The other day I went out for Ivorian food in Harlem with Alec and his cousins Shak and Basile. It was Alec’s idea, we planned it a few days in advance, and I picked the restaurant. (In case you were wondering, there are two options in all of NYC). After huge portions of poisson braisé, attiéké, and aloco, I looked up from my post-meal bliss and noticed for the first time all day that Alec was wearing an orange cap.
“Is that a Côte d’Ivoire hat?”
Full of subtlety in his style, music, and background, Alec never fails to surprise me.
Alec Lomami is a rapper, producer, and runs a label, Immaculate Taste, that he co-founded in 2010 with his brother and cousin. Hailing from the style capital that is Kinshasa, Alec stays repping with his multi-colored socks, windbreakers, and quiet African details. I first met Alec at Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina through a mutual friend. Given that I’ve written about the difficulties of finding a visible African community in the Triangle, you can imagine that I don’t exactly walk around expecting to meet other Africans. So I was happy to find out that he was Congolese.
Surprise number one.
Because he never gives too much away, through several conversations over a few months, I realized not just how much we have in common but also how dope and talented he is musically.
Surprise number two.
This year, with the label’s breakout star Well$ (also his cousin) making waves, a production side project, The Black Hearts Club, and curating playlists for OkayAfrica, things are looking good for the Chapel Hill based artist. I recently caught up with him through the wonderful medium that is Facetime to discover more surprises about his background, thoughts, and of course, music.
So how did you get into making music?
Music was just a thing I grew up doing but never really had the courage to actually pursue until I ran into a couple of immigration issues. That time that made me realize that life’s too short so you actually have to pursue the thing that you wanna do.
What did your parents think about you pursuing music?
They were definitely not for it, as any African parent. They all love music as long as someone else’s kid is doing it.
So who were your influences growing up?
I feel like I rap because I can’t sing. So the early influences were mostly just the Congolese artists, like Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide. Those were the guys that really got me into music, I just couldn’t sing like them.
What’s it like rapping in French in America?
Personally I don’t have another experience because from the time I started making music, I was making it in Anglophone dominated [places]. I’ve managed to do fairly well but do also recognize that to a certain degree I [can] only go so far. It might have a little cool factor, but actually it’s hard to go any deeper than that. Generally when you sing, the language in which you make the music doesn’t seem to matter all that much, but rap, by default, makes you want to know what the person is saying. So although music is universal – I feel like it has actually stopped me from having a deeper fanbase.
Do you ever get frustrated when the only Francophone song you hear at African parties is “Premier Gaou“? Having lived in Cote d’Ivoire when that song came out, I’m happy to hear it, but it’s also like c’mon, it’s so old, there is so much more that the Francophone world has to offer.
Part of it is also the politics of the media, and I’m not a person to throw the media under the bus all the time, but for example, Trace TV, the music that they play in Anglophone markets and in Francophone markets is just different. The only people that crossover in all of it is Nigerians. But in Africa, TV and Radio – in terms of finding out [new] music – is still bigger than the internet, so those decisions really influence how music moves. Every once in a while you might hear a song but it has to be super huge to crossover.
People get weird about labels sometimes. Do you appreciate the “African artist” label?
Generally people [of our generation] don’t like labels, but when it comes to music, personally I like referencing myself as an African artist or a Congolese artist. I understand why people don’t like it, but the same reason they don’t like is it why I like it. When you say an African artist, people expect a specific sound…even Africans will expect something specific. So that’s why a lot of times people want to separate themselves from it.
I don’t care what kind of music I’m making, I’m African, so by default what I’m doing is African anyways. I embrace the title as long as you don’t really expect the music to sound like what you think it will be.
Tell me about Immaculate Taste. How did that come about?
Immaculate Taste is a label slash management company. It was just kind of a way for us to release our own stuff. We needed a label to send out our music and I wasn’t signed so we just created our own. Then once we started working with Well$, we started putting his stuff out through Immaculate Taste so it just grew out of necessity really. Then you reach a point where you’ve done so much by yourself that you might as well keep on going.
And the Black Hearts Club?
It started as a side project between Well$, my friend Lucho and myself. I think it was actually Lucho [who] suggested that we do a side project together. We started with a bunch of sounds here and there until we worked on the song “Girl Tell Me Something” and then that sound really worked and we just kept on building on that.
Well if I say favorite – cause you said favorite, not the best – I would go with Juvenile.
Ok, Who’s the best?
Andre 3000, Lino from Arsenik. I also like Sarkodie, especially his early stuff.
Papa Wemba. [He’s] just my favorite artist period. I’ve never been affected by a person’s death that I didn’t know [until him]. I still have a hard time listening to some of his songs.
I just realized that a lot of his songs were formative to how I see some things. There were so many little things that just became anchors to the way I approach [life].
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I’ll be retired, I don’t wanna overstay my welcome. I wanna work on three albums and then quit. Artists never know when to quit. But I’d also like to do more producing, work on films, more behind the scenes stuff, you know, grow the label.
Make sure to keep up with Alec and his music here.