Rejoice Mawire spoke to rapper and photographer Aitina Fareed Cooke, better known as A.I. THE ANOMALY
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So I would say find that thing, put those emotions in that thing and create art and find your voice in that, whether it be dance, poetry, music - find your voice and continue to put it in that. Hopefully that will allow you to cope. It's not going to erase the feelings; it's not going to take away your problems but it could alleviate it for a moment. And perhaps, if you continuously do this, continuously find your voice, you can help someone else, like I was able to. I use my words, I use my music, I use my passions to put into it what I was feeling and then other people are able to listen and see and hopefully ignite something in themselves and find their thing. Cope through with the arts. I found Christ as well, not necessarily in those teenage years when I leaned on the arts. But because I was raised in the church I knew about God and I knew that God was going to be able to be that support as well. Find your voice in the arts and find yourself within Christ.
Rejoice: Was there a point when you realised that you could actually trust God and find your voice in him?
A.I.: As I got older I began to understand what it meant to have a relationship with God. Growing up my mother took us to church all the time. We were in church too much, I felt. How many times do we have to learn about Moses? How many times do we have to learn about Joseph? I knew all the stories well. I got it; God was this amazing being and he was powerful and I loved him and wanted to please him. But I went through these behaviour issues and I always found myself in trouble and I felt like I was God's only mistake. I remember screaming out to God, asking him why did he create me, why did he create such a mistake, why would he do this to me. Why would he place me here without my biological mother, without my father - I don't know who he is - and why am I in these circumstances and why do I have to go through this pain? I turned my back on God because I felt I couldn't be perfect. There's no point in me even existing, which led me to suicidal thoughts. I tried to commit suicide, thank God it didn't work out. In those moments I didn't see today. In those moments of darkness and pain, bitterness and heaviness I didn't see this and I didn't understand that those moments, if I allowed myself to learn and grow and develop, that I would be lead to a space where I could help someone else going through those situations.
It wasn't until I got pregnant. I was going through a lot of different things. I went to college then I said I don't need college anymore. I dipped and dabbed in the streets and was in a very dark place. I got pregnant and I had to make a decision. I wanted to be an educated mother; I wanted to be an emotionally fit mother; I wanted to be a spiritually fit mother and I knew because of how I was raised that God was that backbone. He was that standard that I needed. He wouldn't turn his back on me; he wouldn't let me down. So I chose to fully commit myself to him then I started to develop a relationship by reading the word, by allowing the word to ignite something within me. I learnt how to apply God's word to my life. About 2007 is when I made that decision to go all in. And I haven't turned my back since.
Rejoice: Did you think that moment you decided to follow God that you had to let go of music? Let go of what you loved?
A.I.: I did. I felt strongly that I had to let it go because prior to me making that full commitment I was rapping about whatever I was doing. I was on the street and I was part of little cliques, gangs. Whatever we were rapping about I felt that was real and I couldn't step into Christianity and keep rapping because it wouldn't be the same. To be honest with you what I heard of Christian hip-hop I thought it was trash. I didn't hear anything that I felt was dope enough. So I said, well, I can't do this. But I would still write because that was my remedy. I would write raps on the side; I never shared it with anybody. Then I heard about Ambassador, Steven The Levite and Da T.R.U.T.H. and I listened to them and I'm like wow, they're all in for Christ. And they sound good. They can really rap. Maybe I can do this too. So I started to really dig into that space and I fell in love with it. It's rapping about what you live, speaking about what I lived. I spoke about what I lived before, prior to the full submission and now I rap about how I live and how I reflect on life through a Christian viewpoint.
Rejoice: How do you honestly think that's different? Reflecting on life through a Christian viewpoint versus just reflecting on life?
A.I.: You know how people say they do life coaching? I look at the Bible as a life coach, especially in Proverbs, Psalms, even James. I think that James deals with a lot of how to live out Christianity. I feel like it's good for you; like it really does you good to invest time, energy and effort to read practical views. Like if you're angry, sin not. Listen before you speak. Be slow to speak, quick to listen. Going through tribulation but tribulation worketh patience. Really looking at life, like wow, this is true. And leaning on those Scriptures allows me to be a better me. When I'm reflecting on life prior to me submitting to Christ and rapping about the world, the way that I lived life, whatever standard that was. If my standard was if I don't have any money, I'm going to go steal something. Yo, I need money; so I'm going go do what I need to do in order to get it. That's my standard, that's what I'm living by. I'm applying whatever I feel is the standard or is the truth. If I knew someone did something to someone, but whoever did it is my homey, I'm not snitching because that's my standard and that's the rule that I'm living by. So if I rapped about it, that's what you heard. Somebody say something about me I'm going go do whatever I got to do. You're not going to talk about my clique because my clique is strong and yours is not and if you say anything other than that then I'm going come to do X, Y and Z. That was the standard, that was the rule that I lived by. My reflection on life in that space was that.
