PRO FILES: KONFLIK
From birth to maturity with the Chicago MC
“Honor is what’s going to make people show up at your funeral or not.” — Konflik
Christian Cruz — the Chicago, Illinois MC known as Konflik — has experienced a significant amount of serious challenges in his twenty-nine years of life.
Originally from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Konflik was born with Chronic Neutropenia: a rare blood disorder identified by abnormally low levels of white blood cells. After moving to the Logan Square area of Chicago, Konflik quickly began developing an affinity for hip-hop and the art of MCing.
An early life marked with equal parts medical turmoil and poverty, Konflik turned to writing and rhyming as means to deal with the spinning world around him. After graduating from St. Gregory High School, Konflik tried his hand at post-high school education. Finding the experience frustrating and expensive, he left college to pursue his only love: writing rhymes.
In November 2012, Konflik released Birth, his fourteen-track solo debut album filled with live instrumentation, three skits and a sole guest feature: Magisty on the track “Hip Hop’s Son (Here Wit Cha)”.
Taking time off to refocus his efforts and further his understanding of the complexities of life, Konflik waited nearly four years to return with his sophomore effort: Maturity, his eleven-track second album released in February 2016. The highly-conceptual record contains dozens of life lessons and pieces of advice while simultaneously boasting premier feature artists: SwizZz (“Flikked Off!”), Shawnna (“Double Crossed”), Lega-C (“Sex”) and the legendary MC from Brooklyn, New York: Masta Ace (“Reputation”).
Since receiving high critical praise for Maturity and the stellar single “Take Notes”, Konflik has remained busy shooting videos and performing live — always keeping his eye on the next move. In between video edits, Konflik took the time to speak about honor, the growth between Birth and Maturity, the concept of honor and the never-ending violence in Chicago.
ON POSITIVE INFLUENCES
A lot of the negative stuff basically shaped me into this. It wasn’t always like this: there was a point in time where I was bitter and really mad, wanted to kick everybody’s ass. But then, I just used it towards what I do.
As far as positive influences — nobody really here in Chicago. Basically the music I listen to: people like (Masta) Ace, Nas, Talib Kweli. I hear them and they actually describe a lot of things that I personally feel and things that I’ve been through, as well. So I can relate to it.
My counselor Ms. Lamont when I was a junior in high school. That’s when I began writing, because before junior year I was just freestyling in the hallways. And then my counselor, she heard me once in the hallway and was like, “Man, you should write; you should join the poetry club.” So I did. That’s where I began to write, learn how to structure and things like that. She kind of shaped me into that.
The attendance coordinator at my school Ms. Smith: she just pretty much kept me on the right path. She told me any time I was messing up or heading down the wrong path, she would give me an earful about it and it really made me have a guilt trip. Then I changed my ways.
ON “AIN’T NOTHIN PRETTY”
“God kept me living for a reason”
I truly believe that. Of course I will never know why, because that’s a whole spiritual realm that I don’t really dip into.
But I’m a firm believer of everything happens for a reason.
You might not get that reason right off the bat, but somewhere down the line you’ll see what the reason is for what you’ve been through. For that particular case, I believe God gave me a gift.
I believe God gave me something — a talent — in which I can pursue an interest and talk to a mass of people.
I grew up with a disease called Chronic Neutropenia, and this stops your white blood cells from developing. It was a rough childhood — I was in and out of the hospital, surgeries every month. I even had to go out to North Carolina: I was the guinea pig for the cure.
That was another reason I wanted to bring that up: I think that particular situation was something I could leave behind to the world medically.
It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s something that I feel that I was kept alive for — so I can be that example to help other people.
They’ll never know it, of course — because it’s medicine. But I had to go through that so that medicine could be made for these people. I believe those are the reasons why I’m here — to provide that to the world.
I try to be as honest as I can when I talk about these things; I don’t like to sugarcoat things. If people are going to hear me, they’re going to know my experience, why I think the way I think and why I say the things I say.
When I started putting this project together, I was coming off Birth. So I was trying to take that concept of life-through-music and keep running with it.
For this particular project, I placed myself back in a time where I was in high school, and all these decisions kept coming up where I was getting older. It’s like as soon as you turn eighteen: you can smoke, you can vote — you can do all these things. And also all of the things I’d been through back then.
I just tried to place myself in the time in which in everything was a big decision: college, going through a heartbreak, backstabbing friends — whatever the case is.
I tried to just jam it all up in an album and tried to teach as much as I can for people who are going through that kind of stuff now.
