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Akinyemi    

Akinyemi

Artwork by FISK, Photography by Kayli Weiss

Akinyemi is a Nigerian-American lyricist and musician who makes socially-conscious hip hop. You can often find him talking about self love, self care, patience, and mental health - all things we at Madhappy love to talk about too. He even partnered with the JED Foundation and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with a campaign "Whatever Gets You Talking" that was aired on LeBron James & Barack Obama's Graduate Together 2020.

HI AKINYEMI! HOW ARE YOU TODAY? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN QUARANTINING?

Hey Madhappy! I’m good yo, forreal. The sun shining, I just had a dope walk, I read a bit, meditated, worked out and I’m hanging with my friends, we thriving. I spent April - June in Colorado with my girl Kayli Weiss in nature and creating videos and music. It’s been dope out there, I shot multiple videos and created songs that later were appended to this album. I pretty much moved in with my girls family and they took me in as their own. I learned how to drive stick shift, I caught my first fish, and I spent my mornings by this big ass lake writing and creating. It was mad nice. I dipped back to NY right when the George Floyd protests started in early June and was in the streets with my family. I immediately moved into a house in Cypress Hills and started building my home studio up, I had some social distance sessions and made mad music via FaceTime / Zoom, but ain’t nothing the same as being in the same room.

SHARE WITH US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AND YOUR WORK!

My journey truly begins in high school, those years were special to me. I was a nerd. like you know that kid with glasses, high waters, and that big ass Jansport bag wearing USPA like it’s Polo Ralph Lauren. Yep, that kid. In middle school, I went to a public school that had uniform so let’s say that my sense of fashion wasn’t developed yet. But best believe I found my circle by banging on tables with pens / slowly entering those circles with freestyles and rhymes of my own. I went back to my childhood home a few months ago and found that dusty ass rhymebook I started on. It was a special feeling, but also cringe-y you know, cause a lot of the rhyme schemes were elementary. I feel like I used to believe I had to write everything down on paper or else it wasn’t “from the heart” lmao. College was when I blossomed and was finally writing and arranging songs and performing them at my schools open mic. I had a moment where I thought I was gonna join the Air Force, and everyone there would call me Cadet Akinyemi. It’s where the name stuck, cause everyone was calling me Yemi or Ak, or whatever abbreviation they could think of to avoid pronouncing my Nigerian last name. I eventually got booked for my first show, from someone seeing me at my college open-mic, and seeing a sold-out 50 person room in Long Island City was all I needed to dedicate myself to the craft full force for the years to come.

AT WHAT AGE DID YOU START WRITING MUSIC? WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

Around the age of 13 is where I really started to create something. I lowkey started as a producer making beats on FL Studio 6, I would live for that release when I came home from middle school, and would make my simple-ass trash beats on my laptop lol. I watched mad tutorials on YouTube on how to mix vocals, I learned how to beatbox,  I have 3 siblings, a sister and two brothers, and I’m the youngest. I found inspiration mostly through my older brother, DJ Zeke. He was playing everything that came out during the 90s, 00s, you know I could write a list of everything that “inspires” me but y’all know the names of the artists that were popping during that time. My parents also blasted mad Nigerian music around the crib, dancing and being free. It was dope to see for real. I’m a young Nigerian-American who had extremely strict parents and planted a seed out of the bind. My sister was away at school and so was my middle brother. It’s a story, one that a lot of first-generation kids relate to, but I’m honored to create work that can give back to that community. High-school was special for me, it planted that music seed that grew for real.

Photo by Alex Schaefer

YOUR MUSIC IS HIGHLY SOCIALLY-CONSCIOUS AND YOU HAVE SPOKEN OUT ON SELF-LOVE, SELF-CARE, PATIENCE, AND MENTAL HEALTH. WERE THESE THEMES ALWAYS IMPORTANT TO YOU, AND IF NOT, WHAT INSPIRED THE CHANGE?

Nah, they weren’t always important. I feel like before I was able to even go deep into those conversations, I had to learn the craft. A bunch of my first records were just deep lyrical records that were punch line-heavy, with a focus on rhyming the most or an having an intricate flow. Those were always the funniest songs to look back on. The change came in college where I felt hella depressed being a computer-science major who didn’t have any friends / peers who understood being a coder and a musician simultaneously. I had to build that understanding within the music. It wasn’t really a “cry for help” per-say but a lot of the music I made then and now were resources for people who was going through the same thing. I think it’s easy to feel alone if you don’t know you have those resources available. Eminem, Immortal Technique, Pac, Fort Minor, The Game, Tyler at the time were artists who did that characterization very well but also had this level of story-telling that just stuck with you. It made you feel like a rebel when you listened to their music, you didn’t feel alone. I was the only gregarious one in my classes, the only one trying to be social and outgoing. I would dip class and immediately head to Brooklyn and frequent venues and be around other artists and musicians, just soaking up inspiration.

NOW, MORE THAN EVER, PEOPLE NEED TO FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO KEEP THE CONVERSATION AROUND MENTAL HEALTH GOING- AS EXPRESSED IN "WHATEVER GETS YOU TALKING". WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS SONG? WAS IT WRITTEN PRE-PANDEMIC OR AS A RESPONSE?

