Writer: Sebastian Egholm Lund
”I feel I can spit amongst the best of ‘em when I want to. 100 per cent. I feel like a lion in a cage. I’m angry and I want to get out. ”
I sit in Negash Ali’s hotel room at the local Atlantic Hotel located opposite of Negash’ forthcoming concert venue, Train. He seems happy but also a bit tired and worn. His partner Line Rindvig is also with us. She and I exchange a few words while Negash goes out on the balcony of the hotel room to smoke a Prince light. I must admit that I’m a bit anxious but also really excited at the same time. Negash was one of the first rappers in Denmark to spit in English and do it well. To spit real hip-hop – as in America. The Hip-hop I admired growing up. I have followed him most of the way. I even went to school with him where he frequently threatened me with wedgies. That is all water under the bridge now. I look forward to hear about his last couple of years and his recent move to London.
We start talking. We talk about Aarhus – him coming home again. He seems glad to be back but with business on his mind. I want to hear what his particular relationship with Aarhus is – being the place he spent his childhood. A theme Negash continuously deepens in his lyrics without flatter.
“It’s cool. It’s always nice to see the family. Lots of love in Aarhus. I think it’s about what story you make out of it. Everything isn’t black and white. There will always be a story. Primarily Aarhus was the place where I started grinding on my career and made my first deal. It’s only positive. Old homies; family.”
Then I focus on London. The entire contrast between Aarhus and London. An undeniable contrast it must have been for him. He made the move in May 2013, which has given him half a year to experience the English capital so far. The experience seems almost exclusively positive. It seems as if he has found his place in London and speaks only positively with bright eyes when the subject falls upon the huge metropolis.
“It’s been great. One of the reasons I made the move was to get some variation. I did not want to rap in Danish or go for making commercial radio-hits. London seemed to be the right place. It’s all going so fast over here. It’s just moving faster than in Denmark. You just need to step up and apply. Apply to a higher level of music. It’s motivating.”
Understandable. I talk a bit more with him about his adventures and success in connection to his location in Britain. He has been getting a lot of heat by both MTV UK and BBC 1. Combined with an article on the grand hip-hop magazine The Source. He appears to be one of the approaching upcommers in Great Britain with all the press flying around about him – Especially in connection with this EP. I want to hear his reaction to all these accomplishments. Honestly he does not seem surprised with his achievements. He strikes me as very motivated and hungry. Dissatisfied even though experiencing success.
“Me and Line (co-founder of record label 10thousand red.) teamed up in June. We went right for the jugular. The first three months were slow. There have been crazy moments as with the article on The Source. We jumped up and down. It was a huge surprise at the moment but then we landed on the ground again and started setting new goals. It’s never the goal but the journey. Those things do not satisfy me. What satisfies me was the time when the single ’What You Got’ dropped. Then I was satisfied. Something we thought was truly dope.”
Then I change the subject. And we start talking about his GhettoPop which came out at the end of 2012. His second album. And a complete musical change from the boom-bap style he practiced with Majors and his soulful hip-hop on his debut album Asmarino (2009). Way more electronic and with a pop feel. A very surprising musical turn to me because Negash Ali managed to make pure, old-school hip-hop so well. He stresses that he felt limited by hip-hop as genre. GhettoPop was the result of him maturing – developing his musical style,
“I was frustrated with the taboo saying hip-hop shouldn’t or couldn’t sound as pop. I did not release anything from start-’09 to late-’12. In those three years my taste of music went in very different ways. It was a personal shift inside of me. A need for a challenge. The most exciting thing for me is to take something you love musically and try to stretch it as much as possible.”
But the term GhettoPop did not just embody the new way Negash Ali was going musically; it was also a phrase he felt described his state of mind at that time being.
“GhettoPop describes a personal dynamic. A dynamic created from knowing the ghetto and the same time existing in pop-culture. Two completely different dynamics. I have always been fascinated by contrasts. I flew to LA and Paris all the time, hang out with Bob Sinclair and then flew back to live in Frydenlund, Aarhus. That’s the kind of dynamic GhettoPop embodies.”
We are now at a point in the interview where Negash seems relaxed and at ease. He answers my questions with genuine attention. He takes interest in what I’m saying and is very serious about his answers. He seems so god damn hungry. So absorbed by his music and career. Full of ambition. That remains my core thought throughout the interview. We talk about inspiration. I want to know about his non-musical inspirations. He doesn’t name drop artists as Basquiat or Andy Warhol as other famous rappers – but mentions actors as a main inspiration of his.
“Actors are my biggest inspiration. Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, Forrest Whitaker, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio. Actors who play grand roles of grand personalities. Bio-pics. Actors inspire me because they portray some sort of core emotion. When I write it is always based on a core emotion.”
I continue to talk inspiration with him. He mentions Kanye West as a dream collaborator. Obviously. Negash puts himself at the same level as Kanye West. It’s a way to force himself to the level of Kanye and the likes of him.
“It’s urgent to juxtapose yourself with the best. It forces you to reach their level.”
Mature and insightful words from the 23 year old man. I can’t help but to agree with him. He seems to have a great deal of knowledge concerning the industry and how to get on top. Of course I confront him with the dreams of being on the top. The greatest of all time. He answers with burning hunger and childish happiness at the same time. Boastful and reflective.
“The next two years I have to go ape shit. I need to take the carpet from beneath me and rip it away. No safe net. When I started I set the goal to be the best. Better than 2pac and Rakim. No matter what I’m a rapper. I feel I can spit amongst the best of ‘em when I want to. 100 percent. I’m feel like a lion in a cage. I’m angry and I want to get out!”
The last lines he utters with a big laugh and a hint of sarcasm. But Negash Ali means every word of it. That I can tell.
We then proceeds to the last subject; the EP of course. The African Dream. A musically and lyrical description of Negash’ origin and childhood. But also a comment on the ineffective way integration works in Europe. Furthermore a musical introduction of Negash Ali to the people in the UK.
“All the people in the UK who hear this EP – hear me for the first time. This one has to count. Besides The African Dream describes my personality and childhood. I come from Africa, I’m raised in Denmark, I’m influenced by America and I live in England. I belong nowhere. I do not feel at home in Denmark. I do not feel at home in Africa. It feels as if you have no country – spiritually. ”
We round up the interview. We smalltalk for a bit; he is excited to be playing in Denmark again. I say my goodbyes and leave the hotel room and Atlantic Hotel as I walk past Train. I can’t seem to shake his starving ambition and willpower. It will indeed be very exciting to see what Negash Ali accomplishes in the future. The hunger is there for sure. Like a lion hunting to get a piece of meat.