ANTWON: 100% HUMAN FEELING
photography by alex the brown
He blew out Union (formerly Jewel’s Catch One) in the name of his Nature World clothing-slash-culture org in February and now his long-awaited Double Ecstasy EP is out on Anticon—this is shaping up to be a good year for Antwon, who’s got as many connections with New York rap as he does with California hardcore or artists and designers the world over. (If he gets his own TV show, which he should, he’ll officially be a renaissance man.) Produced with Lars Stalfors—who never did hip-hop before this, but whose work with Mars Volta and Health makes him a perfect match—Double Ecstasy is a record with everything happening at once: it’s hilarious, existential and fearlessly personal, all thanks to Antwon’s trademark total commitment. Fun, doom and sex—sometimes it’s all the same thing. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
How do you deal with being bored? What do you do when you’re stuck?
Antwon: I don’t know if I feel stuck by boredom. I get really stuck emotionally when I’m depressed, like I don’t want to make music. Then I have to force myself out of it. I could wail on that type of shit and not do anything, but the kind of thing that’s going to make me happy and switch my mood is to create something that I like. So if I don’t create then I’m kind of sticking myself where I am. So I have to force it and make something, even if it’s just like funny—it doesn’t really matter. That’s kind of why a lot of music is half-funny, half-serious. It’s just to take me out of my funk and make something.
What puts you into the funk?
Antwon: Self-doubt, I guess. Self-doubt and normal insecurities probably, like growing up.
About your art?
And you conquer that by making more art.
Antwon: Yeah—making more art, making more music. Taking that sadness or anger and making it into something creative.
Do you ever make music cuz you’re happy?
Antwon: No! I want to go out and hang out if I’m happy. If I’m really really happy, I probably want to go drink or something and celebrate. I can’t be extra happy and record. I mean … I guess I can. But I feel like it comes from somewhere else. I never felt like being happy and being like, ‘I’m going to go record.’ I’ll feel like celebrating and being among friends. I guess it’s easier when you’re in a dark place and you’re kind of hanging out by yourself.
Since you reflect your real life in your songs, do you think your songs impact the way people deal with you and react to you? Knowing what comes out in your music?
Antwon: I don’t know. I don’t smile like a lot, so people are weird about that—‘Why don’t you smile?’ Or try to make me smile by smiling at me, and then it makes me feel awkward, like I’m not on that, I’m not on that wave, and I feel weird. I dunno.
Takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.
Antwon: I mean—I’m not smiling. I’m just … you know, that’s how my face looks!
There’s resting bitch face and there’s resting sad face.
Antwon: I have definite resting bitch face. I dunno about sad face.
The Double Ecstasy EP has been done for a bit, but now you’ve decided to go with Anticon. How did you end up there?
Antwon: Like any record label that’s going to be successful with their artists, they need to trust and believe in you. Money isn’t usually an issue—if people believe in stuff, they’ll put up as much money as they will. The main reason we went with Anticon is we were familiar with each other and they believed in me and wanted to put out a record of mine for a long time. I talked to other people who had been interested and I felt like I wasn’t really top priority to them. If I’m working on music and releasing music with somebody it should just be me and them. I don’t want to not be top priority.
Do you enjoy the business of music? How involved are you in that side?
Antwon: My manager does most of my business right now—the business stuff that’s kind of like the dirty work. He does a lot of that and I appreciate that a lot. Without him, it would be harder for me to my job. A lot harder. I do the side of having an idea, going forth and finding partners for the idea, and then he kind of helps me out with the tail end. He does the rest.
You have your collective/brand Nature World. What’s the motto from that one project? ‘Emasculating clothes for men’?
Antwon: Oh yeah—that’s the collab we did with Cali DeWitt. We did a whole line for L.A. Art Book Fair, and it was images of men being dominated by women. It was mostly Cali’s idea and we just ran with it. Street wear is very ‘man’ or male-dominated, and it’s silly. We made all this merch with imagery that is emasculating men, but men are wearing it. Anybody who actually understands what’s going on is like, ‘Yo, this is sick as hell!’ But the kid that doesn’t know what’s going on is pretty much wearing a shirt that says ‘fuck you’ and some grandma is going to look at it, like ‘Oh my God, that’s so crazy!’ Then eventually they’re going to think about it and be like ‘What is this that I’m actually wearing?’ and then get into it.
When you’re young, music and style are tied together. You try things out to test your identity, so it’s cool to make people think about why they’re wearing something.
