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Diop flexes on new release with Mandog

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Diop

Diop Adisa has spent the last few years grinding out an important space for himself within the Indianapolis hip-hop scene. With the release of his latest effort Flow Flexin’, it’s apparent that his hard work has paid off. Flow Flexin’ is one of the best local music releases of 2017. It’s so good, in fact, that it even caught the ear of director Spike Lee, whose production company licensed one of the EP’s tracks for inclusion in an upcoming Lee-directed Netflix series. 

Flow Flexin’ was produced in collaboration with Diop’s longtime creative foil Mandog, one of the most brilliant beatmakers working in the Indianapolis scene. Possessing a sharp ability to balance a variety of lyrical flows, Diop is capable of delivering on-point rhymes over the thorniest of Mandog’s notoriously eccentric beats. The contrasting flavors between Mandog’s often left field sounds, and Diop’s gritty lyrical concerns make this one of the most intriguing artistic partnerships currently happening in Indy. 

Kyle: I remember when we first spoke for NUVO in 2014 you really emphasized the ongoing influence your father has had on your life. I remember you told me your dad even helped introduce you to rap music by giving you a copy of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knocks Life”. For those that don’t know your father is Imhotep Adisa, an important community leader and activist in Indianapolis known for his work with the KHEPRW Institute. Can you talk a bit about the influence of your father on your life and work.

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Sometimes as an artist you might not feel you're getting the respect you want, but you never know how the work is impacting people. Sometimes it takes weeks or years to find out what your work meant to someone.

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Diop: Wow man, the role my dad has had on my life has been major. I grew up in an extremely cultural household, in terms of Black culture. That's how I got Diop as my middle name, and it's from Sheikh Anta Diop from Senegal, who was a scholar, and an activist and political figure in Senegal. So that's one major influence from my mother and my father. 

My pops has always been an entrepreneur, as I was growing up he ran a business called Basement Enterprise. Me and my sister spent a lot of time at the business with my father learning. From a very early age I learned how to be an entrepreneur on our own standards, heavy on social entrepreneurship and creating social models that not only provide for your family, but enhance and build your community. So the activism was always integrated into a lot of the business models he participated in. It was always about trying to help people become empowered and free, and he used these business models to basically improve the social fabric of communities. 

Over time the KHEPRW Institute was created, which is about community empowerment through self mastery. The focus is on youth leadership, youth development, social entrepreneurship, and urban agriculture. We do a lot of forums on heavy topics like gentrification, police brutality - you name it. It's a hub for a lot of creative activity and people who are trying to bring about change and improve the world. My father has always been about that, and tried to find a creative voice to spark that in any way he can. 

Kyle: One of the things I really appreciate about your work as a rapper, is the content in your lyrics. There’s one particular track that I think provides a great example, which is “Decay Day” off your Driving On Faith album. In this work you talk about a lot of important issues here in Indianapolis, from food deserts to the destructive effects of gentrification. “Decay Day” specifically mentions the shutdown of the Weyerbacher, a government subsidized housing facility off of Fall Creek and Illinois that operated for many years as a home for the elderly and disabled.  Why is it important to you to address these sorts of social issues in your lyrics?

Diop: Specifically on "Decay Day", the title references that we are living in a day were you can see the decay of the old model. The traditional model of how communities are developed and ran is no longer working. With terms like food deserts, a lot of times we have conversations amongst ourselves asking, "What does the term really mean?" I think it actually means an economic desert. In that particular song I talk about the Double 8 grocery that closed, as well as the Weyerbacher projects. When they shut the Weyerbacher projects down, a lot of those people got shipped out east to Post Road. That was one of the main client bases for Double 8 Foods, and Double 8 was a locally run grocery. So when they shut down the Weyerbacher, it negatively impacted that grocery store's livelihood, but then it also negatively impacted the rest of the community that didn't live in the projects, but needed that grocery store. So once that grocery store left, it created a void. 

A lot of times communities, especially communities of color, are left out of the picture in terms of decision making in how their communities are developed, and quote/unquote “revitalized”. So that song was basically painting a picture about how communities I've lived in are decaying and dying, and how this is tied to the decision making of those in power.

More broadly, I like to call what I do with my art "knowledge nuggets". So I try to sprinkle in a lot of social, political, and economic themes into my music that people can latch onto whether they know them or not, and it can spearhead thought and maybe spark dialogue. A lot of times when we start a conversation, it starts to change our behavior, and our vantage point. 

Kyle: I want to move on to your new record Flow Flexin’. You just mentioned this idea of embedding ”knowledge nuggets" in your lyrics, and the track "Flow Change" is filled with them. 

Diop: When Mandog sent me that beat I felt like this is a track where I could give the lyrics some real meat. The whole Flow Flexin' project is basically about flexing your creative genius. So there are a lot of different cadences and metaphors just to show my ability, and how I've grown, and how Mandog has grown. But on that track I give a whole lot of my truth. Basically "Flow Change" is about changing the flow and the pace of the world, talking about how we have to change the momentum, and how we interact with each other, and how if we change those things we'll see a lot of things manifest in our life that we're looking for. 

Kyle: One track on Flow Flexin’ that has already received a considerable amount of positive response is ”Lowkey Lowkey”. I understand that ”Lowkey Lowkey” was recently licensed by Spike Lee for use in his upcoming Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Spike Lee always has great music in his projects, so congrats on that distinction. How did that opportunity come about for you?

Diop: I was on social media, and I saw a post that Spike Lee was looking for independent artists to submit a song that could potentially be used on his upcoming Netflix series. At first I didn't believe the post, but I thought, "You know, I spend a lot of time submitting to blogs that I never hear back from. So I don't really lose anything if I take five minutes to submit it."

So, I submitted it and forgot about it. We started promoting the project and figuring out how we could build our own momentum, then I got a call from a lawyer that said she represented Spike Lee and that he personally liked the song, and wanted to talk about what we needed to do to move forward to use it. It's unbelievable, it's a blessing, but it's also an affirmation to see the fruits of your labor eventually pay off. 

Kyle: Anything you want to say about the song itself?

Diop: Mandog sent me this beat about a year before I even started working on Flow Flexin', and generally I don't rewrite songs. But this one I got about halfway through, and I was like, "That's not it. This beat is too nice for what I came up with.” So I wet back to the drawing board. A lot of times I start out mumbling, I just mumble cadences, and the cadence turns into words. Once I came up with the line "I be so lowkey”, it was just over. I was like, "That's it!"

Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.