Interview: Rootwords Image

by Federico Di Puma

There’s a very interesting new wave of hip hop artists coming up from Europe, and one of them goes by the name of Rootwords. Born in the USA but brought up in Switzerland this promising talent is quickly making a name for himself with the release of Eps and album like All Good or The Rush and with highly energetic and musically enriching live shows. We had the opportunity to sit with him a few hours before his show at Rototom Sunsplash.

JAmusic: Can you introduce yourself for the people?

RW: I’m Rootwords and I’m an hip hop artist with an eclectic style. I’m American with Zambian ancestors and I have lived around the world. I’m here at Rototom with my band, the Block Notes, we are based in Switzerland and what we do is world hip hop.

JAmusic: As you said you are American but have Zambian origins and have grown up in Switzerland, how did these different places influence your music?

RW: Well you now I grew up without really having a place I could call home or simply feel mine, so I had to adapt to different places and different societies and understand the customs of different cultures. Geneva then was a good place to land, because it’s quite international and since my school days I’ve had a lot of international friends. So this way of living has taught me ways of communication that could be understood by lots of people and it was easy to put that in my music and create something a lot of people can listen to.

JAmusic: And we can hear all this different influences in your music.

RW: Yes exactly. The people I work with, the label Kinyama Sounds from Geneva, they are basically a reggae label and then they started doing hip hop with me. So it’s a lot of different styles, reggae, hip hop but also rock, jazz and so on. If you think about my band, we have a saxophone, the key player is a classic piano man, the drummer has a rock background so  you know we are really eclectic. 

JAmusic: How did you choose your name? Rootwords is a very strong and powerful name.

RW: Well it happened just by chance at first. My favourite group is The Roots so I took Root out of their name and then my favourite rapper was Wordsworth so I took Words out of his name and then put them together, Rootwords. And it made sense so I was like “this is cool, I’ll keep it”.

JAmusic: Who are the artists that influenced you when you started?

RW: When I started actually writing down stuff it was around 1998 or 99 and there was a New York label called Rawkus International and on that label there were artists like Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Common Sense, Eminem and many more, they released a series of compilations called Soundbombing. So I’d say that’s really that era that influenced me and helped me finding my style of writing, a lyricism that is conscious and deep.

JAmusic: Talking about New York, I’ve seen one of your latest video, The Box, has been shot in New York. How did it feel to be there and how important is that city to you?

RW: Well New York is the birthplace of hip hop, and even if unfortunately when I was there I didn’t get to go to the avenues and the areas where hip hop was born, it was fun, and it was important for me to document the fact that I was in New York. So we linked up with this video producer from New Jersey and he brought us to the nice spots where we filmed the video. But I’m looking forward to be in New York again soon. 

JAmusic: This summer you’ve been touring a lot, in one occasion you have shared the stage with The Groundation, how was that experience?

RW: Oh that was really a blessing! We have been together, I mean playing in the same places, for three days in a row and on the third day Harrison asked me if I wanted to join them on stage and he said it’s not something that they usually do and that I was the second rapper who has done something like that with them and that the first one had been Chali 2na from Jurassic 5 so I was really blessed to have that opportunity. I mean I was quite stressed at first because I wanted that to be very special, and plus they have a very hardcore and deep public so the lyrics I decided to sing had to fit well with their music and their style. And you never know maybe it will happen again in the future!

JAmusic: Do you have a dream collaboration?

RW: Mos Def. I would always say Mos Def. But I fear that it’s becoming to a point where it’s simply too difficult because his musical journey has changed so much and so if he was to do a song with me he would have to go backwards, in the sense of back to hip hop and that’s something he left a while ago. But if I was welcomed into his world I would happily do that.

JAmusic: Before you were talking about lyrics influence, I want to ask you about the lyrics of the song Fresh. You say: When weighed up against these weak cats with non sensical bullshit for raps who only focus on sales, polluting minds with their fables and tales contaminate a culture of love with hate. So the fellowship fails but fully exposed they’re fake with their vanity traits. Who are you talking about?

RW: I’m talking about those artists, commercial artists, who think they are great just because of how much they sold, which for me is not  a good reference point. I mean people can buy their own album, if I was a super millionaire, say I have 5 million in my bank, and I release my album and then I spend one million to buy the album itself. I could say I have sold the most albums in Switzerland, and everyone would say ‘oh he’s great!’. But that’s rubbish, and I think there’s a lot of that kind of stuff going on, it might not be the artist himself, it could be the labels but this destroys the value of music, it devalues it. And small artist always find themselves on the wrong side of it, so this all ‘selling to show you are a better artist than the other’ I think it’s rubbish. Music should speak for itself.

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