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Asheru - "The Unspoken Heard Speaks"
Contributed by: Todd E Jones aka New Jeru Poet
Source: The Elements
Posted on: February 10, 2004 11:43 MST
Filed under: Rap


The Unspoken Heard is a collective of artists, musicians, businessmen, and much more. Asheru and Blue Black have been creating intelligent and soulful hip-hop music since the mid 90's. Emcees Asheru and Blue Black (Maryland-born Gabriel Benn and Bronx-born Robert Jackson), met in The University Of Virginia. They teamed up with Wes Jackson who formed Seven Heads Entertainment, home to El Da Sensai, Ritchy Pitch and more. Asheru & Blue Black Of The Unspoken Heard were the first act on Seven Heads. With the poetry and consciousness of A Tribe Called Quest, the fun of De La Soul, the Black love or Brand Nubian, the energy of Mos Def, and the coolness of The Lone Catalysts, Asheru & Blue Black have been labeled as the leaders of the next generation of intelligent conscious hip-hop. While the term "conscious hip-hop" may pigeonhole them, the music of Asheru & Blue Black rises above any labels or sub-genres of hip-hop. Their debut album "Soon Come" was an astute and soulful album fueled with production of Geology, Sound Providers, 88 Keys, J. Rawls (of The Lone Catalysts), Ritchy Pitch, Yusef Dinero and Djinji Brown. While much of it was not heard on major radio stations, listeners felt the energy and the spirit of it. Fans and newcomers became apart of something. Finally, there was hope for the future of hip-hop. Asheru and Blue Black found a balance. They weren't backpackers or just some pro-Black conscious group. They were teachers of the culture. In fact, Asheru teaches special education to learning disabled and emotionally disturbed children as another job. The Unspoken Heard, along with J-Live, El Da Sensai, and others helped make Seven Heads one of the most respected independent hip-hop labels today. Like the early days of Rawkus, the music is just very, very good. Asheru & Blue Black are two emcees who are trying to maintain the pride in hip-hop culture. They are strong, Black, intelligent men who are more than just role models. They can flex their skills on the microphone. All through the recording and the release of their debut album "Soon Come", Asheru and Blue Black have collected 4 years of music. This collection includes singles, dub versions, b-sides, out-takes, and more. Since much of this music was only on vinyl, many fans were missing out. Finally, Asheru & Blue Black released "48 Months", a collection of songs recorded between 1996 and 2000. "48 Months" includes the classic J-Live and Grap Luva collaborations "How You Livin?" and "Trackrunners". The LP also includes a new Asheru song, "Black Moses", from his upcoming solo LP "While You Were Sleeping". The compilation LP, "48 Months" includes production by Asheru & Blue Black, Obsession, The Bedroom Wizard, DJ Spinna, DJ Bolex, Grap Luva, Djinji Brown, 88 Keys, Iilscout, and Aychell. It is a must-have CD for fans of Asheru & Blue Black. On a cold evening for the new year of 2004, I had a long in-depth conversation with Asheru of The Unspoken Heard. We talked about "48 Months", Seven Heads, Blue Black, politics, his upcoming solo album, racism, love, and more. Asheru is a poet like Q-Tip, a teacher like Krs-One, a musician like Mos Def, an activist like Talib Kweli and an emcee's emcee like J-Live. Ladies and gentlemen, The Unspoken Heard finally speaks.

T.JONES: "What goes on?"
ASHERU: "Chilling, man. I'm getting ready for this European tour with J-Live."

T.JONES: "The new album is called '48 Months'. Tell us about it?"
ASHERU: "The album '48 Months' is a bunch of material that captures the four years from just starting out, all the way to 'Soon Come'. We dropped 'Jamboree' as a single. There are a couple of out-takes on there too. There's also a new song on there from my new solo album. That song is called 'Black Moses'. The '48 Months' deals with the process. When you open up the CD and see the linear notes, you can read how it spans that period. It is really for the cats who supported us through the years. Previously, all of the songs were only on vinyl. We got a lot of requests for it to be available on CD format. So, we put it out. It's also for the cats who never heard of us or just heard 1 or 2 things from us. It represents a good span of time."

T.JONES: "How and when did you hook up with Blue Black and form The Unspoken Heard?"
ASHERU: "We met at school, University Of Virginia. We both went there. We met through a mutual friend. I was making demos and he was doing solo stuff during his time. Dinji Brown was there too. We linked and it took off from there. Wes Jackson started the label, we just kind of came together as the official first act on the label."

T.JONES: "So, school was how you hooked up with Seven Heads?"
ASHERU: "School. Wes and me started the same year. We were friends all through college. We were real close after graduation."

