Who Is Ammar Annex?

 

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What’s your earliest memory of music?

Barney was my guy, as well as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I also remember this tape deck in our Rav4 that would play Islamic lullabies.  I was all about that!

Do you have a musical family?

Not in a traditional sense.  Brown parents don’t really pay for piano lessons, but my cousins and I would make acapella songs.  I was in a band called “Da Mob”, and my sister was in “Lazer Gurls”. Jury is still out on which group was better.

How was the first time you heard your voice over music?

When I was 8 years old, a friend of my cousin heard this acapella song I made called “What’s Happening on my Feet”, and he put a beat under me.  I was astonished by how cool that was.  I remember showing on my friends like, yo I can rap!

Who were your musical inspirations?

I was put onto Outkast at an early age, so they are big for me.  When I was 11, my sister gave me a Radiohead CD and that’s when shit started getting wild.  At 17, I deep dived into the discographies of The Beach Boys and Beatles.  Those four comprise my personal Mt. Rushmore of bands.

Who was the first person to give you the name Ammar Annex?

I was at U of I for a choir recital, and I passed a building called Khan Annex.  That’s my last name, so I was telling my homies ‘yo look that’s my name on that building!” One of them was like “Yeah I know.  Ammar Annex.”  It was my 21st birthday, and I thought the symmetry was cool so I went with it.

How do you come up with such unique names and long sentences for your song titles?

I like song titles that either are one word, or the best phrase from the lyrics, even if they’re not from the hook.  Song titles should draw people into the world you’re trying to evoke. 

What inspired your last release I Was On A Tattered Roof?

The boonies and backwoods of Wisconsin, where I grew up, and Pakistan, where my family is from.

How was writing and conceiving the album in Pakistan for you?

I was there for 10 days, for the first time in 18 years.  I got to meet my blood that I’ve only seen through IG, and it felt like a mirrored reality.  They were just like me, but our lives were so different.  I took about four thousand photos and did a video series on my time there, and the album’s thematic scope came about while I was there.

Where in Pakistan?

Karachi.  A city with straight up 20 million people running around on motor bikes.  At night it looks like third world Blade Runner.

What is the local scene like there?

I got to spend New Years there, and we went to a compound with a disco floor.  People were popping off AKs til the wee hours.  Even though it’s an Islamic country, you can find your choice of vice if you know the right people.   And that’s on the wealthier side of things! I found the middle class areas to be much more tranquil.  The album art for Tattered Roof is of my grandfather’s abode, which my father and his brothers built in the 1980s.  Life on that side of Karachi felt like my hometown in Wisconsin, believe it or not.

Where were you musically when recording Bless The Lot and Wons?

I was still in university, figuring out how to make music. I turned my studio apartment into a studio, albeit an amateur one.  I would fill my class load with choir electives, from gospel to liturgical Catholic mass.  I failed music theory, but it taught me how to fool someone into thinking I play the piano.

What did you take away from recording those projects that you applied to your last project I Was On A Tattered Roof?

Those records reflect my time spent tinkering with the art. I had my midi keyboard and my drum pad, and I’d try to say something from the heart. But I feel like ‘Tattered’ is my first real record.  In that I built my own studio when I finished school, and I took the responsibility of making an album much more seriously. I made the whole record by myself, from the production, lyrics, mixing and mastering. 

What do you use to record music?

I’m an Ableton stan, and I have a tube mic set up in a recording room, in which all the walls are lined with home installation padding to dampen the reflections.

What are your thoughts on Nav being the first brown boy to get it popping?

When I first heard him we were out in Toronto.  I remember being super proud.  Made it feel like hey, we can do this!  My crew bumped his first mixtape hard, TTD is one of my fav joints.  He has a great sense of melody.  But god, I hope his music gets better!  Cuz lately it’s been real sus. 

Who are your musical inspirations these days?

I love indie female artists.  AdriAnne Lenker of Big Thief is my girl.  Also love Mitski, her new album has the hardest lines.  St. Vincent is my favourite artist though.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

When I’m not making music, I’m a cinematographer.  If I were doing neither of those things, I would be a political revolutionary.

How was writing the novella to accompany the project like?

Every song had a little chapter to it.  It tells a story about a house, and the man who lives there.  He is throwing a party, and feels isolated so he hangs out with ghosts on his roof.  It really helped me feel the album more, and understand where I wanted to place the songs.  Before I worked on the novella, I had a completely different tracklisting!

What is your songwriting process?