Whatever Gets You Talking was made right before the pandemic hit (I wanna say February), but I feel like it related to COVID-19 even more so than if it was released prior. Many of my friends were going through dark periods when quarantine hit, they never spent this much time by themselves or with their partner, and they had a lot of inward thinking to do and self-growth to overcome. In that aspect, Whatever Gets You Talking was made to continue the conversation, to inspire the random FaceTime calls to friends you haven’t seen in years, or the out of the blue texts to check up on your family / friends. I dug the concept because it normalizes the reach-out to others. It starts a conversation on taking charge of your mental health and the mental health of your friends and family, as well as reaching younger audiences who are probably going through it the worst, being away from school and their peers. The song shows plenty of examples of ways you could reach out, but at the end of the day its a feel good record supporting a great cause, and I’m blessed to have been a part of it. Shout out the Jed Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Droga5, Ad Council, & Walker for all thinking it was a good idea to have this black-Nigerian rapper on National Television rapping about mental health. We need more people who look like me on television, period.

HOW DO YOU THINK THAT THE MENTAL HEALTH CONVERSATION CAN BE AUGMENTED IN THE MUSIC AND RAP INDUSTRIES?

We ought to focus on positivity more, not the way we are murdered but the way we heal. For me, it starts with conversation in the music, in the circles I frequent myself, in my family, my close friends. In the music world, making it standard for mental check-ups, giving more resources towards mental health in the form of classes, workshops, free therapy, and artistic releases for artists, musicians, and their team members. It starts with highlighting deep emotions that aren’t glamorous, that are normal and human, and giving those the spotlight.  I found that once I started implementing speaking on mental health in my music, in my interviews, on stage that I saw a change in the response of folks that received the word. I had a fan who was suicidal and heard Seaworld and told me that the song saved them that day. I make the music I make for people like that, that need to hear something that can heal them when their surroundings can’t.

Photo by Alex Schaefer

HOW HAS GROWING AS AN ARTIST AFFECTED YOUR DAY TO DAY LIFE?

This one is truly wild, it has changed everything. It’s the reason why my album is called “Reborn”, Through out my growth as an artist , I changed where I lived, how I dress, who my friend circle is, the paths I take, the beats I select, the food I eat, the way I stay active. I feel like every part of who I know myself to be has been flipped on its head, the only things that have stayed rooted and lasting are my relationships and my family. I love everyone dearly who’s in my life, and as a result definitely very aware of the energy I keep, as those influence the art as well as the mental space. My friends are all doing inspiring things, and it’s exciting to wake up day-to-day and not only celebrate my achievements but my peers as well, that’s definitely what has changed. I’m in an industry that is cold to you until you do numbers, but I realized I can still speak my peace and reach the masses I need to without changing the essence of my mind, and what I stand for. And I live for that, everyday.

EVEN WHEN YOU ARE PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH YOUR JOB, WORK CAN BE STRESSFUL. WHAT ARE YOUR COPING MECHANISMS TO EASE YOUR STRESS IN TOUGH TIMES BESIDES SONGWRITING?

Meditation, working out and fresh air, one hundred percent. I have had situations where I’ve had the deepest writers block, anxiety & stress, but the moment I worked out and took a walk outside, I realized that there’s so much more joy then there is stress to feel. I love my job, and being able to create for a living has been a complete blessing, being an artist is building a company and a brand. There’s definitely madddd work behind crafting a business from nothing. It’s stressful to deal with the admin side of it while also creating iconic records. I’m grateful to be able to have the mental space to shift my focus in times of despair to find peace. I learned that those little pockets you take for yourself like reading, or journaling or meditating, remind you that you are loved and important and not a vessel that work comes out of. I cope by creating reasons to live. I live myself fully and don’t compromise or settle, and it’s the mechanism that has brought me the most serenity.

WHAT ARE YOU FEELING OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

Mannnnn I’m HYPE my new single Selfish ft. Shane Garcia drops Sept 23rd! I’m hype that the album is done and it’s ready to be delivered to the people. I’m hype to be reborn. I’m hype that I’m living, breathing, Corona-free, in good health, in good shape, being black and beautiful. My skin taken care of. I’m hype that the sun shines and sunsets right outside my studio window, it’s lit making records while watching the sunset. I’m really optimistic about the rest of this year and 2021 as a whole. Being aware of the world and the shift we’re all experiencing, I make it a goal to still find a reason to experience joy, it’s what keeps my sanity intact. I go to the park and take a book with me and interact with my community and breathe in the air, im optimistic about those moments not being taken from me. I take those experiences and go back home and allow them to flow through me as I write something new, optimistic about whatever person I want to be that day. My creative journey has always been a rollercoaster, and I’m here for the ride, for real.

Photo by Kayli Weiss

SPEED ROUND

FAVORITE QUARANTINE ACTIVITY?

Going on walks and seeing how abandoned the city looks?

FAVORITE RECENT BOOK OR PODCAST

Book- Black Ink. Podcast- What A Day.

LAST MEAL YOU COOKED AT HOME?

Boy, I made some FIRE Fettuccine with some homemade pesto with some shaved Parm on top, shit was fire. Yes I do be cheffing and yes im good at it

ADMIT A GUILTY PLEASURE.

I be having a full ass fridge and go out to eat. I be eating Ice Cream deadass in the morning, cause it taste good, fuck it

LAST THING YOU SAID YES TO?

Doing a sync for Small Unites, a Capital One fund, for small businesses

LAST THING YOU SAID NO TO?

My alarm clock when it was trying to wake me up at 6:30 am, nope.