The inherent potential that lies in the duality of a rapper/producer remains for me one of hip hop’s greatest artistic treasures.
While in four decades of rap the dual practice has become more common, its innate difficulty – starting with the requirement of mastering two distinct yet complimentary crafts – makes it more prone to sort the wheat from the chaff. If you suck, you doubly suck, so you’ve even less chance of people taking you seriously. In the past decade or two, the lineage has gotten daunting for any aspiring entrant: the shoes of a Pete Rock, Jay Dee, El-P, Timbaland or Madlib aren’t easy to fill. One Los Angeles kid is up to the challenge though, and the city’s bastion of hip hop underdogs is backing him up.
One of Jonwayne’s earliest supporters was Kutmah, the DJ and artist who found himself relocated to London from Los Angeles in 2010. Silver linings being what they are, Kutmah’s newfound situation allowed him to spread the gospel of Wayne further afield. That’s how I came to know of the young aspiring rapper and producer. Another was Daddy Kev, one of the Low End Theory founders and head of local indie house Alpha Pup where Jonwayne released his debut album, Bowser, in 2011. A direct product of the post-beat scene boom that the city was experiencing, Bowser was all about Jonwayne the producer and his clear fascination for not just a hard knocking beat, but also pianos (more on that later). This month sees the release of Jonwayne’s second debut, Rap Album One, on Stones Throw Records. This time, it is all about Jonwayne the rapper, although of course the producer is firmly behind him. As those before him have proven, when you’re good the two are inseparable.
In many ways, the story of how Jonathan Wayne came up in the past seven years would be a good contender for a modern day rap tale of rags to riches. One where hard work, overcoming stereotypes and not giving too much of a fuck what others think are key lessons – where rags are dead end jobs, and riches are co-signs from important peers. From Myspace to handing out demos, performing at Low End to releasing on two of the city’s flyest indie labels, Jonwayne got to where he is today by staying true to his roots: from his appearance to his delivery, from his beats to the company he keeps. And that’s part of his appeal.
I caught up with the Angelino wunderkind during his recent US tour, where he was opening for Mount Kimbie – a strange yet beautifully logical team-up. Over a crackling line, Wayne opened up about his history, his philosophy, learning by doing and what it means to be a rapper/producer in this day and age. Oh, and if you’re wondering if there’s any relation: in a bizarre twist of fate, the actor cowboy actually got his name from the rapper – see the last track on Cassette 3 for more details.
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I thought it best to start with some background history. How you got into music and hip hop, leading up to when your name first appeared in the Myspace era…
I was maybe like 8, and my mom bought me a cassette player. I started getting hold of tapes, I can’t remember which one exactly but there was a Parental Advisory sticker on it. And I don’t think my mom knew what that meant until she listened to the cassette with me and went, “Oh shit, let’s… let’s not let you have this.” At the time, cursing on a song meant everything to me, I wanted to hear all the bad words. I would start to listen to music on my own after that, and I got into rap music. I would just pick albums at random, whatever made its way to me. I remember having a Busta Rhymes album. A lot of East Coast music. And then… I don’t know… continued to listen to music through whatever means I could find. I found I liked jazz, got into rock in high school… And then I started – tried to – writing poetry, and found my way into writing rap songs. Then Myspace happened.
Which would you say came first, the raps or the wanting to make the music? Or was it equal?
Where I grew up, it wasn’t necessarily like something that was offered to you, it was something you had to go look for. I really had to go out of my way in order to make this shit happen. Basically, there was a studio that was over a hill and then some from where I lived. I didn’t even drive, so I had a homie drive me there, he was a really good friend of mine and he believed in what I did. He used to drive me every Saturday, in the morning, up to this dude’s house. I’d save some money from allowances and stuff and go there and record songs. It was a mission for me. Before that I was just discovering the love I had for it and doing all the stuff that comes with that. I didn’t have the means to record where I was, so that’s how it started. I definitely had to have the passion in order to do that. I had that passion instilled in me before anything else.
Did you see making music and rapping as two sides of the same coin, or did you think one might become more important than the other?
