Shafiq Husayn

So how did the album come about?
It started out right after the Frequency Clash record (Mochilla) that I released last year. Frequency Clash really was just a bunch of beats that was just sitting around on the hard drive and it was just time to do something with them. So the album really came out of a bunch of beats that turned into other songs.

But Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka sounds a million miles from your Frequency Clash beat tape.
Right. It's a real production album, a real studio album – it hasn’t been done in a while.

It's kinda different to Sa-Ra?
Yeah – it’s a different chamber.

How long  did it take to record?
I finished the album in about 2 ½ or 3 months.

What's the concept?
Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka – it’s a play on words with Afrika. Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka means Shafiq in a free spirit, you know, I’m solving, you know, no boundaries, you go anywhere, do what you wanna do, as long as you demonstrate love, truth, peace, freedom and justice…

You a follower of Noble Drew Ali?
Uh huh, Moorish Science, Temple of America…

Does that feed back into the record?
A-free-Ka means spirit in the ancient Kemetic or ancient Egyptian language, so being in A-free-Ka means no limitations, boundaries, infinite… so whatever’s going on in the inside, man should demonstrate it on the outside. As they say, man must be what he knows. So that’s what this album is, really, with those principles, you can do anything you wanna do, with no limitations, so long as you do it in the framework of love and harmony.

How does the vibe come?
It’s just one of those things. Some of the stuff comes out of jam sessions or out of one of those long on-going conversations we’ve been having. The artist community in L.A. is pretty extensive, so a lot of the people that we deal with – these are just friends, plain and simple. On my album, I have Count Bass D, my local friends like Sonny Coates and Thundercat, Bilal, Sa-Ra… They all came correct.

Sonny Coates appears on “Major Heavy” which sounds a bit like the Beatles.
“Major Heavy” is my way of doing a Big Brother song. Like Colonel, or Sergeant, or Major Heavy. Your shit is heavy. When Major Heavy comes down, it's heavy. Major Heavy means the problems of the world. Major Heavy is like the self-empowerment record. “Spend my time, In a craze, of clear haze, stranger days, will they stay, will I make it?”

What I love about your work is the way you do your drums.
I think if there’s a horn arranger, a song arranger, I think drums should be arranged too. I really think people should pay attention to arrangements. One of my good friends came over and said, “Ok this is what rap is. Hip-hop mastered the beat but they didn’t do nothing with the changes.” We started going through all these examples, like he was talking about Dr Dre. Even someone as musical as Dr Dre - they’re not really taking it to the whole arrangement demonstration. Even if he catches fire for a couple of hot bars, that’s usually the whole song. That’s like meat and potatoes.

The “Nirvana” track is heavy on the afrobeat. It reminds me of Dilla's work on Common's Like Water For Chocolate.
I was thinking about Tony Allen on that song. I was in Fela mode. When you sit down and make music, you’re always thinking about your peers you always want to impress your peers, so maybe that's where the Dilla connection came in.

The album is amazingly engineered. It really sounds great, and you've really been ambitious with the palette of sounds.
We use a lot of outboard gear, a lot of effects and lot of the synthesizers and the other instruments, electric guitars, a lot of modulation, there’s a lot of weird stuff. I use young engineers who are into Portishead and 4hero and what not. I love the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.

Can we get a little personal history? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm a military child I moved to California when I was 3 years old. I’ve lived in so many places. I got into DJing early on… But yeah I started DJing out in L.A. and fortunately I had the chance of spending time in New York so I was around when the original Los Angeles hip hop scene was coming up and simultaneously ciphering up with some of the legends of New York scene like the Afrika Bambaataas and Afrika Islams and DSG.

Then out here dealing in L.A. with Egyptian Lover – I went to school with BattleCat and DJ Bobcat. Out here in L.A., they had this thing called electro-funk : Egyptian Lover, Twilight 22, Electic Kingdom and all those sorts of records. That was what L.A. was playing – it wasn’t like New York. I was around hip hop early, but I was a cut up dude, I just used to carry records with me. My father used to do that so I guess it’s in the DNA.

Towards the end of the 80s, I was in the group called Now Kings, signed to the Rhyme Syndicate, with song called “Listen to the Light” and “Dropping Bombs”. I was producing them, that was my group. This was about '88 but I was in school playing college football. I was a running back.

So you're fast?
I was fast… I went to Compton College. I lived in Compton for a little while, I lived in Watts for a little while, I lived in 5th Ward Texas, I lived in South Bronx, I lived in Harlem, lived in South Central L.A., Oakland…

So you've lived in every ghetto of the US.
When they say a hood is a hood, it really is.

So from Djing, you then got into producing? You started on the SP1200?
Actually started out on the Casio, I forgot what drum machine it was, it had 4 seconds of sampling time, you were able to get a kick, snare, hi-hat and maybe a stab, and then you would take a turntable to ride the loops and keep bouncing that over and over. Donald D gave me his SP1200 – he was the one who taught me how to rock that shit… Between him and Islam.

Your production is so sophisticated. How did you develop your skills?
I been blessed to be around a lot of very talented and smart people and along the way you pick up shit. You be amazed how everyone thinks the same about music. You just see things , like a technique that you were doing but someone else was doing it similar but a little more effective so you add that to the reportoire.

And now you're in L.A. The city is killing all the competition these days.
L.A. is like a hotbed for what you would call a new age thing going on. This has been prophesised for years, this age that was coming… We been talkin about this for a long, long, long time. You seeing it manifest right now. All these Mohammeds and Buddhas and Krishnas and Jesuses are walking around on the planet rite now. That’s what you feeling and you hearing. There’s a lot of dope artists out here, like Flying Lotus, J*Davey, the Gaslamp Killers, Hudson mohawke…

He’s on our side of the Atlantic.
He’s on the planet though.

Shafiq En-A-Free-Ka, it's almost a jazz album? Beats in the abstract.
A jazz album? I’m gonna have to put that in the think tank. I was definitely thinking it was rock n’ roll… Rock and roll by default.

And what's next for Shafiq?
We're working on Om’mas and Taz's solo albums… And there's Erykah Badu – we working on her new album rite now. Return of the Ark. So hopefully at the end of the year, you’ll see that coming out too.

All Articles

Titlesort icon Post date Type All terms
En'-A-Free-Ka 10" 01/07/2010 Release Shafiq Husayn, Download, Single
Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka 07/20/2009 Release Album, CD, Shafiq Husayn, Download