I remember first seeing Franz Diego on a Fifth Element stage, back in the days when the store was cut in half and a huge graffiti mural rained down on visitors heads. It was the popular Open Mic night, this sole night is one of the reasons the scene started to harness a flame to what our thriving scene is today. He was still in high school and his group at the time, Illuminous 3, just finished rocking their freestyle. They had endless energy, but one member in particular stood out. That was Franz Diego. As they came off the stage, other local rappers with dreams of building a record label rushed towards them like wannabe Jimmy Iovine clones with insty print business cards in their hands, flocking to the group. You could tell they seemed shocked by the attention. The other rappers and producers showered them with praise and promises. But Franz wasn't buying it. Years later and Franz still isn't' buying it. He's creating it.
You rarely see him without a vintage sports snapback on his head, who was rocking them way before they became popular once again. His clothing style could be a mix between Tiny Tim and RUN DMC and he's often cruising around on his bike or in company of some very attractive females. But he's no pimp or got Musab type game, he's just real with his natural charisma.
He uses his University of Minnesota education to display his outspoken views, never threatening or offensive but he gets his point across. He deeply cares about his city and the hip-hop scene; years of City Pages editors have felt his email and Twitter wrath on this very topic. He's been working with children and the youth for ten plus years, getting his start and experience with Yo! the Movement. But when he's not traveling worldwide teaching kids about Chicano Studies and Cultural Anthropology, hosting numerous rap parties and dance nights or designing homemade jewelry. He's building up his moxie to create a new rap movement based off a famous local Southside wing joint and Franz just released an epileptic challenged video for the new slang. We sit down and "wag" out with Franz with five questions:
So how does someone "wag on the scene," explain this to the hipsters in the dark? The wag movement.
Well "wag" is just some slang that we use in the Minneapolis to describe sort of our energy and style and taste. It was an inside joke first shared among a circle of folks in the hip-hop scene and then through word of mouth and social networking it got embraced and became something of its own; it really resonates with younger people who follow hip hop. Part of its allure is that it isn't necessarily definable; it's more an energy or an attitude; its aggressive, bold, lively, creative, positive, fun and very Minneapolis.
Oh yes it most definitely does!! There was a song that Mike Mictlan and Freez had just done at the time called "Minne-Triple-Rockalis" and in that song Mictlan has a line that goes "I call you and your shorty "Shorty & Wags" and when Illuminous 3 gets together we like to joke around a lot and make play on words and do parodies and stuff. So we were joking around freestyling in the car and one of us used "wag" as a verb, something like, "See your shorty? I wagged her," and it was just something dumb and funny and with Illuminous 3 and the way we milk a joke we started using different ways of saying "wag;" so much so that we had created an ongoing inside joke that lasted.
In past few years you were known for your great hosting of parties and events, you think that almost overshadowed your rapping ability?
Yes and no. I think I was meant to find myself hosting parties and shows. People underestimate the power of a true MC who controls the party, the people, the vibe, and the audience. The person who communicates what we are all here to do and encourages everyone; that's what a real MC is supposed to do. Minnesota dance floors can be real stiff sometimes and a lot of it is just people being too self-conscious. If they can see someone confidently engaging everyone and having fun and hyping the DJ and the music they are playing, they can lose some of their inhibitions and that's when we can all really enjoy each other! But I never stopped rapping. During this time I was always recording music, doing shows with Illuminous 3 and doing side projects with other musicians, but I was trying to find a truer identity and a sound that was more current and relevant to my lifestyle. While searching I ran into J-Hard who was a kid from North Minneapolis that I used to sort of mentor when I worked at YO! The Movement, he shared the beats he had been working on recently with me and they worked perfectly for the new sound I was going for which is what can be heard on "Sense of Self."
...so whats the ultimate goal of your career or movement?
My only real goal in life is to get paid to be myself. If I can find a way to make a decent living off of what I have to offer as a unique human being than I will be happy. I already am very happy with all the things I do; but now I'm really trying to figure out how to make things sustainable. My interests are vast and I want the freedom to do what I want whenever I feel like it.
You got a real passion and love for the local scene, what are some issues that bother you in this scene? What would you want to see changed?
This is a loaded question with a long list for an answer, but Ill try to be concise. The biggest problem I see right now is segregation and communication. We live in a very small city, but some how we have huge pockets of people who are often left out and unrecognized. Its hard enough just to get writers or news anchors to run a story on hip-hop period; and its even harder if that artist or group of artists are low income, young or of color. If you don't know how to speak the language that the press wants you to speak they'll go look for the more "articulate" artist or the one that "speaks" to them more. Well then, all you have to do is look at who's writing the articles and then you see the disconnect.
I am talking about segregation like how the Northside of Minneapolis is cut off from the rest of the city and is not considered a relevant audience to write about or for. I'm talking about Mexican rappers from St. Paul rapping about a hard life or a native kid from over south rapping about his culture or when young kids from Northeast drop a new song or video, there is no real publication in the Twin Cities that will really cover these artists and expose them to the rest of the city. It's a problem that affects everyone in the city but it really hurts the more disadvantaged.
....and the hate for City Pages? (and a few editors. *wink*)
Man, it's not like that but I'll say it like this: maybe I've read into the name of the publication too deeply but if it's called "City Pages" I assume it's for and by people who live in the city. However more often than not I see little to no representation of so many things that are happening in this city that effect all of us, particularly people of color, young people and low income people. A while back, a writer for City Pages asked why I was upset with an article and the conversation played out to me asking if they had any writers of color there, which they then replied there were none, then I asked how many people there write and actually are from Minneapolis and the number was very low, so then I asked "well how can you accurately say that you represent the Twin Cities?" and the writer admitted that I had a point. I just want fairness and I was taught to ask for what you need. I read the City Pages often and it can be an amazing resource, I just want to see everybody benefit!
You have always had a "swag" style with the '90s retro look, but what happens when this style gets played out? You going to jump to the grunge era or revert to some John Travolta "Grease" look, with a T-Birds jacket or something? What you going to do?
MAN!! It's true I was ahead of the curve!! But really I just try to do stuff that speaks to me and push boundaries. I like surprises and colors and outrage and I like expressing myself. I hope I can always dress however I need to and be able to communicate something special through it!
You've always had a semi-political interest, is Obama still wag status or does he have something to worry about in 2012?
Man, I don't know what to say about Obama. That's a complex issue. What I will say is that I think that he is far more well intentioned than most politicians out there, but I don't know what that really means in our 2012 government. Things are really out of whack and Obama is definitely not the only one at blame for that. However, I don't really see anyone stepping up to the plate right now that could do a better job. I guess I'll have to do some more research but it doesn't look good.
You can download "Sense of Self" on February 7th for free here. You can also check out Franz Diego w/ Turnt Up! January 21st at the Nomad and also January 27th at Honey. Vintage Pro Player apparel and pimp cups are optional.