1. I remember reading your first set of pieces sometime in 2006 [I think] on BPC and thought; people must ask him a million and 1 questions when they get the chance. How do you feel about being questioned and interrogated in any form?
I don’t mind.
2. And you’re okay with this answer being published? You must know I won’t edit…
Yes. But insert particularly. That’s more me. I don’t particularly mind.
3. Okay. Now the meat of the matter: we human beings tend to go through life with ‘constant burdens,’ is there a monkey sitting on your back? If so, describe it. If not, tell us why.
Yes. His name is Shen, the white metal monkey of Chinese astrology. I hold no belief in remorse. Reflecting back on one’s life with regret is not only unproductive; it is also unhealthy and leads to further stagnation. I believe firmly that all decisions are rooted in consequence that can reverberate forward 3 generations or more. One of the few things that we control in life is our ability to begin a new ripple within the present moment. In the Chinese zodiac, I am born under the sign of the monkey. The highest truth to be spoken for me is that no problem or person could offer me as much grief as I give myself personally while pursuing perfection in its multitude of forms. The following are the words spoken of the monkey in an ancient author’s fit of inspiration. I have yet to find a more apt description of my personality.
I am the seasoned traveler
Of the Labyrinth.
The genius of alacrity,
Wizard of the impossible.
My heart is filled with potent magic
That could cast a hundred spells
I am put together
For mine own pleasure
I am the monkey
Indeed and in fact as stated, I am put together for mine own pleasure and owe explanation to no one for my actions. I must live with the weight of these decisions whatever that might be. Nothing that I have done shall hinder me from being ever ready to reinvent myself to match a new set of circumstances and challenges.
4. Interesting. You have often stated "sanity is overrated." Do you actually believe yourself?
Sanity is a relative state. I recall a time when I might have been diagnosed as a "lunatic" for violating rules of sanity by expressing the notion of a solar system revolving about the sun since such ideals would fly in the face of what was socially accepted. Sanity is shaped by the era in which you exist and the principles guiding those times. At some point in our life, we must become beholden to our own ideal of what is right and reasonable which will frequently place us upon the fringe of the mainstream.
All individuals whom have ever effected great change in this world were not guided by the politics and dogmatic beliefs of the times in which they were born, but held their own tenets about truth and reality. They used these principles in order speak to those in power and ultimately spread their message of inspiration to the masses whom adopted their beliefs and eventually altered the society’s definition of sanity.
5. What inspires you?
Children. I love what children represent to us. They represent the infinite possibilities of life unfolding before our very eyes. They display a very natural freedom of thought, speech, expression and action. They know that they are deserving of everything in this world and pursue this idea in any way that we have taught them to perceive as open to them. The most potentially damaging aspect of life that children encounter upon entering this world is adults.
We teach them that their possibilities are limited and cut off their ability to stretch their arms far and wide. We restrict them with the rigidity of our rules, norms, and social conventions. They speak freely and we tell them that children are meant to be to be seen instead of heard. We instruct them on how to act, how to think, and how to be as if we don’t recall that we were no less sure of whom we were at that same age. We tell them lies such as you can’t do everything that you choose to do. If you are beautiful or intelligent and you become aware of this, don’t speak it for you will appear arrogant. We scold them for being tattle tales and then drop our jaws in awe at the ubiquity of the "stop snitching" movement as if we are not the root cause giving birth to the effect.
My inspiration comes from telling children the whole truth and then discussing this truth with them until we come to a mutual understanding of said truth. My daughter, Jah’kaya, is presently 5 years of age. My son, Johnathan, is 11. While I discipline them as if they are indeed and in fact my children, I speak to them with the respect and admiration of a peer. This has caused them to display tendencies that I could never have imagined possessing at their age. Jah’kaya has an outgoing spirit, un-waning tenacity, and honesty that does not flinch. Johnathan is engaged and active showing all the signs of a young leader in search of guidance. Oftentimes, I am confronted by them in ways that give rise to all of my old notions of parental reverence and respect. In these times, I must give close examination to my motives for any form of discipline that is leveled out at them in order that I can know that I am not forcing them into a false, fixed position and inhibiting their growth..
