On the cusp of releasing his debut album Bird Cage, rapper Konscious sits down with TCR's Nick Lee and Shay Ervin to discuss his multi-cultural upbringing, the origin for his interest in hip-hop, and his post-COVID career/musical aspirations. In an intimate interview Konscious lays out his plan for the future has a emerging talent.
Nick Lee: Welcome back to The Cultural Reset. My name is Nick Lee.
Shay Ervin: And I'm Shannon Ervin. And today we are meeting with rapper Konscious aka Joe. So Joe, take it away.
Konscious: Yeah, you can call me JT if you want. My name is Joseph Thomas. And I go by the name “Konscious.” I'm here in Detroit, Michigan, and my pronouns are “he” and “him.”
NL: I'm just gonna ask you some questions. And we're just gonna have a conversation mostly!
SE: I kind of wanted to mention that this is kind of a unique situation for us, because typically when we bring on artists they have music out, and you don’t have (any) music out yet. But last week when we were chatting, you were talking about your process and how you're going through the motions of putting out music and it really fascinated me. Do you want to start off by telling us about yourself and your creative process?
Konscious: Yeah, money moves. A little bit about me, I'm like out here trying to pursue the American dream. And I say that in the sense that I'm an immigrant. I immigrated from Perth, Australia, when I was young and I was born in South Africa, during the apartheid. I remember my dad using certain rhetoric when I was a kid that was all about living the American dream where there’s land and opportunity, and this is where you go to make money. Which was good marketing honestly, and it worked because I moved to Detroit. I started listening to rap and hip hop music and, as corny as it sounds, would tell everyone starting in elementary school that I was going to be a rapper. Everybody would just clown me, man. But that didn’t stop me from writing music.
And like Detroit, here's the thing. It's cold out here. Right. So a lot of people here are real, they don’t beat around the bush. In the beginning when I was showing people my music, they would just say “this is trash” and they were right! But little by little, the more conversations I had with people and the more opportunities that arose from those conversations, the more informed my music became and the better it became.
NL: I think it's really cool. One thing that you mentioned is how you grew into an artist. There's kind of a stigma when it comes to people who are going into hip hop, right? There’s this idea that everybody wants to be a rapper, everybody wants to do this, everyone wants to make it big and get that bag. But the difference I see with you is that you’re not just throwing projects out there and waiting for them to get picked up. You're cultivating and learning and crafting your sound. Can you speak to how you’ve been taking the time to nurture your sound?
Konscious: Yeah dude, I just worked. I worked this job for about a year that I hated but it paid well, so I stuck with it to fund my music. It enabled me to build a studio and a both and be able to create music at my own will, completely independently. That’s the biggest thing for me is being able to do all of this independently, and on my own. I could go out and get investors and all that, but I think asking for help from friends who are in audio engineering, DJing, producing and whatever is more meaningful. But timing is everything for me, and even though COVID kind of messed that up, selfishly, I'm grateful for it because I had the opportunity to just work on my craft.
I have a project coming out and I feel like if I release it properly, it's just better for my fan base. I feel like it would be like, on a marketing branding on everything level, it would just be more enjoyable. If I release it the way I want to release it, when I have everything set up instead of rushing it, it will be so much more impactful. The project is called “Birdcage” and it consists of 9, narrative driven songs. I want it to be able to stand on its own two feet and I want to release itin a pragmatic way that allows it to stand the test of time.
SE: Sounds very strategic.
Konscious: Yeah. Because I'm trying to make it.
SE: No kidding. Where do your lyrics come from and what does your creative process look like these days?
Konscious: So I have my work life and my personal life like most others but when I’m in the studio it's my own bubble. And in that bubble it’s just the beat and myself. Most of the time, I just go in and start spitting and if it sounds good i'll compose it and if not, I’ll just keep going until I get something I like. But like the name suggests, I want to make music consciously, not compulsively. When I'm doing this in a concert, I need the audience to know that these are my words, they came from me and I want them to resonate. Rap is rhythm and poetry. To me, my raps and rhymes are a symphony of thoughts.
