This guy Akrobatik (@AkrobatikMC) is a lucky dude.
Fortune favors the former Codman Square resident Jared Bridgeman because I couldn’t find the picture of us during our very first sit down when he was a student at Northeastern University. About a million years ago, one of the first pieces that I ever wrote was on a MC who was building a buzz in Boston’s underground Hip Hop scene. In fact that was the first interview he ever gave and in the snapshots from our first professional connection us both with that “young dude, just happy to be here, peach fuzz” gleam in our eyes. And happy is not exactly good for maintaining that “always in control Hip Hop” vibe that you have to maintain in these troubled times. From then to now Ak has built a truly international audience for his rugged oratorical skills. And his skills have taken him from the soundtrack of HBO’s crime drama The Wire to the Morning Show of Boston’s number one radio station JAMN 94.5. So while many chase the brass ring of the music industry, Ak has been a professional musician for all of his adult life. Much has changed since we were both young dreads talking about having a love of Hip Hop and how the then young industry pushed artists towards a more commercial sound. But one thing remains the same about him from our salad days encounter. His passion for the culture and his views about what’s right and wrong is as strong now as it was in the cafeteria at NU.
The one thing that’s tough to argue is Akrobatik’s love for Hip Hop. Anyone looking to, only need follow The Dorchester, MA native’s Twitter account, @AkrobatikMC. He serves up a healthy dose of straight talk, uncut opinions on pop culture, humor and his love for the music. That love has seen him rock crowds all over the world. And right now rocking crowds is the first order of business since making a full recovery from having an aortic distortion last year. (Basically his aorta split open causing him to start bleeding heavily internally.) On a break from building his new album, Akrobatik talked with me about his view on the current state of Hip Hop and taking care of himself.
G. Valentino Ball: This is full circle for us. I was the first person to interview you.
Akrobatik: That’s right. Way back. We don’t need to get into how far back though. (LAUGHS)
G. Valentino Ball: How are you feeling these days? How are you doing right now?
Akrobatik: I’m feeling good. I’m as close to 100% as I can be at this point in time. I feel like myself. I feel like I’m in better shape now than before it happened. I’m totally about taking better care of myself. I’ve gotten over all the physical pain of the recovery. I just need some things to go down mentally as far as getting back into the swing of things like the travelling and stuff like that. Dealing with the rigors of being on the road and a packed schedule with music stuff.
G. Valentino Ball: What are you doing to take care of yourself now that’s different than what you were doing before?
Akrobatik: I have high blood pressure. My family is predisposed to that. So the most important thing is being diligent about taking my medication on the schedule that’s prescribed to me by my doctors. I’m working with the best cardiac doctors in the world. I think doing what they say is probably the best idea. Other than that I just exercise. I focus a little more on strengthening myself and keeping any type of extra weight off. The combination of all those things should keep me running pretty strong. I’m feeling good and that’s the best part. It could have turned out way worse. I’m thankful that’s pretty much the extent of what I have to do to be fine and normal.
G. Valentino Ball: Have you had your peers tell you when they see you that it pushed them to get on track with their health? Cause I was thinking “That could have been me.”
Akrobatik: When people see me they are happy because I don’t look unhealthy. I’m not going to sit here and say I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger but I look like a healthy strong person. People were happily surprised to see that after such a long period of time. I’m stronger than ever. I can tell you that. Now I feel like I got ten years back on my life.
G. Valentino Ball: You sound like you are ready for the WWE.
Akrobatik: The only reason I wouldn’t go into the WWE is that I had my chest cracked open and if the Big Show fell on my chest it could be a problem. (LAUGHS) I feel like I can do anything. And I don’t take that blessing for granted. That’s why I’m going to live the rest of my life with zero tolerance for anything that can hold me back for even a second.
G. Valentino Ball: When the news spread you had a lot of love come your way. I know you’re anxious to reach out to your fans. We’ve already heard “Occupy Hip Hop”.
