Although a rapper surrounded by live instruments is still a novelty, fans are used to hearing Raashan Ahmad with a full band.
As the frontman for California’s Crown City Rockers, Ahmad has enjoyed the luxury of having a live band at his disposal for the better part of the last decade.
So it might seem counterintuitive that he would make a solo record steeped in loops and samples.
Then again, calling “For What You’ve Lost” a solo record is something of a stretch, as the indie emcee has enlisted help from around the world.
Track production includes beatsmiths from Japan, France, Australia and Brazil as well as the U.S. Among the domestic producers on the album are Ahmad’s Crown City cohorts, bassist Headnodic and multi-instrumentalist Woodstock.
The roster of featured vocalists spans the nation, with appearances by Stones Throw Records standout Aloe Blacc; Noelle Skaggs from The Rebirth; underground hip-hop veterans Blackalicious and Count Bass D; and new schoolers Rita J and Stro the 89th Key from The Procussions.
“After traveling around the world and meeting all of these talented cats I realized how big the hip-hop community is in the U.S. and how small it is around the world,” Ahmad said during a telephone interview.
“I’ve visited so many different countries and hip-hop was always the common thread. After hearing what everyone was doing, I wanted to bring that back to what I’m doing. It couldn’t be a Crown City record because this was for me and my experience working with others, especially outside of the U.S.”
“For What You’ve Lost” was released last month in France and is set to drop Jan. 11 everywhere else. The 14-track album is Ahmad’s second solo outing, following “The Push.”
This time around, he said, the focus was on cohesion.
“My first record was lyrically driven,” Ahmad said. “It was me getting out a bunch of my demons and giving thanks for many blessings. It was therapy for myself. And a lot of songs, like the ‘Cancer’ joint, were so personal that I couldn’t even perform them live.
“With ‘The Push’ I wanted to prove that I could do it by myself. This record is all about collaboration. It’s really jazzy and soulful and heavy. I didn’t want it to be a throwback record with ’90s sounds. It’s more a progressive feel, but it all connects.”
He also made a conscious effort for his music to cross cultural and language barriers. You don’t have to understand the language, Ahmad says, to get what he’s saying.
“After ‘The Push’ I began to realize that I have fans in Japan, Indonesia, France … fans who don’t even speak the language but who are vibing off of the cadence, the music, the arrangements, and the melodies,” he said. “That had a big influence on this album.”
Meanwhile, Ahmad has reconvened his Crown City Rockers crew and is already working on the next group album. There are also inclinations of doing Crown City remixes of material from “For What You’ve Lost.”
“I always need my fam close by. This is where my heart is,” Ahmad said.
These are my best friends and it’s my band. Everyone in the band produces and makes beats, too, so when we’re all together anything can happen.”