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Interview With Malik Ameer – The Unseen and Drapetomania Feb 2004


9 February 2004 No Comment

Malik Ameer is a young emcee from Berkeley, CA. Having recently released Drapetomania and The Unseen we got in touch with Malik to find out more about him. Check out the in-depth interview.

It says in your biography that you did your first album at the age of 8. How many albums have you released so far since the only 2 that I know about are Drapetomania and Sanctified.

Man, that first album I sold in elementry school for fifty cents or I would trade it for lunch food and snacks that was in 89. But all in all not counting elementry because I was making a tape a week then trying to be like Too Short with the special request albums in which he would make raps all about the person who wanted it and just brag about how fresh that person was. From seventh grade-when I started selling taped-to now I’ve locally sold about 20 albums and The Nightmare was the first international via internet album then Drapetomania and now Sanctified.

You use Akhenaton as an alias. For those that don’t know what does that mean? 

This name means one with Aton and the son of aton. Aton is the sun god whom the pharoah Akhenaton worshiped and used to change the philosophical, and artistic techniques of KMT also known as Kemet and commonly known as Egypt. I used the name because at the time I really wanted to change the artistic and philosophical approach commonly taken in creating the music. I wanted the practitioners of hiphop to focus on one supreme purpose that would encompases all else. With that I wanted hiphop to be more focused on the spirit and all that effects it as well as all the possible effect it can have. I quit using the name because eventually it occured to me that all hiphop -no matter what genre- is expresing the current state of the spirit and the affects that this world is having on it.

How have the 2 albums (Drapetomania and Sanctified) been received by the people and press and was there any noticeable difference between the two feedbacks? 

People flat out hated Drapetomania, it was boring and too angry and painful to listen to. The
beats weren’t dope enough for them and all and all it was just too strange of an album, and my voice and the rap style I chose to present was far to obnoxiously angry and loud for most. The lyrics were received well. Some people often said I should give up rap and just be a writer. I only know of 7 people that liked that album and about 10 people that appreciated it. Sanctified was a return to my older style of rapping and production so people who dug that peiod really liked this album. Some hiphop heads said it’s too funky and that I sound like I’m biting 2pac. Some people sad its not a good or bad album it’s just an average, mediocre album. But cats in Australia dig it and alot of folks in the Bay like it and New York cats dug it but.

As an artists where would you say your strengths lie? 

Performance, Freestyling (true improv- no writtens, all instantaneous) lyrics, delivery, production and a love for the craft and its purpose in helping people dig into another part of themselves that can possibly be inspired by the music. But I do not by any means believe I’m better than anyone and that is a strength because I know I need to practice my craft because I have a long way to go. I need a lot of wood shedding.

How have your albums been doing in terms of sales?

One thing about selling albums that’s funny is, you can sell albums in the street, literally standing on the corner and sell thousands and no one will know you’re on earth. Why? Because people buy the albums from you like you’re a hobo asking for change and you just have to convince them to buy your album. I have friends who have sold thousands of album one in particular is Currency he has sold thousands of albums all over the bay and he is an extremely talented cat but no one knows that because they didn’t sell out of the stores and he doesn’t get radio play. And see in the stores there is no one pushing your album, so it just sits there and gathers dust. Unless when you perform you let them know to go get the album at this store but even that rarely works. But for me sales have been slow but good and consistent. Sales would be better, with better promotion and I’m working on that. Thus I am grateful to Africas Gateway for helping me with that by doing this interview and review.

When a person listens to your cd what would you prefer them to get from it? 

I pray they get exactly what they need from it. If they need to trash an album at that moment to make them feel a certain way, so be it. But if they feel like life makes a little more sense or something that’s all beautiful and perfect. What ever a person gets from it, I’m just glad they got something. My ego would want them to get pumped and spread the word about the music. But I truly just want them to smile and say “yeah that’s right, he’s on to something. He ain’t got it yet but he’s gonna get it one day” That would be nice.

Having grown up in Oakland would it be accurate for me to say that you witnessed the rise of popular rappers such as Too Short? What was it like in those days? 

Aw man, Too Short was like some God I mean him Melle Mel, Kool Moe D, Kurtis Blow, Bambata,
L.L., Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and Ice T, Easy E were all we listened to. I knew every Too Short rhyme since 85. But hiphop wasn’t nothing back then, people was breakdancing in the parks and on corners and freestyling etc but parents just knew it was a fad and nobody believed in it even when Run DMC hit and all the movies were about New York you know, so in the bay between him and 4tay from San Francisco he made our state and city relevent to the hiphop movement. Everybody in Oakland loved Too Short and when Freaky Tales dropped forget about it! Too Short was never on the radio or TV but when he did get on with Life is Too Short, we knew he was gonna blow. It was like the independent big bang then because he created an energy of motivation in the Town, because of him we knew that Oakland was relevent and thats when I decided, I can do it too. Before that I just rapped for fun I never believed I’d be able to do it but Too Short made it possible. And hella us out here have the same feeling for ‘Short he’s the god father, his fonked out beats are the foundation for California hiphop. From that point on every Too Short album was a blessing and motivation. From 86-90 my rap name was Too Tall, I think that really shows you how important Too Short was and is.

