Shortly before the release of Ghana-born emcee Blitz the Ambassador’s “The Warm Up” EP, we reached out to him to discuss his career and the aspects involved in the making of the album. He described the EP as a a teaser for what is to come on “Afropolitan Dreams”, his third offering since 2009’s “Stereotype” and 2011’s “Native Sun” (which made it onto our end-of-year list). We thought to share bits of the interview seeing that he’s performing at the Webster Hall tonight (heads up to all our New York people). Our man Boima is also on the line-up.
On why he made the EP readily available…
I think that music today is synonymous with an audio flyer. I don’t think that music has the same purpose that it had 20 years ago. I think that now what it is, is an advantage for people to sample you and to see if you are in fact the kind of artist that they will like. A lot of people will argue it’s not the smartest business move to release music for free. I think that it’s only not a smart business move if you cannot attract return customers. I feel like if you have music that is good enough, that will make people return and become fans, then it’s in your best interest to make that music as available as possible. I did a test of that when I released “Native Sun” in 2011; I put the entire album on YouTube for free. I got a bunch of e-mails and everywhere I went people wanted to know why I’d do that, [that] it makes no sense. In about a year I realised that, one, people started coming to my concerts knowing the music already, knowing the words to the music and being absorbed in the music because it’s YouTube, they could just play the entire thing without pause; two, it encouraged them to purchase the physical copy, it encouraged them to purchase the merchandise, like t-shirts and other things, because they had already heard the music. So I feel like I was vindicated in that process of making the music readily available and for free because it ended up creating a fanbase that would probably not have had the chance to sample my work and become fans of my work. I’m doing the same with “The Warm Up” EP, which is a prelude to “Afropolitan Dreamss”. In my opinion, I think that giving it away for free only raises the anticipation for “Afropolitan Dreams”.
On the topics discussed on “The Warm Up” EP…
[I put out my last album] in 2011. For a lot of people, it’s been a while. Some people have never heard of me. “The Warm Up” is really just to get people interested and excited about “Afropolitan Dreams”, which is really the story. What I was able to do on this EP was to give people sample ideas of where “Afropolitan Dreams” is going — whether it’s sonic, or whether it’s lyrical. Everything that you’re hearing on “The Warm Up” EP is part and parcel of “Afropolitan Dreams”; pretty much an extension, a prelude.
‘African in New York’ is the arrival into this city, which most of us have had to go through; of trying to figure out where you fit, and where your culture fits in all of this. Lyrically, it’s self-explanatory. A song like ‘Bisa’ is also something that’s very typical among expats who are trying to go home. It’s almost like you become a self-appointed conduit between the rest of the world and where you’re from. Some of what we go through back home has to almost be explained to the rest of the world. Most people back home may not have the platform or even the analysis. The thing is, a lot of us living overseas have the privilege of time, and the fact that we’re not necessarily living hand-to-mouth. We’re able to absorb these ideas and interpret them in a better way, just because we have more time. If I was back home, I doubt that I would have as much time to analyse, because my life would be much faster-paced; it would be based solely on another level of survival. That’s why it’s so important that those living overseas — or even when you’re home but you have a better situation that allows you the time — it’s our jobs to be the analyzers, to be the ones who try to create this dialogue. So ‘Bisa’ was an example [of that]. That’s why Nneka makes so much sense, that’s why TY makes so much sense. When I link with Nneka, that’s all we talk about. We’re talking about ‘how do we go back home?’, ‘how do we go back properly?’, ‘how do we connect with the local [crew] that’s been building for [a while] and be able to encourage what we’ve done with what’s happening locally?’
On performing live…
I’ve never had a musical director, I’ve always directed my own music. Maybe it’s just the control freak in me. But more importantly, I just feel like I have a vision, I know where I want this vision to go, and I don’t stop until I get that vision. If you’re an independent artist, I don’t think you have much else in terms of your investment. What is the first point of contact with the audience? It’s often almost live; that’s the only time that they’re gonna go ‘I believe in you!’ Any other time they have a choice, you’re not in control. The only time you’re in control of [whether] people like you is when you’re on stage. I’ve always spent so much time and so much effort into creating such an amazing show, because I found out really quickly — especially when I started touring — that it doesn’t matter if you have hits! For an hour or an hour and thirty minutes, that’s my sales pitch, that is my ‘you’ve GOT to love me!’ You cannot leave without picking up the t-shirt, without finding out what my facebook is so that you can check me out later. That effort is extreme, almost to the point of obsession! That’s why I watch so many live shows; to me it’s critical that my live show is on par with not these guys today, but [with] when live shows were live shows. Everything else was an addition. To me, I don’t think you’ll find [anyone] better than a Michael Jackson, a Prince, a James Brown, a Fela. In terms of what I try to convey, one thing I figured out early is that the best way to keep people interest in anything you do, and this goes beyond a live show, is when you’re telling a story. A story is the only time you can have my attention from beginning to end.
Tonight at The Studio at Webster Hall: Blitz The Ambassador, Old Money, Boima and Caktuz.
Listen to the “The Warm Up” below.
*This post is part of our Liner Notes series, where musicians talk about making music.