It’s kind of a weird thing for me. I made beats before I started rapping, but I never saw it as something I’d do seriously, I always thought that I was taking the rapping stuff more seriously. I started going to Low End Theory and that’s when I began to realise the depth to hip hop production and the forays into electronic music. Once I saw myself within that context I started… around 2009… I started really opening my eyes to the possibilities and where exactly I fit in all that. Basically I let the rap stuff take a back seat while I figured that out. I almost did the Michael Jordan shit, you know? He wasn’t very good at jump shots or shooting so he actually practiced until he’d made what were weaknesses his strong suits. My beats weren’t very good so I approached it the same. I sat down, worked on it, figuring it out. So I was focusing more on that side of things. Which led to the album with Alpha Pup. Basically I wanted to see where it would take me, as an alternative to rap. It was a different experience and I really enjoyed it.
In terms of one having more importance than the other, I always wanted to present myself as someone who does both equally. When you’re growing and learning it’s hard to establish that. In that sense this record is the first thing I’ve done which I feel is really pushing forward this ideal.
Let’s go back for a second. How important would you say Myspace was for you, if at all? It was a really influential tool in bringing people together, and in the case of beats and hip hop production in cementing the idea of a global scene with local hubs like L.A.
I think Myspace had the most impact that any social media will ever have on the music industry, in my opinion. Certain structures it had, and friendships that were built on those years spent online. It was like the gold rush, after people found the place. I feel bad for people who weren’t around during that time and didn’t have a chance to establish the connections that we all did. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can’t see myself being where I am today if I had started on Soundcloud. Take Brainfeeder: they started as a bunch of like minded people in L.A, but that was reflected exactly on the internet too.
People talk shit on Top 8s and stuff, but like, really? That’s how I found a lot of music. “Oh I like this artist and he rates these other 8 dudes, so let me see what they’re about.” To me, that was a very lightning bolt way of learning about entire communities in a short amount of time. Whereas now it’s caught up with us, it’s all jumbled up. You have to start paying a lot of attention in order to figure out what exactly is going on because everybody is trying to be so mysterious and intricate yet readily available at the same time. It’s drives me mad, but it’s how it is.
I grew up south east of Los Angeles and I started into the city as soon as I learnt how to drive, handing out demos to people. I knew I was being that annoying ass dude but if you believe in yourself and your music you have to be crazy because everyone sucks when they start out. I felt I may have something but I wasn’t as good as I am now, though I had the same confidence. So yeah submitting demos to people who obviously got that shit all the time, I was just going there and had nothing else to do or shoot for. I wasn’t doing particularly well in college or anything, I had a shitty dead-end job and so the music shit was the only thing I really had going for me and felt I needed to pursue it.
I’ve been listening to the album a lot and I was thinking of its lineage back to the likes of In Control, the Marley Marl album. I was thinking about the history of producer-led albums, which In Control is an early example of. And I see you fitting into this tradition of the rapper/producer that has become stronger over the past twenty years. People like Madlib who’s also on Stones Throw, Jay Dee, El-P and so on.
I think it’s grown stronger even in just the last five years, in the availability to pursue both.
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You’ve mentioned pursuing the producer thing for your own reasons, and it’s the first time your rapper side is really taking prominence with this release. I wondered if you’ve ever looked back at the history of this dual practice in hip hop for inspiration, to see where you fit in or how to go forward?
Totally. I have to. I have to look back to see where the fuck I’m going. I don’t know what I’m doing… I just see what people have done before and go ‘oh that’s tight, let me try’. And hopefully I don’t fuck it up. At the same time I think this album is the first time I’ve felt brave, I guess. Making a record has been a very… I want to find a better word than cool… hold on… nah, not happening right now. It’s been a very enlightening experience. It’s solidified a lot of things, where I fit within everything. I found a lot of myself within making the record and that has a lot to do with my love for rap music and the things I’ve heard growing up. Feeling pressure, I feel responsible to keep a lineage going. I’m not just here to shit on people and leave with whatever money I can. I’m doing this for respect and I’m not making decisions lightly. Whatever I choose to do, I hope it’s for the betterment of something other than myself, even if I look out for myself first and foremost.
