Rejoice Mawire spoke to rapper and photographer Aitina Fareed Cooke, better known as A.I. THE ANOMALY
The fact that five songs from the breath-taking full length album 'GLNKNVS' have gone on to the xRhythms playlist shows that A.I. The Anomaly is no ordinary rapper nor even an ordinary Christian female one. If that's not enough, A.I. is gaining a critical reputation as a photographer. This fiery fermenter of flows, real name Aitina Fareed Cooke, hails from Buffalo, New York. She spoke at length to xRhythms' Rejoice Mawire about her tough background and her exciting future.
Rejoice: Can you to introduce yourself?
A.I.: Hi, my name is A.I. The Anomaly. I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I'm a musician, a mother, a wife; I'm an entrepreneur here in Buffalo, do a lot of different things. But I like to utilise my gifts, skills and talents to hopefully ignite something in other people and just live as an example to those that are around me. So, yeah, I'm just trying to go through life the best way I can; just a human being doing the best that I can.
Rejoice: I love that. So what's it like in New York?
A.I.: I love my city. Even though I live in New York, Buffalo is about six hours from New York City, so we're a little up from New York City. I love my city; it's a very communal space. We are called the city of good neighbours. There are a lot of different people, a lot of communities. If you get to know people there are a lot of good connections here. I always rep 716, our area code. I live on the eastside of Buffalo; I love it. I've been here all my life.
Rejoice: Were you always into music?
A.I.: I'd say music was always a part of me growing up, like radio. I couldn't listen to the radio growing up but we were always sneaking listening to music and all types of music, not just hip-hop. I fell in love with classical music; I fell in love with jazz, different styles of music. I was drawn towards the jazzy music. I went to high school for music, called the High School for Performing Arts. You had to audition to get into the school. I played the piano so I auditioned to be a pianist for that school. I was always into music; it was an opportunity for me to express myself.
So writing became this method of expression which I then linked with music, which became hip-hop. Going through life I felt like music was always part of me. But honestly, when I got older, a few years ago, I found out that my grandfather was a musician. He was a percussionist, he had his own band and he was a professor as well. His band was called Fourth World; they created this album, it was really amazing. The more I learned about him, the more I understood perhaps why I was drawn to percussion, or jazz or those sounds. It was an interesting point of my life. Maybe music has always been kind of a space or outlet within my family lineage.
Rejoice: You grew up in a foster home.
A.I.: I was 14 months old when me, my sister and my brother were separated from my mother. I learned a lot about her and her talents and her skills, but unfortunately that beautiful woman had voids in her life that she filled with substance abuse. So we were separated from her due to neglect and placed in foster care. A couple of years later when I was three I lost my mother from an overdose. We were in foster care from the time I was 14 months old until my foster mother chose to adopt us when I was seven. Growing up I didn't know much about my biological family. I was around them here and there, visitation and things like that, but not truly an opportunity to get to know who they were. As I got older, I worked hard to try to take that journey of discovery which allowed me to discover that my Mom wasn't this negative figure that I would hear so much about. My Mom was a beautiful, intelligent, intuitive, smart, educated woman who had some issues that she tried to cover up with substance abuse. Unfortunately, a lot of my family dealt with addiction. Discovering those things is bitter sweet but ultimately I have grown and developed and thank God I was able to have a different story.
Growing up it was difficult but at the same time my adoptive mother is a very strong woman, very independent. She was in her 50s when she adopted us so she was older; she had already raised three women. She had about 30 youth that went in and out of her home, she'd fostered. So we came from a household where you move on, move forward. We really didn't talk about the loss of our mother. It was toughen up, go for it. There are pros and cons to that, which I started to understand as an older person, this ideology of be strong; you went through this but suck it up. Growing up we hardly mourned the loss of our mother; we just moved on. But I had some behavioural problems because there was something going on on the inside that I didn't understand because I never took the time to say hey, I lost my mother; that hurts. Nobody sat down with me.
We went through counselling but it was still difficult because I didn't really face the issues internally. Yes, it was difficult growing up without my biological mother. And also my biological father. My sister and brother had the same father and I didn't but I didn't know that. The father that I thought was my father would visit us. He was a nice man but he was not in a position to be able to take us in. When he passed away from a heart attack that is when I found out that he wasn't my father. I was about seven years old. That also rocked my world. Imagine the kid growing up facing these difficulties, these hardships, not understanding how to work through these emotions. It was really difficult. It was a daily fight within myself trying to figure out why am I acting out. But it felt good to act out. I got attention from acting out but still not addressing the problem.
Rejoice: What kind of advice would you give to a young person in their teens in the same position now as you were growing up? They maybe lost their parents or just not connected to their parents and are growing up in a foster home and maybe they might find they are recognising that they don't behave in a good way.
A.I.: I would start off by telling them this portion of my story. When I was about six we all had to go for counselling to try to cope with what happened. I was diagnosed as emotionally handicapped. I was also labelled a failure to thrive due to the circumstance of my mother taking drugs while I was in her womb. There was a counsellor who noticed that it was really difficult for me to express myself. So she gave me a pen and paper and told me to write down my feelings. I'm six so I'm just drawing pictures but I enjoyed that outlet and that outlet turned into me writing stories, creating characters that were me but I was able to hide behind that character and create a world in which no one knew I was screaming out. They read about that character so it allowed my emotions to come out. As I developed throughout school years I learned about music, theatre, photography, film and all of these different tools allowed me to gain my voice. So what I would say is you're going through difficulties; when I was going through difficulties it was heavy and I felt no one could understand the emotions and I also felt that no one really listened. But I could interpret my emotions through theatre. I could translate it into story- telling, into photography, into film and that allowed me to get it out.