Awon: Infinite Wisdom

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Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson-Wiggins

Virginia-based emcee Awon and Los Angeles producer Soul.Dope.95 made a coast-to-coast connection that resulted in one of 2022’s best albums. Awon’s lyrics about the black experience beautifully blended with Soul.Dope’s versatile production for a release titled “Infinite Wisdom.”

Infinite Wisdom is produced entirely by Soul.Dope.95 and comes courtesy of Don’t Sleep Records. The 13-track album features appearances by Napoleon Da Legend, Sin, GodKing Preach, Dephlow, Anti-Lilly, and Tiff the Gift.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Awon about why he learned to be more patient, how the Underdogs documentary changed his life, working with producer Soul.Dope.95, and their new album, Infinite Wisdom.

TRHH: How did you and Soul.Dope.95 get together and decide to do an album?

Awon: That came about through one of my best friends, Rashard, AKA Dugga. He is the type of person that scrolls Instagram a lot looking on producer pages listening to beats and he will always kind of plays A&R that way and sends me music. He happened to send Soul.Dope’s music my way and said, “Hey, I really like this guy. I’ve already been talking to him. You guys should get together and link up. He’s familiar with your music.” So, I was like, “Okay, I’ll rap with him. So, I reached out and we began to build a rapport online and he immediately just started sending beat packs.

Like several packs at a time and I would sit with them for a while and then one day I just started opening the folders and just diving in and that’s how the process really began. It started with one track. One track we didn’t even use actually, because we recorded a lot, and then it led to another and another and then the process just got so deep. We would just kind of exchange ideas and I would go back and polish those ideas later. So, I would do everything really rough and maybe we got through like 2-3 different versions of each record until we got the one that we like, and that process went on for about a year.

TRHH: Why did you title the album Infinite Wisdom?

Awon: I thought that at that time the name suited the project because I felt like the conversation was very mature. It was coming from a place of my maturity and my observation of life. Even though it’s a lot of heavy topics, I felt like it was still celebratory. I felt like it was a true exploration through the eyes of a black male that’s been on the planet. That’s why I titled it that because experience is life’s best teacher and these are my experiences, my perspective, that I’m sharing with people. I understand that my audience isn’t always my peers. A lot of the times my audience are a generation younger than I am, so I felt like I’m the voice of reason to some people. Some people listen to my music to learn something about life or absorb something. So, that’s why I titled it Infinite Wisdom to play off of that experience in my time on earth.

TRHH: Listening to Infinite Wisdom it felt unapologetically black to me, from the lyrics to the interludes. What was your mind state when doing the album?

Awon: Exactly that. I just wanted to make an album that reflected my position and my perspective. I know that I have a diverse audience but I wanted to let them know how I felt about certain topics and certain things without coming out and getting on my soapbox on social media trying to be preachy. I just said, let me rap about these complex topics that people may not understand. As an artist that’s open, I have an open DM so people can hit me up, I get into a lot of deep conversations with different people globally.

I got a young brother in Canada that hit me up and asked me how I feel about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine and I’ll tell him. I got another brother from Morocco that’s like, “Yo, why we got to use the N word?’ and I’m like, “Okay.” So, I speak my piece on that. I felt like so many people have so many deep questions for me, let me just address these in the album and just put it to rest so that I’m not you having these long drawn out conversations on social media on a consistent basis.

TRHH: On the title track you say, “I’m never hesitant to drop a jewel about the prejudice/That only make me stronger, seeking truth about my heritage.” Explain what you mean by that rhyme.

Awon: I mean, why should I have to hold my tongue about things that are actually happening? As a black man in America, I was just telling my younger cousin this the other day, we go through hundreds to maybe thousands of tiny microaggressions in a day. We see it. From some things we see on television, the way people tense up or take two looks at us when we’re in a store, or when we’re in the parking lot going to a car, if we’re out there and it’s maybe a woman looking at us differently, even when it’s us with a group of guys and we could be all educated — harmless — even black people would be like, “Let me walk on this side of the street ‘till I get a feel of what these guys are about.”

