What does conscious hip-hop mean to you?
Music with a message. I just like to incorporate whatever I’m going through at the time, political issues, into the music. I definitely want to start doing more solo stuff, a lot of the stuff on SoundCloud is stuff I’ve done with Lyrical. But I have a lot of conscious music, and also some club music. I like to make music for everyone.
I think a lot of the criticism that rap gets today is about its lyrics and content. Do you think that’s true?
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think the image that a lot of the rappers today have is degrading towards women and certain minority groups, as far as sexuality goes, and I really feel like they like to up-play things that will get people f***** up out here [laughs]. It’s the government’s way of keeping things separate. I don’t necessarily agree with that, I make more of a message in my music for sure.
So what do you think you’re doing differently than other rappers, besides making music with a message?
Just being myself. I think I get inspiration from like Kendrick, J.Cole; people that are true to themselves with the music and you know just image-wise as well.
Yeah, what do you think about rap, modern, today, right now; what do you think about it?
I think it’s pretty embarrassing to be honest. I feel like most of it, like, if you’re not acting like a monkey on stage you don’t get really a lot of respect. A lot of who the media play, that are the largest, that you see on TV are just talking about nonsense. See T.I. is the perfect example. You know he started off making like real trap music, less conscious music just from his standpoint. You know, he grew up in a bad neighborhood so his music is set from that standpoint, but now it’s more political, more conscious on civil rights. Now that he’s coming to the conscious side of things, I definitely see him less in the spotlight of the media because he’s opening people’s minds with the music that he’s making now, and that’s not what ‘sells.’
“You know what I’m saying? It’s all about the sex image and how much weed you smoke and how many drugs you sell and how much money you have. But in reality, we should be focusing on what’s happening in the world today, you know, trying to be a positive light instead of just mucking it up even more than it already is.”
What do you think about the evolution of rap, compared to what it was in the 80s, 90s, even early 2000’s?
Honestly I think it’s devolved. I really admire people like Isaiah Rashad, J. Cole, Kendrick, because they are really speaking on what’s happening in their lives and what’s happening in society and they give solutions to those issues in their music. I feel like that’s one thing that Biggie didn’t do a lot of. Tupac definitely did, you know, he was a social activist. He had music that was more violent to suit a certain group of people, but I really think that was more of the label pushing him. I really think it’s devolved since then.
I want to talk about politics for a second, just because in one of your songs you get a little bit political. Since you’re trying to stay positive, how have you responded to the current political situation and how has it influenced your music?
Like in the song Can’t Find Love, we really just tried to open people’s minds to the ignorance that is everyday life in America. Racism is like the biggest issue I feel like in our country right now, just with political candidates, Republican and Democratic parties, that’s all they focus on is racial tension. I feel like the leaders today are trying to start a race war just for the sake of making money. It’s really sad; war is the biggest moneymaker in the world. A lot of people our age are like ‘I’m not trying to go vote because I don’t like Hillary or Trump.’ I feel like we don’t have a candidate that speaks for us. My fiancé is really into Jill Stein. I’ve been reading up on her a lot lately and even though the chances are really slim for her to win, I feel like if people got together and got behind her we could see some real change in the country. I just want to see a change in my lifetime; I want to be a voice for change and for the millennial group and younger.
How did you get started? When did you start rapping? How did you get into rap music, like what was your first experience with hip hop?
I grew up playing like hardcore metal; I played drums. My uncle is actually a really famous producer, he produced like Jay-Z’s first album Reasonable Doubt and I think the next two after that. He’s really the one who got me into hip-hop. I remember going to his house as a young kid and seeing all his Gold Records on the wall, like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, DMX, all those iconic artists and just being able to sit in the studio and watch him work. He really inspired me; he gave me my first set of drums. That’s why I got started. And singing in church, I have always been in the choir or playing drums with the praise team. That was really the start—the church, and a lot of artists can relate to that.
Yeah, I’ve actually heard that more than a few times. Do you find that influences your art?
Definitely, in every way. A lot of my music has that feel. You’ll hear biblical references, metaphors. What I find is that if people hear something familiar, it catches their ear even quicker. Which Chance is doing with his new album. He has a lot of biblical references in his art and I feel like it just makes it easier to catch people’s hearts, and that’s all I’m really here to do.
Another thing I noticed in your songs, like a lot of other rappers will try to maintain this image of them constantly partying and never sitting down and working on anything. But you, in some of your music, take a different approach and you talk about how hard and how much work it takes. That’s probably part of what you were saying earlier about how you just want to be real. When you push this message, are you trying to be honest or are you trying to be different?
I feel like being different is just being yourself. If you try too hard to be different, it seems fake. I just try to stay true to myself as much as possible.
As an artist, have you ever felt an ethical dilemma of having to conform to any kind of genre or needed to change your perspective or your attempt to be conscious in your writing, in order to make it easier to sell or easier to market?
