Understanding The Spoken Word Of Rap Music
Interview With Antonio Delgado, AD The Voice
"Believe in your power” is Antonio Delgado (http://www.myspace.com/adthevoice1), AD The Voice‘s manifesto. It is his cardinal faith from childhood which has taken him into adulthood, where he is making a living by creating music from his poetic verses and laying them over hip hop beats and classical synapses. His rap songs allow him to be honest and to confront a culture embedded with injustices.
Antonio grew up in upstate New York. He graduated from Colgate University and attended Oxford University in England on a Rhodes Scholarship. In 2002, he entered Harvard Law School believing that Law would help him find social justice. During his time at Harvard, his focus was re-channeled back into the talents he possessed as a child in singing, writing, and acting. He realized that finding social justice came from contributing to the Arts. It is in his songs that he exposes his feelings for his heritage in Black History, the criminality of humans sacrificing humans, and the quest for equality to live and pursue happiness.
In 2004, Antonio teamed up with Los Angles based producer Tom Kim (aka TK) and before Antonio graduated from law school, he had recorded over 70 songs and pressed up 5,000 copies of a promotional CD. AD and TK started their own record label, STATiK Entertainment, based in Los Angeles. Their first release is Antonio’s album, Painfully Free. Previously, Antonio’s songs were found on mixtapes, but on his solo album he was able to write songs that illuminate peoples emotional IQ. His songs take rap and the spoken word to a level of social consciousness that bridges people together. At the heart of the rage and clever prose of rap music is the human condition that oneness among people is truth. It is a concept that AD saw early on singing in church choir.
”I grew up in Schenectady, New York, right outside of Albany, about three hours north of New York City, population 61,000,” he relays. “The people in my life certainly encouraged me - my parents, my church, teachers, and coaches. My parents always made sure I felt comfortable expressing myself, and my church gave me ample opportunity, be it through the choir, the pulpit, or some theatrical production. My musical experiences early on were pretty much limited to being a member of the church choir. I spent most of my adolescent life singing in the choir. I didn’t perform in too many talent shows. I was more involved with sports back then, especially basketball.
“Growing up I loved R&B more than anything else,” he adds. “I remember listening to Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” over and over again. I also like Jodeci, Silk, Shai, and Boyz II Men. I didn’t really get into Hip Hop until a little later on. My parents sheltered me from most of it. I can remember listening to the real commercial stuff, Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff, Heavy D. etc.”
Antonio’s mother was the keel that centered him and encouraged him. “Nobody played music, but my mother was a constant audience member for anything I wanted to perform for her. Her encouragement was certainly a source of my confidence, and I can remember watching her sing in the church choir. My little brother and I would always make up skits or songs to perform for my mother after she came home from work.”
He recalls, “I do remember one talent show back in 4th or 5th grade. I sang Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All,” and I remember being extremely nervous and standing in one spot the entire length of the song. I think the only thing that moved were my eyelids when I blinked, but according to my parents, I sounded great.
“I experimented with a few instruments,” he remembers. “The violin in 4th grade and the keyboards later on, but I think for me I always enjoyed using my voice more than any instrument. I didn’t really get into rapping until high school and even more so in college. Once in college I started taking some of my poetry and putting it to music. I had a few friends who were into rapping, so we would always freestyle together.
“Hip Hop was something that naturally evolved out of my passion for poetry and the spoken word,” he recollects. “I started writing seriously around the 8th grade so most of my early songs were basically old poems turned into songs. If I had to point to a time when I wrote less as a poet and more as an MC, it would be when I wrote ‘Blood Sweat And Tears’ a couple of years back, almost three years now. What inspired the song was just a desire to speak my mind and be as real as possible with both White and Black America. I really liked how it came out because the song is unapologetic and painfully honest.
“ I would be remiss not to also bring up ‘Brotha From Another Mother,’ which is actually a much older song. I believe I wrote it while I was overseaes in England on a Rhodes Scholarship (1999-2001). The song probably means the most to me because it is my attempt to speak to my brothers in the hood or inner city, man to man. As a brother fortunate enough to live in a two-parent home in the suburbs, I think Hip Hop needs a song like this, a song that bridges the gap.”
He made his way to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004 when he worked for an LA law firm between his second and third year of law school. He recounts, “I specifically chose to work in LA because I wanted to be close to the entertainment/music world. I had a few friends in LA who encouraged me to pursue music after hearing my first demo, which I recorded in my second year. I had paired up with a friend, Mike Mills. from undergrad at Colgate University to record that first demo. It was called “My Thoughts.” This all took place after I found a studio during my first year of law school and started recording on my own over Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, and Eminem instruments. I took the poems I wrote back in England and rapped them over the beats.”
He says, “While I was in LA, another friend of mine from Colgate, Tom Kim expressed serious interest in helping me do music. After hearing 'My Thoughts,' he presented the idea of partnering up and starting an independent label, STAKiK Entertainment. TK began pairing up with the sound engineer/owner Russ Pickman (aka Big Russ) working out of Spitshine Studios. We were just accumulating music. Before I graduated from law school, we recorded over 70 songs and pressed up 5,000 copies of our promotional CD just to get some feedback. Thanks to Mike Mills we had a website up and running by the time I graduated.”
Antonio explains, “TK and I chose the name STATiK because it is a form of electricity and electricity is power. Social movements cannot happen without power, hence, our motto ‘Believe In Your Power.’ The I is lowercased in STATiK because there is nothing without the WE. In the end, our goal is to shock or energize the conscience of America and the rest of the world to awaken the power within for the purpose of true liberty and justice for all.
“Tom produced the tracks on “Painfully Free.” I also have label mate, Jacinda Haines, featured on a number of tracks. She will be the follow up artist after the release of “Painfully Free.” Her sound is amazing. She likes to classify herself as rock and roll. I think it has that feel, but with a little down South Soul to it, she being from Mobile, Alabama.”
