ANKHLEJOHN Discusses How He Wants To Be Viewed As An Artist.
“It’s a New York sound, but I’m giving you a D.C. experience.”
I pray you have listened to ANKHLEJOHN prior to reading this. At the same time, I secretly hope that I am introducing him to you now. It’s impossible for me to know what percentage of artists actually put love into their craft, but I can be certain ANKHLEJOHN does. From his flow and style, to the lyrics in his music, I get the feeling he loves what he does, and how he does it. But, I wanted to know a little more.
The U.S. capitol-based artist released his latest project As Above, So Below in November of last year via Shaap Records. The entire tape is produced by Sage Elsesser, credited as Navy Blue. Rather than pressing on the idea of new, unreleased music, I decided to ask him about the November release, because anyone is more likely to know about what they have already done, than something they are going to do. For nearly half an hour, ANKHLEHOHN and I spoke about his roots in music, being referred to as a D.C.-rapper, and not only stepping out of, but breaking down the box of “Hip-Hop.” Here’s what he had to say.
What is your name, age, location, and pronouns?
My name is ANKHLEJOHN, I’m from Washington D.C. I’m 27, going on 28 next month. And my pronouns are he/him.
What are some of your earliest memories of making music?
I was probably like 11-12ish. Me and my friends back in the day had a tape recorder, and he had tapes. We in the laundromat, and we’d be making beats. Not making beats, but we’d be hitting shit with our hands, beat-boxing or whatever. So we started from there, and then somehow we found a way to make these raps over beats. We’d set the tape recorder beside the stereo and we'd just rap over it, little creative DIY stuff like that. After that, I get a little older, I grab up some money, and I cop my own equipment. This is the later high school years. It’s been a go since then, started going to lil’ studios.
At that time, who were some artists you were listening to that influenced the music you were making, if any?
I can’t recall anyone, forreal. It was a plethora of different things. It wasn’t anybody specific at that time. It may be different vibrations and different frequencies I pick up on from different artists. They may share the same thing: certain cadences, how loud they are, how smooth they are, how aggressive they are, or how hard they punch. Different rhythms and ratios within their flow. I’ll pick up on simple things like that. And again, it wasn’t just one artist or one era. It was a plethora of things; everything I had known from the first time I started to rap up until that point. I was still a fan of rap though. I can tell you who I was listening to at that point. Like Lil’ Wayne, and shit like that. I don’t want to not give you an answer. But Lil’ Wayne, Dipset. I was fuckin’ with The Diplomats, like Cam’ron, Juelz, and Jim Jones. 50, G-Unit. A lot of up-north type rap, already blending in with what I got going with where I’m from with “go-go” and shit like that. Then I took from all of that.
Gotcha, that’s dope. I want to get more into your music, and specifically where you are from. On the project's title track, you mention Karl Malone’s run for Governor of Arkansas. Also, you’re back and forth between D.C.. Are you interested in politics whatsoever?
No, not really. I have somewhat of a knowledge of it, being a D.C. resident and coming from D.C. public schools and having to learn about politics. Am I actually into it? You know what, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’m into ‘“politics.” Are we speaking about anything revolutionary, or just plain, general politics, the ‘democrat/republican’ politics?
That’s a good answer. I was speaking more about the ‘democratic/republican’ politics, but the revolutionary angle is also a part of that too. I would say you’re deep into politics.
Oh, then I would say so, for sure. Most definitely. Then, with the democrat/republican politics. Like, I have experience with it. I’m from D.C., and it’s a curriculum that’s applied to my education system within the schooling that I got. It was there, it was at the forefront. It was nothing to go to that environment. It’s literally placed right in front of us. POLITICS. I’m in the city of politics, the capital. I had more interest in revolutionary politics, and I also have experience in that background as well. I’m not knowledgeable enough to tell you about democratic politics and republican politics today because I don’t classify as either or. So not in that sense, no.
That’s fair, I appreciate that. So who got you into politics, revolutionary politics, if anyone?
Um, You know I’m gonna give a lot of credit to myself, for seeking it. I can pinpoint people in my family who were on that type of time, but it wasn’t like they passed that knowledge down to me. I can’t really recall that. It wasn’t my mom and it definitely wasn’t my pops. But then again, a lot of these things deal with the subconscious, so I don’t want to take credit from them. Symbols matter. A lot of those symbols matter. Even as a child, seeing certain symbols, seeing certain colors: red, green, and black. That shit doesn’t leave out of my psyche. Even when I was growing up religious, the church I went to, I went to Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. That’s an Afro-centric baptist church, so I’m growing up with these symbols in my head bro, my entire life. I have to give a lot of that credit to myself. I wanted to seek knowledge. I was inspired by certain things; certain things caught on to me, and I wanted to seek them.
That’s awesome. Tell me about the Hip-Hop scene out there in D.C.? WHat are some things you notice about it that me, a person from New York, would not know about?
It’s wonderful man. It’s a beautiful situation; it’s new, it’s relatively new. This is originally a “go-go” city, but right now we have a music scene coming from the DMV. These kids -- and can’t even call them kids because a lot of these artists are around my age too. But they really inspire the youth, the kids. They got what they call a “DMV”-flow; it’s a real cool punch-in type flow.We have a lot of artists that are doing thousands and millions of views and shit, but what comes with that is a lot of beefs, a lot violence, and a lot of these artists don’t get to make it to see their full potential. Just like any other city, but it’s always unfortunate. But there’s a lot of talent in the city, always been a lot of talent in the city. It is what it is though, we all here to inspire each other, Black people, no matter where you from. North, west, south, east, whatever the case may be. But D.C. is a very unique place, forreal, for arts, music, fashion, all types of shit.
