March 7 2012 11:02 AM

Two decades into his career, veteran San Diego rapper is still going strong

Orko Eloheim founded The Improv open-mic in 1994
Photo by Kim Ryan

Orko Eloheim is one of San Diego’s most influential and prolific hip-hop artists, but he remains an enigma.

In one interview, he says his real name is Avi Ben Judah the 29th, a title that reflects his ancient Hebrew lineage. But he only discovered this fact recently. In the same breath, he says his previous alias, Orko the Sycotik Alien, is a reference to his schizophrenia diagnosis and supposed interplanetary origin. All the while, his tone slides between fiery declaration and deadpan humor.

But in a second interview, Orko finally lets down his guises. Recognized as a father of San Diego’s underground hip-hop scene, the slender, 36-year-old rapper looks the part with his graying fro-hawk, scraggly beard and deep, jagged voice.

Orko Eloheim is a name that even non-local rap nerds recognize. Active since the early ’90s, he’s worked with prominent figures in underground hip-hop, like Aceyalone and Saul Williams, and his Masters of the Universe crew featured well-known local rappers like Gonjasufi, Odessa Kane and Johaz from Deep Rooted. As the founder of The Improv, a popular open-mic night, he laid the foundation for a more artistic San Diego scene.

“The train tracks that I laid, I’m just happy I did that for my brethren,” he says. “The idea was never to have them under my umbrella at all. I was just the one coming with the mission statement.”

Orko continues to carry the flag for San Diego hiphop. He recently released two albums through his Bandcamp page (—8-Bit+Basquiot, a hip-hop / dubstep instrumental project, and Audio Achetech Android Autistic [AEIOU&Y], his latest of more than a dozen solo albums. This month, he and rapper Bazerkowitz will release an album, Kill Your Present Future, under the name Left-Handed Scientists. Orko plans to release his next solo project through AIR, a label co-founded by Gonjasufi, and also plans to revive Masters of the Universe.

The future has always been a prominent theme in Orko’s career. Taking inspiration from Afrofuturist artists like Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic, Orko liberally meshes science-fiction and technology with African and other non-Westecultures. His different aliases can be seen as an effort to achieve a truer, Afrocentric origin—a form of self-identity as selfempowerment.

“I got a billion facades going on, so you will never know who I am,” he says. “I am the Supreme Being because I am supreme at being.”

On the title track to Kill Your Present Future, Orko fills out his alien mythos. Over a violin-driven instrumental that evokes a nighttime journey across Saharan sands, he takes on the guise of a 4,000-year-old Martian, warning about the dangers of our world, such as loss of privacy, corporate control and chemical warfare.

Still, Orko finds hope in technology and music. To that end, he raps in a rapid-fire, staccato flow, like code being transmitted through high-speed cables.

Growing up in Encanto, Orko started making music as a fourth grader, when his mother bought him his first drum machine. Eventually, he started hawking his music on the streets.

“I was in my mom’s garage in 1990, making the same music I’m making now, putting it on cassette tape, selling it,” Orko says, “when motherfuckers was doing blow and jacking off to the Sears catalog.”

He came up under street rap legends like Gangsta ern, but he soon gravitated toward the experimental sounds coming out of the Good Life Caf