Hot Karl: I have fun while I’m rapping. That’s seriously the only way I can describe it. I go in and out of a lot of different influences on “The Great Escape” so it’s hard to just pinpoint one answer. I’ve heavily studied the tradition of Hip-Hop and followed the lead of pioneers like 3rd Bass, Biz Markie, The Fat Boys and other groups who just went out there and had fun while being themselves. That’s what we’re missing in hip-hop today. Honesty and fun. Everyone sounds the exact same and talks about the same shit. 80% of rap now is talking about your jewelry and car. And everyone sells crack. What happened to original voices? That’s what I think is my strong point as an emcee. No matter if you like my music or not, at least I’m saying something new. And in hip-hop nowadays, that’s not a step usually taken. People need to remember what drew us to hip-hop in the first place was how different it was than any other shit we’ve ever heard. We need to keep that originality.
MVRemix: Tell us about your stint at Interscope Records and the whole story behind that. I read that Eminem was complaining about you. Is that true?
Hot Karl: After my reign as champ on The Roll Call, lots of labels started calling to sign me. Everyone was trying to capture the Eminem white rapper thing, and I was just next in line to get a big deal. The most ironic offer came from Jimmy Iovine at Interscope, Eminem’s actual label. He offered me a shit load of money and explained how being on the same label as Em wouldn’t hurt me at all, since our subject matter and personalities are so distinctly different. He seemed to really understand the project, so I went for it. They spent over a half a million dollars on what was to be my debut CD. I had production and guest shots from Kanye West, Redman, Fabolous, Sugar Ray, DJ Quik, Mya and more. But somehow after all that excitement, something happened that made everything go cold very suddenly. There are a lot of rumors about what happened, one is that Eminem’s camp put the squash on the record. I’ll never know the truth, or know why, but that’s the business, man.