Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to the one and only Brad Franklin aka Kamikaze on several topics and it was a very interesting convo. As many of our Southern Laced readers know, he is a Mississippi Hip-Hop icon who along with David Banner formed the seminal group Crooked Lettaz, which definitely put Mississippi in the national spotlight in a major way. He also released some really dope albums, one of which I was able to co-produce a track on.
Kamikaze is one of the major hip-hop ambassadors for the city of Jackson as well as the state of Mississippi. He currently puts on for his city as a marketing specialist for the city of Jackson and the assistant manager of Thalia Mara Hall. He also has done many notable events in the city. One of the things he’s most excited about right now is the artist he manages, viral sensation Silas, who is quickly gaining popularity with his song “Gullah Gullah Island” and his electrifying live show.
It was an honor to be able to interview him. I had many more questions I didn’t have time to ask. So hopefully we can arrange a part 2 of this interview soon.
Q: What originally made you want to be an MC?
A: Really it was just a love for hip-hop music, man. I started off like most dudes in high school… it was a way to get attention from girls basically. In the 7th or 8th grade when I started getting into it, it basically gave you prestige.
My mom was an English teacher, so I always wrote poetry and short stories. And I was in the band. So I always had a love for music.
Q: What was the first project you ever released as an artist?
A: In college, I had a group called Tha Network. It was me, my younger brother B. Dazzle and MC JC. He was from Detroit, but we met at JSU. His roommate was a DJ from Chicago and we started going to the studio. We ended up making a few records and then we got with a cat who released one of our records as a single. Of course, it didn’t sell anything, but everything evolved from there.
Q: Which brings us to you and David Banner forming the group Crooked Lettaz. The album you two made “Grey Skies” was released nationally in 1999. What do you think is the impact of the group as well as the album?
A: Grey Skies marked a pivotal point in hip-hop for Mississippi. We, along with Outkast, were one of the first southern rap groups to be signed to a New York label. To us, being signed to a New York label was a sign of validation for Mississippi. It’s an honor for Grey Skies to be considered a slept on hip-hop classic. We were just two kids fresh out of college making music. And it kind of helped pave the way for everything going on now. It’s critically acclaimed. It didn’t sell a lot because at the time they didn’t exactly know what to do with southern music. Kiese Layman actually dedicated two or three chapters of his first book about growing up in Mississippi to the album and how it shaped and inspired him as a writer. In a whole chapter in her book on Pimp C, Julia Beverly talked about the recording of our song Get Crunk, which he featured on.
Q: Grey Skies has major features from Pimp C, who you just mentioned, and Noreaga, who was a major hitmaker at the time. Do you think features from major artists helped new artists back then? And do you think they help artists today?
A: It was important to us to prove that we could compete on a major level. UGK and Outkast are two of the greatest things on the planet to me. So doing a song with Pimp C was a big deal to me. And Noreaga was one of the biggest artists at the time. So for him to come hang out all night at the studio and get on a track with us was also huge. We definitely wanted to show that we could hold our own and kill it on tracks with major artists. It wasn’t like they were carrying us.
Nowadays, it’s more of a detriment. Now, you don’t really need it. The landscape has changed and it’s a waste of money unless the record is an absolute smash. Most likely you won’t be able to get the artist in the video and a lot of people will assume it’s their song. It’s not like it used to be where the artist would do it because they like the record and want to vibe with you. These days, if you have the money to pay them… these artists will automatically jump on the record. And your identity is attached to a song with someone else on it.
Prove your own worth. It’ll last much longer if you build your brand based on you and not piggybacking.
Q: In about two and a half years it will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Grey Skies. Have you and Banner discussed a possible album or tour?
A: We talked about it for the 15th anniversary, but that didn’t end up happening. We are both very busy… so if our schedules align, it’s something we could talk about. It would have to be something impactful. We have to make sure we remember the words (laughs)…
But mainly nowadays, I use the album as a tool to show where we were at. Now with what Banner is doing with the lectures, everyone says he’s changed, but if you listen to that album it’s kind of an extension of what he’s doing now. A lot of records you heard us do later on was us being tainted by the game, trying to make radio records.
The Crooked Lettaz didn’t make us any money. We were robbed by our manager. So we ended up deviating from the message of the Crooked Lettaz when we made music in our solo careers because it was convenient. That brought songs like “Like A Pimp” and “U Ain’t Hard“. It made us a lot of money, but over time we matured past that. I went back and listened to my album “The Franchise” one day and it was so much dope talk, gun talk, and strippers. That wasn’t me. But I was tainted by the industry and it messed with my psyche as an MC… and the same thing with Banner. I traveled to places like the Czech Republic and performed for 40,000 people and was embarrassed by seeing them emulate what they saw us as. After going to Ghana and getting in touch with my roots and the culture, that’s what got me back on the track I’m on. And the same with Banner.
