AN INTERVIEW WITH AMANI AND KING VISION ULTRA
This is an edited transcript of an interview with the duo Amani and King Vision Ultra, who we hosted on our podcast, Two Virgins. The full podcast episode can be found on Spotify here.
We got to virtually sit down with New York producer and rap duo King Vision Ultra and Amani a couple of weeks ago. Both have been staples in the NYC underground for years, King Vision Ultra with the now-legendary outlet PTP, and Amani, who has grown a reputation for his ferocious live performances. They recently released their debut project, An Unknown Infinite, which features ELUCID, Suede Jury, AKAI SOLO, & maassai on words, ahwlee, DOOF, and Nick Hakim on additional beats, and the legendary Monie Love as host/narrator. The Q got to sit down and talk to them about the fight for freedom, working as collaborators and making music with intention.
Sam: Your album touched both of us in so many different ways so we're super excited to talk to y’all about it. If you both just wanted to introduce the album really quick, just for people who haven't heard it, and then we can ask some questions about the project.
Amani: Alright. An Unknown Infinite is a collaboration piece between myself and King Vision Ultra. I would say it was an eight-month endeavor and everybody on it is from New York, except for our host on the project, Moni.
King Vision Ultra: That's right.
Amani: We got a bunch of New York family on there. The project, speaking for myself, was a great moment because I started out rapping -- how I started out in this music shit was rap -- but then I kind of delved more into production and instrumentation. I’ve always been just scratching and itching to do more, but I didn't really have the same cats around, the same producers. Coincidentally, me and Geng was doing events together and we were just working together. He started sending me some beats and I just tapped in. It felt good to really express myself through writing specifically and trying to capture visions, not only my vision but the visions of people who I respect as well. I wanted to put together something good, something that could outlast us type shit. Something that represents who we are and what we fuck with.
King Vision Ultra: I'm King Vision Ultra, a lot of people know me as Geng. I run the outlet -- I'm not saying label anymore -- the collective/coalition PTP, purple tape pedigree, out of New York. I'm from moneymaking Manhattan, and Queens is my second home. I'm in Queens now.
Essentially, as Amani said, we've known each other for almost a decade now. I'm a bit older, so I've been making music since like 94, 95. I started with bullshit, bedroom mixtapes, and whatnot -- but actual mixtapes, actual tapes. Cut to the modern-day, Amani and I re-linked a few years ago after some physical distance, real life just does that to you. We did an event called Silent Weapons which is a fundraiser series basically putting on shows in mostly DIY environments. Having artists and creators come together and show that it's not about some hierarchy, it's not about some headliner; it's not about the guarantee and the fee that you're gonna get. We're about breaking that wall and showing that we can actually become actionable and we can utilize our voices -- almost literally for most people -- to make change and raise money for local, mostly nonprofit organizations. Local action is what I'm most interested in on that front.
We're about breaking that wall and showing that we can actually become actionable and we can utilize our voices -- almost literally for most people -- to make change and raise money for local, mostly nonprofit organizations.
We did one in December, it was an eight-hour joint, we fed people, it was eight to ten people on the bill, Amani played, I played, and after that moment we got on the phone and I was like, “yo let's do this thing.”
I've shapeshifted, not in a bad way, not a negative way, but I've shapeshifted into different pockets. I made some noisy things, I've made some droney kind of things and whatever. King Vision Ultra was my return to my original ultimate form.
Amani: And what's so dope about this project is we're both tapping into our origin story. When I first met you, I didn't even know you were on that droney shit. I thought you were a TEKLIFE kind of dude. On that footwork shit.
King Vision Ultra: Yo, Teresa and Sam you're in Chicago?
Sam: Yup, we're both from Chicago so we get that reference.
King Vision Ultra: Cause that was going on at Palisades. We were doing shows at Palisades and Amani was doing shit over there as well as working the door sometimes. You'd be working the door for shows that I'd be putting on there. Sometimes you get footwork folks on the bill, I was cool with a good bit of those TEKLFE cats, like DJ Taye and them.
