By Alex P80 Parks
I reached out to AnkhleJohn after Vinyl Villain dropped the bomb that he was working on an EP with the Shaap Records lyricist. He mentioned that he loved the piece I wrote on Vinyl Villain, so I asked him if I could do an interview with him. I was aware that he had only done one other interview that I could find, so I wasn’t expecting him to agree. His reply:
“Bet. I’m ready to go when you are.”
I had to find the time to get this done soon, with his new album on the way. I also wanted to get the questions just right, especially with an emcee that’s on such a steady climb. Check it out:
DRHH: For me, I became aware of you late last year after you dropped The Red Room. You made a pretty big statement with that album.
AJ: Yeah man, I mean The Red Room was kinda like the breakthrough for me. Actually I think if you really wanna go deeper, it was more like the EP’s. Specifically the Shrimp boat EP. Around this time, last year I was putting out EP’s. The Shrimp Boat EP and the I Killed a Man EP. That was all building anticipation for The Red Room. So I don’t blame you for starting at The Red Room. But I think The Red Room definitely helped put me on the map with the help of Fxck Rxp, the label over in Germany. With the help of the other artists that was involved with The Red Room as far as Hus Kingpin and Big Ghost and a few other producers. with the help of all those it raised The Red Room much higher than what I expected. I seen it, but I didn’t have that plan for that. I just wanted to put The Red Room out and just get it out but everything came to fruition so quickly as far as the distribution of it and getting it out. You know, where I’m from here in DC bro, it’s not really talked about. People don’t really talk these things as far as making money off of music, packaging it up and distributing it. Usually muthafucka’s be just dropping they shit on SoundCloud and go on to the next (laughing) ya know what i’m sayin. I didn’t want that to happen but you know my main goal was at least to get it on to iTunes, and the streaming services and BandCamp. But I never thought it woulda turned into a vinyl and a cassette tape, just physicals. And I can still push and promote The Red Room still to this day, so that project definitely has survived and it put me on the map, ya dig.
DRHH: Because of that more people started taking notice of how nice you are on the mic. How did that album change your mindset or approach?
AJ: It did 100 percent, because I raised the bar for myself. So the following projects pretty much followed on that same scale, ya nahmean. After the Red Room, it was like aight boom, this SoundCloud rapper shit is over with. I’m no longer approaching the game as a starving artist anymore, ya nahmean. Now I have to take these things seriously, as far as the concepts that I’m doing, what I’m actually rapping about, the production, the entire package, the physicals of the shit. Now, everything I have to consider, you feel me. Everything comes like that now. There’s no way that I’m just gonna drop something just to drop it no more. So The Red Room pretty much provided the structure for me, or at least got me to start thinking about structuring these projects that I’m putting out. I know what my visions are. I have deep visions, man, and I don’t wanna just put music out. So when it comes to developing a project, it’s more than just the music. It’s about the journey that I’m bout to take this listener on, and how long I can stretch this journey. Because we living in a time when shit is just dropping, multiple projects dropping just on this day alone, so how can I make a project that’s gonna provide this longevity for the next year or for whenever I’m ready to get back on the mic, ya nahmean. That’s where my mindset is at now, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m glad I’m starting to think about it now. I wish I woulda thought about it before but I’m at a good age where it’s making sense. Not just working hard, but working smartly as well, you know?
DRHH: Since that album you’ve been on a tear, dropping crazy projects it seems like at least every other month.