What I find quite interesting is that in the Bay you have some of the most heavily conscious/political artists but on the other hand you have some of the most hardest gangster rappers. Do you ever see a clash or are these 2 separate scenes? 

I’ve been in both scenes pretty deep and the thing is they are totally separate they don’t interact it’s funny but mainly the thug scene tends to see the concious scene as squares and the concious scene think the thugs are ignorant. But I personally don’t know where I fit in because alot of what many people consider concious rappers say I’m too thugish sounding and the ganster scene thinks I’m on some save the world holy shit. So really all this is rediculous to me because both scenes express in their music how concious they are of the fact that the world and society in general is in support of oppression and deception. But the thing that shocks me is that the so called concious scene does alot more battle rapping then anything else so in that since they are just concious about their ego. Whereas the thug scene is extremely concious of what circumstances create the gangster mentality.

What can you tell me about the artists who appeared on Sanctified? 

First thing is that alot more great artist should have been on it but schedules conflicted. But the artist who did make it are as far as I’m concerned the most slept on artist in the bay area. These cats are brilliant when it comes to honestly expressing their spirit through music. But because of the business and the lack of money invested in unknown artist by the business they are rarely ever heard. All in all these cats are just so soulful and spiritually aligned with the concept I choose to present with this album. 

When you write/record a song what is the main thing you want to accomplish? 

Telling the whole truth devoid of any ego or bitterness. If I can’t get that sound and that emotion I won’t stop re-recording the song until I get it. That’s why this album took a year to finish because I just wasn’t getting that feeling across.

What is meant by Overstand 1492? What does that number mean? 

That title means that one must not just understand the atrocity of the year 1492 when Christopher Colombus sailed the great blue sea and began the horrendus reality of slaughtering the indiginous peoples of the Americas and bringing slaves in to repair and prepare the country for the present. The title means understand how sickening that year was and all of the sickening shit that resulted from that year and then also overstand how much beauty still exist even though the world was stained with a flood of blood during that time. And then further overstand that everything that is of the now is because of then, that year changed the world forever. Without that year there would be no me, no you, no hiphop, no jazz, no blues, no banda, no R&B, no rocknroll, no mariachi, no funk, no rock, no reggae, none of today’s modern culture would exist. And that paradox is all I wanted to express with that song.

As soon as you had finished recording Sanctified who was the first person you played it to? 

My girlfriend.

Does your mother listen to your albums? If so what does she think about them? 

Yeah she listens and the funny shit is that she thinks I sound like Will Smith, but she respects the fact that I don’t disrespect woman and that I rarely cuss. As a matter of fact she’s on a couple of the songs on Sanctified doing hand claps and percussion. But she doesn’t understand why I don’t get radio play even after I explain it to her.

As a young kid growing up what was the first thing you wanted to be? 

A mathematician like Einstein.

What is your most annoying habit? 

My inability to sleep, I’m an insomniac and it gets on my nerves because I love to sleep but I rarely get more than 4-5 hours a night.

Tell us something that nobody knows about you? 

I am always in constant prayer and dialogue with the otherside. My thought process is like a call and response between my ancestors and myself, they advise me etc. And I truly believe and live this way.

Explain to us what you write about. 

Damn, I write about what I see affecting my friends, family and people I see on the bus, plane, train, restaurant anywhere. I write about what I believe needs to be said on the current condition of the world. And I write what is the truth of my existence. And lastly I write about what I have seen, heard about and imagined- so all and all I just write about what I pray about. Everything I write is a prayer for someone and something and it usually has to deal with strength, like it’s a prayer asking for strength to endure a world such as this. 

Besides music what are your other interests and what books are you currently reading? 

My other intrest are debating any issue, meditating, cooking, laughing really hard, writing fiction and poetry and prose and always helping friends and strangers in need, and going on long walks any and everywhere. The books I’m reading right now are A Love Supreme/ The creation of John Coltrane’s classic album, The Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawkins, Loneliness and Solitude by Bob Kaufman and certain sections of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Who/what irritates you? 

I irritate myself alot, when I see that I’m letting my ego get the best of me, that irritates me alot because I can’t stand my ego because it gives me that obnoxious “the world owes me something” attitude which usually leads to depression or anger. Other than that those who discriminate and legislate or miseducate as a means to uplift their ego and it’s goals i.e. imperialist and racist they sickening me.

What do you do to relax? 

Watch the food channel and really concentrate on the dishes being prepared. I approach my music like cooking food. I also go hang out with my grandma or play dominoes or chess with a good buddy of mine.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming American Presidential Elections? 

