Our final installment of artists we’re covering for our SEV Fest Artist Series is this feature on Gibril, a lively West African Native and the frontman for Gibrilville. Speaking to him, you could just tell that he had an excitement you could only get from someone from Africa, an air of spreading peace and positivity and bringing good news to any situation. Asked about his message, he stated simply: “Live, laugh, love, enjoy your life; that’s pretty much it. [I believe] positivity is brought in your life by living it the way you want, having a lot of love in your life and laughing a lot. Back home, they say when you smile a lot you live a long life and that’s what I try to cover in my music. I love making music that speaks about my life. I write about pain, joy, my relationships, my love life, and I also write a lot of funny stuff. I bring a lot of humor to my music and I just try to bring all of that to the masses.”
Born in Ghana, Gibril is a mix of Sierra-Leonian and Ghanian, but identifies simply as West African because he has lived in separate countries, such as Nigeria and Togo. When he first started music, he introduced himself to the world as “Gibril da African.” “I started out as Gibril da African because I wanted it to represent Africa. I wanted it to be spelled the way people in Africa would say it. It was an interesting experience when I was ‘Gibril da African’ though, because they would judge me and my music because of my name. People wouldn’t judge my music on the basis of hip hop or my genre of World Hip Hop, because they only listened for African sounds, so it wasn’t so marketable to be called that here. With a lot of growth, I eventually changed to Gibrilville and just went by Gibril, because when you meet a Gibril, you’re going to meet an African, whether you like it or not. (laughs)”
He then continues onto a larger message. “Calling myself Gibril and my band Gibrilville provides an open ended question to who I am. I want to open a question mark for myself and my music because Gibril da African puts me in a box, but just being Gibril provides a new stance for me and therefore the African people. There’s a definite stereotype and closed off mindset about what people think African is. I want to break that stereotype with my music.”
Through his music, Gibril aims to cultivate a message that redefines what Africa is, to this country and to the world. “I just want to show a different side of Africa. One where we are colorful and vibrant people, no matter the circumstances. Africans don’t wake up and think about poverty and I don’t think the world knows that. I think they know about circumstances and in Africa, it’s not about that, so I try to bring the vibrance of African human beings to the stage. Just like in any country, there’s levels of integration and poverty. There can be a homeless person sleeping outside of a million dollar home in New York City. That’s the same scenario in Africa. It became important for one person to showcase Africa as a poor place, and I think its our mission to change that image.”
Speaking more about his music, Gibril looks back on his education. Particularly in high school, he begun his music career by writing and performing with his friends for his peers at local school entertainment nights, similar to talent shows. “I would spit my rhymes to my friends and everyone would get excited. I thought to myself, ‘Woah, am I doing this for people? Is that me?’ The acceptance and enthusiasm from my peers would fuel me to keep writing.” He even performed with African artists One Love and Mensah in his younger years, and can recall writing and working on his craft for school showcases with them.
In terms of artists, he cites Eminem, Nas, and Lil Wayne as some of his primary influences. “In high school, I got expelled the night before a big concert because I was always a knucklehead who wouldn’t listen to my teachers. My dad ended up putting me in a French school in Benin to wrap up high school, and that’s when I started hearing about Eminem. I remember it being a tough transition because it was a change towards the end of high school. I still have my lyric books from that time, and looking at it now, it used to be very aggressive, violent like Eminem’s lyrics. However, him, Nas and Lil’ Wayne are big inspirations to me in terms of seeing how they would rhyme, particularly Lil Wayne from a technical standpoint. He showed me you don’t need a pen to write a song. When you see him perform and how his soul gravitates towards his music, it’s impressive in a way I can’t explain.”
He also talked about his producer and dear friend, QC Funk. “Another big musical influence for me is my best friend, a producer named QC Funk. He helped me find my sound and an identity, and helped me to understand how music is produced. I used to live with him in Jersey City and musically, I would not be able to talk about my career without him. My first three mix tapes were all produced by him and I would be in the studio, watching him work on anyone’s music, and finally understand whats going on behind the lyrics. Today, I’m able to attribute that in my sessions and know what I want on my tracks because of him. We’re still good friends and he’s a big part of my producing team.”
He gushes. “There are so many producers out there, but honestly I love that I can say my greatest producer influence is my best friend, someone who I know very well; that’s personally such a blessing. I’m so blessed to be able to grow around QC Funk and Coptic and local Ghanian artists, such as One Love and Mensah.” In this moment, you can tell that community isn’t just a word he feeds to people, but something he really feels and appreciates.
Ultimately though, Bob Marley is his all-time biggest musical role model. (Was I the only one expecting that?) “From a family background, especially from my big brother and my siblings, I’ve always been very rooted in reggae music from a very young age. Because of that bond, it’s always going to be in my music, like I always have a reggae hook or something mixed in. Actually, Bob Marley has been on a poster in every bedroom I’ve ever had since I was 8 years old, even before I was trying to become a musician. I guess I was living in his spirit in a way. There are a lot of musicians that have formed and helped me to become who I am, but there is nobody who I would pray to write a song with except for Bob Marley, and I know I can’t do that. I think now [his collaboration on my music] exists in another form of humanity. I am blessed with his spirit and the ability to continue to grow as an artist. ”
Talking about his genre, what he defines as “World Hip Hop,” he states its complexities. “To define my music would be to travel across different genres. I can’t say I’m JUST a rapper, because I don’t come on with a DJ, but I am a rap artist. I’m not a reggae artist but there’s reggae in my songs… There’s so many worlds in the umbrella of rap and hip hop music, sub-genres that developed from dance music. As an artist, I’m trying to find myself and where I fit under this umbrella. I was living in Jersey City, in the hood, smoking and all that, but just because I lived there doesn’t mean I was hustling and moving guns, like Nas and Eminem and how they would talk in their rhymes. I want to keep it real and write about what I love, as well as write like Gangster Rap, what I grew up listening to. But when I would work with Coptic and QC, and they’d play a hip hop beat that was marketable and then I truly learned how to write music because of those Bob Marley roots always being in me. It all blends together; the lyrics, the beats, the message, and it becomes a world, hence: World Hip Hop.”
Looking towards the future, Gibrilville is having an album release party in Harlem, NY at The Shrine, for a new album dropping on September 26th called The Foreigner JJC. “The album is essentially a collection of songs that have helped me build my fan base and platform. I’ve been trying to release it for so long in the past year and a half, and I haven’t necessarily had the right channels until now. This album is almost an introduction for me. It’s not my first album, but it is introducing me to World Hip Hop platform. I wanted to call it The Foreigner as a symbol of being an African in America. I feel like I’ve always been a foreigner, it’s all just part of my journey in life. Also, JJC is a West-African term for “Johnny Just-Come”– a nickname for a newcomer in town, someone who doesn’t know his way around, someone people take advantage of because of that. When you see a JJC who moved from a different country or even a different neighborhood, he always gets got. That’s all part of the journey, and I wanted an album that conveyed my journey.”
Gibril and his band also intend to come out with another album called Black Cadillac. The message behind BC is essentially taking back authority and bring the responsibility back to the people, referencing the classic black Cadillac as a symbol for people to take matters in their own hands and find out the truth. The single, Black Cadillac, is a statement on Biggie and Tupac and the public finding out the truth to avenge their deaths.
We can’t wait to hear from Gibrilville and see them perform! Catch them at SEV Fest this Saturday!