posted: 10-20-03

interview: spill for

Let's start with comparing to the beginning of Anticon and now. What's the most pleasant difference and what's the worst change Anticon went through?
That's a good question. It seems like most people haven't tried to see Anticon as a thing that's changed greatly over the years and is still developing in a lot of ways. For one thing, during the course of Anticon most of us have gone from a young 19 or 20 to being solidly in our mid-twenties. Which is a period of dramatic change for any individual, and so if you were to multiply that experience by the mass of us, you can imagine how much we've collectively transformed over that relatively short span of time. I personally feel worlds away from the early Anticon stuff, like the "Music For The Advancement Of Hip Hop" LP, and not only the music of it, but the attitude and approach behind it. Sole and I especially had a certain bitterness and sarcastic edge; you might call it the convenient cynicism of the uninvolved. By simply being engaged in the whole process of putting art out into the world changed my perspective quickly and thankfully. Mostly, it has made me more attentive to other people's work, in whatever form, which is an important thing to me.
Finally, and as an answer to the second part of your question, there was for me a feeling, early on, that Anticon was just an extension of what we considered the most promising and epiphany-producing aspects of certain rap; Circus, De La Soul, Freestyle Fellowship, for example. And that whatever success we had in reaching people would simply be one concentrated contribution to opening up the general conception of rap. Instead, rock critics and message board types have spent years bickering over whether we're hip-hop or not, and sad, angry rappers have wasted countless verses dissing us.
Frankly, I miss my early illusion that Anticon was striking out on behalf of underground, underappreciated, and experimental rap.
So, I think there are some new or developed illusions on Anticon by you...
God, that's a terrifying question. I think it's difficult to identify the dimensions of your illusions until they've already crumbled, if even then. So maybe in five years I'll be able to reflect on the way I'm telling myself things are now.
Why wasn't there a pedestrian album already?
I'm not really sure. I've always done music slowly, and since I enjoy the lyric-writing process most of all, I tend to let the space between completing a song and starting a new one drag for long stretches. Besides that, I've been going to school for a while. I'm finishing UC Berkeley next year. And I've always worked, most recently at a record store and before that tutoring English at a community college.
But more fundamentally, I don't think I've ever been thoroughly convinced of the worth of having one's music come out. It's very difficult to conceive of myself as a 'musician' whose basic function is to create a 'product' which will be named, printed, laid with barcodes, and sent through its own little off-stream of industry. What exactly is the object of all of that? The gathering of money? The satisfying of an audience? 'Self-expression,' whatever that is? None of these three ideas appeal to me too deeply, and I guess their respective opposites would be closer to the truth: an impoverished self-satisfaction, out of which a very particular kind of music might emerge.
There's something about emcees that efface themselves, that minimize their roles as rappers. I'm thinking of Ras Kass here, and the plain truth of "Remain Anonymous". That's aesthetically pleasing to me. Maybe it's my abiding love for the lost heroes of the underground rap tapes I used to trade for; I still identify mostly with the least ambitious and most unrepentantly marginal of them all.
What can we expect from your album, and when can we expect it? Will Math produce all tracks on it?
It should be out at the end of this year, or so, on Anticon. Math, Jel, and Why? have done all the music. It's pretty distant from the songs I've released in the past, all of which are like tiny stinging regrets. It's three songs short of done, and I'm sure I'll seal it soon.
How was it to work with DJ Krush? I think you were feeling a little flattered.
We were certainly extremely flattered to work with Krush, whom I think the majority of us listened to when we younger. Especially "Meiso," and above all that album's song with Black Thought. As for working with Krush, I wonder if the audience knows that these kinds of collaborations are typically less like collaborations and more like art objects; pieces of music are passed around until they seem done, and then are put out as songs. I think it's a strange thing to do, yet everyone does it. To demonstrate what I mean, here's my personal experience with our song with DJ Krush: 1. Wrote with Dose the second verse, which was about Bush, the next 'dollar model president.' 2. Some two or three months later, on the night before the song had to be sent out, I wrote about 16 lines at work, and came to record it with Jel. Everyone else had already done their parts. After recording for five minutes and hating everything about the song, including the fact that I was making myself try to record it, I threw my verse away and left. After I left, Jel took my last take and moved it to the beginning of the song. That's why I only have four lines, and they're almost a cappella. 3. The song comes out, shrink-wrapped and bearing the word 'Sony.'
Now Anticon and DJ Krush and Sony are forever commingled in memory. At least the memory of discographies, catalogs, and search engines.
But that's not really a bad thing!? Now, I got the Solesides 10" EP, which is a really cool 'compilation'! It dropped on Marlboro music, but I really can't care, because the music is great...
No, it's not necessarily a bad thing that we have a song out on Sony, especially if you consider the juxtaposition of a major media monster releasing a deeply ambivalent meditation on John Walker Lindh, the hip-hop Patty Hearst. It's also interesting considering the obscure, low-print fate of the song that the title of our song references: "Song for Patty," by Sammy Walker, a folk singer, a Dylan acolyte and Phil Ochs protégé.
You were performing on Krush's record release Party in Japan, right? I guess the audience was different to an Anticon solo gig. That must have been great.
Yeah, it was cool. We were telling bad jokes to a whole sea of people that didn't understand a word of English, and didn't respond at all. There were just these aren't-these-so-funny-because-they're-corny jokes hanging in the air, lingering with reverb, with a completely mute audience just looking at us, waiting for the beats.
(laughs) How important is it for you, that the listener understands what you're saying?
I used to care much less whether my lyrics were comprehensible; I was mostly into fast rapping and freestyling, and I was really inspired too by a lot of vocalese-Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks, and Eddie Jefferson especially. Which is probably the apotheosis of voice-as-instrument. But the whole appeal of rap for me has always been its hyper-wordiness, and more than anything I want to communicate ideas. And if the listener isn't fully grasping them it's because they're not really trying to. As David Berman sang: "Now that I'm older, and subspace is colder/ I just want to say something true."
Earlier, you mentioned tape trading. I read on the Anticon page that your were something like a mogul of the rap tape trade in the mid 90s. That's how you linked up with Sole, right?
I had gotten a copy of Sole's first tape, Northern Exposure's "Madd Skills and Unpaid Bills," which was a really typical '94-style album, as you can see by its title, that Sole made when he was 15 or 16. And he had a song called "Bustas" that criticized g-funk and west coast rap; one line was: "Peace to west coast rappers that don't sound like Snoop or Dre." I had met him around this time and since he was the only rapper I knew, I started giving him the stuff I was starting to really get into; I think the first tape had Volume 10 on one side and Freestyle Fellowship's "To Whom it May Concern" on the other. I scoured the far reaches of underground rap for anything at all interesting back then, and I would inevitably hook him, Moodswing, and all of my then friends with NY indie stuff like Natural Elements, Siah and Yeshua, Godfather Don, and Sha-Key, and the more experimental west coast stuff like Circus and Radioinactive, Project Blowed, and early Solesides.
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