So, these microaggressions, the nuance of the stereotypes playing through in people’s minds every day, that’s the prejudice that we face, so I want to speak on that. But I also want people to understand that we are different from other melanated people — other black people on earth — because one thing about someone in Jamaica for instance, they are inherently Jamaican. They’re Jamaican first, they just happen to be black. Their nationality is first. If you’re in Nigeria you’re Nigerian. In America we are black. Black is technically a slur for our people. Just like the N word, we made black a term of endearment. “I’m black and I’m proud,” we owned that. We went through various iterations from earliest African American, negro, colored, black, back to African American, and worse at times.

So, just seeking that form of heritage, that wanting to belong, that national identity and nationality, I feel like it was just time to start embracing the fact that this is our country, we are here, and we have just as much equity as anybody else does. And that’s why I made the album just to overstate that, because I think that it’s getting lost in the sauce because we take these little minute issues and talk about them all the time and it makes people on the outside feel as though we’re monolith with the same quote unquote “issues” but we are a melting pot and our identity is not just blackness, it’s so much more, but it starts because of the transatlantic slave trade, racism, Jim Crow, and all of that. It starts with blackness and it expands out, but we’re just not a monolith and people needed to hear a unique perspective on that.

TRHH: The beat change on “Baldwin’s Reprise” is crazy. Was that initially two different songs? Take me into the creation of that song.

Awon: So, no it wasn’t two different songs from my perspective. It was always the same song. The beat switch came later, that was Soul.Dope’s idea and I thought that that was a great idea that he made that beat switch when Anti’s verse came in. We always were gonna have him on that record because he was on the original record, but his verse seemed so much more optimistic and the tone was a little brighter and it shows some youthful optimism and perspective that needed that change to go from my perspective to his, which I really loved.

I loved that contrast of the more raspy, more rigid thought process, to this bright  optimism that he sheds. He’s still telling the truth and saying a lot of things, but you could hear the youthful wit in that and I think that that was very important and it really conveyed the emotion that we wanted to have on that song to where you’re listening through my verse and then you get to the bop and you feel uplifted  by that moment. So, that’s how that came about, that’s all Soul.Dope.

TRHH: What’s the song with Tiff?

Awon: Union.

TRHH: Union! You guys sound so, united, Union! You sound so together. What is the secret to having that in a marriage?

Awon: We actually just talked about that today, it’s funny you said that. It’s very simple, it’s friendship first and foremost. Most people think of marriage as it’s all about love and everything, but marriage is a document. It’s a business arrangement. It’s a legal partnership. So, you want to go into business with somebody who you actually like, who’s your friend, who you can tolerate outside of being romantically involved. So, that’s the first thing, the second thing is in marriage can you actually work with this person? Could you see yourself working a job with your companion? Most people would be like, “I would never, ever work with my significant other! I couldn’t tolerate them like that.”

That in itself is kind of like, Well, why not? What about them can’t you tolerate and be around? So, I think that people need to really be friends first and foremost because eventually one day you’re going to get to the age where the fire is not there. Your body is changing, you’re evolving, and companionship is going to be more important. Those people who last 40-50 years, they really truly are friends and that’s just important. I think that that’s how we need to approach relationships especially when we’re looking at having them long-term. So, that’s one thing that we’ve always been, we’ve always been the best of friends.

TRHH: How did the Underdogs documentary impact your career?

Awon: Underdogs, wow, it really changed the trajectory of everything. Having a look like that as an independent underground artist is something that is unheard of. We weren’t chart topping artists, we were not on Billboard, none of the accolades that people typically get that have reached that level of success of having a documentary about them. And not only having the documentary about them, but having it become successful and go on a major platform. That was so impactful because people that I least expected to watch it saw it. It changed from no one ever knowing who I was to just going to the pizza shop and people looking at me, smiling, and waving. I’m like, “Why are you doing this?” It felt weird because I know no one knows the music, no one even knows where I live, but they saw Underdogs. You forget. You’re like, “Oh, it must be the documentary.”