Antwon: Definitely. Like you watched a skate video and you heard a song: ‘Oh, what’s this song?’ And then found a new genre of music and just got into it like that. It’s easier for kids now. When I was growing up and stuff, it took that for me to get into something—stumble upon it through a game. Accidentally.
Like the soundtracks on the Tony Hawk skateboarding games.
Antwon: No doubt! I still hear songs and I’m like ‘Oh that’s from Tony Hawk!’.
That definitely puts us as people who grew up in the 90s or early 2000s.
Antwon: I’m about to be thirty this year.
That’s a big one. Do you feel like you’re supposed to be more of an adult now?
Antwon: I definitely feel like I have to be more of an adult now. But I love youths—I love kids and shit. They keep me alive, so why not take everything they give me and give it back and teach them things? That’s the best. My favorite way of being an adult is helping out the youth and motivating them. I help out Wiki [of Ratking] and his homies and shit—I motivate those kids and they love me for it, and they show me love and keep me alive and inspired.
How did you meet Wiki?
Antwon: Our homie Panda was tour managing them at the time of their first tour. 2013, I think it was. They played the Blue stage at Fun Fun Fun, and we were playing the Blue stage the next day. Panda did merch for Trash Talk for a long time, and he was like, ‘Yo meet Wiki and Hak’ and I was like, ‘Oh shit—what’s up.’ Usually people in rap music, they meet each other and don’t even try to be friends—they just try to make music with each other and you can feel the vibe is off and shit. When me and him met, we were fans of each other’s music, but we [also] wanted to hang out with each other. When they started to tour with Trash Talk, that’s when me and Lee [Spielman] started living together, so every single time they’d be here, they’d stay at my crib. We didn’t make music right away—we felt each other out as friends. Pat had an attitude that was real familiar to me—the way he is reminded me of my friends growing up, and I guess that would probably be the same for Pat. And it was cool that we both make music and shit. That’s where we got the We Stole Hip-Hop Tour.
You go on tour and hang out with your friends.
Antwon: Exactly. We’re trying to push this super far. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag and shit, but I’m pretty sure this year we’ll be touring a lot together.
How did you end up working on your EP with Lars Stalfors from Mars Volta?
Antwon: I think he was interested in it and interested in working with me, so we got together. This is the first time he’s really done rap production, but I really liked working with him. Out of everyone, that’s like my favorite person to work with. It was cool—it was one of those things where we could work together, and he was down with that. Instead of just getting a beat and rapping over it, I felt like I was more hands on with the creation of the track—that in itself was a lot better. It’s really difficult just doing the same thing over and over again: getting a track, rapping over it, and that’s it. You don’t get to mess with stems or get to be a part of the production. This process was a lot more fun. I would go into the studio and then we’d write a song and start another song, then I’d go home and finish that shit and come back and finish and start another one—that’s how we did it. No samples.
Does your background in punk and rock influence the sounds that you’re looking for musically?
Antwon: I don’t think it influences the sounds I’m looking for. It influences everything else—my attitude towards life. It influences the way I interact with fans, the way I hold myself in my actual life, the way I go about life. Music-wise, I guess it does—everything influences everything else. But it’s not a direct influence where I’m trying to appropriate some kind of punk or rap music, you know? I’m not trying to be some rap-rock dude. I’m just doing what I do. I mean … I learned how to be social through going to shows. I learned how to interact in different ways. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t punk, the way that I think, the way that my friends think. The way we go about life. To somebody normal, it wouldn’t make no sense. But that’s OK. I mean, everyone has the ability to be pretentious. I don’t think anyone is shielded from that. No one’s an angel. Everybody’s shitty. But when it comes down to it, I think the majority of people who stay into punk throughout the years understand it’s a friendship. I go to different places and meet other people, we all link up, and it’s all through punk. That’s my favorite thing,
How did you go from punk to hip-hop?
Antwon: I was always into hip-hop. It was never a thing where I gave up punk music to do hip-hop. That’s something that’s inside me. It’s not one of those things where I was like, ‘I don’t want to listen to punk anymore.’ I may have been disenfranchised, I may have been like ‘I don’t really want to go to shows,’ but it’s deeper. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, I listen to this music’ or ‘Oh, I don’t want to listen to this music anymore, I want to listen to something else.’ There never really was a time where I felt like one was stronger than the other. I felt like both are elements that make ME that are a part of me.
Do you have to present yourself in a certain image in order for people to accept what you’re doing?
Antwon: Yeah—I guess I have to accept myself as being a black man because people are afraid to see me as anything else. It’s wildly ignorant, but I get it. I understand that people are fucking ignorant as shit, so I have to present myself as not being some timid non-black man, but that’s OK. The thing is … I get my point across. Before, I think a lot of people used to freak out because I looked more punk. That was really strange to them. But I thought it was cool and I didn’t give a fuck. I mean, I could still do that now and not give a fuck.
