Deep in this age of mumble rap the debut project Code Switchin from Madison Washington is the oil in the ointment.
Code Switchin showcases beats from the tailored UK producer thatmanmonkz who has worked with names like Eric Rico and Toddla T. Like all the best concept projects, Code Switchin stands out from a sea of inept white noise. Using the famed historical slave, Madison Washington who led a slave revolt as a catalyst of sorts, rapper, producer and poet Malik Ameer stimulates our synapses with his poignant and telling verbals over the 6 tracks.
In fact, with its nod to old skool sensibilities it is the verbals that shine in Code Switchin. Of course, we know that rap and poetry are synergic disciplines. With the Paris based wordsmith Malik, the synergies are glaring. His slightly gravely vocals reminiscent of Wu Tang in their pomp blare out in gorgeous tailored syntax.
While Malik plied his early youth as a rapper creating mixtapes, his bohemian and eclectic formative years were the foundations for a mind that would revel in poetry. Malik has gone onto become an international force of poetic energy through his lively word. As if that was not enough, he’s also an author working on his book aptly called Rapper’s Anonymous.
Long winded intro done, we decided to talk to Malik about Code Switchin and learning to float in water.
Paradoxes of formation built on a world of Tolkien.
My parents raised me in the North Oakland Hills (which was like a Tolkien or C.S. Lewis fantasy) but most of my friends and family lived in the urban Bay Area cities. So, right away I was surrounded by paradoxes. I pivoted between the shire and the boys in the hood.
The music and poetry community in the Bay was boundless and gigs were countless. Wherever we did random impromptu performances, everyone was encouraged to be independent artists. My buddies and I sold our tapes and cds in the streets everywhere. We battle rapped everywhere and gigged all over the Bay. Originality and uniqueness was the goal. To be an advanced improvising rapper, musician, actor or comedian was mandatory. All that came in handy when I moved to New York and got into all that madness.
Musical embryonic growth-‘utero’
Musically, my family programmed me to be genre-less. Dad listened to acoustic aka Free Jazz, Swing, Be Bop, European Classical, Blues, Indigenous World music and talk radio. My mom loved to listen to Funk, Jazz vocalists, Soul, poetry albums, and R&B radio all the time. My older brother was strictly Hip Hop. In terms of my cousins they were all about underground bay area rap and Punk. Grandmother played gospel (deep south Baptist and Sanctified gospel), and my grandfather only listened to the Blues, nothing else. So basically, I never had to learn to listen to any of that “old” music. I was tuned into that music from birth.
In terms of my environment, artists were always around. My father was a painter and art professor, so I was always in museums, galleries and openings since utero. My mother and her aunts were deep into California politics so I grew up around politicians, lawyers and activists. Family -the one you’re born into- inevitably programs your personality and environment.
France un foyer spirituel
Ever since I was a kid studying my artistic heroes, I was determined to be a part of Paris. When I finally got there, on my first day, first gig, luckily for me, I met a lady who is now my wife on the first break between rounds. That’s the most important connection. I also host and curate Poets Live, as well as edit and recruit writers for the literary journals; The Opiate, Those That This, The Nones and The Wordists. Other connections are the links to the poets, musicians, painters, philosophers, editors, publishers, booksellers, anthropologists, mystics, patrons of the arts and artists out there. My connection to all of them is one of sincere camaraderie and mutual devotion to artistic expression.
The eternal hunt for clarity through syntax
I’m all words. The images, emotions and memories in my mind are attached to words. Everything’s words with me. That’s not the way I made it, that’s just the way it’s always been. I find meaning in life through the hunt for the clarity in selecting the correct words to accurately match the moment. With poetry, I love poetry like the love of my family. There’s no one moment these people or poetry became suddenly important to me. Like music, they are always there.
I didn’t blatantly decide to do either of them, until later when the financial sacrifice hits-you know the books your mother reads to you as a child, right? For me those were poetry books. The music I listened to, (unless I was listening to my father’s music) all had lyrics, that’s poetry. So, I’ll say this, every being that speaks and listens to any language is involved in poetry and thus depends on it to exist, especially me.
Raconteur, raconteur how do your verses grow?
I’m never sure where they come from, I just know their DNA. My verses are programmed by conversations I’ve had with family, friends, strangers and ongoing conversations I’m having with myself. The more imaginative the better. The more unheard or unseen the better. Unpredictability is the key. Every verse is usually driven by the pursuit of clarity. My struggle is to present an authentic experience of thoughts in action. Battling against or accepting contradictions, conflicts and confusion to arrive at a genuine unique way of writing or saying something. They’re also inspired by odd historical figures, nuns, monks, painters, inventors, scientists, alchemists, travel, architects, comedians, gods, you know, Jean Cocteau, X Files, Rod Serling, Cab Calloway, Bob Kaufman or anything I’m digging on at the moment the verse appears.