Really, the name King Vision Ultra is a response to the fakery and the fuckery that I would see in the so-called electronic, global community on the internet. There was just a lot of dumb shit and institutions hopping on the coolest, edgy, electronic, et cetera, and that was just whack to me.
So, I was like, "man, fuck all this. Let me get back to what I do." I made my own sound with that and came out with an album called "Pain of Mind." That was the first album I ever did where I've ever been that happy with my music. That was a sign for me. I sent that to you, Amani, and I sent you some extra beats. We've been talking about it since 2018, which is funny cause there's an eight in there too. There's a lot of eights surrounding this project which is that infinity symbol. I sent you a pack on New Year's Eve that had "Guillotine" and "Holy Fields" in it and maybe one other beat.
Teresa: Going back to the infinite and the eights, what does "An Unknown Infinite" mean to you guys? The phrase is repeated in the first song and throughout the album. Can you talk more about that concept in that name?
Amani: It's kind of a funny story cause I remember I couldn't figure out what I wanted to name the joint. I was like, "yo, what you think about A Pain Unknown." Cause that shit was resonating with me. I was pretty sure that was what it was going to be. He was like, "yeah, I'll rock with it. I rock with it." And then I hit him up cause I felt weird about it, something was off there. I was like, "yo, did I ask you if you used..."
King Vision Ultra: Cause my first tape was called Pain Of Mind and you were like, “is that the same shit as your first tape?”
Amani: I don't know where the feeling came from, I probably had just seen it before. But then we started talking about other ideas. King Vision Ultra suggested An Unknown Infinite. I liked the name The Pain Unknown, because I thought the whole shit kind of represented a deep pain that was being expressed, but also the idea of the infinite and unknown infinite. In all my shit -- whatever context -- the all-continuing the ongoing kind of vibe is there. Anything that has to do with infinity and the continuality of existence or nonexistence resonates cause that's what I believe in. It was just funny that I wanted to name it something in line with what Geng... what was it? A Pain Of Mind and A Pain Unknown is pretty similar.
King Vision Ultra: Yeah, it would have fit in this weird bookshelf chronology kind of thing. It would be pretty next to each other.
To me, An Unknown Infinite is energy. That's how we work.
Amani: Everything is energy
King Vision Ultra: That's what we build on, literally we speak on this shit.
Someone referred to the album as mysticism, having a mysticism about it. I definitely would say in building the soundscape and the dialogue samples around what was being said and around the verses that were being laid down by all the wordsmiths, that it was apparent that there was a spiritism. Not a spirituality: it's not like there's a specific sect or belief system other than the actual spirit and believing in the spirit. Being beholden to that also just ties into the so-called unknown infinite.
Sam: It seemed like there were a lot of points on this album where everything was very close to just going off the rails and blowing all the way out. For example, at the end of "Holyfield" where everything's really chopped or even throughout “Guillotine” where it seems at every point, it could just be overcome with distortion.
Was there any temptation to just blow the music all the way out and go all the way away from the structure or did y'all know the exact limits you wanted to push with the music?
King Vision Ultra: Mmm, no. Personally, as the person who produced, mixed, mastered, and did all that. On my end, technically with the shaping of it, I wouldn't say I had that in mind for this ever. There's moments of distortion -- little flashes of it -- but it was poured on a little heavier in past works of mine. There was a mixtape I dropped in March, early quarantine. It was sort of a fundraiser mixtape, but that was a very distorted little journey that got kind of noisy. Even listening back to it, I was on some shit. I didn't really picture that in shaping the sonics of this album.
I think maybe next time there might be something more along the lines of that. I know straight up, Amani said to me "I fuck with that noise shit." I'm like, alright, that's all I needed to hear. But, it is what it is. Literally, just let it be how it is and we'll see where the next one takes us. But it's definitely not going to be the same. I want to stress, it's not something that we do cookie-cutter -- part two part three part four -- Nah, we're not industrialized like that.