6. Complete the following:
a. "A perfect day would be…"
spent enjoying the company of my loved ones as we mused over old memories of who did what foolish thing when they were young while teaching the children present the importance of remaining fixed together as a family in close communication.
b. "I am insecure about…"
Just about everything under the sun (or moon for that matter). Being a meticulous individual is a double edged sword. While it has afforded me the ability to do many things in Life in ways that earned me praise amongst my peers, it has also meant that many of my creations never see the light of day since nothing can ever be so excellent as to warrant a premiere before the world.
c. "I am happiest when…"
I recognize myself as being on purpose in every thought, expression, and action.
d. "The most powerful human character trait is…"
e. "Our flaws…"
Are the scars that decorate the cavernous passageway leading towards our root definition of self. If you are ready for someone to know you, walk them through your hallway and then show them the rest of the pyramid.
f. "Beauty is…"
Best appreciated with one’s eyes closed. Humanity is such a vision centered race. Everything revolves about the images that are fed through optical stimulation from the television, computers, billboards, and other bodies in motion. The reason sight inhibited individuals go on to lead such full lives is because they have learned how to appreciate flooding the senses through an organ other than their eyes.
7. Where would you like to be the proverbial fly on the wall and why?
Wherever Malcolm studied. I can recall being maybe 10 years old or so when Spike Lee released the film. It could not be helped that I had both the red hair and thick rimmed glasses so I could not escape comparison only exacerbated when I began reading "The Destruction of Black Civilization" and "Why Black People Tend To Shout" in high school. I admire the man’s mind and commitment to no end. I can only fast, pray, and build towards anything coming close to that level of diligence in my own work. It was this spirit that would eventually guide me into the ministry.
8. How would you fit into a room made for "squares"?
I would not. When I find a round hole, I’m usually a square peg. When I eventually found myself near a square hole, I was a round peg. These wrenching personality changes always seek to make me an outcast amongst any given population.
Mackadolcheous, Michael Strode, Djehuti Tekhen, and the AOMuse each have their own moments when they shine and refuse categorization. They withdraw and wither under such restrictive conditions as categories so I (the overmind of them all) tend to keep them from places where people will demand that I display one of them without allowing all of them or none of them to come forth.
9. What’s currently on your playlist?
I recently crafted this playlist for myself called "Complicated" in which I tried to categorize all of the myriad forces driving my personality through music and while I found it lacking now in light of my wide musical variance, I offer to you how the playlist has taken shape thus far.
Back In the Day- Ahmad
God & Gunz- f/Mack Kane & Abel
Good Life – Eulorhythmics
Got To Have It- Method Man
I Got It Made- Special Ed
Engine Runnin f/Consequence- Talib Kweli + Madlib
Beach Chair- f/Chris Martin Jay-Z
Watch for the Hook [Dungeon Family Mix]- f/Goodie Mob & OutKast Cool Breeze
The Fire In Which You Burn- f/J-Treds & Brewin Company Flow
Mr Whomp Whomp Fiend Fiend Street Life
Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You) f/Outkast UGK
Treat ‘Em Right Chubb Rock
All A Dream f/III Big Mike
Better Than I’ve Ever Been (DJ Premier Remix) f/Kanye West, Nas, KRS One, & Rakim DJ Premier
I fancy myself as a unique admixture of the old and new sounds though this list cannot adequately encompass my complications since it confines itself to hip hop. I often journey to all areas of the musical realm at one time or another. Current favorites outside of hip hop presently include Rissi Palmer (country soul), Tinariwen (thanks Ticha!) (tuareg desert blues), Olatunji (African percussion), Black Uhuru (deep roots reggae), and Greyboy (acid jazz).
10. If we drug tested you, what would we find?
Some ginseng, gingko biloba, high isoflavone content (soy), and a steady flow of adrenaline.