T.JONES: "Is J-Live still part of Seven Heads Entertainment?"
ASHERU: "J-Live was on 7 Heads Management. I don't think so anymore. He's doing his own stuff now. We still collaborate. I'm down with his tour coming up soon. It's all good and he's still family."

T.JONES: "How did you and J-Live hook up those amazing collaborations?"
ASHERU: "J-Live is my man! Talking on the phone! We used to do a lot of traveling in New York and we would get up and do some joints."

T.JONES: "Do you have a favorite J-Live and Asheru collaboration?"
ASHERU: "The joint we did with Pete Rock. 'Kick It To The Beat'. It was dope because I got to meet Pete Rock. That's on J-Live's first album, 'The Best Part'. That's my favorite one. J-Live has so many songs. He has a lot of material."

T.JONES: "When making hip-hop songs, do you go into the studio with pre-written rhymes, lyrics and themes or do you hear the beat first and write then and there?"
ASHERU: "Earlier on, I had a lot of rhymes that I had pre-written and that I wanted to get off my chest. So, it was about 70% pre-written stuff to 30% of stuff I wrote there. As time went on, we changed up. Now, I write when I am there. My whole pattern in writing is completely different now. I sit down with the track and write it out right there. I'll take my time though. I'll write a little bit and come back, and write some more a day later. Nowadays, I write it with the track right there."

T.JONES: "When did you first begin rhyming?"
ASHERU: "Probably around 15 or 16 years old. I began free styling in the basement on little equipment. Eventually, I began doing shows with a live local band in college."

T.JONES: "What song made you fall in love with hip-hop?"
ASHERU: "The song 'Fudge Pudge' by Organized Konfusion. Pharoahe Monch's verse on that song blew me away."

T.JONES: "How did you get the name Asheru? What is the meaning behind it?"
ASHERU: "Basically, I took it from 'Asher' and my tribe 12 Months. The month of December is Asher."

T.JONES: "You are also a teacher. What do you teach?"
ASHERU: "Yes, I teach 7th grade. I've been teaching for 7 years. I just finished my masters in education. I'm getting out of the classroom and into other things. Just like hip-hop is my niche, teaching is one and the same. I teach all subjects. I teach at a special ed school for kids who have learning disabilities and who are emotional disturbed."

T.JONES: "Grap Luva used to be in INI and he has been involved in some of your work. How did you hook up with him?"
ASHERU: "Grap is down with us. He's a teacher too. I think 3rd grade."

T.JONES: "You also worked with some amazing producers like J. Rawls. How did you hook up with him?"
ASHERU: "I hooked up with him when I was recording the 'Jamboree' EP. He came by the studio and talked for a minute."

T.JONES: "How is the production style of J. Rawls different from the other producers you worked with?"
ASHERU: "Everybody has their own flavor, their own style. J Rawls just sounds different and I appreciate it. The stuff we do now is different from the last stuff we did. We do slower songs that are more thought provoking. They are moving. Now, J. Rawls has branched off even more. He's making me write and shape my songs differently. He's dope. He's working with cats like J-Live and Joe Money. He makes incredible beats."

T.JONES: "What emcee or producer would you like to collaborate with in the future?"
ASHERU: "There are a few cats. I would definitely do another joint with Talib Kweli. I would like to work with Mos Def, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Little Brother, Bahamadia. The list is long. I like the fellowship of it all. I like meeting people and being cool with them. It's amazing how it goes down. Growing up, I would hear people like Bahamadia and then, I actually meet people like them and build with them. It's a whole other experience. It was like that with Pete Rock. I'm there for the fellowship of it all. I would love to work with Prince Paul, The Last Emperor, and other cats that I rhymed with or toured with."

T.JONES: "How is the hip-hop scene and market different in Europe?"
ASHERU: "They are just a lot more into it. There is more of a give and take in terms of performances. Once you get into it, they rock with you. I'm not saying the crowds here don't rock with you but out there, it's different. I guess it is because we are not from there and we are imported from another place. We come there and it is extra special for both of us. We are not cats that they see everyday. These are cats from another country. If you are in a local scene, after a while, you don't get as excited seeing the same cats. You are a little bit more enthusiastic when people from somewhere else come around. I think here, we take the artists for granted because we see them here all the time. Here, everybody has a friend that rhymes or who is a DJ. Overseas, there is more participation. The crowds show a lot of love and support."

T.JONES: "What has been in your CD player or on your turntable recently?"
ASHERU: "In class, I listen to a lot of Stanley Clark and Steely Dan. At home, I listen to a lot of mix-tapes. I have been playing the new Outkast album a lot lately too. I love it, man. I love Andre 3000's whole album. I love Big Boi's album too. They are both really dope but I have been playing a lot of the Dre one. Since 'The Love Below' came out, I have been playing that sh*t non-stop. Another album that I play a lot is Tenacious D. A lot of people don't get it but that's my sh*t. Jack Black! I would definitely do a joint with Jack Black any day. That would be dope."

