Interview: AWKWORD

New York’s own Rapper, Activist and Sociologist… AWKWORD, What’s good on your side?

Everything is good. Thank you for all the support over the last couple years. I first heard about you when you did that Fuck Cancer project. I wished at the time that you had heard of me already because I belonged on there. My mom died of cancer at 59 and it was supremely traumatic for me. I wrote a song about her that would have been perfect for your tape (LISTEN HERE). But ever since, like ReUpSpot, I been on the upward track, making moves in the right direction.

I’m in a pretty good place right now emotionally, personally, as well, which, traditionally, is pretty unusual for me. With all the death and drugs and crime and violence and negativity and shit talking, I’m still here, safe and reasonably settled, ready for whatever comes next.

Making dollars is nice, but I am glad that I’m making change (and giving the proceeds to charity).

How does it feel for you to be mentioned on MSNBC’s The Grio?

There’s very little like it. Shit, it’s MSNBC. It’s The Grio… Story is, I owe it all to Rap Genius. Their Editor In Chief Shawn Setaro wrote the story for The Grio. And, yeah, considering how big RapGenius and The Grio are, it is an honor that I was selected, especially alongside one of my favorite Hip Hop artists and personalities of all time, RA The Rugged Man. At the same time, though, I’m not shocked — I do deserve it. I deserve more. Better yet, the music deserves more. The song/video featured is “Throw Away The Key” and, as far as I’m concerned, every site that considers itself Hip Hop should feature it. This is real life. Not that twerk, trap, 2 chain music. Real life for most of us is struggle, survival. For young people of color, life often also involves fear of the police and fear of imprisonment. All day, every day. I fux with the real.

What has the overall feedback for ‘Throw Away The Key’ been like?

Overall, good. But I ain’t gonna front. I’m disappointed. And I ain’t gonna play neither. There are specific sites that indisputably SHOULD have posted the joint. AllHipHop was gracious enough to feature “Notorious”, another socio-political song off #WorldView with Jasiri X, Wordsmith and Jus Daze, but where are they now? What bout The Source? They premiered my most recent #WorldView single, “#AaronSwartz”, but have thus far passed on “Throw Away The Key”, to me an even more poignant song for our community. The issues in this record — racist, classist police violence, the War on Drugs, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline — impact ALL of US. And it’s a VIDEO — what this shit really LOOKS like. Then there’s HipHopWired and OkayPlayer, two sites that historically really know what’s good AND also posted — and raved about — the song when it dropped. You GOT to follow that up with the visuals, right!?

Throughout my career, I’ve never been what you could call “negative” in terms of the love I don’t get, I’ve always focused on the positive and staying humble, but this song and video mean so much to me that I am having a hard time accepting certain sites’ disregard.

Nevertheless, at the same time, I am incredibly thankful for all those that HAVE supported, including the video’s sponsors, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Occupy The Hood; the ever-dope ReUpSpot; Rap Genius; as well as Vibe Magazine, Mr. Davey D’s HipHopAndPolitics, The Urban Daily, HipHopDX, HotNewHipHop, DJ Bobby Trends, You Heard That New, The DJ Booth, Kevin Nottingham, Sermon’s Domain, Byron Crawford, The Hype Magazine, Africa Is A Country, and many more.

At the end of the day, not a single person has spoken negatively about the video or song. And the likes/dislikes ratio on youtube says it all. This is a really well made video for a really well put together song about a really important issue. End of story.

When will we finally get our hands on soon to be classic “World View”?

Thank you homie. I hope the album does get that label. But I’m more than satisfied with and appreciative of the respect and support of my peers and my fans (my people). This album is years in the making — because it takes a lot of time and effort to coordinate dozens of people, across continents; and because I’m a perfectionist, who continues to improve and expand every day, building up a library of possible songs for inclusion.

In the next couple months, before 2014, I will have made the final decisions and released the full body of work to the masses via DJBooth.net. I just released the second video off the project, for “Throw Away The Key”; and I’m releasing one more single before the album drops: “Go!”, produced by platinum beatmaker Domingo and featuring Joell Ortiz, Slug of Atmosphere and the singing talents of Maya Azucena… #WorldView, the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project: 2013!

Let the people into the non-rapper side of AWKWORD and what goes on in his world…

I’m not a saint. I’m not a tyrant. I’m not ALWAYS serious. And I’m not your standard suburban white kid. Lotta folks got it twisted. I’m up on socio-politics, I care about the community, people, animals and the earth. I’ve adopted two little girls in need of a strong father figure, and they are everything to me. I like to stay home and vibe out with wifey. But I also like to go out and paint the town, in more ways than one, I like to have fun, I like to crack jokes, and I will crack your skull if you front on me or mines.

What’s the main difference between performing a Hip Hop track & a spoken word piece?

It’s ALL Hip Hop. And the difference between performing a rap SONG and a spoken word POEM is not all that significant. The delivery is key no matter what. And as an artist and performer and lyricist, your responsibility is making it work, whether YOUR instrumental is playing, another beat is on, or there’s no beat at all. With a spoken word artist, or when it comes to spitting acapella, there may be additional vocal techniques and elements to consider that are less critical when the words are backed by beats, but I treat it the same no matter what.

