Interview: Khary "WAE" Frazier

By Nick Robinson
Courtesy photo

Khary WAE (Working at Excellence) Frazier is a Detroit-based rapper and activist who performed at a Feb. 5 event at the Boys and Girls Club in Lansing that encouraged the pursuit of higher education.

How did you get into the hip-hop?
I grew up on the west side of Detroit, and I always loved music. I wanted to be a producer, but I knew I needed to go to college after high school to learn how to use the equipment and stuff. So I went to the Digital Recording Institute of Detroit. I graduated in 2004 and I’ve been doing stuff like this pretty much ever since.

How did you become so socially active?

I kind of blossomed into it. I’ve always read stuff about what was going on out there, like my dad would give me stuff to read when I was younger. I liked the writing of James Baldwin, his essays on black America. I wanted to agitate with my music; I wanted to rap about what I was reading about. Not every song I write is about activism — I grew up on Wu-Tang, you know — but there is always an underlying meaning. If it’s not social, it’s cultural; and if it’s not cultural, it’s personal. Social, cultural and personal. That’s it.

Besides rapping, how else do you stay active?
Well, I come to shows like this, mostly. I’m also the president of the Detroit chapter of the Hip-Hop Congress. It’s a non-profit organization, and they do a lot of community work, a lot of the stuff I was already doing. We teach hip-hop basics to people interested — things like break dancing, turn tabling, MCing, stuff like that.

You also put out a new album recently, right?

Yeah, it’s called “Preaching to the Choir.” I’m probably never going to make another album like it again. I guess you could call it a pro-black album. It’s definitely an album I wanted to make for me. It’s been out since June, and we’ve sold about 500 or so, so it’s doing pretty good. I’m working on another album called “Notes of an Artist and Activist,” and it’s coming along good.

What are some of your inspirations?
I like Bob Marley, Ice Cube, a lot of stuff. I like Bob Dylan, too. A lot of people think that you only listen to music in your own style, but I like songwriters. “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowing in the Wind,” “Hurricane;” I just like his lyrics. I performed a song tonight about the importance of reading, and I wrote it for tonight; I didn’t have it beforehand. I like to challenge myself to write on topics most artists steer away from. Outside of music, I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick.

Do you have any plans to make a movie, then?
I do want to do a mini film project eventually. I have this Teddy Bear project, which stems from my song, “Teddy Bears Tied up to Trees.” It’s an initiative against kids getting shot in Detroit and we want to create peace zones. I think it would be pretty cool to do like a documentary, talk to kids that have lost a friend. It’s tough at that age.

You also perform with a group, right?

It’s called General Population ( - Ed.). It’s a blend of a lot of different musical styles, like hip-hop, soul, rock and roll and traditional African rhythms. We’re really bringing my vision to life; it’s great, all of us working together. I mean, when it’s not just me, it’s killer.

Are you as socially active when you perform in the group?
Oh, I would say it’s even more so in the group. Yeah, we’ll “Bono” you to death.