In case you didn’t know, my love story with Chicago started last September, with my first visit to the Windy City, when I got in touch with artists I already knew but also discovered many others. Neak is one of those and after presenting you my interview with frequent collaborator Rashid Hadee several weeks ago, I am now putting the MC under my spotlight and allowing you to get familiar with him and his music. From his early years in music to the current state of the American society and how it affects hip-hop or his new project Love Greater // The Prequel, among other things, Neak offers very interesting answers that will surely make you want to discover more from him. Without further delay, let me introduce you to Neak…
You are coming from a family where music has always been really significant and it seems like you were influenced by this environment from a very early age. Was the choice to follow this path obvious for you?
It wasn’t an obvious choice for me to create music even though I come from a musical background. My father, Robert Kelly, was one of the lead singers of the Gospel/R&B Soul/Blues group “The Kelly Brothers.” My father wasn’t into his music career by the time I was born. I knew the history of his career performing with the likes of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, etc. When I was growing up, I figured I would be a star in the NBA lol. I had hoop dreams that I never thought would go away. Choosing a musical path became obvious to me when my brother Mischief allowed me to record a verse in his studio for the first time. That was the most empowering moment that I’ve ever experienced in my life. The musical expression is the most uplifting experience that I ever had. That’s when I knew creating music was an obvious choice for me…
You claim to have been inspired by the early stages of hip-hop in the 80s, as well as the state of the American society at the time, while stressing the concepts of “reclamation” and “perseverance”. Do you feel there are similarities with this period nowadays, socially and economically, that people can also find in hip-hop?
Yes. The social & economic status of the 80s (particularly for people of a lower income status & minority background) was a reconstruction of breaking down movements of empowerment & self dignity of people who lived under oppress conditions. At that point (the decade I was born) jobs were diminishing & drugs/poverty was increasing. Those living conditions & visual reality can cause quite a negative mental stir & diminish self-worth. If you live in an impoverished society, chances are you might become a product of your environment… That was something I didn’t want for myself & for anyone that I can reach musically. That’s why I write about the things I write about because those lingering negative situations/mentalities that can still be found today in our present day society & hip-hop. My mindset in my writing is to be a motivation for others & give them a part of me that they can see in themselves. Progression & the thought that they can persevere through anything is want I want people to feel when they listen to me.
Many artists from the independent Chicago scene are getting more and more exposure these days, including frequent collaborators Pugs Atomz, The Primeridian, Rashid Hadee or Thaione Davis to name a few. How do you feel about this recognition and is it important for you to create tight relationships with fellow Chicago artists?
I think the recognition is great, because artists like myself & the fellas mentioned above can adequately spread their voice to the word & be able to help/touch others. That’s the beauty of the Internet, because it gives us a chance to easily be accessible to anyone in the world. It’s very important to have tight relationships with fellow artists that support you (and you support them) because a movement always moves faster than when you’re walking alone. There would be no Neak if it wasn’t for producers/artists like Slot-A, Rashid Hadee, Mulatto Patroit, etc. These are tight relationships that I’ve formed with these guys that help me bring my music to the forefront…
My mindset in my writing is to be a motivation for others & give them a part of me that they can see in themselves.
Your music is very honest and authentic, with a great emphasis on soulful instrumentals and heartfelt lyrics. You also underline the importance of emotion, whether the one you put into the music or what the listener will feel. Is that the only way for you to create and reach people?
Most definitely. The late Legend Marvin Gaye said it himself, “The best way to get a person to feel your music is to give them a piece of themselves in your music (paraphrasing).”That honesty with yourself that translates to your music is something that people will always appreciate. People can feel authenticity in your lyrics/voice when they hear you. Bringing that emotion/honesty to the music is what makes people remember it for years to come (and not just for the season lol). Keeping that honest lyric/emotion in my music is all I love & know…
After the great success of your Neak Rock project, you are now releasing Love Greater // The Prequel and in both albums you share some personal thoughts and emotions, dealing with family, love, etc. This is somewhat related to the previous question, but what was the concept, if any, behind this new release?
The entire concept of “Love Greater //The Prequel” was based on self-elevation, personal empowerment, and speaking my present truth. I’m @ a point in my life where I feel it’s definitely time to keep growing & staying progressive. I’ve seen quite a few people in my life become stagnant in their goals, dreams, etc. by their own choices in life. I wanted a higher purpose to live for than what was just right in front of me. That’s how I created the concept “Love Greater.” We have to have purpose greater than ourselves. We have to love something greater to “grow.”
In addition to the personal side of your music, you also seem to constantly go back and forth between bleak observations and hope, descriptions of violence and love, basically being realistic while keeping the faith in better days to come. Do you feel it’s necessary to explore both sides of the spectrum through your music and help people find some balance?
Absolutely. As optimistic any person should be in life, reality is still here. Bad things happen to good people everyday & we can’t sweep those situations under the rug personally. They have to be discussed & addressed in order to find the lesson in it. Everything I write about isn’t the most positive thing in the word, but addressing the truth in those situations is the first step to self-empowerment. Finding that balance between what’s real & keeping a strong faith for something better can be one of the hardest things to ever do (especially when you’re going through pain & struggle). The balance is found in seeing the “real” in a situation. That real place where I take you in my music is what’s going to give you the ability to relate to whatever I have to say (whether you’ve been through what I’ve been through or not). The goal (for me) will always be to for my audience to feel & relate to what I have to say…
I wanted a higher purpose to live for than what was just right in front of me. […] We have to have purpose greater than ourselves. We have to love something greater to “grow.”
Another element that seems to be quite important for you is to create visuals that are both unique and innovative. This is something I also discussed with Rashid Hadee in our recent interview and I feel it’s a very interesting choice. Could you tell us more about the videos for Watch Me Now and Big Dreamer?
“Watch Me Now” & “Big Dreamer” are both astonishing visuals created by the likes of Cam Be (WMN) & Domi V (BD). Working with those cats is a blessing, because they understand my artistic vision; as well as having the ability to place a spin on it. Creating the same atmosphere in a video as what you hear on the records is one of the hardest things to do in life. The mindset I always have when filming a video is trying to create a visual that is very crisp/clean in quality & create elements in the video that really leave a great impression on someone. For example, Domi & Chris Dennett (VFX operator for “Big Dreamer”) had one scene in the video where Martin Luther King appeared in my glasses. That visual effect helps bring out the point I’m trying to drive home to my listeners!! It’s no better feeling than having a dope visual that complements the song perfectly. It’s nothing but heaven for the fans!!!
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank you, Carminelitta & the Word Is Bond crew, for interviewing me! It is very much appreciated. I’m definitely going to do what I can to get the listeners/fans more in tune with my latest album “Love Greater // The Prequel,” with shows, videos, interviews, etc. Love life! One Love.
P.S. Pictures courtesy of ADOTPHOTOGRAPHY