This is a different kind of interview. Do a Google search for “ANTHM” and you’ll find every Q&A he’s done thus far. You’ll find out he is an emcee of Ethiopian descent, was born in Russia, lived in Texas, the DMV and now NYC. You’ll learn he attended Duke University and worked as an institutional trader on Wall Street…
I didn’t want to ask him the same questions. I wanted to get inside his head and try to understand how he thinks and what his beliefs and opinions are when it comes to life and music. I met with ANTHM and his manager DG last week at the One Art Space gallery in TriBeca, NYC to try and do just that.
Copper Tony: Why do you make music? Is it a personal outlet for you, a desire to reach people or a combination of the two?
ANTHM: I make music primarily for self expression, I mean that’s always been my attraction to it. I make music because I love hip hop so I’d have to explain my reasons for getting into hip hop.
I was drawn to hip hop by strong personalities and people who story-told; whether it was them talking about their personal lives or their vantage point looking out at the world. The first rapper I really connected to, the reason why I got into hip-hop was 2Pac. The rappers I liked early on in order were 2Pac, Eminem and Kanye when he came out later. These were people who had strong relationships: ‘Pac with his mom, Em with his daughter and I related to their personal lives as well.
And on top of that I just picked up early on having a way with words and an affinity for a certain type of expression. So it started as a love for hip hop and idolizing those guys and then developing the skill set. Even before I became a recording artist I was deeply involved in the other elements of emceeing like cyphering and free-styling.
I think the more life experiences I have and also considering how diverse my background is helps. Even in conversation I feel like I’ve been able to relate to a lot of people in a lot of walks of life and I feel like I’m able to do that with music. So it’s like two fold, it’s dope to be able to express yourself and also say things that resonate with other people as well.
As a person that was raised by a single mother, I’ve always had an idea of how I wanted to be the father that I wanted to see growing up.
Copper Tony: On your song “I Remember” off The Fire Next Time you say:
Impossible not to believe in this world/that you can make it and still bring a seed in this world”
Do you have a kid?
Copper Tony: What are your thoughts about having a child in the future, is that something you’ve ever considered?
ANTHM: The inspiration behind that line was my homie having a son; that’s the inspiration pretty much for the whole song because no matter how things unfold, and regardless of where you are in life, you know that moment where you have a kid changes everything.
The line that you quoted is saying that you have to restore your belief in the world and the fact that you can achieve many things ’cause once you have a kid you’re gonna pass that on to them. I feel like you have to have some sort of belief that you can make it and then pass that positive thinking and mindset on to them.
As far as myself, it’s definitely in the distant future, but yea I think that eventually after achieving certain things in my own career, having a kid is something I look forward to. As a person that was raised by a single mother, I’ve always had an idea of how I wanted to be the father that I wanted to see growing up.
I’m not up late at night trying to figure out how to sharpen my bars because that’s where I started and that’s where I came from… …I definitely am aiming for the artistry.
Copper Tony: In any kind of artistic field, music or art there’s two sides to it: technical skill and artistic inclination.
If we’re talking about these two facets of your music on a 100% scale, where do you see yourself right now and where would you ideally like those numbers to be in the future?
ANTHM: That’s interesting that you bring that up, I think about that a lot. I think the way that it turned out, like the way I write and everything, I was inspired by people who are more artistically inclined and people who had a lot more of those intangible qualities to their music. For example, I said that 2pac was my favorite rapper. He’s not the top as far as emcee skills but it was his presence, it was the passion, it was the poetic skills.
When it came to developing my writing skills it happened at a time when I was really into people like Eminem or Big Pun, like people who were multi-syllabic. When DG and I first started out I was like 100% technical skill. I just didn’t have feel, the artistry wasn’t there. But now it’s kind of shifted project to project. I think that Joy & Pain was probably the closest to the balance that I wanna have.