AJ: “Yeah true indeed. So after The Red room, that’s when i was working on the EP’s with All Ceven. As far as the Wisdom Equality EP and the Knowledge Born EP. I think those EP’s are probably my favorite EP’s. What we did was we composed all of those EP’s. It was 4 EP’s. Those EP’s man, the overall message of course is to provide the music but also to provide Knowledge of self. I come from the nation of gods and earths. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the 5 percent nation, as they’ve held a prominent history in hip hop. Also a prominent history into the development of self awareness in the black community. As far as hip hop goes, the knowledge of self has pretty much been taken out of it. My duty is to educate the uncivilized, in any way I can provide that. Even in my name, a lotta people will pronounce my name wrong and call me ankle John and shit. But its pronounced Uncle John, nahmean. And even when I tell people that and they don’t see the spelling of my name, they think it’s spelled U-N-C-L-E. But it’s actually a symbol for something. It’s all subconscious symbols and wordplay that i’m using. For the EP’s, for example, I named it Wisdom Equality and I used a picture of the most honorable Elijah Muhammad. A lotta people might not even realize that and just take it on face value for what the music is, you know what I’m sayin, the music sound good to them. But with these EP’s I’m providing these little gems of knowledge too. So I’m gonna still talk my shit, still talk that fly shit. But I’m still gonna talk about what goes on in these communities, these streets too. And I’ma also build so that’s why those EP’s are my favorite. It’s pretty hard to top those for me. Real raw, just real grungy. Some screw-face shit. Shit nasty, just grimy. But I’m really building on some pretty deep shit too. I’m keeping it simple, not going all the way over ya head. But if you know the knowledge, you can pretty much understand where I’m coming from there.
AJ: Following those EP’s I went into a mini-album. Lordy By Nature wasn’t an official album, it was a project. Ankhnasty, wasn’t an official album, it was a project. I feel like my only album is The Red Room. That’s the only official album I’ve ever dropped. With Lordy By Nature I’m taking you on a journey with this whole car-theft UUV concept, ya nomsayin. Ankhnasty pretty much wasn’t conceptual even though there was a theme because of the cover art. I just wanted to put that out because it was my birthday, it was a good time, I wanted to put out a new project, with physical CD’s. I wanted to do something on my own, without the label, invest my own money into something, have my own artwork. These projects been surviving me through 2018 until we about to drop this next album. So yeah after The Red Room those EP’s definitely been keeping me above water, (laughing) ya dig.
DRHH: All your releases, they’re all conceptual and have a cohesive theme. Is that something you have in mind at the onset or does it happen after you’ve recorded a few joints?
AJ: With Lordy by Nature it was supposed to have that concept. Honestly, it was only supposed to be 3 songs though. It was only supposed to be a small EP for my guy. He’s the one that developed the merch for it. This ‘Lordy’ term. Even though he got it from me, he branded it with my blessing. That’s my A-alike, my brother. From the original Lordy, he made a clothing line, the UUV. So I wanted to support it, cuz not only was the clothing dope, but the message behind it- I could relate to it. So it was like, aight boom, lets do these three songs. Three songs turned into nine songs and nine songs turned into three extra bonus joints, ya nomsayin. So yeah I had the concept going in, true indeed. Lotta people they just compose songs, add up they songs, put a cool cover on it and then call it art or whatever these guys are buying into they shit as. If you really look at it, there’s only a select few that’s really dropping that real art. And I look at something like The Red Room and Lordy by Nature as really art pieces. It ain’t the most lyrical, or probably don’t got the hardest beats, but it’s definitely something different than everybody else’s shit. It’s conceptual. I’m pretty sure if you close your eyes with these projects you can envision everything that’s goin on.
DRHH: It seems that overall you select darker beats, ones more sinister in tone. What’s your beat selection process like?
AJ: See one thing about me is I’m very cinematic. Ya understand what I’m sayin. I try to provide a cinematic experience. People got different forms and ways and different sounds they wanna convey through music. Some people they’re happy-go-lucky. Some people wanna provide that vibe that makes you feel jolly and wanna dance and shit like that. With mine I don’t necessarily wanna take people into dark places like that. Now, mind you, I don’t even really watch movies that much but I know what’s a good movie and what composes a good film. And what composes a good visual. Like when you’re watching a certain dramatic part in a movie that has a score that fits perfect for that moment. And most of those scores are emotional and coming from an emotional place. I rhyme from the heart, ya nahmean. I’m not just kicking shit just to be kicking shit, ya dig. I’m kicking shit from a place that either I have been at, I have seen people go through, or it’s from my perspective. Coming from heart, my experiences. I’m not trying to make ‘dark’ music. It’s really more cinematic to me, rather than dark. I would use ‘cinematic’. But I see where people could get it from. I’m not mad at it, I would just call it more cinematic, or more score music though. It’s just certain breakdowns, certain samples, certain sounds. Not sure if you’re familiar with the producer Viles, but he’s from my area. He produced on Lordy and Southside Pennywise. If you listen to a lot of those beats, there’s just certain sounds and certain things that catch my ear. So for me, it has to be something that I can feel and envision it. Anybody can make a beat sound good, but can you make one that makes you feel it? I try to go after those beats, rather than the ones that’s just on some low-fi shit to be low-fi or some boom bap shit just cuz it’s boom bap. That’s not really what it’s about to me. It’s about trying to provide a cinematic theme for ya. I know my voice is dope- I got a dope voice! I smoke a lotta cigarettes, a lotta weed, nomsayin (laughing). This a very grimy voice right here, and I know what works well with my voice.