NL: I really respect how much time and energy you seem to be putting into your music. I actually heard your demo last week and that consideration you’ve been taking really shines through. And one thing that I like about your sound is that it’s shifting the focus from what rap is typically fixated on.I feel like you're really kind of making sure that you're not saying anything derogatory and being respectful while also real and raw. And I wanted to talk to you about what you think about the genre as a whole? So hip hop, as we all know, is a genre of music and kind of a culture that was incepted by black Americans. So what is it like being a non black American, but still a person of color trying to pursue this career in hip hop?
Konscious: At the end of the day, the best artist is the best artist when people resonate with their music. I tell people I’m a rapper and that my shit slaps. I ask them what you think. “Tell me how you feel about it.” I’m more about the survival of the fittest. When I make music I think about myself and others. I think about everybody because I'm an artist. I'm making music that people are going to listen to. If they are listening to my music it has to in some way sound good.
SE: It speaks to them
Konscious: Right. It speaks to them. And there so much nuance to that. Speak to them. How? There are so many ways to speak to somebody because there are so many different people. Everybody is different. I just go by the basis of: if you can give me something better than what I'm showing you, then I'll tell you you’re better than me, but other than that, it is what it is.
NL: Yeah, I'm happy that you bring that up too. Because, that's one thing about hip hop as a genre. It is versatile. That's the reason why it's so popular globally, It is extended beyond the people in the culture that have created it. And I think it's cool that it's focused more on, and that you're focused more on, making sure that the actual artistic output is the highest quality.
Konscious: Exactly. I want to say, you gotta give respect to the OG’s. We have a culture where people throw shade at old people. They call them grandpa, diminishing who that person was when he was your age. The things he was at your age, he was a fucking legend. I got beat with the belt. Manners were put into me from a young age. So respect whoever the people are before us. I have nothing but respect for them. And because I'm in hip hop they're African American. I'm a rapper. My biggest idols and my biggest mentors, beside Eminem, are African American.
SE: Who do you look up to? Who do you seek to be like? Or who do you respect?
Konscious: I seek to be like Konscious. Just a better version of myself. I am inspired from like, a guess. Yeah, I'm inspired by Jay Cole. Eminem. I'm inspired by everybody. Because, everyone's different? Because they're their own thing, their own person. They'll spend their own personal life gaining their own experiences and do it their own way.
Hip-Hop is an improper rhetoric. This is where you can say whatever you want. But somehow it comes full circle.
NL: Yeah, that's a good answer. Because everybody in hip hop contributes their own unique experience.. That's what makes hip hop so much different than other genres in the music industry. You have pop and you have rock. But I feel like hip hop gives artists room to be themselves, unapologetically.
Konscious: Hip-Hop is an improper rhetoric. This is where you can say whatever you want. But somehow it comes full circle. It comes as a congruent thought that is beautifully articulated. But it's not proper. It's not how people told you how to say it. It's your own thing.
NL: It wasn't created to be proper. It was incepted to portray the experiences of black people living in urban communities. It's about time it was incepted. There are a bunch of terrible policies, a bunch of terrible economic conditions, and a bunch of terrible things that were being directed towards black people. Which is why hip hop naturally is like that, because it was born out of that type of conflict. And it's really nice to see that artists like you pay homage to that, pay respect to that, and still continue that improper rhetoric that it was rooted in because that's why it's been able to survive so long.
Konscious: It's also fun. At the concerts everybody is jumping and getting lit. And the cool thing is the crowd actually listens to what the artist is saying. He's saying something from conscious pain, no matter who it is. There's been some conscious pain, but the way they say that is what makes the track. It’s what makes people jump up at a concert. But at the same time, if you just listen to that track, such as Jay Cole. They’re saying some real shit. And I think that's why I love hip hop. if you don't want to be, all in your feelings, and jus have a party, you can party, you can get fucked up, you can drink or you don't have to get drunk, and you can still have a good time listening to it. If you want to be more in your thoughts. Listen to hip hop. It's for all moods.