Unfortunately Bush will win I said it before and I’m saying it again. But no matter what I am all for the Green Party, even though they never win they do have they best ideas for how to run this country. They catter more to the sick, aging, poor and middle class and their plans would work if they could get enough greens in the congress and senate. As for the two evils: the republicans and democrats, most people in the bay vote for the democrats because they are the lesser of the two evils but that’s like saying I’m voting for this rapist because he’s only rapped a hundred thousand people and he never rapes on Sunday and that other rapist has
raped millions and he rapes on Sunday. See, I will never support a rapist because even if they only rapped one person these people are still rapist. These two gangs of government specialize in rapping the world and nothing they have ever done has trully, totally helped the poor and middle class people of this country. It’s like El Hajj Malik Shabazz stated:
Ending segregation and passing the civil rights amendments did nothing but pull the 7 inch deep knife of racism and imperialism half an inch out our backs. I want the knife removed and after that I want the wound tended too. 

Everybody that I know has a conspiracy theory. What is yours? 

HAAA!!! My conspiracy theory is that when the imperialist taught us to fear our ancestors and deemed them ghost and we believed them we really lost ourselves. And by accomplishing that goal they were able to set in place the people that walk the earth now. People who are afraid to connect with the otherside and receive guidance and messages are a lost and afraid to be found people.

On Drapetomania you wrote a lot about slavery. What specific event in your past made you decide to write about that? 

Well, I never heard an album that fully explored the results of slavery, I heard alot of albums that refrenced slavery but none that really dug into that wound and expressed the agony of the defeated body but the never defeated soul in all honesty. But all in all I experienced so much racism in the Bay area which is supposed to be some kind of non-racist commune. All of this racism experienced by myself and others created a city that had a homicide rate of 100 in 2001 which is bigger than most countries in the world. I wanted to reveal how the foundation of this sickness. I also wanted to express the need to escape from the confinements of modern day slavery which is found in consumerism, vanity and greed. People are locked into this paradigm of what’s right and wrong even though it has nothing to do with the spirit. Hiphop being an art and therefore a reflection of the world, lives by the same rules so with that album I decided to escape from the accepted rules of rhyme structure, delivery and beats in modern Hiphop and people’s response was that the album was crazy and wack simply because it didn’t appeal to the status quo and societal, modern standards just as in the slave times a slave that wanted to escape from slavery was considered crazy because society deemed her/him to be afflicted with
the disease of Drapetomania, hence the importance of the title.

Have you ever considered moving to Africa? 

Yes but I don’t have enough money to go out there and experience it, because I have to experience a place before I make any real decisions about it. But going to Africa is a dream that I will make a reality some day soon. Many African Americans feel that way. But I definitely need to research Africa more and get acquainted with the country in more ways than just music, books, African friends and documentaries, I need to be there.

When people talk about South Africa what normally comes to mind beside Nelson Mandela and Apartheid? 

Great food, beautiful music, the struggle for racial harmony and the abolishment of the myth of race. The language of AFRIKAANS, a very mixed culture very much like the U.S. Biko of course and an unfathomable strength to endure the trials and tribulations of modern man. And of course wonderful people who are open to new ideas.

What are your plans for this year? 

Continue studying the world and writing a novel about the “unfamous” side of the arts, and making sure the unseen artist of the bay get to express themselves through the media of literary magazine and performance. Showing solidarity with all the artist and struggling people of the world. Making sure I practice my crafts as hard as I can and all in all just performing, promoting and working on new music and most importantly exchanging ideas with any person who wants to exchange ideas with me. And that’s really all my music is an exchange of ideas.

What other artists are you looking to perform/record with? 

Co-Deez, Kele, Bayonix, Relic, Problem Child, Fanatix, Valentino Pellizzer, David Michel-Ruddy,
Rupa, Bushmama, Nomi, Sonia, Carlos, Jamalo, Elijah, The New Bay, Chuck, Dana, Sameer, Erick Waverly Iheme, Tim’m, Mike Tiger, Laurie Autrey, Bicasso, Marcell Dialo, Walter Wiley, Marco Santiago, and anyone who would care to perform or record with me I am always grateful and looking to exchange or simply share ideas. 

If people want to learn more about you and your music where can they go? 

Oh they can go to www.cdbaby.com/ameer or just type my name malik ameer in any search engine and some links will come up. Eventually they’ll be able to check out www.malikameer.com that’s in the works right now.

Before we go can you recite a few of your favorite lines that you’ve written for us? 

I think I wrote way too much but I wanted to answer the question fully and exact. I think my favorite line is that I am grateful to you all for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with South Africa it means a great deal to me to have a connection with Africa in a tangible since and I am grateful and humbled. thank you

Thanks for you time, any last words or shout outs?

All I can say is think good thoughts always be grateful and enjoy life, laugh as hard as you can and may peace and honesty be with you when you need them.
malik ameer

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