Since moving back to Milwaukee from New York in 2013, Fresh Cut Collective co-founder Adebisi Agoro—who raps under the stage name BLAX—has worked hard to regain his footing in the hip-hop scene he’d temporarily left. Archangels, Agoro’s first EP under the new moniker, was an impressive four-song reintroduction, which the ambition emcee chased with volumes of his Headphone Experiment and 2017’s socially-directed and all-around outstanding debut full-length, Be Well.
At the tail end of a year that’s found Agoro earning local praise and national attention as a reaction to his best work yet, the seasoned Milwaukee rapper has decided to veer into new, unfamiliar, and experimental territory with a self-produced instrumental album released under the name “Armstrong Ransome.” Before Monday’s release of In Search Of Armstrong Ransome, a beat tape and his performance with Milo at Cactus Club on December 7, Agoro told Milwaukee Record his motivations behind the creative detour, why he opted for a new project name, and what it was like to sample himself.
Milwaukee Record: You’ve already had quite a busy year with Be Well, so why did you decide to embark on the process of putting together a second album?
Adebisi Agoro: Well, I would like to consider myself as being one who is hyper creative. The beat that keeps me going daily is to have the ability to create. Whether it be creating songs, doing graphic designs, taking photos, making videos or sampling records and making beats, I am always in creation mode. The past year has definitely been busy and exciting with the course that the album Be Well has taken me. I have been able to connect with a lot of new people, have my music played in a lot of new venues and have had some opportunities to travel and touch a lot of new fans. Along with those experiences of seeing new things, I guess I just had to find a creative way to express those emotions and that’s how In Search of Armstrong Ransome came to be.
Right after the release of Be Well, everyone was asking when was I going drop a mixtape because I guess that’s what rappers do. However, I feel that with the album Be Well, I was able to greatly capture my mindset as an artist. With that album, I was able to accurately articulate what it was I wanted to get across from the rap perspective, so I felt that releasing new rap material at the moment would have been an exercise in futility. In Search Of Armstrong Ransome is me showcasing another side of myself as an artist.
MR: Why did you take an instrumental approach this time? Were you tempted to rap or sing over it at any point?
AA: I took the instrumental approach with this album because that was the medium in which I wanted to express myself. The first instrumental album that I ever heard and owned was Pete Rocks’ Petestrumentals. Since then, expressing myself in that same form is something that I have wanted to do. I’m a big fan of the jazz greats: Coltrane, Davis, Lateef. I like the way they conveyed messages, feelings and emotions with sounds. In the same way that they heard sounds and conveyed messages. I like to recreate those sounds to create new messages and expressions, which is sincerely a true expression of Afro-futurism. Seemingly, with the In Search Of Armstrong Ransome project, I am treading along the same accord of how they, the jazz greats, were creating sounds and fusions back then, to push the genre towards the future. In order to move forward, you must have a keen sense of the past.
Naturally, being that I am a writer and I also created the beats, of course I have written to some of them. Not all of them. Some of them hold a different space for me, they are complete as is. Some of them I have sketched some ideas to, a few of them I may have some songs to already. Before I get to the point of releasing new raps, I just need to get the beats out of the way. It’s clearing my head in a whole different lane. It’s just different. At least for the year 2017, I have said all that I want and needed to say as a rapper as BLAX with the Be Well album.
MR: I know you’ve produced some tracks before and made beats on previous releases, but how does Armstrong Ransome differ from that?
AA: Armstrong Ransome is a becoming. Like, fuck it. I do this. It is what it is. This is what I hear. This is how I hear it. This is how I feel it should sound and how I feel it should be done. I’m taking the reins. Before I may have produced some things and not made word of it. I may have assisted in some sounds and ideas, but this is a full scale moment. I, under BLAX have traditionally been known as a rapper. I’m proud of BLAX, the projects, the movement, the partnership with my producer, brother, and teacher, Reason. BLAX is its own lane. Armstrong Ransome is the behind-the-scenes footage; it’s Adebisi shooting 500 shots in the gym. It’s not so polished and it’s not meant to be. That’s the difference.
MR: Why did you decide to employ a new alias for this instead of just putting it out as BLAX?
AA: I decided to put this project out as Armstrong Ransome because it’s an Armstrong Ransome project. BLAX is the Black Life And Xperience. BLAX has its own space, has it’s own sound. BLAX is an idea, a vibe created with the fusion of Adebisi’s mind soundtracked by Reason instrumentals. I wanted to leave BLAX as that to be able to keep it what it is and to be able to create something new. Armstrong Ransome is a step into a new arena. Usually when you step into something new, you have to ask for permission. Armstrong is the strong arm. Respect the full metal alchemy as a strong arm robbery. The ransom is what we run away with, the respect, which is better than gold. I chose the name Ransome as a means to pay respects to Fela Anikulapo Kuti Ransome (Fela Kuti), also was a musician of Nigerian heritage like myself.
MR: What are some of the samples you used on In Search Of Armstrong Ransome? Why were they important to include?
AA: The secret is in the sauce. I just hope the listeners enjoy the sauce. Those that have a keen sense of ingredients will know exactly what it is that they are tasting. Those that are not so familiar to the palette will get accustomed to and eventually enjoy as well. I did sample the track “Be Well” from the Be Well album on one of the In Search of Armstrong Ransome tracks. To sample yourself is like existing in a parallel universe almost. I can’t claim any importance to any of the tracks I sampled. Things just came to be from what I was influenced under, heard and created, I guess.
MR: Where do you hope to take this project?
AA: Man, this is a bucket list project. I’m just happy to have been able to reach this point where I can comfortably create and present a project of sorts. I’m not afraid of criticism of it all, because I’m doing what I want to do and not doing it for anyone else. I didn’t venture into production and making beats to be the next hot producer or to have rappers buy my beats. I’m recreating the essence of black classical music, seeing sounds, using sounds to evoke emotion. As far as plans, every great magic trick is comprised of three acts, consider this act one. As far as aspirations for the project, the sky is the limit. Like I said this is just scene one of act one in book two of my artistic life.