DRHH: What’s your process when recording songs? Do you jump right in and spit or do you sit on a beat for awhile and catch vibes before rhyming on it?
AJ: Yeah I got shit in the chamber from a year ago, shit two years ago that I ain’t even touch yet. My process is changing almost daily though. But usually, if you send me a beat at 7pm, and I’m really, really feelin that shit, I’ll wake up early the next morning and knock that shit out. That was my process all last year. Even before that it’s been like beats that I’ve been sitting on, where I always knew that I’d use someday. It’s like some synergy shit that I foresee. I could’ve been 18 or 20 when I got this beat, but it probably didn’t make sense to me then. You may not be ready for it at one point in your life and sometimes you just gotta come back and let it find you. Even though it didn’t make sense when I was 20 years old, because I probably wasn’t going through so much at that time. I was 24 recording them, now I’m 25, so it probably makes more sense, I probably got more experience, I probably could relate better now.
DRHH: You’ve gone on record saying how much you’ve been feeling Vinyl Villain’s beats. Tell me about that.
AJ: He’s my current favorite producer right now. On some real shit. He provides everything I’ve just spoken about, Ya nahmean. He definitely provides that experience. He understands my sound, where I’m coming from. I can tell he has studied what I sound good on. Literally, every beat Vinyl Villain has sent me, is a beat I have or will use- I have not passed on a beat he’s given me. I move with what makes sense, so we definitely bout to drop something soon, maybe even next month. It’s gonna be special. It might top or be close to the other EP’s. I never did visuals for those other EP’s and I wanna do visuals for this. I shoot videos. I don’t know if a lotta people know that about me. I shoot em really good. I have a really good camera. Vinyl Villain’s production is so good it has inspired me. Not only musically but visually. He’s making me wanna pick up my camera. That’s the mindset. The beats he sends me make me wanna provide a soundtrack. I got the cover art. the artwork almost done. We about to get it in this week, I’m adding on to my verses. That actually might drop before Van Ghost, but we not sure yet. I wanna come up there and get in the studio with him and see his process and how he selects certain things, these records that he samples, how he creates the music visually.
DRHH: You recently shot a video for Al Divino. Talk about your friendship with him and also what it was like directing him.
AJ: That’s my A-alike right there. Besides the music, he’s also a student and a builder of the nation. He’s god. We both studied mathematics. We both studied alphabets. We both in this nation, growing, as newborns together. He’s very knowledgeable. I spent a week with Divino up in New York with Sauce Heist. Divino is a genuine guy and a loving guy and probably one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. And that’s just talking about the man, not even the music. My moms used to tell me that the people I grew up with might not be your closest friends when you get older. Those people close to you might be those you meet later in life. I feel like Divino’s one of those cats. We forming that relationship that maybe one day he might be my kid’s godfather or something like that. Along with Sauce Heist too. Me and Sauce when we first got introduced to each other it really wasn’t peace like that. It was almost like a slight altercation. When I met him in the physical, he provided that same confident aura like Divino. Stand up men, besides the artistry, besides rapping they ass off. Ya know, I’m a genuine person. I deal with real life. I don’t deal with that mystery internet shit, or that mystery phone shit. I gotta get that energy off in real life. Both of them cats have provided amazing energy, amazing aura, they’re a fuckin inspiration. That’s family now. Divino, family. Sauce Heist, family. Locking in with them cats when we was in Brooklyn was one of my best moments in hip hop for me, man. Besides that, the artistry Divino got is unmtached. Knocking out beats in like 15 minutes or gettin on the mic and just throwing out things mad fast.
