#ThrowbackThursday: A chat with Blitz the Ambassador [Interview]
Calgary, AB – In 2012, Ghanain-turned-Brooklyn MC, Blitz the Ambassador, sat down for a chat with HipHopCanada‘s own Sarosh Rizvi at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Blitz brought all the styling of Afrobeat, hip life and old-school boom bap, and added a twist of his own triple-time rhyme skills. Blitz performed his set with a six-piece band, which brought a full arsenal of funk to his rhymes. He took down the unsuspecting crowd and brought the other side of the world right to his doorstep. Blitz has just announced that his latest project, The Warm Up EP, will drop on Aug. 27. So in the meantime, check out our little chop up from 2012 on Blitz’s transition from Ghana to the U.S., his own growth as an artist and how he serves as an ambassador for hip-hop.
Blitz the Ambassador came to the western world over a decade ago as an emerging hip-hop artist guised as a college student. Despite already having a hit in his native Ghana and receiving the title of his nation’s best new hip-hop artist, the prospects of being a musician weren’t seen as a worthy profession for those back home. So Blitz had to keep his motives to himself. So explains the duelling halves that made Blitz who he is today. Coming from the northern region of Ghana, Blitz spent much time with his first real influence to his hip-hop sound: his grandmother. It was her notorious storytelling and his father’s record collection – spanning everything from Fela Kuti and early Afro Beat to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder – where Blitz began to cultivate the style that he now calls his own. It’s an interesting growth for Blitz, who is often hailed as bringing the African sound to hip-hop in the west.
While those early days set the foundation for what was to become Blitz’s sound, his arrival did not reflect this sound off the bat. Blitz describes his first album as a meticulous departure from those roots in an attempt to create a new American identity. Blitz reflects on that era as his “years in the wilderness.” For his 2009 follow up, Stereotype, he found his way out of the wilderness and was simply, “doing whatever” on record. The result was an album that shifts styles and flows from track to track.
His latest work, Native Sun, was loosely based off the work of Richard Wright, and the early morning feeling of inspiration that marks the album. It’s a culmination of the entire process since his arrival in the west. Blitz calls it his “aceptance of self.” The album revolves heavily around his immigrant experience, and embraces multiculturalism with guest spots from Canada’s own Shad, Congo’s Baloji (who rhymes in French), Brazil’s BNegão (in Portuguese), Mexico’s Bocafloja (in Spanish), and Keziah Jones from Nigeria, (in Pidgin). The result is a hip-hop world tour, spanning instruments, lyricism and flow from all corners of the globe.
But Blitz’s upcoming Griot will push the boundaries even further, by taking Blitz back to his Africann roots. In the north Ghanian village where Blitz spent much of his childhood, the term “griot” signified the storytellers of the area. And no storyteller was more influential to Blitz than his grandmother. In his youth, Blitz learned that being a great storyteller required to capturing the audience’s attention. Even if it took a few tales to reach a point, the greatest storytellers could hold their audience in the palm of their hand and take them along on the journey. Musically, Griot will take off where Native Sun left us. However, Blitz is quick to discern that where the current album is undoubtably a city album, Griot’s heart is in the village. While the album is still in it’s initial stages, Blitz has sort listed a few artists as ideal collaborators including Common, Damien Marley and Tumi for the project.
Blitz’s journey from the cradle of civilization, to the cradle of hip-hop, is one that might not have been possible without the music that he now helps define. He says that the blessing and the curse of hip-hop is that everyone can do it. While this might lead to a flooding of the scene with trash, Blitz’s approach is of the do-it-yourself nature. Growing up, Blitz used hip-hop as a means of turning traditional storytelling into a convergence of personal connections and experiences. Only much later in life did Blitz realize he could also earn a living with it. He still sees that as the foundation in hip-hop today, but admits it is often lost in western hip-hop (which is too safe, apparently). But Blitz still emphasizes the power of hip-hop to unite youth in much of the world, referencing its role in the recent struggles in Brazil, Senegla and Cuba.
Even the name, “Blitz the Ambassador” has taken a self-fulfilling journey as music and influences continue to evolve. Although it wasn’t necessarily planned, he is becoming an ambassador for hip-hop worldwide. Take his experience with Bajoli, for example. After discovering Bajoli online, Blitz was shocked by his own reaction. Though the Bajoli’s craft was in another language, Blitz instantly connected with it. Not long after they made contact, Bajoli was brought across the ocean to record for Native Sun. And even when it came to Shad (an MC with neither the language or physical distance obstacles that impeded recording with Bajoli), the collaboration also stemmed from online discovery.
Blitz and Shad met for the first time in Calgary when they met on stage for a workshop they were both involved in. It’s evident that Blitz is now more concerned with replacing the “I” mentality with “we.” The idea of a united front remains the one common factor with everything Blitz does – from his own growth and musical evolution, to his role in the scene. For him, it is what hip-hop has always been about.
Article and interview by Sarosh Rizvi for HipHopCanada
Photography by Rene Tsougrianis and Stefan Lewis