“We want clear minded generals on the warfront” AKAI SOLO on Eleventh Wind, Pop Culture Influences, and the Racial Uprising

AKAI SOLO is spending quality time with his girlfriend watching Harry Potter when he answers FaceTime. Five months into quarantine, he’s looking back on the content he missed growing up. A long-finished series, not including the prequel film series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, AKAI already knows the end of The Half-Blood Prince, lamenting, “Dumbledore is about to get smoked.” 

Friendly and inviting, AKAI’s casual manner catches me off guard. One listen to any of the Brooklyn MC’s projects and you might understand why. AKAI is a serious, articulate, and incredibly in-depth philosopher king. Since last year AKAI has dropped Black Sand with Pink Siifu, teamed up with iblss, who was recently featured in GSC, to drop MAD MOON – MAD SPACE, collaborated with BSTFRND for Like Hajime, and even dropped a solo album this year called Ride Alone, Fly Together. Downplaying his prolific nature, he says it’s not, “really intentional. I just put out shit soon as I finish it because I develop this weird ass rate,” and explains how his latest and most “accessible” project Eleventh Wind came together unexpectedly through the advice of his girlfriend while he was in a creative rut spurred by depression. 

With only eight songs spread over twenty minutes, Eleventh Wind is a brisk listen that unfolds quickly and lands purposefully. Over an array of beats from collaborators, AKAI tears through the mostly downtempo tracks with precision. While the lyricism he is known for often cites anime, this project moves away from that, though holding on to a few such as “Tetsuo,” produced by Wavey Bagels. Instead, he includes clever references like, “we all fall down, like that one song said we would”. On “Tainted” AKAI mentions how, “niggas scattered like when they shot Cyrus” alluding to the New York City cult classic film (and very good PS2 game) The Warriors.

The Warriors 1979 film trailer

Eleventh Wind arrives in the midst of a racial uprising and a global pandemic. In regard to the dangerous racial inequalities of our socio-political systems, AKAI notes, “everything needs to be updated, from infrastructural things, to a medical standpoint, and educational standpoint.” While the project features a host of contributors production-wise, the vocals are, akin to his name, a solo mission. AKAI describes a music scene where, “no one will try to take the time out to make themselves available or at least vulnerable enough for any type of organic relationships.” As the production on the EP’s individual tracks flow together, AKAI proves his attention to detail is a key asset of his abilities. Despite claiming, “I just rap on whatever sounds nice” AKAI’s ear for eclectic beats across his various projects make him one of the most fun artists in the NYC DIY rap scene. 

Opening with “An Ode to the Isolated” AKAI sets the stage by critiquing those who are, “the first ones to get captured.” Over our discussion, I would learn this capturement can come from a variety of sources: ego, patriarchy, white supremacy, and other oppressive social structures meant to disenfranchise the voices of Black, Brown, and other marginalized people. Referencing Dolores from the hit-franchise Westworld, AKAI aligns himself with radicals looking to overthrow their oppressor. When AKAI warns, “the whole block probably dirty cause nobody moving clean, representatives are not transparent in the slightest” on “Candor” you can imagine him talking about local politicians, industry gatekeepers, or performative artists looking to make a name from a lifestyle or philosophical mantra they don’t actually live by.

On “360 Dragonfly” AKAI admits, “I should prioritize better” before revealing he’s been watching the hilarious Naked and Afraid. Despite the urgency of being in the 11th hour of the Black struggle, he is still finding time to relax, reflect, and create at a pace that feels comfortable. On the “Barbatos” loop AKAI talks finances, offering his perspective on his economic worth and how independent artists can be more assertive in their mindsets towards collecting for their output. When he spits, “on my own terms like self-check out, fuck the cashier. Y’all reminded me of what I don’t have. Reason I never go half. To the victor goes the spoils. We got direct deposit. Baby I need the whole thing,” we see an artist aggressively staking claim like Rod Tidwell famously did in Jerry Maguire.

