Oct 23 2012

One on One with Kumaserati: We Talk Black Wall Street, Kat Stacks and ’99 Names of God’

If you are a serious aficionado of “conscious” hip hop music, you are no doubt familiar with the name Kumasi Simmons, a.k.a., Kumaserati, a gifted hood-born poet with a unique flow that has attracted souls from as close as Brooklyn and Compton to as far as Paris, Jakarta, Tunisia and Ghana.

Kumasi has collaborated with some of the most creative and prolific artists in popular music, including Kanye West, Adam Levine, Mos Def, Malik Yusef and The Game.

When The Game heard Kumasi’s soul-stirring flow, he welcomed him to the Black Wall Street label as “Kumaserati,” BWS’s sole “conscious” contributor. After recording curse-free, drug-free, woman-respecting songs under the Black Wall Street flag, in May, 2012, Kumasi independently released a 27-track hood gospel project entitled Soul Music.

Soul Music is a majestic offering of uplifting, inspiring and cautionary songs with titles like Same Soul (f. Tara Ellis), Change (f. Mos Def), Highway to Hades, Promised Land (f. Kanye West and Malik Yusef), Be Kind to Your Mother, and, my personal favorite, Amazing Grace.

As if Kumasi wasn’t busy enough in the studio making his Soul Music dream a reality, last year this Compton, Cali native was sponsored by the U. S. State Department to travel the world as a cultural attaché, visiting developing democracies in Indonesia and Africa, where young, mostly Muslim, citizens are both curious and dubious about American culture and freedom of expression.

Kumasi performed with fellow Muslim artists via the group Remarkable Current in an unprecedented cultural exchange program through which they delivered messages of peace and brotherhood across barriers of language and ideology. For more information about this project, visit remarkablecurrent.com .

The video below (f. Kumasi), paying homage to Tunisian revolutionary hero Mohamed Bouazizi, is an example of the incredible creativity and passion hip hop music lends to messages of freedom and calls for progress around the world. Is it just me, or is this track SICK? And by sick, I mean AMAZING.

I recently caught up with this self-described “servant of God,” to find out what motivates him musically, what’s keeping him busy now and where he is headed next.

KC: When you released your first album, Change Gon’ Come, you used your given name, Kumasi. Now you have adopted this new moniker, Kumaserati. What’s the story behind this name change?

Kumaserati is an alias that was created to help young people remember my name. Kumasi is the name of a city in Ghana, and until I can popularize that name as an artist, I want to help people find me and find my music. I want to leave a positive impression on impressionable young people who will respond to that name because it is associated with something they value.  A Maserati is a vehicle. Kumasi is a  servant. Kumaserati is a servant of God first and foremost. The way that I serve may require different strategies.

Speaking of strategies, I understand you’ve joined a music group called Kaj (www.thekaj.com). What is Kaj and how is it different from the music of Kumaserati?

The Kaj is another strategy for Kumasi to exist in service to God. The word Kaj is a combination of the names of its members, Kumasi, Anas and Joel. We came together to do a project that is soulful and that is inspired by people that inspire soul music–like Curtis Mayfield. Like The Ojays. The Kaj is using the language and diction and the integrity of those times with the sound of today.

It seems to me there’s this gap in music today where some of us feel we really have to look and listen hard to find contemporary music that is still soulful or soul-filled. It sounds like this group is the perfect fit for us.

We weren’t really trying to specifically fill any void. We were just trying to make music that we like and that people like. Our intention is to create music that is about love, and is  also correct towards women. Theres’ a song about domestic violence. There’s a song called  The Sounds of Making Love.

Is there a percentage of The Kaj’s sound or style that you would call hip hop, or is it a departure from your hip hop roots?

That’s an excellent question. The attempt here is to be intelligent and at the same time be cognizant of using simple yet meaningful words. You won’t hear us saying words like “swag.” You might hear words like “darling” and “delectable.” The word choices are deliberate. Our music is supposed to make you feel happy and make you feel like you want to make love to your woman and retain the respect due to women.

On your new album, Soul Music, you included a track called “99 names of God.” Tell me three of those names that are embodied in your music.

“Sublime. Gracious. Mighty.”

How did an artist so focused on heavenly goals, end up at Black Wall Street with The Game?

He really wanted a conscious artist on his label. My affiliation with Black Wall Street provides an opportunity to broaden my reach as an artist. I will always have love for The Game for opening that door for me.

What is one quality of The Game that would surprise people?