For me, technical skill and precision are critical in writing and recording, but the performance aspect is more about presentation, energy, etc. I get the crowd motherfucking hype. I’m jumping around, sweating, spitting, gettin emo. With me, whether its acapella or not, written or freestyle, no matter where or with whom I’m performing, it’s always an event, always worth watching. And especially since I do it so rarely, saving myself for charity benefits and the like, it is NOT something to miss.

Tell the people what the song “Fxck The Police” means to you.

Everything. For me at least, this is the beginning. This is proof that everything I do has a purpose, and that I’m part of a great tradition. Over time we make change. And our artists, including myself, help make that possible. We appeal to the masses, so we freak out the power holders. And if our song becomes a theme or anthem, we there. We on the streets alongside the revolutionaries. We become revolutionaries through our music and what we represent. And nowadays, “Fuck the Police”, “Throw Away The Key”, my Workers Rights song “Mr. President” (https://soundcloud.com/awkword/mr-president-the-wisconsin-song-ft-ylove), etc., can be passed around with ease via the Internets. There’s no stopping us. Just look at what has happened recently in NYC with Stop And Frisk. We winning. For real.

What is your perspective on “Control”?

It’s a good song. It’s catchy. Kendrick killed it. Jay Electronica’s verse has been underrated. And Big Sean held his own on his own track — and was brilliant for letting the version fly, not sweating who did what, because it brought incredible amounts of attention to all three of them.

In terms of being KONY, that’s just a joke. You just can’t run New York if you from or living anywhere else. But this also aint Biggie vs. Tupac — nobody dying over this.

In terms of the song’s repercussions, it SHOULD be a wakeup call to the higher-profile YOUNG artists from NYC, as well as the artists Kendrick named and those he didn’t.

People asked me if I was going to respond. That’s just not what I do. I CAN spit pure lyrics. I got a couple a those joints in my back pocket for #WorldView, just to show yall. But I’m not gonna jump on any type of trend, just to get publicity.

As far as the responses that did happen, Kendrick saying King Los’s was “the best” is problematic to me. He just rhymed for rhyming’s sake. He put words together. To me, anyone can do that. To impress me, tell a story. Show heart. Do SOMETHING. I think, of all the responses, Joell and, believe it or not, Papoose, came closest.

Would you agree it’s time for Hip-Hop to TURN UP on some postive shxt?

“Turn up” is a phrase I try to avoid using — it’s so overused.

But anyway, yeah, of course we can and should turn up the effort, the volume, etc. I support artists like me, whether they reciprocate or not. That includes, among others, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Chuck D, KRS-One, Reks, Rhymefest, Jasiri X, Rebel Diaz, Y-Love, SoulStice. But I don’t think any of us should be considered POSITIVE or strictly political rappers. I am diverse. I touch on a range of subjects. They call me The People’s Champ not because I represent them in Congress, it’s cause I’m not afraid to tackle all topics that affect us — from dating to drugs to juvenile detention.

In fact, when it comes down to it, I am not that positive or optimistic of a person. I’ve always been angry, often depressed. Plus, we can make POSITIVE change without BEING overtly positive. “Throw Away The Key” is not a positive song. “#AaronSwartz” is not either. Nor is “Requiem” or “Melting Pot”. But I think they’re all having a positive impact on people.

To answer your question directly, yes, it’s time for Hip Hop to return to its roots. Enough of this ignorant shit that sets unrealistic goals for the youth and celebrates club drugs.

Please share the charities you work with…

ACLU/NYCLU, SEIU, Occupy, ADL, Guns 4 Cameras, Nature Conservancy, REACT to FILM, Dawn, and others.

You have been successful releasing Independent projects, what’s the secret?

Good music. And a good attitude. My style is not trendy, so I have to rely on content, message, and personality. I respect my fans, the bloggers, the DJs, etc. I send out my emails about my new music and events. And I wait and see. And I can’t always predict. But the trajectory has been indisputably upward. It’s been crazy, from my first feature on 2DopeBoyz to features from VIBE, The Source, XXL, Hot 97, MTV and Complex to interviews with RapGeniusRapGenius, The Village Voice and DJ Eclipse and The Halftime Show to features on Huffington Post and The Grio. My best advice: Stay humble, make real connections, learn from mistakes, and keep grinding.

Anything else you would like to share sir?

I would like to thank Harry Fraud for staying humble and holding down his friends. I want to thank him for contributing three beats to #WorldView (“Bars & Hooks”, “The People’s Champions”, “Angels” [unreleased]), despite my sound being so different from that for which he is recognized. His co-sign and support are huge for an independent artist like me.

I would like to offer these two pieces of advice for my fellow artists:

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” — Juan Ramón Jiménez

“Anything a writer writes should be written with the urgency of someone holding a gun in their mouth.” — Maya Angelou

If your favorite rapper doesn’t follow these rules, leave him/her alone.

And finally, follow me on twitter (@AWKWORDrap) for my crazy musings; critical socio-political, urban and art news; and music updates — all day every day. Holler at me. I respond. Tell me what you like most about the #WorldView music I’ve released thus far, or what you’re most looking forward to.

[The album drops SOON. #WorldView, the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project, is sponsored by The DJ Booth and The Morgan Stanley Foundation. It features contributions from every continent, approximately 20 countries and all US regions. All proceeds go to Guns 4 Cameras, a 501c3 nonprofit that goes beyond the gun exchange, working to educate and empower at-risk youth. More info: http://AWKWORDrap.com.]

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