At the age of 17, West Coast artist Ahmad Lewis secured a
record deal with Warner Bros. through the now defunct Giants Records while
still a senior in High School. Ahmad quickly broke out of the gate with his
widely popular song Back in the Day which made fans look back and reminisce
on their own days of growing up in Hip-Hop.
West Coast scene was mainly a haven for gangster rap, Ahmad was one of the few
artists that attained a level of success without resorting to violent lyrics or
controversial content in his music. Unfortunately his spot in the limelight
wasnt long and Ahmad soon turned in to one of those artists that people ask, Whatever happened to?,
Ahmad has recently resurfaced in a number of major news
outlets such as The Los Angeles Times due to his successful return to school.
While attending Long Beach City College, Ahmad achieved Valedictorian honors
and in turn was accepted by Stanford University to continue his education with
the help of additional funding by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
In addition to his goals for a PhD, Ahmad is also back
making music with a new album entitled The
Death of Me which he has
informed us will be out shortly. It will be his first solo
album since his self-titled 1994 release. In this new exclusive interview,
Ahmad discusses the ups and downs of his career and his successful return to
school and how you can possibly do it too.
Ahmad f/ Ras Kass & Saafir Come Widdit Video
Was there ever pressure from your label for you to make music with a harder
Ahmad: No doubt,
especially from the suits and executives. It even persisted after my band, 4th
Avenue Jones, was signed to Interscope. We had that pressure too, although they
signed us knowing what we were about. They were like, Do you hear whats on
the radio? Youve got to give us some of that. And I was like, Im the antithesis
of that. We dont care about that.
Youve got to understand that a lot of these record company
people and executives could be selling rubber duckies. They dont care about
music. They are not music people. Its not like the days of Clive Davis and
Quincy Jones. Now you have cats that come out of business school and it doesnt
matter whether its rubber duckies, ice cream or CDsits a product. Whatever
the public is asking for, thats what you give them. It sounds good to give the
people what they want but the problem is they create the climate to influence
what people wantthen they give them that. Its a real circular logic
when you think about it.
People dont really want that, its just that they have been
so accustomed to hearing that, that they grow to want
it. Every time you see something positive come forward like a Lauryn Hill, OutKast or Kanye West, what
happens? People soak it up. They are so deprived that they embrace it. I dont
believe that people dont want music that is conscious. I just believe that
they dont have access to it.
Ahmad Back In The Day Video
Lets talk about the song that started it all for you, Back in the Day. You brought a lot of people back to their
younger days with that one. How did the song come about?
Ahmad: Back in
the Day was really organic. It was the last song that we created for my
self-titled album. I was in my girlfriends room listening to Teddy Pendagrass’
Love TKO. I decided to make a
record out of it and sample the break. I took it to the studio and hooked up
with some of my producer homeboys and put the music down.
After the beat was created I was trying to figure out what I
wanted to say on it. I decided on talking about everything we did growing up
from Junior High School to now. I started calling around to my friends asking
them what they remembered from the days. Thats the feeling that the song has.
Its a sociological document that describes a lot of the things that [were]
significant during those periods of time. I love that song for that reason. As
soon as it comes on you are transported to a certain moment in time.
The song garnered a lot of attention, but what happened after that? We really
didnt hear much from you after that song.
Back in the Day came out, I toured extensively. I came back home and made a
second album. During the interim of my first album and second album, I became
even more conscious. Through the process of touring it solidified my
understanding that everything that they were selling in terms of commercialism,
the debauchery and hedonism that often comes with the lifestyle of a musicianit was all make believe and no happiness was to be found there. It was like
cotton candy. It looked big and puffy but when you take a bite its actually
When I came home I wanted to make a record about all of
that. I told myself that I was going to be even more conscious this time. My
label was like, We dont even accept this record. Were not putting it out!
Shortly after that, they went out of business. I then had to fight to get out
of my contract. Even though they were out of business, they didnt want to lose
me as an asset because I had some success. So I was shelved for a couple of
That whole experience made me a little bitter but then I
came back and formed a band called 4th Avenue Jones and we got a
record deal with Interscope. We toured but our album was never released on
Interscope. We put out a series of independent records. We did shows on The
Wake Up Show and other underground outlets so Ive been active. In terms of the
success that the Back in the Day song had, I was never able to equal it. I
was never in that type of position again where I had that label support but
because I love Hip-Hop, I never stopped making music. Cats in L.A. and on the underground know that I gave it all
that I had. As far as history goes I feel that I am one of the tightest cats to
have come out of the West Coast.
4th Avenue Jones Move On Video
Now you recently made a decision to go ahead and fulfill your mothers original
wishes of you attending college. What prompted that?
