Death is something that people from Chicago are sadly all too familiar with. Death at the hands of firearms is something that the country’s third largest city has become infamous for in recent years. In 2018 there were 2948 shooting victims in the city of Chicago, with 561 of them succumbing to their injuries.
Chicago emcee Konflik tackles Chicago’s penchant for violence on his new album, “Death.” Death is Konflik’s third and final solo album. The 9-track release features appearances from Chris Rivers and Chi-Storm. The album is produced by Arcitek Lordz, Determinate Inc., and BreathTaking Beats.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Konflik about the rampant gun violence in his hometown of Chicago, his new album, Death, and why this is his last full-length release.
TRHH: From the cover, to the skits, to the title ‘Death’, this album has a morbid theme. But the story is specifically about your own demise. How difficult was it to create art where you die a violent death?
Konflik: It wasn’t really difficult at all, to be honest. Being from Chicago, I always had a feeling that if I was going to go out it was going to be like that, just because I’ve lost so many people. It’s kind of a norm. To incorporate the music into it was somewhat of a challenge, but not to a big degree. All I had to do was try to make it work and that’s where the skits came in. The stuff in the hospital for the first track, the eulogy, and the funeral, when I was writing those out my idea was to try to incorporate the songs to make it all go together. That was a little tricky, but to come up with my own demise that was like, “I’m from Chicago. That’s what we’re known for.”
TRHH: Shit, man. I’m from Chicago, too and I don’t want to think about killed [laughs].
Konflik: It’s funny because when I sent my album cover to my DJ he told me he had an anxiety attack just thinking about it. He said, “The first thing I see is my boy in a grave; that’s not the first thought I want to have.” My mom told me the same thing. She said, “You don’t want to send your mom your name on a tombstone.” It’s just an album cover. Don’t take it to another extent [laughs]. In a way that’s cool because it’s letting me know that the message is getting across.
TRHH: We last spoke when you dropped your second album, Maturity. How have you grown as an artist since that time and how will we hear it on Death?
Konflik: I think I’ve matured more. I think I’m at a different place in life. I had to go through some things. I actually took a break from music a little bit to figure some things out. This album was more for closure than anything. When I took the step back originally, I was just going to stop. But then after I got my shit straight I didn’t want to go out like that. I wanted to do one more to go out with a bang or for closure. I don’t think I’m done making music, because it’s a part of me. But this probably will be my last full-length project. When you hear it in the music it all comes full circle. This album is to put the cap on it and to let people know how I want to be remembered, the stuff that I stand for, and things like that. I think that’s what people hear the most. When you hear yourself going out like that, that’s basically the general concept behind it – how you’re going to be remembered. If your life came to a stop what is it about you that people are going to remember? That’s what I wanted to throw on the album.
What are you going to be known for now that it’s all said and done? For me, it’s being a family man, making the right decisions, unity, and things like that. When you hear the song that I did for my mom, that’s the number one accomplishment to me is being a family man. When you hear a song like “Labels” I threw basically every stereotype there is throw out there, just to say we need to do better as a society because these are the things that are tearing us apart. What I stand for is what I wanted to be known on this album. So, I put it in a way if I were gone this is what I wanted to be remembered by.
TRHH: The song “Labels” talks about the stereotypes that we put on each other. What initially inspired you to write that song?
Konflik: I have a lot of people in my inner-circle that are like that. They use a lot of labels and things to stereotype and separate themselves from these people that they stereotype. They try to act like they’re superior just because they’re different. It’s a constant argument that I have with people in my inner-circle. I say, “You guys don’t understand certain cultures and situations that people are born in to even pass judgment.” I get into it a lot with my own people because of this. I felt like somebody had to say something. I turn on the news and I see all this stuff with Trump and all these stereotypes. People just find stuff to pick at, but we’re all human. We bleed the same, we breathe the same — It’s nonsense to me, man. We need to stop pointing fingers because it’s not working for us.
TRHH: You said your inner-circle and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but my tolerance for ignorance is so slim. I’m at the stage where I’ll just cut people off if they say something crazy.
Konflik: And I have. I’m not going to say it’s like racism or anything in my inner-circle. We don’t hate people or something like that. I just noticed that they use these identifiers to separate themselves and feel superior. It’s not that they put people down or anything, but when conversations arise and they certain things to spark a light bulb it’s like, “You really feel that way?” Whether they’re judging someone based off of their skin tone, cultural preference, sexuality, or political views, just because you think different doesn’t make you any better than them. I know they don’t mean any harm, but at the same time you can’t think of yourself in a certain light just because somebody else is different than you. We are a team. That’s how I feel. Us as a society, we are a team and we put each other down way too much over these kinds of things. Once I realize that I can’t get through to people that’s when I cut them off.
It’s like, “I can sit here and preach the world to you but you just don’t get it as a person and that’s something that you as an individual have to work on. I can’t help you with that.” Outside of that, I can still talk to people. That’s one thing that I feel like I’ve got more than anybody. I know a bunch of Trump supporters, to be honest. I talk to them, I get along with them, and those are my people. Those are their political views. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but they aren’t treating me any different. We get into political debates all the time. My inner-circle is basically what brought it out and I see the influence that these labels and stereotypes have on the rest of the world and I wanted to say something about it.
