Shouting out to the small Hollywood crowd, hip-hop artist A-1 gathered the audience members closer to the stage. This was the 25-year-old San Francisco native’s first performance at The Roxy, opening for headliner Roach Gigz, and he dispensed positive energy in his performance from the very beginning until the end.

A-1 wasn’t afraid to stand at the edge of the stage in his “thurl” shirt and constantly call out to his Hollywood audience. Those who may not have been familiar with the artist soon became captivated by the execution of his craft. It is easy for someone to stay at a standstill in a small crowd, maybe too shy to dance, but more than half of the audience was happily bouncing along to the young emcee’s upbeat songs and bobbing their heads to the mellow ones.

This was A-1’s first time performing in Hollywood, and he had only 20 minutes to entertain current fans and win over potential new ones. From the merchandise booth, I spotted a couple of girls leaving with their brand new copies of The Thurl Tape, his recently released mixtape.* I asked his manager, Lawrence, who sold the merchandise that included “thurl” shirts, if those girls were familiar with A-1 prior to the show. They weren’t. “That’s how [A-1] is. He wins them over,” Lawrence said. It was a statement I heard repeated by the artist’s designer later on.

Near the end of the set, a guy in an odd costume the looked like an interbreed of a ninja and a ghost accompanied A-1 on stage, and by the time the artist performed the last song of his short set, I can definitely say those in attendance were won over.

Before A-1’s performance, I was able to interview the artist and even spend some time with him and his business crew at a restaurant across the street. They are quite an easygoing bunch, even after being busy with the tour for the past few days.

How did you come up with your stage name?

A-1: Well A1 is the first cell in a grid of a spreadsheet, and my name is Adam, which made me the alphabetically first in line for everything while growing up. I was first in the roll call sheet, so A-1 is supposed to be the first and the best. Plus if you want to get deeper than that, most holy books referenced Adam as the first man to walk the earth.

What attracted you to hip hop?

A-1: I think just the culture, you know? When I was getting into [hip hop], it felt like a brotherhood. I idolized people like the Wu-Tang Clan and Hieroglyphics. Hip hop was like the glue that brought them together. Plus you can hear people rhyming. You know you can do it too, so you want to try it out. There was cyphering, freestyle battles—it was a world I was intrigued by. I wanted to be part of it. It so happened that rap was obviously for me.

So no dancing for you?

A-1: Nah. But I love to dance. I can’t do anything cool like professionally. I just like the feeling of dancing.

You’re on a tour right now. Can you describe how that feels? It’s your first tour, right?

A-1: Mmhmm. It feels good. It’s time. I have a hard time pacing myself because I try to pull 100% into every show so that I leave the show feeling really spent. You know, energy depleted. It’s okay. I’m getting used to the routine. It’s like running. You run 10 miles in a day, it’s going be really hard to run 10 miles the next morning. But if you keep doing it, eventually it’s going to be nothing.

Can you describe what it’s like performing on stage?

A-1: Performing on stage really depends on the show. If the fans are not responding to me at all or there aren’t that many people in the crowd, I have a hard time.

Basically it’s like this: I give as much energy as I get when I’m on stage. So if I’m on stage and the crowd is insane, hyphy, crazy, even if it’s only 10 people but they’re going nuts, then I’m gonna go nuts right back—I’ll scream, I’ll yell, I’ll dump water on my head. I’ll do everything.

If there are 100 or 1,000 people in the crowd, but they’re all just staring at me, not giving me anything, then I have a hard time giving more of myself, so I won’t have a good show. Luckily for me, most of the time the audiences are responsive, and so I give it right back to them.

You’ve recently released The Thurl Tape. How is it different from your past mixtape?

A-1: Well, my last mixtape, The Book of Adam, was more of a happy thing, but The Thurl Tape kind of makes you think. It might even make you uncomfortable a little bit at times. If you’re not ready for it, it might rub you wrong.

Like the way I described it to Lawrence, The Book of Adam is like right when you walk into a party and no one knows you. It’s small talk, like “Hey, I’m Adam. I’m from San Francisco. I’m an emcee.”

The Thurl Tape is at the end of the night. The party’s over, everyone’s gone home, and you’re there with a couple of friends. The bottle’s empty, and you’re getting into deep, heavy stuff. That’s what’s different about it.

