Azeem Interview

Azeem is a rapper and lyricist from Oakland, California. He's generally labelled as a 'conscious rapper', a term he doesn't necessarily feel comfortable with. He prefers to see himself as an artist or simply a 'lyricist.' Like a modern day griot, he covers topics of politics and spirituality, and is widely revered in his local community's music scene. Onstage he's a powerful force, an expert at working a crowd, and a source of inspiration for his audience. This Better Propaganda exclusive covers a range of topics relevant to Azeem's social context, from Clear Channel to 50 Cent to self-censorship. The following interview was conducted in a small recording studio in a warehouse in West Oakland.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Azeem

Better Propaganda: If you had to encapsulate Azeem as a media entity, what sort of things does the audience get from you?

Azeem: They get spiritual, politics- not manly necessarily- earthly politics, they get spiritual politics which incorporates earthly politics and a lot of passion, integrity and the craft of writing and rhyming and you know, being an artist. I don't know if that answers your question.

BP: Maybe I was interested in the sort of formats you work in, you wear a lot of hats, you do a lot of different things, you're almost religious in a way, it's almost political, it's transcendental, it's a lot of different things, you work in a lot of different ways.

A: Yeah, yeah, I'm not trying to fit into any particular box, I'm trying to create my own box. It's not really popular and that's what I like about what I'm doing, I'm just trying to stay focused on putting the right amount of emotion into the songs, and putting my own thoughts in there, I'm just trying to be true but still be an artist at the same time.

BP: When you say "not popular", obviously you're not selling seven million records like you're P. Diddy or something, but I've seen you tear it up here in Oakland, where there's crowds of people eating out of your hand, you've got the whole room bouncing up and down and shaking- you're a name- you're an entity. In your local community you're able to- I think- make enough money to get by a little bit off your music, you are making it and getting by, people look up to you, don't you feel that?

A: Yeah. I mean I know I have a fan base, and I feel like that what I'm doing is something that I was born to do. I really feel like I was born to do this and mabye even more- but at least this- at least be creative. I know I was born to write, or I know that it's the talent that I have. And I say I was born to do it, like being chosen or something- nothing like that- but, I know it's a talent that I have. All I can do is try to push myself and try not to get lazy with it. This is what I do, I take it seriously.

BP: So you've set it up so that you're basically in control of what Azeem does, is that correct?

A: Yeah, definitely.

BP: So when you go to make something, you censor yourself when you work, obviously there's some degree where you would censor yourself. Where would you stop yourself as just Azeem?

A: That's an interesting question. The name Azeem is actually an Arabic name, and it comes from the Koran, it's an attribute of God. To have a name like that, there's certain things that I know I could get away with doing, but because I know what it means, there's parts of my personality that I definitely keep out of my lyrics. Or, another example is, if I have an Azeem sticker- it may sound funny but- I don't put the sticker up in a bathroom [laughter], because I feel like the name is- you know what I mean- you don't put it up in a bathroom because it's kinda foul in there. So it's like little things like that. And I have a certain fan base just based on my name, people say "oh, this guy." I'm known to be a so-called "conscious lyricist." I don't really like being called a conscious lyricist, I'd rather just be a lyricist, but, I guess because I read, because I talk about Freemasons and the Illuminati and stuff like that, they say "okay, he's a conscious rapper, you know." Because of that, I don't want to let my fan base down, and talk about ho's and bitches and ho's and how I FUCK, you know what I'm sayin', although, I have lyrics like that, but those lyrics never seem to make it out onto my record, my conscience won't let me do it, so I do censor myself.

BP: You would listen to some booty bass for some fun?

A: Yeah, definitely, definitely, yeah! If it's appropriate, if it's the time. I listen to dancehall that's nasty beyond belief, you know what I mean, and it's appropriate when it's appropriate. I listen to gangster rap, I listen to 50 Cent mix tapes- not necessarily the stuff that they put out on the record- but the mixtapes that they release to the streets, a lot of that shit is HOT, you know what I mean, and it's not necessarily lyrically inspiring, but it's great theme music, it's just like watching a movie, the way certain guys are living, they have the street mentality, but now they've got a billion dollars, and to hear them singing about what they're doing with all this money, with the street mentality, it's like a movie, and they're really doing it. Nine times out of ten, well, six times out of ten, the stuff they're saying is pretty much real, aside from the death and all that stuff. It's interesting to hear that. But I censor myself from sounding like that.

