Music is the Weapon: an interview with wordsmith i1masterkey

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By JR Valrey

“Music is the weapon of the future, music is the weapon of progressives, music is the weapon of the givers of life” – Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Conscious music has been a part of our struggle and movement for self-determination since the beginning, when some of our enslaved ancestors would sing slave hymns on the plantations, which really doubled as maps and battle plans to free ourselves. 

The rhythm and the word, has been some of the purest teachers that we have been able to learn from, because the oppressor can not control the soul, when we need to communicate through our music. Feeling music is part of the divine make-up of human beings, but African people are especially in tune. In many of our religions, from Christianity to Voodun, the spirit comes only when the beat is raging. In Christianity they call it “catching the Holy Ghost”, in Voodun it’s called “Being rode by the Loas”. Same thing.   

In the modern era of recorded music, in ‘39, the late jazz great Billie Holiday sang of “Strange Fruit”, speaking on lynchings in one of the first protest songs to be recorded and promoted nationally and internationally. In ‘64 the late great soul singer, Sam Cooke told us, “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Also in ‘64, the Civil Rights activist singer Nina Simone turned our attention to racist terrorism in this country with “Mississippi Goddamn”. In ‘72, the legendary jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp played us “Blues for Brother George” after San Quentin prison guards murdered the political prisoner and Field Marshall of the Black Panther Party, George Jackson. In ‘87, during the crack fueled years of Reaganomics, Pop phenomenon Prince gave us, “Sign of the Times”, discussing the many people that were falling through the cracks of this decadent capitalist society. In ‘92, Sade sang us a beautiful sad saga about imperialism’s effect on a woman in Africa, with the majestic song “Pearls”. 

Independent of Hip Hop, protest music has always been a part of the Black experience, but after the creation of Hip Hop, protest music exploded giving rise to protest musicians like X Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, Ice Cube, Askari X, 2Pac, the Geto Boys, the Coup, Paris, dead prez, Immortal Technique, and more.

In this same vein, i1masterkey, just released a re-make of the legendary Public Enemy anthem “Fight the Power”, where he brought all of the rage, criminals, and metaphors up to date, to reflect the ludicrous nature of the society that we still live under. As a youngin, I grew up listening, protesting, and partying to “Fight the Power”, i1masterkey is giving this generation the same opportunity, hopefully this time the music will be used to fix our reality,  lives, and our communities instead of just to bob our heads. i1masterkey is a new voice in music, with a lot of street and political wisdom, which is needed especially in this soft-ass political environment, which will have our people thinking we have progressed because Kamala Harris has been elected to be one of the main public faces of our mass incarceration and murder by the state, going into this next decade. We did not vote to get in this situation, we are not going to be able to vote ourselves out. Check out i1masterkey in his own words. 

JR Valrey: Can you talk about your relationship to music? When and how did it start?

i1masterkey: My relationship with/to music is a long standing and very intimate relationship. My earliest and fondest memories are deeply tied to music. Both my mother and father are lovers of music and at one time, they were collectors; they had piles and stacks of records. It’s an intricate part of our culture, historically speaking. I’m a music lover: eclectic in taste, across multiple genres. 

My mother would play Reggae music on the weekends, and sometimes week days, as would my father. Our house was the spot. Milk and Gizmo’s (Audio2) ‘Top Billin’ was the first rap song that I learned word-for-word, on my own. LL Cool J, ‘BAD’, was the first record I owned, somewhere between 86′-88′, I think. New York in the 80’s was quintessentially Hip Hop, and I was there. Those are my beginnings, I can elaborate further but I think you get it.

JR Valrey: You and Karega Bailey, the frontman for the group Sol Development have a song, solely, together on the Sol Development album, what’s the name of that song? And what is your relationship with the group musically?

i1masterkey: Me and Karega have a song called ‘No Indictment’ on the last Sol Development project release, titled, ‘The Sol of Blackfolk’. That song came about during a beat-listening session, while we were actually discussing the Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown tragedies. It birthed itself. 

Musically, I’m a fan of Sol Development, I’m inspired by their work and talents as individuals as well as the collective. They’re dope! Besides that, they are my family (Blood and Love)

JR Valrey: What’s the importance of your form of conscious music having a street element?

i1masterkey: The importance of my form of ‘conscious music’ having a street element is dire, the streets are a particular demographic that I target because these are my people first, as well where I’m coming from. It’s important that we remember the ones we tend to cast off and look over. But the streets are where our soldiers and warriors are. These are the ones we should be trying to awaken and summon. 

JR Valrey: What made you want to re-make “Fight the Power”, the classic Hip Hop record made by Public Enemy, and used by Spike Lee in his classic film, “Do the Right Thing”? What does that record mean to you?

i1masterkey: I remade Fight The Power (FTP3.0) because I thought it was just as relevant now as it was in ‘89; except now, as an adult it resonates with who I am and who I have become, way more so than when I was 10 years old. I’m witnessing the same injustices P.E. was talking about 30 years ago. It’s my/our duty to preserve the culture and FTP3.0 is my installment, interpretation and attempt at resounding that very same message. The original message and messengers are prophetic teachers and griots. That record is also connected to one of my favorite movies about Brooklyn summers. I related to the movie and learned alot from it.

JR Valrey: Lyrically, how did you make your “Fight the Power” relevant to todays HipHop soundscape?

i1masterkey: My version is definitely an ode to the original. I kept some of the same schemes while documenting modern happenings. I just wrote about “today”. Similarly, it’s loud and it’s bold, and it’s truth; true to my feelings and my views, and my interpretations/perspectives. Sonically the beat slaps, but it’s also a total remake. DJ Epik (Sacramento) is incredible and he’s one of my favorite producers. He re-did the beat from scratch and even played a sound or two. This is not vocals over an instrumental, it’s a total remake, we even made it slap harder. Shout out to Da Bomb Squad!

JR Valrey: What is the importance of having a message in your music?

i1masterkey: Besides the translation of feelings and emotions, or teaching and learning; coding messages into the music is, to me, the point of music. It’s probably the most efficient way of relaying information, ideas and thoughts to each  other. Plus if we’re not saying nothing in our music, then we’re being wasteful and irresponsible, not mindful of our powers. Me personally, I prefer getting something deeper out of a music artist in exchange for my time and energy. Otherwise we’re wasting my life-force, literally.

JR Valrey: What are you cooking up for this summer musically? How would you describe the project’s production?

i1masterkey: I’m a slow cooker, but I’m definitely stewing up right now. By summer you should hear quite a few tracks released by me or with me on it; some more original music as well as mixtape quality material, leading up to an E.P release. Collaborations and more features are in the works and on the way. The production will definitely be slappy but hard, soulful but eccentric. 

JR Valrey: What is the current state of conscious music?

i1masterkey: In my opinion, the current state of conscious music is as it has always been, ever-present but constantly being drowned out. It’s not popularized. It’s dope-ass artists out here that’s not getting the same push as the dope-head artist or dope-pushing artists, and It’s intentionally that way.

JR Valrey: How could people keep up with you?

i1masterkey: Anyone that would like to keep up with me, can find me on Instagram @i1masterkey. Also my music is streaming on all platforms. 

To view the video FTP3.0 –

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