Some of my favorite songs have come about by me having a conversation inside my head, and I’ll write a whole song around that one thing I said.  I love moleskine notebooks, and I write every song I’ve made in them.  Chord progressions on the left page, lyrics on the right.

How many unreleased records are you sitting on?

Oh jesus, so many!  I made a whole album during Ramadan this summer.  I ended up writing and recording 15 songs, 7 of which I think are good enough to release a mini album one day.  Its called Heartbeats on the Forest Floor, which is the same amount of syllables of my last album.  Every day I work on music, so the records just pile up.  I make alot of music for my friends as well, so it’s about helping them achieve their goals as well as my own.

What is your status as an artist i.e. independent, major?

I’ve never stepped inside a professional studio, so I very much consider myself under that DIY, bedroom indie branch of things.  But the goal is to turn my work ethic into a record deal.  I’d love getting paid to be an artist, including making music and movies. 

What’s next for you?

Working on the fourth album with my band, Bad Gesture.  Also, I want to work for National Geographic and capture the world the way I see it, so I’m getting my video reel right.

Stream: I Was on a Tattered Roof and follow Ammar on Instagram.

Live: HMTA Presents

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9:30 PM

A crowd of 23 is having their own moment of a Jordan year when the clock strikes midnight. Stuck In My Ways by BYV plays during soundcheck, followed by a remix of the Tame Impala instrumental to The Less I Know The Better. Keenon Rush, Wiley from Atlanta, and Trvy are here.

10:40 PM

Keenon Rush is about to take the stage. Wanted You just mixed into Walk It Talk It.

11:00 PM

Keenonman’s in the building performing unreleased music. Shortly after a vehement performance of Headlock, he thanks the audience for their energy. The next song finds him sending PSAs to his haters, a thumping anthem accented with what sound like Patois ad-libs. “She say I’m the best / Who am I?” is perhaps Keenonman’s most introspective lyric, something sincerely endearing given the circumstance. New Freezer drops for the chorus and he daps his DJ up. The next song paints the artist in a determined light, ending in Keenon rapping acapella.

12:20 AM

Afropluto drops bars lamenting the dismissal of lyricism in hip-hop today. He seems to have quarrels with the listeners who “don’t care what they saying but the beat hard”. That alone accents his performance through a raspy voice and multiple syllables packed into bars. “Go ahead and pop that pussy like it’s 1999” might be the most telling lyric of Afropluto from tonight’s show, a reference to the year the artist lost his virginity? Pure speculation here. The crowd roars into the midnight hour. He thanks the fans. He says shout out to this young king in front of him, King Blanco, and shows him love. “I come up here and I vent, this is how I make money,” are his remarks prior to performing Do Battle.

1:00 AM

Wiley from Atlanta is all about gratitude. He’s probably thanked the crowd about ten times tonight. His soulful voice carries the weight of his poignant lyrics no where else than the heart, a candid tone that evokes some emotion. A beautiful song was performed just prior to Pressure, an indicator into Wiley’s stage presence: a calculated but consistent product in terms of output and quality control. He thanks the crowd three times after Pressure. “I don’t know if ya’ll fuck with Kehlani,” he says before launching into a remix of “Boys Don’t Cry. To follow is the indelible Nights off Frank Ocean’s Blonde, to which the crowd sways. Wiley lets the first half run. This last song is called Don’t Talk To Me About Love. He launches straight into the verse, saving the phrase I’m not the same I was before for a falsetto’d out bar within the chorus. When he launches into the refrain, the song makes sense. Berlin by the deceased artist and Wiley’s friend Jarrod Milton plays to close out the set.

INTERVIEW: MALLY STAKZ

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Photo: Courtesy of The Coal Mine Group

Mally Stakz represents the mercurial nature of genre blending music that has been taking over the industry for sometime now. Not pinned down by any one genre in particular, Mally Stakz, born Jamal to an American mother from the south and a father from the islands of Jamaica, maintains that unique perspective in his music. Check out the exclusive interview with the Bronx based artist.

Where you at right now?

I’m in my crib. I’m in the Bronx right now.

You came up in the Bronx right?

Yes.

What’s your earliest memory of music?

It would probably be my mom playing Whitney Houston. She loved Whitney Houston.

What about Whitney touched you?

I saw how her music touched people. Even when I was young, even if I didn’t understand what she was saying… the sound and the frequencies, they felt good to play, to hear.

When was the moment in time you started to take your career seriously?

