Awthentik: All of my music is inspired by life, my experiences in society. I try to take feelings, experiences, and emotions from my life that are impactful. Things that I feel will be relatable to my listener. All the hip-hop before me is footprint of where to begin.
SOTB: Now, specifically, the Popular Misconception album. Where did the concept come from?
Awthentik: I’ve always tried to just be very out the box when it comes to artwork and album titles. I like movies that mess with your mind. The music I represent is pure and at the time of the creation of Popular Misconception, most of my peers on the east coast were all going for a 808-driven sound with dummied-down hooks and simplistic lyrics.
I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could produce a whole record that was similar in a satire kinda way. “Trappy” to an extent but also having gritty sample textures up front. I’m a fan of all music….I just don’t like limitations. So, I wanted to walk all over that style of music with my imprint and at the time Trinidad James represented everything that I hated with mainstream rap music and subconsciously I kinda knew that he would be a “here today, gone tomorrow” rapper and I just wanted to show people how much more versatile that particular sound can be. For the trap listeners, I could give you impactful bars. And for the boom-bap listener, [it’s like] “look how heavy this bassline is over this gritty sample,” so that the listening experience was not biased to one particular genre.
SOTB: Now the album cover for Popular Misconception featured, to put it lightly, a zombified Trinidad James-like figure. You spoke about it just now, but was that for the sake of “controversy” or do you feel that modern hip-hop is a shell of itself these days?
Awthentik: It was definitely for impact. But, at the same time it represented what I wanted to say with Popular Misconception. Its like this, If someone asks me “what do you do for a living,” when I answer them “I’m a rapper/producer,” they might get that mistaken and think I’m some ignorant, poorly spoken, uneducated person screaming repetitively over instrumentals. But nah, I am more than that. As an artist, I dont even wanna be bracketed in the same category as people making music like Trinidad James. I’m not hating, but that’s not me. It’s unfortunate it had to be him on the cover. I saw the drawing, and it portrayed the album name perfectly.
SOTB: What are your thoughts on artists such as James getting taken for a ride through their labels?
Awthentik: It’s a shame. The record label knows what they are doing though. This is bigger than the artist. The budget they put into these microwave rappers is pennies in comparison to what the label actually profits off the artist. That’s why you don’t see to much educating happening on a commercial level in hiphop. In the early 90’s you had groups like X-Clan and others who were promoted on a positive, educational level. But now, I think a record label wants nothing to do with a emcee who will uplift his peers like a Chuck D, or how political James Brown and Bob Marley were to R&B. Those artist might cause a problem for today’s record label. We live in a advertising economy. Corporate companies and labels alike are just using artist to advertise products. Hip-hop is losing its culture and it is up to us to take it back.
SOTB: I’ve seen that Dilla is one of your influences. How has the impacted your approach to music? Like, from a producing standpoint and from a lyrical standpoint?
Awthentik: Dilla is definitely my greatest inspiration. The number one thing about Dilla that I respected so much was his approach to just letting the music be raw. However it comes out, that’s what it was gonna be. A similar approach to Tupac Shakur. Lyrically, Dilla’s rhythmic cadence was very different from just about any other rapper (Ed. Note: For more on this, check out my interview with Illa J). Listening to Dilla, is just a reminder to be free. Having to perform some of his verses at The Annual Dilla Tribute at 9:30 Club, I realized the challenge because his writing style and approach to symmetry in the bars is very different then your average rapper.
The other thing about Dilla that inspired me is this legendary story Talib Kweli and Common always tell about when Dilla was nominated for a Grammy, he didn’t even go. He was at home working on beats. Then, with his battle with complications from Lupus? The homie was on his death bed making what we would know to be Donuts. That is dedication to the music. Not slaving to an industry, you know?
SOTB: Do you find it easier to be a DIY artist? Meaning, do you find it easier to produce, mix, and write all your own stuff?
Awthentik: I would say it’s a lot easier now because of the thousands of hours put into getting better. Working on my projects are second nature now, when at a time I struggled to simply record myself at all. The one thing that makes it more difficult is I’m the one man doing all the work on a project from start to finish. The room starts off silent and then in a few hours I’ve made a song from start to finish. Most rappers just rap. That’s it. Then they leave and wait for a finished product. It’s more hands on in my position. I might mix a record 30 different time before getting satisfied and then hear it months later and still not be satisfied. hahah. It’s crazy like that
SOTB: So, other than Dilla, who else has influenced you as an artist?
I’m influenced by every artist I have ever heard. I am a fan first and all the music around me makes up my sound. I love the whole ’70s era before disco. I tend to search in that area for a lot of my samples. Hip-hop wise, to name a few artists, I would say Tupac, Jay Z, Nas, (early) Ice Cube, EPMD, Tribe called Quest, Rakim, KRS-One, Outkast, Big L, El-P, Blackstar. Those are a few from the old-school but I’m also influenced by a lot of new and upcoming artist such as Black Milk, Big K.R.I.T, and Danny Brown.
I especially get down with Uptown XO’s visuals and his whole movement as a whole. My peers too. Being in the studio with Laelo, Ethan Spalding, even my youngin Sergio Cortez. I learn a lot from him cause he’s a younger cat. So, I get to see his perspective and be able to create from that same angle.
SOTB: Can you tell me more about how the collaborations between you and Ethan Spalding came up?
