In 2011, millions of protestors took to the streets of Egypt to demand the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 20-year regime. The eyes of the world were focused on the North African nation’s battle for freedom, but most of the West viewed the changes taking place there through the prism of the mainstream media.
The Egyptian Revolution and its aftermath has now been documented through a man on the street point of view thanks to filmmaker Anyextee. His documentary Egypt Through The Glass Shop follows the story of a young glass blower named Ben “Tsunami” Lukas. Tsunami provides his own footage taken during the revolution which Anyextee melds together with shots of Lukas’ journey back to Cairo in order to rebuild his business. The combination creates an alternative view of what came to be known as the Lotus Revolution.
Beyond directing Egypt Through The Glass Shop, Anyextee also serves as the CEO of Amalgam Digital where he helped build the careers of Max B, Joe Budden, Curren$y, and more. He recently took off his executive hat to put on his artist hat as he prepares to release his debut album Executive Decisions on February 25th.
In DZI: The Voice‘s latest exclusive interview Anyextee discusses his new film, his new LP, new Max B music, and what he plans to do next.
Yohance Kyles: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Anyextee: It wasn’t until recently that I started channeling my voice into the art through music. I didn’t start rapping and professionally recording as an artist until just a couple of months ago, but I discovered my voice years before that. I found it while working in the office at Amalgam Digital.
With all the demands and pressure of an independent record label CEO; dealing with artists, employees, and media, you quickly find your voice. The etymology of the word “voice” is sourced from the Latin word “vocare”, which means “to call” or “to invoke”. Even if we are not conscious of it, it’s our voice that is being called out of us in the midst of our work. We all deserve to be heard and it’s inside all of us. It’s there like a stalking lion, waiting for the opportunity to pounce.
YK: What attracted you to exploring the subject covered in Egypt Through The Glass Shop?
Anyextee: My father, who is Sicilian, told me our blood line goes back to the Moors of North Africa, and so I’ve always been fascinated with studying that part of world. I’m very much into ancient history, and traveling to Egypt made for an attractive location, but it’s the lead character’s compelling story that brought me to exploring the subject on film.
YK: How did you first connect with Ben “Tsunami” Lukas?
Anyextee: After years of being behind the desk, I wanted to re-connect with the artistry and channel my creative energy into something other than running a business. I decided to get into filmmaking and immediately started working on the first film Harvest Season.
I traveled to the Northern California to explore the culture of cannabis plant farmers. While working on the film out there I was introduced to a talented glass artist who goes by the name of “Tsunami”. He told me his story about setting up shop in Cairo and getting trapped in country when the Egyptian Revolution started. He was a Hip Hop fan and knew of Amalgam Digital’s success so he had asked me to help him out with his own business.
He went on to explain how he had glass art pieces left behind in Egypt and how his glass shop had fallen into disarray. He was living right in Tahrir Square during the start of the revolution. He showed me footage he took that captured the first day when police started attacking unarmed civilians. He was hit with a tear gas while filming, and his financial business partner suffered a near fatal blow when struck in the head with a rock thrown by an Egyptian police officer.
After hearing the story and seeing the footage, I was compelled to help him out. I thought more people should see it and be aware of what was really happened over there. Many people believe that when strange synchronicities occur, it means that you are on your path. A month prior I had posted on my Facebook about this being the year I will visit Egypt. No real plan, just speaking it into existence, and here I am a month later with a stranger I was just introduced to, and he’s asking for my help which involves getting him back to Egypt. This was January 2012. I put the Harvest Season film project on hold, booked our flight, and two weeks later Tsunami and I are flying out to Egypt to reclaim his life’s work while I document the process.
YK: How long were you in Cairo to film the documentary?
Anyextee: Coincidently, we arrived in Cairo on the one year anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution which made for an even more interesting story. We filmed for seven days. The film incorporates footage from the previous year from when Tsunami was living there. He had lived in Egypt for several months before and during the revolution.
YK: What do you think will be the political future for Egypt and the greater Middle East?
Anyextee: It would seem as though there will be more of this type of struggling for a long time. As far as politics go, the general consensus I get from my friends who live there, when I ask them this same question, is that it will be become normalized, but the people will be happier in this format of struggle with a new voice and a new method of being heard.
YK: You created quite a stir at Sundance last year when you had to be escorted out of Park City, Utah for riding a camel into the festival. You received a ticket from the police for the incident. Did you face any other citations or legal issues because of you camelback entrance?
