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.

Although the

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

wasn’t long and Ahmad soon turned in to one of those artists that people ask, “Whatever happened to?,”

on occasion.

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 what’s on

the radio? You’ve got to give us some of that.” And I was like, “I’m the antithesis

of that. We don’t care about that.”

You’ve got to understand that a lot of these record company

people and executives could be selling rubber duckies. They don’t care about

music. They are not music people. It’s not like the days of Clive Davis and

Quincy Jones. Now you have cats that come out of business school and it doesn’t

matter whether it’s rubber duckies, ice cream or CD’s—it’s a product. Whatever

the public is asking for, that’s 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 want—then they give them that. It’s a real circular logic

when you think about it.

People don’t really want that, it’s 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 don’t

believe that people don’t want music that is conscious. I just believe that

they don’t have access to it.

Ahmad “Back In The Day” Video


Let’s 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 girlfriend’s 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. That’s the feeling that the song has.

It’s 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

didn’t hear much from you after that song.

Ahmad: After

“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 musician—it 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 it’s 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 don’t even accept this record. We’re 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 didn’t 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 I’ve 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 mother’s 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 didn’t sign up for this. You need some stability. You

need to be in a pre-school and see the same friend’s everyday. You need to have

an anchor.”

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?”

I’ve 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 wasn’t

going to lose. I didn’t know how I was going to manage but I knew that I wasn’t

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 that’s all they can do. I knew that I was a good rapper… But that’s
not all that I’ve ever been. I am a scholar, an artist, a father, a friend, an


What was your mom’s 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

Master’s Degree from USC. She’s 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 it’s not like I need to do what I

didn’t do, now it’s 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 that’s 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 that’s not all that I’ve 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. I’m doing it all.

4th Avenue Jones “Stereo” Video

AllHipHop.com: So

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?

Ahmad: I’m

finishing my undergraduate degree. My goal is to get a PhD in Social Welfare.

I’m 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.

Ahmad: Exactly!

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 don’t let money stop them from making demo tapes, buying studio
time or getting those Jordan’s.”


You secured financing for your education through the Jack Kent Cooke


Ahmad: Yes.

Stanford is paying for most of my education, housing and other expenses.

Whatever they don’t 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: That’s the

question I’ve been waiting to answer. First off all there needs to be a belief

in one’s 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 don’t

do things is because we don’t 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. It’s not for other people only – it’s 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.

Don’t 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 I’m



What about people who say they can’t afford it?

Ahmad: I love the

city college system. When I went back to school, I didn’t 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. Don’t let money be the reason that you don’t 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 don’t let money stop them from

making demo tapes, buying studio time or getting those Jordan’s. You can do