T.JONES: "On the Seven Heads compilation 'No Edge Ups In South Africa', you have a song called 'B.M.I.G.'. For the people who do not know, what does that mean?"
ASHERU: "'B.M.I.G.' means a lot of sh*t, man. 'Brilliant Minds Illuminate Genius'. It's like a campaign slogan we carry with us. It changes day to day. 'But Mostly I'm Grateful' or 'Being a Man Is a Game' or 'Bob Marley Inhales Ganja'. There's so many of them but it basically means 'Brilliant Minds Illuminate Genius'. When I wrote that song, that was what I was referring to."

T.JONES: "In the sleeve for '48 Months', there is this logo or symbol and everyone has a tattoo of it. What is it and what is the meaning behind it?"
ASHERU: "That's the symbol of the Unspoken Heard. It symbolizes Unspoken Heard. Notice that it has 2 ears but no mouth. It symbolizes the concept of The Unspoken Heard. Just because you hear it, that does not mean that it was said. We can go to Europe, Slovakia or wherever and rhyme straight English. Some cats understand English and some don't understand it. Still, they get the meaning or the feeling. That's the Unspoken Heard."

T.JONES: "You recorded a track with non-English speaking artists?"
ASHERU: "Yes. I just recorded a song with these German guys. They sent me the track and they are rhyming in straight German. I cannot understand one word that they are saying but there is a spot for me. I spit my 16. I talked to the guy over the phone and we talked about the concept. I got the idea. They are talking about hip-hop in relationship to a girl and how they feel about it but I still don't know what they are saying. Participating in that was something I wanted to do. When we go out to Germany, we can sit down and break it down line for line. I just wanted to make it with artistic equality."

T.JONES: "What was the last incident of racism you experienced?"
ASHERU: "Racism? I don't know. It happens everyday. Sometimes, it could be the way someone is speaking to me in a condescending tone where I can feel their presumptions of me. To me, that's racism in itself. I'm not going to snap. I went to a predominately white university and I had a room with 3 white guys. One of them was a real frat boy."

T.JONES: "What do you think about that racism controversy with Eminem?"
ASHERU: "I just heard about that thing with Eminem saying 'N*gga' like 10 years ago. That is racism too. That happens everyday. A lot of people say that it happened a long time ago so 'Who cares?' but that's not the point. That's a whole other argument."

T.JONES: "Death Penalty - For or against?"
ASHERU: "I'm against it."

T.JONES "Where were you on Sept. 11th (The World Trade Center Terrorist Attack)? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected music?"
ASHERU: "I was here. I just got back from a European tour about a week before it happened. I was watching TV and was just in shock. How it affected hip-hop? I don't know. At the time, I thought hip-hop was going to make a turn but it seems the same. These days, people are struggling to get a job. They're hungry. It's the same old song. Murder and kill sh*t. There's also the dance and party sh*t. It's is pretty much the same. Then, there are cats like me, the somewhat underground cats. I think it brought about more hustle. It is pretty much the same but it has intensified in some areas."

T.JONES: "On '48 Months', there are a couple of songs that are also on 'Soon Come'. Why did this happen?"
ASHERU: "That was Wes Jackson's call. 'Smiley' and 'Jamboree' are like our famous songs along with 'Trackrunners'. It's cross promotion."

T.JONES: "Word association time. I'm going to say a name of a group/emcee and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say 'Chuck D', you may say 'Revolution'. Okay?"
ASHERU: "Alright."
T.JONES: "Grand Agent."
ASHERU: "Don't know much about him."
T.JONES: "Eminem."
T.JONES: "Nas."
ASHERU: "I like Nas. He's my man right there."
T.JONES: "50 Cent."
ASHERU: "Hustler."
T.JONES: "Lone Catalysts."
ASHERU: "Dope."
T.JONES: "The Coup."
ASHERU: "Revolutionary."
T.JONES: "Phife Dawg."
ASHERU: "One of the leaders from my generation and Native Tongue."
T.JONES: "Wu-Tang Clan."
ASHERU: "Power."
T.JONES: "Gil-Scott Heron."
ASHERU: "The man."
T.JONES: "Curtis Mayfield."
ASHERU: "Incredible talent."
T.JONES: "George Bush."
ASHERU: "The devil."