Anyextee: Just the ticket in which I initially appealed and fought in court.
YK: You did a film called Harvest Season The Higher Consciousness as well. With the recent marijuana legalization laws passed in Colorado and Washington do you see nationwide legalization happening in the near future?
Anyextee: Yes, but how near is the only question.
YK: You also have a long history in Hip Hop as well. From an executive standpoint, what’s your opinion of Hip Hop culture at the start of 2014?
Anyextee: It seems pretty messed up. The intention is missing. Does Hip Hop culture still exist in 2014? It seems like most people saying “Hip Hop” is something corny these days, but I follow that about as much as I follow other sports that are fixed by gamblers, mostly when my friends watch. It’s become like WWE, and I’m a MMA guy.
I’m an executive that grew up in the culture. I’m referring to the Hip-Hop that I believe in, the four elements that were amalgamated and pioneered by people like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and the Roc Steady Crew. The Hip Hop that KRS-One teaches. It doesn’t seem to be crossing the current generation gap. I wouldn’t say it’s extinct yet, but endangered. There are still dope artists and old torch bearers, but it’s a rare occasion we see conscious Hip Hop in the mainstream.
There are other people like me will who always like certain artists, young or old, we are just on that frequency. But what frequency is 2014 Hip Hop on? Fifty coke boys standing on stage while one rapper mumbles over his vocal track like it’s karaoke night? And this gets emulated across the board influencing the next generation further perpetuating mindless materialism. Watching it nowadays is like watching the movie Idiocracy but not as funny.
What happened to knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and raising consciousness? What happen to the principles of peace, unity, love and having fun? Hip Hop culture is a ceremony complete with rituals, and its origins trace back to ancient cultures where tribal elders, master of ceremony, shaman, or medicine men would heal and uplift the tribe through song and dance. That has now been replaced by something that poisons the minds of our communities. It’s a sad day when a true emcee has to play Trojan horse and refer to himself as a “rapper” just to slip in the back door so he can handle business like an emcee should.
YK: Amalgam Digital has played a role in the careers of Max B, Saigon, Curren$y, Lil B, and Joe Budden. What do you look for in an artist when trying to determine if they are someone you want to work with?
Anyextee: It varies from artist to artist, and timing is always an important factor. It’s all about what’s going on in that moment of time. I decided to work with each of those artists all for different reasons. One thing I do like to look for is a die-hard work ethic and “make it happen” attitude, but you don’t always get that so it might be something else you like that you see in the artist. It could be charisma or their vision.
YK: You’re about to release your own debut album. Why did you decide it was time to step behind the mic?
Anyextee: It wasn’t like I woke up one day and made the executive decision to rap. It was more like a calling. It happened organically after my experience dealing with artists. The timing was right, because I’m tired of all the sucka shit in Hip Hop. So instead of complaining about it I got proactive by setting my own example.
What I noticed was that the former major label artists we signed typically brought baggage from their previous situations and came with these preconceived notions on what happens at a record label. Those assumptions may have been instrumental in manifesting negative energy. We learned from the mistakes of our past, switched gears, and adapted with the times. Amalgam started to transform the model and we became less of a digital store and more of a blog with the web site. On the artist side, less of a record label and more of a management/artist development company.
We started seeking out younger artists who carried a less jaded outlook that we could build with together from the ground up. However, it seemed like many of the younger artists have this sense of self entitlement. You could take an artist to all the Hip Hop festivals, blogs, websites, magazines, bring them to radio, major label meetings, put them in the studio, fly them around to various markets, help get them shows, hook them up with established producers, but it’s like, if they weren’t Curren$y or Max B within the first year’s run they would feel stagnant. And once an artist starts to feel stagnant, the first person they are going to blame is always the manager or label.
And when the artist is talented and the label is successful in amplifying the artist’s buzz outside factors can play a role. People get in the artist’s ear, instilling doubt instead of confidence, and get the artist to second guess themselves, the movement, and the label. That has an impact on the artist during this crucial period of growth. The grass is always greener, right?
And so I reached this point in my life where I felt like I had been relentlessly busting my ass for years in this industry working towards helping other people to realize their dreams but going in circles with it. Instead of a long-term label home, Amalgam became a stepping stone or launch pad. I had to step back and observe again. If I am going to keep investing my time, energy, resources, relationships, and money… it might be time I start investing in myself. I believe in myself and possess that do-or-die “make it happen” worth ethic that I look for in new artists. Why not become one myself?
