San Diego has a thriving, diverse music scene. From rock and roll to jazz to classical to rap, there's a lot to listen to in the border region, and a lot of players making great music. Influential is a KPBS music series in which we can get to know the songs that shaped these musicians: as individuals and as artists.
Rapper and hip-hop artist Ric Scales is one-half of the hip-hop duo 18scales — along with emcee Ralph Quasar (otherwise known as 18sense). Not only is Scales a recording artist and performer, but he is also instrumental in the local hip-hop scene. He co-hosts the monthly Slappin' Hands hip-hop and R&B showcase and frequently collaborates with The Old Globe's "Word Up" program.
We asked Scales to make us a playlist of music that influenced his work. Here are the tracks he chose, in his own words.
'Skeletons' by Stevie Wonder
My family, we were the family that, we would sit around in the basement and listen to tapes and records and sing and dance and play the piano and harmonize together. So it's safe to say that their music was part of my musical development. Always been a part of my life. It's always going to be a part of what I'm doing.
"Skeletons" by Stevie Wonder — its influence on me has been existent for as long as I've been alive. It's one of the first records I recall ever listening to. My mother and father had it on vinyl and I just remember listening to the song and it had like this funky vibe. And then as I got older and started to comprehend more what he was saying, I realized that there's a lot of social commentary in the song and that's always had a large influence on not only how I view the world, but how I go about the music that I make. Because the song "Skeletons" in and of itself, it's very danceable, it's very fun, but he's also saying something in such a way where it's like it's not direct, it's not finger shaking, but it's definitely — you can tell that there's something going on deeper if you're not fully listening.
That's always been one of my general favorite things about Stevie Wonder, in general, is this contrast, whereas he'll have a song that sounds like a sad song, but it's a happy song or vice versa. The song "Skeletons" has basically been a song that's been part of my life for as far back as I can remember.
'Quicksand Millennium' by The Roots
"Quicksand Millennium" from The Roots is one of my favorite hip-hop songs of all time. Criminally underrated. They have this way of going about music. I don't even know how to explain it. It's just a beautiful song when you listen to it and then you take into consideration what is being said in the song. It was prior to the year 2000 where everyone thought the world was coming to an end. And then the lyrical aspects of it, the plays on the ideas, is what always got to me. Like in the chorus, they say, "Somebody told me it's the end of the world, but that's just for some peace to the dead, strength to the chosen, quicksand millennium."
Just the way that they went about the sonic aspects of it: the keys, the horns in the background that just kind of like glide in at the very beginning, their cadences and things of that nature are just things that really always resonated with me.
'Award Tour' by A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest, "Award Tour." One of my favorite songs ever. I remember when I first started identifying as what you would call a hip-hop head at a young age. I was about 14. I was playing a video game, actually. It was "Thrasher: Skate and Destroy." They had a crazy soundtrack. I just remember being immediately drawn in by the beat. It was just a general vibe. Like it was clearly jazz-influenced. It was fun.
Then they had like the feature from I think it was Trugoy from De La Soul. The way he just went about it, "We on a world tour with Muhammad my man, going each and every place with the mic in their hand." Once I heard that, it kind of made me realize rap music doesn't have to be about just money or selling drugs. It can just really be about whatever. A Tribe Called Quest, "Award Tour" is definitely a life-altering song for you.
'I've Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body)' by Parliament
"I've Been Watching You" by Parliament is another one of those songs. "The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein," it was in my family's vinyl collection and I remember looking at the album cover and being like, what is this weird stuff? And then you check it out and you come across it — it's just a fun song, it's another one of those songs. There's such a blend of feelings and ambiance there like they have this way of singing that's very unconventional. It's another thing that's very whimsical, but then very serious.
I love the way it comes in, the guitars, bass line. They have so many things going on and then it's like when they come in, they're all kind of singing in unison with this weird kind of… "I've been watching you," you know? Just the way that they do it. It's always had an influence on the way I go about making my music. It's just one of those things. Like, I just love George Clinton's voice, the way he plays with it. It's a thing where it doesn't take itself too seriously while seriously doing something is very important to me. Parliament's "I've Been Watching You," "The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein," were super influential for me.
'No Idea's Original' by Nas
"No Idea's Original," by Nas. Oh, man. I think it was my junior or senior year of high school. He had this project called "The Lost Tapes," which is hands down my favorite Nas project. It comes in and it starts with the beat and you just hear Nas, "Uh, uh," and then the first thing that he says: "No idea's original, there's nothing new under the sun, it's never what you do but how it's done. What you base your happiness around? Material, women and large paper. That makes you inferior, not major."
That's, like, my mantra. Because here in the hip-hop world, there is always a constant, like, Oh, well, I did this first. But did you? Everything's been done before, everything's been said before. Pretty much every movie that you watch is a Shakespearean story. But it's the way that you go about doing those things.
And then there's just so many different things about that song. The cadences, the way that he raps. To be able to say so much with so little words has always been something that I've tried to emulate. Like, Nas is another one of my all-time favorites. "No Idea's Original" from "The Lost Tapes" pops in my head like three, four times a day. Super influential.
There's so many things going on in the San Diego hip-hop scene. It's one of those things where you think you're going to find out about it, you're going to go there and there's nothing going on. There's a lot. You're going to pull up, you're going to be blown away by how many people are in the scene, how many people are participating and how many people are just there to be there. There's pretty much always something going on in the city of San Diego.
It's a beautiful time to be a part of San Diego hip-hop. It's a beautiful scene and I'm super lucky to be a part of it, for sure.
— Ric Scales, June 2022
This interview has been edited for length. You can find a slightly longer playlist of Scales' influences on Spotify here. 18scales will perform at Music Box on Jul. 27, 2022.