RHYS LANGSTON: SEE IF I CAN OBLITERATE
photography by theo jemison
Rhys Langston: Shout-out to L.A. RECORD for just taking a chance on a local kid! Umm… for real, though, I think there’s a level of … I wouldn’t say resignation in a grandiose sense, but having to resign yourself to being okay with a level of uncertainty. I think it’s hard nowadays more than others, because … well, I don’t really know, but I’d make the case that it’s harder now than any other time because to gain traction. Or not traction, but to really feel like your efforts are somehow substantiated in some material linking back to you because of the constant flow of content. I think that independent artists—for me, the main thing has been not being focused on the numbers game, and [instead] really taking moments and being like, ‘That’s progress—I met with this person or that person recognized me at a show and I didn’t even know they would remember me.’ I think I look at it differently, too. I’m not going to play the obnoxious humble person, but I do feel extremely grateful that people are catching onto what I’m doing, and they’re championing it. Some people more than other, because there’s obviously varying degrees within that. Some people have told me, ‘I’ve never heard words put together like that.’ I’m obviously like, ‘Well, you need to check out this guy’s catalogue, and this and this and this …’ but I think taking those moments is what’s crucial, and in L.A., fortunately there are moments that I’ve been able to take opportunities to meet people, I think, and not get confused that it’s still an in-person thing. This shit is still very fixated on moments of interaction with people.
You were talking being an entryway into other artists that you tell people they need to check out. You’re just starting out, and already, you’re like … I don’t want to say, ‘I got this from this,’ but ‘I was inspired by this—how do you not know about this?’ And someone coming up to you us their entry into that. I guess what I’m asking is: do you feel responsible to an audience now? Like, ‘Oh, shit—people are actually listening to this.’
Rhys Langston: It’s always been something very aloof for me. I’ve always just been like, ‘I’m going to do what the hell I’m going to do’ because I’m a very detrimentally self-aware person in a lot of ways. I get embarrassed very easily by things that people don’t realize. If I’m doing something, I feel there’s a level of intentionality. If I’m sharing it, I’m going to be embarrassed for myself if people don’t like it—well, that’s the best I really could do. But the question that I thought you were asking is interesting, too. I do feel like I’m a continuation of a long line while reaching into a contemporary kind of pocket, just grabbing some change out from there.
We don’t have to go into names, but when I hear the music, it reminds me of blank and blank while being at the same time contemporary, which to me has always been an issue with … I don’t know, I don’t like to label. We can say right now, with any ‘underground’ music, is that there is such an obsession with repeating or such an obsession with style over a substance. A lot of shit gets lost because people are so worried about the form of things rather than the content. You were talking about a lineage with your music, but in a sense, it’s new and it’s fresh.
Rhys Langston: Yeah—I’d like to be fresh. I think ‘fresh’ is one of those original words that came out of this culture. I’d like to say it’s literally fresh, and it’s ‘fresh,’ you know? Actually, when I saw Saul Williams perform, that was a word that really stuck out to me: he just kept saying ‘fresh,’ and I was like, ‘It still sounds fresh coming from you even though that word is not in the internet lexicon.’ I’m definitely interested in those limits. I think a lot of ‘underground’ rap—especially alternative, more experimental rap, not necessarily on the part of the artist, but on the part of the audience and the critics and everyone—tries to be put up against mainstream rap, and I would like to continue in trying to act as a direct line. There’s interplay going on here, a very serious interplay.
That’s smart—that’s why we were talking about the spectrum of mumble rap versus—
Rhys Langston: —spiritual and lyrical? I think there’s a hierarchy of language about it, too. I think people like to feel a little self-righteous when they use big words and they maybe name drop some people that are maybe of the academy and stuff like that. Maybe someone like Young Thug, I think he’s very innovative. I don’t know if I’d say ‘genius’, because I don’t really call anyone a genius; that’s a word that I like to be very careful, especially on the record, saying. But that dude makes too many songs to have substance. It’s just the fact of the matter. You know? If I could make a hundred songs in a year and have the same level of lyrical integrity, I’d be the greatest artist of all time.