Ahmad: I was on
the road touring with my band in Denmark. We were doing a rock concert because
we performed rock as well as Hip-Hop. My son was with me and he was one year
old at the time. We had just finished touring in the States and you know all of
the struggles that come with the road and having to keep up with paying your
band and other expenses after each show. We were struggling and my son was with
me and I was like, You didnt sign up for this. You need some stability. You
need to be in a pre-school and see the same friends everyday. You need to have
I told people that I was getting out of the game and going
back to school and they were like, Why are you going to do that? The only thing
you know is music. How are you going to support yourself going back to school?
Ive always had a strong sense of believing that I could do whatever I set out
to do and that comes from having a strong mother. I told myself that I wasnt
going to lose. I didnt know how I was going to manage but I knew that I wasnt
going to lose. I went back to school with the intention of doing my best and my
best turned out to be Valedictorian.
A lot of times I feel sorry not just for Hip-Hop
artists but for people in general who do something well and then buy into the
notion thats all they can do. I knew that I was a good rapper… But thats
not all that Ive ever been. I am a scholar, an artist, a father, a friend, an
What was your moms reaction when she learned you would finally be going to
Ahmad: She was
excited. My mom went back to school late in life as well and received her
Masters Degree from USC. Shes been the model for everything that I am doing
now. Since she was able to accomplish it, I knew that it was possible for me
Did she give you any I-told-you-so type of reactions?
Ahmad: No. I
bought a house from this music business so its not like I need to do what I
didnt do, now its just time for me to do something different. A lot of
times I feel sorry not just for Hip-Hop artists but for people in general who
do something well and then buy into the notion thats all they can do. I knew
that I was a good rapper because I invested hours upon hours upon hours of time
to perfect that craft. But thats not all that Ive ever been. I am a scholar,
an artist, a father, a friend, an intellectual, so many things. Why
paint myself in to a corner? Not only am I going to go to college but right now
I am also putting the finishing touches on my new album. Im doing it all.
4th Avenue Jones Stereo Video
you ended up being a Valedictorian at Long Beach City College and now you are
going to Stanford University. What are you studying for there?
finishing my undergraduate degree. My goal is to get a PhD in Social Welfare.
Im a Sociology major at Stanford. I transferred there
and out of 1200 people they only selected 21 transfers. For me being from a
community college and you have people transferring in from bigger schools, it
was really remarkable.
With all of the rappers using the Doctor title in their nickname, you could be
the first rapper that is actually a Doctor one day.
Dre and I will have to hook up and do a record then [laughs]. I believe that
Roxanne Shante got her PhD. You can verify that. [Note: Roxanne Shante received a PhD in
Psychology from Cornell University]
If you have the grades, the will and the desire
it will happen. There will be nothing that can stop you from going to
college. People dont let money stop them from making demo tapes, buying studio
time or getting those Jordans.
You secured financing for your education through the Jack Kent Cooke
Stanford is paying for most of my education, housing and other expenses.
Whatever they dont cover, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation covers for me. Jack
Kent Cooke also has a network of scholars that I am able to tap into and I have
developed some serious friendships based on that network. There is a support on
every level that they supply.
For any rapper or fans out there that wish to go back to school, what do you
Ahmad: Thats the
question Ive been waiting to answer. First off all there needs to be a belief
in ones ability to get it done. Second you have to have optimism and hope to
get it done. Hopelessness is a scourge in our community and the reason we dont
do things is because we dont hope to do them a lot of times. Understand that
you can go to college Stanford and Harvard were built for you to go
there. Its not for other people only its for you. Get that in your
sights and tell yourself that you are going there. Then develop the will to do
Put down the weed and turn off the PS3 and read a book.
Dont just go to a concert but go hear a lecture also. There are lots of free
lectures going on out there. Take notes and figure out what it is to be a
scholar. Be a student of life. Understand why you are in your predicament.
Understand the game so we can play it. Look at me – I did it. I grew up in
South Central Los Angeles, poor, black, short, dark-skinned and Im
What about people who say they cant afford it?
Ahmad: I love the
city college system. When I went back to school, I didnt have much money but I
pretty much did my first two years of college for free. There would be grants
that would pay for the books and other needs. The State also has money
available to help you and honestly where there is a will there is a
way. Even if you have to take some type of loan and go in to a little debt, a
college graduate on the average makes three or four more times over a lifetime than
those that just graduated from High School. If you have to go into $20,000 of
debt to get a four year degree, that will more than pay for itself once you
graduate. Dont let money be the reason that you dont go. If you have the
grades, the will and the desire it will happen. There will be nothing
that can stop you from going to college. People dont let money stop them from
making demo tapes, buying studio time or getting those Jordans. You can do