You recently released the song “Darfur”, inspired by the genocide taking place in Sudan. What inspired you to write “Darfur”?
My inspiration to write “Darfur” is the fact that over 200,000 innocent people have been murdered in Darfur. Over a million people have been displaced and are now living on refugee camps in eastern Chad. It’s a struggle we all should be concerned about. If you’re a human being, you need to be able to feel compassion about the death of your fellow man. I don’t care what your racial background is. That’s one reason.
Another reason is the fact that the hip-hop community and the world as a whole should to be sensitive to the issue of Darfur. I wrote the song because I want to make sure that people within the hip-hop community are aware of what’s going on. I also wrote the song because I want people to understand the power of hip-hop music. Hip-hop music is currently under a great deal of fire, but when you write a song about “Darfur” and the critics of hip-hop hear that, they see that hip-hop music has immense power. What other genre of music has the capacity to put all of that information into three minutes and be that powerful? That’s why hip-hop music influences youth all over the globe. And I wanted to use that power.
I think that that’s a God-given gift that the Most High gave me to use in order to do something substantial and meaningful. I can say to my son one day, “There was a tragedy over there in Darfur and this is what I did to step up and try to do something about it.” That’s not the only thing that I did, but I want my legacy to be that I stood up against injustices in the world and I want to use my music to enlighten people and to allow people to experience pain that otherwise they probably didn’t pay much attention to. It feels good when I get comments on the site saying that I hit the nail on the head with it.
You remember songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and Common’s “Retrospect for Life.” Those are songs that touched on real serious issues. I wanted to make sure that I’m using the power of hip-hop to tell stories and to speak on issues that are actually relevant in the world and how much more relevant can you get than 200,000 innocent people being murdered and over a million people being displaced from their homes? That’s why I wrote that song. I don’t feel detached from that situation as a human being. If it can happen in Sudan, it can happen anywhere. In fact, it did happen in the United States with slavery. There comes a time when we have to step up and do something about it.
I also reached out to an organization called Africare. That’s an organization that runs a refugee camp in eastern Chad. I didn’t want to just write a song about Darfur. I actually wanted to go there. I wanted to donate my little tax refund and go over there and shoot a video for Darfur and do what I could do to help. I wanted to physically go over to a refugee camp and experience spending time with the people and try to help them see that there are people from other countries that actually care about what’s going on over there. However, Africare told me that it wasn’t feasible and that I wouldn’t even get a clearance to get over there, so I have to kind of change direction with how I’m going to shoot the video. I still plan to donate the money and do work to raise awareness for the cause. We’re going to contact certain organizations and see if they want to be a part of the movement to raise awareness about the tragedies going on in Darfur.
What do you say to the person who says, “I know it’s bad over there, but I can barely make ends meet here. What should I do?”
True indeed. I understand that and I understand where a person is coming from when they’re going through their own personal struggle. We’re all fighting our own personal struggle. But at the same time, you have to step back and look at what you have. You have to put your struggle in perspective and say, “I have a roof over my head. Even though I’m struggling to make ends meet and I’m struggling to pay my bills and my mortgage and my car note, I still have a lot to be thankful for.”
Take a second to look at the whole picture. We’re talking about people who have lost damn near everything. We’re talking about people who have gone through and continue to go through immense turmoil and have lost their homes and can never go back. All I’m asking you to do is to take a moment and think about the issue and talk about the issue and maybe you’ll be motivated to go and do something about it. Maybe it will make you more appreciative of what you have if you look at the struggles that people across the world are going through, you may come to a revelation about your own situation. It may be hard for you to pay for child care and all that, but at least your child has child care and at least you have a job to go to. Sometimes you have to take a step back and appreciate.
When I write a song like “Darfur” and I try to raise awareness of issues like this in my music, it’s about sparking thoughts and initiating conversation through my music.
What’s to say that the genocide taking place in Darfur couldn’t happen somewhere closer to home?
