MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're back with Soulfege, a hip-hop group with an Afro-Caribbean sound. Soulfege is led by Ghanaian native and Harvard grad Derrick N. Ashong. I asked Derrick whether his time in the Ivy League ever created a distance between him and his audience.
Mr. DERRICK N. ASHONG (Member, Soulfege): This is one of the interesting things that comes up because people will automatically get - wait, you went to Harvard, what do you know about the ho? What do you know about the street? What's called a hip-hop? And my thing is like, yo, I concede nothing. Why? Because I was born in a place with no running water. You know, we used to bathe in, like, a little spot that's outside with no roofs, so I can see the neighbors while I'm washing myself, right?
Furthermore, when I grew up in the Middle East, you know, we lived through the Gulf War. I used to go to school with a gas mask. And I looked at what's happened across the African continent. I look at what happens when people really know what it's like to live through poverty. And not to say that there are no bad things going on in the United States, but most of the people who are living this, quote/unquote, "hood life" can go home and turn on the electricity and something comes on.
And that's not the same way back home. So I'm not trying to (unintelligible). You're so hardcore, you're so gangster, you're so - his is, like, yo, I'm not conceding nothing about poverty, about struggle, about strife because we've had the opportunity to see beyond where we began. We are seizing it absolutely. And if you want to be tough, you want to be gangster, go live in my neighborhood for a week. Go live in my neighborhood for a week. Let's see how much good your gats will do you.
MARTIN: All right, I hear you. Anybody else?
Ms. KELLEY NICOLE JOHNSON (Member, Soulfege): Well, I was going to say also that a lot of the feedback that we get from young people, young black guys are, like, we are so glad that you guys just got up on stage. And first of all, you ripped it, we had a great time. And second of all, thank you for spitting the truth. Thank you for spitting something that was positive.
And, you know, that's hard for a young, black male to say. You know, he's trying to be cool and I know that new things are not always the coolest thing to go after. But they would come up and give us that feedback. And so hearing that is like, you know, what is authentic, what is real, just because we went to Harvard we can't speak a truth that people can resonate with.
Mr. JONATHAN M. GRAMLING (Member, Soulfege): And on a fundamental level, hip-hop is about certain things. It's about truth and also it's about hope. And I think that we've lost that vision over the years. Hip-hop has always been about the ascension. You know, the beginning of the hip-ho movement - the Zulu nation - was taking kids out of gangs and giving them productive things to do; it wasn't taking kids out of productive things to do and putting them into gangs. We've gone through this weird reversal cycle where now we're going completely backwards from where we started.
Mr. ASHONG: And the other thing that I would throw in there is, like, cats don't even talk about who are the people who made the decisions as to what records get made or who while artists gets signed...
Ms. JOHNSON: Exactly.
Mr. ASHONG: ...and what facts make the record. And you're going to come out here and you tell me you're so hardcore, you're so real, you're so real, you're so authentic; let me look at your boss for a minute. And none of those bosses come out of these communities, so how are they going to tell me what's real?
Mr. GRAMLING: What's real.
MARTIN: Well - and I also hear you saying is you're speaking your truth.
Mr. ASHONG: Oh, absolutely.
Ms. JOHNSON: (Unintelligible).
Mr. GRAMLING: And everyone should.
Mr. ASHONG: And it's a truth that we're proud of.
MARTIN: All right. Well, let's hear some more of that truth. Let's have one more song; tell me what you're going to play.
Mr. ASHONG: This one goes back to the hip-hop aesthetic, and it's called "Time" and it features Kelley.
(Studio performance of song, "Time" by Soulfege)
MARTIN: Derrick N. Ashong - DNA - the founder and lead guitarist for Soulfege. He and the band joined us here in studio 4B in Washington. We thank you all so much for visiting with us here today.
Ms. JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Mr. ASHONG: Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: We do hope you'll come back and see us.
Mr. GRAMLING: Awesome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.