Clip of Jerry Maguire featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell

AKAI was as philosophically minded in our conversation as he was in his raps. A deep thinker who can simultaneously take himself extremely seriously while also partaking in low brow culture, he is clearly a thoughtful man paying attention to the spectrum of life’s trivialities and broader world themes. Check out our almost hour long conversation transcribed below regarding interconnectedness, his relationship with peers, choosing beats, holding members of the community accountable, and a range of other eclectic topics. 

GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?

AKAI: I’m AKAI SOLO. I identify as a black person. I identity as a cis-gendered male, like I’m a dude just trying to navigate. I’m half-Nigerian, half-Panamanian. I identify as both of those things. I was born in America so I like to say that a fragment of my existence done properly represents the American Dream untampered with and free of Caucasian chokeholds. I identify as a nigga trying to figure it out.

GSC: Since Black Sand dropped last year, you’ve released four projects. How do you stay so inspired and what are the distinguishing differences between each project: a feeling or new collaborators bringing new perspectives?

AKAI: It’s a little bit of both. I always walk into scenarios remembering that I’m level one as far as the playing field goes. That mentality and that outlook I think keeps me open and susceptible to the right influence at the right time. Like with Liv [writer’s note: Siifu’s real name is Livingston], I learned a lot about album structure and the importance of a lot of things I didn’t put a lot of stake into interludes, the significance behind that. Even more so curating the structure of an album. Not that I didn’t try to navigate in mind like that before, but he has a way better handling on that shit and having such a large discography. I was just trying to be privy to how he does that shit. 

I just generally do that because in most scenarios in a lot of things that I’ve been a part of musically. Even if I’m older than someone, most everyone has been doing this longer. Like they have been taking it seriously, they found themselves younger than me. When I’m in high school being inspired by Kid Cudi, niggas like Liv and shit are already in a rap crew. I’m just discovering Kid Cudi for sound and I haven’t even listened to MF DOOM yet. I feel like that head start that I didn’t have, it shows or it shows in my shit. I’ve just been trying to close that gap to my ignorance where whatever people see as far as projects, things that differentiate them as far as the feeling aspect it’s just where I’m at. 

I would take a snapshot of where I’m at internally and externally as far as what I’m perceiving and how I’m being perceived. And any type of similarities and common ground that I can find between the two because I definitely believe in interconnectedness. I’m the nigga that’s gonna use Yusuke and a snapshot from the episode to connect the threads like Black Death or like a hierarchy because I deadass watched the shit and I sat there like a dweeb and I found common ground. I don’t wanna rap about anime for anime’s sake. My references aren’t for reference sakes. I don’t wanna rap about the Black Death for Black Death’s sake, not that there isn’t sake in highlighting those things. I just want shit to have a purpose and an authentic one so I can’t move until it’s authentic. 

“An Ode to the Isolated” by AKAI SOLO produced by argov

GSC: When did you start to believe in that interconnectedness? 

AKAI: I want to say consciously when I can put the word to it, maybe halfway through my freshman year of college. I was 18, 17, whatever. It just started dawning on me. Whichever vantage point you want to use to start fucking with it like The Butterfly Effect when you watch the secret at some point in your life. You’ve been tainted by that more or whatever. The power of cause and effect. It’s just very apparent to me and that I think is a key aspect to interconnectedness. It’s just a series of events that are stimulated by prior events that have their effects bleed into the potential of other events. It’s just a series of yes and no’s. Stimulations and questions being answered and paths being explored. 

And it’s like, yo, Jimmy decides to become a baker and because he’s really good at it and finds his passion, he opens up a Twinkie factor or nah, he didn’t do that so he diverted from that and then went the cubicle route. Thus with this path he explores a den of unhappiness and vacant feeling. Both of those two paths are sponsored heavily by Jimmy’s choices or lack thereof and the things and the factors incorporated causing him to come to those choices. I feel like the factors that play a role in influencing someone’s judgement are just as important as the judgement that is a result of that. 