Akrobatik: I put that out mostly to let people know I’m ok. It just kind of shed some light on my perspective on the way this game is right now. With the whole “Occupy” movement going on in America and with what everyone is feeling about that, I just felt like Hip Hop needed to be “occupied”. The people who understand Hip Hop, understand what its intentions are and respect it as a genre of music and a culture…I feel like those people and how they feel about the whole thing is starting to get drowned out. So it’s more like a call to action to stand up and speak up for yourself. Just because something sells 5 million copies don’t mean there aren’t 20 million people saying, “What’s up with this garbage?” It’s just that they are not directing their attention and their money in a way that might balance that out.
Put A Stamp On It feat Talib Kweli
G. Valentino Ball: So with that done and out there, are you prepping a new album?
Akrobatik: As far as the album, I’m working that slowly. I‘m making songs as I feel appropriate. I want to put an album out that blows peoples’ minds. I don’t want to say I have an album out and just throw 15 songs out there. I’m going to put together a project because I think that artists don’t do that much anymore. Now we are in a culture where everything is fast food. You know. Here’s a song. Here’s a song. Here’s a mixtape. However long it takes me I will be fine with that
G. Valentino Ball: I’ve always felt that if you had music that was all the same it would just get boring. We are all different people. In your mind, how do you see a perfect Hip Hop world?
Akrobatik: I feel like if everything is one certain way it’s boring. There’s a huge part of the population that’s being left out Hip Hop because the mainstream has a hold on monopolizing on people’s views. And although there is a lot of different ways to find the music that might balance things out if the mainstream were open to it, they aren’t doing that. If there was something to counteract that there would be more balance. I would never want to live in a world where all the music was the same. I grew up listening to everybody. From Public Enemy to LL Cool J to EPMD to Geto Boys to NWA, there was room for everybody. They were all getting equal time so people could see it all and make their decision on where they wanted to go. As opposed to being forced to go in one direction because something was ubiquitous and everywhere you look it’s the same cats.
Remind My Soul
G. Valentino Ball: In Hip Hop we have always had a follow the leader thing. Do you think we are in this place musically because people are chasing success? Or is it this way because this is truly the heart of the people?
Akrobatik: There’s a couple of things. I think people are afraid to be themselves. If everyone did them, that would just solve the problem immediately. If everyone just showed who they are and were true to themselves when they made their music like other genres don’t seem to have a problem with, everything would naturally be balanced. But because of what you said, the hunger for success, people will do pretty much anything to get money nowadays. People will tell you, “I’m trying to feed my family. And if people want to hear about me selling crack and that will feed my family then I’m just going to do that.” There’s a part of me that’s “Aight. That’s cool.” But what about the socially conscious accountable being (in you). Is there a part of you that says, “Maybe there’s a part of what I am doing that’s hurting my community”? Is feeding your family at the risk of hurting people in your community worth that? I guess that everyone has to look inside themselves and make a decision. My position is not to just condemn that. All I’m saying is be truthful. If you know that what you’re saying is promoting a dead end lifestyle, be just as outspoken about the fact that you are playing around. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of people. Then the blame goes on the parents like the parents aren’t monitoring. We all also know the industry is doing nothing to regulate what reaches the ears of children. So how can you put it on one person or two people to block any child from what they are exposed to? It’s impossible. It’s like a scapegoat thing to blame it on the parents.
G. Valentino Ball: When you say stuff like that in these times many people would get the impression that you are the angry old man or a hater. Do you think you it’s a fair to discount you because of your maturity?
Akrobatik: Yeah that’s completely unfair. At this point I have gotten everything out of my career that I put into it. There is no part of me that looks at anyone else’s career and says I wish I was as successful as whomever. I’ve gotten out what I put in. And I’m going to continue to put in more. In fact I’m loving my career because I’m having a good time. I also don’t think that the age thing matters at all either. When I was 21 I had the luxury of listening to artists who were the same age as me talking about things that I could actually benefit from on commercial radio. Now you have people that are 15 listening to people my age talking all that bullshit they don’t have an opportunity or a chance. I don’t think that being young is an excuse for anything. Rakim was like 21 years old on the Follow The Leader album and that’s some of the most intelligent things said on a rap record to this day. So anything that anyone brings to me about accountability and circumnavigating it always comes off as a cop out.
Live at SOB’s
G. Valentino Ball: It’s easy for us to point to the things that are wrong in Hip Hop. What are some of the things that are right?