BP: I want to talk about conscious hip hop. To me, conscious hip hop would mean you've got a series of people who understand their jazz, they understand their art, they understand their poetry, they understand a couple decades of historical context, you know, they know Miles Davis and so on. There's like a huge movement of conscious hip hop, and we don't hear ANY of it in the mainstream, and yet you're talking about 50 Cent, which is like this feel good music. Would you say that it's important for the corporate media structure to portray the African American male as you know, some crotch grabbing guy with like silly taste, as opposed to some guy that's got something really artistically deep to say, is that something that the media wants to push on everybody?

A: The population is easier led in the wrong direction, and harder to lead in the right, and they're more attracted toward negativity. There are a hundred Bob Marleys out there today, There's a hundred Bob Dylans, there's a hundred John Coltranes, THOUSANDS probably, from different countries. But no, the Bob Marleys that are out there, they'll never make it through the matrix of what is set up right now as the "music industry." It's like a maze and they'll never make it through. They don't have the right hand signals, they don't have the right okays from the right people, they're not singing about the right things, because... its not about money, it's not about money, it's more about population control and mind control opiating the masses and keeping the people, guiding them toward a direction instead of just letting them roam free. When the Sixties happened, when the whole civil rights and the anti-Vietnam movement happened in the Sixties, and the world was pointing to America and saying "Well, look, you're talking about democracy and your own people are rioting in the streets." The music connected everything and everyone. The powers that be- whatever you want to call them- they made sure that not only would no more so-called messiahs like your Malcom X's and Martin Luther Kings, not only would they never pop up again, but they made sure, and they're making sure, that the music doesn't stir the people again. There was just a special on recently that an ex-CIA agent was talking about the South African government asked the CIA to assassinate Bob Marley, and that's when Bob Marley got shot up in his house. He got shot, and things like that, but he didn't die. The guy was saying that the South African government wanted us to do this, because he was stirring up the people too much, they were too much on some liberation, it was too much, he was stirring them up, they wanted to get rid of him because of that. So they're making sure- that's why you have Clear Channel, who own 90% of the radio stations you know, in the country...

BP: I don't think they own that many. They proudly boast on their website that 75% of American Adults listen to a Clear Channel station every single day in America.

A: I don't really know the percentage...

BP: It's big, it's big.

A: It's big. And even the ones that they don't own, either don't matter, or it's a dummy company, if you really trace it back, its probably owned by them, or someone connected to them.

BP: It's owned by a single family in Texas, they're all named Mays, all white men, they have the same face, all the top positions in the company are from the same family name in Texas.

A: Yeah, see, now we're getting more to the truth of things which is that, really no matter what political party that you claim, what president you voted for, or what nationality you are, if you're dealing in the West, you're probably being controlled in more ways than you can ever imagine by a small amount of families, like your Rockefellers and your Rothschilds, your Bushes, your Melons, these people they call 'Blue Bloods.' And these are really the people that are running everything- not everything, because God rules everything- but, as far as the physical world, they are controlling more things than you could ever realize. Did you know that 34 of the 43 American presidents can trace their bloodline back to the Scottish King, King Charlemagne? Find it, you can check Burke's Pedigree.

BP: And both Bush and Gore are cousins descended from King Henry the VIII...

A: Yeah yeah yeah

BP: Dean, who's going to probably get the Democratic nomination, went to Yale the same time as Bush...

A: And he's probably Skull & Bones.

BP: He comes from a rich banking clan, Dean Witter...

A: C'mon, he's from a rich banking family, c'mon, it's all a scam, it's all ridiculous. So like what was the question?

BP: So you seem to have a pretty strong sense of like a upper-echelon sort of hegemony that's running the world that you have to deal with in your life every day, and yet you still persist and have a full life and body of work outside of that. How do you see your role then, seeing this big structure, and then living outside of it, I mean, are you going to attack it, or stay apart from it, how do you see your relationship to it all?