But over here, in a Christian viewpoint or a godly viewpoint, I don't live by that standard. I live by a godly standard; I live by a biblical standard. So my reflection on life is if somebody did something against me, who am I? What are my values and beliefs? Do I have to do the same to them? No. I'm gonna love you. It's not going to feel good either to watch other people speak against me or hate on me or whatever the case is. It's not going to feel good to go through different things in life and feel broken sometimes. But I know that biblically those are my standards. I'm going to go through things but I'm going to push and persevere through it. And I'm going to build myself up and then I can help other people. That is my standard. When you hear the lyrics of my songs I'm trying to showcase to you a different standard, a different way to live. We have standards within our spaces, whether it be the street life, whether it be just morals or whether it be the way in which I choose to live. I want to reflect on life and then speak about this viewpoint.
Rejoice: This is really important to you. You're quite vulnerable about yourself and your life in your music. What did that feel like to be vulnerable like that when you first put that out there in the world? For other people to see and hear and maybe even judge and form their own opinions?
A.I.: It's awful; it's so scary. It felt naked in a sense. I was afraid of what people would think. Growing up I was raised to be strong; you don't cry, that's weakness. Suck it up. Like I said before there are pros and cons to that. I felt that crying or showing this sorrow or sadness about anything was weak. I went through some things in my life. I got married and when you get married you start to look in the mirror and say oh, I think I need to wear a wig or something cos when you're by yourself in your car or in your room you don't smell fresh. You take your shoes off and it kind of stinks. After a while you don't smell it. But when someone opens that door they smell it immediately and it's like oh, it stinks in here. Spray something. So I was living in that room with all of my filth and I didn't realise it was filth because I was used to it. When you get married you have an individual who walks into your space and they're like whoa! And you realise it stinks, let me work on this. Being married and being with such a supportive husband, his foundation is Christ, he's a beautiful man, he's my backbone and I wanted to be better for him. I wanted to be the best wife that I could be because he was giving his 100 per cent.
I knew that I had things heavy on my heart and things that I did not face yet so I allowed myself to face those things. While facing them, I realised I never mourned my mother and because of it I'm holding on to these habits. I'm holding on to the fear of abandonment. Because I fear abandonment I'm not opening myself up, I'm not allowing myself to lean on my husband and I'm not allowing that space of vulnerability to be free. I was sure other people were feeling this way so the Sever Threads project was me letting go, me mourning my mother and crying and being ugly faced crying and allowing myself to do that and be upset, be mad and ask my mother questions. Why did you choose drugs instead of me? Why? Not getting the answers but at least putting it out there and allowing myself to be upset, sad, frustrated; all the emotions that I didn't allow myself to have when I was a kid. Through that process I allowed my husband to embrace me. I allowed the word of God to support me and strengthen me. Then I allowed myself to say hey, world or whoever, here's me in this project, listen. And my desire was that people would hear my pain, my passion and understand that they too have purpose and that they too can push and if they pray they can get through these things.
Being vulnerable was scary; I was afraid. But it was freeing. Now I am free, I'm good. There are days I'm not. The other day I thought about my mother and I was in pain about it. I'm still coping but that's ok because we're human. We're coping in this world. What do I have? I have God's word. I have my husband; I have the support of my family; I have people that I said you know what, I'm going to open up and allow people to pour into my life and I'm not going to be afraid any more. I choose not to be afraid. I choose to sever the threads. I choose to be strong and allow people to help me through this. For me, with that project, creating an opportunity for people to listen to it, it freed me. When you get to a point in your life when you step back and not allow yourself to be victimised by your past and whatever you've been through. . . I allowed myself to be a prisoner of the choices my mother made, the choices my father made. I allowed myself to be prisoner to all these things, not understanding that those things were the very things that were going to help me and strengthen me, to build me up to do - What? To be right here talking to you; hopefully one young person out there is listening and saying wow! Maybe I can. I didn't see this moment, though. That's why I'm trying to share and say hey, you're going through these things for yourself but what's greater is that when you do this, build yourself up, feel those emotions and then help somebody else. Everybody has a story. The question is what are you going to do with yours?
Rejoice: How did you manage to go into what you wanted to do? How did you manage to go into the creative arts?