SE: Detroit is obviously the founding place of a lot of culture in music. Have you gotten out on the music scene in Detroit and what has the response been like?
Konscious: Yeah, I went to Atlanta last year, I went to the A3C Festival. It's we're independent artists can showcase their work. And you can meet other artists. I lived in Detroit for five years. I'm from Midtown. So in that time, I networked with a lot of people. I threw a lot of good parties. That merited a lot of promoters. I've met a lot of people. And so for me its been a little different from other people because I’ve been doing this since middle school. So everything I do, I don’t know what to expect but if it can benefit me in some way I go for it.
NL: I wanted to ask you, we're talking about venues, we're talking about networking, we're talking about the stuff that artists have to do to kind of get to this point where they can grow. What do you think about the current state of the music industry in regards to hip hop? I want to talk about your experience navigating the music industry, itself. I would love you to comment on what you see happening in the music industry in regards to hip hop artists in regards to the hip hop genre.
Konscious: With hip hop and rap, the artist in my opinion is a conqueror, in the sense that nothing is gonna to stop that person. If he/she was really going to be an artist rapping this Corona didn't stop him. He's making music as we speak, he or she. They're making music as we speak. And the beautiful thing about hip hop, about rap, is every decade is different. Its like a reset. Every decade gets better. Innovates, like us look to the OGs, before you as a resource. But you're not spinning the same type of music as the people before you. It's always something different in hip hop. It's free. When I was a kid, the reason I wanted to be a rapper, I thought to myself, what is the freest profession? Where I can make my money, where I have the time and the energy, rap came to mind. Since I've been doing it for a long time, now, it all makes sense why I thought that. I think the future of hip hop in the upcoming decade is going to be incredible. We have 8 billion people in this world where now they're getting connected with the internet. Now we're all being connected. And now we have this tragedy, like this pandemic that we can all relate through the pain. It brings people together in a way. The thing that separates artists from other people is that they can take the pain and make it into something beautiful in whatever medium they choose. Whether it’s painting or music. I feel like the last four years have been bullshit pain. Things that people have been taking advantage of. There's not opportunities being taken away. There's a lot of greed. I’m not getting into all that. Thats not me. I'm always about pursuing this, but I believe in humans.
SE: On the point of making that global connection with music. We were talking about how a larger part of India just got WiFi. And that just brought a whole new group of people to the internet to appreciate the ability to connect on a global scale.
Konscious: I mean, India, Australia, Africa, everywhere is getting the internet and I think that would be great for an artist like me, starting out, because if I have a game plan. I have content. And I know where I'm going to put it. In the internet setup, where views translate into money. The fact that India and all these countries are getting Wi Fi and being more connected, is going to now have artists willing to make great music. And now we have a platform to do it. Hip hop is like, fundamentally, lucrative. If it is just on the American scale, that's one thing but, on a national scale that's another. If you're a well received artist, you're making the money you want to make, but on a global scale. You get the royalties that you need, from that specific country, you promote their music, get the copyright publishing. You get all that the business and legal finances, financial part of that, taken care of which isn't that hard, because of the internet. People are gonna listen. And a lot more people are gonna listen to your music. And if it's something good, a lot more people are gonna resonate with it. And if it's something good, a lot more money's gonna come from that. It's just how I think about it.
There are so many ways to speak to somebody because there are so many different people. Everybody is different.
NL: Question about that too, because you brought this up before. How your music talks about yourself. But there's also that money aspect to music making, especially in hip hop for you. So what do you feel is more important if one is more important than the other for you? Is it about the art that is creation for you? Or is it more about making money?
