Bigger than rap, an interview with Kahli Abdu
Keeps: How did you start this?
Kahli: 1996 I was in Secondary School, St John College Jos and I fell in love
with rap, my cousin put me on Tupac, Ice Cube and Nas at the time, I fell in love with rap that was the beginning for me. I tried to write my first rhyme that was ‘96 and it’s been a growth process, it is difficult, I don’t ever want to hear the initial stuff that I did but it’s a difficult process just growing, but that’s all I have been doing, just growing, understanding myself better and trying to be better, you know, discovering my passion.
Keeps: I realize you’ve got so much passion for Fela as an individual
Kahli: I have so much passion for my country, Fela did too. People don’t understand, they say why Fela? The reason I did this mix tape (MINISTRY OF CORRUPTION MIXTAPE) it’s because someone needed to tap into that energy. Fela spoke to a generation and more, that generation, this generation and the next generation. We continue listening to that Fela stuff because he was passionate about his people, these days patriotism is not there. Do you know what they say in this country when something goes wrong? They say shun! na Naija we dey. That’s the lowest level of patriotism. And I felt someone needed to embrace that person that spoke with so much passion, how many times did Fela go to jail?
Keeps: A lot of times
Kahli: They killed his mums they did this to him, he didn’t give up on his conscience...he spoke for his country, he spoke for his people, do you know why he had so much passion for his people? I had to tap into that energy ultimately because there are people all over the world tapping into that energy, did you know how many people go to see Fela Kuti Broadway Show? They pay top dollars to go see the show, Jay Z that you know, Will Smith that you know and so many other people paid millions of dollar to acquire rights to this and to that to support the project because they believe in that man, we Nigerians we don’t, I had to, if people won’t, I will.
Keeps: This project of yours might be a huge success because of the way you are pushing it, but what if the issue of copy rights comes up, how will you cope with that?
Kahli: The people who own Fela’s copyrights told my manager in New York, they advised I put it out as a mix tape, that was the easy way out, they were being gracious when they said don’t put this thing out as an album for sale, you better put it out as a mixtape because we will come after you. That’s American way of saying they are polite. And that’s what I’m trying to do. When you put out a mixtape for free, the best way to do it is to put it down on the internet, if you want to press hard copies…. You spend money doing it and ultimately it’s not about making money, I would have loved to press one million copies of this mixtape (MINISTRY OF CORRUPTION MIXTAPE) if I had the necessary backing but I don’t at the moment, so the easiest thing I can do is to put it out on free air which is the internet and that is what I’m trying to do. That’s what is happening, when people ask me they wish the mixtape could get a better pushing, they wish I promote it well, all I can tell them is that we are doing the best we can and even more.
Keeps: What is your philosophy how did you get to be this way?
Kahli: I’m inspired by Fela so much as you can tell, Fela had Kalakuta Republic as his own domain, that’s where he lived, Republiq Records is my company, somebody that worked with me on Republiq Records was chatting and he asked me how is the show preparation coming and I said I’m trying to be honest I did not know what to wear and he said just do what you do, just keep it simple, don’t be like all these famous people that come up and try to be seen like they are demigods. And that touched me it brought me back to earth and I say you know on that day, I’m going to look into my closet and I’m going to wear what I feel like wearing and to be honest with you if I feel like wearing my underwear and summon enough courage that’s what I will do “In the spirit of Fela”. It would be ugly but I would have done that. So my philosophy comes from being tired of seeing people lie because I need to tell the truth, everybody has to tell the truth at some point in life no matter how big a liar you are, you have to tell just truth even Jim Carrey when he acted Liar Liar at some point he had to tell the truth, so, that’s my philosophy and ultimately I need to be original I need to be who I am, I cannot be that guy, I cannot do what my friends are doing because that’s what is selling, I can’t.
