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Medhane wants to be the person he would love to meet and be around

Born Medhane-Alam Olushola, the 25 year old rapper Medhane has a lot to say. And, he definitely wants to share too. He’s in his element and knows his place after dropping three EPs and four studio albums, the latest of which Do The Math was released in November 2021, during the past five years. His words are sharp, honest and well-articulated – listening to him and exchanging opinions with him is an absolute experience since his everyday convos feels as polished as his knowledge-filled raps.

„There are a lot of stressful things going on in the world right now, that is why it’s important to do some self-work to overcome that type of negativity. For example reading, going to the gym, practicing spiritual work, and maintaining physical and mental health – that’s what I’ve been doing too.” – the MC is evidently on the way to reach mindfulness and a different kind of a self-conscious state. The path seems right, and, what is even more important: Medhane feels wiser than ever.

We sat down with the Brooklyn native before his show in Budapest to discuss african spirituality, the importance of roots, poetry, learning how to make beats with the help of Earl Sweatshirt and the close relationship with his mother.

The following conversation is Medhane’s first written interview after a 2 year long hiatus, in which the rapper officially addressed the accusations against him.

As you wrote on Twitter, “6 countries in 6 days.” How was the tour, isn’t it way too exhausting visiting this many countries? 

It has been definitely exhausting because I’ve never had back-to-back days like these. But I’m grateful for being able to go to Europe and get to see most of the countries here.

Do you like Budapest?

It’s really nice, I’ve never thought of coming to Budapest and I didn’t know anything about it. I have a friend who is half-Hungarian, she was telling me it’s really nice. 

Is she living in the USA?

She lives in Los Angeles. She is a mixed race black Hungarian.

You addressed trauma and mental health issues in your music earlier, but how are you doing NOW, after a pandemic, during a war in Ukraine?

I haven’t been depressed or sad during the last couple months but it’s still a day-by-day thing. I wouldn’t say that I’m clinically depressed but there are a lot of stressful things going on in the world right now, that is why it’s important to do some self-work to overcome that type of negativity. For example reading, going to the gym, practicing spiritual work, and maintaining physical and mental health – that’s what I’ve been doing too. 

Spirituality has been an important factor in your music (given there are two tracks titled Affirmations). However, spiritualism is definitely getting out of hand in 2022. I’m referring to e-girls with crystals posting about pseudo-real affirmations, stigmatizing you based on your zodiac signs, et cetera. Where do you find yourself spiritually in this environment?

My grandmother (rest in peace) was Muslim, so partly I grew up hearing about those principles. Recently I’ve started exploring African spirituality. I’m working on being a good person. One of the main pillars of the Ifá religion that I am beginning to learn more about is called Iwa-Pele – being a good person, having moral character. That’s how I practice spirituality: being the type of person I would love to meet and be around. 

You were reflecting on your African roots several times and the artists you are associated with often talk about communicating with ancestors. I can deeply sense the presence of black consciousness in your career. How have the BLM protests changed your perspectives and interests in your own culture? 

My family is really into that topic, so I’ve been raised being conscious of the phenomena, way before the movement started getting popular after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

I’ve been to Africa four times, my mother and grandmother used to bring me to Senegal. I’m not even Senegalese, but I feel a connection there. Going back to your roots definitely helps a lot: after experiencing life in different places you can grow as a person. Going on this tour is kind of similar to this experience. 

Earlier you posted a poem on your Instagram by Countee Cullen, a renowned black poet. How could you describe your relationship with Afro-American poetry?

It’s actually a poem I read back in college a while ago, I didn’t even know the author so far. I really like Bob Kaufman’s work, especially his book Golden Sardine. There are a lot of poets I admire, for example Gil-Scott Heron and all the others. I wouldn’t say that I’m a poet, but hiphop is definitely a type of poetry and I get inspired from just reading in general.

Speaking of music, how could you categorize the genre often associated with you, MIKE, Pink Siifu, Maxo, Navy Blue and Earl? I think it is worth considering since it is not “traditional” hip hop anymore according to many outlets and fans. Are these labels important anyways?

Definitely just hip hop or a subgenre: abstract, alternative, emotional hip hop. Mental health hiphop, I would say. (laughs) Every rapper talks about their feelings differently. There’s Biggie, Prodigy from Mobb Deep, Freddie Gibbs and even trap artists, for example Future.

Many of you new abstract hip hop artists are coming from New York (including MIKE, Caleb Giles, Adé Hakim, Navy Blue, just to name a few) but simultaneously there is another, much bigger scene with acts like Lil Tjay, Fivio Foreign, and the late Pop Smoke representing the big Apple. What do you think about that particular wave? 

