Friday, May 12, 2006

The Cell: An interview with Atiim

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syndic. from Bakersfield, California's 'The Cell'.
May 2002 issue.

Interview by:
LisaAnn LoBasso

Standing six foot, seven,
he is sure to get your attention. A towering man. One minute his boyish smile eludes gentle youth, and the next, you are bound to notice the moment stress enters into his boundary. The scowl makes this domineering musician/poet almost seem dangerous. In this moment, he usually takes a quick, solemn smoke break alone. But the next instant, he is sipping his coffee, leaning gently over to remove his dominate posture, and placing his thin-rimmed glasses on: looking just like a college boy, not necessarily someone who grew up on the streets of Oakland. He is glowing as he asks you to listen to another rap, or read one more spoken word piece; eager to share of his inner self; his words; animated in disclosing what makes him tick, what he believes makes us all tick, in the pursuit of happiness in our lives.
A recent description of him as pelting bullets at us with his words in a Bakersfield Californian article shook him a little; he wasn’t sure if that was a positive or negative review. And there he emerges again: the demur guy, unsure of his powerful words and the audience reaction. Atiim Bomani Chenzira says he wants to shake you, punch you, rattle you with his words. And one minute, this self-confident rapper and spoken word performer is pounding some feeling into us, and then caressing us with his smooth, compelling, rhythmic words. Thought words, from love to violence, from struggle to acceptance. He is the essence of a performer, an artist; one minute, self-confident, the next, walking on the edge of uncertainty. And he radiates performance artist: there is not a moment that his moods aren’t revealed so clearly in his physical movements, actions, and face gestures. It is no wonder he makes the performance part look like a cinch.
The Cell was privy to discover Atiim at a reading recently, and was immersed in his performance, and the audience’s reaction. Atiim describes himself as “driven by dreams of becoming a rapper,” and explains his rapping-style growth has moved towards predominant and crucial pro-black and spiritual themes. The Cell describes Atiim as nothing short of a luminary looming on the horizon of the clouds of success. So sit back, open your ears, eyes and heart, and let the magnetic performer perform his magic in this up close and private interview with Bakersfield’s freshest rapper on the scene.

The Cell: Do you consider yourself a musician or a writer?

Atiim: A writer who writes for musical purposes is a musician, so I’m a musician. You can’t separate music from writing. Without writing a note they’re writing music. Most of my writing goes to beats that D-Jones writes. The music that he writes with his emotion, ideas and feelings, I try to match his music with my words and his ideas. Almost like a marriage; like American Sign Language and talking; writing with a pen, just in a different language.

The Cell: How long have you been in Bakersfield and what brought you here?

Atiim: I’ve been in Bakersfield since last August and . . . uh . . . my word . . . brought me here. I promised my wife I would follow her to Bakersfield if she would go to the Bay Area with me for three years. We actually only spent two years in the Bay Area together, though. I don’t have a problem with change, though. It gives me a chance to test one, my faith, two, my courage, and three, my ability to survive.

The Cell: What do you like most and least about being in Bakersfield? It is quite different than the Bay Area.

Atiim: Mostly I like the new experience, that’s basically everything even if it is negative. And least: starting all over again. Once I get comfortable, I get comfortable so it takes a whole lot to just pick up and jump.

The Cell: Describe your music for us.

Atiim: My music is who I am without . . . speaking. It’s like someone hears my CD and they appreciate my words or one line that reached them ; like they’re saying they appreciate who I am. And there are parts in me that I am unable to express like I would like, parts that I haven’t done. My music is a reminder of what I need to do. I threw away a rap book in 1989 because a DJ told my band that there was no market for rap. This was before Chris Cross came out. He said extinguish your dreams and be a man. He gave no room for growth. As soon as Chris Cross came out, I was disappointed that I allowed, that we allowed ourselves to give up. Almost like a distant lover, if I’m not able to spend time with a mic, not able to get closer to my dream, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything.

The Cell: What is your dream?

Atiim: You know I have this solid picture of where I’ll be when I’m able to give up my pursuit and let them keep it going. My dream is to get to that point; when I’m able to just cross my arms and say take me, I’m done. I’m planting as many seeds with my music . . .to be free through my expressions; to let the world see how I’ve grown as I’ve seen some grow; maybe not the whole world, but my world. I want to be respected by those in my world. It would hurt if those people didn’t respect me in my world, not that I need their respect. My dream is having complete access to a studio at any time so it is just as easy as writing a poem at any time; to go to the studio, record lyrics, whenever I want . . . it just sounds like I’m saying to be free.

