One listen to the tongue-twisting rhymes of “Zingy”, the first single off Ak'Sent's debut album, 'International', and you may notice, this is not your ordinary newcomer. For one thing, this fresh-faced MC is a she. And another reason: she's 18 years old. But as anyone who gets to know Ak'Sent (Krystle Johnson) soon discovers, there's much more to this unassumingly petite girl than meets the eye.
Capitol Records recognized Ak'Sent's star power immediately, signing the then 16-year-old only a day after seeing her perform at a Los Angeles showcase. Sure, the LA native had an impressive resume for her age — dance training with Debbie Allen and Lula Washington, stints in several R&B-based girl groups — but it was her fierce flow which truly wowed the room. "I feel like rap is something that's in you," says Ak'Sent. "It's a natural thing that can't be taught. Someone can learn how to sing, but rapping is from the soul."
Because of her sheer determination to do things on her own, something the half-African-American, half-Latina Ak'Sent had grown accustomed to having lost her father to gang life and her mother to welfare, she was given room to grow and experiment in the studio, both vocally and musically. "I told myself, I'm not going to sound like everybody else," she says. "I'm not just another female rapper. I want to set a tone."
To help her find the sound she was looking for, Ak'Sent teamed up with an undiscovered, Miami-based production team, The Jugganauts, on six of the album's tracks. "They had a real Caribbean feel," she explains. "So most of the album is percussion-based -- a lot of drums."
It was Ak'Sent's idea to recruit Reggae icon Beenie Man to round out "Zingy," as it was to enlist a choir of neighborhood kids for the title track "International." "I was a really big Jay-Z fan," Ak'Sent explains. "I loved how he had kids singing on 'It's a Hard Knock Life.’ I really felt that innocence that you get from kids so early in their life so I got some local 10-year-olds into the studio and they were psyched. I told them, 'You guys are going to get a check when the album comes out, so you better start thinking about saving your money!"
Chatting recently with Ak'Sent, and mentioning that it's been noted that Capitol Records had recognized her star power immediately, signing her when shewas just 16-years-old (and only the one day after seeing her perform at a Los Angeles showcase), I first exclaimed that she must have done everything right that day! "The two most important things I do remember is getting prepared and the president Andy who told me I want to sign the contract tomorrow."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your upcoming CD, how would you describe your sound to them? "My sound is definitely fun, vibrate, and fresh. It's an album you could listen to but nothing you've heard before."
Your album title 'International' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? "Yes it does. I feel like there's people like me all around the world who went through some of the same issues as me, if not worse. And it really doesn't matter what color, size, gender you are as we are one. And this is how I dealt with my issues."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Ak'Sent at her musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "My life in general is definitely a song. I wrote about a real struggle I've been through and lyricly I put my life through a timeline and spilled all my personal secrets that I felt people could feel and relate to."
With the inclusion of old school musicians such as both DJ Quik and Beenie Man on this album, what did they teach you in their time spent with you that perhaps you were not aware of before? "I learned so much from Quik. He's such a perfectionist and he's so smart. He taught me a little bit about everything we worked well together and he was comfortable that I was comfortable. And he was very much so into all of my lyrics."
You've had stints in several R&B-based girl groups ... any we would know of or have they all fallen off the face of the Earth?! "All the groups I worked with were very good groups that I learned a lot from. But it was just a learning experience. It was a preparation stage I had to go through in order to be where I am today. And for that I'm grateful."
OK, at what point did Krystle Johnson become Ak'Sent ... and where did this new name originate? "Well, Krystle became Ak'Sent when I was 16 years old. I went solo and decided to work extra hard to perfect myself. So I felt I was making a new start so I felt like I needed a new name. Krystle was too typical. I wanted a name that would stand out. So I went to a producer I was working with who was teaching me what to do in the studio and it was he who named me Ak'Sent. He compared it to the accent seasoning gives the food. Seasoning and an extra kick! He said that I would be that extra seasong for hip-hop; that extra kick hip-hop is missing!"
Noting your musical passion is for Hip-Hop, and knowing that there are a lot of male rappers currently dominating the business, what is your game plan for success? "I'm planning on being smart. I'm already focused, but I'm ready to stand up against some of these obsticles also. I have a true gift, a raw talent of hip-hop in my blood. So, this is my passion and I know that the proof is in my music and I'm ready for everything that comes my way.'
Lastly if you could completely tear apart and restructure a classic old '70s, '80s or '90s pop song into a new, cutting edge Hip-Hop track, which one would it be and why? "Funny you should ask me that ... I already did one and it's on my new album. It's a redo of "Jump" by Kriss Kross!! It's now called "Krunk". It's a party song that was a classic and is gonna be again hopefully!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to an Ak'Sent prize pack (that includes t-shirts and a digital download card), just answer this easy question: In what was certainly a difficult decision for her mother, Ak'Sent was sent to live with her grandparents in which of LA's districts?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new prize packs! Just send us an e:mail here before August 15th with your answer and the subject title 'AK'SENT PRIZE PACKs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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