When Geng aka King Vision Ultra pulls up to the Zoom, I can tell he’s not ready for the interview quite yet. His brilliant smile filled with joy, he apologizes as he attempts to situate himself and Amani together to ensure we can all see each other on screen. Geng and I, besides being thoroughbred native New Yorkers, have a similar attitude toward time. When it’s right, it’s right. By no means does this mentality downplay urgency as a concept, but rather asks us to rethink how and when we worry about time. This relaxed attitude would set the stage for an interview on Amani and King Vision Ultra’s collaborative August release An Unknown Infinite.
On An Unknown Infinite, Amani, a self-described multidisciplinary artist and rapper from Brooklyn, brings the raps while Manhattan native King Vision Ultra handles most of the production. The cohesiveness of the project, despite being the duo’s first musical output together, is a testament to the chemistry, similar guiding principlies, and camaraderie shared by the two New York artists. As Amani hammers home unconventional bars packed with pop culture references that turn his philosophical musing into poetry, King Vision Ultra sits on the border of 90s Boom Bap and experimentalism. In a Hip-Hop world where Ka and Roc Marciano are finding a footing with lyrical exercises drenched in authenticity, An Unknown Infinite delivers on the core tenets of what many consider “real rap”: socio-politically conscious rap over jazz inspired instrumentals.
Throughout the project, Amani condemns unoriginal artists lacking in substance and reality. On “Holyfield” Amani spits, “All I hear is copies on some Boost Mobile shit / soon as niggas catch on I be over it.” Elsewhere he rhetorically asks, “Who gives a fuck about who get it first?” mocking the hypebeast and copycat culture that surrounds not only Hip-Hop, but a majority of music genres, fashion, and other artistic sectors rife with celebrity culture. Emphasizing his desire to understand what is real on “Shaft In Africa,” Amani wants to “pause the moments” and espouses the art of listening, something almostlost in an age when social media makes people talk more than listen.
Amani’s focus on the power of art as a tool and commodity are well documented throughout the project. On “Hell Juice” Amani admits that partaking in the capital landscape is a necessity before warning, “The tongue ain’t a toy.” An incredibly in-depth vocalist, Amani is far from the typical caricature of modern Hip-Hop, where rappers admit to writing songs in 15 minutes or less before moving to the next track. It’s in this intentionality that Amani demonstrates his devotion to quality over quantity. On “A Not So Fruitful Wealth” Amani concedes, “If it ain’t about the money, save your breath” which reads eerily dark during the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to work and potentially catch a virus that effects the lungs. When he sneers, “Unless you aim to be the change you never was but / y’all not with it / y’all caught up in the complex of image,” he once again sets the stage to question his contemporaries before still accepting his complex relationship with his love love for the dollar.
While Amani riddles his peers with reminders they aren’t as original, real, or worthy of the admiration they seek to claim, King Ultra Vision produces and curates a backdrop of cinematic horror-sounding production. Behind Amani’s mostly even-toned delivery, reminiscent of a cool teacher laying down facts for students ill-prepared to accept the life lessons, King Vision Ultra jumps from spooky minimalist to intricate head bopper with ease, crafting a flow that keeps the listener entranced over the 13 song, 42 minute project. Aside from “Throw the Fear”, “Shaft In Africa”, and “Monie Said So”, the project was entirely produced by King Vision Ultra. Throwing his own ‘voice’ into the mix, King Vision Ultra samples a myriad of spoken samples such as on the self-titled album opener and “52 Vision”. King Vision Ultra, founder of Purple Tape Pedigree collective, is no stranger to putting together cohesive and singular projects. No track feels out of place as hype tracks like “Concrete Slides” crash into the somber “Hell Juice”. This flow allows the audience to catch their breath and mentally reflect on the lessons Amani is doling out. With help from vocalists ELUCID, Suede Jury, AKAI SOLO, and maassai, King Vision Ultra does a strong job pairing Amani’s voice with like-minded linguists.
As An Unknown Infinite plays, the audience will certainly reflect on their own life journey and where their physical embodiment fits in this reality’s space time continuum. When Amani chants, “50 million shots through the atmosphere / 50 million shots block the sun out” on “Sun Screen”, it’s impossible not to consider climate change and this dire moment in time that humanity finds itself. In a world strikingly absent of joy amidst a global pandemic, the project reflects a bleak outlook that many in younger generations are currently feeling. Whether intentional or not, An Unknown Infinite will have listeners considering the finality of their own lives within a seemingly never ending time that started billions of years before humans existed and will most likely continue billions of years after humans have evolved or faded from existence. On album closer “Guillotine” Amani states, “my legacy will not be plastered on a grave”. Like King Ozymandias before him, Amani knows physical relics will one day no longer take up the space they do now in the unknown infinite. It’s the lessons learned, passed on, and repeated that give us any chance of immortality.