The Cell: Who are your influences? Who do you respect? Who do you emulate?

Atiim: Three very different questions, but mistaken for the same.

The Cell: They’re not the same . . . but, I wanted to mix it up a little for you . . . challenge your answer.

Atiim: My father brought me up on so many different types of music. He introduced me to about 60% of the music. I appreciate a lot of artists. I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of different types. A couple of my friends I went to school with opened me to jazz, old R & R, Coltrane, especially the album Time. Joe Sample, always. Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of My Life. Whodini, although his brother’s work, his more political songs. His song “Friends” really made me want to make rap. There’s that one line always stuck with me. “You can look it up again and again, but the dictionary doesn’t have the meaning of friends.” I can’t forget Bob Marley, ya, Bob Marley. Music that let’s you be free. His music makes me at ease. Music, in general, that allows me to go to another place. Most recently, 2Pac; not all of his stuff; his more rational messages. But, like emulate . . . I grew up in Oakland, so I used to always wanna be Too $hort, not necessarily his message of wanting to be pimping. No matter what album he did, 90% was about being a player, but he did always have at least one song that was about liftin’ your head up. He always said sex sells, so that’s what he did, but there was always the message underneath and I believe that is who he was. He always said go to school. The thing that always caught me about Too $hort was his song “I Ain’t Trippin’”

The Cell: What did you go to college for?

Atiim: I went for a backup plan. Initially, I was torn between making it a backup plan or something I should go full force into. I went to be a pediatrician, first a gynecologist, then a pediatrician. I like working with kids and making lots of money.

The Cell: Where did you go to school? Did you finish?

Atiim: I went to Cal State Northridge, and ended up graduating with a Bachelors in African Studies . . . studies about Africans around the world. Then I went to San Francisco State and got a Bachelor’s in Sociology.

The Cell: Do you use your degrees?

Atiim: Not to make enough money, but I, yeah, I do use them to be a better person. Classes I’ve went through, people I’ve met, professors I’ve studied under; going through the whole process has taught me a lot. I’m a whole lot more calm than before I got interested in the cases. I was definitely cluttered with effects.

The Cell: I’ve been listening to some of your stuff and . . . umm . . . I’ve noticed a certain style, well two different styles: one where you’re smoother, melodic, mesmerizing and another where you have some powerful punches. I want to know: what are your goals with those methods, those styles?

Atiim: Excuse me . . . do you mind? (Atiim steps outside for a cigarette.) I feel like a brand new man.

The Cell: Do you?

Atiim: Ya. You know what: the different subjects bring out different expressions cause I can’t sweet talk anger and I can’t blurt out love.

The Cell: What do you have to be angry about?

Atiim: Whatever makes me be angry. I have a whole lot to be angry at; the way things don’t work out for me; things don’t work for others; blindness people express everyday. My best friend told me last night . . . he is on the same page as me, but sometimes he expresses it in words I couldn’t find before. Mind you, this is the only cat I know I can get in his face and bark, and he can to me, but underneath know that there is love. The trust remains and the love prevails. I would never lay a hand on that man; I love him too much. We sat and talked politics many of nights, poured out tears in frustration and anger, but more because we had to be patient with it. He said to me last night: relationships get mixed up over the small things, but if everybody would just let everybody just be themselves, instead of trying to change them into someone else. There wouldn’t be half as much conflict if people knew the best way to change someone’s idea would be to accept them for who they are; there wouldn’t be as much distance. The distance is just showing the inability to communicate, to show the right words. And that’s all I try to do; try to find the right words. I still have a whole lot further to go. I’m just getting good at it. I told him “practice makes perfect”, and he said no. He slapped that down. “No! No one’s perfect, practice makes better.” And that’s comforting. Preacher man . . . ya, that’s his name. (Atiim stops for a few seconds, reflecting; talking about the ants in the ground; how the sunset is taking him to another place. He is meditating on the sunset, the traffic, the wind in the leaves, all reminding him of the Bay.) He is talking about Cinderella; the story of acceptance, regardless of where you’re at. That’s my dream: to just be accepted.