And when I meet people that’s the first thing they bring up, “I saw the documentary.” I was sharing the documentary with other artists out there that I admire and they’re like, “I already saw it, man. This is incredible.” and I’m like, “Wow.” I did a show with Chubb Rock, shouts out to the OG, and he’s like, “Yeah, I saw it! I know your producer, the guy Phoniks.” So, I was like, “Oh my goodness!” It seemed like everybody in Hip-Hop who was actively watching things, and the pandemic also helped, let’s make that clear, everyone was at home so everyone had opportunity to go on that Netflix, so it was like the perfect storm, and it just really changed the trajectory of everything. I couldn’t be more thankful to Téo, and the people at TRACE, and Netflix, and Red Bull, because Red Bull also picked it up and it’s on Red Bull now so it’s still out there circulating.

TRHH: On the song “Sophisticated Information” you talk about taking a hiatus. What did you learn about yourself while in isolation?

Awon: I learned how to be more patient, how to take my time. I found myself rushing songs at first. You know all throughout my career I felt like I was rushing. I wasn’t my best self and I started to listen to other artists — my peers, artists that were even older than me that were able to reinvent themselves in a way that was lasting. And I found the key in everybody’s approach was they started using time and space more wisely. So, even from the perspective of the technical aspect of that from music, I applied that to my life and I just started taking my time, being more patient, even when I’m trying to be urgent I don’t have to have this crazy urgent delivery where people don’t get it.

I want them to hear every word and I think that that practice was reflected on Infinite Wisdom. I have some deliveries that even if they’re urgent, even if they’re mellow, whatever the case may be, I’m using my time more wisely. So, that was very important because I was always on the go, not sitting down, not healthy, so I needed to take my time to get my life in order, but I also needed to take that time with my music to become better, and make better songs, and a better album. So, that was the goal — it’s just patience and that’s what I learned. Take your time. You have time to do whatever you wanna do and it doesn’t mean take forever either, it just means be more efficient. Use it more wisely.

TRHH: What did Phoniks think of the album?

Awon: Phoniks actually loved this album. I was a little bit skeptical because of the brashness of it at times, but he felt like it was incredible. He insisted that we press it up, he insisted that we roll out the whole thing and that’s what we did. That really let me know that it was a thumbs up. Even if it’s not like bubbling and going crazy online I feel like it’s one that people will catch and it will grow on them and it would have its place at the right time. I’m very thankful for him even encouraging me on that like, “Yo this is a must. This right here is special, like one of your best pieces of work.” And I was like, “Really?” He’s like, “Yes!” So, I’m very thankful to him for even putting the battery in my back and saying yeah, we gotta roll with this.

TRHH: I agree with that, by the way. I think this is if not the best one, it’s one or two.

Awon: Thank you.

TRHH: Yeah, this is incredible.

Awon: Thank you.

TRHH: You’re welcome. What do you want people to take away from Infinite Wisdom?

Awon: I just want people to take away what the black experience is like today. People feel like we’re in this post-racial moment, people feel like they can do and say what they want. I feel like even online I see kids that don’t have anything to do with blackness, anything to do with anything, and the comments and the commentary is so negative and borderline racist. Sometimes I feel like, “You know what, you can listen to the stuff you want to listen to but I really don’t care if you don’t partake in this music. This might not be for you.” I realize that Hip-Hop is diverse — there is something for everyone, but I think that there’s no longer a check and a balance. I think that we let anybody run with anything and say anything and demean us so much in our own house. I mean this is a democratic space, it’s for everybody, but certain rhetoric shouldn’t be allowed in and tolerated.

So, I want people to go away having a greater understanding of what it is to be black and what blackness means, at least to me, and maybe they can learn something from what I’m saying. Because I’m not saying nothing that’s not factual. I’m not saying nothing with ill intent or ill will — it’s an education. Music should be edutainment at times – it’s a space for that, too. You could party in the clubs, there’s something for you there, but if you want to sit down and listen to something with some substance, hey, this might be the album for you. You might learn something. So, hopefully the young people who decide to listen, they walk away a little bit more educated.

Purchase: Awon x Soul.Dope.95 – Infinite Wisdom

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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