Interview: Awkword (2012)
Awkword has a lot on his mind these days. He has been very busy pushing his music from the forthcoming album, World View. He has released single after single building the buzz for his 100% for charity project, letting us know, it’s not all about the Benjamins.
Awkword is a social advocate and a musician. With each release he puts out it becomes more and more apparent that his name deserves to be recognized for the talent he possesses. But more than that, Awkword is a son, a son who lost his mother earlier this year. He talks below about the special relationship he shared with his mother and his music. Enjoy…
HHD: Obviously you were drawn to hip hop at an early age. Give us the story of what made you make the transition from being strictly listener to an artist yourself?
Awkword: I think there are two stories: my evolution as a music listener; and my evolution as a writer and artist.
I grew up listening to my parents’ old records — the Beatles, The Doors, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, Chopin, Bach and Beethoven. And then my babysitter introduced me to Public Enemy and RUN DMC, and everything changed. Artistically, I was always encouraged to experiment by my mother, my aunt, my grandmother and my cousins. My younger sister (and only sibling) became the pop realist painter Jamelah. And though graffiti was my official entree into Hip Hop art, I was already living the culture and had discovered my calling: writing. I started with poetry, then got into spoken word. And my first ‘rap performance’ was as host my high school’s now annual diversity day, an event I founded with the Anti-Defamation League.
HHD: You have been able to blend political and social activism and hip hop pretty seamlessly. Can you relate to our readership in what ways you have been able to use the power of hip hop to convey your ideals to reach the masses?
Awkword: As far as how I live and represent myself, I feel like either everything is political or nothing is. It depends on how you choose to read it. Traditional politics are important to me, but I see myself as a different type of political person. I never ran for any office, and I’ve protested more elections than I’ve voted in. If I ever run for office, I’ll be rocking jeans, Dunks and a hoodie to the debates. And when I talk about writing to classrooms and auditoriums filled with children, it’s not as much my Vassar degree I fall back on as it is that first time I ever heard PE bursting through boombox speakers. (It’s also the Hip Hop approach that makes my little routine interesting to the kids.)
Musically, when I first started recording I was a lot more literal in my lyrics, and the themes of my songs were more obvious. As I’ve grown as an emcee and artist (I executive produce all my records), I’ve developed many more styles of flow and broadened my creative range. Also, there is a risk when making overtly political records of alienating a large portion of your audience who are simply turned off by a feeling of being “preached to”. So whenever I’m writing, I get in that zone and let my hands do the work, then I go back and edit, and among other efforts, try to strike that delicate balance.
[A great example is my song “Requiem” with SoulStice, Ess Vee and CuzOH! Black, produced by ATG. We’re telling stories and making social comments. But the song is fun and you can’t help knocking with the beat and singing the hook. The song is dropping soon, but you can hear it now you are an AWKWORD soundcloud follower. (To follow, click here and then hit the ‘follow’ button. Then, to listen, click here.)]
I also allow myself creative freedom in my music because I work to blend Hip Hop and politics in ways not related to the creative process as well. With my forthcoming DJBooth.net-sponsored album World View, the first-ever 100% for-charity Hip Hop project, for example, I do so in the following two ways: (1) All proceeds from World View are being donated to Aim to Live (a.k.a. Guns 4 Cameras), a 501c3-registered nonprofit dedicated to eradicating street violence through the Hip Hop-inspired education and empowerment of our at-risk youth; and (2) World View features contributions from every continent, approximately 20 countries and every U.S. region, so as an entire work should represent the Global View of Hip Hop.
HHD: It’s easy to tell someone to be active in their community, it’s harder to put words into practice. What has been your drive and motivation to participate in the amount of community based activities/projects as you have?
Awkword: It’s important for me to get outside, feel the streets, breathe the air, hear the sounds. It’s important for me to connect with people. As therapeutic as I find staying in, floating on clouds, and writing, I gotta get up and get out there too. When I was growing up, and during college, I was able to dedicate a big part of myself to grassroots, hands-on, on the streets activism. That means anything from bonding with inmates at Green Haven Prison to teaching writing to middle schoolers in the toughest parts of New Orleans to just taking 15 minutes to kick it with a homeless guy on the streets of New York City. All these experiences helped make me the man and artist I am today. They feed my writing, give me perspective and, hopefully, also help some people other than me.
But nowadays I can’t get out as much as I’d like. Despite the 1%’s best efforts, I am fortunate enough to be employed full time as a writer. Plus, I’m a one-man-team with the music — I do not have management or a marketing team. I handle all business decisions and promotions myself, while writing all my own lyrics and executive producing World View. So I decided that, as my lyrics were becoming less and less overtly political, the music as a commodity could take on a part of the role of providing that social impact.
By purchasing my song “Thank You (A Tribute To My Mommy)” at your own price, you can help my family and me fulfill my mom’s wishes of donating all proceeds to The Nature Conservancy, her favorite charity. And by purchasing World View or any of the World View singles, you are suddenly part of a growing global Hip Hop Community, and you are giving all of the proceeds back to the urban communities that created the culture we all love.
HHD: All the proceeds from World View are going to an organization called Guns 4 Cameras. Why did you choose this particular organization?
Awkword: I chose Aim to Live (a.k.a. Guns 4 Cameras) because I wanted to be as grassroots and personal about it as possible. The organization’s founder, Hezues R’, came recommended by a graffiti artist and designer I knew from Poughkeepsie, New York; I was inspired by his personal story (http://youtu.be/_9C-jZwTQ94); and I liked his nonprofit’s mission statement. I did a story on him for Elemental Magazine, and as the concept for World View began to develop (story here: http://awkwordrap.com/world-view-project-description), I realized that I would rather donate to his worthy cause than to some huge corporatized NGO that would later sue me for copyright infringement.