Someone like El-P, doing Co Flow and then dropping Little Johnny From The Hospitul, is definitely an influence. At one point I felt pressured to perhaps choose, when I focused on the beats people seem to either want one thing or the other from me. People were talking to me about producing electronic music for the rest of my life or sampling that shit and being a rapper. Basically there was a certain point I decided to do what I wanted, which was to incorporate all of it into some shape or form. And I don’t know yet how I’ll do that. I’ll be in the studio, lock myself in there and let it come to me and hopefully figure it out. Which tends to be how it happens so far.
We’re also at a stage where the idea of the producer as an artist within hip hop is stronger than it’s ever been, more realistic than ever.
Absolutely. People are taking more strides in order to make their work quality now. It’s partially because of fact checking but also because of the amount of competition. Whatever the reason, it’s a good thing. People taking more pride in their work.
It’s also interesting because you could have chosen to take that route only, as you came into it at the perfect time almost. Being that guy who plays beats and pushes buttons on stage.
I did it for a while and it didn’t feel right. I did the whole rapper thing too, just being the rapper, and that stuff came out on the cassettes. A lot of the material on there was rapping taking prominence, not worrying so much about production or the flow of things. It was just me having fun, instead of worrying about a statement.
I was going to ask if the work on the Cassette releases was part of the creative process for the album, as it felt like that way from listening to them in order followed by the album.
They’re all different actually. The first one helped me start making rap music again. After Alpha Pup and me trying to get back into rap music, I had a crazy writer’s block cos I hadn’t done it for so long. It wasn’t as important at the time, like I said. Trying to go back it, trying to find the passion for it, I had a hard time. I wasted months trying to work on things, but it wasn’t happening, it was bad music. I didn’t know what to do. Then Wolf [Stones Throw label head] brought in his old 8-track cassette recorder. I started recording with it, I was fascinated by the audio quality and it reminded me of how I first got into rap music by buying cassettes. That really drove me to do those Cassette releases. I didn’t like the idea of a free download. I liked the idea of a free cassette that you could find if you looked for it, that’s part of the experience.
The first one was an ode to how I discovered music, rap shit. That also opened the floodgates to all the stuff I had inside of me. And I made the record after that. Then the second Cassette was B-sides and offcuts from the album that didn’t make it on there for a reason or another. And the third one was made after the album was done. I’d moved to another place, out of the city where I made the album, and the energy was so crazy I just started recording music. It had a real dirty aesthetic to it and I made the whole thing in three weeks, which is very unlike me – I normally take my time to finish things. But I had a surge of energy moving into this new spot, I had no problems creating all that music. We were still waiting on a couple things to clear for the album and the date kept getting pushed back. I told them I had this other shit that we could put out and Jeff [Jank, Stones Throw in-house artist and designer] had a few drafts of Cassette covers he’d already made. He showed me the iPod one and I said, “Let’s do it.” It was very organic, the way they all happened – they happened out of necessity rather than “Oh, by the way, you need to do this.”
I felt the third Cassette was really similar to the album.
I don’t know… I make things in short bursts. I’ll spend two months doing nothing and then have a month of creative alcoholism, and all the stuff made in that time will be cohesive, because it comes from the same place. Most of my projects are all made in a short amount of time, but I’m not really that prolific, I just happen to make things quickly.
So was the album a similar process?
No! The album was made over a year, during a kind of writer’s block. It was a blessing in a way, it allowed me to pay more attention to details. More attention than I would normally pay. I’m not very… I’m always moving onto the next thing. But with this album I had no ideas. Well I had ideas but they were not coming to me as quickly as they usually do. This album was me fighting to make my way back to where I was, and surpassing that point. That struggle to find myself again is really what the album is, all that material on there was made during that time. And it’s very different to where I am today.
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Do you see lessons to be learnt from the experience perhaps? Balancing those bursts of creativity with taking more time refine the details?
No… well, actually, yes. My output tends to be a direct reflection of me as a person, and I wasn’t in a good spot when I made the record. 2012 was a bad year for me. Going through all the shit I did and then trying to move forward, I wouldn’t have made that music if I wasn’t in that situation. I’m happy that it is a reflection of where I was at the time, because I actually like the record [laughs].