When it came to writing songs for his album, Painfully Free, Antonio looked within himself. “I spent most of my life as a student of philosophy so my mindset is to always question and search for what is real and what is true. It is this power of self-interrogation, the power to look within and search and question that makes the human condition incredibly profound and inspirational. We always have the ability to transform what exists outside of us by tapping into what manifests itself inside of us so the biggest theme in my music is embracing the power within. Thus, a lot of my songs give an honest account of our history and how it effects the present.”
He notes that his song “SOS” addresses the issue of racism, which surfaced in the abandonment of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. The song “Dead Presidents Can’t” contends that America’s founding fathers had slaves so “maybe our founding legal principles are inherently flawed,” he conjectures. “In both ‘Venom’ and ‘Way Up’ I speak about corporate and political corruption, US Imperialism, overt materialism, and the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.”
He shares, “I think a song like ‘N-Titled’ is so important. I use the song to talk about the word nigger, or more accurately nigga, and despite the fact that I recognize the tragic history out of which the word came into existence, I still find myself using the word among my peers quite freely in my everyday life. I really don’t give a right or wrong answer during the course of the song, just simply try to paint the conflict and allow those listening to decide for themselves. Is it really okay to use the word among ourselves, Black people, out of ‘love’ for one another, when the word itself has a history of hate.
“I would rather be painfully free than in painless captivity,” he declares. “I would rather embrace the truth than to lie myself and trap myself into a false sense of security. For me, Hip Hop is one way we can truly empower ourselves and give to the world what it is without.”
He proposes, “I believe Hip Hop culture has the potential to generate collective determination that transcends race, class, age, and gender. I also attempt to map out Hip Hop’s trajectory or final destination in ‘Hip Hop Lives,’ the idea being that in the end Hip Hop will prevail and be an inspirational force to the poor and oppressed all across the globe.
“Hip Hop culture has four principles: peace, love, unity, and having fun,” he proclaims, and sometimes a little romance like in his song “Things Is Changing.” He tells about the song, “’Things Is Changing’ is really just an everyday song about the love between a man and a woman, What I like about it the most is that at the end of the song, the man proposes to his woman, who throughout the song had expressed concern with him constantly being on the road performing as a Hip Hop artist. I’m not sure how many Hip Hop songs contain a marriage proposal, but I think it is good for the culture to hear something like that in the music.”
Antonio outlines that the songwriting process begins with the music. “What typically happens is TK or Mista Mills will give me a track they produced. I will then take the track and just listen to the music. For the most part, I am pretty much left with the track to do whatever it is I feel. I try not to over think, just feel and write. By the fourth bar, I ‘m pretty confident where the song is going and I continue to write until I am satisfied with the structure of the song. If I’m working with Jacinda on a song, I might write the hook, but if I do, she usually does something special to whatever it is I write.
“We record out of Spitshine Studios located in Canago Park, CA. Reason and Nuendo are the primary programs. As for live instruments, we sometimes use drums and both acoustic and electric guitar. We don’t use live strings, but they are prominent in our music. Obviously, my voice is very important. I bring this up because for me, the voice represents the most powerful instrument known to man. Without the spoken word, ideas cannot be articulated, and without ideas, change cannot happen. So when I call myself The VOICE, I do not mean it in the sense that I am the one voice for all to hear. I do it only to bring attention to the VOICE that exists within us all.”
Antonio’s first gig showcasing his tracks in front of an audience was in Los Angeles. He describes the show. “It was a very exciting moment for me. The crowd wasn’t that big, but I knew it was something I was supposed to be doing. As soon as I finished I wanted to get right back up on stage.”
“The label has performed as a collective, Jacinda and I together at the Temple Bar, Genghis Cohen, and The Tangier all located in Los Angeles. I recently had my first complete set at the Normandie Casino in Normandie, CA. I think just coming out on the stage for the first time and feeling the positive energy in the crowd will always be memorable. Mista Mills was on stage with me as my DJ so it felt good to have him up there.”
As far as making music videos, Antonio said, “We are going through our music right now trying to determine what song we should do a video for. It looks like ‘Venonm’ is the one we are leaning toward. We like it because it really is a good introduction to my sound and what I stand for. Conceptually, we haven’t really thought through how to approach the video. I think the key will be making it very artistic and different from the norm. I think music videos are wonderful pieces of artwork when consistent with the feel and message of the song. I would love to see my videos played everywhere, MTV, VH1, BET, the more the better,” he glows. “I think it’s time for something different to be presented to the Hip Hop community and music fans as a whole, both content wise and visual.”
Antonio credit’s the Internet for helping STATiK’s talent reach fans. “MySpace has truly been a blessing for us. We have been able to reach thousands of people across the country and more importantly, we’ve been able to receive feedback from these individuals, Black, White, Asian, young and old, men and women. MySpace account gets about 13,000 views a day and currently has close to 9,000 friends. We also have our own website, which has 5,000 hits a day and a total of 695,000 visits since January of this year.”
Antonio Delgado, AD The Voice, offers to aspiring artists, “The most important thing is believing in yourself. I know this gets said often, but it is the truth. It all starts with you as an artist believing in yourself, then comes patience and persistence. The road will not always be easy, in fact, it rarely is, but you just have to keep moving forward. And finally, it’s critical to surround yourself with people you can trust and count on. WE all need support, and it helps to work with people you have a history with because they know you.”
The talent at STATiK Entertainment are on the cusp of living out their dreams and having a strong, bold voice in Hip Hop music. What the Musik Mafia is to country music, STATiK strives to be to Hip Hop and finding social justice in opening people’s minds.
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