Interview with hip-hop artist and label boss – Akillezz
The New York-based hip-hop artist, John “Akillezz” Arvanitis has already developed a substantial fan base. He began at an early stage in life; as a seven year-old elementary school student, he started writing poetry, a creative outlet that would later help him realize his affinity for language. Akillezz says he was just eight when he heard a track by Eminem that instantly aroused his enthusiasm for hip hop, eventually progressing into a full-fledged passion for the genre.
Successively the artist of Greek heritage founded his own record label – Akillezz Records which is responsible for breaking records across the country with radio campaigns which have translated to having singles chart on Billboard Hot Single Sales as high as number 3 – and has released his full length debut album, “Transgressionzz”. Akillezz, who also considers himself a visual artist, composes thought-provoking content for his visuals which have attracted a vast numbers of viewers to his videos on VEVO. In a recent exclusive interview, Akillezz shared some of his thoughts and modus operandi with Jamsphere.
- How long have you been in the music industry and how did you get started in the first place?
AKILLEZZ: Although I’ve been developing my skill for years and founded Akillezz Records in 2012, I would say that I began to truly consider myself as being part of the music industry once I released my first single, One Level, off of my debut album, Transgressionzz, which charted on Billboard Hot Single Sales. You’re still aspiring until your first check gets cut. Once you have income, you’re essentially demonstrating proof of concept. At any rate, having sales at least makes you professional if not a competitor. Many are qualified to make music, even great music but that doesn’t put you in the race unless you can sell that music. Did I get started by having sales? Absolutely not but it is the crucial qualifying aspect which got me recognized by the industry.
- Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
AKILLEZZ: It definitely began by my listening to Eminem, I remember noticing how arresting his delivery could be. In turn, his music directed me towards Tupac, Biggie, and Nas. Around the new millennium era of hip- hop, I became, like many of us, a fan of 50 Cent’s. Prior to this, I had reached about as far back as N.W.A and was already a huge fan of Dr. Dre’s. All of these artists helped shape not only the music I would grow to make but perhaps, more fundamentally, contributed by offering a certain posture towards life.
- Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there any one of these that you’d like to collaborate with?
AKILLEZZ: My listening is very selective. Interestingly enough, I still listen most avidly to my original influences. I study them. I have to add Jay Z to the list of artists who influences me musically today. I didn’t reflect heavily on his material until I actually became a recording artist myself yet he’s crucial to my understanding of hip-hop culture and rap music. I keep up with all of Em’s recent material as well. I appreciate their catalogues of work. Naturally, I’d love to collaborate with both Eminem and Jay Z but there are probably new talents that I’d venture to work with as well.
- Why and at what point did John Arvanitis become Akillezz?
AKILLEZZ: I’m not certain that one doesn’t bleed into the other at least to some extent. I developed my pseudonym somewhere along the lines during my high school experience. Certainly, by my senior year, most everyone referred to me as Akillezz. The name is of course in homage to my Hellenic roots but it is more so a reminder to myself that a small weakness, despite possession of overall strength, can be entirely compromising. It is in this way that I’m also referencing Homer’s central character and main subject of The Iliad, Achilles. I’m actually currently writing a song titled, “Sirenzz” where I deal largely with this issue and also juxtapose myself against Homer’s Achilles.
- Then at some point in time Akillezz also became Akillezz Records. How and why did that come about?
AKILLEZZ: Akillezz became Akillezz Records in 2012. I founded the label originally in an effort to better protect my creative endeavors which ultimately grew into my embracing the role of a creative entrepreneur and having aspirations not only for myself as an artist but instead as a company.
- Clearly visual media is an important part of your marketing baggage. How do you go about producing what seems like very big budget videos as an independent artist and label?
AKILLEZZ: When I write certain records, I think to myself, “what thematic constructs need to be set in place so that I can plant my abstract ideals into them?” In other words, I’m almost creating a new world when I sit down to write. Even as the song is in the process of being written I begin to consider the diegesis, which is to say, that I’m searching for a narrative or a plot, very much in the same way that a film might require. The upside is that because my writing process entails so much it affords me the luxury of having direction for a music video while I’m working on the music itself. I see it in my head. In an effort to keep the visuals in correspondence with the themes themselves, which are often times large, I extend myself to create music videos which best capture the scale of my ideas – of course, they are necessarily reduced to accommodate both the structure of the record and its respective music video. For the three singles off the Transgressionzz album I worked with Ben Griffin in Los Angeles to bring these things to life.
- Tell us something about the production of the “Punching Bag” video and how you got Charlotte McKinney to feature in it?
AKILLEZZ: Punching Bag is very special to me because I wrote the treatment for the music video. The song itself was written regarding a past experience of mine and writing it was almost a self-governed therapy. I labored in this way to create the music video and wanted to do so in as much of an uncompromising way as possible. It’s almost surreal to write a song and complete the direction for the video and walk onto a set which appears just as you had intended it – like you stepped into your own writing. The casting for Charlotte McKinney I handled myself, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of pop culture as much as possible. Although the video didn’t premier until after Charlotte featured in her famous Carl’s Jr. commercial during the Superbowl, which of course went viral, I had the good sense of casting her far in advance. Funny enough, as an afterthought, I happen to consider her aunt a dear friend and I originally caught sight of Charlotte on her aunt’s Instagram account. I was also engaged by the oddity of my own discovery; that I should have happened to stumble upon her name in the way that I did meanwhile she had already been an established model. For all of the above reasons I imagined she would be a great fit for the part and in fact she was.