Teresa: A lot of themes of restoration and love permeate throughout the entire project, but also the lyrical content and beats sometimes feel dark and brooding. So, how did you both try to center that feeling of love within a project that at times can feel somewhat dark?
King Vision Ultra: That's the atmosphere, that's the climate we're in right now. You have to move with intention and be able to find joy and love in the darkest, most dire, and heaviest of atmospheres. I think we both are pretty equipped at chiseling out our little moments for joy rituals and things of that nature. Sonically, I think if the beats or the sound overall sounds darker or heavy in that way, that's what gets us up in the morning. We like making the screw face and that makes us happy.
Amani: In the little blurb I wrote about the project, one line I say "Love is always overlying in pursuit of the dollar." I said that as a means kind of clarification, for people who are close to me that are going to hear it -- family in particular -- because it is pretty dark. At least lyrically, from the shit I'm saying, it is some dark shit. And without some of those interludes, that was in line with our core beliefs, without those moments, it would be hard. people might not be as inclined to see the vision type shit.
In the little blurb I wrote about the project, one line I say "Love is always overlying in pursuit of the dollar." I said that as a means kind of clarification, for people who are close to me that are going to hear it -- family in particular -- because it is pretty dark.
King Vision Ultra: Absolutely. You don't want people to always take what you're saying literally. Even down to the album artwork too, there's a lot of space in how we create. And we love layers, so when I went in and found certain dialogue it was completely a framing device. And just something to maybe even highlight the subverted. The fact that Amani is talking about money on one or two songs and being a capitalist, to me, it was always apparent he's not talking about paper money. He's talking about what the dialogue in the album says, it's a spiritual currency, it's energy. It's Karma, what you put in is what you get back. Being wealthy on that level.
Just to hit back to the other point, we create and move with love. Period. That's why we're shaping and reshaping the way we speak. We're reclaiming language and it's not about being proper. That notion is all tried-and-true bullshit old mythology. We're not here to play out archaic little structures that were made to hold people back and take advantage of folks. We're not operating by institutional standards and that's fully intentional.
At the end of the day, if we named it A pain Unknown, it's almost missing the point. I think framing it around pain isn't where we're at now. But there's also the Buddhist principle of being able to face so-called darkness, being able to face pain and that's something that I go by. That's why the first thing was called A Pain Of Mind. It's a reference to Buddhism and what a powerful world creator the mind can be.
Sam: Y'all just gave me a lot to go off, but something that I really appreciated about the album was the sequencing and -- tell me if I'm wrong -- but it felt like the beginning of the album was super skeletal and just the bars on it were addressing subjects a bit more in an abstract way. Whereas, as I went down the album, the end was talking your shit and the beat hit a little harder. Was that intentional or is that just how everything came together?
King Vision Ultra: I didn't really take it as that. There are two songs on there that I feel are more kinda get loose moments, but still, they are thematically sound. One of the most apparent strings in theme and cohesiveness is "Throw The Fear" "Shaft In Africa," and "Concrete Slides" addressing the past and present day. A lot of it dealing with, and addressing what, the uprisings are about.
That's interesting that you read it like that. There's definitely intentionality as far as the sequencing goes and the way the themes are built upon. I would say that's completely intentional. I love that you read it slightly differently than I had.
Sam: I could definitely tell it was intentional which is why I wanted to ask cause I'm like, "Is this the way they saw it too?"
King Vision Ultra: There's this power in the fact that we have Elucid setting it all off. Rather we have Moni Love and Milford Graves setting it off -- or Milford Graves' voice. There's power in the fact that Maassai is the other solo and she's right at the end. The song originally was called “Holy Water,” but we went with "Water." Straight water, life-giver, life-taker.
Teresa: Going back to when you were talking about the song "Shaft In Africa," I noticed that the speech at the end comes from one conversation between Toni Morrison and Angela Davis, where Davis says that there won't ever be a point where freedom actually exists.