You know what, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen in America or in a place close to America. We don’t know what lies ahead in the future. All we know is that policies are rapidly changing in this country. Who knows what lies ahead and that’s the bottom line. You don’t know what your situation is going to be tomorrow. If someone else is going through misery, I think that we should be motivated to help because you never know where you’ll be tomorrow and you never know when you’ll need someone to help you during your struggle. I really think it can come closer to home and you just don’t know exactly what lies ahead in the future so you want to be compassionate so your soul is good whenever your day comes.
With so much death and displacement, why do you think no one been able to stop this genocide?
Quite frankly, I think the world has just turned its back on Africa. A lot of countries go in there and they get what they can get out of Africa. Of course I’m talking about resources. I address that in the song. A lot of this war is about the oil in that area. China wants to purchase it. People are more concerned about the resources than they are about the human life in Africa. As terrible as it is, a lot of times, that’s just the reality of it. The super power countries allow these atrocities to go on in Africa and they give you the bull-shit propaganda while strategically conducting the underline covert operations that destabilize the continent.
I was watching Bush’s State of the Union Address the other night and he puts a little buzz clip in there to the effect that the United States is not going to stand by while a genocide goes on in the Sudan, but what has this administration really done to stop it? With all the manpower and all the fire power that the United States has…This man, he mentioned peace in his speech quite a few times, but we’re still so focused on war in Afghanistan and Iraq while there’s a genocide going on in Sudan. I’m not going to over simplify complicated world issues, but shit, you have to call it what it is. Bush, or I should say his speech writers, kept bringing up the word “peace” but all I see is war mongering.
I’m not a politician, but we’re a powerful country and all the blame doesn’t go on the United States either. There are a lot of other countries that could step in and stop the genocide that’s going on in Darfur. This has been going on for years now. I feel like they have planes and helicopters flying over and they’re saying, “Eventually the Africans will kill themselves off.” You can’t keep whining about the government though. You have to step up and take action. And that’s why I wrote “Darfur” and “The New Movement.” Those songs are about compelling the youth to go out and make a change for themselves. That’s one thing that makes me continue to make music and stay motivated to create hip-hop music. I think the genre is the most powerful force and motivator for the youth today.
Would the genocide be going on if it were taking place on any other continent than Africa?
Nah, I think they definitely would have stopped it by now. The first thing that popped in my head when you asked that question was Mr. Lif’s verse on “Brothaz.” He had a verse addressing Darfur. I’m not the first to do it and Mr. Lif deserves the credit. That was a good song. He said, “If it was Kosovo, it’d be over, bro.” People have devalued human life in Africa and Africans are almost viewed by ignorant people who really don’t take the time out to learn anything about Africa as being sub-human, and that’s ridiculous. Africans are the people who built the greatest civilization on the face of the planet earth, which was ancient Kemet or Egypt.
My name is Ankh Amen Ra – The living force of God’s light. I gave myself that name acknowledging our ancient ancestry and I think it’s crazy that we can go from developing a civilization of that magnitude and greatness to destroying ourselves here in the hoods of America and having the type of atrocities that are going on in Darfur. And that’s another interesting point that I want to make. I think that the situation in Darfur is motivated primarily by economics and by money, by oil money. But I also think, and this is my own personal opinion, but I think that this is the strategic annihilation of descendents of ancient Kemet or the civilization of ancient Egypt. If you study the migration paths of the ancient Egyptians, you will see that many traveled across the Sahara into West Africa and large groups stopped in the region which is now western Sudan and eastern Chad. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some secret society behind that annihilation. You just never know.
Are these the types of situations that inspire you to make the music that you make?
Definitely. These are the situations that inspire me to make music. If it weren’t for speaking on real issues, I wouldn’t have the motivation to make music. I don’t really make music for ringtones and shit. And that’s not to say that people couldn’t bump my songs as ringtones, actually it would be great if a million people had the hook to “Darfur” blasting as their ringtone, but essentially, in this time and in this day and age, there are so many relevant and important issues to address that I feel like I need to really get busy and that’s actually what I plan to do. I plan to take my music to the next level and consistently hit you with gems similar to the one I’m about to release, Face the Day, Come What May. Hopefully that EP will be out by February 26 on Savior’s Day. I feel like with all the issues that are going on in the world, It’s important that I consistently make music and bring my thoughts and my conclusions on what’s going on to maybe inspire someone else to do something and to make a change in their own environment and in their world. That’s what inspires me to make music.