AJ: As far as that visual (For Moroccan Mausoleum) we was just on Flatbush Ave. I had the camera with me. We walked to the liquor store. Sauce Heist had to go in (laughing). We on the ave and I seen that red door and what Divino had on was a good match. That red aesthetic. It was a go from there, ya nahmean. For me that shot was right, I mean it was really just a few shots that composed it, and some editing. It came out beautiful. It was only one minute but a lotta people grabbed on to it. And there’s a lot more where that came from. I initially bought my camera to do short films, not to shoot videos. I work with a Panasonic TH-4, it’s a micro 4/3 camera. So it’s not your typical Canon or Nikon. My camera matches my rap (laughing). My camera be lookin better than real life. It was a pleasure shooting that video though. Cinematography started as an investment. I wanted to do it myself. Same as studios. I got tired of paying for studio time, so I bought my own studio. I mixed and mastered the entire Red Room album, ya know.
DRHH: Are we ever gonna see Ankh make beats and produce? That seems like where you’re heading.
AJ: You already know- Definitely right! That’s definitely my next step. I gotta dude who’s got an SP-555 waiting for me. That’s definitely the next step for me. A lotta people that I’ve recorded with been noticing how I go through that mixing process. That shit is difficult (producing) but I’ma get that shit done cuz I got an ear for it. I know what I want. I know what it do to me. I know how it could change me as an artist. As a producer I feel like it could sharpen my pen too. It’s like how it can sharpen up my angles of this cinematography shit too. Everything coincides with each other to me. That why this art is a beautiful thing to me. Even The Red Room cover, god, I made that cover art. You know, with the help of the Fxck Rxp guy, he definitely put his touch on it as well but that cover art I did. Lordy by Nature cover art, I did. I got different aspects that I bring to this shit.
DRHH: You’re from DC. What’s that like, knowing that you’re not typical of the type of hiphop artist coming from there.
AJ: I’m from DC, born and raised, Ya nahmean. I was just heavily influenced on the culture of more up North. Especially the golden era of music. But if you knew me and you was down here you would definitely see my DC influence. I’m 100 percent DC. I been in a lotta places In DC that people who claim DC don’t even go to. That being said I don’t call myself a local artist. If you was in the DMV area you would know that there’s a big fight for who wants to be the most known or the best DMV artist. Lotta people just wanna box you in and say you a DMV artist type of shit. I’m like fuck that, I’m a hip hop artist. I’m an artist for DC, for New York, for LA, for fuckin Africa, fuckin Italy, for all over the fuckin world, for the universe, ya nahmean, cuz we all can relate to it. The DMV, the scene is different. It’s progressive, but not as progressive as what we doing over here. A lotta people don’t know nothing about this. Muthafuckas (we) dropping vinyls and cassette tapes and selling out shit and people leaking music. They don’t have any idea of what that’s like. I’m just blessed that I have gotten the opportunity to be placed in the culture where that’s embraced will all of those components- whether people like it or not. Like the bootlegging and shit. A lotta of us don’t really fuck with it. We feel as though it takes away from the profit that we could make. But for me, fuck man, nahmean, I grew up in bootleg shit. That’s why I started rapping (laughing), ya nahmean. Mixtapes and bootleg shit is important to our culture. Bootleggers is very influential to our culture. It ain’t always peace. For someone to want to strip my project and take the time out to do that, that means its a form of supply and demand to me. Someone wants to hear my music, and wants the world to hear my music so much that they do whatever they gotta do to do that, and that’s just how it is. I ain’t mad at em, nahmnean. A lotta people where I’m from don’t have no idea where that’s from. These people might have hundreds of thousands of followers or might seem like they poppin on social media or whatever the hell they doing, but they ain’t never stepped in this lane before. I’m possibly the only artist in my city that has really did it like that- There’s probably a select few that’s gone to that stage but I’m 25 years old, cats that’s older and younger than me ain’t never really experienced shit like that. It happened to me quick. It’s only been about a year. To know what that feels like- It feels good though, to know that somebody across the world right now building on this right now. Somebody cross the world reading one of your interviews as we talking right now. So me, I come into the picture and I try to create scenes. Not only with all my wisdom, not just my wise words and actions, but also with my visions, with my style of fashions. With all types of shit, I try to give y’all a glimpse into DC, by providing my local brands from all my friends. My friends make clothes, my man Say-less is just one. Everybody I fuck with who have they own brand. That’s what DC is all about, it’s making our own culture. Our own sound of music. We got Go-Go, ya nomsayin, We got our own slang. And I’m all of that. And I’ve been gettin the message to y’all out, and y’all been fuckin with it. So that lets me know I gotta dope city for one and I’m in a dope demographic as well. Cuz I get to come into your world as well. I never thought I’d be building with people from Boston and shit like that, ya nahmean? And it’s forcing me travel so I can see how y’all live, and y’all can see how I live, nomsayin. It’s a beautiful thing man.
