Behind The Beats: Akah Revere
Damien “Akah Revere” Reveira has been honing his craft throughout the years. Whether it was through working, or just vibing, with a number of local, and regional, artists and producers – mostly from his time working as an engineer with Minim at Million Dollar Music.
The producer always had an inkling for music; tinkering with pencils on the drum kit in the Harrison College music room (“I wasn’t a music student but the music room was my place.”), and writing rhymes, and singing between classes. He got his calling to be behind the boards after a conflict of content between the his rap group from school, and their main producer. The rest, they say, is history.
In this interview he discussed his collective BLK NOIZE, the lack of cultural identity in our art, keeping your passion for music, and much more.
Images via Facebook, Instagram | Interview by Carlos Brathwaite
Carlos Brathwaite: When was it that you said to yourself that you would focus on having a career in music?
Akah Revere: That is a long journey there. I can’t really answer that in one. I could pick up the story at secondary school: going into the music room, and doing music with [friend Terry Layne] who gave me some audio programs.
Then we broke off of that, so I became the producer for the [students] that wanted to rap. Because, obviously, everybody else is telling themselves that they are a bit confined in that situation, so they would want to express themselves more. So I just started to do beats for everybody around the school.
And doing beats carry you deeper and deeper into, like, how do you actually get a song on the radio? What’s the real process to this thing? So I spent years like, half-in it, half-out; but I was making $200 a beat when I was like 15 or 16 years old. Much people weren’t doing it.
So I told Ms. [Janice] Millington at the time that I want to become a recording engineer. She said she always knew that I wanted to do something creative like that.
Even though you guys couldn’t get along, she still saw your creative potential.
Yeah. And she told me to just stick at it and I’m going to make it one day. We had a real deep conversation that day.
So I went home and told my family that I want to become a recording engineer. That did not really go too well. Because you’re going to one of the better grammar schools in Barbados. You come from Chapman Lane, in the city. You’re supposed to be the doctor or the lawyer that is going to turn politician that’s going to save everybody. You can’t do that doing music.
That could be argued now.
It could be argued now, but back then? No. Nah. So, my father told me he is not taking out a loan and putting out his neck for me to go and do no recording engineering. At that time I was on the mailing list of Full Sail (recording and engineering university) – it was just starting out at the time, and it was pretty cheap to attend.
Full Sail produces most of the [engineers and producers] you would see in Barbados, and internationally, doing really well. At that time it was now starting out and I could see that this is the place I want to be. But my father and nobody in my family couldn’t see it. That sent me… When I finished school I was so stubborn.
It was either I’m going to play football, but my scholarship was derailed – that is a whole other story. So I was like, ‘Alright. If I’m not going out that way, I’m doing this music full time.’ [I] took some childhood friends that were about the same thing – along with the people I would have been making beats with from school – and BLK NOIZE was formed from there.
What was the first song you remember producing?
It would have been at the time that I would’ve left school. The co-founder of BLK NOIZE at the time, Robert Smith, we used to go by his mom’s house because he had a little studio set up. I had my turntables; we used to sample.
And a day I went out there and sampled a [Trinidadian calypsonian] Crazy record and put a hip-hop beat to it. Every artist – we had three artist with us that day – went crazy on this beat. Even Robert.
And I’m telling myself: ‘Hold on a minute, I’m on to something here.’ That is the first time I told myself ‘You got endless things to draw from and relate to the world. You don’t have to wait until you hear something in America and then play something just like that. You got shit that would blow people’s mind.’
Take me through the process of building an Akah Revere production.
It all depends. I mean when I first start I didn’t have any idea what was a sample. I know Puff Daddy used to sample, but it never hit me like,’ Oh, you could go and cut up one of those Diana Ross records and do that too.’
That didn’t hit me until, like, 1998. I was in New York. My cousin had a friend named Jerrad who had produced a song for an act out there [that did] some alternative kind of rock music. Anyways, he had a platinum plaque in his bedroom. He had an ASR-10, an old keyboard, and millions of discs.
He was playing these old records for me and you could hear, like, voice samples. And it taking me back to the Wu Tang I was listening to and I make the connection like, ‘Oh this how you New York people do this thing.’
So it was a while until I could’ve got my hands on a computer software that could’ve handled that [kind of production power]. It took a few years. I mean, 1998: Barbados wasn’t that tech savvy. And my computer at home wasn’t moving that fast [Laughs].
So it took a while for the technology to get up. But in 2001, when Jay Z brought out The Blueprint and Ghost Face had like, Supreme Clientele and all of those soul heavy samples, I started to dig in and research – because the internet got better out here. I started to dig in and say, ‘Oh! You sampled that to get that.’ So I would start to, like, mimic.
