Forget about the arm of the law, our Motherland’s is longer than that and when she set’s up her trap in the deeps of waters, even the best swimmers fall prey. She hooks them all, small and big, white and black, all the fishes fall victim. Many a times has she cast out her net, only to catch more than the boat can bear. Luckily, dissonant to the biblical one, her boat has never drowned, just fought the hull drag, maintained buoyancy and rowed ashore. The power of a mother. Lately, she has been on a mission to caboodle more children; the young and naive who still believe the only reason to love sex is cause that’s where they came from (home is best) and old ones who think they’ve mastered the tricks of life. Like a real mother, she never discriminates them. Not any one of them. And it was as a result of this that she chanced on Connecticut-raised, US-born Awkword – a child of the world. We were first honored with an introduction into the #HipHopEd ambassador’s life via the I Am project that featured a sheaf of really talented MCs from around the world. While sited under the cold feet of the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro, chewing raw cashew nuts while watching CNN headlines of how a dump Trump is continually threatening to replace our Son in the house on the hill, we reached out to find out more from the brother and what he thinks of his new found home. Come on, even adopted children ought to, have an opinion – not to mention, made to feel at home!
In Africa, it’s customary to start with greetings and introductions and we can’t run from that brother. So, who do we have here?
Mr. Protest Music, AWKWORD himself.
Just like that? Ooh wow, shorter than a pup’s memory. Research (scientific so to speak) shows that there are discrimination against Jews in America, so how was it like growing up?
My parents thought it was a good idea to raise my sister and me away from the New York City, where our ancestors had migrated in the previous generations, escaping persecution due to their religious beliefs. The irony was that our parents moved to a rich, Republican, “Christian” Connecticut town, where I faced anti-Semitism myself and witnessed and fought against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and xenophobia.
That must have really built you to the person you are. What does it mean to be a Jewish American?
For me it means being born in the United States, raised in a Jewish household by Jewish parents.
Simple, and it should just remain as such. Let’s switch our focus to music; at what point in time did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
Before I knew it was music, I knew it was writing, and I knew it was Hip Hop. Even before I learned to control my anger and aggression and use art to express myself, I found solace in self-reflection through the written word. And more than any other culture or music, Hip Hop and rap spoke to me at the deepest levels.
Writing is such a powerful tool of realization. Without it, who would have seen the world through the great eyes of Chinua Achebe? Did you know that our great grandfather was one of the best writers in the world, who actually penned down the constin… Wait, pardon our overwhelming excitement. We get easily carried away with matters as such. Anyway, you were a graffiti and a spoken word artists before turning to rap. How was the transition like?
It was an organic transition, as I grew and matured. I loved the risk, the danger, the thrill of getting up — of painting where the Man said I shouldn’t, and running from the cops when we got caught. And before I knew how to write to music or compose a song, I wrote poetry, which became spoken word as I began to perform and write to a rhythm or cadence.
You clearly had a strong artistic foundation getting into the game. So tell us, with such a background, which artists are currently on your impressive list?
I’m really excited about Chisom, whose single “Africa Get Money” you featured recently on this site. I think he has the rare combination of characteristics necessary in this era to really be successful, without selling his soul. He raps, he produces, and he thinks. He’s a graduate of a Howard University. He’s stylish and sophisticated. He’s a proud African American. And he’s got records we can all relate to.
You can also check out the monthly playlist I curate through Audiomack for Gonzombies.com to get a sense of the diversity of quality music being created today. One of the many things that separates me from other rap artists is that I’m not in it to compete or defeat. I’m proud to say that Hip Hop is anything but dead in 2016. Look at my song “I Am“ or my 2014 global charity album ‘World View‘ — it’s now thriving on every continent.
“He thinks” – that right there is a trait not many appreciate in this day and age, especially when it comes to music. There are fewer thinkers. World View and I Am were solid projects, a rare kind. Also, we’ve never really known you curate music but trust us to be camping there henceforth! How about role models?
My mom (RIP). She always did the right thing. She always looked “on the bright side,” as she loved to say. And she always put others before herself. I keep the last thing she ever wrote me pinned to my dresser so I can look at it everyday. I’m nowhere near the person she was.
Our sincere condolences brother. She must be really proud of you following in her steps – putting others first. Good truly attracts good, and as so, you’ve received lots of co-signs from Hip Hop greats. Any word on how you’ve ended up on their radar?
Passion: Artists, influencers and fans appreciate how much this means to me.
Honesty: They respect that I’m straightforward about who I am, where I’m from, and how my privilege as a White, heterosexual, US-born male impacts my standing in Hip Hop and society at large.
Credibility: They recognize that I know my Hip Hop history; I understand music composition; and I can rap my ass off.
Passion, Honesty & Credibility! Not forgetting ‘white, heterosexual US-born male.’ Quite a package if you ask me. We are not starting a war Lol. Tell us Awk’, have you noticed any changes since you started to where you are now?
I have more hardcore fans, but less blog support.