At that point I was just like, word. Maybe I’ll feel less shitty about the thing that have happened to me if I can just step back and look at all the moving pieces. That was more empowering because I tried to flip that shit and not use it in the sense or free will is futile in the sense that I have so much data to fuck with. It’s like, word, I can find another way. I use the abundance of choices and string theory and interconnectedness. If I got this way I can create a path in this thing. If I subject myself to another simulation and series of choices and stimulus. There’s that show on [channel] G4 called 1000 Ways to Die. Like if I really want to die today, I can figure it out. If I can’t find a rope, it’s like darn, so it’s all about will and the interest people need to really go after what they get or whatever the fuck you want to point it at. Finding your place in that shit and not being overwhelmed by the abundance of stimulus. 

Naked and Afraid – Morning Wood Issues

GSC: You just referenced 1000 Ways to Die. On your new album you reference Naked and Afraid. I have to ask, how much television are you watching? 

AKAI: BRO. I am so disappointed in myself. This quarantine, so much [television]. Niggas got Netflix, Hulu. I’m a YouTube idiot. I fall into YouTube holes very easily. I just been running up on everything. My shorty, she loves cooking shows so I’m always just a passenger on whatever it’s time to watch that I just roll up and tap in and everytime I see something I think is interesting that I can maybe attach myself to. That’s how we ended up here. Once she started there were significant movies I hadn’t watched, that’s what started it. I told her I never saw IT. I was bugging for that apparently. 

GSC: The old one or the new one?

AKAI: We watched both. My problem with movies is dated content. It’s kinda the same shit I was just talking about. When those movies come out those are the signifiers or the representations of certain points. This clown movie is going to come out and for this period it’s about scaring kids. Maybe it’ll help them with some stigma against clowns. I miss that and I go through the rest of my life and I get clown media and clown stimulus and information through other ways. I get the lessons. I saw Jeepers Creepers, I got scared by Michael Myers [from Halloween]. I revisit IT as a twenty-five year old and I’m not as shook. I’m picking apart all the flaws from the movie  and all this other shit so it’s kinda like the original point goes over your head. It’s like getting stimulus when you’re already desensitized from a different source. 

That’s what’s been happening watching all this shit. Watching Harry Potter. When my parents took me to see Harry Potter we tried that shit twice as a little kid. We went to go see the first two in theaters. I fell asleep halfway through Chamber of Secrets. There was a Scholastic Book Fair at my school. When I was younger I ordered Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ll never forget this shit. I let my classmate hold it in the middle of the day and I go back to my desk and my book is gone. I’m just like, bruh, I’m not bugging. My book just disappeared. Nobody trying to be like, “everybody run your pockets,” and that happened I was like, word. And that discouraged any exploration of J.K. Rowling’s work. After that the bandwagon mentality and the rest of the series took off like wildfire, I just became a ‘Fuck Harry Potter’ dude. I skirted on that shit and now I’m back here picking apart the movie. Just dumb as hell. When does Dumbledore die? Voldemort is mad odee. Oh wow, the plot saves Harry Potter for four movies. He’s not actually an exceptional wizard, this hack. 

But yeah, I’ve been watching that shit. I was watching Naked and Afraid. It’s literally that. Amused by the nude and the arrogance. White people getting overwhelmed by the elements is peak comedy to me. It’s all like Day One, “We’re gonna do this!” They’re all naked and shit getting bit [by bugs]. Day Three: This dude is hyperventilating. This shorty ate a dead roach. It was infected. She’s shitting. They’re both cold. They’re always like, “we’re gonna make it to Day 30,” but Day 6 Agatha has to tap out. Day 7 Brody has to leave on a stretcher. I’m just like wow you guys suck. That’s like the little things to me. 

I’ve also been watching comedy specials.

Dave Chappelle’s 8:46

GSC: What are you watching?

AKAI: I’ve never seen the Eddie Murphy comedy specials like Delirious. Never saw that so I tapped in. More recently I watched the Dave Chappelle shit 8:46. That was dope. The Eric Andre shit Legalize Everything. That was cool. I kinda just want Eric Andre to come back. I tried to get through a Ricky Gervais special, but for some reason it was a lot harder. I thought he was fairly funny in The Office and I saw some other shit with him so I thought I had a tolerance, but I couldn’t get through this shit. I tried twice, but I just felt off. I have been on my animated shit. Before Harry Potter I was back on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Shit is hilarious. 

GSC: Where do you fall in the Dragon Ball-Z versus Naruto debate?