Check out our social distance interview below where Amani and King Vision Ultra break down their creative process, what freedom means, favorite podcasts, and more.
GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?
Amani: I’m Amani and I identify as a young Black man from Brooklyn, New York. I identify as a basketball fanatic, bike life connoisseur. That sums it up.
KVU: Geng aka King Vision Ultra. From Manhattan before the internet. Native New Yorker. Mixed race. Mother was an immigrant. He/his. Partial elder maybe.
Amani: Dog lover.
KVU: I’m an animal lover actually forreal. I’m vegan life and all that shit.
GSC: The album has spoken word clips that play throughout are incredibly necessary and timeless to the forever Black struggle. I know you have a Gmail draft of a lot of YouTube videos. How did you settle on these selections?
KVU: Just kind of pieced it up over time. In quarantine just listened to a lot of clips. At least one of the things was from over a year ago from a podcast or whatever, like a random clip from the middle of a podcast and I just threw that in. I think I had a note somewhere in those Gmail drafts with a link and a time stamp. It made sense within the context of everything else being said in the actual writing of the album whether it be Amani, whether it be AKAI, whether it be maassai.
Amani: He was the scientist with that whole shit. I feel like we both really played our roles. He would play me some of the joints and interludes and soundbites he had and I would resonate with it which I would expect too cause we share the same vision or similar visions. It was really like, “you got it” and it’s like he said, he has mad shit from what he’s been collecting over the years. It was just like he heard what I had to spit. Here is the content I am coming up with. And then he would create the perfect blend of sound bites.
GSC: What does “throw the fear” mean and who are you talking to in that song?
Amani: Have you ever heard the phrase “throw the fair one”?
KVU: Like, “shoot the fair”.
GSC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KVU: I did not know that you based “throw the fear” off of “throw the fair”.
Amani: Yeah, cause I said, “if you gon’ always raise the fear throw it”. If you gon’ always raise the train shit, if you’re gon’ always make the cost of living so fucking high, we’re gonna be tight and we’re gonna raise against that shit. That was the idea behind that, but then a lot of people heard that and thought I was saying “throw the fear” like throw the fear away.
KVU: I never took it that way. I heard the shit like you’re going to push back essentially.
GSC: The production sounds like a movie score and cinematic and yet is still very Hip-Hop. How did the production choices come together and what made you go with this more experimental and almost haunting style?
KVU: I’m not sure if that was that intentional or it was my channel naturally kinda thing. I don’t intend to make very major key pretty music although there are some things you can look at say that’s beautiful. Hearing many of the folks who are on the album, I wanted to be sure to give them something that was a little bit different than what people are used to hearing them on. It’s the whole world building aspect of it. Like being that it was made at a certain time in history in 2020 and all what we’re dealing with on the album channelled through the words of everyone, as well as the dialogue samples. It was my job to make the sonics and the energy around it and the messages being sent all to match up. The colors and energy and sound I see and feel aren’t anything like a sunny day. It’s not that type of music. Not that type of time. Essentially we just wanted to make some hard shit. That’s why “Guillotine” is the first shit we did. That might add some clarity to that. At first this was supposed to be four song EP so we just wanted to make some dumb, dark, hard, noisey whatever. Something to kinda push against the grain but obviously can evolve into something larger. I wanted to make the soundscape varied so you get something like a “Holyfield” but you also get “A Not So Fruitful Wealth” or “Sun Screen”. Someone called it yesterday like a horror movie with Amani on it. Our friend called it Black horror. I was like, “oh wow.” I can’t take credit for that, but definitely with the final product of Amani’s vocals I would call it horror.
Amani: Blasian Horror.
GSC: Freedom is a big theme of the album. What do you think being “free” truly means and where do you feel most free?
Amani: For me, when I truly feel free I would say drumming. When I’m playing drums or when I’m spitting live or when I put on my favorite song or when I’m riding my bike.
KVU: Bike life!
Amani: Or when I’m riding my bike on the West Side Highway or when I’m playing ball. It’s one of those four things when I really be finding my peace.
KVU: I think freedom can sometimes look like cooking a meal for yourself and loved ones. Sometimes freedom can look like meditating or just taking time for yourself to set intentions for the day and all. Also, working out and getting right on some physical challenge. For Amani, I feel like you get that on the bike life and the court playing ball and what not and for me it’s more like calisthenics and all that other jazz. Also when you hit that certain mode of creation completely dialed in you kinda lose track of time and you’re not worried about the clock. You’re kinda just in it. That can even happen on the train when you’re in transit and jotting something down or listening to something and hear something that kinda strikes the right note in your head and you’re like, “Oh, I need to go back to that.” I don’t have a sampler on me so you need to bookmark that somehow. Just being in the zone. Self-actualization is freedom. Growth is freedom and the path to the perpetual. Realizing potential. Opening that floodgate up even further. That’s the battery pack. That’s why the battery pack stays charged.
