Labtekwon: Margin Walker

July 26th, 2017 | Category: Interviews

Baltimore emcee Labtekwon has been described as “the Thelonius Monk of hip-hop” (Chuck D) and a cross between Jean Michel Basquiat and Nikola Tesla (Afropunk). He’s outspoken like any good rapper could be, skilled like any good emcee would be, and motivated like any good activist should be. He stays consistently ahead of and outside of the time the rest of us dwell in.

Labtekwon is an anthropologist, a professor, a writer, an emcee, and a skateboarder. As he says, “Books and songs are just different rivers and lakes with the same water.” His first record came out over two decades ago. This is your official wake-up call.

Roy Christopher: The phrase “heads ain’t ready” seems an appropriate descriptor of your art. Given how long you’ve been at it, do you think they will ever be?

Labtekwon: Well, a lot of pop stars bite off of me usually 2-3 years after I do something, so I think it’s more of an issue of mass media exposure and at present I think “heads” are “ready” for innovation and mastery. But in terms of American pop culture, historically the masses have never been connected to great art in real time, due to the nature of capitalism and what Adorno and Horkheimer call “the culture industry.” The vanguard of Black art is always detached to the mainstream perception via the entertainment industrial complex, and I understand that my art is a part of that cultural legacy of marginalization.

In terms of the microcosm of interaction with audiences at shows, folks recognize I make a very sophisticated and advanced form of art. Of course if you aren’t looking for something you may not know you are “ready” until you experience it. I only have as many listeners as there are people who hear my music.

Ironically, I get direct personal encouragement from conversations with pioneers like Chuck D, Wise Intelligent, and Prince Po. People that really love the art know I am a modern pioneer in the 21st century. When emcees and rappers hear me they know I do difficult and trailblazing things artistically. At the present time though, I am pretty sure if more people knew about my music, I would have much more listeners. I make the art of our times, no retro. Pop culture is just a lagging indicator.

RC: After the three-part State of the Art series and the double-disc B.O.P., you took a little longer to release Sun of Sekhmet. Was there a reason for the break? Or did you spend that time putting together this record?

L: Actually, my mother passed away on March 5th, 2016 after a struggle with cancer. She started suffering more in late 2015 and I wasn’t in a space to make music during that time. I waited until after her funeral to complete the last project. The Sun of Sekhmet album was released on her born day of March 16th, in 2017 and that was a tribute album to my mother and father. The title reflects the nature of my mother, as Sekhmet is a Kemetic Neter that represents the warrior attribute of the divine feminine Neter; Het Heru. My mother was a Black woman of power, courage, intelligence, purpose and spirituality, so the double entendre is Sun (son) of Sekhmet.

But I do boxsets/anthologies, the current series is called The Craft of Imhotep and the B.O.P. album was part one, Sun of Sekhmet is part 2 and the 3rd installment comes out September 21st, 2017 and it is called Khunsu. So, I am actually releasing 2 albums in 2017: Sun of Sekhmet in the spring and Khunsu for autumn. The theme of the current series is each album emphasizes Neter from the Kemetic pantheon:

  1. B.O.P.: Tehuti and the Het Heru Cult
  2. Sun of Sekhmet: The Rejected Stone-Mahdi Music
  3. Khunsu

All of the titles explain the theme of each album, but the series as a whole addresses the demonization of Black Consciousness and a response to the assimilationist agenda.

RC: You’ve also written a couple of books.

L: My master’s thesis was a historiographical and anthropological study on the origins of Hip Hop culture, and I released it as a book called The Origins of Hip Hop Culture in 2014. My first book was essentially the history of the world from 0 AD to 2020 AD in poetry/lyrical form, and that book is called Labtekwon and The Righteous Indignation, released in 2012 which is also a music album, but I am a professional anthropologist, historiographer, and professor, so the convergence of my intellectual work is present in my art and vice versa. Books and songs are just different rivers and lakes with the same water.

RC: Do you still skateboard?

L: [laughs] I can still “ride” a skateboard, but I don’t “skate” anymore. Meaning I don’t spend 8-12 hours a day trying to master a trick like I did when I was really skating. I kind of transferred the energy I put into skating into rhyming. I used to split my time between skating and rhyming, but rhyming won.

RC: What’s next on the Labtekwon agenda?

L: Khunsu comes out September 20th, 2017, and I have a feature film coming out this year.

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