Rhys Langston: You know what I’m saying? Anybody would, yeah! [laughs]
Not to cut you off, but I think that’s an amazing point that you make. People put so much emphasis—people as in audience or music snobs or whatever they want to call themselves—they put so much emphasis on ‘substance’, and then they ridicule you for not giving them what they want. That comes from consumerism—instant gratification. Just because you click on something and you instantly get to go where you wanted to go doesn’t necessarily mean that in art it’s supposed to be the same way. So on one hand, you ridicule someone giving you something consistently on the rate of what you were asking for, which is someone like a Young Thug, and then you get mad at people like a Frank Ocean taking three or four years to make a record. It’s like, ‘Well, you said you want substance.’ Just because you’re a consumer doesn’t mean you should be allowed to dictate how long that takes to get to you. This isn’t Amazon: ‘Where’s my package! You said three days!’
Rhys Langston: [laughs] Or in those shirts that have the words scrolling across them. A rapper wore one of those with reviews or tweets about them just going across. I mean, I think the fan to artist interaction is so real time now.
For good or for worse?
Rhys Langston: As a matter of fact, I would say probably for the worse. Not dramatically so. I honestly think there’s an impetus to put out a little too much music. There’s not going to be any lost tapes anymore I think for a lot of these people. [laughs]
You told me that you held onto Mixed Media for fifteen months before you figured out where to place it. Can you talk about that record? And also why you took time?
Rhys Langston: That record—it was really crazy. I had these eight bars written, and I had this sample in my head that I wanted to flip for the beat. I tried to do that, but came out with a totally different composition. It was one of those rare moments where there was another fragment that came to my mind when that thing came, and then I free-styled this little arrangement over it, which is even stranger, because I hadn’t approached singing—I’d always wanted to, and I think subconsciously, for me, that was really important. I held onto that for three months, that demo of me doing it into a demo microphone. Then I went to the studio, and I was recording other things, and then I laid that down, left that unmixed for like ten more months or whatever … I’m not sure it’s fifteen months, it might be more. [laughs] Then at the beginning of this year I started to just attack mixing it: you know, ‘Mixed Media’! [laughs] That just came to me—nothing planned there! I’d tried mixing vocals before—you know, if I put this much time into thinking about my words, I would want them to be presented in the best way possible. And then songs formed around it. I wanted to release it in February of this year, but I didn’t, because I was also working on another record, and I was starting to be a little more conscious and intelligent and tactical about my promotion: ‘I think this could be a little more thought out and a little more … exploited in a better way.’ I feel like it was a very unique song, and I think I have a pretty good internal trust level, and for some reason there’s something about it. I’m not saying it’s the best track that I’ve made, but there’s something about it …when you find these moments and make these records as records in time … I mean, there’s that record of inception when you make it, and then when you release it, it has this other life. I’ve just been thinking a lot about that, especially in terms of socially relevant lyrics and dropping something. iI I were to write something today about the Dakota Pipeline, it’s probably not going to come out until like—unless I get a crazy feature on it, and it’d be super nice for me to get some traction by putting it out right away—I might drop something that’s in the news right now, but it wouldn’t come out until June of next year. I think for certain songs that are more abstract, it’s easier to do that and not get caught up. But I have been thinking a lot about certain songs that reference certain things in moments in time, and what it does for someone to hear that later. I re-released with a new master this project Iambs In Blue at the beginning of this year, but I recorded it in 2014, and I actually wrote it partially in 2013, and the first chorus is ‘Went to a repentance convention, got the shirt the hat the mug a Donald Trump tramp stamp.’ That to be prescient now is crazy—I didn’t expect that. A lot of other art that’s less like … I mean, not interpretable, because it is very interpretable, but an art form that can be kind of quoted directly … it could be less of a question. I’m painting stuff, and I could hold onto those and never show anyone, and they’d be relevant fifty years from now or something. If we’re not under water. [laughs]
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