Burntface - the group, the movement, the man. However you understand the Ethio-inspired hip hop powerhouse, there's no denying that the eponymous lyricist - also known as the Profit - is a creative forced to reckoned with. And if the past is any indication of the future, look out world...big things are coming from this master of triple entendres. We managed to catch up to Burntface in between his record sessions with his new group Copperwire, app development, and brainstorming sessions with NASA scientists.
AT: Who is Burntface? How would you describe yourself?
BF: “Who is Burntface?” That’s complicated, Burntface started out as a group consisting of the late great Ethiopian hip hop pioneer Surafel Asseminew, and Eritrean female emcee named Walta, Atlanta emcee Brian Price , Jersey emcee Deshon Carter, Ethiopian singer Helina, musician Jorga Mesfin, and myself “The Profit” as the lead rapper and primary producer. So Burntface really started out as a concept and a movement to bridge the diaspora that included lots of people. So over the years I sort of became the “face” of Burntface because my schedule allowed me to do the most traveling. So people started calling me “Burntface”. I use to correct them, but for the last 6 years or so I stopped and decided to run with it. It was more important to me that people understood the concept behind Burntface than know me personally. Personally I describe my self as a Blackopian mad scientist on a mission to give the Diaspora a voice.
AT: How did you first pick the name, and come up with the idea of blending Ethiopian culture and hip hop?
BF: As a person who is half Ethiopian and half African American I wanted to come up with a name for an idea or identy that would relate to both parts of my culture. According to some scholars the word “Ethiopia” in ancient Greek meant “land of the burnt face people”. In ancient times and up to the recent history the term Ethiopian was used as generic term for “Black” people south of the Saharan desert. So being referred to by “color” is something we share and common. And the name Burntface allows me to be general and specific at the same time. My pops was a jazz musician, so I always had an appreciation for it and music from the Ethiopian Jazz era always touched me because it demonstrated an authentic kinship between the two communities I belong to expressed through music. The idea of being the hip hop version of that always inspired me as an artist.
AT: One earlier member of the "Burntface Crew," passed on prematurely. What happened?
BF: Surafel was killed by the Cobb County, Georgia police in September 2003. They came to his house because of an alleged dispute and was shot several times by more than one police officer. Surafel was not armed yet the police walked scot free. Surafel was a pioneer and one of the first people to ever rhyme in Amharic, his contribution to the Burntface movement has a lot to do with why what I do is still relevant. He had a giant heart and believed in Ethiopian and African unity. What made him so special to me as an artists and lyricist was his ability to see hip hop as an extension of Ethiopian culture rather than something outside of it.
AT: One of my favorites is "Mindenew." Who did the production for that track and where did the sample come from?
BF: A brother by the name EthioSoul from Ohio produced that track I’m not 100% sure where he got the sample from. He made the whole beat from a 3 second karar lick. The chorus featured my cousin Lily. She made the chorus up on the spot. It was her first time recording herself. I think that song touched people
AT: Another favorite is "U Abesha." Where was this one recorded?
BF: That was another recorded during our days in Atlanta. U Abesha? was recorded in Level Headz Studio.
AT: Your next project - Kafa Beanz - is another classic. What is the history behind this project, who is on there, and how did you come together?
BF: We wanted to make the Ethiopian American hip hop supergroup! It featured Ethio-Eritrean emcee BSheba, soul singer Wayna, Gabriel Teodros, & AP from DC. The project stemmed from a lot of hanging out and sharing experiences in the studio. From the production side I really wanted to explore sampling from the Ethiopique series as a sort of homage to my influences. Its was also my first exploration of space themes in my music. We named the album Andromeda to refrence the Andromeda Galaxy which very few people know was named after an Ethiopian princess in Greek mythology. We wanted to expand the concept of Ethiopian identy as far as we could, and space is literally is as way out as it gets. I sort of fell in love with that idea and me Gabriel Teodros and Meklit Hadero later went on to form CopperWire and took the space theme even further by actually collaborating with people from NASA to make the music.
AT: You did production, graphic design, etc. on this project...right? I don't think most people realize how multi-faceted and multi-talented you are. Is there anything you don't do? LOL
BF: That is indeed true! LOL Don’t forget 3d modeler, motion graphics and app developer! I am dedicated to producing authentic diaspora media in any form. “Rap” and music is just an extention of that desire. I went on to get my masters degree in Appplied Media Theory and want to contribute to diaspora media in any way I can. And as far things I cant do…hmm cook (but I do make a mean sandwhich).
AT: Even the videos were killer! Wasn't your brother the brains behind some of those? Are you guys working on anything else together these days?
BF: My brother is a video editing genius, and all around visual mastermind and I’ve always been lucky enough to be his guineapig. He recently shot the video for “Findata” from my upcoming solo project.
AT: We now have a better understanding of what you've done...so what can we expect from you in the future?
BF: More spaced-out Ethiopian Diaspora Hip Hop! I’m really excited about my current project CopperWire with Meklit Hadero and Gabriel Teodros. We are currently turning our album EarthBound into a remix app. It will be an Augmented Reality video game-app and comic book written by Nigerian sci-fi author Nnedi Okorafor. Me and my production partner Chris Coniglio created a system to create millions of remixes using math and sonic light curves (the sound of stars) that we received from our friends at NASA. So we are calling our remix app Starbound.
AT: We see that you reached your Kickstarter goal - which is pretty huge. Now that you're on your way, iIs there anything you'd like to share with the world
BF: Change how you look at music, change the way the world looks at Africa and tell your own story before some one else does. Because if some one else does it for you …they wil get it wrong every time.