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Anjimile Opens Up On 'Giver Taker,' Sobriety, Identifying As Trans & More

Anjimile

Photo: Kannetha Brown

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Anjimile Opens Up On 'Giver Taker,' Sobriety, Identifying As Trans & More

How a musical and religious upbringing, battles with addiction and a long road to gender identity shaped a gentle soundtrack for recovery and hope

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2020 - 10:35 pm

"Buried under earth/All our living worth/How I long to be/blooming from your tree." Boston singer/songwriter Anjimile sings in an otherworldly tenor vibrato on "Your Tree," the first song of his debut album Giver Taker on Father/Daugher Records. The chorus sings back to him, "Nothing dies, nothing dies," as Anjimile's fluid finger-picked guitar is augmented by drums and flute. You can almost feel the tree unfurling and reaching for the sky.

Anjimile wrote Giver Taker in a time of political and personal turmoil. Most songs came together in and around 2016, while he struggled with addiction and his trans identity. But the album's mode is comfort, not chaos. Justine Bowe of Photocomfort and New-York based artist/producer Gabe Goodman join Anjimile to mix folk melodies mix with upbeat grooves to create gentle baroque pop. When on "1978" Anjimile sings, "I am loved/I am learning how to receive loving," it's music of hard-won gentleness. The year 2020 has, understandably, produced a lot of angry songs, but Giver Taker is soundtrack for recovery and hope—water in an arid time.

The interview below is edited for length and clarity.

I just wanted to start off making sure I know what pronouns you use?

They/them or he/him. Either of those is totally cool.

Your parents were born in Malawi, is that right?

Yeah, my parents were born and raised in Malawi. And they didn't come into the US until like the '80s.

Was there music your parents liked that you've been influenced by?

I think the biggest African artists that they listened to, or at least that that made the biggest impact on me is Oliver Mtukudzi, who's Zimbabwean. My dad used to play his album Tuku Music on car rides and stuff. And over the past couple of years, I've come to realize how dope my parents taste in music is. And this album and a couple of his other records have entered my regular listening rotation.

Could you describe Mtukudzi's music? I'm not familiar with it.

It is like a hybrid. I guess kind of like traditional Zimbabwe and percussive rhythms hybridized with Western US influenced guitar and pop melodies.

Your parents were Christian. Did you sing in choirs when you were young?

Yeah, from fifth grade and even acapella in college. But it was actually a school choir.  When I was growing up with my parents we would go to church every Sunday.  Curiously, the church had not only no choir but no music. And I remember being like, "This is wack!" And I feel like if there had been music in church, I might have grown up to be some sort of theologian or oriented to the church in some way, because I love music so much.

They missed a chance!

Yeah, honestly. It was a two-hour service. My parents are Presbyterian. I was like three years old to ten, and services were super, super long, like two hours. I feel like that's long for a first grader. You know, "Yawn, are we going to McDonald's?" I wasn't very engaged.

You're a lovely guitar player. How did you develop your style?

Well, I started playing guitar when I was 11. And I didn't really start learning to finger pick until a couple of years later. That's my predominant style. And it initially emerged because when I started playing guitar I had trouble holding a guitar pick correctly. And I don't think I hold it correctly even now.

Was there a reason you had trouble?

I'm not sure. I took guitar lessons for a year and my guitar teacher would be like, you hold it like this. And it just did not connect. And it still kind of doesn't. It would just fall out of my hand when I was playing and I was like, how hard am I supposed to hold this fking thing?

So I always found it difficult to play guitar with a plectrum. And when I was in my late teens, I got introduced to folk music and I started listening to Iron & Wine. Their album Our Endless Numbered Days became a huge teaching tool for me in terms of learning how to finger pick. My guitar playing style is heavily, heavily influenced by Iron & Wine. And I think also a bit of Oliver Mtukudzi, with his electric tone. He played with a pick, but it's very clean, which I like.

The album is very gentle and uplifting, but you wrote it after some personal turmoil, while you were recovering from addiction.

So I got sober in 2016 through a treatment facility. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I live in Boston, and it involved me going out of state to enter a treatment facility in Florida. But when I went down there, I didn't really have a lot of stuff at the time. And I also just didn't have a suitcase somehow. So I brought a plastic bag with my clothes and I brought an acoustic guitar. And those are the things that I brought with me to Florida and I was there for a year.

And I was able to find recovery, get a job, start improving my mental, physical and emotional health. And I play guitar when I'm happy and I like to sing when I'm happy. And my emotions started returning and I just kind of started writing again. And I wrote a bunch of songs down there.

Something that alcohol or alcoholism can do is numb feeling. And so once I was able to get sober and stop drinking, a flood of emotions came back to my life. I think that that influenced the emotionality of a lot of the songs.

There's a bit of a myth in the music industry that getting sober can make it harder to create, but that doesn't sound like it was your experience.

I think people kind of get confused with the writer just drinking scotch while looking badass and the guy who just seriously has a drinking problem. There are a couple tunes on the record that I did right before I got sober. "Maker" and "Baby No More."

In "Maker," one of the lyrics is "I'm not just a boy, I'm a man/I'm not just a man, I'm a God/I'm not just a God, I'm a maker."  Is that song about being trans, would you say?

I think it's kind of funny because at the time, I wasn't really thinking much. I don't really remember very strongly writing that tune, if I'm being completely honest. But I remember listening back to it after I'd written it, and it just felt like something meaningful to me. And in retrospect, looking back now, it's just kind of wild to me that that song was even written because I didn't identify trans at the time. I was definitely exploring my gender identity. And looking back on it now I can see that it was a spiritual coming out, almost. A part of me very much recognized that I identified as trans and trans masculine, or like at least under the trans umbrella.

Was coming out difficult for you?

So before I realized I was trans, I was cis and a lesbian. I came out as a lesbian when I was like 16, 17, 18. And it really fking sucked. It sucked being in Texas, and being openly queer. It sucked having really, traditionally Christian parents.

They were not super supportive?

No, they were not. It's been a long time so they've come a long way, but it really fking sucked.

The album has a lot of spiritual themes. I wondered how your parents lack of support as Christians affected your own relationship to spirituality?

It definitely drove me away from spirituality. I mean, I never identified as a spiritual person until a couple of years ago. I was definitely like, "Fk y'all. Fk the Lord. This is wack."

It wasn't until I started getting comfortable with my trans identity and experiencing the miracle of a new sober life that I was like, holy st, you know, the sky is really blue. The birds sound really pretty. I became a hippie basically. I definitely believe that there's some sort of driving force of good and harmony in the universe and that informs a lot of tunes on the album as well.

You're not a Christian yourself though?

No, no. No shade, you know, but no.

Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the song "1978," which is kind of a love song. Is it written to someone in particular?

That was dedicated to my grandmother, who had an incredibly hard life. And I never actually met her because she died when my mom was pretty young. But my grandmother's spirituality has informed the faith of my parents. And even though it's manifested harmfully in terms of their past homophobia like it's also provided them with a lot of strength and clarity and wisdom. And I realize those things in the writing of that song.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.