AKAI: I’m both of them for different reasons. Dragon Ball-Z is classic. It sets a foundation. I fuck with that shit. Usually the first incarnation of a fight scene is pretty good, but then they start reusing frames and scenes, but as far as a story in it’s entirety I’d probably still have to fuck with Naruto because Naruto has some pretty solid arcs in part one. Shippuden mad shit goes down. It’s good. I don’t really fuck with how it ended. It kind of fell apart for me a little bit. A lot of things happened that didn’t need to happen based on certain premises that I felt were established, but honestly I’m not really either or. I think One Piece is better than both of them.

GSC: Oh really?!

AKAI: Yeah, it took my three attempts to start One Piece. I get what niggas is talking about, but once One Piece starts going it doesn’t stop. And the fact that this nigga been doing it for almost three decades is ridiculous. 

GSC: That’s my brother’s favorite for sure. He got the pirate flag tattooed on his arm.

AKAI: It’s real life shit. One Piece does more for character development than Naruto or Dragon Ball-Z.

GSC: What school did you attend for college and what was your major?

AKAI: I went to St. Francis College. A private school in Downtown Brooklyn. I majored in Criminal Justice and Film. I was a big weirdo. I just literally went to school and tried to major in things that I liked. I didn’t think about the synchronicity or the balance. It was straight nuance. I did not finish that shit cause I started fucking up and getting unmotivated. They took my institutional grant away. It was just eight racks off the overall bill. My family was paying for the rest out of pocket so naturally after we lost that support we were like, “bro, come on. We cannot hold up this pillar. Do you wanna be here or not?” And I hit them with the good old let me take a break and get my mind together and never came back. Now I’m on my street scholar shit. 

GSC: Do you think studying film helped you with music video things and things of that nature? 

AKAI: Absolutely not. Only because I didn’t get to really dive into that shit as much as I wanted to. I was a mass media major when I was in high school. The film shit wasn’t a fluke. I thought it was a matter of two things in hindsight. One, as a teenager I was not fully grasping or acknowledging my procrastination, the severity of that shit in tandem with the fact that even if niggas saw an entry or spark of potential in writing ability or things like that, they would see me get distracted or being a class clown and they’d be like, “okay you should act”. My only filming achievement in high school was when I pulled up to the class brainstorming some shit and I came up with the idea for a pregnant underage mistress named Esperanza and these niggas casted me as Esperanza. We had two shortys in the class but just because I looked hilarious on camera. There was a disk going around of me going down the block with a ball underneath a shawl and a red wig and I pretend like my water broke as I’m walking up the block. It’s really not one of my shining moments. But I was hilarious and I passed the class and it was point A of me realizing that I have a long line of being tragically misunderstood. 

“Nebula” by AKAI SOLO produced by Roper Williams

GSC: Roper Williams is one of my favorite production duos in the game. Can you speak about your working relationship a little? How did you link up Roper and why do you enjoy working with them?

AKAI: Bruh, first of all shout out that guy, both of them. It’s just organic. I always saw his beats through YL, shout out Y. I always was an appreciator of the sound. I just shot my shot. I just slid up in the DMs I believe and was just like, “hey I rap and I don’t suck too much. Would you be interested in trying to work on some shit?” They pulled up, both of them, in the flesh. We talked a little bit in real life which I really respected. We’re in a current period right now with socializing. I feel where it’s an hypocritical wish. It’s cognitive dissonance being displayed. People really want a sincere interaction, but no one will try to take the time out to make themselves available or at least vulnerable enough for any type of organic relationships where the foundation necessarily leads to that and growing. 

So when they both pulled up eager to meet me it was fire. They played some beats on the spot. I rapped and I freestyled. I always try to do that whenever I meet somebody. It’s like my gauntlet. It’s how I see if I’m good enough for this tournament or whatever the fuck. If I can’t make it through this obstacle course, if I can’t understand the beats like I thought, or I’m not as good as I tried to make you think then that’ll either dictate if I get hit up again or not and if that goes anywhere I guess I did good enough and we started linking. They told me they had a studio out in New Jersey and at first I was just getting my ass on the Path Train and going to Jersey. I haven’t been to Jersey enough times to be like, “I been to Jersey”. I use this as a reason to do that. Even during this quarantine, I recorded “Nebula” cause he pulled up and got me. It’s even that. Expanding on that real shit. That authenticity is really appreciated. They always go above and beyond to make sure there’s a foundation, that there’s a possibility to create if niggas want to. It’s just love. 

