• Ghanaian Emcee Blitz the Ambassador Talks Hip-hop and Cultural Paradigms

    Ghanaian-born rapper Blitz the Ambassador champions changing identity and bridges the universality of the African immigrant story in America. He’s touring promoting his latest release, Native Sun. Here he discusses hip-hop, the power of the voice and the shifts in culture.

    Ytasha: You were first introduced to hip-hop as a kid in Ghana before moving to New York. What was the appeal of the art form?

    Blitz: Back in Ghana, it was percussive so we got it immediately. It was very linguistic, which appealed to us. Most importantly, we saw young people like us who saw their voice. [Rappers] found a way not to be ignored. They were young, they looked like us, but what they had that we didn’t have was the confidence.  They were going to be listened to. They were going to be heard one way or another. We were growing up in a time where young people in Africa didn’t have a voice, similar to young black people in America not having a voice. We could relate. It made it very appealing.

    I was fortunate to move to the states, to lend my voice to hip-hop. I believed strongly in hip-hop culture. I could speak about our realities in a way that could not be ignored, through the rhythm, the beat, the rhymes or the culture. I look at this as a culture that came full circle, the influenced coming to the influencers. Now we’re influencing the people who influence us as reminders of where the culture began.

    Ytasha: Several of your songs are in African languages. Which languages do you speak and what’s the response to rapping in a language most are unfamiliar with?

    Blitz: I scatter a lot of my native language throughout my music. I speak four Ghanaian languages. A lot of people confuse our languages with dialects. A lot of Europeans and Americans, they say, ‘you speak African dialects’ and I say ‘no, I speak African languages.’

    Ytasha: There are over 3,000 languages spoken in Africa, not including dialects.

    Blitz: Exactly. They don’t think of African languages as full, complete entities with sub-languages and sub-dialects.  I also speak a couple of dialects in these. I speak Twi (Akan), Ga, and Sisala.

    The reason I choose to rhyme in these languages is because these languages are dying at an alarming rate and a lot of it is because of the Europeanization. People assume that if you speak better English or French you get further ahead in life. If you speak Twi or Ga you get nowhere in life. When I rap in an African language it perpetuates the fact that [African languages] are just as important as any other language in the world. We suffer from a huge deficiency in confidence. I do anything I can to perpetuate this confidence. Definitely hearing the Twi language being played all over the world, playing in front of 4000 people, speaking to them in Twi is a huge statement to some kid in Ghana.

    Ytasha:  Some people believe that hip-hop is the first global musical movement. Do you agree?

    Blitz: I’ve always believed that hip-hop culture is truly the first global movement in terms of music. If you go back to who’s credited as the godfather of this, DJ Kool Herc – he’s from the Caribbean, but he’s influenced by sound system culture from Kingston, Jamaica. He comes to the Bronx and brings a version of this sound system culture with dancers in the parks and deejays. The birthplace is the Bronx, but the influence of the culture starts way before the Bronx. If you travel back to before Africans were shipped to the Caribbean from the Americas, you know where that outdoor sound comes from? It comes from the celebrations of Africa.

    Ytasha: When we were on the WHPK radio together, we spoke about the transitions in culture, some of which I chronicled in my book Post Black or are referenced when people discuss Afropolitans.  But identity seems to be an issue that’s discussed worldwide. What do you attribute this identity issue that appears to be global today?

    Blitz: I think people are looking for answers that are more current, more updated than what they’ve been given all their lives. You go to school, you get a job, you retire with benefits. For most people in the world, that is a changing paradigm that works for a few people. But for others, they have to find another way and they have to find new ideas. While these new ideas are being discussed, people, whether they know it or not, people are coming up with a whole different paradigm on how the world works. The concept of what you pay for/what you don’t pay for, for example, is being rethought. The concept of what to learn – most people who go into art design or filmmaking are not people who went to film school or design school. They are people with an idea. They can go to a website and learn it immediately. Just that quest of new ideas and getting in touch with where the world is, is what people are seeking right now.

    Through social media we’re a lot more connected than we used to [be]. The speed with which information is spreading is unprecedented; there was never a time where a song came out in America and within hours, people in Africa could download it. I remember living in Africa and if a film or song came out in America we had to wait months for someone to get lucky to get it. That spread of information and concepts has really quickened and hastened what people feel their life should be.

    This Occupy Movement that started in the Arab Spring showed the power of social media and organizing around that. You have massive dictators overthrown based on Twitter and FB accounts. Obviously, Twitter didn’t start the revolution, but it was a major tool to help people organize around it. Looking at what happened here around Occupy Wall Street, that was a direct result of that. Now it’s moving to sub-Saharan Africa with Nigerians occupying Nigeria right now. This shows how much this information has spread that idea of entitlement. The fact that now people can see what life is in a more open and detailed way forces people to think.

    People are looking at Twitter accounts and see ‘wow, your electricity lasts every day’. It doesn’t have to last three days a week. People didn’t know in America that the roads were paved or that traffic lights worked. And to see it in real time changes everything. To see people in your age group living just like you on a much higher standard, you start to ask yourself, ‘why don’t I have these things?’ When these questions are asked, that’s when change happens. They try to limit people’s access from across the world. If you know there’s a better way to live, you’re not going to accept a substandard way of living. That’s really where it matters the most, in terms of how it affects the diaspora. We’re affecting ourselves much more in real time.

    For more information on Blitz the Ambassador, go to www.blitz.mvmt.com.

     

     

     

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