Seasunz on Hip-Hop Activism, Spirituality, and Speaking Klingon
Ashel Eldridge has made the rounds. Otherwise known as Seasunz, Eldridge has emerged as a social and environmental activist, working with groups like Amazon Watch and Project Pink and partnering with Will.i.am to open a youth center in Oakland. And, lest we forget, he also makes music.
In just a couple weeks, he will perform at SF Weekly's All Shook Down Music Fest at Regency Ballroom, bringing his unique brand of hip-hop meets soul meets reggae meets everything else. Before that, we caught up with him for a few minutes to ask him about his music and his message.
Your most recent album is called Earth Amplified. Where did the name come from?
Ashel: I was actually working with this guy Ibrahim Abdul-Matin at Green for All, a national organization that works on hiring low-income communities to do green projects -- lifting up people out of poverty through the green economy. One day he just came up with the name -- he's a poet and he was like, "Yo, Earth Amplified." It kinda stuck and we just moved forward with that. The whole idea is that we wanted to give a green voice to hip-hop, through hip-hop, and not make it like a Barney or Sesame Street type of green -- a deep green that brings in all aspects of what the earth would be communicating right now in terms of the water shortages, even in terms of the prison-industrial complex. That's actually a green issue to me when people are being thrown away like plastic. We just tried to link it all up as much as possible.
What political issue is most important to you personally?
Ashel: Now that I have a baby boy, it's more like spiritual activism. I want to redefine activism a little bit -- traditionally, a lot of activism is around what we want to stop seeing in the world, which is really important. And at the same time, I want to make sure there's a voice of people getting back to the earth as a healer itself as a propositional effort toward where we want to go -- living in a community, growing our own food, just so we're all prepared for the earth's changes.
Did your upbringing in Chicago shape the way you look at political issues?
Ashel: I grew up really modest. My grandfather was a minister. I was aware of lot, but I wasn't really politically charged until after I left home for the University of Rochester in upstate New York. But it's also through hip-hop, too -- you get exposed to stuff through hip-hop, like Public Enemy, KRS One.
When I moved out for college, it became stuff that was happening on campus. Why are these credit card companies coming to campuses in droves? Why is it that certain people can get loans? I even took some classes on gender, race, and class, and then you start getting a very clear picture of the divisions and separations that are created in society. And then eventually all that stuff goes into your music.
What can music accomplish politically?
Ashel: There's three or four different ways to look at it. There's a certain tier of musicians, like Black Eyed Peas. With Will.i.am, I listened to his music and I was like, "Wow, he's not really super politically conscious in his music. It's just party music." But then talking to him, he's setting up these youth centers all around the country and putting thousands of dollars into them, and he can do that. He's making all this money and then he's giving back to his community on the low, not even trying to get hella press for it. He's like, "I grew up; the only thing that saved me was the studio. So boom, here's a studio." For me, that's political action, because finance is very political -- who gets what funds, where money goes, that's politics. That's one tier.
Then there's the tier more like Radiohead, Bono. They do these concerts, these huge concerts that have political focuses.
The extreme other end of that is like Dead Prez, who I have on my album, or people who everything they spit is like darts. There's that element of people who just put it all in the music, all the time, like hard-hitting boom boom boom.
There's that, and then there's stuff like we did with Bassnectar, which is more in the middle of that. We had a show at Fillmore, for example, and then beforehand we had Davey D come through and speak. We had a four-person panel talk about what was going on in the community, activities to sign up for, info, stuff like that. You get half off on the price of your ticket if you come early for that so people can get politically charged as well.
Where would you put yourself in those three levels?
Ashel: I haven't made my cool mil yet [laughs]. So I can't be like, "I'm gonna set up these wells in Africa and just bounce."