I think it’s important to reconnect with the artistry side. I already have the business acumen. I’m creative and have a story to tell from a unique perspective. And then I took a good look at the game and who was on top and noticed some of these so-called “hottest rappers out” lack talent, yet they are still on top because they were relentless. Skill wise I just started out, and I may only be a few notches above average at this point, but if there is one thing I learned from my experience in this industry, it’s that ambition always wins over talent. Those who want it will always find way to make it happen, regardless of how wack they are. And so these wack rappers that possess ambition but lack substance in their message still manage to thrive in the rap game…. They too serve as part of the inspiration as to why I’m rapping.
YK: Can you explain the inspiration and concept for Executive Decisions?
Anyextee: Content wise people like Royal Raymond Rife and Rick Simpson are the true inspirations. Not other rappers. And if those are names you’re not familiar with it, wouldn’t hurt to Google them.
The concept is what Joseph Campbell would call “The Hero’s Journey”. There is a transition that takes place on the album, going from CEO to artist. It’s also symbolic of man’s journey into higher consciousness or enlightenment but based on my life as the CEO of Amalgam Digital in and out of the office.
The executive character offers valuable insights from the other side of the desk. We don’t always get to hear a pioneering independent self-made successful CEO’s perspective on wax. The story and principles on the records serve as a blueprint for success or a map to follow for aspiring entrepreneurs, executives, hustlers, and artists alike. Some people may be inspired by my story. Others may even learn from my mistakes. It’s a “self-help” Hip Hop album that runs like a theatrical play from start to finish. And in gets deeper as the album progresses, but before we can truly appreciate the light we have to know darkness.
The earlier material on the album is from the arrogant, angry CEO fed up with the industry then transitions into the artistry and higher vibrations of love, light and raising consciousness. A spiritual awakening or growth takes place by the end of the album. I rap about my life as CEO of Amalgam in and out of the office and cover a broad spectrum of topics that all somehow connect to my life.
YK: You’ve mentioned before that more Max B music could be getting released. Will there ever be another official album featuring some of his unreleased songs?
Anyextee: I just did a deal for the film I have coming out entitled Charly Rambo: The Max B Story, and you can expect to hear exclusive Max B tracks in the movie. I will also say this, there are still quality unreleased Max B tracks and Pro Tools sessions. However, we recently sold Max B’s catalog as part of a play to help get him out. He and his family were excited about this as the company we sold it to has agreed to put up the required capital to fund a proper legal defense using the defense attorneys that we always wanted to use. It’s possible Charly could be out as soon as two years if the legal team is successful in their strategy. He already has time served under his belt.
YK: What’s the status of his appeal?
Anyextee: His appeal was already denied, but that was before the new legal team came together. It’s going to take a little time, but we have confidence in their legal strategy moving forward and know there may come a day when people will no longer being saying “Free Max B,” because he’ll really be free.
YK: Beside you own work, what were the last three albums you listened to?
Anyextee: [Jay Z's] Magna Carta Holy Grail, [Action Bronson's] Blue Chips 2, and [Kendrick Lamar's] good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
YK: Again besides you own work, if you could only watch 5 documentaries for the rest of you life which ones would you choose?
Anyextee: Kymatica, Ancient Knowledge, Run From The Cure, Esoteric Agenda, Style Wars.
YK: What’s next for Anyextee and Amalgam Digital?
Anyextee: As an artist I plan to keep going with Amalgam Digital as my home unless someone comes along that sees something in me or some value in all that I’m doing and wants to help. My album Executive Decisions was rushed. I really pushed myself to get it done quickly. I want to take my time on the sophomore album over the next year. I’m going to work closer with the producers at the start of production to bring the cymatic healing frequencies more up front in the music as opposed to post and the mix.
As a filmmaker, I’m currently working on various projects, all at different stages. One that I’m looking forward to is the story of the Annunaki derived from the ancient Sumerian text. I plan to keep making films while I’m building up my new production company Unusual Accomplishment.
For more info about Anyextee and Amalgam Digital click it
To connect with Anyextee follow him on Twitter @Anyextee
To connect with Amalgam Digital follow them on Twitter @AmalgamDigital
Check out the trailer for Egypt Through The Glass Shop and the video for “Executive Decisions”: