Throughout the years and interviews on SpeedontheBeat.com, it's somewhat obvious that I tend to highlight artists who are going about their paths differently than your typical artist. So, today's interviewee should come as no surprise. AWKWORD is a rap veteran whose "unfiltered protest music" has made its way into many ears and has helped spark the "#HipHopEd" movement. So, without further ado...
Speed: For those who are unaware, can you introduce yourself?
Speed: For those who are unaware, can you introduce yourself?
AWKWORD: I am AWKWORD.
[On the set of the "Throw Away The Key" video in Alphabet City, Manhattan]
Speed: Three words to describe your style?
AWKWORD: Unfiltered Protest Music.
Speed: How’d you get your start musically?
AWKWORD: I started messing around more seriously with writing and recording over original beats and doing live at events while studying Sociology and English at Vassar College. My friend Baje One from Junk Science was there, as was the rapper, poet, actor and director Queen GodIs. (They both appear on my song “All My People” off the 2014 free World View bonus disc.) (I was also kicking it with Anne Hathaway at the time, and shot the shit a lot with Newlyweeds Writer/Director Shaka King.) (Ed. Note: For more on Newlyweeds, be sure to check out my interview with star Trae Harris over on TheeArteest.wordpress.com)
I was in a zone at school. This was the first (and only) time I was surrounded nearly completely by likeminded people, so I could focus on doing me. But I had been freestyling and writing for years before that, and I didn’t really consider making any impact on the culture and the listeners until a year or so after I graduated.
The first serious thing I did was form Sub-Way Stiles with my long-time collaborator (and teacher) Whatzisface, my college friend and street poet Voice1, and our Chicago affiliates JP and Rich Gains of Blended Babies.
That was relatively short lived, but its been really real ever since. It wouldn’t be long before I was rapping over some of the earliest known Harry Fraud beats and performing across NYC and the USA.
Speed: Who were some of your influences coming up?
AWKWORD: Public Enemy and Run-DMC. NWA. Gang Starr. ILL BILL, DJ Eclipse and Non Phixion. Whatzisface. That's why it's been pretty amazing getting co-signed by Chuck D, interviewed by DJ Eclipse, and joined on a World View song by ILL BILL.
Speed: World View, one of your last full projects, was interesting in the sense that it was all but funded by (and, in turn, had its proceeds go back to) charitable efforts. Why did you go about that approach?
AWKWORD: I am a Sociologist and Social Justice Activist, so combining my artistic talents with my sociopolitical passion was always part of the plan. My first-ever live performance, as a high school senior in 1999, was as emcee of an event I organized with the Anti-Defamation League.
For World View, it all kind of happened organically. It started out on myspace five years earlier. I held a remix contest, and of the 100+ submissions from around the world I selected a certain number that would be on a remix mixtape featuring new versions of the most popular songs on my (rare) solo debut LP See the Light. But the response was so positive, and the beats came from so many different places, I decided to expand upon it and turn it into an actual album. The name ‘World View’ represents all the musical “views” represented on the album, which, a half a decade later, consisted of 28 tracks across two albums, featuring 16 countries on six continents.
Since, for me, Hip Hop was a savior, a way to cope with the pain in the world and in my life and mind, and since the Hip Hop community had accepted me with open arms, showing love for the songs I was lettering out there, I decided to give back to the culture, to the people who birthed it, the hard-working women, men and young people of our urban centers in the United States.
All proceeds from World View go to Guns 4 Cameras, a 501c3-registered nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of gun and gang violence through the Hip Hop-inspired education and empowerment of (mostly brown and black) at-risk youth in our cities.
Speed: How much would you say you helped give back off of that one project?
AWKWORD: Perhaps more than the actual money has been the attention I have garnered for the organization and its cause.
Speed: Can you tell me a bit about the Jewish Rap Stars project and how that came about?
AWKWORD: You’re going to have to reach out to my brother SHI 360 for more information on that. It’s his project that he put out through DJ Booth. I did put out World View through DJ Booth, too, however, and I did introduce SHI to DJ Z, the editor of the site, but for the Jewish Rap Stars project I only provided the lead single, “The Ivory Tower”.
SHI and I have made numerous other songs together, though, over the years, including a song on his last album and the posse cut “Rhythm of Life” off the World View Bonus Disc, also featuring Kosha Dillz, Barak the Rapper, Jesse Abraham and Sneakas.
“The Ivory Tower” is a brutal rap takedown of the American Mis-Education System, produced by Dominant1 of Malawi. (He also produced World View song “The World Is Yours”, featuring Sha Stimuli and the late, great Viro the Virus).