Listening to it, I was struck by how you break from the conventions of rap music. On the second track, for example, you have a sixteen, no chorus, or a very unconventional chorus, and a sixteen of scratch from D-Styles. That approach seems increasingly more common in some current hip hop, and I think it’s interesting because you admit to drawing influence from the classic rap of past decades which had more formulaic, set in stone conventions. as regards verses, choruses and the like. Is that something you consciously think about, or is it more of a result of going with the flow?
I try to play to my strengths and I’m not a good chorus guy. When I write one for a song when it comes to me it tends to work, but at the same time I don’t always sit there and think, “Oh shit, I need to come up with a hook.” If I have to purposefully write them, they tend to be fucking terrible. But that’s how I make music, so I’ve always tried to find ways to make my strengths work in different contexts. I have to break away from certain conventions in order to make music that’s wholly myself and at the same time presenting myself in the most cohesive way, the best way possible.
With that song I made the beat in my room and wrote that verse. I had planned on getting other people on it but then some wanted the beat too, and one of those was Earl. He wanted the beat for his record and I wasn’t sure, I was making my own album at the time too. He wrote a verse for it and he said he didn’t like it in the end, so the beat came back to me in a way. I liked it, but I didn’t want it to be just a sixteen bar, so I added the vocal sample stuff and got D-Styles to do his thing. I still wanted it to be a jam but I couldn’t go back to it, write another verse or make it better vocally. I’d said all I wanted to say on there and there was nothing left inside of me.
How has the reception been from the label and other people in terms of the songs that aren’t in the traditional rap mould?
They were definitely asking for more singles. Some of the songs are obviously singles, on the final version, but those weren’t necessarily in the earlier drafts of the album. I’d given them a weird fucking album, and at one point a lot of people were cool with it, but at the same time it needed to be different so they wanted more from me. And I wanted to do things on my own terms. They wanted to extend ‘The Come Up Pt.2’ into a full song, make that another single but I declined. We had a fight about that, and a couple other things.
I think what I like most about it is the way it floats between conventional and unconventional. And it’s interesting you bring up Earl ,because his album has also been on repeat for me and I’ve seen similarities in his approach and yours. There are songs on his album that are two sixteens back to back and that’s it.
I learned he’d named his album after his grandmother once it came out. It’s interesting, because both my grandparents died last year, within 30 hours of each other. I had to fly down to El Paso for a week, had a double funeral, meeting all the people down there, as well as people I hadn’t seen in a while, and it sort of broke me out of the pressure I was feeling about having to make a record for Stones Throw. It felt like pressure to a degree as it’s one of my favourite labels and a lot of records I like came out on there. I had a certain stigma related to presenting something via them. And ironically having something as tragic as both grandparents passing really snapped me out of my own shit and forced me to perceive my reality as how it should be and take control. I just found it odd that my grandparents’ death forced me to make this record, and that Earl named his record after his grandmother, who’d also passed. I don’t know if her death influenced it or not, but seeing as it’s named after her I assume it might be.
You’ve mentioned the record coming out of necessity. A lot of the lyrical content struck me as very personal, and so I’m assuming the experience must have been quite cathartic?
Absolutely. I think more and more this is the case for me these days, I use my own music as therapy. There’s a certain point in my career were I made rap songs for the sake of making rap songs and now I make them because I have no other way of expressing myself. So by default a lot of the music comes from a place where… it’s coming from necessity and I have to deal with it and I have to do it. Me making music today is a necessity.
There’s a verse on ‘The Come Up pt.1’ where you talk about looking to the East Coast for lyrical inspiration and the West Coast for spiritual inspiration. How else would you explain this idea other than with that verse?
I was talking about it with Wolf sometime last year. He was talking about this idea that on the East Coast nobody has a car, so most people listen to music in headphones and so the lyrics come to the fore, they’re most important. In a busted-ass pair of Walkman headphones that’s what you really hear. But on the West Coast, we all have cars and systems and so people were more concerned with bass and sonics, the vibe of a song. People on the East Coast had different goals with their music, consciously or not. And then the West Coast had a totally different vibe. Different things made different people successful. Nas wouldn’t be as successful as he is today if he’d been on the West Coast. And vice versa with Dre, I feel. Puffy kinda had that vibe, but it wasn’t until later. If we talk about ’92 Dre, he would have been a totally different artist if he’d come from a different area. So that line is about recognising the idea that there are differences between the coasts, different vibes, different goals, which I’d picked up on when I was growing up.
