As an old hand in hip-hop, Boston legend Akrobatik has experienced the ups and downs of the genre during the last two decades. He came up in a time with Internet was a no show and today he’s seeing how the medium heavily affects record sales and how it became an untouchable web of piracy and illegal downloading. The stray cat has found a new home at Fat Beats Records, which recently put out the album, Absolute Value. Ballerstatus spoke to the industry expert about the early days of hip-hop, his freestyle capabilities and older rappers shouldn’t put their career in cold storage just yet.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve been signed to Detonator Records, Rawkus Records, Def Jux and Coup D’Etat. Your current home is Fat Beats Records. What is it about Fat Beats that suits you and how would you describe your time there so far?
Akrobatik: I think that Fat Beats represents the aesthetic of my music better than any other label I’ve been signed to. When I think of Fat Beats, I think of raw, gritty, underground, NYC hip-hop, and that’s what I was brought up on. My experience with them so far has been up and down, but most of that has to do with the current state of the music industry. Everyone is scrambling to find a new business model to be effective and sell records, so we are all going through a learning process right now.
BallerStatus.com: Before signing to Fat Beats, you were in the process of launching your own label. What made you decide to shelve that plan?
Akrobatik: I have not shelved that plan. It just didn’t make sense for me to split my attention so many different ways with such an important release about to happen. I will put releases out on PlayAktion when the time is right. One thing at a time!
BallerStatus.com: With illegal downloads and disappointing sales of albums and especially singles, record labels are experiencing difficult times. How has that affected you as an artist?
Akrobatik: It has had a profound effect. I don’t think there are very many artists at all whose current release is outselling their previous one. However, any artist who really wants a career in this game had better be able to adapt and prosper, which is exactly what I’m doing. I have found many other ways to make money with my talents. Anyone depending strictly on record sales to get paid these days is ill-advised.
BallerStatus.com: You’re from Boston, where you started your career and built up a solid, loyal fan base. What was it about hip-hop that made you want to be part of it and how did the people around you respond when you decide to pursue hip-hop professionally?
Akrobatik: I was fortunate enough to come up during a time where hip-hop was experiencing what is now known as its Golden Age. There was no MySpace, no Internet even. So it was more authentic. It was still a street culture then. People now experience hip-hop on their couch or at their desk. I was out there rhymin’ and beatboxin’ while my boys were breakin’ and writin’, so it was only natural that once I realized my talents I would get into it. Not everyone was rapping then, so people really got behind me from the start because my talents were unique.
BallerStatus.com: How do you feel about Boston’s growth, music wise?
Akrobatik: Not sure how much growth there is to talk about. I think the crabs in a barrel mentality is still prevalent in Boston. So many people trying to get on, that it’s hard for people to really find the support they need. Again, I think the Internet may have killed the hip-hop fan, because now everyone seems to be convinced that they can do this themselves, and people are less likely to support. Everyone’s trying to promote something, and often it seems like most are trying to promote the same thing. That has stunted the growth of the scene and I think Boston hip-hop needs a complete overhaul if artists are going to be successful.
BallerStatus.com: Let’s talk about the album, Absolute Value. How does it contribute to hip-hop music?
Akrobatik: Dope beats, dope rhymes, dope concepts, great guests. Absolute Value is everything I think a hip-hop album should be and could be in 2008. It’s a shame it doesn’t have the exposure it should, so that more people could see that.
BallerStatus.com: How would you say your new stuff differs from the stuff you recorded in the past? As far as your mind state and overall topic matter?
Akrobatik: I just think that I’m older and wiser, and my skills are more refined. My ear for beats is sharper, and I have more access to resources for production and things like that.
BallerStatus.com: You put together an nice cast of guest collaborators; Talib Kweli, Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Mr. Lif, B-Real and Little Brother. Did you make a wish list of artists you wanted to collaborate with and reach out to them? Or how did these collaborations come about?
Akrobatik: Anyone that buys my record will have the privilege of the full story of each collaboration in the artwork. I am no longer going to talk about that in interviews, other than to say that I reached out to people who I respect deeply, and have reciprocated that respect to me over the years. I have been in the business for a long time and I know a lot of people.
BallerStatus.com: Any highlights, favorite tracks, etcetera, that you’d like to point out at this particular time?
Akrobatik: My favorite tracks on the album are “Step It Up” and “Black Hell Breaks Loose.” I like that raw sh**. Most people identify with me through tracks like “Kindred” or “Remind My Soul,” but I’m a hip-hop head, and the most important thing to me in this music is that it stays funky, regardless of the subject matter.
BallerStatus.com: Holding on to artistic integrity while attempting to break into the mainstream has been difficult for other artists in hip-hop. Has it been difficult for you? How do you stay true to yourselves and still make music that is accepted and genuine?
Akrobatik: I don’t depend on my albums to go mainstream. I have other methods to gain mainstream acceptance. I do a sports news freestyle called the “Sports Rap-Up” every morning on commercial radio for over half a million listeners. I have radio and television commercials that play nationwide daily. This allows me to continue to do what I do in the booth without feeling any need to compromise whatsoever.
BallerStatus.com: The freestyle is broadcasted on 94.5. So what’s your definition of a good freestyle?
Akrobatik: Freestyling to me is just something you do for fun. It’s like dancing. Who cares if it’s good? Are you having fun doing it? That’s all that matters. Freestyling is a hobby, and I have always treated it as just that. I knew I was good at it from day one.
BallerStatus.com: What’s the one song in your catalog you’re most proud of?
Akrobatik: I guess the default answer is “Remind My Soul,” because of all the accolades it has received. Five years after its release, people still come up to me and thank me for making it, so it’s hard to go against that one.
BallerStatus.com: It’s my favorite song from your catalog… It was a very social-political song, for which you’ve won the International Song writing Competition. So what’s your approach to writing a verse? Do you have to be a certain mind state or does it vary each time you sit down to write?
Akrobatik: It always varies. Had I not heard that beat, I would have never written the song. It’s that simple. I let the mood of the beat dictate what the song is going to be.
BallerStatus.com: You’re currently gearing up for a new tour. When you first started performing, what was the crowd like back then, compared to your shows now?
Akrobatik: First started performing 19 years ago. The crowd was very different. Mostly kids, as I was one myself. But in the earlier part of my career, US crowds seemed more enthusiastic about hip-hop in general. Now people seem spoiled or lazy, or just uninformed. Luckily, the crowds in Europe are always insane, so those tours never disappoint. Still, shows in the US are fun, but I think people are tired of wack hip-hop shows. Artists don’t put any thought into their show besides walking back and forth and rapping. You have to give people more than that, considering they were getting more 10 and 20 years ago. We need quality control in hip-hop, badly!
BallerStatus.com: Being an industry veteran, what do you think of older MCs in the game like Jay and Nas that are still rapping? Do you feel it’s time for them to retire and let the younger dudes come in to shine?
Akrobatik: Why should the best retire when they are showing no signs of slowing down? Especially now, with the fans disrespecting the art form to synch a huge degree through illegal downloading, there will probably never be another Jay-Z or Nas. For the love of God, I hope neither of them ever quit. Young dudes just gotta find their lane and get in. You can never blame another artist for your own lack of success.