Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interview with Blitz The Ambassador

Blitz The Ambassador is the epitome of a conscsious hip-hop artist. He describes himself as a combination of Public Enemy, Desmond Tutu and Fela Kuti. Originally from Accra, Ghana, he moved to Brooklyn after studying at Kent State University, and has quickly moved to the forefront of the class of hip-hop musicians hailing from the continent. Blitz manages to keep a foot in both worlds, maintaining a strong African identity while still bridging the gap with American audiences. His latest album, Native Sun, which features guest appearances from Les Nubians and Chuck D, is the latest in his ongoing ascent to the top of the hip-hop world. His short film with the same name is currently available online as well on the film festival circuit. I had the pleasure of speaking with Blitz several weeks ago upon his return from his European tour:

Blitz the Ambassador - Dear Africa ft. Les Nubians by embassymvmt

Free Track from Native Sun

Marc Gabriel Amigone: So you've been touring as of late over in Europe?

Blitz The Ambassador: Yea man I was in Europe for the past month or so mainly France, Germany, Switzerland, but yea man it was a great time getting around playing this music.

MGA: That's great, how was the reception over there?

Blitz: The reception's been awesome, I mean when you're playing music of any kind that people appreciate that's a huge deal for me, so I've been fortunate and lucky enough to be at a point in my career where people want to hear what I have to say so it's a good look.

MGA: Absolutely, was that your first time performing in Europe?

Blitz: No, I've been about three times, this is my forth, and every time I go it gets bigger and better. It's dope.

MGA: How would you compare your reception over there to your reception in the States?

Blitz: Obviously you're playing for people who don't live where hip-hop was born so there's always a greater appreciation, which is to be expected, you know? In America, and especially in New York, people have kind of seen it all. It's much harder to get them hyped about anything. In Europe they're just beginning to find out what hip-hop is so it's much more exciting to them especially with the live band feel, it's bigger and better.

MGA: What's the meaning of your name, Blitz The Ambassador?

Blitz: Well, first the Blitz part is really out of the style that I wanted to have. My style has always been fast-paced something that comes at you hard. That's kind of the name that after I evolved past the rapper and I realized my role in this game is much bigger than just rap I added the ambassador and that's quite obvious coming from Accra, Ghana. Not everybody's up on what's happening outside of America so I found myself in that position all the time having to kind of school people. And vice versa, back home I find myself being the liaison to what's happening outside of Ghana so I found it appropriate to name myself the ambassador putting the two of them together.

MGA: That leads me to my next question, you definitely have a foot in both words. You're an African representing the continent but you're also living in the Western-US world. Do you feel that gives you a unique perspective most people don't have?

Blitz: Absolutely man, more than a perspective it actually gives me an advantage because I'm able to have influences that most regular people don't due to my background of course. I have a new look at hip-hop that most people who grew up here don't. It's kind of like an outsider looking in. I've had a chance to scope it much wider than people who were born in it. When I first integrated here it wasn't much of an advantage because hip-hop was still in a place where it hadn't hit the stalemate where it is right now. As years have gone by, I'm realizing that's my biggest fortune, I'm able to bring something from a new perspective to hip-hop that doesn't exist currently.

MGA: Do you feel like people are opening up to more worldly sounds from different parts of the globe than they had before?

Blitz: Absolutely. It's quite obvious the reason why it is because we kind of hit a point in hip-hop where it's kind of plateaued you know? Things are not that exciting right now, so if there was ever a time where people would be curious, this is the point where they can be curious because there's something they're not up on and it's entertaining enough to be interested in.

MGA: Right and I feel like as a culture we've become more and more open to new things and cultures just because of the internet and all kinds of factors have opened people up to new ideas and things.

Blitz: You don't have to look past Barack Obama, that's the big example to me. A guy who's of African and American ancestry, half and half, ends up being the first black president. It's like the time where if anything international was going to be popular in America, this is the time.

MGA: Do you credit any other artists out there like K'Naan or Bajah that are leading the charge with you from the continent bridging the gap?

Blitz: Absolutely, man, these guys are all people that I know personally and between K'Naan, Bajah, Nneka, these are all people who have been on their grind for many years, and this thing is a movement. For me to make sense, K'Naan has to make sense, Bajah has to make sense, a lot of people have to make sense so it's important that we're all moving and striding, keeping this movement moving forward. I truly believe this is the next step, even if it's not African hip-hop, I believe it will be hip-hop with an international lean to it.

MGA: You can really hear the intentional consciousness in your music. You were talking about the IMF in one of your songs, have you ever heard another rapper reference the International Monetary Fund in one of their rhymes before?

Blitz: I mean, you know, I'm sure many people talk about these issues. These conglomerates exploit different parts of the world, not just the African continent. South Americans and other places, I'm sure if you look into Latin American rappers, the ones who have a message at least, you'll find this content. It's really about bringing this all together under one thing. That's really what this is all about. When I say a movement, I really mean that this thing has to end up congealing into one solid thing that people can put their heads around. That's the next step for us as rappers with international, global consciousness, working in conjunction with one another to fully make sure these subjects we're talking about aren't just a drop in the bucket but are part of a larger conversation people are having. I think it's an important time.

MGA: Right, I wouldn't necessarily call it a movement, but it's definitely a dynamic where the multinational corporations and the multinational organizations like the IMF and the World Bank are all working together on the same page to impose their will and it's up to us to join together to fight back against them.

Blitz: That's important stuff, man. They don't sleep, so why do we sleep?

