Madison Washington – interview

The last time we posted about Malik Crumpler was when he was with our very own Alex in Paris, France, for ActII of their Inevitable Mutations (ActI having been the last release on our label, for now). After that this site died, but as we’re back now, we had to catch up with Malik as he’s just released a first EP of his collaboration with ThatManMonkz, combining forces under the Madison Washington monniker. Read along:

Madison Washington, can you speak upon the name, he was a historical figure, right?

Malik: “Last summer, I took a slave narratives course at Long Island University, Brooklyn taught by professor, Louis Parascandola where we read Frederick Douglass’ 1853 short story, The Heroic Slave. That story is a fictional account of Madison Washington leading a slave rebellion. I’d read the story several times as a kid and teenager and loved it, he was a hero of mine since I was like 7, but I didn’t know he was real until I took that class. When I found out he was a real person, I flipped. Parascandola dug my enthusiasm and let me do a presentation on him in class, I went in and went off for an hour. See, I was Parascandola’s research assistant at the time, so I was always up at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, doing research on Amy Garvey and J.A. Rogers. There’s really no information online about Madison Washington, so I did my research on him at the Schomburg. Now, why is he basically written out of history? Why was Frederick Douglass compelled to write the first Black American short story about him? I asked Parascandola these questions and he said, “Whoever writes the history controls who it’s written about, it’s all about agendas.” Well, as a writer, my agenda is always to carry on the traditions of the underground railroad and what better way to do that, than by giving Madison Washington a voice to speak his mind.”

“And what’s in the mind of an audacious runaway slave, who in 1841 mutinied a slave ship headed to New Orleans and sailed it into the British seas, where slavery had been abolished in 1839. Brilliant move, right. The American colonies wanted to kill him. The British obeyed their laws. 128 slaves gained their freedom because of his knowledge of self and his ability to express it through strategic action in accordance with the law. But see, the even deeper thing than that is that he’d already ran away and gained his freedom twice. He threw on his slave’s cloak and went back into slavery to free others. For me, that’s the essence of the underground railroad, ceaseless cloaking. Now, the other fly, X-file type thing about Madison Washington is that there’s no record of his death. I searched everywhere and never found it. That made me flip too, in an Octavia Butler way, what if he’s an immortal? If he’s still around and been around, what would he have to say about contemporary slavery? The raps and visuals answer those questions, for me.”

“See, I’ve been writing raps and poems from the voice of slaves and runaway slaves since my first album, Drapetomania, but I never focused on just one voice. Inspired by Frederick Douglass, I figured, why not do a whole album from the perspective of one individual? Instead of using the omnipotent narrator like Fred’ did, I went full first person narrative.”
“So, yeah, Madison Washington is an obscure historical figure that deserves closer investigation. I took the challenge to go into his head and just as Fred’ brought him into the new medium of short stories, I aim to bring him into the medium of rap.

So the EP is a conceptual effort entirely? Meaning Malik Crumpler as a person is completely outside of it?

Malik: “Yeah. My personal story is not in there. I’m spitting from the perspective of a slave on the run, constantly cloaked and thus speaking in coded language. Even in Frederick Douglass’ story, Madison Washington only uncloaks to God in prayer and contemplation. I approached every song like that, him praying or preaching or contemplating the strengths and fragilities of his soul and his personality as a means to understand his times and the necessary actions to take.”

“At the same time, it’s not just about Madison Washington the historical figure or myth, it’s about what he actually achieved by believing in something bigger than himself and having developed the discipline and faith to accomplish his impossible task. For me, he’s the abolitionists Odysseus, and Frederick Douglass was his Homer. He’s also an awesome symbol of the audacity and ability to free one’s self from systemic oppression, while encouraging others to free themselves. Yet, he’s no martyr. Madison succeeded in his quest for absolute freedom and recloaked so well, that no one even knows what he did as a free man, let alone when he died. He’s a tremendous historical figure because of his ability to influence and inspire others to believe in their freedom and successfully claim it.”

In the making of the music, were there any references/influences, both musically and vocally/literally?

Thatmanmonkz: “When we first met in Harlem, late last year (we’d been working online before that) we went in with a bottle of rum and a youtube walk through Hip Hop history. It was really useful for me to hear Malik speak on his influences and favorite M.C’s and producers, as it helps to get an angle on the kind of beats he’ll want to spit on, rather than just listening to his tone and flow, and trying to guess from there. From my perspective, being in the same room changed everything for the better moving forward. Now, I pretty much make hip hop beats for Malik and Madison Washington. He gets first refusal on any beats I come up with. Malik adds to them musically and lyrically. If a beat I make, makes it to a beat tape, it’s because we didn’t want them for Mad Wash!”

Malik: “Facts. Rapwise, my influences are always Sun House, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Melle Mel, Last Poets, Rakim, Askari X, D.O.C., Scarface and Ice Cube, so that’s where I’m always coming from.”

There are now three tracks online, what can we expect to come from Madison Washington?

Malik: “Well, there’s three videos too, and you can expect more of all that, as well as some cloaked up shows. We’ve recorded 30 something songs so far and we’re always working on new stuff. So yeah, a full album is in progress.”

The cloak is quite present in the lyrics, can you speak upon that, where does that come from and what does it represent to you? Do you own a cloak yourself?

Malik: “The body’s a cloak for the essence of our soul. The brain’s a cloak for the mind. Culture and society are cloaks for free will and true democracy. Time is a cloak for existence-Or something like that, I mean, everybody’s cloaked up after we hit adolescence. So-called culture or society programs that cloak on and into us. Literally, the cloak is the everyday visage, you know, the right behaviour for the right environment, the proper conduct for the proper occasion. That’s why we stay code switching, unless you always occupy the same environments.”

“Most folks when we’re young, resist or resent the cloak because we think it’s fakery. Back in my day, we was constantly hollering, “Keep it real!” But now, as adults, if you wanna keep the lights on, you better cloak up. Or you’ll be in those tents. Every business man you see in them suits, that’s their cloak, their uniform, you know. That’s the necessary cloak, consumerism slave cloak. Then you got your cats who know how to use cloaks as tools to achieve the goal of their personal belief system (Robert Anton Wilson just called that B.S.) Then you got slaves or aliens on the run, they gotta cloak up to not get caught. It’s complicated, full of contradictions. It’s more than just a disguise, often times it’s a protection or a forcefield. The high society folks do it best. Jane Eyre and things. Comedians are masters of it. Day job, Bruce Wayne uncloaked is Batman. It’s posturing. You see how thugs, priest, musicians, doctors, bankers, professors, chefs, rappers, CEOs, policemen, garbage men, board members, artists, presidents and celebrities posture, it’s all a cloak.”

“But as a slang term, that’s something the crew I rock with in NY been saying for years. It’s like, you on the way to an exhibition and my man Alex Seel or Vooda will be like, “We in this exhibition, sun. Mad suits, cloak up.” Or “Yo, you good sun?” “I’m cloaked up.” Or it may be getting out of hand at a club and the police are coming, whatever, “Yo, sun chill, cloak up.” And then, if somebody was at a gig or did an ill painting, or played an ill line in their improvisation, or whatever, we’d be like, “Yo, he uncloaked, sun!” So basically, it means playing your part well, or completely breaking out of it, no in-betweens, polarities only.
And to just keep it a hundred, I love capes and cloaks. Cloak Of Karasu, all day. So, yes of course I have a couple of cloaks of my own, don’t we all.”

What are you currently listening to /reading/watching, that is influencing your creative endeavours?

Thatmanmonkz: “I’m currently reading Paul Beatty and Noam Chomsky, watching The Affair and Atlanta, and listening to the Childish Gambino and Yussef Kamaal albums.”

Malik: “I’m listening to a lot of Henry Threadgill, Alice Coltrane, Holst, Thelonious Monk, Jonathan Finlayson, A Tribe Called Quest, Julius Hemphill, Big Mama Thornton, Milford Graves, and Leron Thomas, you know, the usual suspects.
As far as reading, I’ve been tripping on Ishmael Reed, Joy Harjo, Nicole Goodwin, Jamika Ajalon, Kimarlee Nguyen and a lot of tech journals, lately.”
“I watch a lot of Dick Gregory and conspiracy theory videos on Youtube. I really dug this Brazillian flick called 3% on Netflix. Saw a badass documentary the other day on Marcello Mastroianni.”
“But you know me, I go to a lot of museums, the new Twombly exhibit at Pompidou is incredibly inspiring. All of that’s influencing everything I do because it’s what I’m interested in. I only write about what I’m interested in, you know, I’m underground, so I control what I say, do and find interesting.”

What can we expect in the near future from the both of you, aside from this project? Books, events, music, etc.?

Thatmanmonkz: “Aside from getting Madison Washington up and out the blocks I have some house music coming out shortly via Dirt Crew, and then an EP with Nikki O from Detroit. I’m also launching my label, Shadeleaf Music, into the digital realm, doing some disco edits, and doing some production for Danae Wellington, Gabriel Stuckey, and Khalil Anthony for Khalil’s Yele Digital.”

Malik: “Hopefully, some gigs for Madison Washington. Outside of music, I have a novel Rappers Anonymous and a novella Irrelevant Men, I’m currently working on. I’ll keep doing my monthly hosting and curating of Poets Live in Paris and finishing up a new issue of Those That This.”

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