Words escape me as I set out to write the introduction to an interview that profoundly shifted the essence of my soul. Deep and a tad dramatic, possibly, authentic and true – without a doubt. Speaking to MK Asante Jr on an early 2am phone call from Sydney to the US East Coast I thought I was dutifully prepared as any journalist would be on a phone interview. Ask the questions, build a rapport and end the conversation appreciatively. Little did I know that conversing with a man like MK Asante Jr would open up a conversation that was transcendent of the usual interviewer / interviewee exchange into something much more resplendent in truth, honesty and humility.
An interview that took some 6 months given schedule conflicts and personal life commitments I am beyond blessed to have finally spoken to award winning American author, filmmaker, rapper and professor Molefi Kete Asante, otherwise known as MK Asante. This Zimbabwe born, Philadelphian raised genius son of scholar Molefi Kete Asante and choreographer Kariamu Welsh, is single handidly changing the way African Americans of all genders are telling their stories, wether writing or through film or song, today’s America needs a voice and vision like MK Asante Jr. He is the author of some truly powerful books, four in total to date that are truly helping to shift in the winds of change for today’s young black and impressionable male. “Beautiful and Ugly Too” and “Like Water Running Off My Back” are two such pieces which house his poetic collections, “Its Bigger Than Hip Hop” sits confidently in the creative non-fiction arena and his current release “Buck”, is nothing short of a memoir depicting Asante’s own turbulent life as a young African American man searching for his truth on the streets on an unforgiven Philadelphia. “Buck” is many things to the reader, what it brought to Asante was a deeper commitment as a writer to continue speaking the truth and whilst it landing him on the Washington Post bestsellers list, it also gained him guidance and mentorship by the late and legendary Ms Maya Angelou.
It was through his writings that his connection with Ms Angelou sparked an amazing union of creativity, self-discovery and history as Asante went on to create and produce the provocative documentary “The Black Candle – A Kwanzaa Celebration “, which explores the spiritual and cultural power of this ancient African Christmas worship and its place in the African American society today. Co-written and narrated by the ambient Angelou it is a documentary that engages, educates and evaluates how we all celebrate one of the most sacred holidays on our calendar. Therein lies the power of Asante’s work, whether read or on film his message stirs your soul. As an esteemed professor of Morgan State University and lecturer at colleges across the United States, including the Yale University Masters Tea, UCLA and Harvard to name a few, Asante’s message hits home through the popularity of his essays which cover the cornices of art, Hip Hop, technology and culture. Published in USA Today, Huffington Post and The New York Times there is nothing stopping this modern day revolutionary.
As we talk Hip Hop, I bring up his latest single in which he shares the mic with Bishop Lamont, Ras Kass and Talib Kweli on a track titled “Godz In The Hood”, which is part of a soundtrack for his memoir of the same title “Buck : Original Book Soundtrack”, which is due for release in February this year. With Hip Hop as the soundtrack of his life, MK Asante is bound to become the voice of our generation. He is the most enlightened, positive, personable and truly humble being to converse with and I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity to share a small portion of his incredible journey with my readers. MK Asante Jr truly is some kind of wonderful!
Thanks so much for your time MK, I truly appreciate it. How are you and how is life?
I’m doing great and thank you so much for having me, I truly appreciate you staying up so late to make this interview happen. When you work at something that you love there is no start or finish time right so we just keep doing what we do. You know Budda once said “That you should be able to look at your work and your play and not be able to know the difference”, so it really resonates deep within me. So life is great and busy for me as always.
Congratulations on your continued success in the areas of writing, film-making, teaching and now hip hop artist. Many hats to wear for one man yet you do it all with relative ease…… How would you best describe who MK Asante is, where he has come from and where he is going?
Oh wow that’s a deep questions but you know in a lot of ways I claim ask those titles and I wear all those hats and I will continue to wear many more hats (laughs). But you know I am an artist and creative spirit in every sense of the word. I enjoy inspiring and encouraging people to find their own creativity and in terms of where I am from, I am someone that knows who I am, where I’m from in regards to my culture and history. I am from Philadelphia via Zimbabwe, and I am always representing and so proud of that. In terms of where I’m going, it’s to a place we haven’t seen before you know, that’s my thing you know. It’s like you make an observation you have an obligation and so for me I am trying and tell and show stories that haven’t been told before, to be a voice for events and people that haven’t had a voice before so that’s what inspires me to continue on my journey.
