Asheru is not only one part of the Seven Heads organization, but along with Blue Black they form the group Unspoken Heard. Performing shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic area all the way to London, the Heard has created a name for themselves in underground circles. As a teacher Asheru has taken steps to educate students and created a cultural based program to expose kids to music, literature, and current events. Follow along on this interview as he speaks on the program and several other moves being made by Seven Heads entertainment including the release of the first Unspoken Heard full length “Soon Come”.
I saw some information on the website about a new 12″ series Seven Heads is doing called “Get Up, Stand Up”. What’s the background on that?
Wes is doing that now. It’s a socially motivated project where different artists will contribute. Each 12″ will be addressing issues that affect the urban community. The series is looking to uplift and give something back to the community. The first project had Mr. Complex and Masspyke on it. At some point I will be doing a track as well. We are putting them out on a regular basis, touching on topics like police brutality, teen pregnancy, unemployment, bad air, bad water, whatever cats want to talk about.
I see, so the emcee already has a set of topics to choose from.
Yeah, it’s something the artist wants to talk about. I’m a teacher so there is a lot of stuff I see anyway. A lot of stuff that I have written address those type of topics, so I’m definitely down to get on that project down the road.
Has being a hip hop artist enhanced your ability to teach kids?
Sometimes, I choose not to tell my kids until later on in the school year after they get to know me. I don’t just go in there and start rhyming because the message might get lost. There are always tactics you can use in the classroom. Sometimes I end up running my class like a show. Kids get their arms in the air and call and respond. I just try to employ all of those different tactics to teach them. I teach 1st grade, so if I’m asking a math problem I get them charged up enough to throw their hands up and compete. They have to write little affirmations for themselves that they memorize and repeat. I just incorporate it subtly. I also have another program that I developed. It’s a cultural arts exposure program where I go around to different schools and do workshops. I’m shopping that now and hopefully I can get into that full time. I’m going through that now with my school to see if they can pick it up and by next year I hope to be running my own mini curriculum within the school. I’m fusing the two together, the staff understands that I have to do shows and stuff like that.
That’s one thing I was wondering is it difficult splitting time between teaching and making music, touring, etc.?
Yeah it is, especially if you got a show on a Thursday night in Philly and you really want to go. Sometimes you can’t get that Friday off, or you don’t want to take off. Juggling that type of stuff is hard but I still get it done. I go and come right back but it’s a pain if I can do it or not.
You guys recently had a show last week right?
Yeah, I had to go to Charlottesville Tuesday night after work and come right back up.
It seems that’s tough to travel right after work and still have the energy on stage to rock the crowd.
It’s hard man. I be working long days. I get up at 6:30 am and don’t come home until 8 or 9 P.M on the regular. Between school, practice, and doing this program it’s a lot of shit. Eventually it will get easier and start to work for me as opposed to the other way around.
I know you got the album “Soon Come” coming out. Is there a general theme to the album? If not, what are some topics you are addressing?
I guess the title came before we actually put some of the material on there. Basically “Soon Come” is dealing with the process and the road we took going from where we started to putting out this full length now. Basically everything we’ve been through during that 5-year span. The album deals with more emotions and moods than anything. You have songs like “Truly Unique” where it’s something we do on the regular. The album is dealing with how we see things and interpret them. It’s showing our personalities, viewpoints, and out world outlook illustrating how we view our surroundings. The whole beauty of it is we are two different cats that have the same ideas. We’re not opposites, but we view things in two different lights and it compliments each other and we played with that throughout the album. We have a song called “Elevator Music” where the pun behind that is, it’s elevator music for the up and coming. That came from standing in the elevator one day talking about what if you were on the elevator and heard some hot shit just bumping. Blue went to the studio with his boy Munia who plays guitar and they laid the track. When I heard it I was like ‘Oh Shit’! It came from talking one night and a lot of the album is like that. Our chemistry has been our thing all these years. We don’t even live near each other or speak on an everyday basis but it’s that Unspoken Heard.