Like if I heard “You Don’t Know” by Jay Z, I would go and search and find out that Bobby Byrd, James Brown’s hype man, is who actually sung the original song. Retrace it’s roots and see that it’s the horns from this that he cut. From there I would be able to now translate that to a record that I knew from when I was small, and take the strong points to make it into my own thing.
Would you hear a song to sample and then build the beat or would you go into a session with a song in mind to sample?
My love for sampling is from my hip-hop scene. I call it an audio collage. Rap – this is what made me fall in love with it – has like an atmosphere around it that matches the story and it puts you right there. It’s a soundscape; you’re actually interacting with the person.
So when doing I’m rap, it would probably come from a sample. Because you might want to remember when you were 10 years old and this song used to run the place, and this is the feeling you had. And you want to bring back that [feeling] and you want to talk about that time. So it comes from that angle most of the time. I don’t try to put a formula on it.
As someone who saw rap in Barbados in it’s earliest days, do you think the hip-hop sound has progressed throughout the years?
I wouldn’t say I saw it from it’s earliest days. That was in the days of, like, Ronnie Clarke and those guys. By the time I got aware of Bajan hip-hop there was only The Poundaz, and they were pretty good. Big Sean… I used to look up to Sean. I still do. Because, for him to be that creative here in a vacuum [was impressive].
We’re always a little ways behind the Americans when it comes to the sound. Because, with hip hop and pop music, you hear one drum but that might not be just one drum. It’s never as it appears to be.
It’s a lot of layering, a lot of engineering techniques that does go into making a song sound larger than life. We were lacking [those techniques], we weren’t lacking in creativity.
Right now I like what everyone is doing. I like it a lot. BLK NOIZE personally doesn’t concentrate on that anymore. I like the creativity I see coming through. There was a group of young fellas that I see coming through last year…RLG. I like those guys style. I was feeling that.
I don’t even know what happened to them.
Well you know how it is in Barbados: it’s easy to get discouraged. When you come out, all of your friends are going to like you. And then you find out there are no avenues already set there for you. You have to forge your own path. And it takes a lot of tenacity to forge your own path.
Don’t get it twisted, you can’t really be the most creative person if you have a 9-5 to go to that has responsibilities, that has deadlines, and you have to be working overtime. [Music] takes up as much time as it is when you’re in the creative mode. I could survive, but it’s real hard to do this in Barbados.
I think it got a lot better but it still has some ways to go.
It’s getting better slowly, but, I’m just saying that to say that it’s easy for someone to get discouraged. So you would see a lot of youngsters come in [and not last]. But the love for it, you don’t have to worry, it will always come back around.
Don’t you think that with radio and the deejays not playing the youth’s music is part of the discouragement? Even though we should be working together and build.
But this is where people like you come in. 246Mixtapes, we got that outlet. If the radio don’t play you, get on the internet. You got the avenues now. Where as like ten years ago, when radio don’t play you, you just got to drive around and sell CDs and if not you bust.
So the atmosphere is a lot different. What I find, though, there is a little disconnect. Because you don’t usually go on a block and hear Bajan youths listening to Bajan hip hop. They might be listening to like Crimeson and Brutal. Because it’s in their own tongue and dialect and they relate to it more but… the Bajan rap/hip hop, it stands with a foreign accent – or your estimation of what a foreign accent sounds like, doesn’t really cut it.
There is no relatability.
I don’t want to roam too far, but that would go into calypso. You would see the songs that do good in Trinidad are either real Bajan or Trinidadian. But if you trying to write a song for Trinidad, you’re going to fall on your face.
They relate to that that is them. They know that. You don’t know the intricacies of growing up in Trinidad or what the Trinidadian public sways to. So you can’t go and tell yourself you going to put you mind in there and write [a Trinidadian song]. If you go and live there for a few years you might be able to do it. But you can’t like disrespect somebody credit and culture that you could stand all the way in Barbados and listen to a few songs and feel you know what it is to be Trinidadian.
Same way that we can’t sit down here and listen to a few 50 Cent [songs], that we feel like we know what it is to live in New York, and really have to survive in New York.
Just because you wear a hoodie or bubble vest doesn’t mean you know the New York experience.
Yeah. We have a real identity crisis and that’s why the music isn’t connecting with people. Straight.
Tell me more about BLK NOIZE.
That is the mandate because we realised [the identity crisis] quickly. We were like, ‘Hold on here, nobody don’t want to hear no Bajan man trying to sound like a New Yorker.’ New York got like eight – ten million people, right? And they have a lot of people that actually talk like New Yorkers.
So, we come from a place where approximately three hundred thousand people talk like this – we have something that’s unique to the world. We always knew that.