HHD: Aside from the charitable side of World View, what can a listener expect to get musically when they purchase this project? How do you define your style as an emcee on this project?
Awkword: If you had to define it, my general sound is New York City, underground Hip Hop, political street rap. I’ve been compared to Eminem, Slug and ILL BILL, mostly. What separates me is my intricate blend of the standard Hip Hop with the bizarre philosophies and ideologies of an educated, unstable working man; the complexity or multiple levels of my story lines and punch lines; and my ability to take on a wide range of concepts without sacrificing my point of view.
But World View is not all about me anyway. To date Wit features more than 60 guest emcees/vocalists and beats from 30-plus producers (including bonus tracks). So you can expect some personal solo records, as well as a fair share of hard-hitting posse cuts.
HHD: If not for social networking and blogs I may never heard the name AWKWORD in Austin, TX. In looking at your online presence, you and your team have made a great effort to get your name out there. A lot of artists don’t put in half of the effort you do. How do you perceive that thrust in online marketing/communication to be moving you forward in your career? How much time do you put in daily to communicate with your fan base?
Awkword: From like ’03 to ’09, I got things done by meeting fans and other artists on the streets and at shows, and taking every opportunity to record, preform and make connections. The old school way got me to point B. But let’s face it, selling CDs on the streets of Times Square is not a good look in 2012.
I never got any blog love until a couple years ago. It was December 2009, to be exact. Harry Fraud and I released the official World View remix of his hit single “New York Minute”; my authorized version of his record featured Jadakiss, Vast Aire, Punchline and Mazzi (S.O.U.L. Purpose), and landed me for the first time on 2DopeBoyz.com. My fan base has grown steadily since.
And, the truth is, I never would have even thought about a project like World View without the Internet. The Web is how I share ideas and files with other artists. And, predominantly, the Web is how fans play and purchase the music we create.
As for how much time I commit daily, it’s different every day. I don’t tweet at the dinner table. And I try not to oversaturate. I try to always get back to my fans. For me, that’s important. That’s the point of twitter and all these other social networks — more independent artists should capitalize on this. But in the end, family does always come first. Right now, I’m in Connecticut with my father, trying to hold him down following the untimely death of his beautiful wife (and my hero, my mother).
HHD: Compare your career with where you were at in 2008, when you dropped See The Light, with where you are at now getting ready to drop World View? What’s different? What has remained the same?
Awkword: What has remained the same? My love of our culture; my passion for the art form; and my need to express myself to stay somewhat sane.
What has changed? Everything else. My mom died. My girl kicked me out. But my beats are better, my lyrics are smarter, and my flows are mastered. My understanding of the business is better. And the love — and hate — I’m getting has never been stronger.
HHD: One of the singles you just dropped for World View is entitled “Thank You (A Tribute To My Mommy)”. Obviously this a very personal song for you and a message to a woman who is very endeared to you. Why did you choose to share this song with your fans? What does it mean for you to include this song on your forth coming album?
Awkword: This is the most important song I’ve ever written and had the privilege to record and release, and I’ve enjoyed two important, personal “listening sessions”: one with my mom, just days before she was no longer lucid; and one at my mom’s memorial, to about 500 of her family members, friends and admirers. I am thankful for these memories.
As for making the song available to the general public, it was a no-brainer. My mom was an activist and social worker on various commissions and in different groups, so she was comfortable being a public person and having her story out there. Plus, by making it public, I hope I can provide some solace for the people who knew her, who know me personally or through my music, and who might have experienced a similar plight. Plus, by making it public I am able to help bring to light two important causes near and dear to my mother’s heart: (1) the need for increased funding for late-stage cancer, and specifically metastatic breast cancer, which might have saved her life; and (2) the need for more education on and protection for the environment, which you can support via The Nature Conservancy by purchasing the song.
HHD: This is a question that I ask all the artists featured on HHD. How is AWKWORD going to define success for himself as a musician? As a man?
Awkword: “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them. So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win win.” — Jay-Z
“Anything a writer writes should be written with the urgency of someone holding a gun in their mouth.” — Maya Angelou
I will consider myself a success as both an artist and as a man if I get rich (without selling out), give back (to what I believe is important, in a manner that feels right to me), and always create with the urgency of someone holding a gun in my mouth.
HHD: What do you have in store for your fans in 2012? When is World View dropping as an album? What is the next step in your musical evolution?
Awkword: World View is dropping in 2012, but DJ Booth and I haven’t decided on a release date yet. In the meantime, fans can expect me to continue my steady stream of single releases, even adding a few freestyles here and there. I also expect to complete a couple more videos for the project, but I don’t want to give anything away too early.
Once World View is out, I want to immediately start working on my next project, which real fans of AWKWORD will definitely enjoy. I think people can expect to see some serious growth on that album, plus some musical surprises from the producer I end up linking with for the emcee-producer project. I will also definitely continue in the direction of more personal, introspective music, but of course told through the mischievous eyes of a man fed up with it all.
HHD: Any other thoughts you want to share?
Awkword: It’s OK to be AWKWORD. Success is the best revenge. It’s better to be a lion for a day than a lamb that lives forever. Listen to my music. Holler at me on twitter. And tell your friends to tell their friends I’m dope.