Talented 10th is one of my favorite albums right now. For those, not knowing, I'm talking about the third studio album by Sho Baraka. It's his first solo release since leaving Reach Records in 2011. The album title and concept was based off the essay of the same name by W. E. B. Du Bois.Well, I was blessed with the opportunity to chop it up with Sho. We talked about everything from the album's concepts, to his favorite books, emcee's and albums. Peep the transcript
Malachi: Before we get into the new project I want to take it back. How did you start your group “Hello Revolution”?
Sho Baraka: Well I was adamant about not doing any more solo albums because I wasn't really excited about it you know. I guess the place I was in as far as an artist, I wanted to work with other people and I was adamant about doing group projects. A lot of the work I had been doing when I left the label (Reach Records) was with my boy Jamie, who goes by the name Ali now. And the music we made after I left the label was so fresh I was like, how about we just turn this into a collaboration project instead of you just producing for me. So we ended up making a couple of songs. And the funny thing about it is a lot of the songs that we have on this album were supposed to be “Hello Revolution” songs. So The Lord worked it out to where I got the hotness.( Laughs)
Malachi: Oh ok. I feel you. You helped build Reach Records. Now they are making history. And your projects with Reach were pretty successful but now you are on your own. People would say you're crazy for leaving now. Have you felt any pressure during your recording process and do you feel any while you get ready to drop your joint independent?
Sho Baraka: Naw, not necessarily. I mean there is some pressure to be real, you know. You don’t leave a label like that and feel like people don't have expectations of you. But I try not to live up to unrealistic expectations. The reality of it is, is that I am who I am. I make music because I love music. I don't make music to chart and I don’t make music to make history. I make music because there are people I want to communicate to via the artistic expression of Hip Hop so if the Lord allows it to do certain things, cool. If not, I’m cool with that also. I try not to fall into the pressure game. It’s unhealthy and you’ll go crazy trying to please people. No person should get into music to please people. Because what happens is once you start to taste success, that's when you start thinking “Oh how (can) I gain bigger platforms or how do I continue to sustain what I have?”. Most people get into it because they just love what they do, and just want to create, and then the success comes afterward. So I’m trying to go back to what I originally started.
Malachi: Amen. Well looking at the cover and the tracklisting, The album looks like its modeled after a book. Breakdown the overall vision and concept of the new project.
Sho Baraka: I think what you touched on is good. I never wanted this to be seen as just another Hip Hop album. I wanted it to be seen as something that was both artistic from the expression where you can see that I'm creative and not trying to be like every other album. Even from the title tracks, how I titled each song and how it’s listed and the album cover. I want this to be an experience in education as well as entertainment. So this whole idea with “The Talented Tenth” is how do we use the natural resources and expose what God has given us to the benefit of other folks, to bring social, financial, and especially spiritual information to our particular friends, family, and communities to the glory of God? The whole idea is I want to educate as well as entertain in a creative way.
Malachi: I read that your aim with “The Talented Tenth” is to change urban culture by inspiring and challenging listeners to “be exceptional for the benefit of others”. Explain that.
Sho Baraka: Yeah, I think what we have in our culture is an infatuation with ignorance and mediocrity. I see that in a lot of rappers, see that in artists, well I don’t want to blame it on just artist but ummm, culturally, everywhere from corporations to entertainment, I think we have people that are cool with the status quo. So if I know I could pop up a liquor store and be successful even though I know that this liquor store is going to bring down the value of the community because of the alcohol sales and the promotion of unhealthy food and X,Y and Z, they go with it because it’s all about the bottom line. Same thing with music and entertainment, you know. If I know this ridiculous message is going to be seen, then the bottom line is, it’s going to put money in my pocket. For me what I’m saying is, as a people, not just artists. From businessmen to educators, mothers, fathers, to students, how can we be exceptional in every area of life? Even the way we eat, the food choices we have, the music choices we have, to our relationships, to our entertainment, to our health, to how we spend our money. How can we be exceptional, not only for ourselves but for the benefit of community, for the benefit of those around us, and transforming our environments and not just living the status quo?
Malachi: I want to talk to you about some of the songs. I love the first song “Bethesda”. When I first heard it, it blew me away as for as the production. What's the concept behind the song?