I’d say, still good over evil. Wait, blogs aren’t entirely evil, right? I mean, we too are blogs, hehee. No seriously, fans are way more valuable than blog support, especially if it’s not a positive one. Plus, most blogs are money-centered (eye rolls). Talking about money, ever wished to do it differently, like say, in a way that will rake in more mulla?
I don’t do this for money. If I did, I would have committed to it exclusively years ago, but I’ve always also worked in journalism and public relations, writing about music, politics, etc. The money I make outside of music finances my music career, and has allowed me to donate a lot of the money I’ve made from music to charity.
I also recently married a woman who lives in Upstate New York and adopted her two young children, and I am committed to being a family man and guiding these brilliant girls in their music careers (their choice, not mine).
If I wanted to make more money I would’ve remained single and booked a worldwide tour. Instead, when my family and I visit South Africa together, I’ll try to link with the homies The Assembly, Jakk Wonders and/or Hip Hop Pantsula (Jabba) for one show, maybe two.
You have a good heart man. I wouldn’t even blog about any artist without them depositing some dollar into my account first.😂😂😂😂😂😂. Let’s take you back a bit; you’ve mentioned family and a journalism career, a very commendable advancement we must add. You have a beautiful family and your daughters are lucky to have a guiding figure in music. Likewise, it’s only African for our sons to ready their proposal letters dowry negotiation plans. Seeing as we are already friends, this shouldn’t be a challenge, I suppose. But pray tell, how do you manage to handle music, work and family?
Simple. Work 25/8. I’ve never slept without drugs anyway.
Here is where we add no comment? Any tour out of USA so far and a performance experience off of it?
Toured? No. Performed? Yes. Nerveracking and fun, like performing anywhere else. I hate the pre-show. I like the show. And I love the after-party. But my favorite place is the studio.
We love after-parties too. Never been to a pre-show and can’t tell how the inside of a studio looks like but since you seem to love it, guess what? It is our favorite place too, starting now! 😊😊😊😊😊😊 That’s just how cool we are. What’s the reason behind your extensive collaborations?
With ‘World View’ and “I Am”, it’s clear: to showcase the diversity and interconnectedness in Hip Hop while bringing people together through the music and culture. “I Am” takes what I started with ‘World View’ and re-focuses the effort on the Motherland and the Diaspora, for there would’ve never been a Hip Hop culture in the U.S. had the Kings and Queens of Africa not laid the groundwork with their music and cultures first.
Did you say motherland? We refuse to veer off the topic, just know we get uncontrollably juiced up when Africa is mentioned. So how do you vet an artist for a project, either collaborations or publicity tasks?
To work with me on a song or album, they have to have the talent and style I’m looking for. To be represented by me, the publicist, they have to also REALLY have their shit together. If I have to ask you for a promo photo more than once, for instance, that’s not a good sign. If you don’t have one yet, tell me. We’ll make it happen.
I can wait on you if you’re slow to finish a beat or record a verse for my album, because I set my own deadlines (until Chris Emdin of HipHopEd starts a label, I’m not signing); but, if you’re paying me to get you placements, and I’ve reached out to bloggers and DJs already, but I can’t rely on you to uphold your end of the bargain, we have a problem.
Discipline, they say goes a long way even in adopting a pet, we understand the strict guidelines. Hey Chris Emdin, any help needed with setting up that label? our grandma’s grass-thatched house has many rooms we can utilize, if you ever need a space. By the way Awk’, African artists are working round the clock to break into the global market, do you think collaborations are a sure guarantee of that?
It’s hard for me to know for sure, since I don’t represent any artists from Africa. And I think it would be unfair and very pretentious of me to assume that the way for African artists to reach a global audience would be to work with successful American artists. I will say that the African artists with whom I’ve collaborated have expressed great appreciation for the amplification of their brand resulting from working with me. And, similarly, my fan-base has grown globally as a result of my working with them.
If I could give artists advice, no matter where they’re from, it would be to keep an open mind to new ideas. The most successful concepts are the ones no one else has tried, and those are the ones that at first sound the most far fetched.
That’s a sound advice. Anything else our artists need to do differently in order to scale greater heights?
This goes for everybody: Be true to yourself. But be a student of the game: learn what works and what doesn’t, and don’t repeat the same mistake twice. Or, better yet, hire someone like me to help you navigate.
And that right there is what we call smart marketing, product placement at it’s finest. We won’t even charge you a dime for that advert brother. Will we see more projects featuring African artists and is there anyone you currently want to work with?
I’m sure. Eventually Jabba and I will get on a track. I got a lot of beats from “The Ivory Tower“-producer Dominant1 (Malawi) I’m still sitting on. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
And, oh yeah, if you run into Mos Def, tell the God to holler at me!
Just make sure you restart more parties in Jo’burg when that happens. As for Yasiin, he was around here a moment ago and though we’re not sure he enjoyed some Nyama Choma, we are certain the great Budhaa Blaze will pass the message over to him. By the way, other than Nyama Choma, we have very HOT ladies over here too, has any African artist offered you a potential sister’s hand in marriage?
