NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Nicholas Giacomoni, a.k.a. MC Yogi, is a man of balance, both literally and figuratively.
MC Yogi has been writing hip-hop songs, performing and participating in rap battles since he was 13 years old growing up in San Francisco. Around that age, he admits, he was a trouble-making rebel, thrown out of four schools, stealing cars and abusing drugs before he was old enough to vote.
"Growing up I was what you’d call juvenile delinquent," he said.
Like many people he identified with the rebellious nature of hip-hop artists such as the youth-affirming Beastie Boys and the anti-establishment Public Enemy.
"Hip-hop was always a big part of my life," he said. "(It) was definitely the soundtrack of my youth."
When he was 17 he discovered yoga, and his life began to change for the better. Five years ago he teamed up with DJ Drez and started performing under his current moniker.
MC Yogi and DJ Drez are performing two drastically different shows, the first on Tuesday, June 18, at 7 p.m. at Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams, Mass. and the second at Wanderlust Vermont in Bondville at Stratton Mountain on June 22.
MC Yogi, who spoke to the Banner while preparing to perform at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, takes his name from his role as yogi for the California-based yoga studio Yoga Toes, which he runs with his wife, Amanda Giacomoni, who is also a yoga teacher and MC Yogi’s creative director.
"The first time I ever performed as MC Yogi was on a rooftop in India," he said.
He and Amanda, who is currently working on an art project in which she plans to paint 10,000 pictures of the Buddha, had been staying in the city of Mysore in the southern Indian state Karnataka.
"We wanted to give back to the community while we were there so we had a free concert," he said. They put up flyers all over the city and roughly 100 people showed up.
Last year, MC Yogi released an album called "Pilgrimage," which shot to the top of the world music chart on iTunes, and plans to release a new album in 2014 that will heavily borrow from Buddhist stories and teachings.
"My intention is that every song I have is a mediation, he said. "Each song has layers, a superficial layer that sounds good, but the more you listen to it the more the myth starts to reveal itself to you and you start to realize it’s your story being told Š There’s an ancient saying ‘when you tell the story of one thing you tell the story of everything.’"
MC Yogi’s influences reflect the two worlds that he constantly lives between, balancing his spirituality and yoga with his love of hip-hop.
"I’ve always been in-between two categories my entire life," he said. "You can stick me the yoga world but I can’t deny my hip-hop nature Š I’m happy being in-between two places, I’ve gotten comfortable in the middle."
This balancing act can be found in his live performances as well. There’s a wide variety to the way his shows go, from the size of the venue to the people he plays with to the energy level. Bonnaroo is expected to draw over 80,000 people this year, while the performance at Frog Lotus Yoga will be to a crowd of about 50.
"To go from like 50K people to like 50 people in a studio is just way more intimate," MC Yogi said. "When I perform in a studio it’s like going to see a storyteller or a poet Š But it’s nice to be able to dance across that spectrum."
At Wanderlust Vermont, MC Yogi will perform alongside fire-spinners, dancers, acrobats, hula hoopers and others.
"It’s just a big sort of variety show," he said.
Andrew Roiter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @Banner_Arts.