July 15, 2009

Scroll Searchin-Isolation leads to Innovation: AmDex

Words by Ingrid Sibley
Photos by Chris Davis

There’s a classic Bible saying that goes, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, understood as a child, thought as a child, but when I became a ma n, I put away childish things.” Quoting the holy book would be an awkward introduction for many hip-hop heads, but not for AmDex, one-half of Atlanta ’s Clan Destined. AmDex actually likes it even more old school than the New Testament line. As an Israelite, he’s firm in his beliefs – a “Torah-observing brother”– but his music fails to alienate the layman.

Subtlety, cleverness and unspoken critique areembedded in AmDex’s work. His recent 7 Scrolls, which is structured off the holy number “seven,”flaunts seven skills of musicianship that distinguish him from the average MC: DJing, lyricism, vocals, production, mixing, mastering and performing. 

AmDex’s beliefs in no way make him a mini-Matisyahu. Instead, he is rooted in hip-hop culture and humorous to boot –down to the 40 bottle of Olde English 800 that goes unopened as his living room table’s centerpiece. 

As Clan Destined, AmDex and DT surpass mere rhyming and distinguish themselves by infusing DJing and improvisational production into live shows. This package reflects their larger consortium, the Vinyl Junkies Crew, which has nationwide components that can move the crowd as MCs, DJs or producers. If prerequisites for Wu-Tang members include passion for kung fu and overambitious salivary glands, the Vinyl Junkies Crew has true b-boy status and humorous, virtuosic vision as their commandments. 

Clan Destined released ABBRACADAMN!!! in 2007, were picked up by Rawkus and released the And For Our Next Trick… EP later that year, but March 1999 marked AmDex’s professional hip-hop genesis. Branching out from his foundation as a drummer, he borrowed a stack of records from fellow Vinyl Junkie X-Ro and began spinning around town. Though his skills granted access to venues most high schoolers could only hope to enter with their fake licenses, AmDex’s crew soon foraged off into the unknown. Instead of lamenting placement at the precipice of his own wilderness, however, he used the newfound solitude to attain musical maturity. He recalls,“not getting assistance from a lot of people really helped me create something that’s a little different from alot of people around me.”

Without elders nearby, he elicited the knowledge of masters like Pete Rock and Prince Paul, as well as that of the emerging masters of his generation. AmDex reached far and wide to find musical mentorship from hip-hop heavyweights like Battlecat (California), Organized Noize (Georgia) and J Dilla (Michigan). Later, he ventured into the world of jazz standards and stocked his library with CTI records and Munich’s ECM label, home to legends like Chick Corea and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. 

As AmDex improved his cutting and scratching as a DJ, it laid a foundation for dissecting samples as a producer. “I just like to make my drum chops sound as real as possible,” he says. “I try to think like a drummer when making beats. When I’m programming, I don’t really use the quantize feature that much. I turn the metronome off. Even if I loop something up off a record, I still chop it up into a lot of pieces. Chop‘em on the downbeat as opposed to choppin’ ‘em straight ahead. That way you have a lot of freedom to really make something over, make something new. That’s where the evolution comes, when I start changing time up, chord progressions, and having beats that have movements to ‘em.”

But after toiling over a beat, he may still end up pitching it if unsatisfied. AmDex – who’s production revolves mostly around a PC, sampler, and his beloved MPC 2000 XL – doesn’t sacrifice quality for copiousness. Critiquing those searching for a quick fix, he blasts “MCs still begging for their 40 acres and a mule,” as well as novices making albums in two days. 

“I remember being an underdog,” he says. “Now people look at me around town as being sort of like, a forerunner.” 

Though AmDex has become indispensable to the Atlanta hip-hop scene, he refuses to regale on a pewter platter flanked by foie gras. This former underdog continues to learn new tricks and encourages others to follow his lead by stepping away from the “formula” to “install some mystery and shit.” 

“Find it, like I found it,” he challenges. “I’m not trying to ever put out no AmDex, best of samples collection.”

Nevertheless, AmDex is not all “hard-truth, tough-love type of MC.”

Graciously, he laced his record with musical interludes to be seized and enhanced, skillfully links fans to the cream of the underground through mastering acclaimed artists like Mr. Lif or being remixed by producer Illastrate, and includes visual introductions to iconic Atlantans in the video for “Change Your Style.” AmDex sees the Atlanta scene as newly unifying, and the clip illustrates the mutual respect in the city and its overall uniqueness, 

Despite these gestures, he admits some of his messages may be a hard pill to swallow. On “Roma,” he analogizes ending an unhealthy relationship with reframing his terms with America: “Still got the whole hood behind her/for years even through the tears I stood beside her/In a yoke, livin’ just over broke/expecting me to defend her in the beef she provokes/Oh Roma, Roma could you be mine/American dreamin’ of you all the time/But now I’m awake and my enemy’s known/The covenant is my prenup written in stone/I’m going home.” Self-conviction and musical structure bisect these messages, however, and make them easily ingestible. The percussiveness of AmDex’s line delivery accenting his classically constructed beats softens jagged statements. He muses, “it ain’t like everything I say is grim. I still put a smile on my face. I still have great days. I still enjoy the weather. I still like to look at women. I’m a dude. I’m a man. I don’t ever be too deep in the struggle that I fall in love with it either.” 

AmDex’s balance of levity and rootedness allows him to be forward-looking after a decade in the game. On the album’s oldest piece, “Older and Wiser,” he philosophizes, “The future’s brighter, it even illuminates days behind us …If I’m a rhyme, I’m a be the kind to keep your eyes up higher/If you’re searchin’ for the messiah, he might be right beside ya, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ya found him right inside ya.” It’s this quest that maps AmDex’s journey. He wants to not only deliver high quality music, but to raise the bar for himself and others. “I don’t wanna just make music,” he declares. “I wanna change the heart of people, when you got they heart you got em. You can change a group of people’s lifestyle, mainly my own people, then I think everything else will fall into place.”

Listen to AmDex: www.myspace.com/amdex

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