Your new EP title borrows from a Bob Marley lyric. What kind of an influence does Bob Marley have on you?
Oh, man. Bob Marley, to me, is the greatest artist of all time, hands down. I mean, he has a tremendous influence on my music. His influence can be seen all throughout my music, in the social consciousness, awareness and the spirituality of it. I think if you listen to my music, you can certainly see that I’m one who believes in the Most High and believes in a higher power. At the same time, I see God within myself. I am a god with a small “g” and you hear it all in my music. Bob Marley, who was a Rasta and was so devoted to what he believed in, made it come through in his music so vividly and so clearly that people who had no idea and who couldn’t understand his belief system were still intrigued. He was so passionate about it that through his music you could get insight into what motivated the man. It’s because he was so devoted to his faith and to his understanding of the Most High.
And that’s one thing that I take from him. It’s that when you’re making music, you have to have a purpose. There has to be a purpose behind it. If you’re just focused on punchlines your shit will probably not stand the test of time. That’s why I don’t really write many punchlines. It has to be something that’s from deep in your soul. And I think that Bob Marley’s music is the pinnacle of soul music and that’s where I’m trying to go with my music. I try to give the people something that they can visualize in their minds and feel in their souls.
On another note, another thing that made Bob Marley so great is that you could move to his music. He’s the master of melody and the master of rhythm. I can discuss the lyrics and the belief system in Bob Marley’s music, but people who didn’t subscribe to his belief system, could still throw on “One Love” at a party and move to it. That’s the most powerful type of artist that there is. Whatever the message is, they can relay it to the people and put it in the form of beautiful music. The music is so contagious that the people have to sit back and absorb that message. I’m not there yet, but I think I’ll get there eventually. I think I make some pretty powerful songs and that my music is pretty powerful, but I want to reach that level to where my music can actually touch people and I can relay my message to them and they will absorb it just because the music is undeniable.
What do you have to do to get yourself to that next level?
Man, it’s a cliché, but I have to keep grinding. I have to stay on my grind. I feel like what I have to do is continue to have faith in my ability to reach the next level and to not lose sight of what my goal is and not to get deterred by the current state of music right now because you have a lot of people that are giving up on hip-hop. It’s not lucrative and the whole music industry is in shambles right now. I embrace the internet and I embrace the fact that the materialism in hip-hop music is starting to deteriorate. I embrace the fact that the playing field is starting to level out. That means that if I devote myself to staying on my path and to continue generating music and remain independent and maintain a business minded approach to marketing and promotion and continue making quality music, then I can easily ascend to that next level. It’s about my passion for music and making great music and making sure that I’m making wise and savvy business decisions in order to ensure that my music reaches the people. You can sit and make powerful music and great music in your studio all you want, but if it’s not getting to the people, then it’s really hard to get to the next level.
What kind of challenges do you face coming from D.C. right now?
I’ve lived in a lot of different places. I embrace D.C. I’ve been here since I graduated from Howard a few years ago. After that, I went on to law school in the D.C. area. D.C. is an environment where the quality of your music will be tested. People in D.C., I think their first love and their passion is a genre of music that’s not even hip-hop music. It’s go-go music. But if your music is powerful enough, it’s going to spark their interest. If you have a diehard go-go fan and they can be sparked by your music and they say, “Oh, man, this is some powerful music right here, I’m feeling you” that says a lot. That’s certainly a benefit.
I guess a drawback is that it’s going to take some time for people to actually catch on to what I’m doing, but at the same time, the great thing about that is that with the internet and with MySpace, you don’t necessarily have to think regionally and you don’t have to lock yourself into a local or a regional mindset. I’m looking at it from a global perspective now. You have to market yourself globally and internationally. I don’t want my sound to be limited to the East Coast or to D.C. I want my sound to be something that people in Africa and people in India can relate to, as well as people in the U.K. and people in Compton and people in Chicago, as well as in Brooklyn, in Harlem and in Queens. I just want to make music that people who relate to struggle can feel all over the world.