You rap about women in a certain way—do you feel like you have to? Or is it just who you are?
Antwon: When people look at the way I speak about women and when it comes to my rhymes, people think I’m speaking in a crazy sexist way. But I don’t feel one way about women. I have multiple women in my life that I have strong friendships with and they’re not sexual at all. Most people only want to hear things about sex with women. They don’t understand other things like feelings or talking and understanding.
Like no one wants to hear a song about how much you like your female friends and how nice it is to go to the movies together.
Antwon: Yeah, but I’m going to do that—I’m going to make a song about that.
Antwon: But let’s say I do that. No one’s gonna be like, ‘Oh, yo, he has that song…’ They’ll be like, ‘He has that other song, “Dying In The Pussy.”’ They just wanna hear what they wanna hear, and say what they wanna say, and I’m here to give 100% human feeling, uncut. If somebody wants to take away what they take away from it, I can’t change their minds—but I’m going to give you 100% of what I’m trying to do.
I have a strong love for really dirty songs. But I did have a moment watching your videos where I was like ‘Is this person telling the truth or is he telling the story he thinks people want hear?’ Do you sing that way but turn around and be sweet and nice to all the girls or do you not care about me, as a female?
Antwon: Of course I care about women. My mother raised me, by herself. Any time there is like a situation, I always side with the woman first just cuz of personal experience—growing up and understanding that the world is not made for a woman. It’s a man’s world, and you have to help women as much as you can. If you have a voice you should help those who don’t. I do care about women, but because I make rap music, and because this and that, I feel like people try to make it out like I’m some pig or like I’m some misogynist but they don’t know me—they don’t understand me, they don’t try to get to know me. I’m just trying to do my work so that later on people understand that I’m trying to do right by women—by humans. Everything in general, I’m just trying to do right, do the right thing for everyone.
What do you feel is the right thing? Did you learn it from music?
Antwon: What I know about right and wrong is just from talking to a bunch of people—listening to people about where they come from. So I know what’s right and what’s respectable about certain things in life—being respectful of where other people come from. You learn how men are depicted in music, and how a man should be, and this and that. With my music, I’m trying to teach people that a lot of things in masculinity aren’t real. I’m trying to teach kids—teach people—there are different ways. You don’t have to always agree with the way you were raised, but you have to understand that there are a lot of other people in this world and you have to respect a lot of other people to get by—to get respect.
It’s hard because by the time you figure out how to do it you’re turning 30.
Antwon: Yeah! And there’s not a lot of people who turn 30 and have a voice like I do. With fans, if they tell me my music got them through things, I like to hear that. If I am speaking for the people, I want to be a person for the people—not just one sect of people. And that’s pretty much what I’m trying to do with my music.
Do you feel like an artist has to have felt like an outsider at some point in order to reflect on the world?
Antwon: No doubt! You can’t be like an insider—you’re only going to have one view. If you can see everything, you’re more sensitive to everything, and you take in more. I think people who are insiders are content in the way they live so there’s no real learning after that. But an outsider is continuously learning about the world and that’s how I like to be. Nonstop learning about other things. It makes it better for progressing—evolving.
An artist does have the power to speak and people will listen. And it’s like … do you want that responsibility or do you not want that responsibility?
Antwon: I do. I mean, I’m only human so sometimes it’s a little too much. But I do want the responsibility of that. I always did.
Did you think that music would be your way to make an impact?
Antwon: Not at first. A lot of people told me when I was growing up that it is that way but I never really felt that way until recently.
It’s pressure. We expect a lot of entertainers: ‘Yes, we want to be entertained but back it up with something substantial or else.’
Antwon: I agree.
There are melancholy elements to your songs. Are you down in the dumps? Is there more hopefulness in the music you’re making right now?
Antwon: I always feel different. Sometimes I feel sad. I like to show the raw emotion. So if it’s happiness, it’s happiness. If it’s sadness, it’s sadness. It can’t be a grey area in music. I don’t want to make grey area music where you take the emotion out. I don’t want to make happy songs all the time. Sometimes I do want to make happy songs. Sometimes I want to make a sad song. I feel that if that song is that emotion, I want it to go to the heart. So whatever it is, I want people to feel that shit. I can’t make a half-assed sad song and I can’t make a half-assed happy song.
It’s not pretend. And it’s not pretend music.
Antwon: It’s definitely not pretend music. I feel what I feel when I make it.