“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” — 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14
That Bible verse could be the mission statement for the next chapter in Cleveland emcee Archie Green’s career.
In the midst of a tumultuous time in our country, Green has decided to tackle the tough topics facing Black America on his new project, The Black Pharaoh. The Black Pharaoh is a 7-track EP produced by Archie Green himself with additional production and mixing handled by Perry Wolfman.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Archie Green about the decision to bare more of his soul on wax, the current racial climate in the United States, and his new EP, The Black Pharaoh.
TRHH: I sense some anger in your voice on this project. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?
Archie Green: Very accurate, very accurate [laughs].
Archie Green: What Black Pharaoh is in terms of the subject matter, it was my perspective but also what I deem to be the perspective of a 21st Century African-American male living in America. With everything that’s’ been going on in terms of police brutality, the unjust killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and countless others I finally felt like I needed to speak on it. Up to this point, as far as my music is concerned, I’m always focused on myself. I’ve been talking about my dreams and the naysayers of my dreams, but now I’m kind of past that point and I felt like I needed to do something bigger than myself.
I have to admit it was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone talking about what I talked about. I titled the first song Blacks Only because I feel like the only people that would understand that are people of color in terms of the police brutality, but also me making a remark of where are the new Belafonte’s, where are the new James Baldwin’s, where are the new Nina Simone’s? The higher ups that are in positions of influence and power were not speaking up at the time I wrote it. Now we’re seeing more of it. To sum it up I’m just an angry black man [laughs]. I’m an angry, prideful, but also depressed black man. That’s what you hear in my voice.
TRHH: What do you say to those who say, “What are you angry about? This is the best situation that black people have been in since they came to this country,” or “Those people who were killed by police, 95% of them were doing criminal acts,” how do you respond that segment of people?
Archie Green: 95% of the people who would say that are not the color of people who would understand. I think the main thing is, as hard as it is for me to even expound on it, it’s really hard for me to express a way for them to understand. Let’s say 95% of those people weren’t innocent, there is still 5% that were innocent. And of the 95% that weren’t innocent, did they not deserve a fair day in court like anybody else? There is countless other video representation to the point that every time I’m on Facebook or whatever and you see another case of an African-American, Latino, or whatever that’s being beaten by the police unjustly, sometimes without any kind of reason. Someone might have jaywalked or looked at someone the wrong way. We’re talking about 2016, not the Emmett Till days. So have we come a long way? Yes we have, but at the same time we still have a long ways to go. I don’t know if we’ll ever reach that destination of true equality, not just in a legal sense, but a moral sense.
TRHH: I don’t think we will either. What you just said reminds me of the KRS-One lyric where he says, “There can never really be justice on stolen land.” The beginning of America is rooted in death. We love to say, “We’re the greatest country in the world,” and we have all these freedoms but our origins are rooted in death, colonization, slavery, genocide – it’s just nothing good.
Archie Green: [Laughs] Wow, you’re absolutely right. I just turned 30. I know I’m still young but once you hit 30 you look at the world totally different. There are certain things at this point that you might accept that will change and certain things that aren’t. It’s not that I’m happy about it, but it is what it is. This is the way of the world and to not accept that is completely ignorant. I think the episode “Hope” on Black-ish was a powerful depiction as well as an explanation of the state of America on race relations. I can’t remember the monologue that Anthony Anderson’s character had with Tracee Ellis Ross’ character were he basically explained, “Look, this is how it is, baby. To ignore it or act like it doesn’t exist is wrong.” There is no way that you can sit there, ignore what’s going on, and continue to hope and pray because what happens is that hope is snatched away from us. It’s been snatched from us for so many years.
I don’t know if I’ll ever do another project like The Black Pharaoh again in terms of continuing to speak from the standpoint of the angry black man. Yeah, I’m an angry black man but we’ve been angry black men for over 400 years. I felt like God compelled me to make this project. I felt like I needed to get that feeling out because there are a lot of people behind me that feel the same way, but because of who we are in the community or how we were raised we might not be as boisterous in the community about it. I decided to use my platform to speak out and say what’s on my mind and what I feel, and that’s it. Hopefully it will spark some discussion.
TRHH: What does the title “The Black Pharaoh” mean?
Archie Green: The title “The Black Pharaoh” to me is like The Black King. The reason why I used “Pharaoh” was an homage to Egypt – basically the dawn of civilization as we know it. Osiris, Horus, Kemet – all that I learned down at Morehouse. The Black Pharaoh is the black king. Like Puff said on his latest project, MMM, “The black man is God.” That to me is what The Black Pharaoh represents. The cover was inspired by a picture that a friend of mine from NYU had taken. He was riding on a camel in Tunisia while he was studying abroad. It was so powerful to me because he’s on this camel in Africa and he has a Camel cigarette hanging out of his mouth. It was like he was in the origin of where we all came from, but it was Americanized by that cigarette. I thought it was a powerful image. I had my homie Dakarai Ashby paint the cover as well as put the collage together.
What it represents also is it’s supposed to inspire people. One of the things with me and my music is I’m always telling people to pursue their dreams and believe in their selves. One book that really pushes that is The Alchemist. That image of the man on the camel can also be like a black Santiago – Santiago is the main character of The Alchemist. There’s one joint where I say, “I’m not Archie anymore, I’m Santiago.” I’m doing my best to push people, especially if you’re black in this world, still believe in yourself and know that you’re a king. Know where you came from and because of that be great.
