SOTBMusic: An Interview with BLACK AX

Maryland-born, VA-residing artist–and one of my DAR brothers–Jeff Axel, better known as BLACK AX, has been making music for over ten years. The twenty-six-year-old “energy gawd” has always been unique in his approach, mixing crunchy southern instrumentation, soulful vocalization, and enough sauce, percolation, and verbiage to make E-40 do a double take. Coolin in AXELWorld is still one of the most-unique albums I’ve heard, DAR or otherwise. I hit him in the group chat and said “bruh, let’s do this.” I knew I’d get an interview that was raw, but still introspective.

Ax is one of the hardest-working artists I know, even when his passion for the music varies. His mind is always working on the next move, the next flow, the next punchline, the next outlandish thing that’ll make you laugh and also make you say “hmm, aight, I get where you’re coming from on that.” I tried my damnedest to capture what it’s like working with Ax in this interview and I hope it gets you curious about his growth as an artist and his evolution as a person.

Speed: What would be three words to describe what it’s like to know and experience BLACK AX?

AX: Eccentric, unique, confidence. I always had different viewpoints and opinions but I’m open-minded enough to where I’ve never fit into a box. Sort of like a black chameleon.

Speed: I first came into the fold in the Chronicles of a 410 Savage days, thanks to our Team DAR work, and I’ve seen bits and pieces online, but can you tell me a bit more about your earlier projects? All I know so far is that, according to you, they were no-fi as hell.

AX: So, I started writing rhymes at 14 with a few guys from Aberdeen but I was shook diggity to perform my lyrics. It took two years until I got in the booth. Poetik Genius, who was on Chronicles, gave me my first chance and I recorded my first 16 in his backyard. Dude put it on his album I’m Dope 2. Then, from there, I started doing acapella verses on a $15 Target mic.

After I got expelled, I went over my best friend EZ’s house and recorded my debut album Rowdy Like a Hurricane/Hell Yeah Boy This is It. We recorded that shit on a desktop with the Voice Recorder app, random beats [from] online and with no headphones. Eventually, when my mic short circuited, we had to hang it over the door and read lyrics while I was screaming up into that piece of shit mic. The sound quality was atrocious as the beat drowned me out almost every song, but that shit had an impact at my school.

Speed: Sounds like me and my songs about Ms. Pink Jacket and shit.

AX: I wasn’t taken seriously at first because my flow was abysmal and I said “JEFF AXEL The Black Man” almost every line. But, when I dropped Niggaz Ain’t Ready, my second album, people took me a little more serious because my lyrics were stronger. That whole project is actually on youtube, the entire album. I think it’s maybe 3 out of 12 songs that I can tolerate to this day. I had a project called Sir AXELicious The Throwed Off Master with The Percolating Chest Hair I put out in like 2011. But, the fanfare was gone and I had to reinvent myself as a rapper.

Speed: Where do you see your music going in the next year? Are we going to get a new AX project of any sort?

AX: Not gonna lie. I’ve got a huge urge to release another project–especially since music is so redundant recently. But, I have a sitcom project I’m working on currently, then it’s a drama based on the ‘60’s I’m working on. I’ve brainstormed for a romantic comedy as well. So, me wanting to release a solo project is kinda low on the priority list at the moment.

I still write verses and hooks to keep myself sharp. But, between payola and feeling like Team DAR didn’t get a fair opportunity a few years ago, my passion for music is strong but my desire is up in the air at times. I wouldn’t rule out a solo project though, because I didn’t expect to be working on an NBA-based romantic comedy until last week. Anything’s possible.

Speed: Who are some folks you want to work with?

AX: Outside of DAR, it was hard collaborating because people had inconsistent work ethic. If I had a choice? There’s two folks specifically. First, Sauce Walka. The energy on that track would be ridiculous and doing a song with someone with multiple flows would be interesting. And then I’d want to collab with Peewee Longway–that is, as long as he’s animated and not singing we would have a dope track.

Speed: Going back to our collaborative work with Team DAR, what were some of your favorite moments that came out of those first three projects?

AX: Best part about the DAR experience was I came in with the mentality that I didn’t want to be the weakest link and have the “automatic skip verses.” I had a chip on my shoulder like crazy. Every member of Team DAR made me step my bars up. The chemistry was another dope thing about the group. You had four different styles that would attack the track and you could play it all the way through.

Niggas were tossing around verses and hooks off the top of their head, no lie. True and Apollo came up with a majority of my hooks on Coolin in AXELWorld so being around that type of creativity improved me as well. Last thing was we had hella fun on each project, especially Exodus we would smoke big blunts, sing random songs in Negro Spiritual form and do our verses in one take. Then, we’d order a chicken box and repeat, and before we knew it three or four hours flew by and we’d knocked out like eight songs.

[The run of] Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus album was a pretty good three-album group rollout. That’s not counting the solo work and collab verses we did on each others’ projects. I said it in 2015, and I stand behind it in 2019: Team DAR is the underground’s best kept secret. And because of that run, I got to work on my best projects, Coolin in AXELWorld and Black Blood Cells. Now, my projects always had, like, five different topics to keep people from being bored. Started with Chronicles. But, here, the lack of redundancy mixed with the elevation to create something unheard of.

COOLIN’ IN AXEL WORLD by BLACK AXBlack Ax’s Black Blood Cells by Team DAR

Speed: Who influenced you as an artist growing up? I mean, musically and otherwise as you’ve got a pretty unique approach and sound.

AX: I’m gonna let you in on something. My parents were holy rollers, so me, my brother, and sister weren’t allowed to listen to rap or R&B. Growing up in Maryland, you had to be hip on music or you were gonna be the nigga sitting dolo at the lunch table rocking silky Dragon Ball Z shirts.