People might be surprised that he has a great sense of humor. People may be surprised that he’s a family man. People may be surprised that he’s a man who is striving to be a better man and a better person. You might be surprised to know that he is in tune with his Creator.

You have collaborated with some heavyweights in the industry. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?

I love Jamie Foxx as a person and Pharrell as well. After meeting and vibing with them, I would love to work with them. Also Will.i.am. I admire his creativity. Cee-lo is really gifted and down to earth–really for the people. I would love to work with him. Of course, Tupac, when he comes back.

Thank you for that awesome segue to my next question. If you died and God sent you back here as a woman. What would your mission be?

To be an example of class. An example of motherhood. We need more examples of strong women who are powerful generals who have command. A powerful woman doesn’t want a man with a nice vehicle with nice rims. She cares for her people. She cares to improve lifestyles besides her own. Some women believe that sex is their power. Their body is their power. But that is not the extent of a woman’s power by any means. If more women could set powerful examples, young women in our culture would create better humans.

Speaking of women and how we are perceived, in hip hop culture certain women are afforded a measure of respect and others are not. You were involved in a controversy in which you came to the defense of Kat Stacks, a self-described “hoe.” What made you think Kat Stacks deserved to be defended when she attracted so much drama and negative attention through her own actions?

When you meet a man in the hospital or grocery store that man is your brother. If that man is white or that man is black that man is your brother. If that man is Chinese that’s your Chinese brother. Whatever mind state a woman is in and whatever decisions she’s making that may be wrong, whether its to use drugs or to sell her body, that woman was born a princess. On earth we are all family members. Once you have that outlook, you can act accordingly. When it comes to a person like Kat Stacks you wish better for her. You don’t have rancor in your heart, you realize that that is a woman who was created by God and you have to respect that. He gave her lungs and eyes and she was not a mistake. She is a creation of God. How does God feel about that which God creates? If we ask ourselves that question we may find ourselves being careful to not dishonor that which God created, even if that creation has not begun to honor themselves.

You recently traveled on behalf of the United States as a cultural ambassador where you addressed thousands of young men and women whose impressions of of this country were deeply and positively impacted. Is this a new direction for Kumasi? How does civil service fit in to your goals?

This was another opportunity to serve God. I’m not into politics. I’m into people. I’m into peace. I was able to be peaceful with the people of Indonesia. I was also able to go to northern Africa. I did a song with El General (Hamada Ben Amor), the young rap artist who got locked up for speaking out against the president of Tunisia.  Last year, Time magazine named this young rapper one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.

It’s important to create alliances everywhere you go. In Paris I was able to do this. In Africa. Eventually if your voice becomes big enough you can invite people to hold hands. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

What can we look forward to next from Kumaserati?

I am currently in the conception stage of a project that will ultimately bear magnificent fruit. I am collaborating with two women whom I deeply respect and admire, not only for their amazing talents, but for their pure intentions to help heal people’s pain and to serve the human family.

 Myself, Hope Shorter and  Tilly Key, along with producer Christian Shorter, are putting together a project that, in spirit, will be like having Lauryn Hill, Sade and Bob Marley collaborating to serve. I”m not trying to equate us talent-wise, though the talent here is crazy, but spirit-wise the intention is that huge.

The project is called “Child of The World,” and it will be geared toward educating young people about nutrition, healthy lifestyles and philanthropy via a series of non-profit concerts in major urban areas like downtown L.A., Chicago and NYC. We will bring music, message, and meals to the streets with the sole purpose of connecting to and serving our fellow man. 

Follow @Kumaserati

Soul Music is available at http://hoodgospel.bandcamp.com/album/soul-music $1 per track downloaded, or download ALL 27 TRACKS for just $3 !



Oct 1 2012

I Dreamed of Rihanna’s Grandmother Last Night

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe that the dream world is much more than an odd vacation spot our brain visits as it recharges for another day. Indeed, some of my most life-altering experiences have occurred in that other world, and many of my ideas about God, the afterlife and the soul are heavily influenced by what I’ve encountered while my body and mind were “sleeping” and my soul was “dreaming.”

As a result of the visits and messages I’ve received from deceased loved ones over the years, and because of many ecstatic (miraculous) dream experiences I can’t explain (and find it difficult to describe in earthly terms), I’ve come to believe that, not only do we exist after “death,” our souls retain a powerful spiritual connection to this life.

No offense intended to anyone’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but the idea that the “dead” are “resting in peace” and have lost their ability to positively influence our hearts and our choices makes no sense to me.

