“One thing about rappers is they don’t wanna shut the f—k up,” I’m told by LA rapper Ethemadassassin. Before you get excited, this is not a subliminal please pass the mic aimed at an unnamed emcee, it’s an explanation of how he earned the moniker that rivals Mississippi in the have I used enough S’s? stakes.
Whereas some guys would be locked in cyphers from sun up till sun down, a busy E would drop something quick and leave. “A friend of mine was like ‘that’s like some assassin shit’ and I was like ‘what you mean?’ and he said ‘you get in there and give them one bullet and then you out.’” The same friend also pointed out how mad E looked all the time. The rest as they say…
This of course was all a long time ago. By his own admission E is not your “average new young rapper”. He took to the art form over twenty years ago after his original plan for being a DJ was scuppered.
“Being a DJ you got to have turntables. It cost money for turntables and my mum wasn’t getting me no turntables,” he tells me in an accent that betrays his North Carolina roots. Originally from Greensboro – home of Frank Lucas, American Gangster – a young ethemadassassin would lyrically sketch out his world over other rappers’ tapes.
E didn’t grow up in the projects, but was only child to a mother who was a teacher and a father that was “outside”, so was left to his own devices a lot of the time which often involved hanging around older kids.
Combine that with spending lots of time in Camden, New Jersey and Youngstown, Ohio – both notorious for their crime rates – and you get someone who years later offers the hilarious analogy: “You ever notice how somebody’s breath stink, but they don’t know it, but everyone else does?”
Unpacking the metaphor, he explains that it wasn’t until he went to university to study broadcast communication that he realised how “f—ked up” his environment was. Seeing black people from a “real-life Huxtable background” gave E a new perspective – eventually. It was a bumpy road but he managed to graduate proving he had brains as well as bars.
Flash forward to the present day and you find a man that is one half of rap duo Veteran Assassins, and three solo albums deep courtesy of his latest offering Soul on Fire. E emits a vibe that can only be described as a “G with a degree” as it is clear he has been able to combine his street and book smarts to positive ends.
I should probably add comedian to the list too. He describes his current video as being “put together on some Frankenstein shit,” and “a perfect imperfection – you know like the big titty and small titty.” And when I enquire about any talents he wishes he had, he tells me: “I’d like to croon. That would be some cool shit to just sing the panties off a woman.”
When he turns rapstorian giving me a brief rundown of the journey the genre has taken, and how music mirrors the drugs of choice, I find out he is also quite the conspiracy theorist. “I’m pretty certain the government will find another drug that’s going to do the same shit that crack did, if not worse, ‘cause motherf—kers are too happy right now.”
Growing up in the crack era has provided E with lots of tales; some of which are recounted on the autobiographical Soul on Fire – the title being a nod to the Elridge Cleaver book Soul on Ice. Baring his soul was the intention when he set to putting the project together so it was interesting to find out what songs he thinks define it.
“Letter To Mommy is the glue to the album. That song shows my whole process of thinking as a youth, and I think it shows the process of thinking of a lot of black youth at that time.
“80’s & 90s is the youth that I am talking about. 80s & 90s is about the crack era. Values got skewed in that time and people started valuing materialistic things.
“Gratitude is a thank you for being here after all the bumps and bruises I got through life. I’m thankful I made it, because I have a lot of friends that didn’t. That’s as cliché as hell but it’s the truth.”
It would seem that ethemadassassin has a life that would make a great book. What would he call it? “Tomorrow never comes or that first hundred dollars,” he tells me in a voice that sounds as if he is reminiscing that first hundred dollars. My thoughts are confirmed when he adds: “’Cause that first hundred dollars kinda did it.”
“I’d love for the end scene to be an old bastard on the front porch of a big ass house and I’m telling my granddaughter the story. She’ll be like ‘granddad your eyes are always red’ and I’ll be like ‘yeah it’s these brownies I be eating.’”
Soul on Fire is released on 17 September and you can follow ethemadassassin on Twitter @ethemadassassin
Interview by Taytula Burke. Follow on Twitter @TaykeOva