Q: Would you consider dropping another solo album?
A: I have an album’s worth of material already. But I’m not really feeling it right now, to be honest with you. I always said it shouldn’t feel like a job… it has to feel organic. I don’t ever want to have to play politics with radio and things like that ever again, but if at some point I do feel it, I have a whole record already. I can put it out at any time because it’s timeless music. Right now my priority is my company Ourglass Music, my artist Silas and putting out new talent from the state.
Q: You just mentioned the artist Silas… What attracted you to work with him?
A: He was different from anyone else I saw around here. And that’s not a knock on any of the other artists. I literally saw a lot of artists trying to sound like someone from Atlanta, Memphis, the Migos, Young Thug or Luck. Things had really got mundane and he was a breath of fresh air.
A year before I started working with him, I watched what he was doing. Not only is he creative, he can really spit. Diction and cadence are very important to me because I’m a spitter myself. I eventually told him, if you give me 6 months, I’m going to raise your profile. He left for four months on a gig playing trumpet, and when he came back his whole profile changed.
The biggest thing you should know about Silas is he doesn’t want to be a star. He’s not interested in being in VIP or popping bottles, he just wants to make great music, have people enjoy it and he wants to perform it. He reminds me of myself a lot. We are both from the Northside, both went to Chastain, we both started getting serious about music in college… We had a lot of similar stories. It felt like it was meant to be. Any artists that work with Ourglass Music has to fit that mold, TDE is the model I look to for what I want to do.
But Silas is doing great, he has one of the biggest viral records in the country with “Gullah Gullah Island”. He’s not concerned with being a Julebrity… Most of the attention we get is from out-of-state. No gimmicks, no club plays… it’s just been organic. He’s going on a four-city tour now. He’s a natural progression of what I was, so my natural progression is to manage and help him from making the mistakes I made.
Q: What are some of the differences between when you first came out doing music and the new generation’s approach?
A: In my generation, the goal was to be as hard as you could possibly be. You gotta be intimidating as you could possibly be. You had to be tough. I went for years without smiling in photos and on records, and it passed into my personal life. Finally, one day someone asked me why I don’t smile in photos because I had a nice smile.
This generation doesn’t give a fuck about toughness. They read comic books, ride skateboards, watch Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. And I liked a lot of similar things back in the day! But we couldn’t be ourselves back in the day. These days, trying to look too tough looks corny. Back in the day, it was embarrassing to have a job because you had to build the illusion of being a rapper.
That’s one of the things that makes Silas so great, he talks about having a job.
Q: You often use the hashtag #RejectRegularRap. What does that mean to you as far as your artist Silas?
A: Silas for me is the beginning of a movement of people rejecting the norm of what they hear on the radio and in the club. Let’s do something different from that!
So far, the public is really feeling our message… Silas had a sold-out album release party where people knew the words to not just Gullah Gullah Island, but all his songs. So we are just trying to challenge artists in Jackson to just be you and people will respect it.
Dare to be different.
Q: As an observer of the game, let me ask you this: Why is it that a lot of times we sort of put our artists out to the pasture at a certain period or age in their career?
A: Hip-Hop and R&B are the only genres of music that don’t respect our elders, allow them to mature and take care of them. You still have old school Hip-Hop and R&B shows… so that’s good. We don’t really have Aerosmith, Metallica, or Bon Jovis. People laugh when LL says he’s coming with a new record, but for Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones, it’s different.
Part of it is we aren’t learning our history. I’ve given Silas things to watch and read. We can’t expect kids to respect Public Enemy or know to treat Kool Herc and others like royalty when they meet them. It’s partly my generation’s fault for not teaching the history, but I’m trying to do it with the artists I work with.
Q: Can you tell me about your work with Thalia Mara Hall as well as other events you’ve done in the city?
A: I was brought on to Thalia Mara because of my skill set. The mayor knew I was passionate about art and culture and brought me on board. When I came on it wasn’t performing up to snuff and there was a general feeling that there’s nothing to do in Jackson. I came in February 2015 and we’ve already tripled the revenue. We actually were able to get the city to book and promote its own set of concerts. We also did the first hip-hop concert at Thalia Mara featuring Scarface, Juve, and 8Ball & MJG. We finally had an administration who understood how important entertainment is to the city. I also did events outside of Thalia Mara, such as WeAreJxn, Jackson Indie Music Week, Family Day On the Green and the Juneteenth celebration.
Q: What would it take for outsiders to perceive Jackson as an entertainment city like New Orleans or Memphis?
A: We just gotta keep doing what we are doing. We need people to stay supporting events. Everything every other city has we have. We just have to support it. And when we do events, we have to have the forethought to think ahead and have it every year. Then after 2 or 3 years, people will see you are serious. You have to be consistent enough and patient enough.
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