Cleveland, Ohio producer/emcee Archie Green in many ways is unconventional in today’s era of rap. Green refuses to put on a “rapper suit” instead opting to be himself – what a novel idea.
Having earned a Master’s degree from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Green is an educated man and he raps like it. His rhymes are eloquent and his beats are soulful in the tradition of other Midwest like emcees Common, Elzhi, Rhymefest, and Kanye West.
In 2013 Archie Green released The Greatest Pretender, a free album that showcases Green’s skill as a songwriter behind the boards and in the booth.
Archie Green spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about why Kanye West is his favorite emcee, the importance of having “CLASS”, and his latest album, The Greatest Pretender.
TRHH: Why’d you title your new album The Greatest Pretender?
Archie Green: The main reason behind the title was where I am with my life and a lot of my peers and people around me, right now we haven’t made it to that goal or that dream that we all wish to accomplish. Through mediums like Twitter and Instagram we fake it ‘till we make it. It’s like, “Aw man, I got all my shit together,” but in reality I’m still trying to figure shit out. For me, pretty much everybody that knows me when they meet me think, “This guy went to Morehouse College, he graduated with honors, he grew up in the suburbs, he grew up with two parents, his parents took care of him, he has a job, he has his shit together.” In reality I have a lot of inner demons that I fight with. I’m able to shield those from the outside world and that’s what the greatest pretender means to me. In this game, especially in Hip-Hop you gotta put on like you got shit going on – that’s just what we do. I feel like with a title like ‘The Greatest Pretender’ I’m one of the greatest ones out to tell that story. I’m faking it until I make it. I’m telling myself I’m the greatest until I really am the greatest, period.
TRHH: You ever read The Secret?
Archie Green: Yeah, I’m definitely a huge advocate for that. The book that I read that changed my life was ‘Manifest Your Destiny’ by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It really preaches the importance of meditation, having daily affirmations telling yourself that whatever it is you think you are you will be, period. I’m a firm believer in that. Again, that’s what The Greatest Pretender is about. You keep telling yourself these things until you become them. I interweave so many hidden messages of believing in yourself in the album as well.
TRHH: How is this album different from Klapisms?
Archie Green: I would say any project, not just Klapisms, that I did before this project I feel like I really didn’t go through as much. This was the first project that I was actually in a recording studio working on. For the other projects I did everything on my own. I didn’t get anything professionally mixed and mastered. With this one my fans helped me with the indiegogo campaign. My fans helped to put me in an actual studio. It was a lot more that went into this album, and I went through a lot more in terms of I broke up with my fiancé, I was broke, I couldn’t find a job, I had to move back home. There was a lot of things that went on with this project that people don’t really know. With my other projects I didn’t struggle as much. I was just putting out music to put out music. With this one the messages that I delivered was everything that I was going through at that time, not just stories of other people and other situations. These were first-person stories of everything that I was going through at that time unfiltered and unadulterated. Unlike the other projects where I was putting out what I felt to be good music but I was still kind of biting my tongue, with this one I totally let loose and I just said what was on my mind.
TRHH: Did you find that to be therapeutic at all?
Archie Green: Oh yeah. More so now than ever my art is very therapeutic, especially the situation I’m in now, moving back home. There are times when I listen to songs myself for inspiration to keep going. On ‘Sea of Fish’ I talk about a friend of mine who had quit working on music and was doing the 9-to-5 thing but that wasn’t really him, because he stopped believing. I’ve gone through that myself. I listen to it now and it’s reaffirming that I’m doing the right thing. I need to keep doing this music and not give up on this dream that I’ve had since I was 13-years old. Its songs like ’40 Acres’ where I tell the story of being this token black kid growing up in the suburbs and that not stopping me from being a great rapper. It’s the ten-year anniversary of one of my idols first albums, The College Dropout, he was the one that opened the door for somebody like me to get into Hip-Hop and be myself. I don’t have to worry about talking about drugs, talking about guns, or degrading women, I can just be myself and be one of the greats in this art. Writing this project was very therapeutic. The music kind of speaks for itself in what I went through when I was making it.
TRHH: I found out about you from the ‘40 Acres‘ video. Why was it important to you to put out that particular song?
