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Akillezz Heals Through Rhythm and Rhyme
by Eleni Kostopoulos
To date, his music video for Gravity has picked up more than 2.2 million views on YouTube, bringing 20 year-old John Arvanitis one sizable step closer to stardom. Better known in the music industry as “Akillezz,” the New York-based, 20 year-old hip-hop artist has already developed a substantial fan base, garnering particular support from the Greek-American community in Astoria. Earlier this year, he performed at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, an annual music festival that’s hosted some of the biggest names in hip hop over the past decade. Most recently, Akillezz has embarked on a full studio-length album set to be released this September; the album’s first single, One Level, has already been picked up by more than 30 major radio stations, including urban contemporary station Power 105.1.
“Gravity essentially sparked my album creation process,” says Akillezz. “Originally, the scope of my project included only the recording of a series of singles, however, having fallen in love with the recording process, as well as coming off of such a success [with the] song’s respective music video, I decided to venture into recording a studio-length album.”
With dynamic lyrics delving into the dichotomy between good and evil (e.g., “Pray for me, ’cause these demons keep on chasing me”) and an aesthetic video to boot, the track released last year represents the reflective nature of the rapper’s creative process.
“Gravity describes the inherent conflict between social mores (both religious and secular) against that of an inward affinity toward darkness and self-destruction,” says Akillezz. “In many ways, I suppose, it acknowledges the ‘death drive’ described in classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory as a desire to return to an inorganic state. The song is underpinned by the conflicting forces of Thanatos and Eros, which I believe are an inescapable aspect of the human condition. The song itself, of course, is not a thesis, although my creating was inspired by this Manichaeism (cosmic conflict between light and darkness). I wanted to expose these subjects in my own contemporary way.”
Akillezz’s love affair with the written word began at an early stage in life; as a seven year-old elementary school student, he began writing poetry, a creative outlet that would later help him realize his affinity for language.
“I’m not sure if I was inspired to become an artist or if I’m more so fulfilling an inborn predisposition,” says Akillezz. “It seems as if art was always a part of me. Realistically, I’m sure there were also environmental factors that contributed to my identifying as an artist at such a precocious stage in life. I believe we are all born with natural creativity; unfortunately, I believe that education sometimes deconstructs our creative tendencies.”
Akillezz says he was just eight when he heard a track by Eminem that instantly aroused his enthusiasm for hip hop, eventually progressing into full-fledged passion for the genre.
“I remember instantly falling in love with rap; it was the amalgamation of poetry and music, both of which I already had a natural liking to independently of one another, but this- it was perfect,” says Akillezz. “I remember appreciating how visceral rap could be, that it had a rhythm and that there was an added personal layer of hearing the artist deliver his composition as opposed to having to read another’s words in your own voice like I had been doing with poetry up until that point.”
Years later, Akillezz was introduced to John “Jayd” Daniels, the CEO of Blockboyz Entertainment. Daniels became a mentor to Akillezz, helping him to hone his craft and serving as a guide to the rapper’s writing process. Akillezz credits his success thus far to Daniels, who played an integral role in the development of his freshman solo album Transgressionzz, and his parents, who helped him found his record label, Akillezz Records.
Though Akillezz primarily expresses his creativity through writing and music, he also considers himself a visual artist. His aim to compose thought-provoking content enhanced by aesthetics propelled the inception of his pseudonym.
“I like the way the double ‘Z’ looks across from the double ‘L’,” says Akillezz of his moniker. “The name itself is derived in part from my Hellenic roots and pays homage to my Greek heritage. As one might expect, the identity of the name refers to the central character and greatest warrior of Homer’s Illiad. Greek mythology reminds us of the Achilles’ heel, which to me is a personal reminder that there exists in this world deadly weaknesses in spite of overall strength. My weaknesses are the dark areas in life that I’ve first-handedly witnessed my sins. This is what also promoted the title of my [album] Transgressionzz.”
Akillezz’s Greek roots have been crucial to his evolution as an artist, and the Greek community, both in the United States and abroad, has offered unequivocal support for his endeavors. Earlier in his career, the rapper performed at Akrotiri Boutique in Athens for an event sponsored by MTV Greece for an outdoor crowd of nearly 6,000.
“I’ve received great support from the Greek community, particularly within the immediate Astoria, Queens area,” says Akillezz. “Someone recently stopped me in Astoria and told me that I reminded them of the Greek rap artist Akillezz (not that I rap in Greek), and I thought the person was pulling my leg, until I realized their sincerity and that they had seen [the video for] Gravity.”
In June, Akillezz had the privilege of performing on stage at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. Inspired by artists like Eminem, Tupac, Nas, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls, the rapper was eager to perform at the music fest after being invited by Ralph McDaniels, known as “Uncle Ralph,” who Akillezz calls “a hip-hop culture pioneer, entrepreneur and visionary.”
“It was a fantastic experience where I was afforded the opportunity to not only perform, but to also receive encouraging feedback from industry personnel and hip-hop fans alike,” says Akillezz.
Following a great deal of dedication and hard work, Akillezz anticipates entering the next chapter of his career. His album Transgressionzz will be available for purchase on iTunes this September.
His track, End of Dayzz, is one of many to personify the rapper’s singularity:
“Drive by, ride by
What am I?
I am guilt personified
A dream-child ostracized
Defiled by the lies, traumatized
but preoccupied writing rhymes
Hoping I don’t lose my mind
Twined by these chains on my wrists
Which, binds me to sit, if
this is it and this nervous tic services my wit
and you discourage this
Rather than to nourish him…”
© 2014 Akillezz Records