I think it’s awesome. If you look at my Spotify, you’ll see that I f*ck with all the New York artists: Fivio, Pop Smoke, Jay Critch. It would be tight to see more collaborations between the two “sides”, some type of cross-genre thing. I would love to hear Fivio’s raps on a loop with no drums. There’s definitely space for such collaborations to happen.

You produce for yourself pretty often. Speaking of beats, wasn’t it difficult first creating drumless instrumentals with soul melodies? 

I haven’t produced that much stuff recently, only a few joints for Do The Math. First, it was difficult, Thebe (Earl Sweatshirt) showed me how to use Ableton. We sat down together and he taught me how to chop up samples. This happened in 2017 when we first met. Since then I’ve been making beats in Ableton.

Many people would falsely assume that Earl started this wave with Some Rap Songs, but I think that you and others inspired him to do that. How do you feel about that?

It’s true. He would tell you that too. We like similar things, we have similar influences in music. It’s symbiotic. I remember I met Sage (Navy Blue) before Thebe. We just connected instantly, not merely on a musical level. We bumped into each other in a skatepark and also at the streetwear store called The Good Company which works as a cultural hub. 

Are you into skateboarding? I didn’t know that.

Yes, of course. I love skating. It definitely helps a lot. I stopped smoking weed and drinking alcohol for a minute so I skated instead. It is a form of meditation.

Earlier you mentioned that you grew up around friends who went to the gym, library, school and lived a decent life. How has this affected your morals and perception of life overall? It’s really refreshing to see new rappers breaking up with gang culture and hopeless violence. 

I have a lot of friends. Not all my friends do the right things necessarily. However, I’m definitely proud of my surroundings and grateful for the opportunities I had: I went to college and I also graduated. It definitely gave me a different type of perspective. Thanks to traveling and the perspectives I have I can learn how to act in different situations with different types of people and how to relate to them. 

Being in Europe I won’t be offended if others are acting a certain type of way. I’m being able to take things with a grain of salt. I’m not gonna get upset, because I know it is your culture. I’m not gonna overreact.

I especially liked your 2 years old mix on SoundCloud. It showcases a very diverse style of yours: songs from BkTheRula, Duwap Kaine, Angel Bat Dawid and Mal Devisa. I started wondering, what is in your daily rotation nowadays?

Since the tour started *showing me his Spotify likes* we listened to Freeze Corleone, Sean Price, Roc Marciano, Lil Durk, Knucks, Summer Walker, FKA Twigs, Ari Lennox, Jazmine Sullivan, Don Kennnedy, Don Toliver, Nipsey Hussle, Young Thug, Shawny Bin Laden, Boldy James. I like the Griselda guys too. By the way, I have a playlist on my Spotify profile, which I update frequently.

According to one of your interviews, you like going to London. Have you worked with Lord Apex there? It’s nice hearing both of your accents on one song. 

Yes, I just saw him live. We were in Brussels at the same time, I had a day off, so we were able to see him perform. He goes crazy. 

On Do the Math, Wiki and Navy Blue both have features. How is it like working with them?

Working with them is cool. Most of the songs were born in an organic way, for example Stars Fell. Wiki literally came to my house, we sat on the couch, we talked, smoked then recorded afterwards. No Sugar was recorded at Sage’s home studio too. It’s all about the same vibrations and organic art.

You have dropped your early projects following Future’s mixtape schemes. Do you want to follow any album rollout patterns in the next few years? 

When I first said that, the press definitely overused it. I do rock with Future, when I graduated I wanted to promote my music wisely. I often asked myself: “How should I do that?” The answer was dropping mixtapes back-to-back-to-back similarly to Future, so I dropped three mixtapes in 6 months. Looking back, it did not allow me to connect with my fans and supporters more although a bunch of people started listening to my sh*t.

I realized that you have to give time to your projects. You don’t want to get oversaturated. I don’t think I’ve got oversaturated but I do feel like I was putting too much pressure on myself to see results instead of focusing more on honing in on my fanbase. I don’t have exact plans but I’m more into making one album every 6 months or one per year. But when it’s done, I’ll release it. I’m not signed, I don’t have a label or anybody behind me insisting that I should release it now or on this particular date. I have the luxury of being able to have my own schedule. 

Do you like this independent status?

I do like being independent, but a label could get me on a next level, that’s for sure. Hopefully I will be able to achieve that in the next couple years. That type of push and budget is definitely needed, however, you don’t need a label technically. Yet some of my favorite artists business-wise – for example Curren$y who has 10 cars in his garage – are still independent. It’s inspirational. 

Do the Math

Listen to Do the Math on Spotify. Medhane · Album · 2021 · 18 songs.

You worked on your own cover art for Cold Water. Are you planning to handle your own art (including visuals, covers and art direction) in the future too?

Yes, no doubt. Tyler, the Creator directs his own videos for example. I’ve been listening to him since 2010 and it was motivating to see how he created his own universe and everything which comes with that, including art, clothing and the videos. Branding is important, it helps you make the art larger than life. By the way, we recorded a lot of footage during this tour for recaps. 

You’ve been vocal about your strong bond between you and your mother. How could you describe your current relationship with her? 

Me and my mom are super close. I talk to her every day, she’s my homie right there. She’s my man. (laughs) She even follows me on Twitter, sometimes when I tweet bullsh*t and emotional stuff she asks me: “Why did you tweet this? Delete that.” In a sense, it’s annoying, just imagine your mom asking you about your tweets. But I get where it is coming from. I love her. 

You graduated from Carnegie Mellon University as a civil engineer. Was the title “Do the Math” a reference to your attraction to mathematics?

Facts. Yes, kind of. Do the Math is pretty much a popular hip hop phrase. I was watching a Wu-Tang movie, in which they screamed “Do the Math”. In one of my tracks I stated this too. I also say it as a piece of advice: try to figure out things – do the math, bro. During high school and college, I was super into maths, though. I wanted to do differential equations and calculus in the future. To sum up, it is definitely related to this obsession of mine. 

Let me cite one of your interviews: “Own Pace was where things happened to me. FULL CIRCLE was me finding my own footing and trying to put sound to what’s going on inside my head, and Cold Water is getting more into the actual struggles I had with depression and my mental health and me accepting them.” What are the two latest albums, Amethyst of Morning (vinyl version out now) and Do The Math about? 

I would say Amethyst of Morning, which comes without any features, is about coming to terms with the relationships I had, not being cool with people I’ve been to before, and realizing the disadvantages of these connections. I tried to overcome adversity. 

I felt that a lot of people were trying to sleep on me. Acting like I’m not a good artist. Do the Math is basically me dropping an 18 songs project with fire, massive songs on it, showing people how to do the math, to see what’s going on regardless of what they think. 

I know you have something in the works for 2022. Are there going to be any features on your new album? 

There are no features so far, I’m still working on it. But I collaborated with new producers for the album because I’m trying to change my sound a bit. I want bigger-sounding songs. The music I make and the music I’m listening to are not always the same. 

If you may, I would like to conclude with the most difficult topic. You’ve been accused of sexual assault in 2020 – back then, you issued a statement denying the allegations against you. How do you feel 2 years after all the conflicts? Have you felt left out or even falsely canceled? The issue definitely affected your career.

It never really got addressed the way that it should have been. People are making their own judgments all the time. I have a little sister, I have a bunch of aunts and I was raised by women mostly. I used to be the dude who told friends to “chill, that girl doesn’t like you back.” It was a crazy situation for me as a person who supports women. It definitely puts a strain on the way people  – who have never met me before or heard about me – think about me. There needs to be some sort of resolution to that situation publicly. 

When it was happening, a bunch of people were posting text messages that made the situation seem one way and one-sided. I was supposed to post the rest of the conversation then you would see what really was being said between me and all the other people who ended up writing “I don’t support him”. I’m open to talk about that in an open setting. 

I did not do this and never did something like that. I just feel it’s important to have a dialogue about sexual abuse and violence because it is a serious problem. Moreover, it is a global issue. I have family members who have been through that type of struggle. Partly that is why I could not imagine doing this to someone I love. 

*Djprobablyourdaddy entering the conversation from the backstage*

DJPROBABLYOURDADDY: It’s important to open up the discourse and have a conversation about the situation. I’ve known this man for almost 10 years. We met each other at the age of eleven or ten through skateboarding. I know a little more about the situation because we are close obviously. These false accusations put a big strain on him. It’s been really difficult to watch him overcome this because he is extremely talented. But I’m in Europe with this man right now. It’s a blessing. As he said, something needs to be said about this publicly. Because the picture they painted about him it’s not him. I just want to see him flourish. 

Medhane: Something needs to be done. There’s an urgent need for transformative justice. There’s one thing when you are falsely accused and it’s another thing when you actually do cruel things. There’s a sharp difference between “This person did this – throw him away.” and “This person has been accused of this – throw him away”. I don’t think that’s a fair answer.

Medhane: Spotify / Instagram / Twitter

Photography: Máté Kersner (@yungmatka_)

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