“Want to be famous, sign to a major label; want to be rich, stay independent,”Ahmad Ali Lewis says. The hip-hop artist turned label owner and Stanford graduate of class of 2010 explains his reasoning for stepping back and going independent. A native of South Central, LA, Ahmad started off sounding like others until he created his own sound and began his own path. He secured his first major contract with Giant Records while only a senior in high school. At age 18, his record went gold for the chart topping 1994 hit “Back in the Day“, which is also featured on the infamous 1999 “The Wood” movie and soundtrack, which he sampled from the famous Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO.” After leaving Giant Records before the release of a second album, the realization of independency and influencing the public was a lot more powerful in Ahmad’s mind. He later formed a band called 4th Avenue Jones, a collective whose sound he dubbed as “hiprocksoul.” So why in the world is Ahmad only known for that one song? Although he pens records for artists such as Leela James, the soul ballad “Mistreating Me” on her LP “A Change Is Gonna Come”, he is still not recognized publicly as a great artist.
Kanye West on Ahmad: “I had this line from the Cant Tell Me Nothing Remix; I knew this was like boxing when I stated this shit, this game will leave more niggas retarded than rich. And when I saw Ahmad first thing I said in my mind, he looks nice, like this game hasn’t destroyed him. And in this game when you see a lot of rappers that tried to do it at a young age, you see them now (all beat up and such) and they still trying to do it. Its super positive and part of the reason is he (Ahmad isn’t messed up) is because he’s going to go get an education regardless. You see all these artists that had hits at that point and they now look devastatedâ¦ rappers are fucked up; looking like older boxers and I commend Ahmad on that.” – wakeupshow.com.
Singersroom catches up with Ahmad to see where he plans to go with his career.
SINGERSROOM: After the large gap, what made you continue recording music?
Ahmad: I started a band 2-3 years after I left Giant Records. Let’s do a timeline. I was 16 when I got my record deal, recorded my album at 17 and put out the hit “Back in the Day”, went gold at 18, toured the world at 19, stopped making music and got out of the music business and was through with rap. I was not diggin’ what I saw. A lot of things to deal with when you are signed at 18, I figured it was about the love of the music and not all the other things and I was disappointed with what I saw. I had a crisis of all things and got into church. I started a band, in 2002, called 4th Avenue Jones, a collective with a sound I dubbed as ‘hiprocksoul’. The collective included a violinist, bass guitar and drums. We recorded eight whole albums of music.
SINGERSROOM: What is WeCLAP?
Ahmad: I recently formed a new music company called WeCLAP, an acronym for We Change Lives, Attitudes and Perceptions. WeCLAP has agreed to have our label content digitally distributed through Syntax Distribution, a division of Quality Junk, LLC, a firm based in San Diego, California. My highly anticipated proper sophomore solo project, since the one I did in the 90s didn’t release, The Death of Me is due out on July 29th; it will be the first WeCLAP release. Its storytelling, great lyrics, very melodic and it’s for my people, for my hood.
SINGERSROOM: What made you go back to school? How did this help you grow?
Ahmad: When you are consistently used to being a perfectionist, going to school with deadlines and turning in work; it shows me how to work in different ways and settings. You must lead by example and impact your community the best way you can.
SINGERSROOM: Why name the album, The Death of Me?
Ahmad: That’s my baby right there! God gave me that title, at least 3-4 years ago. I was furious with music and I said “this is going to be the death of me” and I had to change that mindset. This album is pure heat; I think it’s one of the best albums coming out this year. A lot of true artists and not so much collaborations from Gucci Mane and I don’t need that; it’s about the art, not about the hype.
SINGERSROOM: How has school changed your views? What made you go?
Ahmad: With enjoyment, I had the will to practice 10 hours straight a day on my music. And this is what happened, when I went to Stanford, I was tired of music and its politics, but when I really got into, I saw how committed my professors and fellow students were on one subject. Just one subject, whether it’s a cell of a human or becoming a doctor. I decided to be the biggest rapper in the world, that was 2 years ago and it’s going down. I was 29 going on 30 when I decided to go back to school. I do not allow people’s expectations to determine what I want to do. I graduate this June. But I will say I learned more outside the classroom than I did in school, but I did learn a lot.
SINGERSROOM: Who do you think makes a lot of money, but does not contribute to art?
Ahmad: I decided I was not going to say anything, as I decided early on, I am going to play the middle man, but there are a lot of wack people. I would say 80 percent of the rappers today are wack. They are the people you know about and who you don’t. Just look at the charts; the top ten and about 7 of them are wack.
SINGERSROOM: Independent versus Major labels.
Ahmad: I am completely independent. Independency is like finding a life jacket while you were drowning in the ocean. These social networks have allowed me to get my fans together and word of mouth spread faster. I am able to make a record or snippet and release it to thousands of people without having to go through a label or ask permission. Sometimes make sure it is the most commercial song, and with major you have to understand, they will search your whole album and pick the most commercial song regardless of what you feel is the best song on the album. That is one of the differences. When you hear these artists on the radio with a lot of play, it’s not about who the best is, but who is the most commercial, simplistic and easy like fast food, because that is what people want, something quick. The ones that are able to have more substance usually are under independent labels. If they get radio play, they have found a way around it and keep it relevant and truthful.
SINGERSROOM: What advice do you have for those who want to be signed, who do not understand the game?
Ahmad: My advice is getting signed if you want to be famous, and this may not even happened. Stay independent if you want to be rich. There is a big difference because being famous can be seen like this, no disrespect to Snoop Dogg, but all those since his album, Deep Cover, with Death Row, he was famous and everywhere, but when Master P came out with No Limit Records, he was rich with a few songs. Snoop was out 10 years longer than him and Master P still signed him to No Limit with his own four to five years of independence. You can see how the game works. Watch how you work and who you work with, your success relies on it. If you see me on a major label, it must be a good deal. Major labels are almost irrelevant nowadays. Build up your leverage. Honestly, these labels barely work, in the office doing nothing about your album. You can only work hard for yourself, no one else will.
Find Ahmad at these various networks:
http://www.twitter.com/ahmadweclap —— By: Interview By Imani Pope