Sho Baraka: Well I get it from John 5 ( John 5:1-15) where those who are lame are looking for healing, they sit by the pool and wait for a wave to come and whoever jumps in is healed. So the concept of the song is the whole wade in the water. The reality of it is, there’s a lot of pain out there, there’s a lot of struggle, there’s a lot of hurt. And the thought process is hold on because there’s a healing coming, and we believe that Christ brings the healing. But I’m not trying to say trust in Christ-like in a sense that Jesus makes all things perfect, But there is joy and there is fruit, and there is love, and there is peace. But you have to wade in that water sometimes.
Malachi: “Michael” is a really deep song. Especially the hook. Tell me about the hook and where you were going with that.
Sho Baraka: Umm, it’s a play on the idea of the common man versus the celebrity. Like we mourn the death of celebrities often, and rightfully so, you know to some degree they change culture, like the Michael Jackson’s and the Whitney Houston’s and we mourn that. But there are thousands of Michaels out there and thousands of Whitneys who are dying over nonsense. So how are we going to change this because our culture is going down. It’s like a bonfire. I can see piece by piece going up in flames, and a lot of us are celebrating it, and this is me morning it na'meen?
Malachi: Why did you name the song “Michael”?
Sho Baraka: I mean, the reference is obviously to Michael Jackson but the ultimate, it’s a common name, represents the common man. There are millions of Michaels out there. And we can get caught up in the idea of Michael the celebrity. Be it Micheal Jordan, Micheal Jackson, or Mike Tyson you know. But there’s also the idea that there are thousands of Michael's out there that one will care for or care about. How do we tie in this idea of being fascinated with celebrities while also caring for the common man?
Malachi: I feel you. Talk to me about “Jim Crow”. What moved to you write that song?
Sho Baraka: Just frustration. I always wanted to write a song like that but I just never had the courage to, you know because I felt like it wasn't appropriate for the market that I was previously excited about being apart of. I was just kind of like, you need to stay away from that. But you know, racial frustration, racial self-loathing, social injustice I mean...I wrote the hook and some of the songs like last year, like last January actually. This song has been around for a while. Really this is a song that’s been writing itself for the past five years and it’s just like frustration after frustration and observation after observation and then realizing that there’s a blindness to this stuff that I’m talking about on the song.
Malachi: What message are you trying to get across with that song?
Sho Baraka: That there’s a, I guess you could say a reproduction and a perpetuation of ignorance and prejudice that is propagated in our country and if you accept it, you will be stuck in this place that I call “Nigga Island”, or “Colored Island”. And the goal is to escape that. It does not find refuge because that place is full of daft and ignorance and there's no real hope there.That’s why I talk about escaping the island and not finding that place in your home.
Malachi: Well like you said, I can hear passion in the song, you can hear the frustration. The song is real heavy and deep but to be real you might catch some heat from the content and the lyrics. Was that ever a concern?
Sho Baraka: Yeah, it was. That’s why I did a radio edit too. And the reason for me to do a radio edit was not to take away from the potency of the lyrics. I made a radio edit because I have a daughter. I might not want her to listen to this part of the song but I still want her to get the content of what I’m saying. Play that for your family members, and play that for people that feel would be extremely offended by the word nigga and other language in the song. But I don’t apologize for the content. For me it worth it. The beautiful thing about music and art is people have the option to not buy it.
Malachi: Right, that's true.
Sho Baraka: Yeah, so I guess in the long run that’s the alternative. I mean I do want people to buy, I do want people to support it. But I do feel people will use this as an excuse to escape the discussion. That’s what happens oftentimes, people look for a reason to escape a discussion of a bigger issue because they feel like “Well, he said that so I’m not going to listen to the song”. And you know what? If that’s what they want to do, then that’s what they want to do.
Malachi: Ok, I just have a few more questions, I call these “The Sevens”
Sho Baraka: Ok
I can tell you're a very well-read person and you love books. I’m the same way, I love to collect old books too. I even have a few by W.E.B. Dubis. What are your 7 favorite books?
Sho Baraka: Oh Wow, Umm, I would say in no particular order, I’d start off with (The) Lord of The Rings, the whole trilogy. I just call that as one book. I just believe the creativity and the imagination in that book are just like an amazing journey. And then also when you think about the morals, the social and the spiritual nuances in that book are so thick, so rich. Tolkien did an amazing job. How Should We Then Live? By Francis A. Schaeffer is just another book that I love. It gives a very healthy balance of this whole secular, sacred but then also how should a Christian live in this world and culture that’s constantly changing. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a book that's always challenged me. It’s all about leadership, it’s all about a man of sacrifice and wisdom. That book is amazing. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is another one. That’s one of these books that you have to read like more than once because there's so much, oh my God, it’s so thick...