What influences you to write your material?

A-1: It was more from everything that’s happening around me. It’s hard for me to make a bunch of really happy songs when things that I see aren’t happy. When I look at the news or outside on the street, and I see people that are hungry, or people that are abused, or sick, or in poverty, that’s what I’m going to write about. I write about what’s surrounding me at the time. But there is always party material, too, because I’m always down to party, you know? But there’s a little more depth in The Thurl Tape than The Book of Adam.

Which is your favorite song?

A-1: I like “Don’t Be Scared” because of the lyrics and the feeling of the song. It’s a true story based on a conversation I had with my friend who’s from the UK. She was telling me that in London they don’t have the same kind of race issues that we have because she noticed right away from coming here that everyone was always talking about “black people this, white people that.”

She said that in London, those lines are more blurred. She’s asking me why Americans are always so worried about race and concerned all the time. I told her there is so much racial tension because of the history of this country. This country is the way that it is because of slavery, racism, segregation, and all of that stuff. “Don’t Be Scared” was based on that. It’s real to me. That whole rap is the break down of that conversation we had.

The other one I like is “Double Dose” just because it’s pure party. It goes crazy. It shows that people love it. It was fun to make it.

Who or what other things influence you?

A-1: Does it have to be from music or anything?

It can be anything.

A-1: Nature influences me more than anything. Literally like trees, the sand, the sky, animals. It’s inspiring because it makes me feel so little. When I look up at a redwood tree, [I wonder that] it could have been alive for thousands of years. This thing has been here since before the Bible was written or since before western civilization had even come to North America.

Makes me feel so insignificant, and since I get humble from it, I am able to put that into my music and talk about my perspective from a global view instead of a narrow-minded way. I feel that a lot of rappers are narrow-minded because they think the world revolves around them, but when you look up in the sky, you see an infinite amount of stars — nobody can even calculate how many more there are. It makes you want to talk about things deeper than just your own life.

What’s your goal with your music?

A-1: I would like to get people to think a little more about things when they listen to my music. I’m not necessarily trying to change anyone’s life or lifestyle or become a millionaire or anything like that. I just want to give people something to think about, and if I can make a little money or make a living out of it in the mean time, then I’m really happy with that.

In one of your songs, you discuss something about underground music versus mainstream media. Can you elaborate on that?

A-1: (Repeats the lyrics from “Do Your Thing”) I don’t really mind mainstream media. I just hate the way they force it down people’s throats. I think it’s okay to have goofy stuff on television, even ignorant stuff. It’s just the fact that [those in charge of mainstream media] try to make it so that it’s all you see. There are kids out there that all they ever see is ignorance. You know what I mean? And they don’t even know anything but that. They never see anything enlightening or inspiring or liberating to their minds. It’s all just garbage.

I mean, garbage can be good. For example, knowledge is like broccoli and partying and drugs is like ice cream. Now no one wants to eat broccoli all day. A lot of people like ice cream, right? But you also can’t eat that everyday. If you do, you’re going to get sick, fat, diabetes, and be tired. It’s bad for you. If you eat broccoli all the time, you may be healthy, but you never get the satisfaction. So it’s balance. You gotta eat both.

That’s what I want people to have. I want to give people balance. That’s why in my projects, I always try and put party material in there because I love to party. I also try to put thoughtful stuff in there because I would like for people to be full of thoughts.

After the tour, what are you planning to do?

A-1: More music. Drop more singles. Put out some videos. I would like to do more touring. I want to go as far as I can. This is only the West Coast. I want to go to the East Coast. Overseas. I know I have a long way to go, but I would like that. Maybe jump on somebody else’s tour and keep the momentum building. Spread my message and my movement as far as I possibly can.

Anything else you’d like to say?

A-1: Thank you to all my fans and supporters for constantly enabling me to live my dream and to do something positive, spreading positivity.

Find more information on music, tours, and other projects:

A-1 website
A-1 Twitter
A-1 Facebook
The Thurl Tape download

* Thurl is slang for the word Thorough, which means “To be complete.” For this project, A-1 has made the word into an acronym that stands for “Think, Hustle, Understand and Really Live.” The emerging artist believes these are the abilities a person should possess in order to be whole. –Press Release from A-1’s Management