Definitely. Every time I start writing a song, that’s the main thing on my mind. Depending on the mood that I get from the instrumental is really what determines that, or if I saw something on Facebook or the news that would piss me off one day, I just start writing and those are the songs that I really don’t give a f*** about, I just want marketability. I really just care about getting my feelings off my chest. Then I have songs like “Potion” that are written specifically for the radio. Everyone has that one song that you’re just trying to get on the radio that isn’t conscious; J.Cole’s was “Can’t Get Enough.” That one song that gets you in people’s ears, so they want to hear more.
Where do you think the line is? Is it just maintaining a balance so you can create something for your creative outlet and then something that’s going to be popular?
It definitely takes balance, that’s something I struggle with all the time because a lot of the ones that are really radio-friendly, I hate those songs. They’re genuine, but I never talk about stuff that is happening in my life or don’t agree with, but at the same time I want people to hear me. Sometimes I feel like people pay too much attention to the things that you hear [lyrics] in music, like ‘Ok, this dude smoke hella weed, I love to chill with him.’ I do smoke hella weed, that’s true, but at the same time there’s a reason behind it and I have a reason for everything I do. There are certain events that have happened in my life that have brought me to this point. In the music that speaks about that is what I really want you to pay attention to. You’re not getting the radio plays if you’re conscious.
“It’s all about how much drugs you do, how much money you make, how many women you got, and all of that needs to change.”
I just think it’s gotten so far from what it used to be and it could be so much better. There are definitely some artists out here legitimately trying to make a difference. It’s just mind-opening, seeing T.I. put out songs like “Peanut Butter Jelly” or “About the Money” getting millions of views, and then he puts out “Black Man” and all his other songs on his new album and they’re out for a month and have 40,000 views. People want something real but when they get it they can’t handle it [laughing]. They say ‘That’s too much, you’re saying too much,’ and ‘that’s all Black Lives Matter, I really don’t care about that,’ you know what I’m saying? People see what’s going on in the world and then they preach on Facebook how they want change but then when other people come out with music preaching that change they don’t support that music, they just want 21 Savage “I’m Flexin’ On My Ex Bitch.” You know? It’s a dope song, but at the same time it’s a shitty song, it’s just a distraction.
They don’t want to listen to something that would maybe teach them something or broaden their understanding right?
Yeah, it’d be nice if people wanted that, but all people want is entertainment. Sadly, knowledge isn’t always entertaining. It takes an intelligent person to appreciate music like that. That’s honestly why conscious music is not popular, because most of the world only wants a dope beat to shake their ass too and a catchy hook, and that isn’t everything. Music literally influences your everyday life. If hip hop wasn’t a thing, half of these guys selling drugs wouldn’t be doing it. That’s the suggestion that hip hop music plants in your head that causes these minority groups, along with segregation and other issues, but hip-hop music is huge. For that reason, the government actually has a hip hop task force where they go and catch rappers that rap about selling drugs, and a lot of these guys are stupid enough to be rapping about what they’re doing in their everyday life, like Bobby Shmurda. It was a dope song, but it got five of his homeboys locked up, and he’s in prison for 7 years. He’s only in for 7 years because he snitched on everybody else. Music is dangerous; it can be a very dangerous weapon used in the wrong way, and I feel like it can be just as positive used in the right way. You saw a lot of that in the sixties and seventies, with the Beatles and other iconic groups. They preached positivity and all their fans started the hippie movement, and the government was like ‘Hippies? You’re selling drugs to American teenagers,’ when in reality all they’re trying to do is promote peace with herbs that legitimately help people, like weed. By making them illegal you make it so people want to fight over those resources, you make it so people want to kill each other over those resources. It’s literally the War on Drugs that is the issue. Not to say that all drugs are good, I’m speaking out about weed specifically, because I feel like Big Pharma does more damage than weed will ever do. They’ll get you hooked on Heroin by calling it oxycodone. All of these drugs that are meant to help you at the end of the day only hurt you; they help you take away the pain momentarily, but then you want more and more and more until you’re not even hurting but you still want those drugs, and that turns people into crack heads. It’s a trap. The real trap is not drugs; it’s pharmaceutical companies.
Looking at your future, do you think you’re going to stay on this conscious track? Do you want to keep doing this? You talked a little bit about going more solo, but is there anything else that you’re looking to in the future?
I definitely want to promote the conscious image. I definitely still want to have radio bangers, something people know, just like Drake. Drake has mainstream songs and then he has super conscious music at the same time. It may not be about social change and civil change, but it’s conscious in the fact that he really talks about his life. He’s not rapping about stuff he’s not doing. I feel like really what people relate to are people who are like Bryson Tiller, who just talk about what’s going on in their everyday life, because their problems are problems that everyone has. The more you try to relate to people, the more positive it’s going to be, that’s why Chance the Rapper is where he is with no label backing him. In the future, I would like to stay independent, but I don’t have the pull that Chance the Rapper does, so eventually I’m probably going to have to end up signing. But when I do, I’d like it to be to a label like Fool’s Gold, Awful Records, TDE, conscious labels like that. You might make less money doing that, but I’d rather be doing what I love. You know? You might make more money in a 9-5 corporate job, but I’d rather make less money doing this.
Listen to a preview of Ambro$e’s latest single, “Potion”, here.