Archie Green: I think for me one of the biggest stigmas I’ve always looked at in Hip-Hop is you have to have some type of street cred or be from some type of financial struggle to make it as an artist. Or you have to pretend that you came from some type of struggle in order to be an artist. You’ve got artists like Drake and Tyga that came from a well-to-do upbringing that don’t talk about it. I grew up in the suburbs. I won’t say I was spoiled or anything. My parents are the most humble people I know. I grew up blessed. That’s the American dream, right? We as people want to be able to give and provide for our families to give them a great life. I feel like in rap you can’t be respected if you came from a well-to-do family. I wanted to break that down. I wanted to say look, Just because I didn’t come from the hood doesn’t mean that I’m not a true Hip-Hop head, or I’m not a true artist, or my music would suffer from that. I’m not going to pretend that I came from the hood.
I’m proud of the way I was raised. I’m proud that my parents preached the importance of an education. I’m proud that I got the chance to be in a cotillion as a kid. I’m proud of the fact that my pops let me drive his Beamer to prom. As a black man in America I shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about that. There are other minorities in this country that grew up the same way I did but because of their surroundings or the way that America puts this norm on things like, “If you’re black” or “If you’re a minority” and you achieve something great you can’t talk about the fact that you grew up blessed and able to do wonderful things with your family. People won’t really respect that because you didn’t have any real struggles. My struggles weren’t financial struggles, my struggles were prejudice struggles. Being the only black kid in school, being called “nigger” on a daily basis. Most of these so-called hard rappers that talk about street raps, gangsta, and bitches and hoes couldn’t walk a day in my shoes. I know what it’s like to be the only one in an environment where I’m the only person of color. What I wanna do is break down the barrier that there is supposed to be some kind of struggle. Everybody has struggles and at the end of the day my struggle was more so from a standpoint of being an outcast, being the only black, or being well-to-do and not being able to relate to other black kids.
TRHH: How old are you, man?
Archie Green: I’m 28-years old.
TRHH: OK, I’m ten years older than you. I grew up before Hip-Hop had all this posturing and stuff. Kool Moe Dee didn’t come from the streets and he didn’t rap like that. Fresh Prince was like a suburban Philly kid and he was respected. Something changed in the 90s where your image became bigger than the music. You had to be negative or a thug or whatever to be a rapper. What do you think changed that Kid N’ Play were regular guys, they were dope, and even had a movie, but today if somebody came out that way they wouldn’t be as accepted?
Archie Green: There’s a story, some might call it a conspiracy theory but you can take it with a grain of salt. There’s a story that there was a group of people who owned parts of some of the most powerful record companies in the 90s that also had ownership of the prisons. As the story goes, they basically were saying we need to increase our population. One of the main mediums we can use to increase our population is through music. There was basically this motivation at this meeting where they were trying to tell these labels that they need to pump out more gangsta music, and negative music within the black community which would perpetuate violence, drug use, and more prisoners. When Kanye says, “That privately owned prison,” what the everyday average person might not know is these prisons are businesses. They make their money off of the population. How do we get the population? We set the system up for them to be fucked up in the system. For them to be arrested, add to the population, and add more money to our pockets. Like you said, most of the music in Hip-Hop was positive and that’s what was selling. At some point, whether you believe it or not these record labels started supporting artists that were putting out a negative message or a quote, unquote “real message”.
I won’t sit here and say groups like N.W.A. were doing that just to sell records, no, they were telling the truth about what was going on in L.A. during the Rodney King era and there was racial profiling and things like that. But there were definitely artists our there perpetrating. There were artists putting out a negative message because that’s what the record label wanted them to put out. These record labels were being told by certain entities that this is what we need in order for us to make more money. You can look at it like that or you can look at it as a sign of the times. Around the time Barack got elected to the time he got reelected the type of music that we were listening to, this ratchet movement, was because it was a sign of the times. The economy was in the shitter, people weren’t really finding jobs and because of that people didn’t really want thought-provoking positive music. They wanted to let loose, they wanted to laugh, and they wanted to go somewhere. They wanted to get to the club as soon as possible to drink away the pain of either having to look for a job or working at a job that they hated but they needed a job. There are a lot of different ways that you can look at it. you can look at it as these artists were being forced to put out this message or you can look at it as this is what the fans wanted at this point because people weren’t looking for their minds to be stimulated, they were just looking to escape.
