Aural Appreciation Fridays: Current Music in Wani’s World
Head Roc: Black Leon Album Review
Since this is Black Music Month, as proclaimed by President Obama, I decided to start my music review feature by focusing on one of my favorite DMV artists, who should get more shine in my opinion. I’m all for diversity in music but I feel like the artists who display any sort of political opinion or overt pride in their Blackness get absolutely no airplay on mainstream sources, because of the corporate takeover of media. One of the reasons that I have always admired Head-Roc is because of his unapologetic love for his culture and his Chocolate City, before and after gentrification set in. I had the chance to pose some questions to Head-Roc, which he eloquently answered, and I will include below after my review.
Wow, what can I say about this dude. Me and Heady, as I like to call him, go waaay back like penny candies from the corner store! Back in the early 90’s, I began my foray into journalism by starting a newsletter called Strictly For The Underground. Back then, I tried to really immerse myself in local hip hop culture and I was always posted up at State of the Union on U St for the ciphers and DJ sets. There was a sea of wannabe MCs but the group that stood out to me was Infinite Loop, DC’s version of the Wu Tang Clan. As it turned out, Head-Roc was my neighbor, living right up the block from me on 12th St NE, so we ended up hanging out. I used to chill with him and his roommate DJ Marv on Friday nights after work just sitting around making mixtapes, hitting blunts and politicking about Hip Hop and life. He used to burn this really fragrant incense and I always liked the vibe of he and his folks because they were respectful and never tried to push up on me. One of us would cook, and he would supply the herb and the atmosphere. Even over the years, whenever I would run into him or one of the Loop crew, it was always love.
I have known Head-Roc from his early days of spitting that gully shit to his evolution into conscious, informative, revolutionary Hip Hop. One of the things that I admire most about Heady is his tenacity. As the business of Hip Hop has evolved it has become evident that in order to thrive on your own terms as an artist, it is necessary to create your own lane. Heady recognized this early on and has stayed on his hustle, bypassing all the traps of lyrical and beat trends and keeping it authentic, always repping DC and Black culture. As he matured spiritually and emotionally, it couldn’t help but be reflected in his art. From grimy to punk to his current project, Black Leon, which takes it back to the essence of soulful samples, Afrobeat horns and clever storytelling.
In the vein of Public Enemy and M1, Head-Roc spits that politically charged, revolutionary Black love hip hop that needs to be in rotation to encourage the masses. His concepts of Black Rock Star Superhero, Sistar, and even Black Leon aka Napoleon is appropriate in a time when much of what we hear in Hip Hop is drug induced, misogynistic and lyrically mundane. Yo, I like a good twerk song as much as the average club goer, but damn can we get some balance?
Conscious without corniness is his lane and he stays in it with each track. This brother should be on tours at festivals like Afropunk, AFRAM and other diaspora oriented music festivals. One of my favorite tracks is C’mon Home, lamenting the erosion of Hip Hop anchored in Black Love and inviting artists to once again create from this perspective. His official theme song, Black Rock Star Super Hero, is about exactly what it sounds like…an audio graphic novel encouraging us to love ourselves and be our own saviors. The Afrobeat inspired Love The Way She Dance is a lyrically tantalizing take on a 21st century love song. Heady’s storytelling prowess shines through on Bully, where you can envision clearly how the situation went down at the bar. I’m sure many of us can relate to the drunken fuckery that can suddenly turn a chill situation into an “I might need some bail money” situation. His candor and transparency on Write My Life and INVANCIBLE give a chronological picture into his spiritual evolution over the past two decades.
I have always felt that baring your soul through your art is what makes it unique and relatable, which is what Head-Roc does on these songs. The Black Ink produced project, Black Leon is a must buy for music lovers of all genres because it is simply good music that comes from an authentic well of passion for both People of Color and DC, formerly known as Chocolate City. Support my Brother Head-Roc, the Black Rock Star Superhero, by adding it to your music collection and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- What was the catalyst for your switch to conscious music?
