Promoting a new rap
Blitz the Ambassador and his horn-heavy backup band are challenging hip-hop stereotypes
In the song “Home,” rapper Blitz the Ambassador lyrically eulogizes an elderly man who drowned in Hurricane Katrina while awaiting relief; a high school dropout who joins the military and is killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq; and a young woman shot by border patrol while seeking a better life in America.
Blitz’s debut album Stereotype has garnered rave reviews in the mainstream and indie hip-hop press since its release in September, with several reviewers and DJbooth.net even venturing as far as naming it the best album of the year. Among the virtues heaped on the up-and-coming star is his infusion of socio-political sensibility into his music, which he says developed while growing up as a hip-hop head in the West African nation of Ghana.
“Frankly, growing up where I grew up, everything is politics; it runs every part of your life,” Blitz said in an interview from Brooklyn, which he now calls his home. “For a while we had a military government, then a civilian government, then a military government, back and forth, so we’d always been up on politics and those kind of lyrics. It just makes sense if that’s the kind of person you are then obviously you’ll be drawn to artists like Public Enemy and KRS-1 who have them kind of lyrics that echo your sentiments.
“Back home politics is a little bit more personal. Here there’s so much bureaucracy between the people and the elected officials, but back home there’s no buffer. That goes on around the world every day—you’re talking about demonstrations, coups, people overthrowing governments. You’re talking about real stuff.
“There are so many distractions out here [in the United States]. The basic hardships people face here are nothing compared to the basic hardships people face around the world. Back home it’s definitely much realer and much rawer. There’s not a lot of social programs or social structure that absorb the poverty.”
Not to say Stereotype is all political: “I don’t put politics in front of my music. If I have something to say I’ll slide it in there, but I’m a musician first. It still has to have that head-bob factor, they should always feel your stuff for the music first, and then if they’re in tune to what you’re talking about also, then that’s cool.”
Much of that “head-bob factor” is provided by The Embassy Ensemble, a six-piece band with a full horn section that regularly backs the MC. Blitz’s debut video “Breathe,” which has seen heavy rotation on MTV2, features him and the band playing on the streets of New York—which Blitz says is more than just a fictitious plotline.
“For a long time I sold my CDs on the streets of Manhattan,” he said. “That’s what I did before I formed the band and that’s how I met most of my band members, was just selling CDs and playing music on the streets and subways.
“You’re putting yourself out there, anybody can step up and anybody can criticize. It makes you a tough performer to be able to do that in the streets. We wanted to capture that for our video because the band is a street band, that’s where we all met and started playing. It’s exciting to show our progression from that to being on national television.”
When Chico State’s A.S. Presents brings Blitz to the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium tonight (Feb. 11) as part of his first foray to the West Coast, San Francisco’s The Park will serve as his backup band.
Blitz also recently took center-stage on an episode of MTVU’s House Band in front of an ensemble featuring The Fugees’ cohort John Forte, a harp, keys and full string and horn sections. The results are scheduled to be released as a five-song EP and are worth checking out on YouTube