Afika NX: Bold New Stories

Afika NX: Bold New Stories

I can’t speak for everyone but I know a good song when I hear it. Afika NX’s “Rat Tat Tat” single really made me feel something in my skinny white bones when I heard it a few weeks back (so much so that I opted to request it on a Radio Xenu show Planet Cody over the usual rock I might lean towards). Perhaps it has been the sad realities in the streets these days hearkening back to what it was like when I first heard and loved classic hip hop around the time when P.E.’s Fear Of A Black Planet and Ice T’s Original Gangster came out, records that blew my mind. Social awareness making headlines is welcome news today, though the death of citizens as well as police has been tragic. But yeah, when I fell in love with hip hop the attention on the real struggles of people from another background than mine woke up my heart and intellect more than a lot of the hair rock that was popular way back then. It’s why, as a rocker, I roll my eyes when people with closed minds say that rap sucks. No, man. You just gotta dig for the pearls like any genre. Or sometimes you don’t. Sometimes a song is so vital it hops out and slaps you out of your day while making that day so much more memorable.

Part reggae, part hip hop and part so much more, Afika NX keeps it fun and gritty at the same time. The feelings are hard not to relate to.

“Black pop has always reflected the social climate, and I think hip-hop will change just like America will change.” – Afika NX

What was it like for you growing up in your neighborhood? How were you exposed to music? We want to know more about you.

Oh man… long story. My neighborhood was pretty boring – old couples and families with young children. My younger brother and I made our own adventures. We’re blessed that we didn’t lose any appendages; we had some angels protecting us.

My first arrest happened at age 8 for setting fires to private property. I guess that’s what happens when you love fire but you’re not a Boy Scout. My three older sisters were my main musical influence growing up. I used to study their cassette mixtapes of A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, The Fugees, Pete Rock, CL Smooth, all the best 90s hip hop. My oldest sister would even commandeer the TV in the living room to record videos from Yo! MTV Raps and The Bassment, so I was raised on Wu Tang, Nas, Pharcyde…

To this day I still feel like a kid with a crush when I hear that sax line from Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By”… Such a dope track.

My elementary school had a music class (seriously the best elementary school), and gave us recorders to teach us about music (do you know what a recorder is? The little plastic flute/clarinet hybrid thing?). They let us take them home for a week, and after the first week I taught myself about 8 songs, and came back to class and asked my teacher to give my classmates a concert. The whole class was mindblown when they found out I didn’t take lessons, and I learned then that I seemed to love learning about music more than most of my peers did. Flash forward to 6th grade, and my best friend’s dadtaught me a few guitar chords while we were hanging around the house, and ended up giving me the guitar when he saw how quickly I caught on. Around the same time, my sister also gave me her trumpet so I could be inthe middle school band. I ended up being in the school’s jazz band, got first chair in the concert band, and in 8th grade got the school’s award for Most Outstanding Musician. None of my friends remember any of that though; they only remember when I showed up to class and played OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaLiscious”, lol. Everyone flipped their shit.

When “life keeps beatin’ on your bones,” what keeps you going when it’s hard to see the road? Your “Rat Tat Tat” single is both fun and real.

God. Friendship. Love. Music. Music. Dear Lord, yes, music. I’m a born again Christian, though my spiritual journey has experienced some “evolutions.” What I’ve landed on is that all of us are born onto solid ground, but life turns our ground to quicksand— loss, disappointment, failure, etc. All of us need something to pull us out – Christians may call it the vine; Muslims may call it a rope; Jews may call it a helping hand; atheists might even call it curiosity or enlightenment. But all of us need something to pull us out. What pulls me out is an unwavering belief that I’ve carried since I was a child that the world always has and always will work to benefit me, that people are naturally good, that love will always win. Also, creation is seriously the best therapy. It’s healing to take difficult situations and making something out of them, to turn rocks to gold. I encourage everyone to do it.

Have you heard of the Rebel Heart Madonna controversy? She used images of MLK and Mandela mocked up in the style of her album art to imply they also had “rebel hearts” like her. I don’t think she meant it in bad form, but people have been beating her up over it in the press. I mean, Madonna isn’t a human rights hero; she did revolutionize pop music and cares about people. You have a great lyric, “I do it like Mandela crossed with Harry Belefonte.” It’s not like that Lil Wayne lyric where he said he beats up pussy like it’s Emmet Till, or whatever. Do you think people are too reverant or not reverant enough?

Good question. We have so many people with pedestals who have nothing to say. It crosses my mind often that hip-hop has the most numbers of words-per-verse of anygenre, yet rappers often have the least to say. I’m thankful for artists like Kendrick and J Cole opening the door for this next age of socially conscious hip-hop in the pop market. As far as Madonna, I’m gonna say she fucked up on thatone. If you are someone outside of the African race, it’s extremely hard to not be in poor taste comparing your fight to the African experience. Africans are extremely protective of our heroes, because historically the world has not protected us. I know Madonna revolutionized pop music and has been an outspoken activist for gay rights, but it’s just distasteful to compare herself to MLK and Mandela. MLK was assassinated for his leadership and dangerous ideas; I’ve never heard of anyone being assassinated for pop music. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his beliefs. And he damn sure wasn’t Voguing in his prison cell. I hold respect for her passion for issues that she cares about, but I’m sorry– people don’t go to prison for pop music. That’s not minimizing her role in gay rights activism, nor is it minimizing the gay experience. But like Madonna, I could never compare myself to her fight for gay rights because I don’t know the gay experience. At best it was a short-sighted move; at worst it sounds like another case of cultural appropriation in the American pop market.

