Hip-hop has been an integral part of Armon Collins' life for a long time -- nearly three decades now -- but the music wasn't quite what brought him to the music.
Before Collins became better known as Scarub -- a speed-rap-proficient MC who rose as part of the well-regarded Los Angeles rap collective Living Legends -- he was a kid witnessing the ascent of a powerful young art form throughout the 1980s and early '90s.
"Moms and pops was listening to Anita Baker and Luther Vandross," Collins, 36, says, "and we were turning on the radio and listening to Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, [and] N.W.A."
By third grade, he was using rap to drill times tables and other scholastic material into his brain. As he grew up and kept up with both rap as a creator and fan alike, he turned his attention to alternative hip-hop linchpins like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, then the L.A. unit Freestyle Fellowship. Enjoying the latter marked his segue to becoming intimately familiar with his city's rap scene, which in turn helped him build his own reputation as an artist.
Collins vividly recalls hanging with his older cousins as a child and first being seduced by then-contemporary hip-hop's traits -- the kicks, the snares, the talk-singing vocals. But what really roped him in was the attitude.
"It was the stance, it was the sneakers, it was physically expressing what you felt maybe you didn't have the words for, but you knew you needed to cross your arms for this or throw your hands up for this or punch this. Before the words or the sound, it was the energy," he says.
"From there, it transcended into, 'Wow, you can say so much in these three minutes' or however [long] the song lasts. Watching other people do it, I liked the power I felt they acquired. I was always interested in what you would do with that power. If I was sitting in that seat, in that throne, what could I do with it?"
As Scarub, the answer has become combining scene-sketching, wordplay, and an emphasis on positivity with technical chops. Around age 14, Collins started exploring the world of speed-rapping with Eligh, a fellow Living Legend whose tongue moves at an extraordinary clip.
Since then, rapping fast has become one of his trademark tools, making lyric sheets and heavy use of the rewind button must-haves for parsing his knottiest work. That said, not all of his work is about pace. On the hook of "Savvy Traveler," one of his crucial cuts, Scarub savors the syllables of "I'm just your savvy traveler / Path inhabiter, time unraveler / Traveling, javelin-g through your / Neighborhoods and your streets, knocking with beats / Wandering the land with the mic in hand," giving them the breathing room to bounce.
Whether he's feeling hectic or relaxed, Scarub's favored beats lean toward the dreamy and bright, with their focus on lyricism often giving away a childhood enveloped in golden age hip-hop. Want for Nothing, his latest, electronics-heavy record, is chock-full of vitality and inspiration -- even after he's been on the grind for ages.
Much has changed in rap music and Collins' roles and goals since he came of age with the style, so shouldn't it feel like it's been decades since he started listening? Not according to him. Collins has a couple of tricks for keeping his affection fresh: The first is not counting the years he's spent -- "If you count, that's when you start to feel old" -- and doing music off and on.
"It's not me eating the same food all day, every day for 36 years. I've acquired a taste for other things that's prolonged my attitude and my energy towards [hip-hop]," he says. "Sometimes, I'm burnt out from it, and then sometimes, I'm like, 'Man, I can't wait to get back to it.'"
Scarub is scheduled to perform Friday, January 16, at Pub Rock in Scottsdale.
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