11. Briefly tell us about your album with the Death Angels "War of 1555."
The Death Angels consisted of myself, Mikael Aton, and Mer Hauti Khepera whom I met at a spiritual movement in Chicago known as The Temple Of Applied Theosophy. Initially entering the organization to study the Kemetic (Egyptian) philosophy under Minister Ezekiel Khepera, we eventually found that we shared a mutual love of hip hop. We went on to record "War of 1555" between 2000 and 2001 in a series of basement sessions sometimes lasting well beyond the midnight hour. The title of the album is a play on Elijah Muhammad’s idea that slavery in the Americas actually began in 1555 and our rebellion against the idea that we would ever find ourselves enslaved again through the manipulation of artistry and culture. Mikael was the exclusive soundscape provider for the album and also in many ways, the executive producer of the affair frequently putting forth his vision for the project. This work resulted in 17 powerful tracks ranging in subject matter from searching for the perfect relationship to how to react to when revolutionary struggle reaches its apex. It holds today as one of my proudest accomplishments because I did not intend to complete an album at that time in my life.
12. Will there ever be a sophomore album?
At this time, this is not in the works. Unfortunately, when I split direction with the Temple in 2002 following the passing of Minister Khepera, my connection with the members of the Death Angels was severed as well.
13. How did the Temple of Applied Theosophy shape your personality?
The Temple had a profound effect on my ability to perceive myself as a being that could affect revolutionary, spiritual, mental, and social change by teaching me that all change begins with the individual nucleus of our own person. One of the problems that is exacerbated in many Black movements whether spiritual, political, or social in origin is that we move into them determined to change the conditions of the community at large without changing ourselves. One of the most essential things that a man can develop in his desire to alter the destiny of the collective is excellent character.
It also strengthened my belief in the unity of spiritual teachings since one of our tenets was that all religious, spiritual and social teachings were rooted in the same fundamental principles, but we lose site of this unity through our adherence to the ritual aspects of said teachings. All philosophies have their hidden teachings: Gnosticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Kabbalism in Judaism which stress the unity of God and distills the rituals down to the bare essence of principle, but the masses are not privy to these secret teachings.
14. What are your 3 primary life goals?
In 2006, I wrote a Personal Mission Statement based upon Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After the fulfillment of the 4 fundamental human needs, I crafted for myself 3 goals that expressed my desire for self actualization. These goals represent near and long term objectives that I desire to achieve as part of this process. While these are subject to change, they represent at the present the best definition that I can offer of my goals in Life. I once heard it stated that "government is the science of making the most essential thing your priority". I find that when we change the essential things in our life that everything else comes together around the central ideals that we have manifested.
* I will publish a book of poetry which will outline my journey through Life, the first volume being entitled "Ascension of the Muse, Vol. 1" in conjunction with exploring the other areas of art and music which might correspond with my present artistic aspirations.
* I will continue to develop and refine my unique understanding of and relationship with God, Creation, the Universe, and Life.
* When my appointed time of departure is reached and the final bell tolls, I will go peaceably into the night knowing that I have built a legacy of which my children can be proud and that I have accomplished each of the objectives that I have set before myself.
15. Many africans in america whom have gone through a spiritual or political transition have chosen to rename themselves. have you done so? why? what is the meaning?
My spiritual name is Djehuti Al’ Jammi Tekhen. The name Tekhen was initially assigned to me by Minister Khepera in 2000 after a year in attendance at the Temple. He stated that it exemplified both my researching skill and my tendency to focus deeply on the subject or task at hand. The name after personal research has come to mean to me "one who penetrates deeply into the meaning of things" or "one with insight". In Hebrew, the term "tikkun olam" means "to repair the world". At the root of the word "teach" is the Middle English term "techen" which means "to show or instruct". In Kemet, the "tekhen" is the symbol of the resurrected Osiris who, according to mythology, was the first teacher to humanity.
Djehuti came later when a mate saw the name and thought that it would fitting attribute based upon my understanding of multitude of areas of study in the arts and science. According to Kemetic mythology, Djehuti was the neter (god) whom is said to have created all of the various arts and sciences from astrology to zoology. He also presided over the written word as the scribe of the entire history of humanity having large libraries constructed under the guidance of his priesthood that were later raided by Greek and Roman philosophers to create what is known in modern times as "Greek philosophy".
Al’ Jammi is a self appointed name from my time working with the Nation Of Gods and Earths. It is one of the attributes of Allah that means "the gatherer" in Arabic. Both at that time and until this day, I consider myself one who has the ability to bring together a wide variety of resources to facilitate any idea, but it has been difficult finding a new home for this talent because no one wants to use it independent of co-opting me as a member of their cause and I have no further interest in membership.