Love your reggae influence. It’s musical and melodic, the real power of reggae mixed with hip hop. I know you like Tarrus Riley and you can also sing pop. Do you aim to crossover but still keep earthy and genuine? I hear club music, dub and even some The Police style winsome melody in the pre chorus.

Reggae is one of my biggest influences, but I made my home in the margins. I’ve always been the weird kid, always been a crossover – the dreadlocked kid in a school of shaved heads; the Christian in a mostly Jewish friend group; the black kid in the all-white classroom; the African immigrant in a group of African Americans; the musician in a room of academics; the instrumentalist, the cypher, etc. My name is too African to pronounce, but I talk “too white.” I suck at basketball but can slap a bass and make your head nod off your neck. Some might call me an outlier; I think of myself as an ambassador. Crossing over is what I do.

How long have you been in the United States? Are you enjoying my sucky, slushy New York State winter? It is a far cry from South Africa.

Man… The slushy weather is the absolute worst. By far my least favorite weather is when it’s just above freezing but won’t snow, grey and drizzling like it wants to rain but is just lazy about it. Feels like a hangover… I’m actually born and raised in the US; my mother was 6 months pregnant with me when they came to the States, so I’m the first American citizen of my family.

I saw your tweet that you just recently heard Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time. It is cool that an album so influential can still have new admirers having their first experience with it. What did you think?

I loved it. Some friends have tried to put me on to it before but I just didn’t “get it” yet. Funny how the same project sounds completely different this go ’round. Makes me wonder what gave me new ears…

If you had a time machine for the attention span of people, what moment in history would you want us to learn from?

Strange and awesome question.Many to choose from, and depends on who you mean by — everyone on Earth? Americans? I’m going to speak for Americans, and I’m going to give two moments. The first would be the five or so years right before integration in America. I spend a lot of time in Harlem, reading, talking to born-and-bred Harlemites, and the common theme is that while integration did what people hoped it would do (create opportunity by establishing blacks as contributing members of ALL communities), it also diluted the community it most needed to serve by dissipating black spending power into every community except the black one.

Nearly every ethnic population pours their dollars right back into their own businesses, and no one, including myself, considers that racist. But I’ve had several conversations with friends saying that black people, who spend more money than ANY ethnic group in America, should buy from black businesses, and they say that it’s “reverse racism.” Economic empowerment is the last step of the Civil Rights movement— black Americans have achieved equality legally, but won’t achieve it socially until we’ve achieved it economically.

The second moment would be the four year period between 1998 and 2002. We remember the Clinton Administration for the economic boom that accompanied it– the dawn of the internet business and Silicon Valley boom. We forget about the mega changes that occurred in other arenas—our government going from an extremely low military budget to the most sweeping military budget and legislation in American history. The extreme role 9/11 has had in the current world political climate. The events surrounding another Bush taking over the United States. I’d love to look up the music being made at the time and see if any artists at the time made any predictions that hold weight…

On Dec 25th you made a bold proclamation that the next ten years of hip hop could be the best yet. Can you talk about that?

Every genre goes through evolutions – baroque music became classical, which became romantic, etc. Blues became RnB, which became rock, which became punk, etc. Hip-hop is still so young, but I think it’s going back to its roots in social justice and being a voice for the oppressed in the pop market. The pendulum has swung all the way toward commercialism– Dr. Dre just made almost a billion dollars (which is SO DOPE!!!)– but thevast majority of our biggest stars have said shit when it comes to speaking out against injustices that affect people who look like them. I can’t all the way blame them; if you love your career and want to have success in it, you make sacrifices to put yourself in the position you want to be in. I think many artists have wanted to speak out on injustices, but their paycheck comes from companies who are afraid to align themselves with anything radical. I think often about the two latest performances from Kendrick and J Cole– instant classics—and think that there is space in the pop market for potent messages. Black pop has always reflected the social climate, and I think hip-hop will change just like America will change. To anyone who thinks I sound preachy, I offer this thought– when we’re children, we learn our ABCs through song. We learn to tie our shoes through song. We learn about astronomy through song. We learn our city, state, and country through SONG. At what age does music lose its ability to teach us? Does it ever lose its ability? Or has the lesson changed from the ABCs to something else entirely? What is being ingrained in our skulls, just like the ABCs, every time we turn on the radio? Music has power over us– You either agree with me, or you grossly underestimate the power of music.

As a bass player, what’s your headspace when playing versus constructing a track as a vocalist? Do you like to spend lot time in studio? I saw The Roots years ago in Philly for a Rock The Vote event and the mix of hip hop flow with live instruments was killer. People think of “rap rock” as rock with rap elements, but not rap with rock elements, y’know?

Same philosophy whether I’m making tracks or playing bass with a band: do what serves the music; make a head nod. Bass players, if you notice, usually make the best producers because they’re well versed in sitting back, thinking in terms of the whole band/composition, and doing what serves the music. I’m in love with the Coco. I mean, studio. That’s when you’ll see me come alive, working with other musicians and producers and building the composition from the ground up. Ironically enough, vocals are always the hardest part for me.

The Roots have always crushed it. Seen them live a few times and their stage energy is unmatched, and so natural, unforced.

Do you like doing things yourself or working with a DJ or producer more? I watched Common’s classic “The 6th Sense” video with Bilal yesterday and reflected on how much DJ Premiere lent to the beat. So good.

My ideal studio environment is with a super creative producer/engineer who knows how to design the sounds I describe to them, but can also understand the vision and add their own ideas to embellish it. My producer now, Christian Medice, is great at it. We work well together because we listen from two different perspectives—his style is melody-driven, polished, radio-ready, and works well with my rhythm and grit.

Are you single or do you want to keep that to yourself?

Single. There’s a woman I love but right now’s just not the time for us. One of those complicated things. You’ll have to listen to the music to put those pieces together.

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