I say right now maybe like 55% skill and 45% artistic or maybe even 60/40…
DG: …nah id say 70% for skill and 30% artistic. I feel like that’s where all of his growth is going to come from. His technical skill for example, if he never improved it, he’s fine; he could go with the level he’s at. As far as the artistic inclination part he’s 70/30. It’s his growth that we’re going to see as an artist over the next three, four, five albums that really excites me.
ANTHM: Yea, it wasn’t the numbers that came to me but it makes sense hearing the explanation because I do feel like I’m not up late at night trying to figure out how to sharpen my bars because that’s where I started and that’s where I came from. For example, contrasting Kanye and Eminem: Eminem is a person who early on I was like, yo this dude is the end-all be-all with the emceeing, but I look at their body of work now and I like Kanye’s a lot more; and that’s not to take away from what Eminem has done but it’s Kanye’s artistry, so I definitely am aiming for the artistry.
…if you gave me like “Cashing Out” the beat with a “condo on my wrist,” that’s probably not the subject matter that I’m gonna talk about when I get on it but I’m gonna ride it the best I can.
Copper Tony: Where do you draw the line as far as artistic integrity goes?
For example: Say two months ago you get a call from Jay Z and he wants to get you on a track for Magna Carta Holy Grail. So he sends you the track and you’re just not feeling it. Maybe he’s trashing Ethiopia (ANTHM is of Ethiopian descent), the subject matter is something that you can’t relate to or you just think the beat is wack. So you know in the back of your head that this feature would be great for your career but it’s putting a bad taste in your mouth. What would you do or at least what would you be thinking?
ANTHM: Well if he went so far as to zero in on the one aspect of my identity then I couldn’t do anything about that because then I’d never have any respect among anyone, my family or people who look like me. But outside of that, I mean if the track was just wack then I would just try to do my best on it because it’s a once in a lifetime platform.
If the content base is something that I know nothing about like if he was like, “dope boys still smellin’ like cocaina,” I can’t relate to that so I’m not going to make up something because we live in a transparent era anyway so it wouldn’t hold up. I would just try to figure out the best way to attack it. I would look at that as no different than how sometimes you jack beats and if you gave me like “Cashing Out” the beat with a “condo on my wrist,” that’s probably not the subject matter that I’m gonna talk about when I get on it but I’m gonna ride it the best I can.
Copper Tony: If you could collaborate on a song or an album with one person dead or alive, who would it be?
ANTHM: If I collaborated with anyone on an album I’d probably cite Kanye because of how he operates. I know it really wouldn’t be just working with him, he would be bringing in a squad of people; he’s basically in Quincy Jones mode.
Like I grew up on a lot of Michael Jackson and every time you see any type of documentary or anything about their album creation process it was like this ornate thing, this affair. Just on the production end I feel like he (MJ) would have his hands in a bunch of aspects of the project.
Copper Tony: Yea it was a big production. I heard, especially with Michael Jackson, he would sometimes make something like 80 songs for an album and then pick the best 10.
ANTHM: Yea they’d have like in house bands competing on production etc…
Copper Tony: I also heard that for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy someone went out to Hawaii for a recording session and they were all wearing suits in the studio…but yea I’m sure Kanye would definitely have a giant team of people working with him.
ANTHM: Yea just for that experience, like anything I hear about those Hawaii studio sessions, I would love to be in that environment, but narrowing it down to one person to collaborate with is so tough.
Copper Tony: Let me give you a list of 5 artists: Kanye, Eminem, Outkast, Nas, 2Pac.
Out of these five, who would you want to work with the most?
I’d love to work with Pharrell as well.
…the emphasis was on how fleeting life can be and that was just the backdrop for more of an introspective tone looking at the ups and downs, regrets and trying to find meaning and hope through it.
Copper Tony: I wanted to ask you about your album titles. I took away my own meanings and interpretations and I wanted to confirm with you the ideas they actually represent.
Copper Tony: When We Were Kings – This is your throwback album in a way, a tribute to classic emcees. The message I got from here is kind of like saying when we were kings is akin to when things were better, like a time when life was easier and there were better days… is that accurate?
