Monday, November 29, 2010

Conducting Thoughts with: Afaar

After interviewing NomiS and listening to him rave about the new album, I had to track down Afaar (member of the mighty Gallery Drive crew) and see if he'd be willing to do an interview about his new project, pop culture, and the nature of trying to make it in the music biz. Luckily, he and I have spoken before and both have a keen love of comic books so, he was down for it. I hope you enjoy what he had to say:

Conduct: I recently asked Nomis a similar question, since he was also on the Gallery Drive record also but, did that group effort teach you anything that you are now bringing to the release of "Art of Word?"

Afaar: I think it taught me a few things about doing music in general. This album was already finished before we really started working on the Gallery drive projects, which was good because I was able to put all my focus into that. A lot of what it taught me is compromise in music. Sometimes you need to give up what you want, or some of what's closest to you for the greater good. I know a lot of rappers and artists that are not successful because they simply do what they want. No accountability. I did a lot of the hooks and choruses on the album, and there were times the guys just didn't like how it came across. Either they didn't like how I was saying it, or they didn't want ME to say it or whatever. And that plays against your pride as a solo artist, to have cats say "I like your hook, but I don't want you to say it". But that made me a better artist. And that is what makes better records. When someone goes into the studio for 4 months, and shuts themselves off, and comes out with crap, don't be shocked. It's because something may sound good in your head, but NOT good to everyone else. So you have to take that criticism. I did a lot of that with Art of Word. I had close to 40 tracks to choose from, and I let folks hear it and tear it apart until I had what was widely considered a really good project from people who's opinions I respect.

Conduct: One of the most striking things I found interesting about the way you opened your new album here was just how seriously faith-focused that the track was. I've found that most people usually open up with a blazing "rap centric" or "banger beat heavy" track to start off their record. What made you decided to go with this song to open and, NOT use as a closing track?

Afaar: I started my last album "Write to Live" that way. But for this I wanted something a little bigger, more meaningful and epic. I had my good friend Analia sing on this track. She's classically trained in opera, and a bunch of other styles of singing. She's dope! Anyway, I had her actually doing opera singing in Italian in the chorus. The title of the song is Resistenza which means "Strength". I think the purpose for me was to make it something that was really meaningful, because this album was a journey for me, and it was really meaningful. Plus my boys Commoners and Kings killed it! My boy Jason had the spoken word at the end that really summed it up. Our strength is really God's strength that he gives us to do His work.

Conduct: We've talked about the use of your various pop culture references, from cartoons to video games, to comics in the past. I often sit and think long and hard on what references have last effect or end up being just passe. Do such references come to you easily or do you ever have to wonder whether its open enough for the audience you're sending sounds out to?

Afaar: One really flattering comment someone made about my last record was when he quoted a line, that I knew only a few people would get, and he went crazy because he recalled the reference! As a fan of music, when someone brings up a childhood memory, or something that I know about like comics, TV, video games etc. It gives me the feeling that I know this person a little better because that person likes what I like, he has seen what I saw and likes it. Now with the comic references, I really try to tone it down, because I can do it all day, and it becomes not as special if that's all I do. Like playing Tekken 3 with Eddie Gordo, you become a "1 button warrior"! You have 1 move that you play out. So I try to make more general references for punchlines. It's strange because it does come easily. When I write a verse, it feels like being the architect in Inception. I feel like I'm creating it, but I'm discovering it at the same time. I know guys who plan out their lines and bars, and even write out the alphabet on their paper to construct verses. I just.... write. I don't usually think about the next rhyme till I get to it, but usually I get it and it follows the topic and pattern perfectly. I don't know, it almost writes itself at times. I can't explain it.

Conduct: Beats are often thought of as being as essential (and, in some minds, more important) than the words which dance upon them. You have a nice set of producers on this project. Do you seek them all out or stumble upon most of the beat makers you work with?

Afaar: Both. I am fortunate to be good friends with Truth B Told, who is ADDICTED to production. (This dude has been known to spend $1000 on 1 beat LOL) I love him like a brother. But he usually finds producers out of the wood work! I'm talkin 19 year olds from Germany making CRAZY beats. And he hooks me up with contacts, or sometimes with beats he knows I'll use. It's nice to not have to worry about. But I did make relationships with a lot of producers for this project. I had some Teddy P production. Cat's a BEAST! I talked with him on the phone, and that was a refreshing change. Usually relationships with producers would be all emails back and forth.

Conduct: Comparison is HUGE in the way people communicate newer artists to their friends so, out of fun curiosity, do you think you have similarities to any emcees out there?

