Written by Trenae V. McDuffie
Creatively executing raps that evoke social, political and economic change while balancing life an as educator seems effortless for Philadelphia rapper Aquil Heru. As he prepares for his debut on an international stage, Aquil (his stage name) has placed a mark with hip-hop enthusiasts and legendary producers.
Aquil will perform at Toronto’s North by Northeast Festivals and Conference (NXNE) on June 14. The seven-day festival will host 650 bands and screen 40 films from June 11 to June 17. Aquil accredits this new travel experience to Internet technologies and non-traditional ways of showcasing his music.
“Social media has helped me network and meet people that I never would have known. Social media has allowed me to reach a few people that actually listen and give my music a chance. Without Sonicbids.com I wouldn’t have performed at the Brooklyn Hip-hop Festival or NXNE,” Aquil said.
He is no novice to music festivals. In the summer of 2010, Aquil performed at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival.
“I got to see how festivals work; the good and the bad of performing at those type of events. I got to meet a lot of people that I never thought I would or people that I consider legendary like De La Soul, Pete Rock and Buckshot.”
To date, his career has yield four albums: Blues People, Darkroom (of my mind), On the Ascendant and The Bright Lady Sessions.
From the collaborative project of The Bright Lady Sessions, Aquil worked with South Jersey rapper, Yahzilla, and hip hop producers 9th Wonder and the Soul Council. Recorded live at 9th Wonder’s North Carolina studio, Aquil explained that completing the nine-track EP was a memorable experience.
“It was great. They invited me and Yahzilla down to record with them in their studio called Bright Lady Studios for the entire weekend. We went down there from Friday to Sunday and basically recorded all day and all night and they let us record for free. They didn’t charge us anything. They gave us beats for free. Everybody was feel friendly.”
Aquil did admit that the experience taught him to be creative more quickly.
“I basically got an introduction to doing things on the spot, coming up with ideas and songs and basically completing them right on the spot,” he said.
Currently, he is working on his fifth album Land of Synth — which will feature soulful sounds of synthesized instruments. The project will be released in late summer.
Along with his music career, Aquil balances life as a first- and second-grade teacher at K.W. Reed Christian Academy for Boys. Teaching reading, science, math, English, social studies and language arts, Aquil said being an educator has given him new skills.
“I’m basically the mentor, big brother, teacher and it’s been a great experience. I learned a lot about weaknesses and strengths and also how to reach people. I’ve learned a lot from them as far as just how to communicate better and get ideas across.”
And with a teacher who appreciates composition of music, respects timeless artists and takes notes from different music genres, Aquil’s students are exposed to Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal in the classroom.
His career as a musical artist and teacher remain separate, but Aquil makes efforts in both areas to combat negative stereotypes of rappers.
“I don’t try to fit into the stereotype of what people think being a Black man is. I don’t try to fit in the stereotype of being a gangster, or a thug or a former drug dealer. I don’t front like I came up from a certain type of environment even though I’m from North Philly.
“I do music as true to myself as I can. I write from my experiences or even from my imagination, but it’s not from a point of view where I’m talking about a heist or crime spree. I’m talking about things that I imagine. I try to write what I think and feel, but at the same time, what I imagine how things could be.”
Join Aquil at his next Philadelphia performance at Silk City, 435 Spring Garden Street, June 20 with Afloe, WrittenHouse, Sela, Yahzilla, Electric Lady, Arckatron and Aeon