Rapper/composer Blitz The Ambassador may be fairly new to the game, but he's got the smarts of a veteran when it comes to branding.
The 27-year-old Brooklyn MC says plenty of times he's walked by people wearing his promotional T-shirt on the streets, which he designed himself. Depicting a suited man with a stereo in place of his head, holding a pistol to it while blood gushes from the other end, the image is the same Blitz -- a self-professed "visual artist" -- used for his latest album cover. "They pass me and they don't even know it's me," he chuckles.
Additionally, Blitz has a backing band, his own independent label, Embassy MVMT, and his very own mascot -- the inspiration behind the T-shirt and album cover art -- who usually appears on stage during their live shows.
While he's indifferent to subgenre labeling and doesn't identify with the 'conscious rapper' label, the unsigned trilingual rapper (Blitz speaks English, French and the native Ghanian Dialect Twi) rhymes about issues that affect him directly and other, more worldly ones. "I don't think just because I don't talk about 'money, cash, hos' that I'm better. I think I'm necessary," he says matter-of-factly. "I try to make music that I would hope that my favorite artists make and it seems to be catching on."
Indeed it is. His third album, "Stereotype," dropped digitally last July and reached the top 10 of iTunes' hip-hop albums chart in its first week of release; he was featured on MTVU's Artist Spotlight video series, "House Band;" he scored the PBS documentary "Bronx Princess;" and has a six-city California tour under his belt. He recently released his latest single, "Something to Believe" (Watch the video to "Something To Believe" below) and will soon release an EP called "Native Son," which features songs written entirely in Twi.
All of these ventures came about the old-fashioned way -- through the buzz Blitz has created for himself via his live shows. He says he's inspired by the worth-ethics of such artists as Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy. "Radio didn't make them, tv didn't make them," Blitz says. "They played shows. That's what's happening with us."
"Us" being Blitz and his band the Embassy Ensemble. Collectively, the group takes to the stage looking as dapper as they can; they rock their shows -- which include an upright bass and emphatic horn section -- suited up and accompanied by Static Stereohead, the boombox-headed mascot. Blitz drew the jarring character "out of straight frustration," he says.
To understand the sound of The Ambassador, it's important to understand his background. An Accra, Ghana native, Blitz was born Samuel Baza Awuley in the nation's capital in 1982. Although he described having very little in terms of day-to-day basics like clean running water while growing up, Blitz says "everything in Ghana is about music: from sports to getting water -- music is always there."
It comes to no surprise, then, that Blitz's music is heavily influenced by Afrobeat and West African Highlife musical traditions -- a notable characteristic of which is evident in the Ensemble's jazzy horn section.
Blitz was also influenced by hip-hop by way of his older brother, who as a teenager managed to get his hands on the tapes of The Juice Crew, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and more. "He was always up on what was hot," says Blitz.
Thus, when Blitz moved to the U.S. ten years ago, hip-hop was the tool that spared him from culture shock. "I knew what to expect and a lot of that was through hip-hop. That's one thing about hip-hop that nobody gives it credit for -- it's like CNN, for people who don't watch CNN but like to nod their heads."
Because of his DIY mentality, Blitz says the idea of signing to a major label is not as important to him these days. "I'm very down to partner with whoever, but being signed, you give up your artistic integrity. That's inevitable," he says. "That's really what has crippled the art and what has killed a lot of fabulous artists. I will never sign to a label unless I have my creativity."
Thankfully, creativity is not something Blitz is short of. He wrote, produced and composed the score to "Bronx Princess" -- a doc about a Ghanaian-American teenager spending the summer in Ghana -- in about three weeks. "Her story was very similar to mine -- moving to America and trying to acculturate but still trying to hold onto those elements that made you, trying to reconcile both cultures," he says.
Blitz continues to push his limits by utilizing all of his skills, currently focusing on his "Native Son" EP. "I feel like I'm missing out on communicating with a lot of people back home. Stepping outside my comfort zone keeps me challenged, keeps me working, keeps me busy," he says.
Clearly, Blitz serves as a diplomat for Ghana and hip-hop, but this ambassador remains modest about his ascent to fame. "What's inside of you is what you do," he says. "It's not even a responsibility; I'm just acting out what I know."