How did you come across this exchange and how does this type of thinking tie into your album theme or what's going on in the current moment?
King Vision Ultra: I just have a crazy stack of YouTube links in a Gmail draft. I love listening to people speak. I listen to podcasts, but before that, it's always been this love for the human voice, the tempo, and the rhythm of speech. Obviously, when it's absolutely geniuses speaking then it's a win, win.
So, I fell upon that conversation again, a couple of months ago. I think I was doing artwork or something and I put it on and I was like, "Oh, Oh, Oh," I just kept hearing gems. I was like, "Alright, that right there, I like that segment. That's something I'm going to come back to in reference to this album it is going to be applied to that.”
You can't just go out in the street a couple of times and wave a sign and say BLM. That applies all over the world though. Tibet's been fighting for freedom forever. Hong Kong... come on B.
It's sort of pointless to think extra utopian about this lifetime if you're dedicated to revolution, dedicated to making change happen, or fighting for freedom. That fight is an everyday thing. It's not just a couple of hashtags and a couple of reshares on Instagram for two or three months. It's not just a couple of donations or a couple of protests. You can't just go out in the street a couple of times and wave a sign and say BLM. That applies all over the world though. Tibet's been fighting for freedom forever. Hong Kong... come on B. That's how I read it and that's why I used it. I just thought it was an important message to bring people back to the reality at hand, and ground everyone again.
Sam: We would love to talk about the video for "A Not So Fruitful Wealth." That was the first thing I saw from the album and it hit me hard. I know you worked with an external director, but what were y'all trying to convey with that video?
Also, it looks like it was shot recently. What was it like to shoot a video during the whole quarantine time in New York?
Amani: I was just like, “yo bro, I'm bout to shoot a video for this shit. I'm trying to do some shit with mad bikes.”It was supposed to be a video where we were just living it out. That was the original vision. I linked up with the director and talked to him about it, regular rap shit.
Shout out to Nate, Nathan Bahar. He's a photographer and that was his first video. He took those skills and applied them to the video. I came to Jackson Heights and we broke onto a rooftop. I called the super, made sure the alarm wasn't going to go off and people were going to get in trouble.
King Vision Ultra: They were up in the apartment, not the apartment, in the hallways.
Amani: We were on other people's floor basically counting wads of cash.
King Vision Ultra: I had my mask on too, sort of almost like--
Amani: Nobody else in a video had on their masks...
King Vision Ultra: I almost kept mine on just as a time capsule moment, you know, something to document the fact that this was made during quarantine, that this was made during a pandemic. Hopefully, at one point sometime down the line, we can look back and say, "Oh shit, remember that. We had to wear a mask every time we left the house.”
I think it came out incredible. I was very, very, very pleased even with the first cut without me.
Sam: What should we look out for from y'all in the future?
Amani: Just look out for my shirts, man. I'm trying to get fast shirts off. Got a lot of shirts, I've been fucking with a lot of designs. I'm working towards the fashion shit a little bit.
King Vision Ultra: You're trying to get to Fashion Week man?
Amani: I don't know about all that...
King Vision Ultra: You tryna Virgil it out? Is that what's going on? Have people's tap dancing to our beats?
I'm kind of like coming out of the midst of this too, the fog, the mist... Letting this breathe because it deserves that: it deserves.to not have a quick followup. Cause everyone already is on microwave time anyway. It's not on Spotify, I don't think it ever will be.
Expect more stuff with Amani and other folks who are on the album. I have a little visual EP that was supposed to drop a lot earlier this year, but I held back due to the state of things that is going to probably drop in October on Bandcamp Friday. It'll be on kingvisionultra.bandcamp.com. I might press up some tapes through PTP, so purpletapepedigree.bandcamp.com. That's also the only place you can get An Unknown Infinite, just trying to maintain and further claim our authorship and our ownership.