Afaar: In my experience, if people like you, they compare you to people they like. even if they sound nothing like you. I have been compared to Talib, Xzibit, Common, Nas a lot, Biggie etc. One comparison that really gets me is Immortal Technique. People say that it sounds like I'm biting his style.... Which is funny because I never listened to an entire Immortal Technique album, I have heard a grand total of maybe less that 10 FULL songs of his. And people don't compare, they think I BITE his style. Of course I gave it an honest listen. Cat's on some revolutionary, overthrow the govt. stuff!! He's a conspiracy theorist. He's dope! I always knew that from the stuff I heard, but I was never really into him. My style is nothing like his, and my topics are not on the same things, so how am I anything like him?? Funny if you ask me.

Conduct: "Hundred Times" is definitely an interesting track in that you opened the project so Christ focused and then gets here where you talk about your skills and how beastly you are on the mic. How do you deal with the people who find that those two things are in opposition to one another, especially in regards to belief?

Afaar: I've definitely had conversations with people about this. If you want to see the fruit of Christ, look at my life. I have a loving wife, I have an American job while living in Canada (oh yeah, I moved to Canada). We give our tithes, and considering the financial status of a LOT of people, we are BLESSED! I read the word and volunteer at a Christian based youth center. So I have the freedom to have fun and make music that I like! There are a LOT of Christian MC's that touch on every topic, some that depress, some that encourage, some that are pretty much a copy and paste straight from scripture. I think HHH can have the freedom to just spit dope sometimes. I am a fan of hip hop music, and to not make some beastly tracks would go against the reason I started making music. And it becomes not fun anymore. I like coming up with clever punchlines, metaphors, hyperbole's and all that. And people like to hear that. It's just when people want to hear a more heartfelt, conscience, or even a Christ centered song, switch the track. I have those too. I mean, I am not trying to be another MC, if all you want to hear from everyone you listen to is The Ambassador, then listen to the Ambassador.... I'm going to rap. I enjoy it.

Conduct: "Audience" you chose as the video single. What was it about this song that you and your team at End of Earth felt made it the best track to be represented in a video?

Afaar: Dope beat, dope rhymes... It's one of 3 singles/videos we're doing. I think I liked it for a song to start off with because it's upbeat, it's style and pattern heavy, and I figured if people like that song, they'll go nuts over what I didn't show them yet.

Conduct: You know me, I love some good visual stuff and, I've been interested in your album cover since I first saw it. Why go with that revolutionary image for your project?

Afaar: The title "Art of Word" is a play on words from Art of War. And really from the first track it's kind of amping you up to be on that revolutionary vibe. I want to hear good hip hop music, music that I came up with that made me fall in love with hip hop. As a whole how music has progressed, has really been the opposite of progression. I'm not one of those whinny cat's who think everything is whack, and hate on every song that comes out. I just hate that hearing music that I personally like has to be so few and far between. Even in the HHH market. Is it too much to ask for someone who I think is talented to see success? I'm talking Grammy type of success. I'm not saying any names, but the people who are on top of the Christian charts... I don't like a lot of that stuff, it doesn't appeal to my liking, personally. I understand why everyone likes them, and they are extremely talented, just not my cup o tea I guess.

Conduct: There are quite a few features on this record but, I found, that it doesn't take away from you being able to showcase your individual talent. I, love asking this question of people because I feel that the feature game is out of control by people (especially newer artists): Why do you have features on your SOLO album?

Afaar: I have features from artists I respect, and who I feel like I wanted to make a song with. Period. It doesn't hurt from a business standpoint to have bigger names on the album to widen the listening range. I think any artist should have collabs on their record that swallow what they are doing. Moving to secular music for a minute. When a no name artist rhymes with Elzhi, I am only going to listen to the track because Elzhi is on it. And since 9 times out of 10 Elzhi is going to DEMOLISH any no name rapper on the song, it's not a smart choice for a collab. You have to be confident in your talent, and do your thing. And that's what I did, my thing. I never try to out rap anyone, in fact, almost every collab that I sent already had my verse on the reference track for them to hear before they decided to do the song

Conduct: Continuing on features, do you ever feel that certain artists do TOO MUCH featuring?

Afaar: I think I came really close! hahaha! I think there should be a maximum of half the album. You lose your own voice other wise.

Conduct: "Naomi" landed on a few people's repeat tracks list (of people I've spoken too, who heard the record) and its very interesting because most people say they've heard or experienced such stories themselves. How was it to write this track especially since you have a personal connection with the mother in the story?

