Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's All About Momentum-An Interview with Anthem

“This game is all momentum, man. Everything’s momentum.” If what Anthem told me last week is true, then the rapper is on a roll. With a dope new mixtape cosigned and hosted by DJ Whoo Kid, and a unexpected new hit song (today’s jamandahalf), Anthem is continuing to build major momentum, and has been since the first time we talked to him, all the way back in March of last year. Since then, Anthem has been consistently spreading his reach through a combination of regularly making unique rap and also through aggressive social networking. It seems like Anthem is continuing to strive towards a goal that each day seems a little more inevitable-becoming a name on the lips of hiphop heads and music lovers across the world. For someone who is making such major strides, Anthem remains amazingly humble, and I had the opportunity to chat with him for a while the other day, touching on topics from Lupe Fiasco to Manhattan to colleges likes my alma mater (Claremont McKenna College) and his beloved Duke Blue Devils. First, check out his most recent song whose smart lyrics rival a beat that is injected with the feel of summer. It’s a jamandahalf that shows a different side of Anthem without sacrificing any quality. My girlfriend heard this song and immediately said, “Wow, this really makes me want to dance!” I think you’ll agree, but don’t stop there. Find out a little more about Anthem as a person below and as an artist here. I think you’ll be impressed with both.

Take us through a day in the life of Anthem.
It really depends. I always allot time to write-creative time, writing hooks, just putting on a beat. Sometimes I just freestyle on tracks, sometimes you’re working on a song that could actually be something. I try to record at least every other day. That’s the beauty of having a home studio setup. Before I had to internalize ideas. I used to have to audio record into a Blackberry. Now I can record a track, audio engineer it, send it to be mixed and mastered, straight from my bedroom. A couple of tracks from the mixtape are like that, some of them were recorded on the go in a hotel.

On a day-to-day basis, I can’t afford to just be an artist. A lot of my time goes to idea generation, tactical things like how to attack social media, meeting videographers, video treatments, and planning photo-shoots. When we started off it was just me and DG, but now we’ve built out more.
It’s really week to week, different agendas every week. One thing that’s always a constant is making music. It has to be a constant. At the end of the day, without music you have nothing. Everything I’ve learned is that success is not a function of talent; it’s a function of organization and execution. We hope to have a winning attitude.

Let’s talk a little about your newest song, “God of Joy” that is currently huge on the blogosphere. I listened to it, and I really liked it, but has a different sound than anything I’ve heard of yours before.  Was it a song that you wanted to be people’s first impression of you?

Everything that I do has to be an accurate reflection of some dimension of who I am. We had a conversation about Lupe. About his artistry being squeezed. For me, that song, “God of Joy” is a genuine reflection of music that I consume and that I like. I have absolutely no problem of that being the starting point of someone knowing who I am. If anything, I look at that as an opportunity to potentially introduce a listener to music that they typically don’t consume. We can make assumptions. A song like “God of Joy” can typically reach a broader audience than a song like “Inception.” I’m always going to be a lyricist at core, that’s what I build my artistry on. I feel like “God of Joy” was well done. It’s not consistent with the sound of some things on Manhattan Music, but it’s consistent with the quality. I would hate to venture off to diverse songs and do a poor job at it. I have a chance to be introduced to people who gravitate to God of Joy, and are curious to the artist behind it.  I love the fact that it is doing very well, it’s up-tempo, its joie de vivre. I hope to make my music as dynamic as we are as people. There’s introspection to things we think about, but I’m not just getting caught up in the nightlife.  

Let’s go on to Manhattan Music, your new mixtape. What was your overall goal with the album? It kept getting pushed back; what was behind the delays?
I was going to put out an EP, but I held off putting one out because I needed to build a bigger body of work. So I pretty much created an album, and felt like it was a quality album. But then I realized that I needed something before the album, and that’s the mixtape.

How did the involvement with DJ Whoo Kid come about?
He heard my tracks; he was really excited about the music, very vocal. So I thought, why not just do a mixtape? I took a couple of the records from the album I had made but the majority of the tracks were completed in a very short time. I had to lock myself in a hotel. Whoo Kid starting spinning “Looking Down” and it was great for building an online presence on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve made it available to my immediate world, but I haven’t aggressively promoted it yet because I know that I’m going to have video content, and your music doesn’t have legs until you have that.

Was it your plan to have the mixtape be your first contact with people? Or was it something that you made to keep your fans going?
Definitely be the first contact. I'm an ambitious person. That is my first real comprehensive, cohesive piece of work. That’s my hello.

