“It’s an amazing story, it shows how many parts there were to make something become a cultural phenomenon,” Antoine Harris says from behind a table filled with artisanal cheeses and medium well beef sliders. The Jamaica, Queens native is catching a bite between takes on the set of VH1’s hip-hop infancy flick, “The Breaks.” In the past few months he’s appeared on HBO’s breakout sports drama, “Ballers” and 50 Cent’s gritty street series “Power.” Now he has reunited with director Seith Mann to bring a ruthless MC named Ahm to life.
“When I saw the script, knowing Seith’s mind and then going back to watch his film ‘Five Deep Breaths’ and reading Dan’s book, I knew it was just bigger than making a cool show. There is a story they’re trying to tell that must be told.”
Bringing Ahm to life was a multi-layered task. Playing the part of the Brooklyn street hustler turned MC took some technical expertise. Though Harris is a writer and poet himself, there were nuances to being an MC that only a professional could provide. So producer Dan Charnas solicited the help of his friend and polymath Phonte Coleman to pen the lyrics for Ahm and work with Antoine to bring the words to life.
“In writing Ahm’s [lyrics] I really wanted to express to the people where he comes from and see how his mind works,” says Coleman. “How a person can have intelligence but circumstances have lead him into the life that he’s in. Even though in the movie he does some pretty horrible things I didn’t want make him a complete monster.”
Though he never personally participated in the life he is portraying on film, as a NY native Harris was within several degrees of separation from it.
“This RIP tattoo is for a couple of boys I lost in that,” he shares touching his skin. “I took the way that many people don’t die from. Not even the best hustler could give me 10 years. Some of my boys didn’t make it past 20.”
So when Ahm spits lines like: “I’m surrounded by darkness, surrounded by thoughtless, n*ggas with no notion of conscience/ Pissy hallways and little tiny apartments that feel like they can double as coffins” you can feel the city breathing.
“We kind of created an animal,” Phonte says with a hearty laugh. “Ahm might fuck around and drop an album.”
Watch Antoine perform Ahm’s full rhyme and discuss the meaning of the lyrics in “Verse Behavior” above.