GSC: AKAI is one of my favorite artists. How did “Concrete Slides” come together?
KVU: AKAI is our favorite artist too. Word up.
Amani: I’ve known AKAI since I started rapping like publicly. We’ve always been like, “we gotta do something, we gotta do something,” and it finally happened. He sent me a bunch of beats and I was like, “AKAI, I need you to lace this and send it to me ASAP”. Cause you know AKAI won’t do that shit, but if you’re like, “AKAI I need this right now,” then maybe you’ll get it in like 2 weeks, but no shout out to AKAI.
KVU: Shout out to AKAI. That’s like a pivotal moment. That’s a verse that made it easy for me, that whole song made it easy for me to add some glue, add some additional context. It’s ill too because AKAI has a vast catalogue but if you listen to his verse on “Concrete Slides” and then maybe Eleventh Wind his most recent release you can hear that “Nebula” tone that’s kinda stepped into more recently. He’s a little bit less playful now. I got some more heat with AKAI coming and I can say that he came to the studio and he wrote something like an 80 bar thing in like 15 minutes right in front of me. It’s one of those things like, “yo you wrote that shit in front of me.” That’s probably the best way we will continue to work with AKAI. Just like, “come over.” Just like, “this beat, we need you.” AKAI’s a very present force and creator. It’s just ill to learn how everyone works, how everyone does their magic cause everyone does magic uniquely.
GSC: “Confess all your sins to white Jesus.” What does that line mean and who is it directed at?
Amani: That’s Suede Jury. That’s the song “Shaft in Africa”. I feel like they meant in the context of what they were saying throughout the whole verse, I take what he said pretty literally. Like, “confess all your sins to your white Jesus. Go do that”. The whole verse he’s talking about Black empowerment type shit.
KVU: I feel like the genius of that line is that it could be read in two different ways. He could be addressing white people like, “yo fuck outta here. Stay in your lane,” type shit or he could be speaking on the presence and tradition of Christianity in Black churches as well as the hypocrisy of mainstream Christianity amongst non-white cultures but specifically Black culture where the lie is being told, the myth is being told, specifically the idolism of white Jesus in those churches as well. We should call up Suede. That verse is gnarly.
GSC: Nathan Bajar made his directorial debut with “A Not So Fruitful Wealth”. How did that collaboration come together? What did you enjoy most about the process?
Amani: Nate is the homie through some other music friends. I met Nate through Pink Siifu. Nate is cool. I play ball with Nate sometimes. We play music sometimes. He’s not too far from me and he’s a photographer so I was like, “yo, you should do my video” and we made that shit happen. It was kinda on the fly. I hit up Geng. Got some shots with him in it.
KVU: Most of it was in Brooklyn, right? Is that the park right here, too?
Amani: Nah, that’s the park by Nate.
KVU: There’s some of it that’s in Jackson Heights, which is where I’m at and I feel like we may have been still kinda quarantining at that point. I forget.
Amani: Well, no. It was like July.
KVU: It was when people started to leave the house a little bit. We were on the rooftop and we were in hallways acting a fool counting a lot of bread. They were like, “now he takes the money out” and I was like, “are you sure about that?” If you get the high-definition video you can see that there is a lot of money in my hand, like a lot, but that’s neither here nor there I guess. I was mad at Nate for not including more of the footage with the money. Whatever. For my Maybach Music video we will get it right.
GSC: In another interview said you love podcasts. What podcast should everyone be turning into and checking out?
KVU: Can I shout out a couple of them? Cause there’s definitely a couple of them. Everyone should be listening to the “2 Virgins” Teresa and Sam. Quarantine Content. That’s the network. “The Next Movement” is doing some really ill stuff. My man Bloodmoney Perez’s “Rhythms Per Minute” is new. “Rhythms Per Minute” and “The Next Movement” kinda do similar things where they have conversations around a single favorite album. I been fucking with this NPR joint “Louder Than A Riot”. I been fucking with Amani’s pop’s shit “People’s Party”. I been fucking with Fat Joe’s IG Live for chuckles. Fat Joe’s mad entertaining as a storyteller and his reactions are joyful. Shout out to“Serious Rap Shit”, “Dad Bod Rap Pod”, “Call Out Culture”. Socio-political shit too. I think that be the breadth of things. I’m waiting for the GSC podcast.
GSC: 2021 something may trickle out.
KVU: That’s what I’m saying. Let’s go, Josh! Amani really likes the Joe Budden’s leather sweater podcasts. *laughs*
Amani: Chill. *laughs*
KVU: Oh “Questlove Supreme”
Amani: Anything he said.