ON ARTISTIC GROWTH
I feel Maturity is completely different from Birth. When I was recording Birth, I was a part of a crew or a semi-label; I’m not sure what the hell it was. But it was me and a few other guys, and we were doing things as a team.
When I released Birth — and it was me, a lot of the stuff I wanted to talk about and throw out there — but they had a lot of influence on the way I did it. They had a lot of influence on how I should do it, the kind of people I should reach, the kind of songs I should do. Not necessarily telling me what to do, but more on a trying-to-be-successful business-wise aspect.
So I didn’t really feel Birth was a hundred percent my work; it was a lot of other influences involved in that. And the reason it came out the way it did — not that it came out bad, I still like the way it came out — I just feel like it wasn’t a hundred percent me.
This project is.
This project: I’m no longer messing with anybody. I went on the search for myself and got everything that I needed. Nobody was telling me what to do; I got to talk about the things that I was talking about.
I feel like I grew up and took a lot more responsibility within the project — and in life itself — to make it what it is.
“I learned about myself / and I made a few changes / to my character / the way I think / reevaluation”
“Maturity” to me sets the tone: it lets you know what this album is about. It is about going through things growing up and learning from the things you go through.
The female voice on the track is actually from Birth. There were a few skits that I had recorded from Birth but I didn’t throw them on the album. I still had that from Birth, and it fit on Maturity pretty well as far as the direction I was trying to take it. So I had my engineer just chop them up and throw them in there instead of having a hook.
ON “REPUTATION” FEATURING MASTA ACE
“Your mentalitity / and personal views on situations / all this is what can determine your reputation”
I’m proud of myself to even have the ability to make something like that happen. And it happened so cool and so smoothly — it’s not what I’m used to when it comes to the industry: I’m using to going through headaches and frustrations and stuff. But Ace was the coolest dude when I inquired about making that happen.
Ace is a legend to me.
I remember high school — Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer. And even before that: SlaughtaHouse, Sittin’ On Chrome. I grew up listening to Ace; he’s a phenomenal artist to me and I always wanted to work with him since I got into making music.
Twitter made it happen. I reached out to him on Twitter — I Followed him. I noticed he’s real interactive with the people who reach out to him, so I reached out to him. We started talking football at first — he’s a football fan — we were talking Bears and Eagles. Then I just threw it out there like, “Man, I always wanted to work with you. Who do I talk to to make it happen?”
He was like, “You’re talking to him.”
He dropped his e-mail and I reached out to him. I ended up meeting him in New York — Lofish Studios in Lower Manhattan. He came out, we recorded the track; cool dude. He put me on some info as far as sampling and stuff goes in the game; things that he’s been through. We wrapped it up and we’ve been in touch ever since. He’s just a cool dude.
I feel really blessed the person I grew up admiring is the person who’s still helping me out today, just in another way outside of the music I listen to. It’s kind of a dream-come-true if I have to put it in words.
People like that: I really like and I cherish. Because over here, you don’t really come across that too often. So I genuinely respect him and I give a lot of love for him for looking out for me.
He didn’t have to do that for me — but he did. He took time out of his schedule to come and record with me and to help me out; point me in the right direction for publicity and things like that.
ON “THE NEXT LEVEL (PERFECT PICTURE)” / “NEXT LEVEL (REMIX)”
“I’m comfortable where I’m at / and I learned my lesson / and I owe it all / to the disappearance of your presence”
Wait until you hear “Part 3” on the next project! I just wrote “Part 3” the other day; it’s pretty crazy. It takes it to a whole another level that people probably aren’t going to see coming.
ON “TAKE NOTES”
“Tuition rising every year / constantly changing books / a fee for everything / add it up and take a look”
When it comes to going to college, I feel students coming out of high school: they don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into. They’re being sold a dream when they meet these schools.
They’re taught they’ll make it out in four years tops, you’ll have a degree, you’ll get a job in the field that you love to do. That’s the basic general impression on it — but it’s not really that simple.
I went through a lot of complications when I was going through school, so I just wanted to put it out there that it’s not as easy as it is on the forefront. I wanted kids to listen to it and know what they’re getting into when they go to college. I went through a lot; it helped me understand who I am and what I want to do with my life — school wasn’t it.
Not necessarily taking away from school, but it’s just not for me.
I wanted people to know the struggle of school: scheduling, financially, the stress level that it can take on students — things like that. I’d never really heard anybody in hip-hop make a song addressing that issue. And since I’d been through it, the beat spoke to me and magic happened. Mr. Kooman made the beat; I think he’s located out in L.A.