TRHH: What’s the Cleveland rap scene like? It seemed like there wasn’t any noise coming out of Cleveland after Bone Thugs and then came Kid Cudi, Chip, and Machine Gun Kelly. Is the scene rejuvenated?
Archie Green: I did this show at a popular venue in Cleveland Heights called the Grog Shop and I was talking to this promoter about it. Right now I feel like there is starting to be a resurgence of the Cleveland music scene. I feel like there is a lot of great talent here, but I think we all need to work together. There is a little bit too much of a divide within the city. Cliques on this side, cliques on that side, and there is not enough unity within the community to bring visibility to Cleveland as a whole. That’s one of the reasons why I was drawn back here. Me bringing some of the energy that I got from New York back here to Cleveland, I wanna be part of this resurgence of the scene. I wanna bring visibility back. Cudi is one of the guys that did it, but he had to leave to do it. I think that Cleveland has the potential to develop a wave like Chicago, Detroit, and L.A. We can be another major Hip-Hop city, we just need to work together to do it.
TRHH: Earlier you mentioned Kanye West as an inspiration. What about him inspired you? He’s like a lightning rod; you either love him or hate him. A lot of people have turned on him recently. What’s your take on him today?
Archie Green: What first inspired me from Kanye is our upbringings are kind of alike. We came from middle-class upbringings. Both of his parents are educated, he’s kind of a loner like me, but his message is what initially connected with me — the positive messages in his music about his faith, being in school, being at a dead-end job, and everyday life. He put it in a witty way that was catchy, cool, and funny, but emotional at the same time. As far as how he’s evolved, I’m still a huge Kanye fan. I really think that at the core he’s still the same dude, he just has a larger platform. He’s learned a lot over the time that he’s had in the game. It’s been ten years since he’s been mainstream. A lot of people haven’t experienced what he’s experienced and a lot of people aren’t in his shoes and can’t relate to it as much as they could when he initially started. He’s trying his best to continue to project an image that people can understand. It’s hard for him because he’s in different circles now.
In terms of the type of things that he’s putting in his music now with Yeezus, it kind of touches on this whole spirituality thing that I’m on and a lot of people in my generation are on as far as millennials – being more spiritual, liberal, and open to things. I’m right there with him in terms of understanding what he’s talking about as far as everything he’s dealing with in the fashion world. Ten years ago it was the rap world when people didn’t really believe what he can do. Every time Kanye says he’s going to do something in five years and people are going to love it, people look at him crazy but ten years later here we are talking about him. I feel like he’s going to continue to do that with everything that he touches. I can’t wait to see what he does with Adidas. I’m really excited about that. I would say what inspired me about Kanye is his fearlessness and his relate-ability. It was the first time I could listen to a rap album and really relate to it.
TRHH: I always tell people my favorite rapper is Common. I relate to him. He’s about 3-4 years older than me but his stories are very Chicago. I went through a lot of the same things he rapped about early on. I find that in Hip-Hop you either love Common or are indifferent about him like, “Eh, he’s OK,” but I love the guy. If he’s doing a show I’ll be there. For my money I think Rakim is the greatest rapper of all-time but Common is my favorite…
Archie Green: Yeah, yeah I was talking to somebody the other day and they were trying to ask me what kind of music I do and although Kanye is my favorite rapper of all-time, my message is more along the lines of what Common puts in his music. His most recent album The Dreamer/The Believer is like what you would expect from a 40-year old rapper. He’s grown with every project but his message stays the same in terms of real life stories, believing in yourself, and also paying homage to some of the great pioneers of the past. He put his pops on the albums and of course having No. I.D. As far as producers, No I.D. is my biggest inspiration right now.
TRHH: He’s incredible and he’s had a resurgence which I’m happy about. It’s funny, I was just playing The Dreamer/The Believer the other day and for me it was sad. I was thinking, “People really slept on this.” I think a lot of it had to do with the Drake thing. It was like, come on man, you’re dissing Drake? But it was a very good album. Every year I rank the top 10 albums of the year and it was number one for 2011. I saw him perform twice since that album came out and he doesn’t do songs from that album.
Archie Green: That’s crazy.
TRHH: But people don’t know it. I guess he’s thinking people don’t know the songs so why should he do them? To me that album was almost flawless. Every song was in sync with the next. I really enjoyed it.