Speed: What about collaborations? Are you open to them or are you selective in who you’ll drop knowledge with?
AWKWORD: I’ll make a record for a DJ or producer project no matter what, as long as it’s for a good cause or the pay is right – and I get to oversee the mixing and mastering. For emcees, it’s a little different. I won’t hop on a song for just anyone.
Speed: Switching gears (kind of drastically, I might add), what are your thoughts on recent events in Baltimore, Charleston, and other regions?
This says it all. I just wrote, recorded and uploaded this, in one take, with no mic and no mix. A SpeedOnTheBeat exclusive.
AWKWORD – “AmeriKKKa Freestyle” [prod. by Steel Tipped Dove]
AmeriKKKa, thats with three Ks /
we need a man in a cape in the land of the brave, these days /
cave man cut my capital one, for one, cause it isn’t pre-paid /
and summers almost here, get out the street to beat the heat wave /
popped a pen, poured on paper to prove my beats slayed /
but when peter piper picked a peck, the peppers were afraid /
its always been the same, new ways to lynch a slave /
we can march a million miles, make sense but no change /
while bastards build a billion bars to break us with the cage /
on the other side of the river, do drugs at a rave /
seniors sleep soundly, estates safe cause a gates /
we on the outside, like bitch, we bend but don’t break /
its like apartheid, resist, in mandelas six names /
eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth… Zulu mindframe /
(Das Racist affiliate Steel Tipped Dove also produced my rap PSA on suicide, "#AaronSwartz", sponsored by the UK's Grassroots Suicide Prevention organization, which I dropped as a single after the loss of Capital Steez and Freddy E, and which appeared on World View and his LP & a whole bunch of crazy motherfuckers)
Speed: Should police wear body cameras? And if so, do you think it’ll actually do anything to curve these sorts of situations?
AWKWORD: We’ve already seen that cops turn the cameras off. And even worse, we’ve seen that video evidence does not make a damn bit of difference in our efforts for justice. Cops kill innocent people every day, on camera, without repercussion…
Nevertheless, yes, require cameras on every single one of those motherfuckers.
Speed: Do you think there’s such a thing as a “good cop” or a “good politician?”
AWKWORD: Yes, at heart. In practice, no. A good cop won’t get promoted, and a good politician will stay local…
Or, think of it another way: What does it mean to be a good cop or politician? If you think of it like other careers, 'good' would be measured in terms of success. So, extrapolate and you have the criminal justice and political communities all recognizing good work by most arrests, most tickets, most votes, most success. There is no compassion or humanity in either area. No quantitative method of measuring ‘best objective judgement’. And as long as cops and politicians continue to maintain the status quo, and protect the 1% (mostly rich white men and their trophy wives), the protectors of the 1% will continue to be rewarded for a job well done.
In America, there’s never been justice, it’s always been 'just-us'.
Speed: Should people trust their governments at face value? Or should we always question the motives?
AWKWORD: Question. Demand answers. Fight for justice and equality.
Speed: Do you think that our governments, police forces, and so on should be transparent in what they’re doing? Or would you say that may cause more harm than good?
AWKWORD: When it comes to tracking serial killers, let the government spies be as quiet as they want to be. When it comes to infiltrating Occupy, Black Lives Matter and other movements, criminalizing poverty, Blackness and activism, and surveilling our phone lines without warrant, I want access to every last thing.
Speed: Going back to the charity comment(s), what other efforts are you into at the moment?
AWKWORD: Raising my children on a starving artist/activist budget.
And I perform and speak at social justice events.
[Performing live alongside Asheru and South Africa's Hip Hop Pantsula to benefit youth in Africa.]
Speed: Where can people get more information on these projects?
AWKWORD: AWKWORDrap.com for new #ProtestMusic, interviews, appearances and more.
Speed: How can other artists, fans, etc., get in contact with you?
Speed: Do you have any last thoughts you want to share?
AWKWORD: If you’re tired of the mindless mainstream drivel rap you hear on the radio, join me in the #HipHopEd movement.
Speed: AWKWORD asked that I pass along some of his upcoming projects and info on them as well.Coming SOON:
I. Premiering via ItsBizkit.com and UnsignedHeat.com: The Hitmen present: the best of AWKWORD - a free mixtape featuring 25 exclusive, unreleased, rare and hit songs from the last decade, including brand-new single:
II. "Angels" [prod. by L'Orange], feat. Beast1333 & Voli
III. "Go! NYC RMX" [prod. by Audible Doctor], feat. Joell Ortiz, Aaron Cohen, K. Sparks, Maffew Ragazino, Wordsworth & Donny Goines