That night, “Nebula” was one of ten songs I did that day. It was not like bump tracks, a minute and some change. Really like two or three minute shits. I’ve got them dispersed accordingly. They’re about to come out on shit. Roper is really good at creating the environment for you to get it. Just pull up. Something always on T.V. Some stimulus. Start running through beats. We bump music on the way there. That’s all just priming up until that point. It’s just love. Smoke mad dope. I met Pootie through him. I met Fatboi Shariff through him. Shout out to those boys. That entire series of events was what showed me and reinforced the idea that they are good people. 

Just give me beats to rap on. 

‘360 Dragonfly” by AKAI SOLO produced by Bori & DJ Blackpower

GSC: You got some of the best producers in the game on the album. You got dj blackpower aka MIKE. How do you choose which beats to rap over? 

AKAI: It’s really when I press play and my head moves. If my head doesn’t move it’s probably clipped. It’s a couple steps. If my head moves, that causes me to put the beat aside like I’ma come back for this. Sometimes even quicker than that. I hear a beat and I just start writing. It’ll be a folder of seven beats and that first beat will be it. I’ll just stop looking at the beats for a minute and I’ll have to go handle this [one beat] cause I feel like this is resonating and I should act on this before I lose the idea, lose the fire opening line which is sprouted in my head. Same shit with this producing shit, just trying to curate. Another thing I assume I don’t even know  what is supposed to sound good. I really just be going off what sounds good to me first. Just really try to find that and niggas be hitting it on the head. Sometimes when the formula is right, like the beat for “Nebula,” when he played me that. That was one of the beats I was like, “Nah.” Like out of those 10 to 15 beats you just played, let’s record that one first today. I gotta get it out of my system now. And then other beats. It’s like I’ll hear it, and I’ll hear an idea. And some beats it’s like I don’t think I’m good enough to rap on at the time. It’s kind of wishful thinking, like maybe i can level up on some other shit and then revisit this. May I’ll be able to bring the idea I had into reality. I don’t think that happened with anything on this project but it’s happened before. 

It’s really just a feeling thing. Like I just press play. I don’t have a formula other than that shit. It doesn’t have to have a certain amount of high hats or I think it’s basic and I don’t think I have a sound in that regard. I just rap on whatever sounds nice. I’m not really like I gotta rap on these loops. People are conditioned to associate AKAI with loops. This one there’s a loop in it and it got me, you gonna get it. This one sounds like Sealab 2021 and I found a pocket so I recorded it and I like it. I’m really trying to erode all those subgenres, and labels and useless epithets and needless classification. I try to become really liquid with the shit, not even liquid, I try to become formless. Like an orb that pulsates and shit and can take a form upon necessity or just pure want. 

GSC: There’s only a few artists in mind when I think of that, one of them is Mos Def. I know you’re a fan of Mos Def. He can kinda go over anything over any style. Were you able to listen to his album Negus at Brooklyn Museum?

Akai: I didn’t see it but I heard of that shit. I mixed reviews about that project. Did you hear it?

GSC: I heard it one time. I thought it was cool, nothing crazy. If i was able to listen on repeat whenever I wanted, I’d probably think it was a classic. It was like 26 minutes long, I can’t pause it, I’m in a room with strangers.

Akai: I love shit like that. That’s cool. Quirky, quaint presentations like that. 

GSC: Walk me through the creation of Eleventh Wind. How did the project come together? What does Eleventh Wind mean?