Don’t Mumble…….. just rap
What is most important for me is that a genuine feeling or thought is being expressed. Everyone listens to different music to fit different states of being. When I was a small kid I was into party/dance rap, as a young teenager I was obsessed with political, horror and gangster rap. Around 16 and on, it was all about esoteric rap.
Personally, I’m rarely in the mood for mumble rap, although I’ve heard it at clubs and enjoyed the hell out of it from time to time. Just because asses bouncing in my face isn’t important to me today, I can’t devalue the importance of that content to the cat who’s mumbling her/his heart out about it. All that’s important is being ruthlessly honest about what’s on your mind and if that’s love, dope dealing, parenting, politics, strip clubs, wizards, spirituality, well, rite on for being honest, intense and sincere about it.
The eternal question…an answer please.
Poets and rappers are the same thing, to me. As a matter of fact, rappers, like singers are more in the oratorical performance tradition of ancient poets than the poets who never perform their poems along with music. As a kid, everyone in school knew me as a rapper. Since I was 7 or 8 years old I sold (more than often traded them for candy) my rap tapes at recess that I had made on my boom box. School teachers hated rap music in those days and considered it a dangerous fad and told my classmates that I was a poet. They entered me in oratorical fest’ competitions, which I only competed in once, and lost. It wasn’t until High School when some classmates and I started a literary magazine called Paradox, that some folks started calling me a poet.
That Peruvian inspiration
Monkz and I hooked up thanks to Khalil Anthony who I produced an album with called Train in 2012. Monkz remixed a couple songs from it in 2014 for a vinyl release. My first internet interaction with Monkz was sending him wave stems for Khalil’s tracks. That led to us talking about the production work I did on the album. Those conversations led to Monkz sending me a beat one day via email for his album, Columbusing. I dug it and he dug what I did on it so we kept a transatlantic flow going between Sheffield and Harlem for a year. Then I went to Peru for a couple weeks, got crazy inspired and wrote a bunch of raps. I don’t remember thinking or talking about making an album at that time. It was only when he to New York for some djying tour did we get serious.
Peruvian inspiration leads to midnight explorations of 80s-00’s rap
So, once he got to NY the idea of an album came up (we had about 12 songs then). He crashed at my place in Harlem and all we did was Youtube battle each other our favorite rap songs were. In going through all the legends, we realized we loved the same rappers/producers and that our favorite period was the late 80s early 90s and early 2000s Underground/ Abstract rap. Then we sat there and complained about how we never hear or feel that energy in pop-rap/ over-ground rap anymore. Then we argued about Youtube conspiracy theory videos until he played me some new beats. We listened, I free-styled on some of the raps I wrote in Peru and the next day we did the same thing. When he went on with the rest of his tour in the states, we brainstormed ideas for the illest group.
Creating that enigma-Code Switchin
We instinctively searched for that early nineties feel, but not as loop heavy. We also made sure to avoid the contemporary trends of making beats dominated by 808 & 909 kicks, hats and snares. There’s something provocative in sampled music. The collaboration/collage and time travel elements of being present in/on a song that was made before we were born was investigated. Does that make sense? Most importantly it just felt right and fun, too. The songs we did that did not have samples are not on this EP. We recorded exactly, thirty-nine songs for this album and selected six that expressed best our sonic and cosmic intention.
Every track on Code Switchin shows without telling the point of the project. With each song, we aimed to show the coded language and imagination of a being pursuing freedom, on the run constantly code switching as a means of survival. I was obsessed with conveying Madison Washington’s thinking process that allowed him to stop going insane from self-doubt, fear or panic while he’s running for his life and helping others escape slavery. How was he strategically navigating the negatives and positives of himself as he makes this rare attempt at total freedom. Hence personal alchemy. It takes an alchemists to do that. The relentless rebellion against doubt, fear and perceived failure is the enemy of all alchemists.
‘you drown from panic and fear…to float you just have to calm down’
I was in the Mediterranean Sea in Valencia, where my wife was teaching me how to swim. I couldn’t float and breathe at the same time because I was too stubborn to relax. So, after days of this, she finally checked me, “Look, you drown from panic and fear. To float you just have to calm down and breathe. Let the water lift you up. You can’t resist the sea, it’s a force that can only be accepted or you drown. To swim it’s necessary to be calm and trust in the propulsion. Most importantly you have to trust the water and your body’s relationship with it”.
What really gets me, is like everything in life, I had to see the sea as a stage or music software. Only then did I finally understand my relationship to it and surrender to it. So now, finally, after decades of panic and drowning, I’m swimming! That’s that-P.T.R.D. Post Traumatic Rappers Disorder.