Konscious: No, look, we have bills, at the end of the day, I have bills to pay. So like, I'm gonna tell you, bro, like, the cliche broke artists, that's me in a sense, but it's not like something I fuckin like talking about, you know, I mean, it takes a lot of money to invest in music to like, make a track, you got to talk to producer, linked up with the engineer you got, there's so many operational costs that go into it. And then I have bills. At the same time you got I'm saying and all my time is going into one making the art. For me, it's the art. For me, it's the art for sure. But in a realistic as a realistic person with bills, and that's got to do stuff. Like, I got to think about the money. Because in those moments, where I'm like, Fuck, I need money. Like, that's what I need to be in a position where this never happens again. And that's why I'm so like, passionate, like, I feel like, I've talked a lot about the money aspect of things. Because if you're gonna be real artists, bro, like, what's gonna happen when you don't have enough money to pay bills, you can't do that or no more, you're going to get to work that job. And then like, the momentum just kind of slowly. Just kind of goes away.
SE: It gets sacrificed. You're right. Yeah, exactly. I think that that's something both Nick and I can definitely relate with. Because I mean, at this point in our lives of being young professionals, we have, we have many, many dreams, but at the end of the day, I mean, I definitely have bills that I have to pay. And so I have to kind of sacrifice my passion, my dream in order to, you know, be able to be a volunteer, I have to still work a full time job. And so I'm sacrificing my free time in order to like, you know, make these connections in order to make my dream come true. And even though I'm not an artist, I don't know, I don't sing, I don't really play many instruments. But I have the dream of being able to host a Sustainable Music Festival. Electric Forest is my inspiration. That's kind of what got my dream kicked off. Because I realized that people who are in the music scene, people who attend music festivals, are such a mass majority of the youth in our generation who are willing to make the sacrifices and the change to combat things like climate change. So I commend your ability to pursue your dream while also keeping in mind the realistic aspect like having to pay rent every month, having to pay car bills and student loans. That's just a reality of our generation. So being able to pay with your dream is like being able to have your dream and pay your bills with it. Sounds like a fantasy sometimes.
Konscious: Sounds like the American dream to me, honestly. Yeah.
NL: I think it's something that is achievable. We have so many people who say “hey, you have to pick one or the other.” I was literally told when I was little that one’s work cannot be their passion. Your passion has to be a side project. My parents grew up in a different generation, right? They grew up in an era where you got to do this thing. You got to do this thing for 25 to 30 years. And then maybe you can do something else.
SE: Work done with that 9-5 mindset? I will sacrifice my happiness and then I won't be me anymore.
Konscious: You can imagine a version of you like that if you keep doing this repetitive task. I used to say this all the time. “Por qué no los dos”. It means why not have both? Like, why not have both?
NL: I think that you can definitely do more than one thing at once. And our generation is the, the proof of that. I think The Cultural Reset is the proof of that because we have all of our volunteers that are working and have full-time jobs and side projects that they're working on, but they're still able to contribute to this and bring this to fruition.
I'm a singer and songwriter/performer myself, and I've done that type of stuff. And I've been told by so many people in my life. That I’m really, really great, but that I’m a black male living in America so I need to go get a degree. I need to go get a law degree. And it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. So I'm happy that we touched on that for sure. I want to end on this one question, Konscious, and I think that this is really going to be a great summary. What do you want to say to our audience? What advice do you want to give to them about getting in this industry about succeeding on their journeys?
Konscious: Yeah. I actually have a quick quote. I got this from an anime: “The ones who accomplish true greatness are the ones who are foolish enough to keep pressing onwards. The ones who accomplished nothing are the wise who know when to quit.”
NL: WOW INCREDIBLE. That really hit home for me!
SE: That’s deep; we will definitely push on. Also if you want to plug your music right now as we wrap up, when is it coming out and where is it coming out?
Konscious: It’ll come out on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify literally, everything independent music wise. So my debut project is going to be Bird Cage.
After that I'm releasing a mixtape called Snow Day. Now, when that's going to happen, is going to be dictated by the pandemic.I'm not going to let my music go to waste in the sense that when I put that music out, it's going to have to line up with a place/in a time when people can start going back to concerts. Cause I don’t want to lose that momentum. But I’m sure things are gonna go well!
NL: I hope it does! Konscious, it was great talking to you and I hope to talk to you again. I cannot wait to listen to this dope music you're about to release. Thank you all for tuning in and we will see you next week!
Konscious's debut album 'Bird Cage' is slated to be released on all platforms in 2021.