Akai: Well what it means is it’s a play off of Eleventh Hour, the most dire time, the bottom point. Given circumstance or scenario. I felt like I was there with my music and just my existence. And the world. This is one of those similarities I look for that I told you about between the external and the internal circumstances of wherever I’m at at a certain point. And I feel that the common thread I found there was this very vast bottom. I flip it into the wind because at your lowest point you can either adapt or die. The wind is supposed to be the galvanizing element, the revival factor. This wind is like Yusuke getting up after Toguro beats the shit out of him. Throws him through eight buildings and he’s supposed to be dead. The episode ended and you don’t know if Yusuke’s dead or not and he has this little mental episode and he sees all of his friends and he’s like “alright, my heart is still beating i guess I have to get up.” You move from that point. You realize, “oh, not dead yet.” Even if you feel like what you just experienced could’ve been a pretty decent substitute, the fact that you’re able to even proceed further confirms that you register your mental pulse before you will register your heartbeat. And that’s the “alright, I should just keep going.” That was me, first trying to deal with this isolation shit and this quarantine thing and then in the midst of all that trying to get to the bottom of huge writer’s block. 

Yusuke vs Toguro Full Fight

It’s kind of funny to me that people fuck with this project. Some people have called it my best work to date, which is hilarious to me because I feel like I put in the least amount of work making this project. All of the things that people use to describe this shit are prevalent in all my shit. But I feel like there are two key differences in this project, one it could be easier to get. My shit is not under mad obscure anime references, like I could probably count all the anime references on my hand. Which is i guess a point of departure of what some might consider normal for my work. And then it’s also shortened, it’s less intimidating than Ride Alone, Fly Together, which is like 16 or 17 tracks. You don’t look at the fucking shit and see hour and some change. So niggas is like “Maybe U could give this AKAI SOLO guy a try, because I’m not about to listen to a Harvard lecture.” I felt like it was not coming, listening to these beats not because the beats were too hard for me but because I didn’t have anything to say. I had things I wanted to talk about, but I didn’t have clever enough ways to put it so I didn’t even want to write it. It’s just like my thing with always taking the partially conscious route or the wholesome route or whatever you call it is just not expressing these things that everyone feels in a way where it comes off. 

I wanna write about the love I have for my mom and our complicated relationship, but I don’t want it to come off as some boo boo Barney shit. It’s like, “my mom doesn’t love me, I love my mom,” kind of bit. It’s like nah, I don’t want the poetic element or the element that makes it rapping that entices me about it to be compromised by the simplicity in this feeling. In that regard it is simplicity. It’s like everyone encounters strife, familial strife, how can i present this in a crafty way that doesn’t sound how Nas did already or how Jay-Z did it already or how Vordul Mega [from Cannibal Ox] did it. I heard the shit so many times and off of me not wanting to sound repetitive. If I can’t find a different way that sounds like me I generally don’t say it. I’ll make eight different ways to end verses and eliminate them based on how fire sticks as I complete the rest of them. I tweeted this shit awhile back that whenever I write a line or think of something I’ll write in my Notes App and it comes up, if I find a line and I used it I delete it. I get mad tight like this is not a fresh thought. I try not to repeat, but I see that is really unavoidable low key. Even the most prolific nicest niggas are going to reference that 9mm [handgun] twenty times. They’re going to reference Black Queen and that’s fine and I’m learning. I learned that through this project to be less hard on myself with running myself through this unnecessary gauntlet or assessment. Don’t want to omit that from my process because I feel like that critical assessment is also key in keeping me me. It’s just moderation. 

I was pleasantly surprised by people fucking with this shit as much as they did. Again, it was just me dealing with depression from not feeling like I was nice anymore and my well was running dry. More depression from seeing the current state of affairs of my people and watching people try to navigate this horrible political landscape. Depression from watching the infrastructure crumble and not being able to handle this pandemic properly. Depression from my living situation with my weird ass roommate. All types of shit. I don’t wanna come off trite and say depression was it, but it deadass was. It was me coming to the bottom of that and being like am I just going to lay here all quarantine or am I going to try and flip this into something. The dichotomy of me feeling like I was not good enough, but for some reason I did not stop trying. 