Archie Green: I feel the same way. I love that album and I was really a big fan of Nas’ album too. I feel like No I.D. was the main ingredient. He knows how to bring out that right sound from both Nas and Common. He was able to not only tap into their artistry in a newer way but their message and what they talked about. Nas put out Life is Good and for the first time he was sounding more grown as far as the subject matter and the things that he talked about. But it was over dope production. No I.D. brings out the best in artists. It’s totally clear with Big Sean in that situation [laughs]. On Big Sean’s first album No I.D. was all up in it and his latest one he put sprinkles on it but he wasn’t really there.
TRHH: You mentioned No I.D. and his production, but you produce as well. Do you prefer producing or emceeing?
Archie Green: I started out being an emcee first writing raps when I was 13. I started doing beats when I was 18. As one of my boys from back in the day would call my earth, what I started with, rapping is what I started with but I do love making beats, man. Sampling is obviously my bread and butter. I don’t know what it is about certain samples but it’s something that strikes me in my heart and soul. Me wanting to put my own twist on it is something I really enjoy. In terms of what I prefer it’s a hard question because I love ‘em both. I think out of the two I probably prefer writing songs more. Coming up with something that people can sing along to, it strikes them more than something that people can dance to.
TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?
Archie Green: Since day one I’ve been using FL Studio. I’ve been trying to convert and get into Logic and all these other programs but FL Studio hasn’t done me wrong. I’ve been using it for ten years now. I use an M-Audio controller to play out some tracks, but I use FL Studio as far as chopping my samples. I load everything through there.
TRHH: It got a bad rap back when 9th Wonder came out saying he was using it but I think everybody is using it now — especially in dance music.
Archie Green: Hit-Boy, that’s all he uses is FL Studio. He’s got Grammy’s so it’s like, hey, I’m gonna stick with it [laughs].
TRHH: Explain to me what ‘CLASS’ is.
Archie Green: CLASS is an acronym. It stands for “creatively learning to achieve sustainable success”. I’m a firm believer in learning something new every day — learning something new that you can apply to your life in order to not only succeed but to sustain that success. Whether you’re reading about history, or how to do something, I believe that we all should be learning something new every day. What CLASS originated from was an homage to different icons in black history – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Maya Angelou, the list could go on for days. CLASS you can put as style, demeanor, confidence, and so many different things, but it also goes into what my brand is, which is learning and education. What I’m trying to do with CLASS is exude this image of an articulate, confident, stylish black male, that never sags his pants, can wear hard bottom shoes and a suit and make that shit look cool, just like the guys back in the 60s did it. It was kids walking around in hard bottom shoes and a button up shirt and making that cool. To me that’s what class is. I feel like it’s also black excellence.
I was also inspired by being in New York and roaming in some of the same circles as Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette and Mr. Ouigi Theodore of Brooklyn Circus. In a day and age where all these guys are wearing Jordan’s these guys are wearing PF Flyers, bandanas on their necks, hard bottom shoes, and tailored clothes. They’re also exuding confidence and paying homage to how the styles were in black America in the 50s, 60s, 20s, and 30s. I think one other element of class is jazz music – Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. If you look at my album’s artwork for The Greatest Pretender there is a picture of me sitting at a table playing chess by myself, there is a microphone there, and I’m wearing a jacket and a tie. I got the inspiration from an image of Dizzy Gillespie sitting at a table playing chess by himself with a jacket, bow tie, and his trumpet. That’s what CLASS is to me. Putting a modern twist on what black excellence was in the past.
TRHH: What’s next up for Archie Green?
Archie Green: Honestly what’s next up for me is I want to continue to do more shows. I want to pump this project out as much as I can so reputable people like yourself kind of take me serious as an artist. The thing for me is I feel like I’ve been spending so much time trying to chase after A&R’s to give me a shot, my thing now is to focus on the people and putting out a positive message. I’m not sure what new projects I’m going to put out this year. I know I’m always working on new music. My goal by the end of the year is to tour, do shows in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and D.C. to get this message of CLASS out as best I can. That’s pretty much it, man. I don’t want to put out too many new songs or too many projects until people really grasp this project. I’m just spreading the message of CLASS.
Download: Archie Green – The Greatest Pretender