As a decorated author, promising filmmaker, and powerful lyricist, MK Asante is becoming a dynamic voice of literature and Hip-Hop culture. MK’s critically acclaimed memoir, “BUCK” has had a profound impact across a multitude of mediums. The detailed account of Asante’s life and experiences has touched readers throughout all walks and has made significant waves in regards to academia and urban culture. As Asante gears up to direct the “BUCK” film adaptation and makes his debut as a rhymer, it’s evident that his reach connects well beyond the pages of his book, he’s a true visionary. RESPECT. caught up with MK Asante to discuss the memoir, his jump to filmmaking, the “BUCK” soundtrack, and how his words will positively affect generations to come.
RESPECT.: Lets’ start off with the book. I feel as if it not only told your story, but other’s stories as well and crossed cultural bounds. Can you kind of detail not only the impact “BUCK” had for you both personally and professionally, but it’s impact on others?
MK: “Maya Angelou was my mentor and I was having a difficult time writing the book at one point. So I went to her and kind of let her know what was going on and she was just like, “Don’t stress yourself out, just tell the truth. Tell the truth and it’ll connect to people through all walks of life. The truth connects us because we’re all going through the same things.” So when I got to that place where I felt I could tell my story truthfully, I feel like it did connect with lots of different people and places. Sometimes I’m surprised when certain people reach out and tell me the book has affected them. There was a writer’s book club In Iowa, All middle aged white women, who were huge fans of the book. Whether it’s black kids in Philly or white women in Iowa, it’s starting to become more normal for me. The coolest thing is seeing people pick up the book who really don’t even read like that. They’ll tell me, “Yo, I don’t read that much, but I really fu*k with BUCK.” It’s taught me that we need better books. Sometimes there’s a stigma that younger black kids, or kids in general don’t really read. Nah, they just need better books. We need to write better books geared towards younger people. But yeah man the whole experience so far has been a wild ride.”
RESPECT.: With so much introspection with family and friends, what were some of the more emotional elements you had to discuss? Was the book therapeutic in a way?
MK: “Yeah it was therapeutic and cathartic in a way. The most emotional elements of the book were dealing with people in my life who had passed away. Also loss, people that had just left my life in different ways. It got difficult at times because the process in which I wrote it wasn’t really from memory, it was more like re-living. I didn’t sit back and think what happened in 1999, (Laughs) it was more like I took myself back to 1999. It was’t the kind of emotion you get when you’re reflecting, it’s the emotion you get when you’re actually going through it. For example, when writing the book, those emotions started to affect relationships now like they did back then. I was feeling my mom isolating herself again. I could feel my pop walking out again. All of it seemed so fresh, I just really couldn’t separate it.”
RESPECT.: How did your family and friends receive it?
MK: “You know, I feel like if you’r going to write a memoir you not only have to be true to the story, but true to yourself as well. It wasn’t important for me to be honest and not try to make everybody happy. I needed to tell my story how I saw it. The hardest part about writing the book wasn’t the actual writing, it was getting to a place where I didn’t give a fu*k what people thought. Not just my writing, but what they thought about me. You can’t worry about what people are going to think, that sh*t will drive you crazy. I didn’t show anybody the book when I was writing it, that’s just how I work. I would talk to my friends and family about it a little, just to ask them about certain things I was having trouble remembering or needed clarity on, but in general nobody saw it. The people that I care most about loved it, that was the most important. I also realized that we all have different perspectives on things. There were different things that my friends or brother saw differently in the book then I did. A lot of people were really happy to just be in the book, you know what I’m saying?”
RESPECT.: Discuss the selection process of the quotes you implemented in the book. Did they come natural to you or did you you go back and research to make sure the quotes were exactly congruent with the context of each chapter?
MK: “It was a combination of both really. When you read “BUCK” you’re somewhat familiar with MK Asante. You understand that the author didn’t go back and research Hip-Hop from the 90’s. I grew up in it, I’m in the sh*t. All the quotes were organic, but at the same time you can’t remember everything! (Laughs) I really love the phrase I came up with, “Hip-Hop Tourettes.” I feel like that’s something all of us Hip-Hop heads have. What I mean by that is we’ll be walking down the street and blurt out Hip-Hop lyrics, we can’t really help it. It just comes out anywhere, in any situation. See, because I tell the story in first person, present tense, I didn’t give the reader exact dates usually, so the quotes were the only way to keep a timeline. The lyrics start at 1995 and end at 2000, and are chronological throughout the book. Like if I had a lyric from ’99 but I was only in chapter 4, I couldn’t put it in. That’s really where the research and fact checking element came in. I wanted the reader to decode the time. It also gave the reader a parallel between our history and Hip-Hop’s history in a way. It showed you the relationship between what we listened to and what we did. It’s not a coincidence that when I started to get sh*t together in my life, Talib Kweli and Mos (Def) music started speaking to me in a different way. I might not have even been receptive to listening to that in say, chapter 15, you know? I wanted to illustrate that relationship in a subtle way.”
