I’ve know Derrick Ashong through mutual friends for a few years now and have always enjoyed what he has to say, what he’s doing, and respected what he stands for. He is a perfect combination of activist, humanitarian, intellect, and soul. I’ve known him as a talk radio host as well as a musician and admired how he looks at the world. I recently found out that he was starting an Indiegogo campaign to change the game of hip hop and help artists get wider exposure. I did not hesitate at the chance to get involved. We’ve all read/heard/seen how music can transform lives, bridge gaps, and even aid in education. We’ve also watched as our culture has suffered due to lack of funding while artists struggle because they can’t catch that initial break they need.
Enter Take Back the Mic where you and I can help aspiring talent while having fun doing it! Think American Idol with the ease of an app where you can keep up with your favorite artists and vote for them to advance. No snarky judges, just FANS supporting their favorites and deciding what happens next. Please be sure to LIKE them on Facebook and FOLLOW them on Twitter, show your support, keep up with them, and share on your various social media platforms.
I have to say that honored doesn’t begin to describe my feelings on being given the opportunity to interview Derrick or having the chance to be involved in this project in even a small way. I will let him explain it all further for you, enjoy!
Q: Tell me a little bit about what motivated you to start “Take Back the Mic?
Derrick Ashong: I was on a trip back to my hometown Accra, Ghana back in the early 2000′s and I noticed two significant things: first, unlike my previous trip a few years earlier where all the clubs & DJs were playing mostly American Hip Hop, the airwaves were now dominated by music with heavy, hybrid beats that supported lyrical flights in our indigenous languages.
This new style was called “Hip Life” – a hybrid between Hip Hop and Ghanaian Highlife, and the whole country, from little kids to my grandma were jamming to it.
The second thing that happened on that trip, is I got called a n*gger while walking down the street. The guy who said it didn’t mean any harm, he was trying to be cool, colloquial and shout out the “American” in the way he thought Americans talk. But it was the first term I’d ever heard that word in my homeland and it was a powerful reminder that US popular culture has a massive impact around the world.
Looking at those two factors – on the one hand we were taking Hip Hop and making it our own, and on the other, Hip Hop was reshaping us in “it’s own image” – made me really ask myself who decides what matters in our culture? Who decides who “we” are? And the more I thought about it the more I became obsessed with not so much what the answer was, but what it should be: “we do.”
That year, while walking the streets of Accra, I realized that not only was an entire generation worldwide using Hip Hop to define itself, but that definition could be empowering or degrading depending on whose voices spoke the loudest to the rest of the world. I wondered what would we happen to global youth culture, if we did something as simple as amplify some new voices. That was the birth of “Take Back the Mic.”
Q: How important do you think crowdfunding is for an artist today?
DA: I think crowdfunding is crucial for artists today, and as a creative I feel like I’m truly in the right place at the right time. Go back a couple of decades and the cost of recording an album would have been prohibitive for most independent artists, and there was no reliable mechanism for harnessing the power of their networks to make those projects a reality.
Today it’s much cheaper to record, produce, shoot, edit, master, do FX, the whole nine. For the first time in human history creatives of various stripes have the toolset to not only produce amazing, high-end works relatively cheaply, but they now have the ability to offer other people the opportunity to be a part of bringing beautiful and meaningful creations to life.
The power in crowdfunding is not only in the ability to harness capital towards a positive end, it’s in the opportunity to galvanize communities in collective actions to create art that reflects who we are. It is the definition of taking back the mic.
Q: Hip Hop has become a language and a means of expression for many. What does music, and especially Hip Hop, mean to you on a personal level? For society as a whole?
DA: I’m an Afropolitan – a 21st Century product of a globalized world. I grew up in Ghana, Brooklyn, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jersey. As a kid I moved every four years until I was 20. For me music was always more than entertainment, it was a through-current that helped me form and maintain my identity, while also creating a bridge to the different cultures I grew up around.
Hip Hop was particularly impactful for me, in part because I was living in New York around the time it was born. I was too young to really understand what was going on around me – what a “break beat” was, when we were “breakdancing” to it – but I like a lot of people had this sense that this is truly “our” music. There’s been a loud debate lately about cultural appropriation in Hip Hop. If you look at music historically, though, cultural appropriation is a given for any music whose influence reaches beyond the confines of its origins. The bigger the impact your sound makes, the more other people believe in and want to belong to it.
Music is culture in motion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with many people drawing from and contributing to that evolving culture mix. The trouble I see for our society is much more fundamental – what value do we place on the people who create our “culture”. Everybody loooves to see boobs and bragadoccio in their Hip Hop artists, but we then we turn Black youth outsiders, people who’s lives are just…less than, despite the fact that their irrepressible creativity has helped to form ALL of our identities.
If you look at American Hip Hop today, frankly a lot of it has lost it’s soul. In reality, that’s part of the lifecycle of any music. Rather than blame the artists, the industry, the society etc., I believe we should channel our energies to supporting music that still makes us feel something. And when you look at what artists are doing around the world you find that Hip Hop culture has far from run it’s course – in many ways it’s only now finding it’s voice. And that is very much the voice of the global streets.
Q: You are a very busy man who is always one step ahead of the crowd. What else are you working on right now?
DA: To be honest this project is so big, for a team this small, that I can’t really do anything else. With the exception of playing with my kids and my guitar, and periodically hitting the gym, I’m all-in on this.
DA: Find a way to make money doing something you can believe in, that leaves room for you to build and develop your craft. Artistry is like entrepreneurship, in that ultimately it’s not so much a sprint as a marathon. You might not even get good at what you do for a decade or more. Give yourself the time to become the artist you want to be. And if you want to make $$ in a way that makes sense for your creativity – learn to do something hard, that other people can’t or won’t. You’ll wind up getting paid more for less time, and the balance you can invest in yourself and your work.
Q: What would you say to those people who are at the end of their rope and ready to give up hope of ever making it work?
DA: Take a nap. Get something to eat. Watch a funny movie. Get a day job, take a break for a couple of months. Whatever you need to do to maintain your sanity and keep the lights on. When you reach the end of your rope stop. Find some more rope. Then keep moving.
Q: What is one thing you absolutely cannot live without? What is one thing you wish we could all live without?
DA: The one thing I cannot live without are actually two – my little daughters who use my head for a treadmill and swear I was put on earth to be a living jungle-gym. I guess God made them cute so they can get away with…everything. Then again, if not for my wife these two would have killed me a long time ago so umm…yeah I’d have to say it’s her.
The one thing I wish we could all live without right now is Pete Carroll. 1 yard bro. 1 YARD!! Sorry…I’m not even a Seattle fan and it still hurts.
Q: Where can people find you, Derrick Ashong, online, so they can keep up with all that you do?
DA: The best place to connect with me is on Twitter: @DNAtv. And of course peep www.takebackthemic.com to meet some phenomenal global talents as we build the first ever World Cup of Hip Hop!! PEACE, D.N.A
I’d like to thank Derrick for taking time to talk to me! I encourage you to check out Take Back the Mic to find out how you can help! There are some pretty interesting PERKS: