Published Sep 23, 2014"Hey Amani, I hear you're doing everything you dreamed of since high school, what's with the mean mug?"
The title track to Saukrates' new Amani EP begins with that question, one that puts all the ups and downs of the artist's career into perspective. However, during a recent Exclaim! interview, that mean mug was noticeably absent, instead replaced with careful optimism. Indeed, the Amani EP itself — due out today (September 23) via Culvert Music/Universal Music Canada — is woven with a refreshing amount of repose and self-awareness.
"All these songs feel that way because of the mood I want to be in," Saukrates explains. "I felt more comfortable, and I'm glad that's shining through the music."
Much of that comfort comes from focusing back to what he's best known for. Make no mistake, this is a rap EP. While Saukrates is just as well known for crooning on funk and soul records, he's all about spitting bars on this one. The four-song EP's only guest, SonReal, actually provides the majority of the singing here. Beats are supplied by Rich Kidd and Snaz.
"The topics are what were more important, rather than the cadence," Saukrates says.
Those subjects include reaffirming his place in hip-hop and addressing questions from fans and family about his absence. "FYEO" is an elegant ode to the exotic dancer devoid of the usual negativity, while "The Big Bang" strikes a precise balance between confidence and humility with lines like, "A stand up guy, I fall and I bounce back up flyer and higher than the Himalayan sky."
"I could keep the cadence hanging 80 percent around just spitting, but keep the topics real to people," he says. "It's refreshing for me."
Equally refreshing is his new deal with Culvert. "I feel more like a partner than just a signed musician, and they treat me that way. That backing helps your confidence as a writer and gives you the opportunity to really flourish. We're building towards what will become the Season Two LP. The Amani EP, we'll call it the first chapter. This is a good way to feel how the public feels about the music, and what they want. You don't want to just walk in blindly anymore with a 15 song album and you haven't really tested the waters."
The partially lukewarm reception to Saukrates' last release Season One may be the reason for that. Fans eagerly anticipated that album for 13 years but were thrown for a loop when it didn't match the raw and rap-heavy vibe of songs that preceded it.
"Well, Season One was kind of mixed emotions. I'm partly to blame for that," he says. "I was kind of stubborn with Season One. I overlooked the fact of what was happening directly before. A lot of material I recorded between The Underground Tapes and when Season One came out never saw the light of day, so fans didn't necessarily get to see all the growth that was invested into Season One. Even if they were fans of [soulful side-project] Big Black Lincoln, they always kept the two separate, and I had a hard time believing that.
"I mean, I loved it. I loved it. I could see why original fans wouldn't necessarily go for the whole thing. New fans seemed to like it more than old fans. Old fans want that boom bap that I'd been known for. People want to hear you spit Sauks. I figured there's a better way to balance both of those lingering issues. So that's why I really wanted to get back to the core."
The return to the core is evident on the EP's lead single and video "Kingdom Come," where Sauks spits rapid-fire staccato lines over an equally choppy Snaz beat. In the video, Sauks and camera crew traverse across the Scarborough Bluffs and nearby parkland in a literal reclamation of his place in the nation's rap scene. The next step is regaining that attention beyond our borders.
"For now I'm happy with the material. I'm happy with everything else around this material that's about to come out. Getting the world to turn the satellites and pay attention is what I'm working towards now."