Andre “A+” Levins first left his imprint on the Hip-Hop game in 1996 with his critically acclaimed debut The Latch-Key Child. Spitting venomous and thought provoking bars at the age of 13, these were the days before little dogs started to bark with ghostwriting rhymes. After blessing the game with hits like “All I See,” “Enjoy Yourself” and “Me & My Microphone,” and holding his own with lyricists like A.Z., Prodigy, Q-Tip and MJG, Hip-Hop’s young prodigy suddenly disappeared without a trace.
Well he’s back. Sitting down with Hip-Hop Wired, A+ reveals the strategy behind his return, his time away and what he feels he’ll offer the rap game today.
HipHopWired: Man, it’s been a minute A. What have you been up to?
A+: Since the last album Hempstead High which came out in ‘99, I did a lil’ touring and after that pretty much just fell back. I had a few family issues and I had a son who’s eight years old now. So I sat back and decided to raise my son and become a family man and the music business was just so crazy with me coming onto it at an early age. A lot of business things and things from that aspect got a little out of control so I had to reassess my career.
HipHopWired: That’s real. So why decide to comeback now?
A+: It was a calling. A lot of the fans were hitting me on the Internet and were just giving me good feedback and telling me that my music was inspiring to a lot of cats so I did it for the fans pretty much. It was like they wanted me to come back and my heart wanted me to come back. I’ve been in this since I was a kid for the love so I just felt like it was the right time for A+ to make his comeback.
HipHopWired: Lyrically you were ahead of time as your bars had more to say than a lot of MCs older than you at the time. Right now the rap game has dumbed down a lot from a lyrical perspective so do you think you’ll still be more advanced than what’s out there right now?
A+: I think that’s better for me that a lot of cats don’t have too much to say and I do. So it might put me in a different lane and a different reel than them. But you always want to balance it and keep it with the times of what’s going on but I’m definitely still that lyricist that A+ was back then. I definitely think the game needs that still and it’s coming back to Hip-Hop… real lyricism.
HipHopWired: You’ve also reconnected with your original producers, The Smith Brothers. What can we expect from A+ in 2009?
A+: The album will be entitled Without A Trace. The premise is me disappearing from the game without a trace and the album is real detailed. It’s a lot of concepts on the album as far as what’s going on today. I got a joint called “Who Stole Hip-Hop?” which I just shot the video for. It’s pretty much like a story/ movie type of thing. It’s a lot different from what cats are doing right now. It’s real detailed and I’m brining it back on some real Hip-Hop Shyte.
This album is about original Hip-Hop and hard beats. It’s universal and all I can promise is that I’m bringing some good music. Everything Hip-Hop needs. The Smith Brothers are handling the bulk of the production. I’m also gonna be leaking some joints to the streets and the Internet and drop a few mixtapes to get the buzz back up before we drop the album.
HipHopWired: So tell us a little about the song and video for “Who Stole Hip-Hop?”
A+: Hip-Hop gets kidnapped and held down in a basement, down in the dungeon and “somebody” comes to save it. And we don’t know who it is yet. In the video, you’ll see who Hip-Hop is and its real creative. Everybody is dancing and partying right now so we went another lane with the video and creating new ground. It also tells the story of my disappearance for real.
HipHopWired: So what can fans get after listening to the album and your new material coming up? What are you bringing that’s different?
A+: A+ got a story to tell. A lot of cats can’t say they came into the business and signed to a major label at the age of 13 and having that world wide presence and doing it at such an early age and then going through the trials of the business. The rough times and dealing with family issues. My two brothers are in jail. My childhood was pushed to the side because I grew up in the business so I got a story to tell. I got a lot stories to tell with this album.
It’s a story that can help me speak to the public and to the kids coming up in that age and that process dealing with the street life and going through that thing when they people get locked up. So maybe my words can help and influence them in the right and positive way. They can take my issues that I’ve been through in life and help somebody else because that’s what A+ has been about since he came out with The Latch-Key Child album. It was basically teaching kids that raised themselves growing up in this world. And that’s what A+ has been about; putting out a positive message to the people and I never lost that. That’s why I never changed my name or my image because that’s needed. Its not too many cats out here now in the business influencing people in the right way and using that message and the power of music to go in the studio and speak something powerful and make sense to some people so I definitely want to bring that back to the forefront of Hip-Hop. I’m still about opening cats’ minds with real lyrics and creativity.
HipHopWired: You also had a few family issues that preoccupied you for a few years. Can you speak on that?
A+: I got two brothers in jail for some serious crimes so a lot of things were going haywire while I was in the business so I really had to put the business to the side and focus on family, which matters to me the most. That motivated me to get back into the business at the same time because I can use the business to help my situation out as far as family.
HipHopWired: What kept you from hitting the streets when Shyte went bad?
A+: I guess I was just raised with a well-rounded background. A lot of family and The Smith Brothers who were like my father/uncles stirring me in the right direction and made sure I stayed on course. You gotta have that backbone in your life or you will go off course. So I was fortunate to have good people in my corner that kept me grounded and made sure I made the right decisions.
Plus when I came up, that never was me. Music was always my savior. I didn’t have to go out and hustle. Kids start hustling when they 15 or 16 year olds, I was fortunate enough to get me a record deal and be able to make money so I knew where my lane was. I was like I knew I ain’t no hustler and I ain’t selling no drugs and risking my freedom. I can do music and travel the world. That Shyte took me where a lot of hustlers and drug dealers never go. So that was a blessing for me so I knew where my lane was.
HipHopWired: So at 26 year old, what advice can you offer to young kids trying to get in the business and what mishaps to avoid?
A+: I made money, lost money and had everything not go right. I know you need to buy more property. All the money and fame can come and go and that’s what I address to the people. Getting jerked, I’m letting them know it ain’t all peaches and cream but when you fall, you can get back up.
I was ahead of my time and mistakes were made and I was young so it ain’t like it all falls on me. It was a lot of decisions that were made that I had no control over. As a child coming up with the laws and the courts and my moms being in control of a lot of situations and choices that was made in my career but it’s nothing that I regret. It’s something that made me into the person that I am. It was a learning experience for me and now I’m older and wiser and luckily I came into the business at an early age and got another chance to redeem myself from a business perspective. It happened, you learn from it and you keep it moving.
HipHopWired: So let the people know some songs to check out for and some heat that’ll be coming from Without A Trace?
A+: Of course I got “Who Stole Hip Hop?” which is more like a warmer for the streets than a first single for the album. That’s more like to get the people talking that A+ is back. Also check out that video for that. I also got “She Don’t Love You” for the ladies which is gonna be more like the official single for radio. I got “Grind Baby Grind,” “Fly Guy,” and “Freaky.” We got a whole arsenal and we getting ready to lash out on the industry. It’s just strategy and perfect timing. That’s what we doing right now. We making sure everything falls into place. We don’t just want to be throwing Shyte out there. Everything is timing and everything is gonna have a ripple effect.
Check out two new joints from A+ as well as a few throwbacks:
A+ – “Who Stole Hip-Hop”