T.JONES: "What do you think hip-hop or music (in general) needs these days?"
ASHERU: "I don't know man. If you asked me this 3 months ago, I would have said that it was all wack. The more I thought about it and hear more of it, I feel that there is a little bit of something for everybody. You just have to seek it out. Sometimes, you have to do a little extra work to find what it is you want. That's how everything is. If you want quality stuff, you just cannot go to some regular place. You have to seek it out, know what it is you are looking for and get it. As long as it is exposed in a format where people can know about it, I think that it could be good for everybody. Unfortunately, certain things are projected as a priority while others are put on the shelf. Unless the consumer controls it, things will always be like that. When you find a dope record, it is like unearthing a treasure. Sometimes, I will buy a CD a year after it came out and I think to myself, 'Why didn't I get this before?' That's the way it is. We don't want to be a carbon copy but we do want to mass produce quality."

T.JONES: "What is the biggest mistake that you made in your career?"
ASHERU: "Not being fully aware of the ins and outs of the industry."

T.JONES: "What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?"
ASHERU: "I don't know. I don't know what people think."

T.JONES: "If you could re-make any classic hip-hop song, what would it be?"
ASHERU: "A Tribe Called Quest's 'Verses From The Abstract'."

T.JONES: "What moment are you most proud of?"
ASHERU: "A couple of years ago, we did a 10th anniversary party for 'The Low End Theory' LP by A Tribe Called Quest. It was a couple of local area artists with a live band. Basically, we produced the whole 'Low End Theory' album live. Each song from 'Excursions' to 'Scenario' was done. We did the whole album. The song that I was assigned was 'Verses From The Abstract'. When I did it, it was incredible! I have it recorded too. I want to dig it up and release that too. It was a highlight moment for me. That sh*t was dope the way it all came together."

T.JONES: "How has your live show evolved?"
ASHERU: "At first, I was rocking with Blue but now, I am rocking shows solo. My stage show is comprised of 3 people. Me, DJ RBI, and this person who plays the ASR live. He plays the beats, piano, and everything live. Our show has a lot of surprises. When we can, we even have visuals. It has evolved to become a full interactive experience. We want to visually stimulate people too."

T.JONES: "Tell us about your involvement with 'You Don't Know The Half' on Halftooth Records."
ASHERU: "The Halftooth project. Oddisee and I worked together on some things. We came together for this new label he's working on. I am on the song called 'If' with Talib Kweli."

T.JONES: "What are some of your favorite movies?"
ASHERU: "I loved 'The Usual Suspects'. I saw a new one now that is one of my favorites called 'Waking Life'. I loved that. I like different kinds of movies. I like a lot of independent films too which are different from the normal stuff."

T.JONES: "What are some of your favorite books?"
ASHERU: "Right now, I'm reading a Jimi Hendrix biography. I like a lot of reference books but I also like 'Ego Trip' and 'The Big Book Of Racism'. I like light books that I can read quick but I also like heavy stuff too like Octavia Butler and science fiction stuff. My favorite book right now is 'Wild Seed' by Octavia E. Butler."

T.JONES: "What will your solo album be like? What is it going to be called? Who will be on it? Who will be producing it?"
ASHERU: "The album is called 'While You Were Sleeping' and there are about 15 tracks on it. There are guests like J-Live, J. Rawls, Maspyke, Joe Money, who was on the 'Soon Come' album. There are some newcomer cats too. It's a nice project. I may get a joint from 9th Wonder too. If you like 'Soon Come', you'll love it. It will definitely be on the same page but it will show progression and stuff from my personal perspective. Blue will be apart of the project but most of it is from my perspective."

T.JONES: "Is Blue Black doing a solo album?"
ASHERU: "I'm not sure. I'm still making joints with him."

T.JONES: "The name is Asheru And Blue Black From The Unspoken Heard. Are there others in The Unspoken Heard besides you and Blue Black?"
ASHERU: "Oh yeah! They are all around. There are people who basically share the same feeling and dream but have gone into different fields and realms. There are corporate cats, teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists and photographers. It all came from conversations and sharing different experiences we had. Some are from Virginia but also some are from New Jersey and North Carolina. There are certain things on the album that may be taken one way by the average everyday listener but it is a completely different meaning or inside joke to someone we have a relationship with. That's the Unspoken Heard."

T.JONES: "What collaborations should we look out for?"
ASHERU: "Yes. I just did The Sound Providers, which will be coming out on ABB Records. I did some drum & bass stuff with Oceanworker. I am on the new Lone Catalysts album 'Good Music'. Me, J. Sands, and Grap Luva did a song for that. I also have that collab with those German cats. I'm diversifying, man. I'm trying to get the word out."

T.JONES: "Any final words for the people who are reading this?"
ASHERU: "Support the movement! Support the Asheru project, the '48 Months' project, and 'No Edge Ups In South Africa'. My first single from my solo LP 'While You Were Sleeping' is dropping in January and the single is called 'Black Moses'. There are 2 sites you should check out. Check out www.sevenheads.com and in the coming months, check out www.blacklincolns.com. Peace!"


Interview by Todd E. Jones aka The New Jeru Poet
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