MGA: Exactly.

Blitz: That's how I look at it.

MGA: There was one rhyme on your album, you liken yourself to a combination of Public Enemy, Fela Kuti and Desmond Tutu. I couldn't think of anyone else who would pick those three iconic images. Could you expand on that a little bit for me? What attributes from each would you say you encompass?

Blitz: Man, from Day One, Public Enemy has been the reason why I started rapping so if you want pure unadulterated hip-hop in its most raw form, you're talking PE. Fela Kuti is the other extreme, you know? He's another guy that's so unapologetic about his ideas while at the same time sonically brought the fire. And then linguistically, there's no better icon of the South African apartheid era besides of course Nelson Mandela, there's no one who's more able to speak on what's going on during those times. Linguistically, that's the Desmond Tutu in me. So it's like sonically those two parts and the vocal part. That's the equation.

MGA: That's powerful, that's three powerful images to combine like that. So tell me a little about the film Native Sun. It's a short film?

Blitz: Yes, it is a short film, we shot it in Ghana and basically it combines what's going on sonically with visuals. When we got to Ghana we tried to capture visuals that would compliment the sonics that people were hearing, so that's how we arrived at this short film.

MGA: So what are you guys trying to do with the film? Are you submitting it to film festivals, how are you putting it out there?

Blitz: Absolutely, it will be on the film circuit, and eventually it will come out as a dvd with the album so that people can see it when they purchase it.

MGA: Do you know of any specific festivals the film will be playing at so people can look for it and go check it out?

Blitz: Currently the only one is the African Film Festival in New York. It just played at BAM, we've submitted to a plethora of other places and we're just waiting to hear from them.

MGA: The thing that always blows me away when I see you perform is you come with a full ensemble with a full horn section. Is there a specific hip-hop band that inspired you to bring that paradigm or are you taking different elements from a few like you talked about before with Afrika 70 and PE and stuff like that.

Blitz: It's definitely a combination of a lot. If you see a PE show, that's what we're bringing, if you see a Roots show, that's what we're bringing, if you see a James Brown show, that's what we're bringing. For me, I'm a student of this, I spend hours dissecting, I watch videos, I watch tapes, I'm constantly focused on how can I make my band better and bigger. The reality is that we don't have a hit record, at least not yet, so when people come see you, you're expecting them to stand around for 35-50 minutes of stuff they don't know, so they have to be presented in the most in your face way and the most punchy way so they at least can't look away because it's stuff they don't know. That's the way the old Motwon cats did it. Those bands, when they put them on the road they made sure the show was impeccable because at the time none of them had a hit record. Your show is really your hit record, you know? So that's what I take it back to, I make sure the stage presence is impeccable and the sound is on point.

MGA: Right, giving people their money's worth when they come see you.

Blitz: That's it.

MGA: That's what's up man, I feel like that's a knock that people have on live hip-hop these days that it's just some cat up there and wit turntables and they've got ten dudes on stage all with microphones and they're not really performing. When you bring the live instrumental presence it really fights against that stereotype.

Blitz: That's it.

MGA: Are there any other hip-hop cats that when you go see you feel like you get your money's worth that are performing these days?

Blitz: Um yea, absolutely, The Roots are always worth the price of admission no matter when and where you see them. I mean it's a lot of the old heads, De la Soul, KRS-One still puts on one of the best live shows ever, I just came off of doing a gig with PE at Central Park Summerstage, impeccable showmanship. These guys are still on that level. At the end of the day they're still unstoppable live. Honestly I can't really name a whole lot of new guys who I can pay money for who I'm fully entertained. One person I can say I saw recently that was beyond my money's worth is Janelle Monae. I would pay extra to see her live, she brings the passion and she's a true artist.

MGA: Yea man, I haven't actually seen her live but a friend of mine saw her and said she was incredible.

Blitz: She is beyond bro, she is what the game needs to be, you know?

MGA: Is this your first or second full-length album?

Blitz: My second.

MGA: Are there any specific goals you have for this record or are you just trying to steadily keep building, and keep getting your message out there.

Blitz: Definitely it's important to make sure there's consistency in the art, but very important to me I hope this album somehow lays down some kind of foundation, some kind of blueprint, for guys like us who are of immigrant background who are trying to forge a way and trying to figure out a way to combine that background with popular music. I hope there's some kind of groundwork for that. I hope this inspires this movement that I'm talking about so we can all get together and join and work together. Those are my goals.

MGA: Are there any African artists out there you feel should be getting a bigger shine, cats you might have listened to growing up like Reggie Rockstone, if you stopped people on the street they wouldn't know who he was, but if you're a fan of African music then that's a big name to you. Are there any other cats like that out there that you wish more people knew about?

Blitz: Yea man, absolutely. There's a guy Wanlov The Kubulor, a guy named HHP from South Africa, another guy named Tumi and The Volume from South Africa who plays with a dope live band, a guy named MI from Nigeria who's super worth checking out. There's a song on my album called Wahala I feature a guy from Mexico named Bocafloja who rhymes in Spanish, a guy names Baloji who rhymes in French, he's from Belize but lives in Belgium, I feature this guy out of Brazil out of Rio, who rhymes in Portuguese, so for me it's all about trying to make sure all these guys have legitimate voices in the game. That's my goal.

MGA: So you're really trying to take the global movement approach.

Blitz: Yes sir.

Native Sun • A short film by Blitz the Ambassador & Terence Nance from MVMT on Vimeo.

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