TRHH: What inspired the song Blacks Only?
Archie Green: What I alluded to before was it’s just a culmination of anger. I wrote the song the night that the Mike Brown decision came through where it was decided that it wouldn’t go to trial. I was so angry. It was basically an out of body experience. I went straight to my laptop and started writing. It was that coupled with everything else. When Trayvon Martin happened back in 2012 I wrote a song called “Suspicious” and it was saying the same thing. It was more about disbelief like, “Did this really happen? Is this the reason why he died?” When the Mike Brown decision came out I was like, “Man, fuck this shit.” I can’t sit back and say it’s unbelievable and whatever – I’m angry.
That obviously inspired it and what else inspired it was nobody within the black entertainment community was saying anything about it. The people were too silent because they were thinking about their egos, the endorsements they might lose or whatever by supporting a Black Lives Matter. That’s basically what inspired that song. It was me finally speaking out and saying it was ridiculous that these innocent young men have been killed just for being themselves and no one is saying anything about it. Let me be the one to speak out and say something and if enough people hear about it, more people will speak out and it will bring about change.
TRHH: Throughout the EP you have excerpts of clips from Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. It was dope to me. The Ali clip stands out to me, what led you to use those voices on the project?
Archie Green: Thank you. That to me is part of the whole CLASS element. Those guys to me are what CLASS is all about in terms of Creatively Learning to Achieve Sustainable Success. That’s what CLASS means and those guys are pioneers of that. They really were saying in essence what I was feeling. I know that there might be certain people that listen to those clips and might think that I’m racist, as has been said many times on social media and across the country before. Being pro-black is not being racist. It’s just me being proud to be black, proud of my culture, and proud of my people. At the same time there are certain things that need to be said, man. Me also being a Morehouse man there are certain things that are in me – deeply rooted in me to say on a record.
That Ali clip was from like the 60s. I found all of the clips on YouTube and when I found that Ali clip I was in awe of how that was 50 years ago and it’s still relevant today. It’s still relevant almost to a T. Guys are getting pulled over, if they don’t comply with the police, they do something to provoke ‘em, beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em, whatever the case may be. There was so much that he was saying. I’m not saying that we’re not all brothers as human beings and as mankind. I believe that we’re all brothers, but at the same time how does a brother kill a brother? Rob him of his culture? Rob him of his religion? Kill his pregnant wife? You look at Flint, Michigan and it’s like it’s still going on, man. I wanted to pay an homage to them as well as bring to light that these guys spoke on these issues decades ago and we’re still going through the same thing.
TRHH: What’s your take on Donald Trump being the next President of the United States?
Archie Green: There’s a few different feelings I have about Trump’s impending term as President. Obviously at first, utter shock and disgust. It was super hard to process. However, after the initial shock and disappointment, I had a feeling of urgency to work. Now is the time that all these so-called leaders in our communities stand up for our rights as persons of color. Protests will not do much more than bring attention to the issue. It’s time to effect change in laws, finance and commerce. We must also hold Trump accountable for all the promises he made during the campaign. I’m willing to see what he and his cabinet does, but at the same time I ain’t gonna stand on the sidelines. I’m going to continue to work for a better future for the next generation through my art.
TRHH: You get real personal on the song Layers. Is that song based on real life events?
Archie Green: That is 100% accurate.
TRHH: Was it difficult for you to disclose those types of things?
Archie Green: In the beginning it was, but at the same time it was therapeutic for me. One of the strengths I had in doing that song was being transparent and not feeling embarrassed about it. I know there are a lot of people that suffer from depression and alcoholism, especially in the black male community that are not speaking on it. For me it’s just a part of being human – it happens. Alcoholism can creep up on you and if you don’t know how to control your drinking these types of things can happen. I was being transparent about how I lived with my sister, when I first moved in I couldn’t even afford to pay rent, and she basically covered my rent.
To me it was like, am I gonna continue to be this surface artist or am I going to be a guy that really bares his soul? A guy that tells the truth and the whole truth? I thought I should really peel back some layers for the people because I know there are people out there that have gone through what I went through and continue to go through. I’m in a happy place now, but around the time I wrote that song I was really going through it. I had suicidal thoughts and everything from dealing with my DUI, not being able to drive, not being around people for an extended amount of time, but I’m thankful to God that I went through it. It made me a stronger person. The fact that I was able to put it out on a song like that is a testament to my strength as well.
TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with The Black Pharaoh?
Archie Green: That’s a really good question. I think the main thing for me is I really hope it sparks discussion in terms of its impact. I hope that there are artists and people in general that listen to it and look in the mirror and decide that they’re not going to stand on the sidelines with everything that’s going on. I salute Kendrick Lamar for what he did at the Grammys and Beyonce for what she did at the Super Bowl and the Formation video. I spoke on a panel at the Cleveland School of Arts about that. We’re seeing more and more people step out and speak on it.
Outside of that I want to bring more people to the CLASS movement. I really would like to take it out on the road. I would like to perform in Chicago, Detroit, and go back to New York. I’d like to take it on the road and hopefully reach a new level of being an artist. As long as I’ve been doing this as an independent artist I still can’t say that this is all I do. I got a day job like a lot of other artists that I know. I really hope and pray that once this comes out I can reach a certain level where I can really put my all in this and do this for a living so I can continue to push the CLASS movement out there for people as well as deliver great music.
Purchase: Archie Green – The Black Pharaoh