How did you choose the name Manhattan Music? How has living in Manhattan changed you and your music?
Most of the people here aren’t from here, and I credit this place with being responsible for my coming of age. Probably the most formative experiences as who I am as an artist have been living in this city. The reason I called it Manhattan Music is, besides showcasing artistry, is that I’m trying to articulate a narrative. The underlying theme in it is Manhattan, sometimes overtly, like “Yellow Cab” or “Sex in the City” or other songs like “Damn” where there are illusions to it. I call it that because this is the birthplace of my artistry. There are clichés of what Manhattan is supposed to be, but there is a duality. There is a beautiful ruggedness to the City, but there is also a level of sophistication.

“Note to Self” is my favorite song on the mixtape. If you could have written a note to yourself before you decided to change from the track of Wall Street banker to rapper, what would you write?
Number one would be deadlines. You have to self-impose deadlines. People who succeed are those who have self-imposed deadlines. It’s the key to success. The most talented people aren’t the ones who are winning out there. It’s not to shit on anyone. I give people praise who say that “I’m not the best at what I do, but no one’s going to outwork me.” Without self-imposed deadlines, time will slip away.  

The second point would be, all you have, you gotta fight to make that enough. I wrote “Note to Self” in advance. I don’t turn 26 till August, I wrote it in anticipation of where I saw things might go. I’m not going to get lonely rock star (laughs), but the reason people describe success as a lonely process, it’s because how much you have to rely on yourself. No one will ever believe in what you believe in.

You’re going back to CMC for your third concert. What has been CMC’s role in your narrative?
I got a lot of love for CMC. I went to Duke, but definitely have to credit CMC as the most supportive school, the one that has shown the most love to me. I associate key moments of my short career to CMC. One of more important first shows was at CMC, and a moment that I’ll always remember was sharing the stage with Lupe and BoB. That was March 5th, and a month later, BoB had the number one single in the country, and now is in the stratosphere. And Lupe, I don’t have to touch on his accomplishments. I really like the study body, you guys are music lovers, and very open and receptive to varied artistry. I will always want to have a good relationship with CMC. To me, it’s not another venue or show to me, there is a familiarity.

The student body has definitely gotten to know you. If they were sophomores when you first came, this will be their third time seeing you perform.  That’s something special
I’ve done more shows at CMC than I have at my alma mater. Definitely have a lot of love for CMC.

We talked a little while back about the Lupe Fiasco situation with Atlantic Radio. How do you think it has changed the rap scene?
I don’t think it’s changed the industry at all. There’s the label, the artist, and the fan base. I walked away with a few things. Lupe Fiasco has the best fan base in hiphop, and no one can tell me otherwise. They came out in droves and bought them album. It was his first number one album. That tells me that the label was able to stifle his artistry and still win. I think most people would agree that this is a bit out of stride with his first two records. It just tells me that no one is immune to the business model. It only reaffirms to me why I am an independent artist and why I will never forfeit creative control for anything. The person that took the greatest L is the fan base. Lupe still has a number one album. You know what you said to me last time that kind of shut me up? You said that if he really felt like he was marginalized he could have dropped a free mixtape the same day. When you’re doing the thing that you love, there’s also a business side to it, but when the business takes the front seat, then it’s really not that different to a corporate job. What’s the difference between him being told how to rap, what to rap, and being a banker, or reporting to a hierarchy. I don’t see that big of a difference.

You have lots of TV references in your lyrics from Mad Men, Entourage, The Wire. Can you talk about, well, your love for these shows?
(Laughs) Those are my favorite shows. I love Mad Men because it’s a timepiece, but it does a great job of characterizing Manhattan. Don Draper is the American dream. Raised in rural America, came and became a great ad executive-cutthroat, successful. Things that I love will always appear in my music. When I think of good times, good vibes, I love the imagery of the group, of Vinnie and the crew. I have a visual imagination, when I think of specific things, I think of scenes. I’m big on references.

I know you’re a big Duke fan. What did you think of their tourney run?
I’m only disappointed to the point that I would have loved to win another title, but who wouldn’t? I’m very proud of the team, and they had great leaders. The only thing I wish were different was to see Kyrie Irving play the whole year.

Who do you now have winning the whole thing?
Butler beats UConn to win it all.

You have momentum. Manhattan Music is a helluva mixtape and God of Joy is blowing up. What are you going to do with this momentum?
The next is releasing the website, videos. Launch parties throughout the city. Videos, so people know who I am. Videos are the way I’m going to do that. Pushing “God of Joy” as far as I can. I got stuff ready to go; now it’s all about execution.

Any ideas about the debut album?
It’s so early in the game right now. Hopefully it’s a high-class problem, hopefully its sooner than later. Now my mind is on promoting music, getting videos out, series of listening parties, the documentary and shows that’s where my focus is on. Building a close relationship with the fan base. Engaging with people.  

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