After spending some time recently with my homeboy Blitz the Ambassador, while he was in Paris for an incredible show at Theater de la Ville, which we can comfortably say was the equivalent of doing a show at Carnegie Hall, I thought about the level of growth I’ve had the honor of witnessing in this young man over the past couple of years. Blitz is a visionary. As evidenced by his music and professional trajectory, I’m happy to say that more than a year after my first interview with him, he is indeed diligently traveling on his path and committed to the task that our collective ancestors have bid him to complete. The title of his upcoming album Afropolitan Dreams speaks to this objective. He says that the album is a testament to “The aspirations of international globetrotting young people of African descent, making their mark on the world.” I couldn’t help but to smile when the white French man next to me asked me what was Blitz saying, and I told him “Akwaaba.” He was happily and proudly chanting “Akwaaba” for the rest of the number. In fact, our Ghanaian/Afropolitan dignitary brought a packed house of French people to their feet on a Monday night in Paris. Brother, you had my full support a year ago just as much as you do today and in the future. Looking forward to the science this young visionary is sure to bring next Spring when his anticipated Afropolitan Dreams drops. Until then, check out this profile I wrote about the brother that originally was published by the Bed-Stuy Patch.
Blitz has always come off as a quiet man—his demeanor is very quintessential Ghanaian. But much like the protagonist in Ayi Kwei Armah’s 1968 post-Independence classic, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born, Blitz was sent with a message: liberation for African peoples from all things oppressive.
I know, from spending so much time around my “Fiyah Wata” Ghanaian besties and having had the opportunity to spend a short period of time in Accra with one of them, that underneath that cool surface is a whole lot of fire. That’s exactly what I felt when speaking to Blitz for this interview.
Clearly the way he dropped the hackneyed hip-hop moniker “B” in between rattling off information about how the Cuban Revolution influenced High Life (a traditional Ghanaian music form), gave me a reason to sit up and take notes, because it was clear: Class was in session.
I have to admit: I caught myself smiling broadly at every other sentence he spoke and wondered if he had access to some ancient West African method of mind reading. Surprisingly, I agreed with 100 percent of his African-centered sentiments—which is huge because this guy is blowing up not because he has a Ph.D. in Africana Studies, but because he’s a rapper.
What made his rhetoric Afrocentric wasn’t the fact that he was born on the continent—rather, it was his profound understanding of the Diaspora- its ideologies, complex history and cultural underpinnings.
With his impressive knowledge of so many things classically Diasporic, I couldn’t resist the urge to inquire about whether or not Richard Wright’s timeless classic had anything to do with Blitz’s new album, so appropriately titled, “Native Sun.” And of course the Pan-African maestro didn’t disappoint.
According to Blitz, who read the Harlem Renaissance novel in college, “Much like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, these texts were straight to the point about Black frustration in white society,” he said. Which makes sense. Our most profound artists in any genre generally receive inspiration from other disciplines of art.
And whenever you have so many talented people converging and collaborating, a renaissance is bound to pop off. Apparently, Blitz is not oblivious to what he termed the “New African Renaissance,” of which he is smack dab in the middle.
But this phenomenon isn’t something new. We discussed the manner in which history repeats itself and the similarities between the creative expression coming out of the Diaspora today, particularly in Brooklyn and what was happening in early 20th century Harlem.
If I come off sounding impressed by my interviewee…well, it’s because I was. While I pride myself on rolling with a pretty knowledgeable circle of “conscious folk” I was delighted to hear this brother recite less known facts, such as the fact that Kwame Nkrumah funded the Encyclopedia Africana (a project initiated and mostly completed by W.E.B. Du Bois and his contemporaries). The sheer fact that he cited Nkrumah’s accomplishments let’s me know that this brother knows the roots from whence he came.
But remember, we’re talking about a hip-hop artist here, not a U.N. official. Different genres provided the soundtrack for the various stages of his life that would later serve as reservoirs of sound literacy that would allow him to create his new brand of hip-hop. The traditional music of 3 piece ensembles native to Ghanaian outdooring (naming) ceremonies and funerals dominated his formative years.