DRHH: Does that mean some touring in the near future?
AJ: yeah definitely. We bout to tour soon. Probably this year.We definitely gonna be hitting Boston. We got a show, me, Divino and Anakin on July 16th in Raleigh NC. We gonna hit everywhere at some point, for real.
DRHH: What was it like working on your new album, Van Ghost with Big Ghost Ltd?
AJ: Big Ghost’s a fuckin genius. I approached him. It was before The Red Room, I hit him on Twitter, like yo we gonna work (laughing). On some real shit, like yo we really gonna work. I made it manifest. I spoke that shit into existence. I believed in it. And once we did “Original Man” with Hus Kingpin, it was like, no question. It’s just crazy how all of this shit really just started as a thought. I’m really a guy making things manifest. But with Big Ghost it’s been a pretty easy process. The thing I appreciate about Big Ghost is he told me in the beginning, he’s no regular beat sender. A lotta these producers ain’t really producers, they just send you a beat and let you do whatever you want to it. Big Ghost was like nah, we gonna do this officially. Like we gonna work with each other on this. He provided the track list for me. He made it real easy for me, he made it real relaxed. He had the whole arrangement from a production standpoint. Even though we went back and forth, he explained his whole vision to me, and I had my input as well. I freestyled all that shit, sent him the verses back, and he tweaked it, doing his thing. Man, me and Big Ghost, it’s probably gonna be a groundbreaking project. I think Red Room was that peak, but I think Van Ghost could possibly be that groundbreaking thing for me. Doing the history of Big Ghost, looking from where he started from Griselda Ghost, to Cocaine Beach, the joint he did with Vic, even what he did with Crimeapple. Yo, Big Ghost know what he doing, man. He’s a mastermind, a genius. He maintains that mystery, but like I said I’m from the nation, I don’t deal with any mystery so he opened it up and allowed me to conversate over the phone with him, and he’s a cool guy. Very easy going, cool guy. I got hella love for Big Ghost. He’s a big part of my success, man. I don’t got no problem with giving people credit for what they’ve done for me. Big Ghost is a big part of my success. Hus Kingpin is a big part of my success. Al Divino is a big part of my success. ya, nahmean. I hold onto these guys, and I’ll ride for them. But yeah, Big Ghost is amazing, man. I can’t wait for y’all to hear this.
DRHH: Other producers you’re feeling?
AJ: I’ve been fucking with GrayMatter beats lately, and I’m fuckin with Foisey a lot. Me and Anakin been working together a lot, so I don’t know what will happen there, it really might manifest into something. My guy All Ceven is a creative like me. Even though we haven’t worked on music together in awhile, he still busy on the graphic part and visuals. But he’s still one of my favorite producers. Of course Divino got the ill production too.
DRHH: Emcees you’d like to work with:
AJ: I worked with pretty much everybody that I wanted to work with at this point . Of course I’d love to jump on tracks with some of the older gods like Westside, Conway, and Roc. Some of my favorites. And even if I don’t, it’s cool. I’m in that group that’s next up. I like to do me for the most part, you know. As far as me featured on albums, I’m trying be cautious to who I’m giving the sauce out to. I’m trying to develop my own brand first and stay in my own shit. Create my own lane. Get your foundation first. I know what I can do for myself. I don’t ride no wave. I don’t deal with no expectations. If I really wanna work with you, I wanna have that interactions as meeting you as a man. Meet you in the physical and see your energy, your aura, and then we can build on some shit.