A: I deal with it in my life only because I choose to. If I chose to ignore it, I could easily ignore it. Because I know about it, I can't ignore it, I choose not to be part of it. I feel like anything aside from universal laws and universal wrongs is legal. I find it hard to recognize hypocritical laws that men enforce on one another and then don't follow themselves. And I choose to be an artist, and I choose to try to heal people through music and through stories and through sharing inspiration, because I know these things, I know these truths, that all of us know, but that can't really be spoken in words, and I know them only through inspiration. I never even graduated from 8th grade, much less high school or went to college, but I constantly read and always felt like there was something guiding me, and I follow my intuitions, so I'm trying to share that experience with other people who I know are just like me, all the kids out there and all the adults, who I know are dealing with the unseen in their life who believe in the unseen more than they believe in the seen, who spend more time daydreaming than they do in the waking world, but it's not by choice. I make music for those people. And only those people are really going to understand my music.

BP: Would you say traditionally you're taking on the role of a shaman, a storyteller and a bard in your local community, is that your role?

A: I guess, if anything- like a griot- someone who takes history and culture and fables and folklore and puts them all together into entertainment for the people, yeah. In that way, by entertaining them, it makes them feel good and it helps heal them. And if you're saying positive things or giving them information, that medicine actually lasts longer than just the moment. I wouldn't say that I was a shaman, no, because I think to be a shaman, you really have to pass a lot of tests, I don't really think I'm strong enough yet, I have too many demons that I have to slay for myself, you know what I mean, because the environments you grow up in, you end up with demons who are present in that environment and you can't ignore them, you gotta slay them.

BP: Let's talk about some demons then. If one of the big five records companies said "Hey, Azeem, we want you to do a record" would you be there doing it for them, or would you be working in your own community as you already are?

A: Oh, I would do it.

BP: You would do it?

A: Without a question, because everyone thinks they can be the one. Everybody thinks they can be the one to break the rule and still maintain their credibility and still be able to deal with the majors. I would do it. I would do it.

BP: How far would you compromise if pushed? Would you sit there and do a... I mean Bob Marley made amazing love songs...

A: I'm not going to do a McDonald's commercial. I love writing love songs, you know what I mean. Love songs as opposed to lust songs [laughter], you know what I mean.

BP: I like both.

A: Yeah, both are good [laughter]. I have LUST songs too, but they never make it on the record [laughter]. But one of these days, you know, yeah Bob Marley...

BP: Have you licensed songs out to companies?

A: Sure.

BP: For commercials? What kind of...

A: Oh, not for commercials, nah, never. I mean, I did a car radio commercial, you know what I mean, I wrote a car radio commercial and performed it on the air for them or whatever, and it did big. A check is a check now days. The word "sellout" in hip hop doesn't exist anymore. In the Eighties, when you had conscious hip hop and it was big, if you got played on the radio, you were a sellout. Public Enemy went gold with no airplay, NWA went PLATINUM probably with no airplay. Things have changed now. There's no sellout. You can do Courvoisier commercials and Coors commercials and Budweiser commercials and Coke commercials, whatever, and people won't really look down on you for it anymore.

BP: Is it accurate to say that we already live in just a huge prison, and you know, the warden wants you to cook in the kitchen, so its a good job and you take it, is that what you're saying?

A: It's not prison, it's more like Disneyworld. Out here it's just a big corporation, we're living in a corporation. Your social security number is your employee ID number, and we work for the District of Columbia, which is the United States Corporation, and we are employees of the United States of America. The District of Columbia is America. It's not a state, it's not a state for a reason. There's a reason it's called the District of Columbia and not the state.

BP: Have you been there?

A: Nah, I've never been to America.

BP: Would you call yourself a Conspiracy Theorist?

A: No, because I don't deal with theories, I deal with facts.

BP: Alright.

A: I'm not dealing with hypothoses, or maybe "this guy is related to this guy," I'm dealing with facts, things that can be found to be historic facts. Especially dealing with the bloodlines and families and things like that, these are facts, these are things you can find. How many presidents are actually related? How is that a democracy? What a fucking coincidence. It's too coincidental. 34 presidents out of 43 presidents are related- you know what I mean- I mean what is that? I'm not a conspiracy theorist.

BP: You're talking facts.

A: It's facts.

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