RESPECT.: What has been Hip-Hop’s reaction to “BUCK?”
MK: “Overall, it’s been like “finally, thank you.” This book is Hip-Hop’s book. All types of people in Hip-Hop have embraced it. Everyone that’s a Hip-Hop head that reads it just goes wild man. It’s a collective thing, between me telling my actual story, the quotes, people sharing and connecting with it, etc. There’s just been a lot of love from both the older and younger generations of the culture. See the thing about “BUCK” is, I’m not trying to cater to a certain audience and then throw Hip-Hop in there a little bit. When you read “BUCK” from the jump, you know it’s for you. I wrote this for Hip-Hop. Now, if other people outside of that fu*k with it, that what’s up, that’s great. That’s what happens when you make art that’s universal. However, when you read it, everything from the language to the references, I’m not slowing down for you. I’m not explaining to you what a fuc*king blunt is. (Laughs) Sometimes in the book world, you have to tone your writing down to appeal to a certain audience, I’m not doing that. This was for Hip-Hop and all my young bucks.”
RESPECT.: Now detail the film adaptation. Are you directing it and what’s the film’s status?
MK: “Yeah I’ll be writing and directing it. For me, this is one of the final pieces of “BUCK.” I feel like when you have a project, take it and maximize it to the fullest extent. I took an idea and made it into a memoire, music, something you can wear, and now I’m making it something you can watch. After the movie, I feel like I did “BUCK.”
RESPECT.: There’s also a soundtrack you’re releasing through Talib Kweli’s Javotti Media. This is your introduction from author to artist. What’s that process been like for you and detail how the whole project came together.
MK: “Yo man the process has been really exhausting. Going from one thing to the other takes a lot of energy and is a learning process. When you look at my brand as a whole, one thing you’ll see is that I like everything on some high level sh*t. I wasn’t going to come into music and just play with it, I’m not here for that. I take it super serious. I had to learn so much, but I’ve had great people there to help usher me in like King Mez Talib Kwali, Rass Kass, producers, engineers, etc. I’m a student and trying to create at the same time. Even though I come from Hip-Hop and have such an appreciation for it, things change when you get in a studio. People like my Kweli really helped my confidence, because when people you really respect and have nothing to gain from it are telling you your sh*t is fire, it really makes the process much easier. I haven’t told any journalist this at all, when I was writing “BUCK” I had a vision. (Laughs) I don’t know if I was just high or what, but Pop himself came into my dream and told me “You have to hit them on more levels than just the book.” He said, “You have to make them feel your vibrations across different mediums, you have to take it there, show them a whole new model.” I kind of resisted the call at first, but shortly after Rass Kass reached out to me to actually speak on a song. After I had that vision, I decided to just rap on the record instead. So I just sent it back to him and waited on the response, which ended up being so overwhelmingly positive. Even though I had never written a rap, my brother and I grew up freestyling, so in a way that really prepared me for this. As far as the project as a whole, people looked at me funny when I said it was a soundtrack, they didn’t know how to take it. The project has been such an amazing growing experience for me.”
RESPECT.: Creatively, is there a synonymous space between writing and rhyming?
MK: “I can’t remember if it was Bob Dylan, John Lennon, or somebody who was doing a show and fans kept requesting him to play different songs. He told them, “It’s all the same song.” That was really deep to me because I used to have a hard time moving through different mediums, but now I see all the vast similarities between each creative outlet and how they start to really influence each other. Like in my rhymes for example, you’ll hear me talk about cinematic things or literary things. They bleed into each other. It really just feels like all the same song.”
RESPECT.: So after the book, the movie, the soundtrack, what’s next for MK Asante?
MK: “I just finished a script for Paula Wagner, she wrote and produced the “Mission Impossible” movies, “Last Samurai,” etc., she’s Tom Cruise’s producing partner. She hired me to write the movie about Sylvia Robinson, the mother of Hip-Hop. The “BUCK” film like we discussed earlier. I’m also working on a new memoir that takes place in Africa. I’m also writing a new book on Hip-Hop. I feel like we’re experiencing another paradigm shift in the culture, there’s a whole lot of new energy coming in and that’s what the book will represent. My last book on Hip-Hop came out in 08-09, so a lot has changed since then.”