The Cell: I used to live in Oakland, and I know it is a very different environment than Bakersfield. The pace is poles apart. I know that when I lived there, there was a big difference than being here. What was it like growing up there? Was there a big negative influence?

Atiim: Well, my uncle told me something: you put a bean in the middle of a table, table is round, and all that bean sees, knows, is just that table. The minute you take that bean and put it on that counter above that table, it can finally see what that table looks like. Going away, I’ve finally had that opportunity, to sit on my counter and see that table. The Bay Area is a very popular place and each city has its flavor. When I first went to Berkeley, I thought it was crazy. Then when I lived there, I appreciated the craziness, its freeness. San Francisco is a whole ‘nother world only connected by a bridge. When I went there it was so packed with people, it almost drowned me out.

The Cell: Yes, when I was living there I didn’t realize it. I came back to Bakersfield, and had to go up there for a few weeks. And San Francisco was so fast paced; I realized it after being away for a month. It was like being on drugs when I returned to the City, like speed. I don’t think you realize it while you are there.

Atiim: Naw, you don’t. So, it wasn’t rough growing up. I didn’t think about the process growing up. I got to look at it later. People, who grew up before me, gave me their quick fixes on things. Being a loner, I just didn’t deal with it. The rough part was defining and translating what I’ve learned to new experiences. That’s becoming easier. I left in ’94. Ya, there was a kind of shell shock. Let me tell you something about Oakland: to a young black kid, it is very familiar to me, comfortable. It wasn’t until I left Oakland that I realized that all the faces on the streets, in the stores, weren’t like me. That’s what got me interested in Sociology. The Bay Area is very diverse, but not mixed. Funkadelics, George Clinton and his crew, I think they call it Chocolate City. Chocolate Cities, places populated mostly by blacks. Oakland I’d definitely call a Chocolate City.

The Cell: Sounds sweet.

Atiim: Ya.

The Cell: So, are you bored?

Atiim: Bored? Ha Ha.

The Cell: Not with me? Ha Ha.

Atiim: Naw. I wouldn’t say bored. When I have the opportunity to enjoy company then I’m able to feel comfortable. It does my soul good; makes me feel comforted. I haven’t been bored, just trying to work through frustration; translating. It’s like driving the interstate 5 to San Francisco. At first the radio stations are fine, but as you go, they start to disappear; you’re tuning in each station to try to make it as clear as possible; get the static out.

The Cell: When I first met you, I heard you do some spoken word, some amazing spoken word. And I’ve heard your spoken word album. I even prefer it to your rap. Have you done any poetry slams, or do you want to? Or, do you just want to stick to, focus on, your rap?

Atiim: I want to stick with communication in any form. I am walking lightly in the spider web since this is not my city. If I could sing right now, I would. I want to express myself in any way I can. Some people can pick up an instrument and express themselves just like that. I don’t have an instrument, but I have words that I can use to express myself. But to answer your question, Hell, ya I want to do some slams.

The Cell: What are the names of your albums?

Atiim: In Pursuit of Happiness, released in 2002 is my rap album. And Life in Time is the spoken word CD; it is still being fine tuned, and isn’t released yet. I haven’t had a satisfactory release party for my album though.

The Cell: What does the future hold for you? What will it bring you?

Atiim: I know my dream will be fulfilled. My dream is gonna bring me to that complete happiness I envision. Ironically, my pursuit of happiness won’t be a pursuit in my life in time. Even the whole idea of pursuing happiness is almost ludicrous. Then, I’ll be able to relax; but in this system you almost have to pursue happiness. Make some money to do what we need to do, and then, do what we want to do. I’ll add this: all that I’m doing and want to do requires help. I can’t do any of this alone. I haven’t done any of this alone, so I think it is important that bridges don’t get burned.

The Cell: Period?

Atiim: Period!

For additional information, booking requests, or CD orders, contact Ridah Ridah Entertainment at 5324 San Pablo Ave. Emeryville, Ca. 94608 or Atiim Chenzira @ 510.593.4636 or

For a look at 'The Cell' or a years subscription contact Charles Spencer at P.O. box 9764 Bakersfield, CA. 93389 and/or visit