I’d have to say the catalyst was probably my relationship with my now ex-wife and mother of my daughter. This was some years ago now, about 2002/2003, and during the eve of the 2nd Persian Gulf War invasion of Iraq. She is of Iraqi and Palestinian descent, and so I have the experience of watching someone I love go through a hell I could not imagine… save to relate it to history of my own peoples as enslaved Africans and their descendants. It took some time, but once I began to understand how the histories of our Peoples connect with relationship to managing the challenges of living with the decisions of White Supremacy, I began to walk the path of social justice anchored artistic expression. First, I directed my art to support in favor of my ex-wife’s Arab heritage against the beast, and later I would do so for my own heritage as a descendant of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas to build European wealth.
- If you were offered a distribution deal with a major label again, would you take it?
- Why or why not?
Let me say that I am a businessman and so yes, I would entertain the overture by a major label to distribute my art. Of course, and it’s no secret, it’d have to be a situation and arrangement where the culture of all things Head-Roc is present in how business is done.
- Do you find racism to be more prevalent in the US or overseas when dealing with promoters?
I’d have to say, for my experience, racism here in the US is way more prevalent as well as covert – making it harder to detect. I’ve been overseas (I Love It!) and have had a few instances where someone didn’t want to be next to me for no apparent reason other than that I’m Black – Maybe. Over here in the US, where I am a natural born American, I am, overtly or clandestinely, continuously under fire for declaring pride in my African Heritage, and pointing out the tremendous impact enslaving Africans to build wealth played in the founding and subsequent progression of this Nation.
- How would you advise young artists to proceed when attempting to get paid for a gig?
As with any Profession, when you are first getting started there is a vetting process. Amongst your crew; artist peers; family; friends, open mic organizers, venues, concert promoters, the press, radio, etc. You have to make it through all the layers to be considered valuably marketable to invest time and resources organizing shows where all parties involved are taken care of financially. This “right of passage” process can take years, and sometimes decades, to accomplish. Once you reach that level, my advice to artists is be sure to hold true to the value of your request for financial compensation for your services.
- How many members of the original Infinite Loop are still pursuing music or the music business?
One Two, Theory, and Grizz record, release and rock together as A.R.K. I’m working with Face (One Two’s partner in Organnic Symmetry). L.O.S from 13 degrees East (Theory’s partner with D-Man), DJ RBI is the Top DJ in Chocolate City, Jarobi (ATCQ) is Rhyming with Dres (Black Sheep) in EVITAN as well as enjoying being a rock star in the Culinary World. Platted Mind (Blas) is gearing up for a Solo Release.
- What lessons did you learn from your daughter that you have incorporated into your musical style and content?
The lesson that I have learned from my daughter Jahmila is to remain genuine. Every Album I’ve released since my daughter was born, has been approved by her. She likes her daddy’s art expression a certain way; energized and crisp, not too docile or chill. That’s how she knows me, full of energy and always looking for and/or leading the next adventure. She likes the songs I create that pay tribute to the people we admire, and she like my “story” songs. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t not ad that she does like the songs where I big up myself and talk a little smack. J
- Are you going to run for Mayor of DC in the future? City Council, Ward Council?
I have been asked many times these same questions by a few folks with the power and influence to help organize an effort that would result in a resounding win for the Citizens of Chocolate City. Right now, I’m focused on continuing my sustainability and securing my future so that I can remain a producing artist to the end. In that space, I am always looking for a Black Rock Star Super Hero DC local candidate to back with the weight and influence of the name and brand I have been building the last 25 years.
- Do you think politics and musical expression, especially hip-hop, naturally go together?
Absolutely. In my research, observation, and opinion Black music in America is born out of political repression; meaning since our enslavers wouldn’t let us express ourselves in the normal course and flow of decent conversation, we had to revert to natures #1 soul expression: music. Hip-Hop is a link in the chain of development of Black music expression. Early Hip-Hop music has deep political expressive roots. Why? Because of it’s effectiveness to reach communities living under a system that worked to stifle Black/Brown expression. That’s its origins, and I am happy to play my part continuing the tradition as we move into the future.