GSC: On the title track and opener someone says “the people need to be restored”. Who is that?
KVU: That’s the God Milford Graves. Apart from Monie Love that was intentionally the first voice that we hear because for Amani and I that was a big connecting point and realization on like friendship or whatever. The intersection of jazz and energy and creation. He’s like a Sun Ra type or Alice Coltrane type figurehead. Also, Amani drums.
Amani: His content is mad inspiring. For me, I fuck with martial arts. I watch UFC, boxing, and shit. I fuck with drumming OD and I fuck with jazz and I fuck with his political whole and spiritual views as well.
KVU: And he’s from Queens.
Amani: And he’s from Queens, New York. So learning about him and seeing him in Full Mantis and seeing that film of him, that connected us too. Us being both hype for that shit. I know we both saw him live.
KVU: We both saw him live in a church in Brooklyn a couple years ago. Probably the same year we both saw Full Mantis. Watching the Full Mantis film or documentary on Milford Graves was affirming to ideas that I feel both of us had just inside somewhere internally working the gears. That was the extra battery in the back like, “oh, okay”.
Amani: We know what’s up.
KVU: Same frequency type shit.
GSC: And how do you think we can restore the people?
Amani: How can we restore the people? It’s up to God.
KVU: *laughs* Let God sort ‘em out. I think the conversation being had in the first place is a starting point. I think acknowledging that this is a possibility is a starting point. I think understanding we all need to learn or have to keep practicing the learning of love and there’s the opposite to that. Understanding not everyone that looks, speaks, talks like you is your people. Also that is so nuanced and it contains a multitude of complexities that systemically there’s just a lot been going on throughout history. History is not there to be ignored either. If heads wanna build futures or build futures together and talk this community shit or even more this coalition shit then there needs to be space for difficult conversations, challenging conversations, challenging narratives to enter and it’s not just binary.
GSC: I saw that you were includings PDFs of The End of Policing, which I think is super dope. Great summer read. Really cool move.
KVU: Thanks, I appreciate it. There’s so much more I wish I could have thrown in. Maybe a third edition or a shirt that comes out I’ll throw in the whole library. I just got libraries of PDFs a few months ago, but also we want people to go to the store and buy those books too.
GSC: It’s a little bit of both. maassai is on the album and you recently put her album Velocity with JWords out as a cassette on the Purple Tape Pedigree. What’s your favorite thing about maassai working with her?
KVU: She’s the illest. She’s a commanding force and patternmaster. I feel like working with maassai and Amani and AKAI and folks, me as someone who is older, I’m looking at folks like, “we have a damn bright future”. We have folks who have tapped into this position or this narrative and are pushing it forward in this very potent way. There’s no kinda bullshit. I’ve never detected BS or taken any kind of shit. I love that. It’s done with this specific nuance of Brooklyn. Just the wordplay and patterns and love for language. Love for the pocket. If you listen to the H31R shit there’s all types of flow. That’s been the fun part of working with Amani and maassai, they’re very rhythmic and patterns are fun to detect and look at the shit. Look at how they sprinkle the connections throughout each line or bar or whatever. It’s a joy and an honor cause heads don’t have to be fucking with me. I’m utterly grateful to be in the space and sharing space.
GSC: On “Monie Said So” Brooklyn and Manhattan get a shout out. Today you shouted Brooklyn and Queens today. What about the Bronx love?
KVU: There’s wild love for the X.
Amani: Yeah that goes unsaid. Hip-Hop is from the Bronx. My mom is from the Bronx. I know we didn’t say it.
KVU: Specifically it’s because I’m from Money Making Manhattan pre-internet. *gestures to Amani* Brooklyn’ed out post-internet and that’s why the Bronx or Staten Island doesn’t get shouted out. Long Island. Long Island is not Queens. The water kinda spreads out there and Long Island has a special history with rap. I was in Atom’s Family and Cryptic was the nucleus, but he’s from LI. We were out in Westbury and that was my first studio experience. If I wasn’t in my own bedroom I was going to this guy’s house in Westbury every Saturday and I was just staying there all day hanging out kinda shit. Actually the PTP logo my man Note made that shit. When it was still a blog he made that logo and he represents the Bronx. He was near Fordham.
GSC: What do you want people to take away from An Unknown Infinite?
KVU: One of the illest things has been people saying I can’t stop listening to this. We know someone who unfortunately lost someone close to them and it was the last thing that they listened to prior and it was the first thing they listened to get out of the funk and pick themselves up again. Shit like that. You can’t make something and expect to hear anything like that. That in a weird way makes creating and putting out work meaningful. It’s super fulfilling to know that something you care that much about resonates. It’s what I hope people get out of it. Resonance.
Amani: Yeah, I didn’t know how to say it, but that’s it.