And all the time we’re going out, we’re getting these little signs like, ‘Alright we are not making any money, nobody is playing our music or nothing like that. But, what? Jay z signed a girl from Barbados? And what? You can still hear her accent in the music? And they are eating it up? You know what I mean?
That would always keep BLK NOIZE going because we know, at the end of the day, nothing beats authenticity. And this is what we’re about: authentic Bajan life. Well, to go deeper, Africans living in Barbados, but that is a whole other story. This is the place we’re coming from. I was waiting for the right artist all of the time.
[The artists and I] come from the same place and the same consciousness, so we really had the same dream to mandate a BLK NOIZE, and to give Bajan youth a voice. Not now. But tomorrow and after that. Because we don’t really have a voice. If you want to do social commentary, the first thing that comes to your mind as a Bajan: Pic-o-de crop.
People don’t think you could comment on social issues outside of Crop Over.
It’s not usually done. And when it is done, it is very well accepted. This is how we got Crimeson today. Don’t forget Crimeson first hit [“Dont Ask Me”] was a social commentary about police brutality – as sporty as it sounded. But he never had a song that connects with the people like that again. Because Bajan’s know what they want, but still don’t know.
And plus it was sporty.
Exactly. Bajans know they want to hear about serious issues, but they just love to laugh.
Right. That is why I keep saying Porgie & Murda’s transition into Leadpipe & Saddis was smart.
It was brilliant. Because these guys were serious artists for years now. I did a lot of work with them. In that 2009 -2011 period, we were in Chelston, in Steppah backyard, just making songs everyday. [Producer] Jafar Burnett-Hinds, he used to be down in there. Me, Steppah, Tito that is produce for steppah. We just used to be there vibing.
The Cultural Industries, as everybody know, has a lot of monetary potential. I see a lot of frustrated artists in Barbados because we were doing something wrong with this music industry: we were making it too exclusive.
For us to really extract anything from the resources we have here, we have to [produce more art]. And not trying to charge a man like three hundred thousand dollars for one song. So we end up with like ten songs a year. That can’t sustain an industry, right? So I choose to get in it at like a grass roots level. Butt’ bout all kind of studios and thing. And that’s just to say that I see Saddis and them working. Not taking anything from their talent because I find they are very talented. This is even before Leadpipe come into the picture.
This is the first time I hear Leadpipe my mind was blown away. Now they have real potential and I’m glad to see it fulfilled and that they stuck with it.
And they didn’t get discouraged as we said earlier.
And it was a stroke of genius. Because, carry it back again, Bajans love to laugh. Bring Porgie & Murda and they think this is all you can do, and then really release what you have. They don’t know the immense talent you have and they’re taking it for a joke.
Blow them away. And these guys are not finished. Remember I told you so.
Tell me some of the artists you worked with.
I worked with Million Dollar Music (MDM) artists at the time with Minim. I have songs that I co-produced with him. Marvay, of course, and Teff and all the other MDM artists. I co-produced one with Minim that we did with Sizzla. When Sizzla came here for Reggae On The Hill, I think that was in 2012. And then BLK NOIZE artists.
BLK NOIZE is all it is for me, though. Until I get my artists, that believed in me from the time that I was small until now, where I know that they’re supposed to be, I really don’t go out there looking for people. Because, too, it is alright for you to hear me talking, but if you know what I do it would be much easier for me to work with you – because you would respect my opinion much more. And I don’t find no better way to do that than to show you what I can do with my artists: people that can understand me already.
And I was trying to get around it all the time. Like how I would’ve end up at MDM working as an engineer, but it didn’t work for me. BLK NOIZE is the focus.
We participated in NIFCA in 2012. We won silver. It was a performance skit showcasing the talents of the people in BLK NOIZE. We set it up like how we usually are; block setting: somebody sitting down on a brick, somebody sitting down on a bench, that kind of thing. And I had my guitar like in the Temple yard and people started freestyling. Then we had a conversation in between. We worked that into a nice flowing piece about how much talent is in Barbados, and how hopeless one with talent feels in Barbados sometimes.
Some of the people that we know possess World Class talent in Barbados, like Suki King and Jackie Opel, and how they were treated by society.
What was the name of the piece?
The name of the piece was ‘We Linga.’ That is the name that we gave to the form of music that we do: linga. Bajan lingo; linga. There are a lot of aspects to it but the common thread to it is this dialect that we speak.
What is coming up in the future for Revere and BLK NOIZE?
We had a lot of bumps in the last five years. Our debut album is like Detox right now. We’re looking to hit some people with nice dancehall vibes. Nothing too heavy, because you know you’re debut album is usually a heavy work of art. And I end up losing the album on two flash drive hard disks I had. Two terabytes. Even thinking about it… all of my work I did and lost that. So that set me back a while. Hopefully, by the end of the year people will hear what BLK NOIZE is really about.