Awthentik: (Laughs) It’s wild. I met Ethan in the DC music scene when there wasn’t really a music scene at all. Both of us had our live bands we would regularly gig with locally (Mine being “The Fif” and his being “Violet Says 5”). So, we just became homies from gigging together a lot and also really being the only hip-hop bands around that time. Probably about five years passed without us creating any material besides one or two songs. The changing point was when my keyboard player Pietro moved around Ethan’s crib in Takoma Park. We would link up on Sundays to watch football there.
By the time the 4 o’clock games were coming on, me and Ethan were already in the basement of Pietro’s house crafting up the beats and chorus foundations for songs that would eventually become the 14 track collaboration we released titled Beef and Broccoli. It all happened in about 5-6 weeks and then another few more weeks of features, two additional beats from Sergio Cortez (Ed. Note: Sergio Cortez has also become a great contributor to what’s becoming known as #DARBusiness. Check him out), and then I mixed and mastered the whole thing in ProTools to finish it out. It really was the easiest, most free flowing project I have done to date. We just rolled up a lot of …broccoli, ate good, and made classic fun music. I can remember Jane Kennedi coming thru on the super late tip to do her part after a night of partying. We just really had fun on that project, yo.
SOTB: What are your thoughts on the state of hip-hop? I know you’ve spoken on it in Popular Misconception and through some of your social media posts. But, can you go a bit more in detail about your feelings about it?
Awthentik: My biggest dispute with the current state of hip-hop is like this: Why are we forced and brainwashed to only hear one style of hip-hop commercially? There are so many dope artists out here with a different approach, a different vibe, a different feeling that people would love to hear but the major corporations are not promoting that to the people. Instead, everything is very “ratchet,” “sexy,”or some underprivileged African-American “sellin’ dope.” Sprinkled in is one or two J. Coles or Kendrick Lamars, but to the overall picture? That is merely a few pixels.
SOTB: Do you listen to any more modern acts? And is it to “fit in” or is it out of genuine curiosity and/or appreciation?
Awthentik: It’s definitely not to “fit in.” My palette for music is so broad. My part time gig is as the Chief Engineer at Listen Vision Studios. I see a large selection of different music come thru my studio. So I’m constantly growing as a producer. I personally like the kind of music that I am trying to make, but I also can appreciate the values in other genres like trap, EDM, rock, reggae–whatever really. I don’t wanna be that guy talkin’ ’bout golden era hip-hop like there will never be anything better than that era of music. Music evolves. We take from our history to recreate and inspire something new and fresh.
SOTB: Do you think local acts have it rough, considering there’s that “everybody wanna be a rapper” mentality from both other artists and fans?
Awthentik: I love it. You have to challenge yourself. Nothing is easy, and it wasn’t supposed to be easy. There will always be people who criticize your art until they find a personal way to respect it. Being at the forefront of a local scene is incredible. Walking down U Street and just bumping into my peers who only know me through my music is a beautiful thing. I really have no complaints. With that said, I’m definitely not content.
SOTB: Staying on the “local” scene, would you say we need more unity within it? Or even just more projects/events like Made in the DMV?
Awthentik: More wnity is always a blessing. We have core people in the movement now doing big things to progress the culture here in the DMV area. MadeintheDMV is a great platform for artists like myself to be able to perform in front of a lot of important people making moves in the scene.
SOTB: I know you give back to the community. Are there any specific places/causes you tend to support?
Awthentik: I’m a supporter of everyone out here doing hip-hop. If I see you twice and we get to meet, chances are I will be a supporter of your movement in one way or another. In particualar, I’m always at UAU open mic, Love what XO is doing at PURE, and I always hit town to see the homie Spinser Tracy or Shanti Shree wherever they are normally spinning at. On top of that, I’m usually going out to any good hiphop show at 930, Howard Theatre, or The Fillmore.
SOTB: When you’re not speaking on real life or on the craziness of the mainstream, what do you find yourself getting into?
Awthentik: I’m a studio nerd, man. I’m always in the lab making music. My bedroom is a studio as well. Now I’m also finding a passion for photography as well.
SOTB: Alright, we’ve got a couple more to go. Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
Awthentik: Early 2015, I will be touring with HDSociety with Laelo along the east coast. Once that settles down, I will get back in the lab and put the foot to the pedal on this next album.
SOTB: Where can people find you online?
Awthentik: www.awthentik.bandcamp.com has my whole catalog for free, along with some beats and a bunch of other goodies. On social media, I am @awthentik for the Twitter and Instagram goers. ‘Awthentik Musik’ [is where you’ll find me] on Facebook.
SOTB: So, I wanna end on a bit of a tangent. Do you ever get random looks from people being in the DMV as a Giants fan? (Laughs) I mean, shoot, I know I get side eyes for rocking Ravens paraphernalia, and they’re (whether or not some want to admit it) within the same region. So that’s gotta be “weird” sometimes to represent for a team that isn’t Washington, Dallas, or wherever.
Awthentik: (Laughs) You know it. Those two superbowl rings had to hurt!
SOTB: Do you have any last shoutouts that you wanna give?
Awthentik: Shoutout to my day one supporters because they built what the scene gets to see today. Shout to HD Society for all they are doing right now to uplift my campaign. And shoutout to you for reaching out. Respect