Nice. On the topic of your music again, you have a line that goes, “In the city, stay a couple blocks away from where Trump live.” I found this funny because Trump was in the White House in D.C., but he also has his residence in New York, so the line can work for either city. My question to you is, which city had more influence/impact on the creation of As Above, So Below?
A lot of the tracks, I was in D.C.. The track with me, Dash, and Divino, we were in New York. I shot the video with Wiki on it in New York, obviously. “Hi-Point Jammed,” I shot that in LA. I don’t really know. See, my thing is, I’m not a geographical-type nigga like that. Obviously I’m from D.C., I can’t change that. That’s just where my mother landed me at. I would never wanna be from anywhere else. It ends with that. I can’t change where I’m from. But I can change my environment. That’s what it is, I leave it at that.
But I’m not a geographical-type person. Where it’s like, “I’m reppin! Rep, rep, rep!” Like I put the place before me, because I’m a man first. I’ll be a man wherever I’m from. I could’ve been me, but living in Arizona somewhere. But it is what it is; I don’t really look at it with a geographical sense. It’s just based on feeling.
They said I’m from D.C.. They said I’m not supposed to be rapping like this. There probably never been a nigga from D.C. that rapped like this before. When they hear a nigga that rap like this, probably over the type of beats I’m rapping on, they automatically equate it to New York. And I just feel like that’s still a box. Just like how they equate the type of sound we do to “boom-bap.” It’s still a box, and Hip-Hop is the only genre that wanna put things in a box, and make it a geographical thing, an age thing, like a sub-genre thing, which is understandable. Not to say you, but these narratives though.
Even what we’re rapping on, it’s music at the end of the day. It’s not New York music. It’s not D.C. music. Sage, he pulling from a lot of samples. It’s a lot of sample based things that are before these eras, people from different places, all around the world. It’s not just geographical, it’s the music, it’s the music we gotta focus on.
Even if people think it’s a New York sound, but I’m giving you a D.C. experience. So what do it really sound like? What is it, forreal, forreal? It don’t really matter, forreal, forreal. It’s just the experience that you get. Even if you from New York, you could be from Toronto, if you relate, then you relate. That’s how people fuck with it, because they relate. Even the hood niggas. I been to places in the middle of Chicago, in the trenches with older niggas. I’m 27, niggas twice my age making me play that music because it’s a soul sample, and they fallin’ in love with that loop. And I’m spittin’ that shit, I’m talking some grown-man shit. So it ain’t about where we from, or even how old we are, we just relate. I just make the music that we all relate to. And we don’t know each other from nowhere, but we relate because it’s the good music. You get what I’m saying?
I fuck with that answer 100%. Usually when I ask that, artists will say “It was this city, blah blah blah,” because they have a general pride for their city. I can respect that, but I can respect you a little more for saying it doesn’t belong to either city, it belongs to you. That ties into my next question: why did you create the project, As Above, So Below? Why did you decide to take this album in this direction?
There wasn’t a lot of thought to it. Me and Sage linked one time. It was just cool connections. It could’ve been anybody that met up that day. It could’ve been Rome Streetz, we all were kicking it. It could’ve been whoever. [Sage] felt he was in a room with a few good emcees. He said he was making beats, he got beats. I reached out, he sent beats. I sent the song back, he was fuckin with it. After the second song, he was like “Let’s do an album, what’s the word?” I was already thinking that. He just started sending beats, and I just started sending them back. We got enough songs to where we could create an album. We just went with it, it was that simple. The only thing we had to wait for was features and shit like that. But other than that, it was done. Shoutout to Navy Blue for his production.
There were two beats in particular that I fucked with heavy, “Final Destination,” and “Easy Does It.” There is a specific bar that I like too, such as, “Before I make my way across the room, I step out and read the shit.” I just want to know your interpretation of that line.
You know, it’s kind of self-explanatory. Before I walk into a room, or a situation, or anything dealing with life, you just want to step back, even if it’s an out-of-body experience, you just want to step back and read the situation, what’s going on. Actually do your mathematics, go through the process of knowledge with some understanding first. Through knowledge, in order to get through the understanding, you gotta through your wisdom, to develop your understanding. That’s when you’ve just read the room. Then you’re able to make decisions based on that. You’re able to see, “Okay, this is a room, crowded with wild niggas. Nine times out of ten, I should leave this room before I get in trouble, before some wild shit happens.” That’s what I meant by that.
Thinking about all of your music, how does As Above, So Below fit into your discography? Or, what chapter of your life does this represent, if you could choose one?
That’s a good question, I don’t know. To answer the first part, I put it really high on my list. It might be my best album, forreal. I really love the production of it. It’s one of those albums I’ve always wanted to make. Whatever I’m recording at that time is what I’m going through at that time. Unless I say it’s about the past, other than that, it means I’m going through that shit bro. Any random, specific bars, that’s the life I’m really living. Whatever it is that I’m rapping about on As Above, So Below, when I recorded them tracks, that’s what I was going through at that time. That’s literally the man who I was at that time. It’s not a deep science to me, what you see is what you get.
What’s the game plan for 2021? I noticed you released five projects last year, and I’m wondering if it’s going to be the same thing, or just however you’re feeling?
The latter bro, the latter.
Bet. Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you wanna say, last remarks?
I’m coolin’ man. I love my son. Shoutout to my son. Other than that, I’m in the cut, I’m on Twitter.
Listen to ANKHLEJOHN & Da$h - HONEY SWEETER THAN BLOOD
Listen to ANKHLEJOHN & Rome Streetz - Genesis 1:27