I heard at one point he had retired and he was gonna do some teaching.
He just wanted to go do his own thing. He still feels that way sometimes. He has been doing this for a long time so I know there were points he wanted to (stop) but he will always be making music. We both came into this as a solo artists and we maintain that, but we also work well together so we always try to keep that open. Even on the album there are a bunch of solo joints, but we did a lot of tracks together.
Going back to the topic of chemistry that you mentioned earlier, when did you begin using the Mockingbird Technique?
Mockingbird style was something I always did when I was in ciphers rhyming with cats. I would be so into it, I would echo what he was saying just to fuck wit him. Blue and me used to do it all the time and he would be like how the hell do you do that shit and we ended up fucking around on a track and I mocked his verse. He was like I’m gonna get that shit down and mock yours. Mockingbird is one of our techniques, but we have other stuff like different chants that we throw out. We always try to project things without saying it. The mockingbird speaks on our chemistry without really saying ‘Yo, look at our chemistry’. We still do that for kicks, sometimes we will get on stage and he’ll say all my rhymes and I’ll say all his like I wrote them just to keep things moving and different.
Do you feel the Mid Atlantic area (DC, MD VA) is lacking in support as far as hiphop, compared to other areas like Philly or NY?
I don’t know. Everybody I hear out here says the Go-Go scene is messing up hip hop, but I don’t really see that. We did a show Friday at the State of the Union and it was a sweatbox in there with a rack of people. I think it’s just a matter of keeping a good name and certain standing. I know when I go to shows there are cats that have me saying, ‘Damn they flipped it again’. Groups like the Roots, De La, and Outkast flip the sets constantly. We’ve been getting a lot of love out here, but I think it could improve. There are enough people here to support each other and support hiphop. There are a lot of cats rhyming in DC like Infinite Movement and Opus, but I don’t understand why it hasn’t gotten bigger. I guess the reason for that is because cats don’t give they hometown support until the world does.
How would you sum up the DC hip hop scene?
Cats are extremely creative and know what it means to be artistic in D.C. It’s not a matter of having a record out, but heads are challenging each other to step it up. It has gone from open mics, spoken word, and a couple rhyming events to cats getting organized, booking shows, and independently putting out their own stuff. It’s very artistic between hip hop, hip hop theatre, beat makers, dancers, and graffiti. That’s what makes our scene unique because it isn’t a matter of art in other places. It’s like living in a bubble where everyone is checking up on each other’s shit. I always got support from the artists down here and that’s why I love it.
I just find it hard coming from NY and the abundance of shows to being in the Mid-Atlantic where there aren’t as many shows.
It’s bugged out because I got teachers at work asking me what kinda music I make. I’m like ‘I make hiphop’ and I watch them go ‘Oh’. I hate the fact that I feel I need to give them a disclaimer like ‘but it isn’t what you think’. I wish hiphop was a noble profession like being a teacher, but it isn’t. It’s more like ‘oh you rhyme everyone does that. What do you talk about bitches’? Then when you say you’re not on that they assume you must be on some Tribe Called Quest or De La vibe. I’m just making music.
People’s reactions are funny. When I tell people at work who I’m interviewing they always trip off the names. My last interview was with Cannibal Ox, once I said that it was over they were like Cannibal what?!
I remember when we first started, everyone would ask what’s the name of the group. Once I said it was Unspoken Heard they would always be like ‘It sure is unspoken, because I never heard of you’. That was just a running joke I would always get. I had teachers come to the show Friday and ever since yesterday it’s been like ‘yo you ripped that shit’!
I appreciate that because I’m sure beforehand they were like ‘oh he’s a rapper and we gotta go to this shit’.
That’s interesting now that you’re speaking on teachers listening to hiphop, because I don’t think of them going home and throwing in a mixtape.
Exactly! You never are but it’s at the end of the year the cat’s out of the bag. I play instrumentals or some of my favorite music and explain to the kids and talk to them. Now it’s a little looser, but when you first start off the school year with kids knowing you rhyme and coming in with a head full of locks they look at you as a rapper and it kills your authority. Once they respect you and then you tell them, it changes the way they define hip hop. That’s the whole fun of it.