That song in particular is about how I was having a rough time as a child, how I had a rough childhood, kids being kids, and so I turned to rap music as a… what’s the word… to find solace. And then Scoop, his dad is Kid Frost. So he’s like hip hop royalty. In that song, I talk about having hip hop as something to help me find my way into the world, and he comes out of nowhere and starts talking about how at ten years old he was riding limousines and having full grown girls in his lap, going to school with rolls of money, all that. I think we appreciated the contrast the verses provide, in terms of how hip hop affected our lives.
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I meant to ask about Scoop. On paper it might seem like an odd team up but in the context of today’s rap game it’s perhaps perfectly normal. There’s much more bleed between the so-called mainstream and underground. The idea of those two things as it existed ten years ago is sort of gone.
Yeah, and I think that’s good. Scoop and I met each other a couple years back, and he actually discovered me through Bowser. We were making beats together for a while but he didn’t know I rapped until he came to a Stones Throw show and saw me live. As soon as I opened up to him about that, he was down, and he’s been one of my biggest supporters. Having him on the record was a fuckin’ honour, he’s like a big brother for me. For him to come through like that has been great.
I assume he produced the Come Up beats?
He produced Part 2 and the track ‘Black Magic’ which is towards the end of the album.
So Part 1 is you?
Ha. They’re quite similar sonically.
I made the beat when he was in the room and I’m sure I picked up on his vibe because it is the most Scoop Deville-ish thing I’ve ever made. We did the song real quick. We were in the studio and I’d flipped the sample three years ago but I’d lost the beat and it wasn’t that good anyway. I remembered flipping it and I took it out and tried to flip it again but on a cleaner tip, how it turned out, and he was digging it and it was a vibe. He definitely was an influence for that song.
He’s the only credited featuring on the record I know of, but you’ve also got Zeroh on there right?
Yeah, he sings on the ‘Zeroh Song’ and played some of the keyboards. MNDSGN also helped me with the last song and played some keys on there. Those are the only real featurings, I tried to keep things like that to a minimum. It being my debut I wanted to showcase myself most, and of course some of the homies.
To touch on this idea of contrast between you and Scoop and underground and mainstream, someone yesterday put it to me that today the underground doesn’t exist and you’re either invisible or you’re not. What do you make of it?
I don’t know how true it is, but the notion of there being no more mainstream and underground is scary. The way things have moved thus far is that something on the underground blows up and the mainstream grabs a hold of it. And by the time the mainstream is monetising it, squeezes it dry, the underground is already onto the next thing. So now you have underground producers making hit records and everyone’s conscious of everything, which I think causes a bit of a stand still. What I’m worried about is, “What’s next?” Everyone is enjoying the moment but who is preparing us for the next step? Or is it going to be a bubble of everyone jerking each other off until we all become stale? You know what I mean? I worry about that shit. Where are we going?
It’s a moment of flux for a lot of things, not just the industry but also the artistry. I also wanted to briefly to touch on your flow, which I realise is a fairly abstract thing. When I first heard you rap it felt like you were finding your voice – not literally but artistically – and with the album it feels like that’s happened, it feels more mature I guess.
It’s difficult to surmise or manifest… it’s difficult to do that when you’re constantly experimenting and trying to find who you are within anything. So for me to discover a resting place at this point in time and make a body of work that’s cohesive and interchangeable that brings a lot of relief. Up to now, I’ve been chasing the dragon, trying to find where I can be at, worrying about making five songs that can be put together logically. But that’s how it is. I appreciate where I am now and it’s something I’ve been working to for years. It’s refreshing to finally be able to do what I’ve been wanting in a sense.
I don’t know if you ever heard this before but someone like MF Doom felt like a clear reference point for you vocally early on.