- On a purely egotistical level, which do you ultimately prefer? Entertaining a live audience, creating songs in a studio setting, or shooting the video clips to your songs?
AKILLEZZ: I’ve always said that, “I put my ego aside when I’m working so that when I’m finished I have a product that’s actually deserving of an ego.” It’s a personal quote of mine; it’s the way I began my career and I stand behind this approach most ardently without the intention of ever departing from it. I will say, however, that I derive the most pleasure from being in the recording studio. I’m a lab rat. If I had it my way, I would live in the studio.
- Do you at any time consciously try and bring some influences from your Greek heritage?
AKILLEZZ: It’s almost unavoidable because after all a large part of my identity is my heritage. I don’t always make direct references to my being Greek in my music but look out for “Sirenzz,” I think that song will be the sort thing you mean.
- The lyrics, the music, the recording and production; which of these do you personally handle and what is your creative connection with Jayd Daniel and Block Boyz Entertainment?
AKILLEZZ: Jayd is like a brother to me, he took the time to help me develop my craft and hone my skill. I recorded all of Transgressionzz with him, which is why you’ll find him listed as an executive producer on the album. Block Boyz is his independent label while on the other hand Akillezz Records is mine. I purchased most of the material found on the album either from Jayd himself or from producers he contracted, so we have both a business and a personal relationship with one another. As I mentioned, he’s also credited as an EP so he contributed some instrumentals entirely of his own producing as well. He’s also my best friend. In terms of writing, anytime you hear my vocal performance on the album, that’s also always my writing.
- Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music business process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?
AKILLEZZ: The creative liberty of being an independent artist is phenomenal, especially when similar creativity can be employed not only in the making of the music but also in the entrepreneurial approach executed in releasing and promoting that material. I’m never truly discouraged; I can be momentarily disillusioned if something doesn’t manifest quite the way I expected it to but that immediately becomes a problem solving exercise for me. If there’s a hurdle in my way, I’m not upset that it’s there, instead, I’m trying to calculate exactly how high over it I’ll be jumping.
- The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you one you didn’t follow, but know for sure you should have?
AKILLEZZ: The best piece of self-appointed advice I’ve ever accepted is not to take advice.
- Akillezz Records has already achieved Billboard Hot Single Sales and other record-breaking achievements. Just where are you setting your sights as an indie label?
AKILLEZZ: The statistical achievement of my label is something I’m very proud of. Ultimately, my goal is not only to be successful but also to do so by growing my company. I’m not certain whether that goal is best served by pursuing the independent route or whether I might, if of course the offer is considerable, sign my company as a subsidiary to a major label. Right now, I’m content with the success I’ve experienced but not too content that I won’t pursue larger successes.
- Aside from the record label, which future projects do you have lined up for Akillezz the recording and performing artist?
AKILLEZZ: A tour might be around the corner but I’m always in the studio cultivating new material.
- If someone has never heard your music, which keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?
AKILLEZZ: Dense, technical, syncopated, lyrical.
- If you had the choice, which of your songs or videos would you personally recommend to aspiring fans?
AKILLEZZ: I’d recommend “Punching Bag” as a music video because it is so personal and it opens a window for people to look into my life, or at least a moment in it. To best intimate the direction of my future style I’d listen to “Enemiezz” or “Psycho,” they were the last additions to Transgressionzz. “Paris (Hell of A Life)” is a song that is unassumingly lyrical and worth paying attention to.
- Where can fans find and follow you and your music, as well as find out more about the music label and its activities?
AKILLEZZ: I can be found @Akillezz on all major social media platforms. As far as insights regarding the label, people are welcome to visit www.akillezzrecords.com
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media, as fundamental to your career, and independent music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
AKILLEZZ: Great question. It’s almost a catch-22. It places many uniquely talented independent artists in paradoxical territory where it’s both easier and harder at the same time. The information, the art, it’s more accessible and less accessible at the same time because of the frequency and the ease of uploading. I will say this: the web is so saturated that it becomes rewarding to create gimmicky material that is, I’d venture to say, almost a form of parody. Novelty has its appeal and its purpose but is typically short lived. For artists who continue to labor and are struggling without recognition, I think a high frequency of serious published material is the only solution; so that when people do notice a piece of your work, you give them a reason to stay.
- As you work your way through your career, which more than any fires-up your imagination – a Grammy award, Platinum music sales or some other tangible milestone?
AKILLEZZ: My original goal was to be RIAA Certified Gold; I never expected to achieve that success through my own independent label. A dream of mine would be to win a Grammy Award, especially for either the Best New Artist or Best Rap Album categories, if not both. My ultimate goal is to be listed on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Ultimately, I’d like my career to birth a body of work that lives to become the property of mankind, so that some dedicated posterity will cherish it as their own.
- What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do EVER, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
AKILLEZZ: I’m not prepared to sacrifice any of my ideals in the pursuit of success, I’ve maintained true to myself so far and I’d like to proceed in that vein. Additionally, I certainly wouldn’t relinquish my creative control over my own work, I’m an artist and it’s essential to me!