Come check out F. Stokes at The Middle East Upstairs, 5/19. TIX:
Fresh off touring overseas and riding the waves of his latest EP, Love, Always, F.Stokes took time out of his never-ending grind to talk with TheSource.com about life, love, and the pursuit of all things music. Peep the convo after the jump and see why the indie emcee is making strides towards broader audiences.
For those who aren’t familiar with you, tell them who you are and where you are from.
FS: My name is F.Stokes by way of Chicago, Illinois/Madison, Wisconsin.
Basically man, I’m just like I am; I would not really say an underground artist. An artist that is grounded that continues to clear his own unique path in hip-hop. A lot of times rap music comes equipped with a sales pitch or some type of advertisement. My shit is the topic of a man that’s working hard to convey his message. So, I think that to kind of sum that up….a conveyer of hard work and the American experience.
You just got back from one of several performances you’ve done in Europe. What’s it like for an independent artist to play for an overseas audience? And how was it opening for The Clipse in Paris?
FS: That was actually last year. This was my fifth time in the European Market. My first tour ever was seven years ago in Australia. As a performer I have always been excited or more intrigued by what’s happening in Europe for a number of reasons. A, the finances, and B, the people’s reception to the music.
Do you think that’s due to the honesty that you bring to your music? I mean, you have a confidence with your honesty. Do you feel you get more love overseas?
FS: Of course, I mean I get love everywhere. I think overseas, the way they view the African American experience; it’s something a bit new or exotic. It’s just a tad bit more interactive, with how they like it. I never really had to justify myself. My honesty and confidence in my honesty comes from me having complete security in who I am as a man. There is nothing I can put into a rap song that is going to necessarily change one’s perception about my background or make them think I’m soft. Like, I never got into that whole shit, my man. I have been fortunate, you know lucky enough, to dodge that act hard, act tough for the camera shit. You can look at my story and see. My father’s in jail for murder. My little brother’s in jail for murder. My best friends were murdered.
It’s not worth it, in the end.
FS: No, not at all. Not at all, b.
That’s what is so brilliant about your music. It’s so fresh…it’s just something that you bring to the table. Would you attribute it to what you said on your site; it’s hip-hop, blues, and spoken word. Do you think it’s that mesh of it?
FS: Completely. Completely. You know hip-hop is all blues. It’s basically,
it’s the American, poor man’s experiences. That in itself is blues. When I say blues, you hear some of the old cats in Chicago on 18th [street] and Halsted playing in those back alley bars; the pain and the message they are getting across in their sound. That’s what I am doing on the stage. That’s all honesty…that’s those guys are crying with their guitar. I cry with my microphone. That’s how I see it. I never saw it as like, me as some cool dude on stage with a microphone trying to come up with clever punchlines and cool raps. It has to be bigger than me rapping with a 2-track beat. To label that and to tag it as blues opens it up more universally.
What are your biggest influences as far as your music?
FS: Gil Scott-Heron of course, Kanye West, Patty Smith, Elvis even, I have so many influences. It just keeps going on and on. Those are my main influences right now. It is important that us as rappers, in particular, don’t be afraid to let the public know who influences us. Some cats wouldn’t say Kanye’s name or 2 Chainz name. People might not say certain people’s names because of the public perception of that person. In reality, it’s almost inevitable to be influenced by those guys. Their presence is so big, The things they do musically. Especially Kanye – the lifestyle, the passion, what he did for my city Chicago. To say that you come from the city of Chicago and not be influenced by him is a lie. Regardless of what you think of his personality, Kanye made it cool for guys in my generation to add emotionality to their music and not have to justify yourself as Black man at the same time. I think that’s huge!
You are so passionate about music and pursue it so hard. At one point in time you said you would drop everything just to do it.
FS: Yeah, completely. Plus I’m having fun. To me it’s like breathing, I don’t have to think about it. Luckily, now my show money is a bit better so when I go out on the road I don’t have to jeopardize my livelihood.