Keeps: You are trying to be like modern day Fela
Kahli: I’m just being myself and I urge everybody in this country to go out there and be themselves, do you know something bros, I don’t know if I should say this, this is not good motivation for young people coming up. Everybody out there should go out and tap into their energy and find out the talent the God has given you and become somebody because God has blessed everybody with genuine talent, everybody is a genius in life. They said Einstein was nobody in school he would fail and fail but he is Einstein today, he did nothing good other than physics but he has helped the world in so many ways with his formula and his discoveries, everybody should go out and discover who they are and be that way. If you want to be a mechanic go and be a mechanic, in overseas countries mechanics are living large, mechanics are necessary if your car breaks down you need a mechanic, so what’s wrong in being a mechanic, if tomorrow you want to be a singer if you want to be a president of this country go out and be.
Keeps: when I listen to you, the way you are coming out I really embrace it. And it is alright in my own point of view. But I just want a situation whereby everybody will get to know you, not just in the circle of conscious hip hop heads let other people get to know you; do you have plans for all that?
Khali: Thank you, I’m not trying to be conscious, people keep talking about this consciousness, let me just explain this to people who need to understand this slogan of being a conscious person, I’m not trying to be conscious like I said, I want to be myself, I want to tell truth, I want to tell people how I feel, what is consciousness, is consciousness bad? If saying I was very upset about the bombing going on… is that consciousness? If that is consciousness, then I want to be conscious because that is all I’m about. I need to say what needs to be said period, if the next man is going to come and tell you this is a beautiful nation, I’m a good rapper, something like that, let them do that, oh me? I’m going to say God why is this happening to this country, everybody is looking at us, we are still stuck, Nigeria the giant of Africa.
Keeps: What’s your opinion about the state of hip hop music in Nigeria now?
Kahli: It’s in a state of growth because right now, there are people like my brother MI, who will go out and get a BET nomination, and go out to America and just sit down and represent his country, It’s a moment of Joy, that gives me so much pride, there are so many people coming out… the state of hip hop, it is not at its peak yet, we are still not at our best we are trying so hard, we are in a period of growth, we are discovering new things, we are experimenting with stuff and finding out how good we can do it and we are just going to keep climbing, I’m expecting a Nigerian will win a Grammy Award really soon, I’m really expecting that.
Keeps: How do you do all these… maybe move from J. Town to Lagos and New York and you just come back again, I’m like if somebody gets the chance to be in New York he would just forget about… (He cuts in)
Kahli: That explains it all, I love my country like I said, I’m passionate about what is going on here, I could go out in New York and just sit down and everything is nice, you know, make a little money whatever it is I find myself doing and be comfortable and I would hear in the news, because we catch NTA in America, a cable channel will broadcast NTA, and you look on NTA and see what’s going on and you feel nostalgic and you cry because your country should be better than that, this country is rich , this country is beautiful, why do you think Lebanese and Asian people even Americans come here and they never go back, do you know why? The country is beautiful, the country is free, the country is full of resources, the country is full of opportunities, someone can come here and open a joint like this (referring to the lounge where we were) and be successful, and he won’t be a Nigerian, he would be a Lebanese or an Asian guy. Our people haven’t been allowed to see that there are opportunities; they haven’t been exposed that well, because their creativity and their thought process have been blindfolded, so they cannot see that way.
Keeps: It looks like you read a lot or something like that
Kahli: Not really, I just pay attention to what is going on, I read the newspaper everyday if I can afford to, If I’m passing I can see the vendor I check to see what the headlines are, I love information, I love to know what is going on.
Keeps: And your style to me is quite unique it’s more like Dead Press or something like that.
Kahli: (laughs) I don’t think so, Dead Press are in a league of their own, I won’t say the mixtape is very rich I just put passion into it, I appreciate the compliment, I don’t think I’m that good, Dead Press are in the league of their own but I hope to be as good as a Dead Press, I hope to do something, that if Fela could be alive he would say young man you do well, I’m passionate about it, that’s my ultimate goal.
Keeps: So what feeds you for now because I discover based on what you are doing so far it’s not as if you are getting all the millions and everything, so how do you survive?
Kahli: Believe me, if you listen to this mixtape I say somewhere I’m a little rich lone ranger cos I do it for the hell of it because I focus on trying to make money first before trying to do what I’m doing because if I make money, then I can do whatever I want to do, I’m a business man too, I try to make money wherever I can legitimately, so I can comfortably come and do something the way I want to do it.