Monday, June 22, 2009

feature: Khingz comes full circle

As Khalil Equiano began his set at the Chop Suey album release party for his highly anticipated solo debut From Slaveships to Spaceships, there was nothing but good vibes and positivity. Opening with the track “Full Circle” and rapping “I’m right back where I started / In the south of the city where the rain and my heart is,” every so often his trademark braids would shake free, flying out with his passionate words.

Seattle has latched onto the 30-year-old MC, also known as Khingz, and the show was a “family affair.” Aside from the prominent Seattle hip-hoppers on stage including Gabriel Teodros, Nam, The Physics and Spaceman, numerous local hip-hop luminaries in the crowd made appearances to show him love. The intimacy of the venue became a perfect showcase for the rapper who got to see his words translate into action, fueling a crowd pushed together despite differences in age, race or neighborhood. And though the small stage could barely contain his energy, Khingz gave it everything he had. Before ripping into the set’s last track, he stepped back and created a sober moment amidst the celebration.

“Standing up here is a blessing,” he said, emotion palpable beneath his voice. “I didn’t have any plans to make it past 21.”

This one-time short-term outlook was the result of nearly a decade of gangbanging as a 47th Ave. Santana Blocc crip that began at age 10; at 15 he was shot twice. Being so deeply involved in the city's South End/Central District conflict is something impossible to completely escape, and while Khingz doesn’t glamorize a gangster-rap image, he doesn’t shy away from the realities of street life.

“I feel like every weekend we’re losing another kid, and so every weekend I get murdered and it hurts,” he said. “And it fucks with me really hard too, because when I was younger I was a part of that shit. I didn’t say no when I was a kid, and I can see how my not saying no lead to other people not saying no.”

But for Khingz, his approach to the city itself and the music that’s produced here are very different. The album's flowing sound echoes the vibe that's come to represent Seattle hip-hop, not harmless or soft but without a doubt conscious. From race relations to coming up as a "thug nerd," he creates a portrait based on pure lyricism that results in one of the best hip-hop albums of the year, from Seattle or otherwise.

“Honestly, the thing I like best about the album is that I made it at the right time,” he said. “A couple friends got shot up, I lost a girlfriend, moved, had the financial issues and a lot of friction with cats I came up with. When I was going through a lot of shit, making this album helped me get through a rough time.”

Khingz has a wide array of talents, and his solo project utilizes the full arsenal. On the track “Pony Boy,” he challenges the stereotypes he dealt with in the multicultural South End of Seattle: "I'm an outsider / Blacks, Latinos, and Asians / And the white girls love me 'cause I'm black and I'm skating." Meanwhile, “Blaq Han Solo” — maybe the best track on the album, despite the fact that he nearly left it off — showcases his ability to write a “ghetto love hymn.” Ultimately, the record delves into a deeper mental understanding that channels the rapper’s struggle into a powerful message.

“I’m coming from a personal and a political stance, which are really very closely aligned,” he said. “In the political stance, I’m talking about scientific mental colonization that happens when a group of people is never really free. On a personal level it’s about seeing how that colonization played out in my life, with gangbanging, selling drugs, doing things that I thought were necessary at the time. For me, this album started off and ended with my own personal breaking of those shackles.”

As people milled about the venue and spilled outside, seemingly nobody was in a hurry to leave the welcoming atmosphere. In many ways, the performance was a product not only of his Khingz life as a gangbanger in the South End or his work on the other side of the struggle as a youth and community programs volunteer, but a representation of his complete self-destruction and reincarnation. It’s the culmination of his transformation into a man of honor, and his tale of liberation is as inspiring as he intended it to be.


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