Afu-Ra: The Art Of Hip Hop

posted May 31, 2005 12:00:00 AM CDT | 0 comments

About to drop his third album, State Of The Arts and head out on tour with Inspectah Deck and Planet Asia, the 27-year-old East New Yorker talks about why he changed his name, his career-defining relationship with Gang Starr and his plan to conquer the global hip-hop market.

How did you get the name Afu-Ra?
Its a name I gave myself. It comes from Ancient Egypt. It came to me through reading a book called The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Afu-Ra is a character in the story, and I saw myself in the same unknowing, uncertain type of mindset as that person. Not knowing what I was doing, where I was going, just kind of floating. I looked to the changing of my name to be a vehicle to put some type of positive direction in my life. It translates Afu is body or embodiment and Ra is the life force. I looked at the changing of my name as a symbol of being born again or starting something new.

When was this?
This all happened around 17, just as I was graduating from high school.

Does the name have anything to do with your interest in martial arts?
I did Tae Kwon Do for seven years. Im a black belt. The name has its own realm in my life. The changing of my name was the difference between continuing to hang out in the streets with the knuckleheads thats carrying guns and selling dope to the person that took my career and life serious and worked hard to be here with my third album. Through my music, ultimately my focus is to let people know who I am. Much of my characteristics as a person, the qualities I have as a brother and a friend, I choose to convey that through the music. To me thats the only way I see myself having longevity in the music business is to have people hopefully, fall in love with who they hear through this music. The fact that I am into Rastafarianism, Buddhism and many different cultures, they all shape who I am.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My fathers from Trinidad and my mothers from Alabama. I was born in Crown Heights and stayed there until junior high school. Then I moved to East New York, and I still live in the same neighborhood.

Who were some of your influences growing up?
When I was growing up, where I lived, it was really serious. It had one of the highest crime rates in all of New York City. As an artist, I wanted to put myself out there, what I wanted to be, what I dreamed about. Growing up in East New York, there were many mentors and people I looked to for guidance. I read stories about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Chaka Zulu, and then about Asian philosophy and the whole Eastern way of thinking in regards to health and diet, trying to be one with the universe. These are the types of things I wanted to convey through the music. You can come from the ghetto, but you dont have to be ghetto. Thats who I am.

Howd you hook up with Gang Starr?
Me and Jeru The Damaja, were from the same neighborhood. We were friends. He began to be very involved with hip-hop music. He was the first person I saw from the neighborhood without any record deal, without any manager, no video or exposure, but he was as good as any Run DMC or KRS-One record I heard. I learned a lot from him. As he walked his own road and made positive steps and made connections with Gang Starr and GURU and Premier, they began to work with him. He would say, come hang out with me in the studio. I sat with him working on his first album. Then I worked with him on a song called Mental Stamina. Premier did the beat. So Premier was the first track I ever rhymed over. The first time I was in the studio was with Premier at D&D Studios. From there we went on tour. Gang Starr had Hard To Earn out. Jeru had his first album out. We went all over the States and to Europe and Japan. We developed a relationship that was beyond the music business. Thats why Premier was on my first and second albums. Even now with him being busy, he still managed to have the time to give me a track and mix the song. I owe Primo, Gang Starr and Jeru a lot. Without them I wouldnt be here. I learned a lot about the music business and about being an artist, what you need to do, how to deal with the political struggles of being an artist without a major deal.

How did you pick your collaborations on State Of The Arts?
Like my other two albums, Body of the Life Force and Life Force Radio, when I first start making albums I dont know who I want to work with. Im pretty much track by track. I know I wanted this album to have a hip-hop, rock and reggae feel. I started there and picked track by track. Masta Killa, hes from my hood. He hooked me up with this producer and the beat that I chose, I heard him on it. We got a chemistry as brothers. The song with Gentleman from Germany, I wanted to do a song that was beyond rap music, beyond music itself. When we live in powerful countries, we can take for granted that some people have it very bad. We lose sight there is a situation with world hunger, AIDS, pollution, mass media programming peoples minds through ads. I wanted to do a song that was sensitive to the problems and plight of manhood. Ive been watching Gentlemans career in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I always liked his material. He popped into my head. He knew me and he was down. In hip-hop, like in life you cant do everything by yourself. Then Royce Da 59 is a great MC and really respected in the underground.

You have a deal through Decon. What is Decon?
Decon is a multimedia company. They do film, websites, shoot videos. They are a distribution company with a multitude of contacts in America and around the world. I was looking for a situation for my third album and Decon had the vision that I had. Im not huge rapper in America. Some people know me. On my first and second albums I was blessed that people supported it. Im not a Gold artist, but to sell above 30,000 or 50,000 in the U.S. market place, without a video on BET or without commercial radio playing your record, I knew I needed someone to promote my record in America and at the same time, be able to market and distribute my record in France, Germany and the other markets like Japan. Decon had it set up like that and they were into me as an artist. We decided to do business together. I made this album out of my pocket. For the other albums, I had a deal with a budget. This album means a lot to me because I didnt wait for a label to sign me. I stayed working, doing shows and within a year, I put this album together.

What is the difference between audiences in Europe as opposed to the U.S.?
Hip-hop artists and hip-hop music, in terms of live shows and artists being in the market, its not a regular, everyday thing to the world outside of America and you really recognize that. For instance, in Paris, France, I went out there and did promotion. I did a showcase for 400 people. I had to leave the stage. They wanted to keep me there. The vibe and the hunger is really there. America is spoiled. Everybodys a rapper, DJ, producer, label owner, etc. Thats just the reality. People in America are still die hard fans and do support artists they view to be quality. But the market is so oversaturated. Its hard to see through everything and at the same time, your sensors become dull. Im in Colombia, there are 7,000 people. Artists on my level dont usually get that in America. They havent had as much outside America. Theres a bit more of a thirst once you go outside the States. But the love is the same.


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