#RIPTOTHELAMES: Siimba Liives Long Kills Rap Video Conventions in “W.I.A.”

On the heels of his “Cocaine Bimbie“ video, Ethiopian-American artist Siimba Liives Long recently released his “W.I.A.” visuals, which showcases him romping with feral cats around which most people would be deathly afraid. Siimba isn’t most people, however. He moved back to his native Brooklyn a couple years ago after growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His experiences in the Ethiopian capital, as well as in Brooklyn, and even South Africa have molded his worldview and varied sonic palette.

As Siimba has said, that’s why he decided to pay tribute to all three locales, filming in each place over the course of a week. While his fire-swallowing in the “Cocaine Bimbie” video already pushed music video risk-taking to its outward limits, Siimba has outdone himself yet again in his video for “W.I.A,” in which he dances and play-fights with lions. His joy and upbeat demeanor in the lion park isn’t surprising to anyone who’s seen his carnivalistic live show—or know that he’s been comfortable with them “for years.”

Despite the life-threatening risks taken with the video, Siimba keeps his cool on wax, the track itself a surprisingly smooth and groovy soundscape in which Siimba rhymes rapid-fire about his journey amidst a sea of MCs that think individualism is a dirty word. Here are his words:

Who decided the treatment of the “W.I.A.” video? How long did it take to film?

Both Magnus and I decided the vision and aesthetic for the video we shot it at the same time as Cocaine Bimbie and we did both videos within a week, we slept like a total of 7 hours that whole week!

Can you speak a bit about the animals in the video? Did you have a prior relationship with them? What did the owners/supervisors of the area say when you asked to film a video?

I’ve been going there to kick it at the lion parks for a few years, we didn’t really ask permission to shoot we just started and since I had a relationship with the people there, they were all for it. They even helped with ideas for shot composition and let us in areas where they don’t let other people so that was lit.

What’s most important about bridging the gap between Ethiopia and other African countries’ cultures and Hip-Hop? Do you feel that’s a specific goal you’re trying to accomplish?

Well my goal isn’t necessarily to bridge the gap, my goal is to create cool shit. If that happens to bridge the gap that’s dope too, but if it doesn’t I don’t really care. I feel like that’s something that could be easier for someone like me to do because I spent time growing up both here and Addis. The thing is, growing up when I was in America people used to clown people for being African. I just want to show people it’s cool to embrace where you’re from or where your family came from. Heritage is a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen your live show. You put on quite a performance. How much is stuff like swallowing a fireball about ensuring you have the dopest set on the bill vs. being a natural reflection of who you are?

Eating fire on stage isn’t part of who I am naturally. I’m scared of fire, I hate getting burned like it really bothers me, some fire performers are into that shit or don’t care but I really can’t stand it. I brought elements like that to my live show because I was tired of going to shows and being bored, I wanted to do something different.

I don’t compete with other niggas, I’ve always been me so when it comes to hip hop show I don’t think I have to follow the standard blueprint. I just want everything I do to be as cool as possible, and I want to push myself and live performance as far as I can. I’m taking a risk on that stage I know that. Everyone watching knows that. That [risk] adds a whole new dynamic to the show and I think that’s ill, but I was also trained by professionals and I don’t recommend anyone trying it without being trained because if you do it wrong and don’t prepare correctly you literally can die or seriously hurt yourself.

What do you hope the major takeaway from “W.I.A.” is?

I just want people who watch it to see that it’s cool to just be you, that’s the most swagged out shit, and if anyone tells you different they are a lame. But that’s why we killing them everyday. #RIPTOTHELAMES

Alex Oka