Half of these verses I wrote didn’t even hit, but I didn’t have a feeling about how I felt about the verse. I wasn’t like this is fire. Like “Nebula” I felt better when I recorded it, but I was writing shit and I would come back to it the next morning and read it and be like, “alright is this good?” I don’t know. It felt honest and I would just put that to the side or work on it and before I knew it I wrote a whole project. My girlfriend suggested I put out something because my plan was to not put out anything had this quarantine not happened cause I would have been doing shows more and getting more visuals out. I tried to shut up for a minute cause I’ve been coined as this prolific ass nigga. That wasn’t really intentional. I just put out shit soon as I finish it because I develop this weird ass rate. I listen to this thing for a long ass time and then I’ma make something that shits on it and then I’m going to be disassociated as a consequence from the previous work and I’m not going to feel like it fits me anymore or reflects where I’m at. I felt like that experience of itself would rob me of a lot of decent music. I was like, word, this might be fire to y’all, but I’ll never put this out because I cannot reconcile with this feeling of inferiority. I had to change up my structure a bit. I didn’t sign up for unemployment or anything yet. I had lost my dog walking job right before this shit popped off. All I really had was the money I saved from that and BandCamp rapper money. That’s how I was helping support shit with my shorty to keep myself up. I was like something gotta give, I gotta make some bread. I was like lemme put out this thing and niggas can hate and I can make $100 and I just did it. 

GSC: You’ve spoken about being influenced by Panic! At the Disco. Are you a fan of Fall Out Boy?

AKAI: I don’t remember ever telling anyone that, but yeah I do like that shit. Panic! At the Disco, I felt like everybody had this phase. I was on my alternative rock shit. I was the Black kid that was probably perceived as too white for the Black kids and too Black for the white kids or some dumb shit like that. I didn’t go to a private school or nothing so I was still surrounded by Black people. I was definitely at the alternative table playing PSP’s and talking about anime, but I could cross over into the other realm cause I could be funny or some shit. I like that shit. I bumped mad Rise Against. I discovered YouTube and AMV (Animated Music Video) genre. That’s really what kick started all that shit cause the music people use for those videos is like Linkin Park, Papa Roach, and all this alternative shit. I would come across some newer shit and I was really drawn to the melodies. In hindsight I could see how white that really was, but at that moment you don’t really sound like a person right now. It sounds like a feeling and the fact that it’s being juxtaposed with this medium that’s not of European origin makes it really easy for me to not put too much stake in the white part and just be present for the musical experience. 

At this time the South was running rampant in Hip-Hop and I don’t see myself in none of these niggas so I’m not rushing to memorize Lil Wayne or T.I. songs. And at this point Jay-Z is already halfway a mogul and I don’t identify with the business capitalist alternate skin of his. That’s why Cudi came out; that was a saving grace for me. Cudi did for me what Kanye did for niggas. I had Lupe on the cusp. I bumped “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” mad times. I really fucked with that shit, but Lupe felt distanced. Cudi seemed like he was more regular. Lupe reminded me of a monk in the mountains and I could not approach this dude. 

“Hip Hop Saved My Life” by Lupe Fiasco

GSC: Even to this day Lupe I don’t think is heavy on social, but Cudi to this day is like interacting with fans on social media.

AKAI: Where Cudi is at right now, I have to say I am so sad. 

GSC: He’s bigger now than ever.

AKAI: He’s bigger now, but it’s like with the way he started if he woulda stuck with rap it woulda been so crazy. Coming up in an era with Drake and revitalizing the common man, making your  freestyles common. Drake is reading off his phone and this nigga Cudi coming off the top only talking about weed. I was like yeah, this is dope. And then he stopped smoking weed and then he said he was going to learn the guitar, and he dropped WZRD. I was like this nigga’s gone. Fuck. 

GSC: WZRD has that one song I fuck with samples the song from Drive.

Akai: Teleport 2 Me [Jamie].

GSC: Yeah!

AKAI: That shit is odeeee.

“Teleport 2 Me (Jamie)” by WZRD

GSC: There are heavy existential themes of universal suffering and happiness on the project. Considering the racial uprising and knowing you are a student of the revolutionary game, what are the next steps as a community we need to take to create long-term meaningful change for marginalized communities without losing momentum from protests?

