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An interview with Tuki Carter

Tuki Carter
Tuki Carter
Photo Credit: Diwang Valdez

Tuki Carter is one of those rare and gifted individuals who inspires and influences others. He is well known and respected as a pioneer in the visual arts as a tattoo artist with his co-founding of City Of Ink in Atlanta, Georgia, with Miya Bailey (view the documentary "Color Outside The Lines", a fascinating look into City Of Ink and the art of Tattooing on YouTube here).

Carter is known for turning skin into canvases with vivid portraits on them for the world to see. He is a part of hip hop history for tattooing the microphone on rapper Canibus, which fueled the infamous beef between him and LL Cool J. His clientele list also includes the likes of Young Jeezy and Usher, among others. [from Tuki Carter biography]

As a rap/hip hop artist, Carter has been building an impressive musical career as well and has enjoyed high profile collaborations with multi-GRAMMY Award nominated rapper, singer/songwriter Wiz Khalifa and multi-GRAMMY Award winning rapper, singer/songwriter, producer Pharrell. His current single release entitled, Good featuring Wiz Khalifa, recently peaked at number six on the Billboard Twitter Emerging Artists Chart (view chart here). He has a sincere love of his profession and a complete dedication to and passion for his craft. As his biography states, "Through art and music, Tuki Carter has displayed that he is more than an artist, more than an album, art exhibit or tattoo. He has crafted himself into a true social and cultural influence."

I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Tuki Carter via phone a few days prior to his Friday, June 27th, 2014, Kokomo, Indiana, tourstop at Centerstage Bar and Grill with Rittz and Raz Simone. [Read "Rittz brings OD Tour featuring Tuki Carter and Raz Simone to Centerstage Kokomo" PREVIEW here].

William Kelly Milionis: Hi Tuki, how are you?
Tuki Carter: Alright!
Kelly: Thank you so very much for this opportunity to chat with you. It really is an honor and privilege to do so. You are currently on the Rittz OD Tour along with Raz Simone, how is that going?
Tuki: Oh, that's nice, nice real good, good energy...cool people. I have nothing to complain about.
Kelly: Your Indiana tourstop finds you at Centerstage Bar and Grill in Kokomo. Have you performed in the area before?
Tuki: Yes, I did. I've performed in that area before, but it was with Wiz [Khalifa] 'Under The Influence Of Music Tour'; in the arena and wasn't in one of the venues in the city.

Kelly: How did your relationship with Wiz Khalifa evolve?
Tuki: The relationship evolved when I met Wiz Khalifa through Rick Ross. I was tattooing Rick Ross. I had to go on the road with him. I was tattooing and would chill out, catch a couple of shows. And he called me when I was in Atlanta and he wanted to film the Super High re-mix video in the tattoo shop that I have called City Of Ink. He brought Wiz by and I met him. I started tattooing Wiz. Him and I got to conversing and started figuring out that we had a lot similar; my father was in the Air Force and his mom was in the Air Force, he was born in Minot, North Dakota and I was born in Minot, North Dakota, on the same Air Force base. We just clicked from there. Ever since then, we've been around each other. It's been about four and a half to five years now.

Kelly: You were born in Minot, North Dakota and raised in Carson, California, and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia. When did you leave Carson for Atlanta?
Tuki: It was around 1998 or 1999. I came to Atlanta and went to school at the Art Institute of Atlanta. And I've been there [Atlanta] ever since. I just recently moved back to California about 3 months ago.

Kelly: While growing up on both coasts (in Carson and Atlanta) who were your influences?
Tuki: I was influenced by both. In Carson, California, where I'm from, we had an artist Raz Kaz. He's one of our artists who came out of Carson. Another artist who comes out of Carson that I was influenced by was this guy named P.E.A.C.E. from the group called Freestyle Fellowship. These were all underground acts. The only act that wasn't so underground was Ray J. Ray J is from Carson and Brandy is from Carson also. So, of course we listened to their music. As far as Atlanta, I just loved their whole culture. It was a predominately black culture that I wasn't used to being in California; you know it's multi-racial. When I got to Atlanta, it was all sort of like different talent, from bass music, to underground hip hop, to commercial things. I latched on to all of them because of the creativity that Atlanta had. At the time when I got there, the West Coast was pretty hard on the music because we had Chronic 2001 with Dr. Dre and all of the artists that participated on the Chronic album. I was already influenced by those, so once I got to Atlanta, I could see the people I was influenced by when I wasn't in LA like Outkast. I got Outkast from LaFace Christmas Album. They came out and I actually got to meet them. The first two days I was in Atlanta, I met Outkast. It was pretty cool. So, of course Atlanta has a lot of influences on my music right now.