His introduction to hip-hop came in the early 90s via his older brother who was bumping the sounds of Native Tongues Movement. Because our continental siblings were getting put on to this new phenomenon a few years behind us in the U.S., Blitz and his peers spent time digging through the crates in efforts to play catch up. He actually still finds himself uncovering classics formerly unbeknownst to him during his adolescent sessions in hip-hop 101.
And let’s not forget his band, the Embassy Ensemble, which provides the platform for his rhymes. Blitz stated that as an M.C., he needed to rock on stage not with a DJ but with a band. He started working with musicians, adding them individually until he finally assembled the 6-piece band consisting of a trumpet, trombone, sax, drum, bass and guitar. He considers his band as part of his family and says that he wouldn’t be doing any of this without them and their dedication to the music.
I’m familiar with many spiritual texts that refer to one’s Dharma but I’ve never heard anyone articulate their “purpose” as a “why.” To Blitz, understanding your why—the reasons you do what you do and pursue your passion—is critical to achieving your unique potential.
According to him, if your why is connected to something much larger than yourself and can be used for the greater good, it’s probably a passion worth pursuing. It’s his understanding of his own why that keeps him together on the day-to-day grind.
Despite the fact that many people change, the more successful they become, Blitz the Ambassador is committed to remaining committed to his people – Black people. “We don’t have the luxury of creating music merely for consumption” he says “because face it, no matter where you go around the world, you can find Black people, living in similar conditions.”
And I agreed with him when he said that racism is so covert now, which is actually much more dangerous than the overt oppression our ancestors faced. He says, “We have to recognize that we are very psychologically scarred.”
This is why Blitz the Ambassador’s music, message and movement are so critical. He’s not alone. He named a few artists emerging from the continent such as Nneka, Tumi and the Volume, Baloji and K’Naan who are all creating music as tool of empowerment.
If you’ve seen any of Blitz’s marketing material, including the short film that he created with Terence Nance and that was shot by Shawn Peters, you’d know that he’s not doing any of this on the solo. Much in the same way that Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Machine was in full effect with a squad of individuals pushing his agenda, you’ll find another movement behind Blitz, aptly named MVMT. Consisting of a cadre of creative minds that span from here to the Bay, a few key figures in the form of James Bartlett, Michael Cordero, Rolando Brown and my aforementioned homie, Terence, have been working like a well-oiled machine to support this global message of empowerment.
Blitz shares that he is able to stay grounded because the people around him are just that: grounded folk who are in tune with their own purposes or “whys,” that just so happen to be aligned with his own. So this team is actually more than business associates, they’re family. A REAL Family that supports progress and the pursuit of unique potential. (If you don’t believe me, check out the MVMT New Year’s Guide they put out this past January.)
He believes that any great society is one that is based on the principle of communalism, which is why he loves Bed-Stuy so much—particularly Lewis Ave., which is arguably one of the livest blocks of The Stuy. There is a certain goodwill neighborly feeling that makes him feel more at home than anywhere else outside of Accra.
Does he feel pressure living as an African man in America? Of course. More in the sense that it can be rather frustrating being placed in situations where he’s asked to be the sole voice for Africans everywhere.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who can’t grasp the sheer massive level of diversity that exists in Africa: a continent 3-times the size of the United States of America; a continent with several thousand different ethnic groups where most inhabitants speak several languages, including Blitz who himself speaks four different languages in addition to his native tongue.
I believe Blitz is a visionary. He clearly is heavily influenced by the prolific super-being that was Nkrumah, whom he cites for having envisioned space exploration for Africans, among many other things. Blitz feels that a time has come where a new rank of what I’d like to call Afro-politans are defining themselves, by their own terms and most importantly, using their own voices to articulate what Africa is today and where she is headed in the future.
I never really had to ask what Blitz’s mission was because it was explicitly stated. This dude is really about the enlightenment and betterment of his people. Nuff respect.
With this level of consciousness and musicianship, maybe there is some hope for hip-hop after all. And Blitz the Ambassador is definitely not anybody’s Bigger Thomas but he is most certainly Ghana’s Native Sun.
- Link to original post with photos by Russell K. Frederick
- Video Promo of CCCADI/Lincoln Center’s Live from the Continent Concert
- Native Sun – Short film directed by Terence Nance & shot by Shawn Peters
- Video: Something to Believe