At one time, when I did that interview it was the exact opposite. I would have to take a show in London and Come back to no apartment or come back to no water or no job.
I go so hard and I’m passionate about it man, because if I don’t do it I can’t breath. This is how I operate. When I am onstage it is just an extension of what I’m doing every day. You know, I need this music thing. If it wasn’t for that [music] I would be in some dark room crying my ass off. So I am fortunate to have that stage as a glorified session with a therapist. The therapist being the crowd. The therapist being that listener.
You just dropped the Love , Always EP. What can you tell us about the project?
FS: Basically it was just a couple of pieces that I recorded over the past couple of years in different places; in Paris, Brooklyn, Chicago, [and] Minneapolis. I had these pieces around that I kinda’ wanted to put out and give the people a cohesive package. It made sense to put Love, Always out especially with me getting off tour. I wanted to go on the next tour with fresh product. Marketing wise it made sense. I have been fortunate enough to get a little press behind it and have it received well.
What would you say is your favorite song on the album?
Probably my first one, it’s called “Aspire to Inspire”.
It’s really about my mother and father. My relationship with both of them is special, extremely different from one another. My mother in particular probably, my…. the most important thing I have in this world. It’s not about her directly but some of those experiences in that first verse are derived from being a seven-year-old child watching my mother go through this transformation.
My father is in prison and he was sentenced to 40 years. The second verse is about this guy that spends like 25 to 30 years in the joint, gets out and sees his neighborhood is completely different. He comes back to his neighborhood and tries to rebuild and basically reassess his relationship with his son that he left 25 years ago. So, it’s a very similar situation with my dad.
It’s a bit more inde-techno. The beat is kind of a contrast to the lyrics. The lyrics are super personal and really provocative. The beat is still uplifting and somewhat joyous.
If people could take anything away from your music and your performances, what would you want for that to be?
FS: You know where I am from, it’s a tribe. It takes a village.
FS: With music it’s important as an artist to preserve the platform to say exactly what’s happening in the neighborhood but to also have a positive twist to it. Also, to support one another and encourage people and inspire those around us to be better. I look at rap as my instrument to get that message across. That’s it. Ultimately, I am a vehicle to spread a positive message and uplift brothers and sisters around the world. You know, it’s not….If I was a bus driver I would be having a conversation with every other customer on the bus. It just so happens that hip-hop is my instrument. So, I guess that’s what I would want people to take from knowing me and from hearing my music.
Honestly dude, I’m too old man – some of the shit these guys say on the radio and YouTube, I don’t get it. I don’t get it, man. We survived the 80s; some of the craziest times known to man. Crack and crack babies. 14-year-old mothers and the 17-year-old young millionaires. Some of those guys from the 80s are just getting home from doing 25, 27, 28 years in jail. I am not a supporter that perpetuates this negative image and stereotype of the African American community. It’s not something I deal with. I tell those guys to their face it is not my cup of tea, bro. I mean, I get it. But I think we are beyond that and I think we are smarter than that. I think us as men, us as young black men, these men have a responsibility to our neighborhood and the world to reflect a positive present day message. That present day message is Barack Obama. That present day message is Kanye West. That present day message is that cool, hip person now.
You’ve toured overseas and have another tour lined up here. You’re also on a mixtape with a group from the U.K. What are your plans for the future?
FS: Those are all baby steps. Hopefully, I can end the year off with a full album, a full 14-song piece…. Travel a bit more. …. Wow, listen to that list that is a great resume [laughs].
This is just me building a foundation for a much bigger plan. That’s to continue to not just spread this message musically, [but] also, as an author. I am putting together a book about being homeless and going through that. Yeah man, I am just feeling my way through this world. The lights are off but my senses are heightened….I happened to touch a cool mixtape with these cats in the U.K. and a cool tour. I am still working my way to that light switch.
- Interview by Daren Hill (@umsotall)