AKAI: To maintain momentum what we need to do is stop falling off. Everything you’re saying that’s happening can never stop as daunting as that may sound. We have to start upping the ante in certain areas and mobilizing into other ones. Two things have to happen. Once again it’s that duality of the internal and external. The external is us trying to raise influence into a political conversation then we have to be able to start influencing laws and legislation in order to represent us better. Internal, niggas have to start having the same level of dialogue with the code of ethics and the moral methods in which they must navigate with each other. Like the inherent misogyny and all of that. At some point, half the niggas who spoke this final boss, this right hand. Whether we want to be a sub-boss later or maybe an alternate boss now we have to turn the gaze inward and assess all the ills and serious misconduct that is prevalent in us. 

Niggas is not going to have no true liberated front with our women living in fear. With gay and trans people feeling like they can’t be themselves wholly. Everyone has to be able to exhale and inhale and if anyone’s breath feels compromised or stifled than the whole shit is a dub. Whatever way niggas want to start having conversations about accountability and having the same agencies and faculties set up to be available to everybody. I’m speaking generally because the way the shit is fucked up it feels like it needs a general overall re-landscaping. Everything needs to be updated from infrastructural things from a medical standpoint and educational standpoint. Tangibly Black men should be made aware or put into a process that allows them to decondition from things they may have internalized by participating in a white surpemacist state. Like whether or not you feel like you are being acted upon by those forces, we need to put niggas in a state where they are not apprehensive to that idea. That is a really real skill that I find to be indispensable in navigating that. We want clear minded generals on the warfront. You don’t want a nigga that’s gonna get told about himself and he’s gonna turn around and blast his man’s or slap the fire out of a woman. These are the people we can’t have. We can’t have the beacons be powder kegs. It’s a dub. 

To generalize and compress it, patience and accountability need to be retaught or re-introduced to our people as a whole, but specifically for me Black men. I came across this meme years ago but it still applies today. Black men are the white men of Black people as far as like we are the niggas that navigate with the most privilege and we exert that shit. Look at the pipeline hierarchy of oppression. Everyone has a privilege to act upon and exploit. It’s like guys have male privilege and in a particarichal society niggas will argue that women have a privilege to navigate but I feel like there’s more holes in that shit. It’s a byproduct of perception and a result of a parochial mindset. If shorty only has an advance on the spot cause she has a fat ass that’s very a conditional advantage that I don’t feel like she can really stand behind verus a nigga being like, “I’m a nigga and everybody here likes football so we not gonna put on this cooking show cause fuck outta here. That’s not what’s running here”. That type of shit needs to be deconstructed and destroyed. 

Everyone needs to reintroduce themselves to practical objectivity. As far as equality being an ABC way of brushing over what that entails. I feel like that truly looks like practical objectivity and accountability together, but to be objective will prevent you from acting on biases and being ignorant. Accountability will allow you the capacity to be able to be aware and reflect and adapt which is the key skill in being any prominent piece of the struggle. I rap about those core concepts over and over. I guess those are my repetitive points. I find these things are prevalent in any type of navigation whether talking socially, mentally, spiritually. If you can’t be accountable or objective of where you’re at, progress is a dub for you. Whenever you want to cement those feels, when you apply that the fruits that will be produced as a result of that are undeniable. It’ll reflect.

GSC: Accountability is really the word of the year. What have you been doing to take care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as racial uprising? 

AKAI: Talking to my shorty, checking in on my family. Going for walks. Riding bikes. Trying to shake off my skate rust. They opened up the park across the street. I be running across the street to do pull ups. I just ordered parallettes. I’m trying to be on my Blackstarr shit low key. Trying to stimulate myself with other shit and trying to keep myself out of my head, at least so deep. I have some books I been trying to fuck with it. I downloaded Meditations by Marcus Aurelius yesterday. I was trying to read that and fucking with it. Before this shit got crazy Billy Woods let me use his book. I finished it. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. I’m not gonna front because I fucked it up and I’ma have to buy this nigga a new book. I have also been smoking copious amounts of weed. 

Follow AKAI SOLO on Instagram and Twitter, buy Eleventh Wind on Bandcamp, and tap in with one of the great thinkers of the NYC rap scene.

Barbatos by AKAI SOLO produced by edan

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