Malachi: (Laughs) Like your new album?
Sho Baraka: (Laughs) Well thank ya sir for the compliment. Umm I’ma put two books together. Umm I would say The Talented Tenth but it’s a very short book. Im’a partner that book with Souls Of Black Folk By W.E.B Du Bois. It’s just powerful man. When you think about coming out of the oppressive times that they were in and then thinking though, how do we processes this new life and this new struggle and this new world that we have as African Americans in this world that's not really accepting of us? I think a lot of this stuff is pertinent even today. Umm there’s a whole bunch of other books, I just read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography which was good. Ohhhh Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. That book is amazing. It’s a book about idolatry. So yeah, those are the books I would say are my favorites.
Malachi: Well you named a few that are my favorites actually. Lord Of The Rings. Anything by C.S. Lewis, I love. Soul of Black Folk is amazing. If you haven't read Dusk Of Dawn by W.E.B. Du Bois, you should check that out.
Sho Baraka: Will do. I’m trying to read all his stuff.
Malachi: Ok. Now moving on to emcees. Who are your 7 favorite Emcee’s?
Sho Baraka: Awwww man. In no particular order, number one is probably Common. I always appreciated Common. He’s one of the few artists I appreciated before I became a Christian, and even after I became a Christian. He talked about things that I felt that mattered in life. He’s probably one of my top emcee’s of all time. Then I would probably go with Jay - Z. Lately, he's fallen off, but when it comes to how he communicated and puts words together, Jay - Z for me was unprecedented. Lupe Fiasco for me is up there. I feel like, even now socially, I feel like the stuff he talks about I appreciate. Lyrically, his cadence, his delivery, he’s original you can’t really trace him to anybody. The Phantik from The Cross Movement. A guy who is just a beast and a wordsmith, cadence. Some of his bars are just unprecedented so he’s definitely one of my favorite dudes. I would say just overall artist and talent-wise I would say Kanye West. No matter how crazy he is, as an artist and a musician you have to appreciate what he does, because he’s changed Hip Hop, some for the bad (Laughs), but as far as musically he killed it. I would probably have to go with a group, I would say Tribe Called Quest. They were one of those groups I fell in love with when I was younger And I would say Andre 3000 is up there too. And I don’t know how many I named but I would add a newcomer, Swoope.
Malachi: You know, a lot of the artists you named, I can hear the inspiration when I listen to your new project. I hear some Common. I definitely hear some Lupe. So I see the connection.
Sho Baraka: Yeah I think its good to be inspired by artists and then make it your own, as long as it's not like, “Yo that dude just bit that”. I mean when that happens there’s a problem. Because you want to have your own identity as an artist, but everyone is inspired by somebody.
Malachi: What are your 7 favorite album or mixtapes?
Sho Baraka: Ok, this is even more difficult. Well, I got to start with Common because One Day It'll All Make Sense is probably the one album that changed my world. And it’s funny because I wasn't a Christian when I first got a hold of this album because I was a young dude and I was listening to it. But felt like as I was listening to it, this dude understood me because I wasn't a gangster but I wasn't like this choir boy. I was in the middle. I was struggling with identity, I was struggling with religion at the time. I was struggling with listening to nonsense rap because that was a time when gangster rap was big too. So I was like I don’t want to listen to this nonsense, but I’m also like, I’m not a choir boy so I was struggling in this identity crisis. That album kind of gave me a direction of social strength where it was very conscious. That album to this day, I love. The Solus Christus by Shai Linne is one of my favorite albums. You talk about top to bottom album that’s just amazing. One of the first Cross Movement albums was Human Emergency. That album is just amazing. That was my first introduction to Da T.R.U.T.H. Oh I forgot to name him as one of my artists. Late Registration by Kanye West is a crazy go to the album, And The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time. Really, she’s one of my favorite artists in general. Continuum By John Mayer. I can listen to that album all day long. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. That album is classic. But I don’t listen to much Hip Hop right now. The last real Hip Hop album that I played a whole lot was Lupe’s latest album. I’ve been listening to a lot of Jazz right now. I’m all over the place Brah.
Malachi: So we know the album drops on the 15th. What else is popping off for you?
Sho Barack:Man, that’s my primary focus. I have a few things in the kitchen. Some writing stuff, some educational stuff but I just want to make this album known to as many people as possible.