When I first got booked. They hit my manager Chantz. I got booked to go perform on ESPN down in Miami in 2011, 2010.

That was with YND Zoo… tell me a little bit more about that.

That’s my team, that’s my squad. Couple independent artists. I do music. He does fashion. We’re all from the Bronx. We all came up together.

Tell me about the song “Stuck On You”?

That song is dope. Produced by Hasemi. It’s a good vibe song. Everybody’s doing different type of music. I feel like that vibe.

How do you think your music became so versatile?

Basically growing up and experiencing different things, being around different things. My mother’s from the South, my father’s from the Island. Growing up in a very diverse family.

How did you meet French Montana?

The first time I met French was at the beginning of my career. My manager, we went to a show. They were just cooling. He introduced me. It was just cool from there. We just chopped it up, regular. Everybody is doing their thing. It was quick.

How did you link up with Shot by Cisco?

Through Instagram. That’s my boy, he’s from Brooklyn.

Do you look up to Fat Joe as a mentor?

All the older rappers, not all of them but most of them, are almost like mentors. I’m trying to learn from them.

What’s the first thing you do when you get in the studio?

I like to just turn up the music. Turn up whatever I’m vibing to. I like the music loud. It’s almost like you can see the sound, it’s crazy.

Is there a specific studio you record in NY?

Not anywhere specific. I record all over NY.

What is that a NY artist has to do stand out?

Well… I don’t feel specifically as a NY artit but as an artist, just be yourself. We’re all on the road. if you see somebody on their road, it might look better but we all have separate roads and separate lanes. You can’t go and follow somebody you see because you’re getting off your route. Now it’s going to take longer for you to go where you want to go, where God wanted you to go, since you wanted to take a detour.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Coal Mine Group

How big are you on collaborating?

I’m not new to collaborating. I really like writing. I wrote a lot coming up before I was in the spotlight. It’s all about the vibe. If the artist is dope it can’t be nothing but greatness created.

What’s inspiring you lately?

I think just the process. Not getting what I want. Just things going wrong.

Your song “Save Me” — how important is mental health awareness to you?

You have to have music like that. Sometimes I feel like that and I want to make music like that. I just end up listening to my music. I found a lane. It’s organic. It wasn’t planned to do this. I’m just doing me, speaking on my situations.

Who was the first person to give you the name Mally Stakz?

My name is Jamal. Mally comes from that. Stakz just came later on. Mallachi is a funny nickname. They started calling me that in the studio.

How did you link up with FKI 1st?

That’s my boy. He came to NY and we were in the same studio. He heard my stuff, I heard his stuff. I heard his music, everything with Post Malone, he’s a young dude from another side of the US, we just cooked. It made sense. He came back again, we did the video, it was dope.

How do you balance your remixes and your originals?

If I do a remix, I have to really be feeling it. As far as my original songs, I try and keep those relevant too. People gravitate more towards covers sometimes and they forget that you’re a good artist overall, that it’s not just that one song they like.

Who are your favorite artists outside of rap?

I’m into everything, man. I like Bieber, Bruno Mars. That’s what I’m trying to be like. His music, his shows, his vision is fire. Drake, Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Kendrick. Yeah, man. I’m inspired by a lot. Almost everything around me. Good or bad.

You have been making music in NY for a while — what’s the best thing about being an artist from NY in 2018?

The best thing… is that you’re from New York, period. The light is shining on New York a little bit more.

What’s your favorite thing about the music industry today?

I’ve been around for a little minute. I feel like I have a different view rather than other artists. It has to be the simplicity. Once you really understand it, it’s not as difficult as you think. In a sense, it still is very difficult.

How many songs are in the vault?

Thousands. I have songs with a lot of producers. I hold onto everything until it’s the right timing. Nowadays this world is so digital, everything has to be timed right.

What’s a recently written lyric you’re proud of?

I don’t really write too much. I just express myself. I know what I think. But a line that I recently recorded… “Just be careful what you ask for”. That’s a video that dropped before. It’s called “Ask For”, it’s out now.

What could you tell your 18 year old self today?

I would tell him that you know. You know. Don’t worry. Don’t second guess your feelings, you know.

What’s next for you?

I’m keeping it going. I’m going to LA soon. More videos, more singles. I got the new song “Box To Boom” with Fat Joe. Just heating up and getting people to anticipate my bodies of work like my mixtapes, my albums. I have a whole bunch of music that’s coming this year.

More Info:

Mally Stakz on Twitter