Ghanaian Rapper Hopes To Take His 'Afropolitan Dreams' Back Home
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As we wind down this program, we're going back to some of the stories and guests that have fascinated us over the years. One of the stories that we've returned to again and again is the story of the immigrant experience. And over the years we've had many political debates about immigration, but we've also heard many moving stories told through first-hand accounts and literary works, films and music. Today we want to hear again from an artist who's telling the story of an African immigrant in the U.S. through hip-hop. He was born Samuel Bazawule in Ghana. He became with the Blitz the Ambassador in Brooklyn after a detour studying marketing of all things. His latest album, "Afropolitan Dreams," takes the listener through his story, starting with the arrival.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "AFROPOLITAN DREAMS")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Now serving window number three. Welcome to the United States Immigration Center. Can I see your passport? Green card? Birth certificate, please? And what is your occupation, sir? A rapper? A rapper? OK.
MARTIN: OK. We caught up with him last year when he released his EP, "The Warm Up," and he promised to come back and tell us more. And he is true to his word. So Your Excellency, Blitz the Ambassador, welcome back to the program. Thanks for joining us. Congratulations.
SAMUEL BAZAWULE: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: And now that the whole album is out and the story is out, tell me about the title, "Afropolitan." Now that's not a term you coined as I recall.
BAZAWULE: No, not all. Actually, a lot of credit to Taiye Selasi. She's an amazing author and a friend of mine. She wrote an essay around 2005. In that essay, she used the term Afropolitan. And, you know, a lot of people have different definitions of it. I was looking for something that described who I was in terms of being young, being creative and being global. But at the end of the day, I felt what the Afropolitan part of it really revolves around returning home.
MARTIN: In her essay, she writes about, you know, our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics and academic successes. But one of the things that the CD makes clear is that those successes don't come without cost and without some struggle. You have cut called "Success." I want to play a little bit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCCESS")
BAZAWULE: (Rapping) No matter who you are, success is the best payback. Yeah, it's the beginning of a new era. Ambassador, tell them frauds I'm a torchbearer. Afropolitan Dreaming. They feigning for that album. New Huey massacre, like killing everything at random. We go to sleep in Tokyo and waking up in London. This is the life that we dreamt when we were grinding. They treated African rappers like no, you don't belong here. Now we blowing up and they're like oh, something's wrong here.
MARTIN: Has it been that bad, really?
BAZAWULE: Well, I mean, it's a challenge, you know. The challenge is that when you're telling a story that is unorthodox and people aren't so familiar with it, it's hard to make it cool. And, you know, it's taking a lot of us, a lot of work really trying to tell this African story. And finding a way to do it here in America is not easy because, of course, this is a very, very closed society. And it views itself as the world. And so when you're bringing other world elements into this world, it's not the easiest thing to do. So it's been very interesting. But it's also been great because this is still one of the greatest platforms there is - spring boards, you know. The whole world listens to what's coming out of here. So we figured if we could make it here, we can make it anywhere.
MARTIN: There's a song on this album I think will speak to many people from lots of different backgrounds. And it's "Call Waiting." And it features the amazing Angelique Kidjo. And I just want to play a short clip. And we'll both try not to cry, OK? Let's try to hold it together, OK? Here we go.
BAZAWULE: We'll try.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL WAITING")
BAZAWULE: (Rapping) By the way, did you get that money grant that I sent? You know it's a struggle here just to pay the rent. Plus the winter's getting colder. Now I'm getting older. I think of relocating back to Ghana for good, but - hello? Hello, Mommy? You're breaking up. Hello? Damn.
ANGELIQUE KIDJO: (Singing) I know you've got to spread your wings and fly. Call me when you can.
MARTIN: It feels very real to me. I mean, is that how it is for you? There are times you just feel so disconnected from all the people you love, even though you are obviously doing it for a purpose?
BAZAWULE: Yeah. You know, at least now with Skype and Internet, things are a little more fluid. But when I first immigrated, I mean, it was phone cards. And, you know, it was never enough minutes to be able to communicate with your people back home. But, you know, you find strength in realizing that you're not the only one. And, you know, there are a lot of people who are also going through these challenges. And the goal, always, is to find a way to return home.
