It’s a sad admission, but anyone over 30 knows rap is not what it used to be. The 80’s and 90’s were the golden era of rap. Artists sharpened subject matter with brazen intelligence – wielding their lyrical dexterity with the elegance of a sword through silk. Some 20 years later, the focus on lyrics and subject have withered in favor of the shameful get rich quick shortcut of glorifying crime, violence, and the denigration of women – talent no longer being necessary.
This isn’t of course the entire industry. There are still a few artists that carry the torch of what rap was, to bear witness to what it can be once again. One of those torchbearers is Absoloot. In advance of his upcoming album Banksters, I had the privilege of speaking with Absoloot in a conversation that touched on his new release 99%, his feelings on the modern hip hop industry, politics, and society.
Growing up when rap was in vogue, Absoloot’s style and attention to quality reflects the influence of the artist that came before him.
The funny thing is when I was younger, I always thought it would be too hard to come up with lyrics…I would listen to a lot of Slick Rick, Twister was one of my favorites, Nas, I listen to a lot of Nas. Scarface. And I just, wanted to be able to do that. It took me til I was like 16 or 17 to build up and say, “Let me try it.” …I didn’t really let anybody listen to it for a couple of years until I felt like, “You know what? I got the hang of it.”
While credit has to be given to artists of yesteryear for Absoloot entering the craft, his chosen subject matter is a hallmark of his upbringing. His parents’ influence permeates his work through his dogged insistence on elevating the conversation through the trojan horse of meticulously crafted rhymes and compelling beats.
My parents are extremely into politics. When we were growing up, in our house, there are no dummies. You’re constantly reading, you’re constantly writing. If something is going on, you need to know. That’s how my parents brought us up. You need to know what’s going on. If not, then you will become a victim. So coming up with the song [99%] was natural to me.
A departure from the normal
The influx of money in the rap industry over the past 30 years has shown a trend of destroying variety in favor of the faux-uber-masculine archetype of sex, crime, and violence. Groups like NWA, Ghetto Boys, and 2 Live Crew existed in near equal parts along the side of groups like Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, and Nas. Absoloot’s work is a noticeable departure from this bias, choosing substance and skill over cheap antics.
If you view hip hop in a certain light, and I’m a hip hop artist, and I’m talking about something positive, that’s going to affect me; because you’re not going to give me a chance… Honestly, even though I do hip hop, I do think some of the negative attention it gets is deserved… if I’m an older person and every time I turn on the radio I’m hearing something negative, that’s going to be my opinion of that… I know it’s such an uphill fight for artists to talk about something positive because it’s not what the majority is doing…. The only reason I still do hip hop is because I love it so much. I have a serious passion for it.
Absoloot the artist, Absoloot the man
A consistent theme in the interview was the importance of being the change you want to see effected in the world. Behaving not necessarily in accordance to how the world is, but as the world could and even should be. The interview laid bare Absoloot’s understanding of the importance of image. Not just the image projected to the world, but also to ourselves and our children. Absoloot has pushed hard to showcase a positive image, not just in his craft, but also in the example set by his life.
It reached a point when I realized I had a kind of influence on the younger generation, and so I saw myself as a kid again listening to rap music. So what I started doing is I said, “Okay. How can I make music for these kids to listen to – to still be cool but be clean at the same time?”…
I want kids to think about owning a basketball team instead of playing for them. If you can open these kids minds up, they can do incredible things. It all has to start somewhere, so I’m out in the street helping homeless people so the kids can see this. This is my example to you. It’s not me driving around in a 100,000 dollar car with a chain on. No, that’s not the example I’ll ever set…
I want the kids to open their mind, and music a lot of times can open the young generations mind… So I want to show these kids – I want to get involved in politics so these kids say, “Hey, you know what? I want to make a change, I want to be a politician. I want to do something other than rap; I want to do something other than play basketball.” You know – you can be successful in anything…I just hope I can inspire someone using these words to do something other than rap.
The single 99% and his upcoming album Banksters
Absoloot’s new single 99% and his soon to be released album Banksters, highlight the inciting themes of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Most notably the widening economic gap between the top 1% and everyone else. In addition to the unscrupulous behavior of people in power that used greed and complex math as a pretense to gamble; precipitating the economic collapse. Implicit in the song is an issue that surfaced throughout the interview; the need for education. Education in the sense of making oneself aware of the forces and ideas shaping one’s world.
So the idea for the song was actually my fathers. My father said, “You know what? You really need to focus your attention more on what’s happening in these times…
Instead of talking about gangsters, talk about banksters. You watch these CEOs, they’re getting away with billions of dollars and laying off people. It’s disgusting… and these are the biggest crooks… These are gangsters, these are the people who are stealing, these are the people who are robbing. Except for the media doesn’t portray it that way. They look at it as “Oh they’re running a company, and guess what? We can’t really do anything about it because there is no law against it.” There is no law against robbing!?…
But if we teach more of our younger generation there is a capital gains tax that’s less than when you go to work… then the tables will start to turn. We get them to invest, we get them to pay attention to these things, then the tables can turn. But unless we educate them, they’re never going to know – and so guess what? It’s going to continue to be the same cycle.
There is a way they do things, and there is no reason why I can’t do the things that they’re doing. There is no reason why I can’t teach my children what they’re doing… The thing is, yeah what they’re doing is wrong. If you have morals, you know to not go out and rob somebody. They don’t feel that way. So they don’t have the same feelings that we do. But at the end of the day, you can’t fault somebody if you’re not educated enough. If you don’t educate yourself enough – you know, it becomes your problem.
2012 presidential election
As the conversation turned to the upcoming presidential election, Absoloot expressed a disappointment felt by many that follow politics. The national debate misses the point in that it fails to address the “human factor”.
I think it’s sad. To say the least. What’s going on right now. Once again, we’re not talking about reality, we’re not talking about the human factor… No one is saying vote for me because I’m going to do everything I can to make the country better. I have not heard that argument…
Whether you’re republican or democrat, if you’re not educating yourself, you don’t know who you’re voting for. What I mean by educating yourself, if someone is talking about Obamacare, go look up what Obamacare is. Don’t listen to Obama, don’t listen to Romney, go look it up. You can find facts…
One of the reasons I was for that, my father had a heart attack. A few years ago. This is the man that raised me. This is the man who is still influencing all my music now… My father has a heart attack, and now you tell me, he can’t get insurance and he has to pay 900 dollars a month for medication or he should just die. So that to me is a problem, and this what people need to think about…
That goes back to the educating yourself… Do you know they’re saying you might not be able to get insurance? Do you know how important that is!? People don’t understand that. That is life or death situation. Literally.
In the past, rap has shown an amazing potential to be a tool for disseminating knowledge and making social commentary. Absoloot has taken the rare path that focuses on what he believes is right and necessary as opposed to what’s purely profitable. What started as an interview about an upcoming album resolved into a conversation that left me with a sincere respect for the man and his craft, and frankly a renewed optimism about the industry as a whole.
There is one particular comment that needs to be repeated. In one sense because it in many ways summarizes the interview, but also for it’s unpretentious optimism. It was directed at me, but it’s relevance is universal.
And before you get so upset, what you have to do, is you have to tell the next person, “Hey. this is what’s happening.” And you have to say that until people start paying attention… Because the only way it’s going to change is if those people are educated.
Originally published in Parle Magazine.