One of the fundamental teachings of the Temple of Applied Theosophy was the singularity of religious, spiritual, political, and social thought. We all have the aim to get the people from their present condition to a state of self awareness. It should then be quite simple for us to observe those fundamental principles and make them the basis upon which we organize with each other.
16. Did you have it changed legally?
No. I have always felt slightly torn over my respect for the vision of where my mind is headed and my desire to maintain the connection to my ancestors. I am still considering whether I would like to change the name since I feel deeply connected to both names and respect what both of them state about my person. Michael Johaan Strode and Djehuti Al’ Jammi Tekhen are different perspectives on the same individual and deeply intertwined with one another. Neither of them exist independently of one another. I had a brother by the name of Kamau Rashid whom once told me that in certain African traditions, one must rename themselves at each major stage of transition in their Life. One may change names many times in Life because no name can be expected to adequately define the youth, adolescent, teenage, young adult, middle age, and elder stages of a person’s existence.
17. What are you views on black on black love as it relates to the relationships between black men and women?
Black on Black love is the key to healing the entire world. Prideful though it may be, I maintain the understanding that the world which has followed our every footstep through these years in moments of high intelligence or extreme ignorance needs us to re-establish the definition of Love. Black men and women are uniquely suited with the necessary tools to heal the wounds that centuries of oppression and repression have instilled in each of them. The chains of self hatred carried by sisters who may have considered themselves too dark or too light or too nappy or just too "you" to be accepted as a member of their own community. The immense boulder of pride on the shoulders of black men that often manifests itself in the form of either arrogance or a growing insecurity that causes us to assert (or insert) our manhood in manners that do nothing to show or prove us as the definition of man.
One of our beliefs within the Temple was the ideal that the "Black family of America has been chosen by Almighty God to be the apex example of God’s Love, Righteousness, Truth, and Mercy unto the entire planet". Our ability to love and respect one another and to build communities and nations with one another will be the key to creating a future for our sons and daughters in which they see themselves not as vast and separate entities from their families across the diaspora, but as members of a larger world community. We are the long extended reach of a land whose legacy knows no limitations, but the arm must remain connected to the body in order to for the fist to retain its ability to open and close. The fingers must be not less together than the rest of the arm otherwise we can grab hold of nothing that lies towards our future.
18. "They’re people that are going to look at how you speak/write and call it intellectual bauble…deem you unattached to reality and the struggles of the ‘average man.’ What have you to say? "
Intellectual bauble? An interesting notion. As I stated before, it is not uncommon for those who bring weighty ideas that do not live within their time to walk amongst the outcasts. I have no issue with being maligned, but I ask that those people take an honest look at those ideas and decide for themselves if there is a better way to be.
My higher intellectual pursuits have not kept me from amassing 20K in student loans or made being Black in the workplace any less unstable or altered the conditions that some individuals will hold of me based upon a legacy of racism, but changing how I perceived those events has changed the sort of emotional power they held over me.
My struggles are those of an average man who chooses to strive for above average sensibilities in the realm of patience, parenthood, poetry, and all such things that are a part of life. And yes, I am very unattached from what most people consider "reality" in much the same manner that I choose "insanity" over what you consider "sane".
19. With all of that said, who the hell do you think you are?
I am the cold and rational logic that is Michael J. Strode seeking higher knowledge from cradle to grave through the compassion and wisdom of the meditations of Djehuti A. Tekhen while sharpening my quill to express the divinity of human thought through the word and record of the muse ascending within AOMuse. For better or for worse, I will not be any of them tomorrow for like the i-Ching, the puzzle that is Life is always changing and being rearranged by my actions at this moment. I am not who you think I am. I am whoever the hell you think I can be. I am writing on pages that will be erased, but will leave an indelible imprint on the psyche.
Spoken Grenade is the pseudonym of the Guyanese-American poet-author Renatta Laundry whose written work and journals can be located at http://renattalaundry.blogspot.com. She has authored such collections of poetry as "Excerpts From A Metamorphosis" and "Sovereignty Of Space".