TRHH: You have a song on the album called “Legendary” that features Chris Rivers. How did that song come together?
Konflik: This one was cool. That feature wasn’t even my idea. I’m a fan of Chris Rivers. He’s dope, the kids got bars, but I never thought of working with him. The idea came from people in my inner-circle — my guy Freddie, my brother, and my engineer. My engineer was watching one of his videos or something so he kind of made it happen. I had that verse written already. I had another beat to it, but I couldn’t get sample clearances on that beat, which is why I didn’t use it. I had twenty bars written and had space for an extra verse for somebody to jump on if they wanted to. My engineer got his contact information from the video and shot it over to me. He was like, “Yo, make it happen.” I reached out, we came to an agreement with Chris, and we made it happen.
TRHH: Death sounds like it has a lot of live instrumentation. At what point and why did you decide to take the project that route?
Konflik: Well, Maturity also had a lot of live instrumentation, as well as my first album, Birth. When I started making music I was working with a lot of bands. I was a roadie for a band and I did some studio work for them, too. I already knew guitar players, drum players, and bass players. When I make music I rock with the beat, but once my vocals are down and I’m listening to the track, things will start coming to me. Like, “Yo, it will sound dope if I threw a violin or piano on this.” Ideas will start coming to me as I listen to it over and over. I’ll start calling people to come and jump on it. We’ll work something out, they’ll come through, and that’s how that comes about.
TRHH: How expensive is it to hire musicians to get on a song?
Konflik: They vary. It depends on who you get and what you want them on. I have one guitar player right now and I think this dude is awesome. Shout out to Angel Colon and the Angel Colon Band. He’s toured with Usher, Snoop Dogg, and he’s a real talented dude. He was my guitar player for this project. I’ve also done some graphic design work for him for his project.
TRHH: Earlier we spoke about how it’s normal to be exposed to violence in Chicago. What do you think is the solution to end gun violence in the city?
Konflik: I think it comes down to us as people. Us as people, when we get behind a gun and use it, we have to double think that and tell ourselves not to use it. That’s what it comes down to. I don’t think it’s going to be solved by police or changes in law. I think it takes us as a people to come together and say enough is enough. Whether you’re killing somebody over money that they owe you or if your girl cheated on you with them, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to take someone else’s life, but also jeopardize your own. If you get knocked you’re doing life in prison and for what? Because your girl cheated on you or somebody owes you $200? The reasons why people do those things need to be double thought by that person.
That’s what I think it’s going to take to solve that issue. It’s us realizing that it’s gone too far, it’s out of control, and it’s just not worth it. I work for the State’s Attorney’s Office and I see a lot of cases where people act off of pure emotion. They don’t second think it. I’ve seen cases where people just pull out and let go because the other person is talking trash. If you just take that moment to be like, “Alright, whatever, he’s talking trash. Let him talk,” guess what, that’s two lives that’s saved. I feel if we love our city the way everybody claims to love our city we would do more in that area to stop that stigma that’s attached to our city. It comes down to individuals.
TRHH: It sounds like it comes down to a moral and value issue, which I think is tough to change.
Konflik: It is. It’s probably the hardest thing to do as a person, but it’s not impossible. If you own a gun, realize the damage that you can do with this weapon. I understand protection, but do you really need that protection like that? You gotta ask yourself. I’ve seen these cases. I saw them on a daily basis. When people buy guns, they don’t expect to use it. No one ever thinks of the day when you’re enraged and that’s your number one go-to because you have it already.
TRHH: You’re an artist with a lot to say, why is Death your last full-length album?
Konflik: I’m at a stage in my life where I just want to be at peace. This whole music thing is really stressful. Fans don’t see that part of it. They only see the end result. They only see the parties, the write-ups, and the covers, but they don’t see the frustrations of putting a project together. They don’t see the frustrations of the business side of things once a project is in commerce. You spend beaucoup dollars to get chump change in return. It’s a financial burden. I’ve fell out with people, I’ve lost friends, I’ve missed important events, it’s a lot to deal with being an artist. It’s not simple stuff. I’m just at a stage where I don’t want to deal with anymore. I just want to be at peace. It stresses me out putting these things together. That’s basically what it comes down to. Making music is like self-therapy. When something’s on my mind I can let it all go through a track. I do feel like I’ll probably be releasing singles and doing songs here and there, but to actually put a full-length project together, I don’t see that happening from here on out, to be honest.
TRHH: Well this is a big one then. Why is it important for people to get the Death album?
Konflik: This album I feel sheds light to common issues. As far as our city goes, it brings light to the violence on “Cause of Death.” I think for people who are family oriented, “Top Seed” touches on that. I feel people can relate to it on a personal note. When you deal with infidelity the song “Grand Finale” touches on that. I jump on social media and always see the topic of cheating. To hear a song where someone is placed in that situation and does the complete opposite of what is expected in that situation is different. “Set Sail” is more of a lyrical banger than anything. The song “Grammy Night” is more of a sense of accomplishment than anything. I know it’s about the Grammys but I tried to put it in a way where it’s about doing what you love to do and getting an amount of success. I think this album is important to listen to from a fan’s perspective because of the feelings and things that people can relate to in their everyday life.
Purchase: Konflik – Death