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More than three and a half years removed from their most recent project, a reggae inspired EP entitled Born and Raised, entirely produced by Beatnick & K-Salaam, Smif-N-Wessun, still remain two of the most revered emcees in the rap game.
With General Steele off promoting his latest effort, Building Bridges, a collaborative LP with Burlington, Vermont-based producer Es-K, Tek, née El-Amin -after converting to Islam, opted to use the time wisely by finally gearing up for his long overdue / still forthcoming sophomore solo collection, Skin On Trial.
Let’s talk shop with one of Bed-Stuy’s finest…
Let‘s hop right into this latest single/video “Cold World” — Tell me about this particular composition? How did it even come to fruition?
“Cold World” is a track produced by DJ Pain 1, brought to my attention by my man Coptic Sounds who himself is a dope producer. The visual was shot by Guy, who is a Duck Down employee and has a dope eye. You can see a lot of his work around; his tag is “apiecebyguy.”
“Cold World” comes courtesy of Skin On Trial — Conceptually, what does that title represent both to and for you?
Skin On Trial is me letting the listeners know that we all have challenges that we go through; some on different levels, but we all go through them none the least and how we get up and rebound when we fall or get knocked down is what makes and defines us.
Speaking of that, and being that Skin On Trial follows nearly seven long years after your first project, 24kt Smoke, why has it taken you this long for a proper studio follow-up to arrive?
The gap between projects is mostly me working at my pace, and the fact that I’m not actually a solo artist. I’m still rockin’ wit my brother, my PnC [Partner in Crime], Steele, as SMIF-N-WESSUN recording and touring. And plus, I wasn’t really feelin’ the landscape music was formin’ for a lil minute. But I learned because I had to reinvent myself that if you’re not feeling something, change it or it will change you.
In having said that, what all specific details; i.e. favorite tracks, producer credits, cameo appearances, etc., can you reveal and/or divulge about upcoming premiere set at this point in time?
The entire project is produced by DJ Pain 1 and Coptic, with probably 1 or 2 exceptions which is “Talk 2 Me” produced by Evan Brown.
Sonically, how does Skin On Trial measure up to what people already know and love you for through your many works as one-half of Bucktown’s own Smif-N-Wessun? How then does the new material either differ and/or compare to previous group efforts?
I say my solo music is my personal and probably more private day to day living…me being the more quiet or shy or listener, not so talkative out of the group.
With that being said, does Skin On Trial by any means signify a Smif-N-Wessun break-up? If not, what exactly prompted your decision to go this route again at this time in your career?
Hell’nah jack, in no way, shape or form is Smif-N-Wessun breakin’ up or have ever broken up! I’m just a lover of music of all sorts and genres and I love writing, making, and performing music. It’s an extension of me coming from a musical family, and the voice was made by GOD to pray to him and sing or use as an instrument. Some voices are angelic, some more sharper or more powerful and louder than others, but it accomplishes what it’s out to get done. My timing is on GOD’S time, and He doesn’t make mistakes. NEVER!
Switching gears here, how has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
My thinkin’ of being more hands on and decision making in my life and career has sparked and grown, for a better word, reconnected and came to light. I have a soon to be 16 year old blessing in the form of a son, a young prince, that I haveta teach to become a young man, A king to be…and our bond I can say is better and tighter than my father & I’s bond was, and I’m so happy, proud and blessed to be able to say that and mean it. I had to learn to be humble or life will humble you. So I try to install my learnings in him to help prevent him from making the same careless or worse mistakes, and he is growing into a fine young man. He has his head on right and he’s a great person; I love him to life! We build about everything and he sees his generation of music differently from when I started, but we agree that as long as it’s pushing the culture forward it’s a good thing.
Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
I contribute my longevity to GOD, family and friends & some talent. I have the best rhyme partner in a duo – even though we are night and day – we respect each other as men and brothers, always have always will.
What do you want people to get from your music?
I want people to enjoy my music…I can’t tell you what I want you to take from it because it may be something different for everyone and I can’t be selfish and say, “Oh, this is only for you to feel this way and not that way about my music,” nahhhh! Music is thought provoking, energy giving and changing, uplifting, lovable, educational, as well as entertaining. When a District Attorney tells you that your music got them through their courses and helped them pass the Bar is a humbling and joyous feeling like, “Whew, what can you say to that?” But at the same time, when a person be it man or woman tells you, “Yo, ya music got me through a 5-10-20 year bid in prison,” is no light task or laughing matter either. I just love great timeless music and I’m blessed and honored to be able to have been able to contribute some of that to the world! Not just my block or city, but the world…THE WORLD!!
Do you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from music?
I’m a huge fan of boxing, Pit Bulls and R/C cars & tracks. I’m involved with different foundations, like the Grant (D Knowledge) Foundation; my brother from another, Deon Grant, we speak to and give back to our hoods and try to help kids, as well as adults, that may be depressed, suicidal, down on their luck at the moment. I create and develop a television show called ‘Drive,’ with my partners Spector, Squeeky and Kah, who are both authors. The show is also about giving back; helping someone see their potential and greatness in themselves and achieve their dreams. Plus, I’m tryin’ to get into voicing over and acting. I’ve done a few pilots and web/miniseries; like ‘For Colored Boys,’ ‘Project Heat,’ ‘Bullet or Bible,’ just to name a few…and, yes, I am interested in getting more scripts and parts, thank you.
As for the immediate, what’s next for you, Tek?
I will continue to make good dope music for as long as I can, and the people want it and GOD allows me to. I’ve started reading again, another favorite activity of mines. Knowledge is one thing no one can take away from you, but you. Live Life. Love. Learn. Enjoy. I’m gone.
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