I haven’t really talked to kids that age about hip hop so I don’t even have any idea how they look at it.
They don’t know nothing. Snoop is the godfather of hiphop to them. They look at Snoop like he is their uncle. They look at Snoop like we look at KRS. They know cats like Mos Def, but they love Lil Bow Wow. Bow Wow is the man in my class, but oddly enough they like Jill Scott. When I taught middle school the kids heard the instrumentals to the song “Ain’t No Woman” and they was like that’s Jaÿ Z! The other teacher heard them and was like that’s EPMD. He said ya’ll don’t know nothing about that. He told them ‘I miss EPMD but you missed EPMD’. To them anything that comes out of mouths of people like Lil Kim is golden. Sometimes just for kicks I’ll be like ‘y’all never heard of Stetsasonic? UMC’s?’ It’s so funny to me because they never heard of these people and think they know music. That’s why I started that program because I have to show them what they missed. You gotta get the whole story you can’t come in on part 3.
What are some of the intricate things you have planned for the program?
I have it broken up into three different sections. I have reading, music, and writing. It’s very literature focused. I’ll take the book “2000 Seasons”, read a passage from that on where he is talking about how police officers are zombies. We’ll discuss it a little bit and write a reflection about what they heard. Then they will listen to KRS “Black Cop” and one of the “Hip Hop For Respect” 12″s and we would possibly talk about Diallo. After that they might listen to Fela’s song called “Zombies”, about the police in Nigeria and discuss about how it’s really a global problem. I’ll have them come full circle after all 3 workshops and shoot em up out of there. In that period of time they’ve been exposed to the writings of Ayi Kwei Armah , KRS, Fela, and understand who Amadou Diallo was and other victims of police brutality. They walk out of there learning something they didn’t know and relate to it easier because they listen to hip hop and respect the guy who is telling them. Little by little I can show them how it all ties in. One day they maybe reading Shakespeare, anything that relates. Othello isn’t anything but the OJ trial back in the day, you just have to show them how it relates. It’s easier with middle and high school kids because they can process that quicker.
How has the response been to the program?
Last year I took off to do this independently to test myself and freelanced to see if I could survive. For a year I’ve been doing workshops and getting money from the DC Commission on the Arts and the Smithsonian to go do it. I took a group of kids out to San Fran for the National Teen Slam. I co-coached the team, then I started doing different workshops. I got a fellowship from the Smithsonian to do this big project for the Folk Life Festival. I wrote the curriculum while I was doing that. I just got a grant in Charlottesville for the fall to work with some kids from this music resource center. Hopefully I’ll be able to get another grant up here to do the same thing. That’s how it all came about. So far it’s been really fun, but we never had an official run of the program because it has always been different little workshops. It’s really a 12-week program.
That’s very impressive.
There will be recording and writing and it will be published like a little book. At the end of it we might go to the studio and record some of the pieces and songs that have been done. Then we move onto the next school or location.
I’m proud to see people doing positive things within hip hop. I like to point those heads out so that they can see there is a lot more to the culture.
I hope people see that and support our efforts because we are doing it to benefit other people. There is a scholarship fund that just got started by 7 Heads. It’s another arm of 7 Heads called “Do Things for the Kids”. It’s a non profit organization where some of the proceeds from our sales will go towards an ongoing scholarship fund. It just got started two months ago. This year it’s going to be a $500 scholarship to an incoming freshman at UVA to help with books. It’s nothing big, but eventually as it goes along it will get bigger.
Where would someone get more information on the scholarship fund?
We are working on building a mini-page on our site, sevenheads.com. We are going to put it on the site a lot, send out emails and different press kits to get the word out. If people are interested in helping us out we could definitely use that help to get stuff done. It will be coming out in a month or two so you should hear more about it.
How did the song “Track Runners” with you, J-Live, and Grap Luva come together?
