32-year-old Morgan State University Professor MK Asante has proven to be something of a prolific creator in his career, having penned four books, including the memoir Buck, which made the Washington Post bestseller list in 2014 and 2015. He also wrote and produced the documentary 500 Years Later, winner of the UNESCO Breaking the Chains Award.
Additionally, young Asante is a Sundance Institute Feature Film Fellow for the movie adaption of Buck. So what does a creator who has already had success in three major modes of communication, on top of being a world-renowned member of Hip Hop-infused academia, do next?
He creates a soundtrack for the book, apparently.
The Shadow League recently spoke with Asante about his many means of communicating the tenets of Hip Hop. But first, we wanted to know the exact manner in which the book relates to the soundtrack.
“It's really an album that is inspired by the book," said Asante. "There's something that relates to the book or an anecdote or even some of the people that are featured in the music are in the book. It's very much connected to the book. At the same time, Hip Hop is so memoir-ish anyway in terms of people telling a story. So, it has that effect, but for people who have read the book it adds an extra dimension. It's all inspired by the book, but it doesn't correspond like chapter for chapter. It doesn't do that. It's really like you can see the book and hear the book in all the tracks.”
As creators go, the vast majority prefer to specialize in one medium or another, while a select few would dare create in as many genres as their imagination could conjure; MK Asante is one of the latter.
“I think it was Bob Dylan, but someone was playing a long time ago and one person wanted to hear one song, another person wanted to hear a different song, a third person wanted to hear yet another song. And he said 'It's all the same song," said Asante. "I'm working on books, I'm working on two movies, I'm working on music, and it's starting to all become the same song in the sense that it all starts with a blank page. They all start with writing and creation. Each one is a different medium so it needs to be translated into a different mode. But it all feels very connected and connected to the same source. The process is a little bit different with each one of those. Writing the book is a very, very solitary experience. The music I find to be much more collaborative even if it's just engineers, producers and other artists. There's a lot more collaborative energy going on. And I like that as well. Then, obviously, film is very collaborative. I call these mediums languages.”
“It becomes very organic and sometimes I'm translating an idea through all of the different languages," Asante continued. "So, I'm writing the book, making the music and doing the film like when you take something and translate from English, French and Swahili. The more you learn different languages, the more your capacity for new languages grows.”
Upon listening to the selections provided us, it is a bit of a surprising revelation that Asante is a neophyte on the Hip Hop mic.
“I've learned a lot about music in the last year and a half," Asante said. "People like King Mez, Talib Kweli, Rass Kass and Bishop Lamont, they've helped me learn the process and some tricks of the trade. Music is new, but the more I learn about music, the more I see similarities to something like film, screenwriting and writing books and poetry. It's new, but it's not new.”
I'll go out on a limb and say it is relatively easy for the readership of The Shadow League to differentiate between Hip Hop that is pushed by major record labels and that which celebrates peace, love, unity, and having fun.
Our readership is intelligent, college-educated, and diverse. However, Asante explained that there are large swaths of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds who haven’t a clue as to the actual tenets of Hip Hop culture.
“I teach a Hip-Hop class at Morgan State University, and it's not only White folks that don't understand the culture of Hip Hop and the essence of it, where it comes from, the necessity of it, and really what it's supposed to do-which is to be a voice for the voiceless and a vehicle to uplift and empower," said Asante. "I find myself having to educate people of all races.”
So, why would a professor who’s already busy writing books and screenplays take up the daunting task of a soundtrack?
“I wrote a book called 'It's Bigger than Hip Hop" and that book did pretty well," Asante said. "It's basically a book that's uses Hip-Hop to examine sociopolitical issues that affect young people all over the world. It talks about Hip Hop and is critical of Hip Hop, but the quote that changed my life was a Chinese Proverb that said 'The highest form of critique is creation.' That actually changed my life because that was pretty much the moment at which I decided, instead of critiquing Hip Hop, the best thing to do was be an example. When you listen to MK Asante's music, that is my critique of Hip Hop. You don't have to read the book and hear my analysis, that's all cool and academic, but this is the alternative. When they think Hip-Hop and listen to my music, now their definition of Hip Hop is changing and growing.”
He says that he did not have any preconceived ideas about what it was to be an emcee, but his music career seemed in the cards from the very beginning.
"I didn't know Rass Kass at the time, and he reached out to me in an email and said 'I'm doing this song with Talib Kweli and we would like you to speak on the song," said Asante. "To talk like a professor. It's called Gods in the Hood, and we want you to talk on the track. My friend knew that I had been writing rhymes, I was like 'They want me to talk on the track' and he was like 'You're going to rhyme on the track, right?' So, I rapped on it without permission and sent it back. First, Rass hit me and was like 'Yo, you bodied that. You can't be killing us on our own song', or something like that. Then, Kweli heard it and tweeted out 'Yo, this dude has bars', and that did a lot for my confidence because Kweli and Rass are both legends and people who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Kweli is one of my top five. In the book, listening to Kweli and Mos Def really helped form my worldview. To hear him say that gave me a boost of confidence. And it really let me know that this is what I needed to do.”
And the rest is history. MK Asante released the soundtrack to his memoir, Buck, on May 13th, on the one year anniversary of the book's paperback release. It will be available as a free digital download on MKAsante.com and KweliClub.com
Young Bucks (Feat. King Mez)
The Bulletin (Feat. Uzi)
Hungry & Foolish
Buck Shots (Feat. Uzi)
Godz N The Hood (Feat. Bishop Lamont, Ras Kass & Talib Kweli)
Oh Bitch You Weary (Feat. Amiri Baraka)
Blood in My Eye
My Victory (Feat. Maya Angelou)