Oh yeah absolutely. It’s like biting. It’s always the first step.
For sure it’s part of the creative process. That’s why Cassette 3 hit me like the album, it was like you’d made it your own finally. And well another thing on that tip is piano samples. They’re quite prominent on a lot of album tracks and Bowser was like that too. Is there a reason you’re so attracted to pianos and keys?
I don’t know… I think it’s a beautiful instrument. There’s a reason why I choose it as a mainstay of my music and it’s because it’ll never change, it’ll never… it’s something you can’t build on, it’s very classic, it stands the test of time, you can hear a piano from any era and make an emotional connection to it. Take fuzz guitars, they’re very specific, from a certain time. Whereas a piano, the acoustics, dynamics of it, the emotional side of it when someone plays it remains absolutely astounding and beautiful regardless of when or where or who uses it, and it’s something I’ve always had a love for. And, by the way, all the pianos on there are played rather than samples. A lot of the record is played.
Bowser was the same right?
Yeah, Bowser had no samples.
I think I thought of it as samples in terms of how you treat them.
I love spending time mixing things down. It’s my other passion. Making things sound right. I think there’s a lot of power in that and joy also, finding a place for everything in the mix. Kev [Daddy Kev] mixed down the stems of the album and did a very beautiful job of that too. It wasn’t an easy job, I gave him some pretty unprofessional roughs for some of those songs and he managed to make them sound brilliant, cohesive. He definitely deserves credit for making it happen.
Did he master it as well?
Yeah. I came to him after I was having trouble making everything sound right, I came to him because of our previous work and he offered to mix it and I took him up on that in a heartbeat.
I’m sure it must be nice to have an engineer whose understanding of the music runs deep.
Kev definitely understands the music at a deep level. He’s got that expertise, and you don’t have to worry about things you would normally have to if working with someone who doesn’t get it. I’m grateful for that.
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To go back to the featurings for a minute, we mentioned Zeroh is on there and he’s someone I’ve really become a fan of in the past year. In a way it feels like the past few years have seen a resurgence of rap from L.A that’s really varied and healthy: yourself, Zeroh, Jemeriah Jae, Flying Lotus, the Odd Future kids. It seems like a good time for rappers in L.A, like a strong new wave is coming.
I’m sure a lot of people don’t remember this, but one of the biggest statements of the so-called beat scene at the end of the 2000s was this idea that producers could be their own artists and didn’t need rappers. A lot of producers were very adamant about not working with rappers, and took a sort of pride in being able to make the music they did. It’s no longer like that, but back then it did feel like a revolution of sorts, like a big ‘fuck you’ to rappers. And it was a powerful statement at that point, considering there were good things going on. But there weren’t a lot of rappers capable of taking the cues from the new school of production that had emerged and vibe with it and use their voice as an instrument. Now, there are people who have been born of that mentality and who rap, and who are able to catch on and vibe with that sort of production. Everyone’s obviously opened to the idea of introducing that style and sound into rap music and a lot of people out here are having a good time doing that. I’ve always wanted to do it, I’ve always wanted to make rap music with that style and sound since I started. There are people I keep with me who are my peers and who I respect and who are from this area and who are just as good at that if not better. Zeroh being one of them. I can’t say enough about the dude. Look him up.
In that regard your album to me feels like the first really important rap statement to come out of the whole beats/production era we’ve been discussing. There have been others obviously but yours feels most coherent as a statement about the direct link between those things: an evolution of hip hop production aesthetics and rap music.
I love the Captain Murphy stuff and I think those records tackle a different side of the equation. The amount of styles that have stemmed from the experiments in this city, there’s so many different angles that can be taken from it, and those records perhaps romanticise a different angle to what came out of that era. And built on it too.
Sonically yours doesn’t have the obvious disjointed beat shit you might expect to hear on there. It’s more straightforward, so to speak.
It was a conscious decision to keep it sonically that way. There’s a lot of fucked up ideas going on and I wanted people to pay more attention to the ideas rather than the reverb of the sonic body as a whole. I wanted people to… take the voice, mix wise it’s usually dry. There’s not a whole lot of effects being used. I kinda wanted to keep it that way so people could pay attention to the details, it’s a very clean cut record.
