December 13, 2012
Back in the mid-naughts there was this thing – this club, really – called The Wing Council. Members of the Fort Wayne hip-hop community would gather once a week, not so much to talk growth or collaborate on projects or organize events, but to eat wings. Chicken wings. Discounted chicken club. There was Coda (then known as Jedi Glide), one of the area’s best break dancers and most ambitious event organizers. There were Jes and Jake Farris who have since booked some of the best artists ever to play Fort Wayne stages (back then, Jes emceed under the name “Big Frame”). There were other emcees, too, like Custom Made Smitty, Levon “Rhymewise 37” Williams and Stephen “Sankofa” Bryden. For the unfamiliar, Sankofa, our subject, is a Fort Wayne-based emcee who was once included in URB Magazine’s “Next 100” list. He’s collaborated with underground hip-hop legends like Kashal-Tee, CunninLynguists, Tonedeff and many others, and he’s played a big part in his city’s arts community for over a decade now.
It was at one of these greasy meetings where I first saw Sankofa 2.0. For a few years I’d known Bryden as something of a one-man-army, an eccentric loner type. Sure, he was social enough, but the guy was nothing if not always focused on his next project, his next album. At this 2.0 Council meeting there was a new development: a girl named Jenn Nickell (whom I knew to be a big supporter of local artists) was sitting next to the city’s best known emcee. Snuggled up. For real. And while, yes, there has been more Sankofa music than ever in the years since, Bryden has grown and grown and grown since eating those discounted wings with his lovely lady all those years ago. Soon enough Bryden married Jenn, became more social, bought a house, started a career as a teacher and, most recently, became the father of a cute young man named Arthur, his biggest project ever.
Busy as he keeps just living life, Bryden has managed to find time for his artistic endeavors as a still-new father – two group albums with JON?DOE, under the name The Silversmiths, last year alone. Next up is a solo record called Just Might Be, an offering Bryden says will be his last.
“I’ve been fantasizing about my last album since The Rosetta Stone dropped in 2004. That was a long time ago,” Bryden explained, next talking about other unreleased works that could eventually surface.
“I also recorded an EP titled Charles Oakley at the Movies with a producer in Switzerland named Cris Cardiak which helped defray some of the costs for Just Might Be. JON?DOE and I have about two or so Silversmiths albums which may never get finished. I was going to keep my farewell quiet because we all see people saying ‘last show, last album, blah blah’ only to return, but Just Might Be is an incomplete title. I figured to leave it open ended so people can interpret it and bring to it how and what they see fit.”
Bryden recorded the record at home, Jenn taking baby Arthur out on the town so record buttons could be pushed.
“I recorded in my room. It’s not really a man cave; it’s a room with lots of artwork from my friends, a computer with a pre-amp/microphone and a mountain range of shoe boxes,” Bryden told me when asked about making the record. “Beats are handled by Agent Orange, EDS, enoch root, Geno, Purify, adrien75 and DRU PHIT. If I had to describe the production style, I’d say it resembles rap before rap began to suck.”
The lyrics on the record span decades, dating all the way back to 1997 when Bryden taught in China. There is, Bryden said, a lot of autobiographical material on the record.
“Life has changed my pen. The key difference is not being able to commit hour after continuous hour determining how a particular arrangement of each word’s musicality interacts with the beat. I have to be wise with my time because Arthur is priorities one through three.”
For the release, as it will be his last, Bryden wanted to do things up properly. In the past he’d done some interesting things, including stamped tins and screen-printed cover art. This time, though, he wanted to go all the way. And, to make that a reality, he’s turned to funds-raising website Kickstarter.
“I want full-color inserts and lyric sheets. Considering the amount of words contained in this album, that’s a lot of paper. Combine packaging expense with being a dad and not being able to justify spending what was once my money but is now family money on a vanity project and there you have it – Kickstarter,” Bryden said. “I’ve seen others utilize Kickstarter and have picked their brains as to how to most effectively craft my own campaign.”
Kickstarter, it’s a website that helps artists raise money for their projects. Artists set a goal, pitch their project and offer up rewards. If their goal isn’t met by a certain date, they get nothing; if the goal is met, the get the money but have to make good on the rewards.
“This is me writing my eulogy, saying goodbye on my own terms. This is me indulging in every last whim and going off the deep end. From my understanding, Kickstarter campaigns work best when there’s a quirky/cute video and a collection of crazy rewards,” Bryden said. “I figure combining the aforementioned pieces gives my campaign a chance to reach beyond those already familiar with my work.”
Kickstarter rewards tend to most often be fan items such as posters, CDs, T-shirts and private concerts, things like that. From time to time someone will throw in something odd, like a ride to work or a lap dance. For the ’Kofa campaign, as expected, there are all sorts of creative options: Nike iD shoes designed by ognihs, Jake Farris and Sankofa; tapes of rare and unheard songs; custom toothpick holders; stickers; magnets; shirts; bottle openers; stress balls; post-it notes; pens; caps; meals with Bryden; voicemail recordings; Lego men; name drops in songs; lawn signs; and maybe, just maybe, custom fortune cookies.
Swag. Loads of it. I had to ask, naturally, how one comes to have such a wide array of mercy.
“I have had a lot of time to prepare for this album. The more time, the more ideas of sweet things I can include for the Kickstarter campaign,” Bryden explained. “My pretend label, Obese America, was an outlet to release my music as well as give me an excuse to tinker with artwork and other odds and ends on the merch side. This time, Cottage Cheese Industries – the name for my pretend marketing branch of my pretend label – has gone into triple overtime shifts of madness. As this is my farewell, I’m going out with a 2,100 gun salute.”
Stay tuned for info about album release shows and more. For now, head over to Facebook.com/RapSankofa for instructions on how to check out the Just Might Be Kickstarter campaign.