I recently posted a story in which I shared about losing my fiance who died trying to save a drowning friend. Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of Todd’s death and I seriously considered writing about the many metaphysical experiences I have had with his soul — but I decided not to because I didn’t want to open to possible ridicule the experiences and insights that are so precious and meaningful to me.

Chicken? Absolutely.

Which brings me to my dream last night about “GranGran Dolly,” Rihanna’s beloved grandmother who recently passed away from cancer.

I should say that in real life I did not know Dolly, nor have I met or spoken to Rihanna, but I have been really hard on Rihanna verbally over the last few years, and have described her variously as “irresponsible,” “immature,” “out there” and a “terrible role model” for the millions of young girls who idolize her.

I have felt more recently that she seems lost, sad and lonely, and I have brazenly said that to folks whenever the subject of the young superstar has come up in conversation. Suffice it to say that my tone and attitude have been less than generous, and my thoughts and comments about her could definitely be described as “judgmental.”

Last night I got what I can only describe as a powerful paradigm shift via GranGran Dolly, who apparently doesn’t play when it comes to her baby girl.

I dreamed it was the Fourth of July and I was at a gathering (felt like a family reunion maybe) where Rihanna was in attendance. I walked up to introduce myself to her, and I’m not sure how to explain this, but I felt like I was meeting, not the “persona” that is Rihanna, or even the “human” that is Robyn Fenty, but the Soul behind all of that.

I reached to shake her hand, but she didn’t shake mine. Instead, she placed the palm of her hand against my face and looked in my eyes. She never said a word, but I felt in the dream like the entity looking at me was made of “Pure Joy” and “Pure Love.”

I turned to my left to see a woman (mid-30ish?) standing near Rihanna and beaming with obvious love for her. I immediately thought it was her sister because she physically resembled her, though she had much darker skin. In the dream I was thinking, I know Rihianna has a brother, but I didn’t think she had a sister.

The “sister” didn’t speak aloud, but (telepathically?) let me know Rihanna was the essence of “precious” and “pure” and that she was only only only made of Love.

Well, whoa.

I hadn’t planned to write about this today, but it’s been weighing so heavily on my mind that I finally tweeted about it:

What I did not know at the time I posted that, was that Rihanna had just tweeted this:

And then I saw this photo she tweeted:


I am 100% sure that woman standing there with Rihanna is an older version of the loving “sister” that visited me last night in my dream.

In the scheme of things, I’m not sure what any of this means to anyone else, but because I experienced it personally, it has very deep meaning for me.

For me it is a lesson in not judging the journey of others or assuming we know what they are made of.

Rest In Love, Dolly.


Feb 29 2012

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan

Jean Rankin was a wife and mother of thirteen children living in a modest home overlooking the Ohio river in what was the “free state” of Ohio. Through her window she could see a clear and gorgeous view of Kentucky, where thousands of enslaved African Americans lived under the cruel system of American chattel slavery.

For forty years, leading up to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jean and her husband John opened their home to offer food, lodging and directions further north to nearly 2000 fugitive slaves seeking freedom.

As a mother, and as an American woman who descended from enslaved Africans, I am awed and humbled by this family. When I think about putting my own freedom and my own children’s lives at risk to serve others, it is a frightening, daunting idea.

While researching this subject of whtie anti-racists in American history, I am finding hundreds of stories of courageous and inspiring people like the Rankins who have been left out of mainstream hero worship. I hope you will agree that it is time to remedy that omission. These are amazing American heroes our children should know about.

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan is an homage to anti-racist white Americans whose lives embodied the ideals of “freedom and justice for all” that our forefathers prescribed at the birth of this nation. Why have they been excluded from our national memory? What has their absence done to our collective psyche in terms of race relations?

The idea for this project came, in part, from an article I read about a young girl named Lisa McClelland who tried to start a “Caucasian Club” at her high school. Long story short—for her own safety, she eventually had to change schools.

Prior to her exile to another campus, the 15-year-old insisted her proposed club would be “a positive organization dedicated to honoring diversity” and a place to learn more about what it means to be white.

Amid the firestorm of controversy Lisa sparked, a KKK representative welcomed her to join their group, and the local NAACP spokesman slammed her idea, calling it racist in name, if not intent. He said,

“When we use the word ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian,’ it has always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up old wounds…”

What message is sent to young people with the omission of white anti-racist heroes from our national history? White Americans will not (should not?) bother themselves with issues of racial justice?