That’s the type of movement that I envision. I’m not thinking of a regional movement. It’s time for artists to think internationally and I think a lot of them are. It’s motivating to see that somebody from another country can relate to your music. It actually kind of blows you away, but it tells you that you’re on the right path.
What kind of impact do you want your EP Face the Day, Come what May to have?
The title pretty much summarizes our movement. It says that we’re going to grind because we don’t know what lies ahead and we’re going to continue with our struggle and we’re going to continue making progress in these days and times. We’re not going to stop. That’s the impact I want to have on the people. I want them to know that we’re going to make it happen. We’re going to keep making quality music no matter what the industry climate is and we’re going to feed the people. We’re going to feed them with powerful, quality, positive music that provides wisdom on some level. And that’s the impact that I want it to have. It’s not necessarily the beginning of my movement, but it’s going to solidify that this is going to continue. Our presence is here and we’re going to continue to move forward regardless of what kind of obstacles are placed before us.
You also passed the Bar Exam and earned a law degree. How important was your whole college experience in helping you see the world and helping you see more of what’s out there?
I’m glad you asked that question. Going to law school and passing the Bar showed me that I can accomplish anything that I focus on. I can maneuver in the corporate arena and I can maneuver in whatever arena you put me in and still excel. That experience gave me a boost of confidence. I’m confident knowing that I’m making powerful music and at the same time, if something happens, I can still fall back on the fact that I’m a licensed attorney.
One thing that I think artists need to understand is that you can’t look at your passion for music to be your only means of generating income. As much as we want it to be that way, I mean, look at the kind of climate we are in right now with regard to the music industry. You have to have something that’s going to generate money so that you can fuel your movement. That’s an important message that a lot of young artists need to understand. I’m not telling you to not go hard and to not be dedicated to your dream. You have to do that also. But at the same time, you have to be independent. You have to be financially independent. You have to have other means of generating money to fund your movement and to pay for your marketing and promotion expenses, which will allow you to continue making music on your own terms without having your financial backer or your investor tell you that they need five club joints or that you need to do this or that. You must be able to financially support yourself so that you can continue to grind.
I think a lot of young artists don’t really appreciate that, man. You have to go out there and if that means working that 9-5 and then coming home and staying up late writing your music and producing your tracks, then so be it. That’s what you have to do. Most of us don’t really have the privilege to focus exclusively on music when it is not really that lucrative at this point in time. You must be able to support yourself financially. You’re not going to be able to make it in the long run if you don’t find a way to finance the dream.
I think that it was definitely a blessing for me to go to law school and pass the Bar and to have that in my pocket, even though the loan is beating my ass. That’s always helping me finance the movement. I could have a tie on in Corporate America and I’m maneuvering in that arena and making moves and I still go home and take care of my family then go record a classic in the studio. Whatever trials and tribulations I’m going through in the corporate setting, I’m still doing something that I feel is truly important and making a difference in people’s lives and in the world when I’m creating music. Honestly, I would almost feel like a zombie if I just completely devoted myself to Corporate America. I feel like making music is essential to my well-being. That’s the way that I truly feel I can make an impact on the world.
It’s like writing “Darfur,” people hit me up on MySpace and tell me that that song really touched them and that I was right on point and that they appreciate me doing it. That’s true motivation. That motivates me to keep doing it. But you can’t keep doing it if you’re not financially supporting yourself and that doesn’t mean going out in the streets hustling. Realistically, by doing that, you’re going to get locked up and that will put an end to your movement or set you back considerably. The odds are, you will to do three or four years, come out and try to start up your movement again. We have to have legitimate means of making money, and in the United States, in this environment, you have to have an education. Still be passionate about your music, but also understand that you have to generate finances to support your family. I didn’t even mention that. That’s probably the biggest thing. You must be able to support your family. You’re chasing the dream of becoming an artist but you can’t have your son or your daughter without diapers. You can’t count on your wife to always bring food to the table. You still have to be a man! It’s a hard balancing act and it requires serious devotion to maintain that balance. But it’s essential to making music on your own terms.