MARTIN: You know, speaking of which, immigration is so much in the news at the moment. In lots of places around the world, but in this country the particular focus has been on the Southern border with these young children coming across, many times by themselves. And I wondered even though your path was different - I mean, you went to college. You studied business. Does that story bring anything up for you as an artist?
BAZAWULE: It does. It does. And absolutely. I mean, you know, regardless of how you emigrate somewhere, you're still an immigrant. I mean, the reality is that the rest of the world has been systematically robbed of opportunity whether it's through political interference, economic interference. And so you can't create a situation where you are the only one eating, and then expect that everybody else that you have deprived of eating would try to find a way, you know, to eat from it. I mean, of course a lot of it is fleeing violence. A lot of it is fleeing economic hardship. And hopefully, you know, there's the humane part of us that says, OK, you know, put everything aside, and figure out that if we're all doing well, then we're all doing well.
MARTIN: Actually, you finish the song "Call Waiting" with the line now I'm getting older. I think I'm relocating back to Ghana for good. Is that true? Or is that just part of the moment of longing?
BAZAWULE: That is true. That is true. I have absolutely made a lot of moves towards that. The ceiling that exists back home for art and culture, I know that my contribution in Ghana can be a lot more effective, you know. And so a lot of us get to that point where we've emigrated somewhere, and we realized that I found this dream of mine. How can I start to find a way to make it effective back home?
MARTIN: Well, don't forget us.
BAZAWULE: Absolutely won't.
MARTIN: Come back and see us.
BAZAWULE: I absolutely won't.
MARTIN: Blitz the Ambassador's latest album is called "Afropolitan Dreams". He was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York City. I hear that you have a treat for us. I am told that you are going to perform "A Dollar And A Dream" in studio. True?
BAZAWULE: Absolutely, absolutely. And this song, Michel, is dedicated to you guys and the amazing work that you've done all these years. And yes, it touches my heart. And so this is for you. (Laughing).
MARTIN: Thank you.
BAZAWULE: (Rapping) Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah. Come on, tell me more. Yeah. Come on, tell me more. Yeah. Yeah, the year's '95 and I'm sitting in the ride, seat reclining. Listening to Biggs, ready to dying. I was only 13, my mind and my dream. Memorizing every verse with the rest of my team. We all rocking matching purple jackets with the brown leather yellow. Yo, who would've thought it was 90 degree weather. And I cried Segregada for the honor. Got upstage, hopped in a truck shaw. The only way I stayed was the reason for the freedom that I craved. Mama banging on my door, asking Jesus can he save? For sure, she could've swore I lost my mind.
All alone in my room spitting rhyme after rhyme after rhyme of the vine - only if she knew what I'd become. A journey so amazing like the raisin in the sun. Look at me now. Never in this game for the glory. Just a kid from Africa here to tell my story. And all I had was a dollar and a dream. All I ever had was a dollar. Come on and tell me more. Come on and tell me more. Yeah, yeah. Come on and tell me more. Tell me more. Tell me more. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can I tell you more? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on, I'll tell you more. Yeah.
Check it, yo. The year's 2005. New York City open mic's where I earned my stripes spitting these hot raps with a stack of CDs in my knapsack. Posted at Union Square, peddling hand to hand the whole year. The same streets I met my man James on. Tell him we could take these lames on. Hustle hard was the theme song. Late-night on the A train, smell will leave you nauseous. Hanging posters everywhere, to hell with being cautious. Folks used to say, damn your street team's amazing. I'd just laugh it off and just kept waiting.
The blog said I wasn't hip-hop enough. What music had said I wasn't African enough. I gave them all the middle finger. Son had arrived. Rolling Stones Magazine - 4 stars out of 5. Look at me now. Never in this game for the glory. Just a kid from Africa here to tell my story. And all I had was a dollar and a dream. All I ever had was a dollar and a dream. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on and tell me more. Yeah, yeah. Can I tell you more? Yeah, yeah. Can I tell you more? Yeah, yeah. Come on and tell me more, more, more, more. Tell me more. Come on and tell me more. Come on and tell me more. Yeah. Come on and tell me more. Yeah. Can I tell you more? Yeah. Yes. (Laughing). Yeah. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.