AY is a producer, singer, songwriter, entertainer, and entrepreneur. He’s powered over 800+ concerts (“The Battery Tour”). The Battery Tour concert series funds, promotes, develops and deploys sustainable solutions to provide renewable electricity to people in developing nations.
He was recently designated 1 of the 17 UN Youth Leader for SDGs and performed at President Biden’s inauguration. AY is currently working on a Global Goals album, labeled “Project 17” in collaboration with the Earth’s biggest artists to create one song for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Each of the 17 songs will represent a different goal with guest performers from 17 prominent recording artists. Each song from Project17 will have a corporate sponsor who supports that SDG goal.
AMM: AY, thank you for joining us for an AMM interview! Let’s first start out with how you got to where you are now. When did you start writing music and performing?
AY: I started writing poetry when I was a kid living in Kansas City. The environment I grew up in was rough, with gang violence and drug activity around me. My experiences inspired me to put my thoughts and feelings into words. My brother AJ played guitar and one day, something I wrote flowed nicely with his music. That was the first time I realized I could create something that resonated with people. Even though I didn’t know what rap was until 2012, I started performing and writing music more and more after that initial experience. I’m a firm believer in the idea that hard work pays off, so I dedicated myself to the craft and performed 8-10 hour shows for the past 10 years.
AMM: How would you describe your music and your sound?
AY: My music is about hope, inspiration, and authenticity. I wouldn’t say that I have a particular genre, but I do have a vibe and a message that comes through in my music. I love creating big crowd anthems and sticky choruses that keep people inspired and motivated. My way of performing is all about energy and connection. I love to engage with the audience and make sure that everyone feels like they’re a part of the show.
AMM: You have quite a history with climate activism – what sparked your interest at such a young age to help raise awareness and get involved with addressing sustainability issues?
AY: My passion for music was what led me to become a climate activist. I didn’t set out to be an activist, but I wanted to create a platform for my music that was sustainable and made a positive impact. In 2012, I landed on the X Factor TV show, and I learned a lot about the music industry. However, I didn’t have a platform to launch my career, so I created one with the Battery Tour. The Battery Tour is a tour that’s powered 100% by solar energy stored in batteries. It’s also a movement that’s used to promote, develop, and deploy sustainable solutions to those who need it around the world. We use the Battery Tour to get the world plugged in. After doing over 400 shows around the USA, I discovered that many places don’t have access to energy, so I changed the model to a Music for Impact model. I collaborated with local people to build a solar-powered energy box, and each concert became a platform to raise money to fund, build, promote, develop, and deploy sustainable solutions around the world. Since 2012, I’ve helped bring energy to over many countries and powered over 900+ shows. Project17 is a new initiative that I’ve started. It’s about creating one theme song for each of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), one brand/corporate sponsor for each goal, and one NGO (implementation) partner per goal. The idea is to use music to promote the SDGs and raise awareness about sustainability issues.
AMM: So, what exactly is Project17 and the Battery Tour? How do these projects relate to your overall mission as a sustainable artist?
AY: Project17 is music for a impact model that aims to create one theme song for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I work with brand/corporate sponsors and NGO partners to promote and develop sustainable solutions that relate to each goal. The Battery Tour is my platform to promote these goals and bring energy access to those who need it. By using solar energy stored in batteries to power my shows, I am able to demonstrate the power of sustainable energy and encourage others to get involved in making a positive impact. As a sustainable artist, my mission is to use my music to promote positive change and inspire others to take action towards a more sustainable future.
AMM: So, what are the UN Sustainable Development Goals and what do they have to do with music?
AY: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a UN initiative involving 193 Member States and global civil society, designed to address issues like sustainable infrastructure, water access, education, poverty, and more by 2030. As a musician, I see the power and reach of music and entertainment as a way to connect people to these goals and raise awareness of the urgent need for action. By using music to entertain and inspire, we can engage people in making a global impact.
AMM: What does it mean to be a UN SDG Global Young Leader and an SDG Champion?
AY: As a 2020 cohort member of the UN SDG Global Young Leaders program, I was recognized for my impact in leading the way towards achieving the SDGs. This program, which occurs every two years, identifies and supports youth all over the world who are making a difference. I am also an SDG Champion, partnering with the UN Joint SDG Fund to raise money to support the implementation of these goals. It is crucial to fund the SDGs, as an estimated 4-5 trillion dollars per year is required to achieve them.
As a Young Leader and SDG Champion, I am committed to promoting and advancing the UN’s vision of a sustainable future.
AMM: Project17 is a massive and exciting undertaking, what partners have you brought on board so far to make Project17 happen?
AY: Our current signed partners include BNP Paribas, UN Joint SDG Fund, and Global Resilience Partnership, among others. Artists like Tech N9ne and Dawn Richards have already contributed to the album, and we have secured partnerships with corporations like General Motors. Other partners like the National Wildlife Federation, Conservation International, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and more have also joined. We have garnered support from influential leaders like Paul Hawken, Paul Polman, and Sylvia Earle, and have leading experts in the energy and solar fields who contribute their knowledge and resources.
AMM: What needs to change to make the music and entertainment industries more sustainable?
AY: Culture and systems need to shift and change, and promoters, artists, and fans all have a role to play. Artists with initiatives like the Battery Tour need to be supported and welcomed by the industry, and fans should be patient and supportive during this tough transition period.
AMM: What’s next for you, Battery Tour and Project17?
AY: My “GOALS EP” is next, which will include songs like “Be Prepared,” the world’s first-ever anthem for Scouts. I am currently on the Battery Tour around the world and have three P17 launches coming up, including a special set at Times Square in September of 2023. We aim to launch Project 17 globally at COP28 alongside all our partners, sponsors, and artists on the project so far. We also plan to finish the music album and collaborate with more artists and producers. We are currently seeking the last 15 corporate partners to join us and power impact.
AMM: Thank you so much for joining AMM for this interview. For our final question – what is your final message for our readers?
AY: My message is to take a photo of any outlet you see and tag @Batterytour, telling us which of the 17 SDGs you are most plugged into and why. Be an “OUTLET” and use your passion, skills, talents, business, or influence to help power change.