Is not enough emphasis placed on education for kids coming up today who are mainly influenced by hip-hop music?
Absolutely. I don’t think we place a strong emphasis on and value of education, but you can understand why, man. I can fully understand why because I’ve been there. These public schools, half the time it’s more of a prison than a school. They don’t care about your kids. I think about it all of the time. I have a 15 month-old son and I’m racking my brain about where I should send him to school. I’m like, ‘Man, I have to get money so that I can put my son into a private school that I’m comfortable with.’
You send them to these public schools and a lot of times, these schools aren’t pushing our kids to strive for excellence, man. They’re just running them through the system so they can end up in some little trade school somewhere or just drop out. So you can understand why kids have that rebellious mindset about school and if you don’t have a father figure telling you to stay in school, it’s going to be even harder to place value and importance on education.
But it’s definitely something that we have to try to do better with. I think that the hip-hop community has to step up and place value on education as well. It’s like these rappers think it’s cool to shun it and shit. You have to take your life into your own hands and take your education seriously. Even if you don’t feel there’s any value in it, get the damn paper! Get the diploma or G.E.D. Even if you don’t think you need it, you will at some point homie. Think of it as a resource to give you more options in the world.
Get that college degree and get that resource because it’s going to help open certain doors for you, doors that would otherwise be closed and locked shut. Don’t let anybody tell you how you have to use your degree and how you have to use your education. You don’t necessarily have to go and be a corporate zombie if that’s the way you see it. You don’t have to do that. You can go out there and be an entrepreneur, but you have to master a skill and you have to go out and succeed. You can hire an accountant, but you want to be able to look at your own books and see what’s going on so you can keep the IRS off you.
I definitely think that we have to place a higher value on education and speaking specifically to the African-American community, unfortunately, I see a situation where we’re going to be left behind if we don’t turn shit around fast. You have people streaming into this country who already have the value of education ingrained in their minds. They’re going to take advantage of the education and rights that African-Americans fought and died for years ago and who can blame them. But at the same time, if we’re not devoting ourselves to taking advantage of the education and the resources that we have in front of us, 25-30 years down the line, it’s going to be a very sad situation for us. But I’m not a pessimist and I think that we can control our own destiny. That’s why I wrote “The New Movement.” I think that if we can just realize our potential, we can change the world around us. We can actually turn things around dramatically and quickly because our power is immense. I mean, look at the power of hip-hop music. The establishment fears it. That’s why they love to see us squander the power and water it down.
What’s the next move for Ankh Amen Ra right now?
Well, immediately, I want to make sure that I promote the new EP, Face the Day, Come What May. I’m also going to put out a Best Of mixtape all on the same day, hopefully February 26, called The History of Heru. That’s going to give people the chance to catch up on my music who may not know much about me. I want to continue generating good music and build the empire. An empire based on principles and morals.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Let’s break out of the state of apathy and get concerned about real issues while we have the opportunity to make a difference. If you see the importance in stopping the genocide in Darfur, then go out and do something. Go out and do what your heart, your mind and your soul propels you to do. If you’re not passionate about Darfur, go out and do something about cancer or Aids. Just break out of the apathy and be motivated to bring forth a change when you see that there’s something wrong.
Lastly, I want to thank my team, UNI Can Make It Happen Entertainment and RebelMixtapes LLC. And I also want to thank everybody that supports Ankh Amen Ra and our movement. Peace to Universal, Ebony, Illanois, Aton, Mudnoc, Dirty Yella, I:9, Guns-n-Butta, Victory, Eugene and P-Cutta. Log onto RebelMixtapes.com on February 26 to cop Face the Day, Come What May and the Best Of mixtape. You can also get my last mixtape, The Sun Raise In Dark Dayz. Look out for Art of War Volume 5. Peace.