Finally. The challenges you faced int he past, a lot of our young musicians are facing right now: they wish to pursue their dream of working in music but they may have some nay sayers. What is your advice to them?
Be practical. In Barbados you would have to make a sacrifice. So if you want to be thirty with a mortgage and a nice car and a wife and all of that stuff, you might not get there as easily with this path. But if you want to look back on your life and say I enjoyed my life, and I enjoyed what I was doing; if you’re practical, you would achieve that.
You know you have to eat. Music in Barbados, right now, the model doesn’t really pay you enough to sustain yourself. So you would have to sustain yourself. You just got to choose wisely. Choose something that, although you’re doing this and you’re making money, you could still channel your creative energy. That would be my advice: be practical.
Because if you don’t be practical, you would get discouraged. It will be very detrimental to you.
[After playing me some music he was working on, we continued the interview.]
I think I have something to bring to the world that is so uniquely Bajan, it’s going to blow their mind.
To do this music that we’re doing, I went back to those roots of what Bajan people would have enjoyed in the past. Tuk band rhythm, is a rhythm that we brought over from Africa – so that would show you that we’re the same people.
Then we got the spouge. Jackie Opel was in Jamaica around the time of the renaissance of the rocksteady and ska music, and he came back here with spouge – which was an estimation of how the Bajan rhythm was.
You could see it had a ‘pop’ appeal to it at the time, but it still sounds a lot of calypso like at the time. And you would see that Bajan, and Jamaican dancehall has a lot of spouge elements in it.
Why do you think it died?
It was always there; it’s just that we would not accept it as our own, and we are always trying to be somebody else. So, to make this kind of music to fit the dialect… that is what we come from: hip hop. It was rapping in American tones, using American beats. Then it went from Bajan linga over American-type beats. Now we at the point we want to draw from things that are uniquely Bajan.
And what is funny is that Hip hop is heavily influenced by Jamaican dancehall.
Because, you could look back and see that: Kool Herc – the first deejay – [is] Jamaican. Grandmaster Flash: Bajan. Grandmaster Theodore, I think he’s from Trinidad.
All of these people in the mecca of where Caribbean people migrate to better themselves. So that is why all of this culture converges in New York. LL Cool J – you could look through all of hip-hop and you could find a Bajan. I would not be surprised if Jay Z has family from Barbados, because he is a Carter. His mother’s name is Gloria Carter – come on, man. Gloria Carter sounds like she could live in the next gap from you.
We can’t divorce ourselves from our cousins in America just because they grew up in the so called first world, and we in the third world. What makes us move, makes them move too. It’s just like regions. Same way [we have regional things] they have regional things.
Like, I guess that Brutal would do better in St. Thomas, than he would do in Church Village where [10 the artist] and them come from – you know what I mean? As small as [Barbados] is; but that is a microcosm for the whole word, innit? Regional things get popular, yeah?
So, you can’t divorce the two. Jamaicans were chanting on [instrumentals] long time. The first time I hear that A$AP Rocky’s father was a Bajan I could’ve seen it in one. The man hair look like he just walk out of Christ Church, or Gall Hill, ole’ man. He has our swag – you could see it in his face. We’re a unique people in the world.
That is why they say anywhere you go in the world you could find a Bajan.
Not to say that we are xenophobic or nothing like that, but, at least we have to be proud of ourselves before we could appreciate other people outside of here.
So this what we have to build inside of Barbados – because we lost that. Ri Ri brought it back a little bit. But, as we know, Ri Ri situation is a very unique one. I don’t think we are ever going to see anything like that again. She actually went into the people art form, with her accent, and brought them over to her. Nobody else in the world has ever been able to get that done – that I could remember.
Nicki [Minaj] is Trini, but she came in –
Nicki is hip hop. She’s pop too. But when you put Nicki in the pop category, she can’t compete with Robyn. Can’t. She does well in hip-hop but…realize this is pop music. We’re talking Madonna; we’re talking Michael Jackson. These are their waters that this girl is swimming in – and people don’t realize what’s going on. This is the music that fuels the media – and she’s number one!
So what we are going do know, now that she has the attention of the world on us, we are going to show them where she comes from.
She might even use the Westbury Road Entertainment to bring in some local talent.
We never know what’s going to happen. But at the end of the day with that, we can’t expect that just because she started a label she is going to…she is a business woman at the end of the day, and as we can see, a very shrewd one [laughs]. It’s an opportunity. Of course, if you got A-class [talent] in Barbados, she’s not going to let nobody from nowhere around the world make millions of dollars here when she could do it. But don’t think it’s a walk in the park. People have to step up their game right now, because this is the big leagues we’re in.
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.