Kelly: Do you come from a musical family?
Tuki: Yes, I do come from a musical family. My father plays the trumpet and the saxophone. My oldest brother plays the saxophone pretty well.
Kelly: Do you play a musical instrument?
Tuki: To answer the question (chuckling), I don't know how to play any instruments (more chuckling).

Kelly: You are not only a creative talent musically, but also visually. Many have known of your pioneering work in the Tattoo industry.
Tuki: Yes, I've been in the Tattoo industry for almost 14 years.
Kelly: You've gone from the Tattoo industry into music...
Tuki: Actually, I've always been into the music side. I was in this group called Hollyweerd and it was in 2007, 2008, and 2009. I went on tour with Wiz [Khalifa] on his first headlining tour 'The Waken Baken Tour'. So, music and art, it's always been hand in hand with me.

Kelly: How old were you when you realized you could draw and you became interested in the Tattoo industry?
Tuki: I knew that I could draw when I was like seven or eight. My mom had all these magazines like the Elle Magazine, model magazines like Cosmopolitan. I was looking at Cosmopolitan and drawing all these women all the time. And it started looking to me more and more like the picture. I went to school for art. While I was at school, my business partner, Miya Bailey, was actually a tattoo artist. He was a low level tech at that time, which they call scratchers in the industry. They don't have a lot of knowledge on tattooing. He met the lady named Julia Alfonso who was training artists. While she was training him, he asked me to come by. I showed that I could draw. I showed one of the tattoos and we started training from there. You know within the first ten days if you can tattoo or not. There is a lot that comes with it. Not everybody can do it. But I actually knew it the first couple times.

Kelly: As an artist who is recognized as a pioneer in his industry, who enjoys critical acclaim, continues to rise in popular culture, always pushes boundaries and continues to set and raise the bar, how does it make you feel that you are a positive influence in the community?
Tuki: Ah, it makes me feel good that I'm a positive influence in the community. But, I'm actually a little hard on myself. I strive to be even better than what I am now. I recognize certain things that I'm not paying attention because I'm still trying to better myself. If everybody's along with me on that journey, and they are watching me doing that, and are influenced by that, and they actually get to become what they wanted to be, and whatever they get to do in life, you know the positive route, then I'm all for it. I'm all for that influence; the role model thing. I'm not too much of a wild person. I'm a little wild, but I'm not too much of a wild person to where it would affect any positive things that I'm doing.

Kelly: Your latest track, Good feat. Wiz Khalifa was produced by Mark Parker. How was it working with him?
Tuki: It was cool. I actually worked with Mark Parker through the internet. I met him on twitter and he sent me beats. He sent me something like six beats. I didn't even listen to it in its entirety. I just listened to the first twenty seconds, and I was like, just load it up. I recorded the song directly after I got the e-mail. I'd been sitting on it for a while and it was actually my manager's favorite song. He was waiting for me to drop it so the attention it's gaining now, he's like, I told you so. But, as far as Mark Parker, of course we should have more stuff coming. I'm just waiting for the right beat. I'm very, very picky when it comes to beats.

Kelly: Any aspirations on branching out into acting in feature film or television?
Tuki: That's funny. Yes, I really do want to get into the acting field. I do have aspirations to become one because I have a sense of humor I guess that people like. So, it would really have to be one of those funny movies. I'm not sure if I'm going to do action or serious movies because I like to smile and that would kind of mess me up. But, as far as acting, I am already open for it. If anybody wants to send me something to look at, I'll do what I have to do to try and get in there to land the role. I'm always down for something like that.

Kelly: Thank you for the interview. I wish you all the best. I look forward to the possibility of seeing you on that GRAMMY Award stage one day.
Tuki: Oh man, I appreciate that. I hope to myself! That's great. Thank you.