Afaar: My last album had the story telling track Isabella, which was really successful. I decided to follow suit with a story that touches on the social aspects of the communities we live in. I felt like we have songs about the strength of single mothers, and even young mothers... mothers, mothers, mothers.... Its all about them. What about the child, they're important too right? So I made it about her, and how her parent's decisions effect her. This is loosely based on an actual relationship in my past, the names, locations and events were doctored up. But I think people can draw emotional responses from this. When I showed this to a friend of mine right after it was mixed, I looked back when the song was almost over and he had tears in his eyes... Dude was literally crying! I thought to myself, OK we got it... hahahaha

Conduct: What is your idea for where you want to take this music of yours? What's your goal?

Afaar: The ultimate goal is to do music full time. To be able to tour a few times a year, sell records and live off of money made for music. Plan B is to start my own youth center, that emphasizes art and music for programming. I would love to take what I do, and give it back to young people. That way I can justify making music when I'm 40! hahahaha

Conduct: As a writer do you have a process that you always adhere too? Like, do you find it easier to write in a quiet place all by yourself, around other members of Gallery Drive, or do you just do it wherever and whenever it hits you?

Afaar: I like to write where I feel the most inspiration. Usually that's on my own. I've been known to write on the bus, on the train, on the beach, in writing sessions with Gallery Drive (even tho I usually go in the other room to focus). My process is simple, just write, like I was saying before, it's weird how it comes to me, especially when I'm inspired.

Conduct: Recently I went back over some of my past "Conducting Thoughts" interviews and found that a few people I had spoken too mentioned a concern with how many people are doing rap now and, that a good amount of them probably never asked themselves if rapping was what their purpose was. Have you ever asked yourself that or, came to a moment of crossroad in whether doing this was what you SHOULD be doing?

Afaar: When I finished "Write to Live" I spent a long time in prayer on the alter. I wanted to know what my problem was. And God answered. I came to the conclusion that I used to do it to prove myself. When I should be doing it to give back to Him. It's a gift, and as Christians we are taught to give those gifts/ talents back to God multiplied. So my progression as an artist, and becoming a better rapper, and man of God is my talent that I am giving back to him... The whole audience of one cliche. LOL

Conduct: How did you manage to get Freddie Bruno on the album TWICE?

Afaar: Easy. I gave him 2 dope beats! LOL. I really respect Freddie. He's a really good rapper, I used to listen to Phonetic Comp. all the time while working out. Which is a BIG deal, because my workout play list is SUPER exclusive. You don't just get on my play list cause I like you. Put it this way. I have 1 Talib Kweli song on my playlist and 3 Mos Def songs. Blackstar is my favorite record of all time. That should tell you something.

Conduct: Nomis just dropped an EP, "Rosario Dawson" which I just interviewed him about. How does it feel to see your other friends from Gallery Drive making these moves on the solo?

Afaar: Well, NomiS is a solo artist. It's good to see him doing well in what he does. I'm proud of him! I've been friends with that cat since 7th grade. My mom used to braid his hair when he had a fro! LOL! That's right I knew him when he was bald headed! That's my boy, he's like a brother, I want him to reach every level of success. Plus, if one of us wins, we all win!

Conduct: Do you listen to much music and, if so, whom makes it onto an Afaar playlist?

Afaar: Like I said, a lot of my music listening is during workouts, but here it goes.... Elzhi, Joell Ortiz, Royce, Common, Little Brother, Kam Moye, Jay Electronica, Gallery Drive, The Roots, Pharoahe Monch.... and others I can't think of right now.

Conduct: What personal lesson have you learned in your walk with Christ that you think you can share with the people out there that maybe you haven't put in your music as of yet?

Afaar: God's grace is sufficient. I have grown up in church, and I heard that a million times. I understood it intellectually, but you don't truly understand it till you've made it through some stuff, and you see other people not make it through. When you really reflect, and see your life, and look at other people's lives, You realize how God's grace stands up. Man! So powerful. I would love to do a song that would do that justice. Maybe on the next record.

Conduct: Now you get to play interviewer here and ask me ANYTHING you want. I will honestly answer it. Go ahead.

Afaar: Ok. What song on this album is your favorite, and which song do you think other people would like the best, and why?

Conduct: That's a tough question. I think there are 5 incredible tracks on this record but, I guess to be honest, its going to be one of these three, depending on how I feel in the moment: Naomi, Resistanza, or Duty Calls-Outro. Ha, ha. I really love records with strong opens and closes.

Conduct: This is the open space to say, plug, or even tell a joke. The whatever you wanna say place. Go!

Afaar: Buy the album! It's worth it, I promise! Plus, look out for my, exclusive song "Motivation"! It is a 100 bar verse! Pure Heat! I put a lot into this one... Be easy y'all PEACE AND BLESSINGS!!!

Thank you, Afaar, for "Conducting Thoughts" with me.

Afaar's new album, "Art of Word" can be listened too and purchased at the link below:

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