Akrobatik: Let me say this. I’m not saying what I’m saying because I’m a rapper. I’m saying what I’m saying because I’m a Black man who loves Hip Hop and I have loved it from the minute it started. People need to remove from my philosophy on this that I’m a rapper and I’m older so I must be mad. I don’t know what to say. I will challenge anyone to an arm wrestling contest, a race or a fight and give them a run for their money. (Laughs) It has nothing to do with my age. I’m happy that I have lived this long and been all over the world doing the things that I’ve done. It’s great. But as a fan and someone who is a grown man I’m just saying, how can we balance this out? I’m not saying exterminate all these rappers. Talk whatever you want to talk. But there is a lot of stuff out there which will give people an alternative that the mainstream isn’t allowing to filter through. They don’t want people to hear it. It’s easier to just keep people stupid and ignorant and sell them ignorant shit. Even on mainstream radio, they’re not even going to play an artist like Common or The Roots. These are legendary groups that have been around. When you go to their concerts there are positive young people at the concerts. I just saw WuTang at the Wilbur and the whole place was filled with progressively thinking white people. That’s not a mistake. They want to herd all the Black kids and underprivileged kids toward the ignorant shit so they stay that way so they can keep selling them dumb shit on TV. I’m not going to sit there forever going, “You guys need to be aware of this.” I make a song every 5 or 10 years that addresses it and then I go back to having my fun. But I still feel I have a responsibility as someone who is in the know to let people know what is going on out here. And that there is an assault on their brains and the brains of their children. We need to be somewhat aware and decide for ourselves how they what their children raised by the music that they listen to. That’s exactly how we are raised. We have our parents yes. But each one of us has a soundtrack to our lives. You look at anybody and how their life turned out, I guarantee you that the soundtrack to their life will be somewhat telling to how their life turned out.
G. Valentino Ball: So a lack of honesty and responsibility is the problem when it comes to the game in your eyes?
Akrobatik: I’m tired of people not saying what it really is when they know. It’s like the dude who does shit that he knows is wrong but has a little grin on his face and says that’s what niggas do. Or the woman who dates men who always walk all over her and then says but I like bad boys hehehe. People just accept their reality now as what is meant for them forever. If you don’t want to dig yourself out of that shit than you will stay there. And if you never have anyone reach out to you and offer you a hand up, you will never think about look for what else is there. You will just stay in that pit. And that’s whats happening to people. It’s sad. I’m not going to let it happen to me. If I have kids I won’t let it happen to them and I don’t want it to happen to my people. I talk about it every once and a while and people don’t like that because ignorance is bliss. “Leave us alone. This is what we want.” And that’s the shit that will probably have me living in another country in a few years. But it is what it is.
A To The K (Live)
G. Valentino Ball: I don’t think you’re ready to stamp your passport just yet. You still have unfinished business in your musical career. Not that you can’t do that wherever you’re at.
Akrobatik: It doesn’t matter to me or anyone else where I rest my head at night. If I lived in Chile as long as I’m still putting music out and touring the United States it doesn’t matter where I live. I’m talking about the ignorance that is surrounding us and people who don’t want to be around it and how nothing is being done about it. On any level. Not just in music. Its not like Hip Hop is supposed to save everyone. But as Hip Hop artists there is almost no one on the planet that has more influence to get any point across. I still will pump Fight The Power like its new and the things said on that record are relevant to this day. Its like who wants to get something out of their music beside the sensationalist shit. I do enjoy that stuff. I listen to Rick Ross. I listen to Snoop. I listen to everything. But I find that people who don’t know how to find music that provides that balance are lost because there is no other side. So they immediately think that when someone is showing an alternative that they are a hater. I just think if someone wants to call something Hip Hop they should represent the many facets of it. Not just the one that makes the bitches wanna pull their panties down at the club.
G. Valentino Ball: You have a diverse palette of who you rock with. Like who you feeling right now?
Akrobatik: I love Common, The Roots, Talib Kweli. My favorite artist is Busta Rhymes. I listen to Gangstarr. I listen to everything that has a stamp on it that’s dope. Dilla, Bumpy Knuckles, Madlib. The list goes on. Most of those guys are vets cause that’s the era that I’m from. But the fact is that if someone young made a record that I liked I would pump it.