They just showed up. Grap was playing with some beats on the MPC, threw one in and me and J were like ‘yo that shit is phat’. Wes was like ‘why don’t y’all go in the studio and fuck around’. We went in there and put the headphones on. We didn’t even talk about how we were going to do it. The beat just came on and we were just in there rhyming. The engineer, Elliott, was just recording it the whole time. We were in there feeling the track, not even trying to do a song. It was one take, eight minutes long. We didn’t do any adlibs or anything, we went in and rhymed and came out laughing. It’s kinda like the old jazz tradition. Someone like (Thelonious) Monk would sit down at the piano and be like ‘I’m going to do this one time because this is the rawest feeling I have right now and I don’t want to lose it’. We did the same thing with “It’s About Time” on the “Cosmology EP”. We had about ten minutes left in the studio and we just started rhyming and we kept it. There are two big samples taken from it. I’m like how you gonna take the least worked on song, but Common sampled it and so did Q-Tip and Words on the Rawkus compilation.
Any thoughts of putting together an unofficial group or doing more singles with Grap and J-Live?
Hell yeah, I’m with that. Me and J did a joint with Pete Rock for his album, but I don’t think it made the final edition. Grap, J, and myself will work on more stuff for sure.
Didn’t you guys do a tour in England with J-Live a couple months back?
Yeah we went all over England. Every night we were in another city. That shit was off the heezy. I ain’t seen nothing like that here. We’ve had some dope shows here but out there it is just bananas. They love hip hop and they aren’t caught up in the illusion of it. We’ve been fortunate to see some nice crowds and do everything short of stage diving. We go out there with J and we’re all on the stage at the same time. We interchange our sets and mix it all up. We will do a couple joints, then J comes out and does a couple, so the whole night your getting beat over the head with all these different songs. J will come out and do “Braggin Rights” in the middle of the show and crowds just go crazy. We just take them through all those different moods.
That’s dope because when your watching one artist everyone is waiting on that one joint they love and to hear it randomly in the middle of someone else’s set would be bugged. I could see how you play with the crowd’s emotions doing that.
We used to do “Jamboree”, and while we were doing the roll call J would go and set up in the DJ booth. He would get on the mic and say ‘My name is J, Yeah!, I’m hot tonight Yeah!, and this next song is Braggin Rights!!’. We got four tapes from all our shows out there and every time it gets to that part you see the whole crowd goes crazy.
How do a lot of these spots come about? I know some heads have a lot of connections, but do people tend to approach you first about doing shows?
You know what happens is a cat will see you perform. We went to London for the first time last year and they were like ‘I’m bringing them back out here’. The dude who brought us to Amsterdam saw us in London and another cat saw us in London brought us to Finland. Promoters hear about your show through word of mouth and call you out there.
What are some expectations you have for the new album?
My ultimate wish is for people to hear it and spread the word for others to pick it up. I noticed when Jill Scott’s album dropped she didn’t get a lot of publicity, but her shit spread like wildfire. She was just on everybody’s lips and that’s how I want it to go. It will be on a smaller level because we are independent, but in those circles I want it to have a good reputation. I think people will enjoy it for how musical it is and will be able to relate to it. I want people to feel it’s a good solid product.
Will it contain mostly new tracks or work from your previous EPs?
We took a lot of the old stuff off. The only old tracks are “Jamboree”, “Setting Sun”, and “Smiley”. Everything else is new stuff. After we listened to the first version of the album from ’99-’00 we decided to put out newer material. We got stuff out of nowhere like sax and flute solos. There are a lot of live instruments and different melodies. We also have a lot of concepts and they work along with the beats so that you can listen to it a year from now and hear something different. It will be dropping around September 11th. The first single will be coming out in a month, “Elevator Music” b/w “B-Boy”. Both of those songs are produced by Geology.
How many other producers worked on the project?
We got Joe Money, Ritchie Pitch, DJ Khalyl, J.Rawls, Grap Luva, Sound Providers, and DJ Spinna. We got a lot of cats to pitch in and help us out of mutual respect.