Whenever my parents went to bible study, we’d have to go to the living room and sneak in Rap City, MTV 2 mixes, and other music video outlets before YouTube came out. The first rapper I remember hearing, riding with my older brother, was Busta Rhymes.

Me being an energetic kid I gravitated to him and his “Gimme Some More” music video early. I also remember seeing Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” video. His delivery caught me, because it was similar to a preacher like my father. By the time I started writing down lyrics, the guys I listened to and crafted my style after were Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, MJG, Bizzy Bone, Redman, Twista, Juvenile, and Lord Infamous.

Plenty of songs I did, I would grab a few of those styles and throw a little bit of Old Bay Maryland seasoning with it. Another goal I had was I didn’t want to sound like any rapper on the radio. I just wish I was more polished in the beginning; a lot of people missed out on some good music once my style progressed.

Speed: Considering you were doing the off-the-beaten-path flows and energy years before people started getting super hip to it, does it bother you that folks are doing what you’ve done for years? Or does it make you want to go that much harder and show the world what BLACK AX has to offer?

AX: It absolutely bothers me, man. I used to get inboxed messages on different sites telling me how terrible my music was and to quit rapping. People bought my music just to laugh at me and didn’t take my lyrics seriously. True got questioned for bringing me into his group because people thought I was a weak rapper just because of my delivery.

So, to see this widely accepted [now] and guys getting accolades for a style that motherfuckers ridiculed me for? I feel some type of way. There’s likely one more album in the fold to address some things. But, my headspace is on finishing these scripts ya feel me?

Speed: Speaking of the series, can you tell me more about your process for that?

AX: The show is about me and some childhood friends experiences in Maryland from ages 19-25. That’s a critical age for Black men and I want to talk about some positives that happened with us, and the negative effects from one bad decision costing you in the long run.

We’re going to cover police brutality and racial profiling, trying to approach women, how jobs run you into the ground, a couple trap house adventures, a few arrests, sexual escapades gone wrong, et cetera.

It’s gonna be relatable, just young black men fresh out of high school getting hit with reality. But, it’s going to be a comedy. I’m not politically correct so it’s not gonna have the Family Matters saxophone in the background [or] teaching life lessons. It’s a unique blend of real talk and humor I’m optimistic people will feel.

Speed: Will there be an episode written about the shenanigans we all went through while recording Genesis and Exodus with…certain folks?

AX: I’m halfway through the studio session episode lol not mentioning names until the script comes out but the jabroni that accused me of throwing up on him when he was so drunk he did it to himself? Yeah brothaman, that part is getting thrown in there.

Speed: I know you’re a HUGE Celtics fan. Do you think they’ve got it in them for a run at the title, especially now that LeBron is doing his Space Jam 2 thing in L.A.?

AX: At the moment, Hayward looks like a shell of himself and Horford looks older. We’ve had good moments, but we’re near the halfway point and this team is inconsistent and plays too soft inside.

Speed: Still better than my Wizards.

AX: Kyrie, Marcus Morris and Tatum have been good. But, this year is Finals or bust and we’re disappointing so far. Toronto and the Bucks are legit, so we need to play at a higher level.

Speed: Why the Celtics, though? Where did your love for them come from?

AX: When I was eight, I started taking basketball serious and worked on my game harder. I was looking for players to model my game after. In 2001, AI, Vince, T-Mac, Kobe, Steve Francis, and Baron Davis were the most-popular players. I was unathletic and kind of fat as a kid, so I saw Paul Pierce playing in ‘01 on TNT. From there, he became my favorite player.  

I was there when we got to the Eastern Conference Finals in ‘02, when Danny Ainge traded Antoine Walker for Raef Lafrentz and Jiri Welsch, the youth movement with the 18-game losing streak with Al Jefferson and Delonte West. I’ve been there through rebuilds, ups and downs. I’m a legit Celtics fan, but I don’t give a fuck about those other Boston teams though.

Speed: When you’re not cooling or catching the latest game, what are some things you find yourself getting into?

AX: I try to play basketball at least twice a week. When my script takes off, it’s a couple Twitter followers I’ve got to play one-on-one. I’ve been in this project, Adventures of AXELWorld, hardbody though.

Speed: What are some pieces of advice you’d give an artist who’s just getting started and wants to shy away from what everyone else is doing?

AX: Try different things while still remaining in your comfort zone. I rapped on boombap beats with Team DAR. That was out of my element, but I entered the booth with confidence and didn’t sound out of place. You have to remain confident in yourself and have THICK skin. When you have a unique style, people are going to criticize. I used to say “thank you for the listen” and I would work on my bars in private and release my frustration with the criticism through my music.

Being versatile and having fun is way better than sounding like everyone else with heavy Auto-Tune, mumbling, and talking about drugs. It’s more to the world than that. Make an impact in a different way.

Speed: Do you have any final words for your fans/haters/the readers?

AX: I want to thank everyone that’s supported me. I’m working on 3 projects that I’m trying to get to the mainstream. Let’s keep it real. Most channels play reruns of old shows for sixteen hours a day, then it’s Miracle Spring Holy Water commercials [for the rest of the] day. Wouldn’t ya’ll want to see a different show with unique content and a message of fighting through adversity to strive as an adult?

Adventures of AXELWorld. Remember that name. I’m planning major things. Shoutouts to Team DAR, to my fam, and my girl Nakia. Anyone that ain’t supporting Jeff Axel can drink a bleach and cyanide smoothie and kill yourself.

Speed: While I don’t condone that exact combination, I agree that you’re definitely a brother folks should give a listen/view to.

Follow AX on Twitter at @UnstoppableAX and be on the lookout for his new projects.
Speed on the Beat

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