So, if this is Rap Album One, is it fair to say more rap albums are in the potential making?
Yeah, there are plans for three. The stuff I’ve been doing I’ve tried to keep very catalogue-esque. With the music nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in someone’s discography and not know what’s what, or what came out before what. I’m keeping it organised in terms of names so people know. Rap Album One is before two and so on. I agree with you that it’s humorous but at the same time I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a smart move. People want the music experience to be as easy as possible these days, and while I’m making it difficult in some ways I’d rather people know what is what.
What hopes if any do you have for the album once it’s out?
I hope people realise who I am after it. That’s all I really want. I don’t care… if it does well great, if it doesn’t, I don’t have any regrets. I know people won’t like it, and an equal amount probably will. It’s a polarising record I think, it’s not a normal record, it’s not giving people what they want. People don’t know what they want till they get it anyways. It’s a record for me, honestly. It’s for me. The fact it’s coming out publicly is purely a coincidence. I would have made it either way. If people don’t like it so be it.
There’s a line in the album I really like, ‘This is rap shit / recite banter with high standards’. It feels like a nice summary of what rap can be best at. I was wondering how you feel about the overall split that’s becoming more pronounced between those who still use rapping for banter and other things vs the increasingly tired ‘this is my life’ overblown type rap.
I have a certain way of thinking about lyrics and rappers and what their job is. Obviously not everyone agrees with me and that’s fine – if everyone did, I’d be worried. I feel like it’s not cool anymore. So a lot of people aren’t doing it. And ultimately I don’t care, but yeah, I would like if more stuff took pride in itself lyrically. I’m a poet first and foremost, if you’re not saying anything and giving me a unique narrative I can chew on I don’t really have time for it. Then again, I’m not like every other drunk-ass baby mama who wants to forget her life and trip out in the club with her girls. That’s fine that some choose to make music for people like that, but I don’t see myself doing it and I wouldn’t be able to justify my existence if I did.
One idea that’s been recurring a lot in my work recently is how instrumental hip hop allows the listener to place their own narrative, their own story on the music, whereas rap almost forces someone else’s narrative onto you. As someone who does both, do you ever find yourself making something that you don’t want to rap over or vice versa?
I make beats all the time I don’t rap over. I have at least a thousand beats at home that haven’t been touched. I make instrumentals with me in mind, so if I make a beat for me to rap, I’ll rap on it. But I also make stuff that just wants to just sit on its own. The way I see music, there’s a certain feeling on every song, there’s a point where too much is going on and once that happens it’s no longer music – it’s just noise. So if there’s a lot going on in the beat but it can stand by itself than that’s fine. My voice is an instrument, so if something needs it in that sense I’ll add it.
As for the narrative idea though, I think that’s bullshit. I think instrumental music is just as ego-driven as vocal music. In a very Warhol-ish way. Like, “I’m just gonna put a kick and a snare and a weird sound together and everyone’s gonna listen to it.” If that’s not ego driven, fuck that shit. Just because there are no words on it doesn’t make it more universal. You know? And that’s not to say what I do isn’t ego driven, it is. Making music is ego-driven, it’s there always. You’re presenting an experience, it’s something that’s going to permeate through someone’s listening either way. I’m sorry, I just don’t like it when people try to make something more special than it is. If it’s tight, it’s tight. If it’s not, it’s not. Don’t put any backspin on it. Instrumental music is not of a higher order. That was an idea at a certain point which I never fucked with. That’s how I see it.
I’m glad you bring that up. To me the interest around what happened at the end of the decade, the so-called scene that sprung up around beats and instrumental stuff, always felt like people trying to box an aspect of hip hop into something else. And that’s always felt pointless.
Exactly. Hip hop is a philosophy, it’s… rap music is not hip hop. And people tend to forget that. Rap is like only one side of it, one element. The idea of hip hop is the philosophy. To say what was happening in L.A wasn’t hip hop is to be ignorant. And the people that started will tell you that shit. Ask Kutmah, Gaslamp. This is hip hop, anyone trying to make it something else are getting in the way, they make it harder for people to do their job. They’re confusing shit.