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 !



Mar 22 2005

One on One with Jamie Foxx: He’s Swinging at All the Right Pitches (ARCHIVE)

I picture Jamie Foxx’s soul thirty-eight years ago floating around in the spirit world preparing for his ordained time here on Earth. An angel is pointing out the lines souls can wait in to get what they need to do good work as human beings.

Foxx is paying extra close attention as the angel explains, “This line is for exceptional musical prowess; that one is the comedic creativity line; to your left 

is the queue for vocal talent, and the lines for courage and humility are right next to each other on the other side of kindness and loyalty. Oh, and don’t forget the one for acting skills—it’s way down there near intelligence and athletic ability. The angel tells Foxx he only has time to stand in four or five of the lengthy queues before leaving for Earth, but he pretends he doesn’t understand the directions and cuts to the front of every one of the lines quite a few times.

Farfetched? Of course. But what other explanation can there be for one man being so d#@ned blessed in so many areas?

For those of us who have been paying attention to Foxx’s career over the years, the fact that the man can play the piano, sing his heart out, and act his behind off is not breaking news. Okay, maybe we didn’t know he had Ray in him, but we watched in awe as he showed what he could do in Redemption, a role that earned him a 2005 Independent Spirit Award nomination for best actor. Then there was Collateral, the blockbuster film co-starring Tom Cruise that earned Foxx the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And, last year when he crooned alongside Kanye West on that “Slow Jamz” hit, we all suspected that we might only be scratching the surface of all that this talented brother has to offer.

The lingering question on everyone’s mind, now that the Oscar dust has settled and Foxx has officially joined that exclusive alliance of Academy Award winners, is: What could possibly be next?

I recently asked Foxx that question, and he answered in his characteristically humble way, referring to himself and his soaring career in the third person and refusing to use the word “I” to boast about future goals:

“When you do something and it changes the culture—that’s what we have to do as black folks. When ‘In Living Color’ came along it changed the culture. Denzel and Sidney Poitier, they changed the culture. So, this is one of those opportunities where we see the culture changing.”

Foxx is a little teary-eyed when he adds, “Sidney Poitier said to me, ‘What I’m going to give you is responsibility,’ and to have things like that told to you—it means more than awards. It means more than all of this. It means you have been given a torch to carry.”

The torch of artistic responsibility is one Foxx can definitely handle. In recent years he has been patiently biding his time—rejecting offers that didn’t feel right. “There are a lot of things we could’ve swung at and it would’ve come out bad,” Foxx explains, referring to the decisions he and his management team made to wait for projects that would further his career goals. “Luckily we were able to do like a great baseball player and wait on our pitch; and the pitch was Collateral. The pitch was Ray Charles. The pitch was a record with Kanye West. So when you get a chance to get the right things thrown at you, you stay ready. You know you’re not only here to do the right things, but now people are going to accept it.”

Foxx used another sports metaphor to compare his artistic responsibility to his experience as a high school sophomore playing football on a varsity championship team. “We lost the big game. I saw the seniors crying, and I was like, ‘What are they crying about?’ ‘cause I had more games to play. But my junior and my senior year we never got that far. I call that ‘younging it away.’ We can’t young this away. If we young it away and do not respect those people who laid the path for us, maybe something goes awry and it doesn’t happen the way we want it to happen. That’s why it’s so important to be respectful and let [the elders] know that you’re going to do the right thing.”

Asked what the right thing is, Foxx replied, “You can do whatever you want as long as it’s real, it’s respectful and it’s good. You can never be mediocre. Whatever you do, it has to be great.”

-for RollingOut.com