ANTHM: Yea that’s focusing more, not necessarily on hip hop itself but just emcees, specifically east coast emcees. I grew up on mostly NY hip hop like that style of emceeing so that was an era where that was prized, that was front and center, that was how you earned your respect. Today that’s not essential to really being successful or even being see as nice so that’s what that meant.
Copper Tony: Handful of Dust – What I got from this is I pictured you’re in a position now where you’re coming up and on the rise and I envision someone kind of grasping, maybe metaphorically, for things they want but they come up with a handful of dust. Like maybe not what they quite wanted but they still keep pushing on and persevering.
ANTHM: I think specifically for that project, you know it comes from the expression, life is but a handful of dust and the emphasis was on how fleeting life can be and that was just the backdrop for more of an introspective tone looking at the ups and downs, regrets and trying to find meaning and hope through it.
Copper Tony: What was it like working with Blu on that because doesn’t he live on the west coast? Like how did that work out logistically, did he send you stuff and then he came over to NYC?
ANTHM: We first talked about it twice in person. Once as SXSW last year and then when we headlined at SOBs last summer as well. So that was right after Joy & Pain dropped and that’s where we laid out conceptually where we wanted to go and he ended up sending production over and I sat with it for a while, tried to get a feel for it and then just took it from there.
Copper Tony: Joy & Pain – I felt that the title was simpler, kind of like a two sided thing, good/bad.
ANTHM: Yea like dichotomies, yin yang.
Copper Tony: Manhattan Music, is it a concept album?
ANTHM: I would say that relative to everything else was looser. You know, Joy & Pain from the outside is definitely simpler than Handful of Dust but a lot of the work that went into it and laying out the concept was definitely a lot more detailed in the progression of the tracks. Manhattan Music was definitely broader cause that was like 13 tracks, it’s less tight knit, less thematic. That was the closest project that I have to a more conventional mixtape.
Copper Tony: The Fire Next Time, this one I wasn’t sure of the meaning behind the title.
DG: Except for When We Were Kings, all the titles are plays on literary themes. So they’re all taken from titles of books or lines from books. Like a Handful of Dust is taken from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot, The Fire Next Time is actually the title of a James Baldwin book. The book is actually about a much more serious topic. It’s a polemic on race relations in this country. The idea is basically someone taking a stand against something they don’t believe in; kind of like…this shit cant be the way it is anymore… and how this ties into ANTHM is he was very wound up about the way he sees the state of hip hop. Not even the full state of hip hop but more like what you have to do to make it as an artist. He was just making track after track and I responded to the music he was creating by saying this feels like this idea right here, this collection of songs feels like such a powerful statement. I was reading the book at the time so we spoke about it and that’s how that title came to be.
Copper Tony: Do you think there’s ever a point in the future where you’ll leave NYC and maybe live somewhere else?
ANTHM: I don’t have any plans to leave outside of traveling for music, but I can see that sometimes people move to LA for music so maybe something like that. I don’t foresee moving unless it’s to another entertainment or music hub.
Copper Tony: Finally, any future projects coming out and any shout outs?
ANTHM: Next project is Everywhere & Nowhere and this is the first time I’m saying that. I don’t have a release date yet but it’s looking to be finished around the fall.
I also just wanted to say thanks again to you and to the site. It’s a cool experience for me. I remember working on Wall Street and checking out hip hop blogs and seeing just the way people get music change, seeing blogs become more dominant, and it’s a dope experience for me to then transition from that to making music and now see my name on those same blogs that I once visited. Much respect to KevinNottingham.com.
I’d like to give a huge thanks to ANTHM taking the time to sit down for the interview. He’s a incredibly chill guy and an awesome artist. Check his entire catalog here: callmeanthm.bandcamp.com and follow him on twitter @NoCosign.
And on that note I’d like to end with a quote:
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.”