Good Lord, I KNOW you do! No, none yet. Although I did almost never make it out of Ecuador.
How slow this kids are. Smh, so Ecuador beat us to it… That aside, you’ve worked with great artists from Joell, Jadakiss to KRS-One, which one left a lasting memory?
Slug of Atmosphere, since he was so humble and so interested in the record (the same one on which Joell appears) as a whole coming out fire.
Humility is divine, respect to Slug. Tell us about Sean Price (RIP), how did you two and end up working?
I got introduced to P through my longtime friend and collaborator Harry Fraud. But it was only a matter of time before P and I were showing up together at Fraud’s studio, and Smoke DZA was asking me if I could ask Sean to do a verse for his ‘Rugby Thompson’ album. While P and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, we had a blast most of the time. He was a gracious host. His wife and kids are amazing. And I’ll never forget getting fucked up on the Mercedes tour bus, shooting the “Bars & Hooks” video in Brooklyn.
Hip Hop lost a true soldier, may peace be with his family man. We are all allowed to wish, given a chance, who would you bring back to life?
And Hitler, so I could torture him until he died again.
Hahaa, you have a strong sense of humor coupled with a great love for humanity. Condolences once again for your departed mum. Away from death, which artist would you pay to quit making music?
Lil Dickey, Slim Jesus, and every other rapper giving us a bad name.
We shall not dare add more, enough said. But the argument raised by the above group is that they have embraced change in music. Has change helped Hip Hop?
Absolutely. All mainstream music — rap included — is worse today than it once was, because of a confluence of factors: Capitalism, greed, the industry, illegal downloads, new technologies, shorter attention spans, etc. But Hip Hop as a whole is stronger today, because the writing, the music and the artists themselves are more eclectic and creative.
Yet your music is still thought-provoking and educative as ever. What’s the motivation behind it all?
I make less emotional, personal music than I used to. My mom’s already dead, I’m mostly off drugs, and I got a family to care for. But the problems in the world remain. The inequality and injustice in AmeriKKKa and in the world are so pervasive that, until my music helps spark the full-scale Revolution of the People, there will always be motivation to keep creating Hip Hop that educates while it entertains (HipHopEd) and points a big fat middle finger at the status quo (what I call Protest Music).
Now that you’ve mentioned it, tell us how Protest Music came about.
I coined the term to mean both (a) the records I’ve created that are explicitly political, the ones played at protests and used in classrooms, as well as (b) the records that are inherently political and controversial only by their very creation.
I believe my survival and perseverence, my refusal to be a typical White man, my insistence on standing in solidarity with the oppressed, as so many Jews have done before me (like U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during the Civil Rights Movement), is a form of Protest.
So, while I highlight certain songs/videos (e.g., “The People’s Champ” or “Whose Streets?“) as clearly representative of my brand of Protest Music, I also consider my very existence a form of Protest.
With an existence considered as a protest in itself, how many times have you been arrested and what was your worst run-in with the law enforcers?
Only once, outside of civil disobedience. I physically escaped the cops more times than I can even remember. But my worst run in with the law was probably when I was pulled over, but eventually let go, by a state trooper in Massachusetts. Let’s just say: I was physically abused, my girlfriend at the time thought he was going to kill me, was screaming and crying, and vomited when he let us go, I got a $1,000.00+ ticket, and all I did was drive too fast with a New York Yankees hat on. Fucking fascists.
What a scene that must have been. Sorry man. You mentioned your daughters being artists as well, can you shed more light on the same?
They each sing and play two instruments. They’re part of the world-famous Rock Academy, about which the Jack Black film ‘School of Rock’ was made. But we are VERY careful about when, where and for whom they can perform. They’re still only 8 and 11years old.
A musical family this is. It’s inspiring how keen you are when it comes to their musical interactions. Of all the accolades you’ve received, which one do you hold dearest?
Recognition for my lyrics from MSNBC’s The Grio and HotNewHipHop — that feels good. There’s nothing like a co-sign from Chuck D. But being considered among the best at what I do by the people representing HipHopEd is really what it’s all about, since it means I’m connecting with my primary target audience: the impressionable youth.
You deserve it all, and then some more. Congratulations brother, a great job you’ve been and is still doing. If Awkword made enough money and opted to retire, where would you love to spend your quality time?
Half the time in the studio, half the time with my family somewhere warm but not too hot.
We already agreed that studio is our favorite spot. Should fans expect any forthcoming projects from you?
The release of my ‘Mid-Flight’ EP (with new music!) and the ItsBizkit.com-sponsored ‘Best of AWKWORD’ mixtape, followed, if time permits, by a joint project with South African producer Jakk Wonders.
What a great time we’ve hard, man. This is definitely one for the books. Thanks for your time and more so, blessing us with so much wisdom not forgetting the honor of hosting you over here. Next time we may bring a couple shots of Konyagi to welcome you. Anything you’d like to add as we wind up?
Thank you! Africa on Move is the best spot for THOROUGH reviews of African and African American music today.
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