"If you don’t get that most of my music is about selling drugs, breaking the law, not letting anyone stop you from reaching your goals, sex, dealing with the isolation that comes with relentlessly pursuing your success, and remaining positive then that’s okay."
If the audience is an idiot, I’d rather be unknown.
If challenging myself to always write better lyrics will always preclude me from the talk of what’s hot right now, then I’ll chill till infinity.
If being a good rapper means a million twitter followers and fifty million youtube plays, then I wanna be the rapper most closely associated with absolute trash.
If the characteristics of greatness cannot exist without electricity then I will be a caveman in a place without lightning.
In 2000 I didn’t start rapping because people liked rap music. There weren’t people around me making rap music, it wasn’t cheap to get the gear, it wasn’t easy to make rap music, and it wasn’t easy to share your music with billions of people. I started rapping because hip hop was the most powerful thing I had ever encountered. More powerful than skateboarding, and skateboarding was supercharged electricity to me. Participating in the defiant, vibrant, self-assured, expressive, and inclusive culture of hip hop was special before the internet. There is no social media equivalent to seeing your homies at a show, exchanging the new tracks you’re working on, talking about the new records you found last week, and then sharing the experience of a live performance.
As an outsider It was hard for me to get to that place because there was so much to do, there was so much to learn, and I had to discover everything without a guide. But it was also magical, and it made me part of a group of people who I respected and admired. Now, it’s all ordinary because the internet has changed hip hop, music, and culture at large. Hip hop music used to be a rarified practice reserved for those who sought it out like Luke on Dagoba. Now it’s a homogenized, often vacuous, craft that any quadricep can master as easily as cake in a box. That’s fine, because nothing is better or worse, things are just different. Personally, I don’t think hip hop has lost any of the amazing qualities that originally drew me to it, those are simply not the defining traits right now.
I used to battle people, and participate in these big freestyle cyphers where there would be 200+ people in the audience. It was in 2000/2001/2002, and it was a lot like the 8 Mile movie. Standing up on that stage and defying the presumptions that come with my appearance is how I earned respect, and a reputation as a rapper. People would see me battle or freestyle, and then they would come to my shows. Even though I sold weed, and broke the law regularly I didn’t rap about it at all. People didn’t know I was doing that, people just liked my raps. My lyrics were somewhere between poetry and prose inspired by obscure--by Florida standards--artists such as Dose One, Why?, Phoenix Orion, and Dr. Octagon, but also inspired by writers such as Richard Brautigan, Herman Hesse, Carlos Castaneda, Hunter S Thompson, James Joyce, and Lao Tzu.
"In the early 2000's being a biter was the worst thing you could be in hip hop, and I didn't have problems with that."
In the early 2000's being a biter was the worst thing you could be in hip hop, and I didn't have problems with that. However, the second worst thing you could be was anti-macho, and I was definitely anti-macho. When rappers told me they would shoot me or beat my ass I was never scared, I never ran away. Those were just the lies that rappers told in order to perform their version of hip hop. The same way that rappers now tell lies about selling drugs, and fucking other rappers’ love interests in order to perform their version of hip hop. I’ve never been into lying in my raps. I definitely enjoy some rap music where people are either embellishing or lying, but I can’t condone creating that music. I also think that the whole authenticity argument is very tricky. Yes, rappers should be genuine to their life experiences and should be held to some standards of authenticity, but no, it should not be up to the critics or the public to question that. Authenticity should be determined from within. People who are participants in hip hop culture are the only ones who should be maintaining standards of authenticity in hip hop. And right now, our collective standards for authenticity have waned. And that's ok, because even the inauthentic need a time to shine.
Hip hop defined me, and at an important crossroads in my life it was the option that made the most sense. I graduated from NYU with an MA in 2007, just as the economy tanked. I went into grad school with no debt, in a job market that was very favorable for college grads. By 2009, after 2 years of waiting tables in NYC and applying to PhD programs with no luck I had to decide what to do with my life. I had just read Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers and making rap music was the only thing I had 10,000 hours of experience doing. I reasoned that I'd give myself 3 years to see how I could make a career for myself, and in 2010 I set about doing just that. If things didn't work out I would give in to my parents' pressures and move home to become a lawyer and follow in my father's footsteps.
"In my personal quest to make my livelihood and my art indistinguishable nothing was unconquerable."
In my personal quest to make my livelihood and my art indistinguishable nothing was unconquerable. Hip hop may not have taught me that, but hip hop made it tangible and possible for me. There’s always sacrifices to be made, and for me none was too great when it came to pursuing my passion. I left loved ones behind; I moved from Weston to New York to, LA, to Arcata, to Oakland, to Arcata, to San Francisco, to New York, to Las Vegas, to LA; I wrote for the Mishka blog for 3 years with no expectation of ever being paid; I helped jumpstart careers for people who were taking advantage of my good nature; I endured homelessness for a year and got hit by a car in the middle of it; I survived off food stamps, trimming and selling weed, and occasional freelance work. For 5 years I did whatever it took to ensure that I’d be able to keep making music on my terms for the rest of my life. I didn’t do anything to get more popular, I just kept making music, and kept ensuring that I’d be making music tomorrow, and dealt with whatever life threw at me.
Right now hip hop’s defining traits seem to be swag, minstrelsy (committed by people of all skin colors and backgrounds), drugs, and occasionally some of the most incredible music ever created. I don’t want the audience that's here for this. But, there’s not much I can do except keep creating the stuff that I’d be creating regardless, and keep ensuring that I'll be able to create music for the rest of my life. I’m a serious artist dedicated to the infinite execution and refinement of my craft, so I'm not gonna let the fact that I'm cut off from my audience stop me from making music. I’ll keep making beats that lame people don’t like, I’ll keep writing lyrics that slow people can't catch, and I’ll keep being a character that fake deep people can’t understand until the hip hop I love comes into fashion. That’s not about hating on who is up right now, it's not about speeding up the change, and it’s not about putting down any type of music or any type of people. That’s about recognizing who I am as an artist, staying in my lane, and acknowledging the circumstances of hip hop right now.
"People look at me and think I’m a nerdy white guy who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but that has more to do with their eyes than my life."
People look at me and think I’m a nerdy white guy who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but that has more to do with their eyes than my life. For the people who do take the time to vibe with the sounds I make, sit with the lyrics I write, and experience the character I perform there’s a proper myth of our contemporary lives to be found. I’m a person who came from the outside with nothing, and made a lane for himself. I’m a person who didn’t let anything stop him. I’m a person whose life was defined in large part by my father’s job as a criminal defense attorney to some of the world’s most successful accused narcotics entrepreneurs, accused murderers, Mafiosos, and various bad guys that make up the fabric of hip hop signification today. Grisleda Blanco was the lady who was gonna kill my whole family long before she was a hip signifier for people who want to associate themselves with selling cocaine. That's what I came from, but I don't wear it on my sleeve, because I'd have to play myself in order to do that. I know who I am, and I stay in my lane.
I’m an artist who earned an MA so that I could always have the last word on my art, and no critic or scholar would ever be able to hold anything over me. I’m the Jewish person who went to Catholic high school and got voted funniest in the senior superlatives. I’m the journalist who the artists respect, and I’m the artist who the journalists hate. I’m the rapper who makes his own beats, mixes his own records, does his own art, and shoots his own videos because I wasn’t gonna wait for other people to do it for me. I’m the musician who releases his music on his own label, and does his own PR off a network of people who respect me for my art and my journalism. I’m a pervert and a feminist. Who I am is the result of a lot of disparate elements coming together via me being a rapper. If It weren't for hip hop I probably would have had to omit a great deal of who I am from my identity. All the power I have is built off the integrity of everything that I’ve done, and the way I’ve treated people. That’s how hip hop works.
"If It weren't for hip hop I probably would have had to omit a great deal of who I am from my identity."
I am a lot of people, I come from a lot of places, and I could have easily become any one of the popular hip hop stereotypes that sells so well right now. I just refuse to capitulate and turn my passion into idiot art for an idiot audience, because you can’t come back from that. If you don’t get that most of my music is about selling drugs, breaking the law, not letting anyone stop you from reaching your goals, sex, dealing with the isolation that comes with relentlessly pursuing your success, and remaining positive then that’s okay. I’m never gonna make bando music because I have too many influences that are beyond the trap. But me and the dudes who are actually in the trap, we’re talking about a lot of the same things. We’ve shared a lot of the same experiences, they respect me and I respect them. My only mission with my art was to make the most genuine contributions to this culture that my unique experiences can allow. It turned out to require more than I had anticipated, but that has only served to strengthen me and my art. I’m a 34 year old rapper who never blew up, and that’s fine with me, because I just wanna keep making the music I love. If the world ever comes around I'll be here, and if not I'll still be here all the same.