[Q&A] Xiuhtezcatl Delivers Fantastic Bilingual Hip Hop in ‘Runway Tapes’

Photo Credit: Josué Rivas (@josue_foto)

By Alissa Arunarsirakul // October 27, 2020

Having been invited to the United Nations multiple times, Xiuhtezcatl isn’t your typical musician looking for fame and glory. Rather, he’s an activist ready to use his voice and growing platform for the greater good of our doomed world. We can also find this undying activism in Xiuhtezcatl’s stellar new EP, Runway Tapes, which features seven fantastic tracks of bilingual hip hop. 

On Runway Tapes, Xiuhtezcatl explained,

“This EP reflects the many parts that my life has been composed of over the past few years, from fighting and organizing on the frontlines of movements to touring the country and playing shows worldwide. We are not living in ordinary times, and the art that emerges will do more than just collect streams and industry awards as much ‘successful’ music does.”

To celebrate the release of his new music, we recently chatted with Xiuhtezcatl about motion in music, family relics, and of course, Runway Tapes.

HH: For those who don’t know yet, what does your name mean?

X: Although my family is Indigenous to Xochimilco Mexico, I was given my name when I was six weeks old at a naming ceremony in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Our language Nahuatl, is a very poetic language so literally Xiuhtezcatl translates to ‘turquoise mirror’ but it symbolizes the reflection of the sky on the ocean. 

HH: Runway Tapes is an absolute masterpiece. Can you describe your creative process for the record? 

X: Tlazocamati ❤ The process of creating this mixtape took place over the course of the last two years as my producer Jaiia and I were on and off tour, traveling the world, in and out of the studio building with different artists. This tape wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t started to build community in the East Bay. It was a handful of sessions in a studio in Alameda that brought the project to life. So much of the texture and creative layers were built in the studio during the recording process. It’s all the subtleties like the tricked out background vocals in “El Cielo” and the tuned up ad libs in “Thankful” that brought these songs to another level, none of which I would have been able to do without my engineer Migui Maloles. Shout out my brother for real for coming through with the crispy mixes. 

HH: What’s the overall message of Runway Tapes?

X: This piece overall is a reflection on motion and movement. It’s set at a time in my life when my music really began to give me wings to experience the world in a new way. A lot of these songs were actually written for my first run of headline shows on the west coast. That feeling of being on the road, going from city to city, gliding on the wings of my art. This project also explores migration and the idea of borders, both through a larger political lens, and through deeply personal reflections on family separation and how that’s shaped my view of the world. 

HH: What was your favorite memory from the “El Cielo” music video shoot?

X: Damn, this whole production was so fire. When I first saw the sets that the team at Industry built I was blown away. Every foto on the wall in the second scene is a print of different collages my mom had made for my dad 20 years ago that they framed and put up. If you look closely at the single cover art for “El Cielo”, you see a painting in the background. The Industry team literally recreated this painting that was in my family’s house like 19 years ago in Mexico, and made it the centerpiece of the altar scene in the music video that comes in at 1:12. The amount of detail and precision that went to crafting the sets really brought the song to life in a whole new way. 

HH: You’re a huge advocate for love–especially in a time of chaos and despair. How would you say your music speaks to this part of you?

X: Mm, y’all ain’t even heard the love songs yet though, jajaja. Nah, I mean it comes through in a lot of my writing for sure. At the end of the day, my art is fueled by my love for my people, my culture, hip hop, and the community this music has helped build. The hope is that this mixtape and these songs can bring light to the world through all the heavy shit. Not just as an escape, but as small reminders that we really can imagine something beyond the injustice and violence so many of our communities face. 

HH: You’ve spoken at the United Nations multiple times now… how did you first come across that opportunity? What was it like?

X: The first time I was involved in UN stuff was when my little bro and I were invited to come out to Rio De Janeiro in 2012 for a big climate summit happening out there. It was wild, we stayed in the jungle at the edge of the city with a bunch of other youth from all over the world who were there for the summit. I was in and out of different panels, talks, and performances all around the city. From then I just kept getting invited back, from Paris to New York for various climate related events.  

HH: If you could perform anywhere in the world (once it’s safe to do so), where would you pick?

X: I mean, Red Rocks is the dream right? I’ve played a handful of times onstage with other artists but when they finally give me my own set, it’s gonna be on another level. To curate an experience for my people at such an incredible venue. Other than that though, I’m just hype to go back and play shows in Mexico. I can’t wait til we can tour again. 

HH: What are your three hidden hits?

X: Aight lemme put yew on…
“Amor Salvaje” by Nathy Peluso really slaps, got that real hip hop vibe then cuts into the reggaeton drums like nothing. The whole album slaps though. 
“Why Not Love” by Nesta and Tru. Super wavy track. 
“Jade” by Tone The Only. Super dreamy vibes. 

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