ON “MOMENT OF SILENCE”
“If ever the day comes / in which I pass / remember me for what I’m worth / and live your life to the last”
I had a few people pass away, and I never really got a chance to say goodbye. So I just used my gift and put a song together so I could do that, and branched it out to everybody else that’s no longer with us.
Because I know death affects everybody — it ain’t just the person that died.
ON “PROZ & KONZ”
“Stick to the pro-gram / ’cause my pro-duct guaranteed to take you / to the Pro-mised Land”
Most of the time I write, I write on my own. There’s not really a particular beat that I have in my mind, it’s just me writing, expressing myself.
“Proz & Konz” is a different story: that was actually one of those GarageBand tracks. I was hanging out with a guitarist and a drummer and we got in the mix; we were vibing really well. We chose to take it to the studio and we just had fun.
That’s what “Proz & Konz” is about. I got real creative with it: the first verse, all the words that I used start with pro. In the second verse, all the words start with con — which is how “Proz & Konz” had came about. Not many people have caught that so far.
“Proz & Konz” would probably be my oddball track out of the album, because it really has nothing pertaining to the album itself; it’s just something I wanted to have fun with. I did have fun, and at the end I ended up throwing it on the project.
Chicago’s a funny animal: it’s pretty cut-throat over here. Nobody really helps each other out, there’s no local support in anything. Not just in music, but in anything. Everyone’s pretty much trying to be the best man and come up on top. Nobody really knows how to give a helping hand.
Over here, it’s a lot of survival going on and I had to learn that the hard way.
I like to think I’m a good person, I like to help people out and try to get the best out of everybody. And I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of and people don’t appreciate that out here.
It took a toll on me, I won’t lie. Because it made me angry, it made me bitter and it made me question a lot of things. But I had to learn to let go of all of that. I had to learn to say: you know what? You can’t change the world — as much as you want to, as much as you try — people are going to be themselves. Accept it and just do what you can for the people who will listen to you; who will appreciate you.
That attitude has gone a long way for me. It’s made me a bit more content with my life and the things that happen over here. I started to notice the actual good things — the actual good people who do take it into consideration and things like that.
There’s a lot of issues out here in the city, and I don’t feel it gets pushed enough to the rest of the nation — for them to open up their eyes and see that our city really needs help.
A big reason I like making music is because I get to talk about these kinds of things. At least from my perspective and the things I’ve been through, hopefully I can pass that on down the line.
It’s more for providing a service than it is for a paycheck. That’s just basically how I try to present myself; what I try to represent as a musician. It is my city and the things that happen here. It’s not really all peaches and cream.
Honor is what’s going to make people show up at your funeral or not. Are you going to be remembered as somebody whose word was bond? Somebody who gave a hundred percent? Who tried to not only help people but tried to get them on their feet and things like that?
Or are you just going to say, “Hey, screw everybody — I’m out for myself and I’m going to get mines regardless.” I don’t judge people who do that, I just think they lack a sense of a bigger picture. Or to realize that you’re here not just for yourself but for other people, as well.
And those are the people that won’t get a big turnout at their funeral. I know at your funeral, it’s all done and it really doesn’t matter anymore. But I look at it in terms of my family: if my family can see what I’ve left behind, then it’s great; it’s an amazing thing.
Then they’ll know that their fight for me to stay alive and the things that we’ve been through when I was a child — living in poverty, in the hood — it was all worth it.
Honor to me is just how you’re going to be perceived, the kind of person you are. Kind of like the song I did with Ace called “Reputation”. It’s a deeper meaning — it’s what it is to you.
Shout out to my engineer: Gabriel “Chi Storm” Gil-Perez. That man has worked just as hard as I have on this project and he put a lot of work into it; he deserves it. He’s a good dude, as well.
Shout out all the students. I never finished school but want to let them know I do acknowledge the struggle and I applaud them for their hard work and dedication as they go through it.
Shout out to Chicago. I really, seriously want to throw it out there: stop the violence. Stop all the gunplay, all of that. It’s serious out here.
I’m tired of turning on the news and seeing fifty-six people shot in one weekend; thirty fatalities, whatever the case is. It’s old; it’s done.
It’s over with already. Move on. This stuff needs to stop happening. Kids aren’t seeing their futures, mothers are crying; it’s pretty ugly out here and I think we need help. It’s a mental state out here — I believe hostility is in the air and it needs to calm down. For one day, just chill.
Everything you’re going through — let it roll off. I know it can be serious, but it’s not as serious as taking somebody’s life.