Your current book BUCK has done amazingly well sitting comfortably on the Washington Post Bestsellers list and receiving The Margins Book Award. This is a memoir that has captured the hearts of many, including the late and great Maya Angelou and has secured your hold as a definitive writer of our generation. What was the experience like for you writing BUCK and sharing your story with the world in this way?
It was a real evolution, a real growth and a real life cycle. I was terrified and nervous pursuing that decision and I went through so many different emotions when it came to deciding what and how I would begin to tell my story to the world. I went from feeling like it was the worst decision in the world to it being the best decision in the world you know (laughs). I went through a whole range of feelings and emotions and Maya Angelou’s actually helped me that process and told me that I had to write Buck and why I had to write it and how I could do it. She told me to tell the truth and that if I told the truth that was all that was needed of me to do and she was right (laughs). It was so helpful to my process as Buck was scary because it was the most personal journey for me but it was also the most liberating thing I have creatively as I had to not actually give a fuck about what people thought and for me that was a big thing. To overcome the fear of judgement and criticism gave me a whole new strength and really taught me a lot about myself and for that I am truly grateful.
When did you first fall in love with the written word MK and what was it that made you decide to study, create and eventually teach creative writing and film?
It was definitely being around 16 years old and it was a critical moment in my life where I was in high school and I was going through some things it you know. I was handed a blank piece of paper one day and decided to write what I was feeling and so it began….. that piece of paper changed the course of everything in my life.
In the documentary world you have created some inspirational and thought provoking pieces that will long become historical reference pieces for future generations. There is the movie adaption of BUCK to come soon, you directed “The Black Candle” which centres around the celebration of Kwanzaa and the African American and you wrote and produced 500 Years Later which won five international film awards. You know you were born for this right ;o) Congrats – why filmmaking and what message are you wanting to share and teach your viewers?
Ha-ha thank you – well you know I feel like it’s exactly my purpose to walk this path in life and fulfil this creative purpose. I am now ready to tackle the next frontier of music and am getting set to release my first album in February which is the BUCK soundtrack ( in a follow up to the book) and I have been working very hard on this album which is a collection of original songs that I’ve created my me inspired by the book. So when you say I’m born to do that really resonates with me as I’m shown signs all the time in my daily life of that connection to my purpose you know and when I did I my hip hop track “ Godz in the Hood” with Talib Kweli and Ras Kass, them reaching out to me to be involved in that project was just the push I needed to reaffirm that I am ready to wear the emcee hat now too ( laughs). Hip Hop is truly important to me and to be able to reach people through song is a powerful thing.
Your greatest influence and motivation in life and why?
Honestly right now my greatest influence and inspiration is my son Wonderful, who passed just 3 days after he was born of a rare disease in 2014 . I was there when he was born, I caught him in my hands and he died 3 days later on my chest and I can’t tell how powerful his very real but short existence has had on my life. From starting up on recording label Wonderful Sounds Cartel to continuing my path as a creative being, my son has taught me to be more fearless than I ever dreamed I could be, to not fear death and what he did on my prospective on life is constantly evolving and so different today. I am He is here with me every day and I can feel his presence all the time and his legacy lives on through my music. This is so powerful for me to talk about as you are the first person I have shared this with so thank you for letting me share this with you!
If you could describe yourself in a hip hop song which one would it be and why?
(Laughs) Okay imam go for something that just dropped recently. The third verse of a new song by an artist called Cozz feat J Cole “ Can’t Knock the Hustle” Remix – it spells out the relationship with his brother and that right there is my entire life in that third verse. I would go as far as to say that I have never heard a hip hop verse profoundly capture the essence of my life better than that verse right there – so have a listen to that and you will see into my life a little more.
For more on MK Asante visit:
Always Hip Hop