DRHH: What are you listening to lately?
AJ: I relate to Westside Gunn, and watching his interviews and his process and I appreciate that shit. I listen to a lotta shit though, man. I listen to trap shit, I listen to some mumble rap. I’m from DC, so I listen to some Go-Go which is composed of a lotta percussion- We call it Crank, it got that bouncy feel. Like Trap music, or those type of Trap beats, or 808’s beats that type of shit that a lotta people won’t consider as hip hop, I like that shit. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lotta trash out here, ya nahmean. But I definitely provide a vibe. I like to listen to what the bitches wanna listen to. I like that fly shit. I try to accommodate for everybody. You gonna hear a range of all types of shit. You gonna hear this gritty boom bap wave, trap wave, soulful shit, jazz. You gonna hear Anita Baker, you gonna hear it all. I’m not just one of those types of cats that only listens to Nas and MF DOOM. Nah, I listen to everything. Whatever I can get drippy to. Go to SoundCloud and look at my likes and you can see all the different shit I like (laughing), nomsayin.
DRHH: 3 non hip hop artists or albums that are important to you
AJ: Jazz, Dave Brubek. For soulful stuff, I love Anita Baker and Marvin Gaye. I really dig classical music too. As a kid, I used to go to sleep listening to classical music. I had a process when I was about 8. I had Michael Jackson and some classical albums I would rotate every night before bed. I’m heavy on jazz though. Miles Davis, of course.
DRHH: Emcees you emulated or looked up to growing up.
AJ: Growing up I wanted to be like 50 cent. 50 was my world. That whole G-unit movement was my world. Yo, I wanna out my moms on the phone- she tell you how much I used to loved 50. Me and my homies, we used to freestyle off the Guess who’s back mixtape. banging on the table to that shit. I was inspired by the Hot Boy movement like Lil Wayne. 3-6 Mafia era, Scarface era. A lotta the guys I was around that was older, that was the music they was playing from the older heads in the DC area. In the 90’s, it wasn’t even cool to be a rapper from DC. It wasn’t the up North rap that we were playing in DC, they were listening to the down south rap. Through my love for 50, I started picking up on the other New York rap. To be honest I wasn’t listening to the east coast NY raps like Wu-tang or whatever until I was developing my own tastes later on as I was discovering more of that NY sound. And then I started to really embrace that sound and those raps.
Quick story about about my friend, my brother in 7th or 8th grade. He was muslim, and while we was listening to Lil Wayne or whatever was popular, he was listening to all those albums that are considered classics like Mobb Deep and Outkast to name only two. I had an iPod and he would take it and load a ton of music at night and give it back the next day. Shout out to my man, Kay. He really blessed some wisdom of hip hop music on me that I still carry to this day.
DRHH: After Van Ghost you’re gonna drop The Green Line.
AJ: I’ve had the concept for a few years now. I got heavy emotions for this album. Maybe, if not deeper than the emotions I had for The Red Room. This album means a lot to me. This is an album that I’m gonna really take y’all into my world. With The Green Line, I’ma get very detailed and very specific with a lot of things that’s going on how I grew up in DC alone. This is gonna be my introduction to providing that real DC story for y’all, ya nahmean.
Deeply Rooted Exclusive Review:
Ankh shared “Yellow House”‘from Van Ghost. Before sharing it, he was emphatic that it still needed to be mixed but it was close. What I heard sounded damn near flawless from a mixing perspective, though my ears are not quite as acute as Big Ghost’s. Ankh is his usual gritty, shit-talking self. Big Ghost creates an ambience of futuristic background strings, synth guitars with heavy effects, some knocking bass. The track is loaded with layers of subtle samples flipping here and there, fitting perfectly for Ankh’s cinematic griminess. Big Ghost certainly knows how to get the most out of the artists he works with. His work always has an incredibly high production value and is always impeccably mixed. Van Ghost is shaping up to be one of the dopest albums of the year. For AnkhleJohn, it sounds like he’s got plenty more up his sleeve and that’s just for 2018.
Van Ghost track listing: