Rhyme slinger Alexander Spit made a homecoming appearance in the Bay as he prepares to release his album A Breathtaking Trip To That Other Side from Decon Records later this month. We met up at the Grove in Hayes Valley to discuss the evolution of the rap game in recent years over crostinis, spinach dip and coffee. After sharing a fondness over the dive Jack's and a mutual love for DJ Purple's saxophone styles; we talked about the world's obsession with beats on steroids, the merits of homemade production, Bay/LA differences and similarities, along with the unpredictable and exciting future of hip-hop.
How does it feel being back in the Bay?
It always feels good, I was here last week actually. It’s not like I was homesick like I usually am the night coming up here, but it’s cool. When I was here last week, it’s funny when ever you come to San Francisco or any major city for the holidays everybody leaves and it becomes a ghost town. So last week when I was out here I only kicked it with a couple homies because most friends were busy with their family or from somewhere else so they were back home. It’s cool now because I obviously I’m in town for a show so I’m always enthusiastic about that, I like the weather, you know. It’s cool, it’s perfect.
I’ve heard before that you were apprehensive about moving to LA because while you love the people the lifestyle wasn’t your thing. How have you taken to the LA life?
I don’t know, it’s weird. I mean like the first 6 months of me living in Los Angeles close to the first year I despised it for the most part due to the fact that I didn’t know where anything was, I didn’t know who my go-to peoples were, you know. Something was simple as ‘I want a good burrito’, you know what I mean, I didn’t have that knowledge down, I had to like Google something or Yelp – it was a lot of trial and error.
But now at this point, obviously after a year you meet people, you start knowing your surroundings and neighborhood, I started to hella like it. I hated sunny weather when I first moved down there and then I started liking sunny weather. I hated the beach when I first moved down there, then I started going to the beach a lot. I started liking the beach. When I first moved out there I was trying to go out a lot to meet people but now I know all the people that I’m homies with so now it’s like I get to more just live there rather than like trying to learn about the city. Now I’m living in the city and doing my own thing and it’s really cool because there is a lot of good, creative energy and a lot of it’s competitive but I kind of like that about the area down there you know, because I meet other rappers where up here I was just with a homie today and we were playing each other’s beats and it wasn’t a competition but when you meet homies in LA and you play some beats and they’re like, ‘oh, I got something harder than that!’ So then they’ll put some beats on you know what I mean but I kind of like that because it keeps you on the edge. I want to have the music that when you walk into a room, everyone wants to choose my music to listen to, because it creates that vibe where you just try to be the best you can be, you know?
It seems like you have that advantage of having moved there some 3/4 years ago and seeing the early careers of Dom Kennedy, Pac Div, etc take off.
It’s crazy yo, in the amount of time I have seen a lot of careers like when they were in their hyped up A$AP Rocky level like now, like when I first moved down there Wale was huge and now Wale is having a second coming via Maybach Music but he’s not quite what everyone expected him to be in the same way a year later Kreayshawn blew up which was weird and then obviously she turned out to not be what everyone thought she was going to be. And now it’s like Kendrick [Lamar]’s huge but who knows where he’s going to be next year you know, A$AP Rocky’s huge but who knows where he’s going to be next year, you know what I mean?
It’s interesting just to be on the forefront of people being so enthusiastic about certain artists and what not but then sometimes certain artists are not built for the toll of working on music as a full time job, you know. It’s interesting to see. It’s cool because other people have been able to be the guinea pig for me and I try to learn from other people’s mistakes as much as possible you know, while without it influencing what I do creatively. But I get to see it before it even has an effect, I get to see people fuck up before they even realize they fucked up. And I get to see people do something really creative and amazing before anybody else even knows that it’s creative and amazing yet. So it’s cool, that’s what I like about LA.
With all the loosies you have been dropping with “Liquor Store Lately” and “Inspired by December”, etc, working with up and coming emcees like KT the Terrible and Thelonious Martin…what do they have going on for 2013?
Thelonious Martin I met through Hodgy Beats of Odd Future. He was a homie via mutual friends or whatever and I heard a bunch of tracks that Hodgy did with Thelonious like over the internet and what not and Hodgy played me a bunch and I always thought the kid’s beats were really dope and it was literally I complimented Hodgy one day on one of the songs he did with him and Hodgy was like, ‘let me get you his number’ and the next day I got a text from Hodgy with Thelonious CC’d on it saying, ‘you guys need to work’ and then a week later we were exchanging beats. It was simple as that.
With Thelonious, I just got hip to him less than 3 months ago and all I know is that kid is 19 and he makes some of the best beats I hear out, you know what I mean, very warm-textured sounding hip hop beats that at a time was not considered the norm but at a time was the cool, good shit to listen to but now goes under the radar because with the beat making everything is in steroids. People want their beats on steroids and they don’t always have to be, they’re good as they are and that’s the kind of beats he makes.
And then that kid, KT the Terrible I met when I was working at The Hundreds in Los Angeles. That kid had heard of my music and he would come by the shop with like his little PSP, he had beats on his PSP and while I was helping customers he would be handing me headphones and I would be helping customers while I had an ear bud in my ear and I was always like, super impressed with the beats but I was in a setting where I couldn’t really like, I would be helping a customer and I would be like, ‘oh this is tight, what kind of size you need?’ You know, this kind of back and forth.
But then about 2/3 months ago I put out a tweet or something saying, ‘I want to make a track today, somebody send me a beat’ and he sent me a beat and it was amazing and I wrote to it and after that it kind of reminded me of all the kind of beats that he had played for me before so he and I have been working on a whole gang of stuff, he and I have been collaborating in the last couple months we have at least 10, 12 beats on deck for projects for the both of us and stuff so… my whole thing right now is that I like working with people that are like-minded obviously and creative but I really appreciate kids that are just down to fuck the game up kind of a bit.
It’s obviously a mindset but you can hear it sonically as well, like when I hear music from kids like that, KT the Terrible, music from kids like Thelonious Martin, music like kids from my homie Senor Homme that’s on “Inspired by December”, you can tell that it’s not the norm, you know, you can tell that it wasn’t made from some cookie-cutter-formulaic rap music, you can tell that it’s like some very potent individuality in all that shit. They have their own identity. They have a spine, and that’s the type of people and music that I like to associate with. I need to fuck with someone that gets what I’m doing and on top of that is trying to like push the envelope a little bit on the music and the genre as a whole. Every level whether it’s my merch, whether it’s my live shows, whether it’s my album art, everything.
Yeah, and it’s seems like it goes way deep because you and your boy Brick Stowell have been on all the upcoming hype. Before anyone’s big it seems like you guys have had a little bit of insight into the game.
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because both he and I have vicariously seen and lived in fame for the last 5/6 years, you know, not in fame but have vicariously have seen people’s come up. Brick got his come up when working with the Living Legends when he was 17, and that was during a time when the Living Legends were like a very solid, impactful group and they were selling out shows across the country and he was 17, learning it from them. Then he introduced me to them and then I would open up shows for them and then [Stowell] started working with MURS and then he ended up working with Odd Future and now vicariously I can see the Odd Future movement from behind the scenes, you know. I get to see the realities of groups and the realities of where certain moves get you and what certain mistakes, how consequential they can be and stuff. So it’s cool like being surrounded by people that are immersed in the game kind of, you know. That’s like where I’m really fortunate to be at. Like when I lived in San Francisco I was surrounded by people immersed in creativity, and bright ideas and forward thinking stuff but when I moved to LA I got immersed by people who are immersed in how it reacts in the world, immersed in the game pretty much like how this spectrum of music works and all that kind of stuff.
And just like in the Jason Goldwatch video for “A Breathtaking Trip” you encompass elements of iconic bits of American iconography, the Fear and Loathing desert car ride, the flag…
I mean like, my whole thing that I always like, it’s not my direct m.o. but, and this traces back to some hip-hop shit for me but hip-hop music taught me to respect every genre due to the fact that hip-hop music samples every genre it utilizes to make a hip-hop song. So growing up I applied that mind set to everything, as a hip-hop kid I’m going to learn to read certain books from certain authors because certain ideas from certain rappers came from certain authors, you know. Or I’m going to learn to watch certain movies because certain rappers are talking about these movies so they got to be good. So it immersed me into more than just rap music, you know. With recording right now and without doing it in a contrived manner, without making it that ‘crossover’ stuff, it’s more just like it’s a simple a thing; I’m a musician who likes Fear and Loathing, that likes mushrooms, that likes tripping out in the desert, but the foundation for me is always hip-hop music and that’s really what I would like people to know that this is just my perspective on that realm and world, that I’m a hip kid at heart.
Seems like there has been a lot of push toward things cinematic things to like your homage to the Terry Gilliam’s film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Action Bronson featured on your upcoming album and his Alchemist produced Rare Chandeliers that also has strong cinematic elements. You also sampled Pulp Fiction on “You Fuckin’ Bitch, Move!” off your mixtape These Long Strange Nights…
Yeah, yeah, from the diner scene. That’s pretty much what it is, it’s like with the music down to the production down to what I talk about there is a huge chunk of me that is trying to showcase everything that I like because growing up I loved ‘thank yous’ in albums. I remember when I first got Dilated Peoples The Platform I learned about at least 20 artists from that list just from their thank you list you know, and I would think, why wouldn’t they thank this crew and then I would research them and stuff and so for me, I like the reasoning behind peoples’ thinking and I try to provide that for listeners . If I’m talking about some Bukowski lyrics and stuff, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t read him you’re an idiot but it’s more like I think you should.
Much has been talked about you bridging your Bay Area Roots with LA and was wondering how did you connect up with Brooklyn’s Mr. MFN eXquire?
So I’m putting out A Breakthaking Trip album through Decon Records and their favorite track of mine from the jump was “B.N.E.” and they were like when we do this album we should do a remix of it and they were like let’s get some really up and coming cats like yourself on the track so eXquire came up to discussion and I had seen that fool’s hustle in the last few years and I remember when he did show up here when I was living here still and I remember catching him and it wasn’t the most packed show but he even had it poppin’ then. So when the suggestion came up that we should get him on the track and I was super down and it was out of my comfort zone too which was kind of fun because I was always used to doing music with people that I would let sleep on my couch if they needed to, people that I knew, you know. With him it was kind of more like Decon helped me get in touch with him and he was just down for the track and got on to that and he just blessed the track you know, he was perfect, and fit on the track perfect, it was cool.
You were talking earlier about production moving toward everything on steroids but even going back to your production on Bago’s “Dr. Lock” it’s atmospheric and smoky and the recent single “That’s Spit” especially towards the end there’s that dub echo…
I want you to hear the end, there’s an actual extra 3 minutes on that track where it goes into a very psychedelic, space echoed out dub song. It’s really crazy but on the actual album you’ll get to hear that, it’s cool.
In a world crazy about taking the EDM thing into and out of this dub step fad, how is that the roots of classic dub music have informed your own music?
Bass is always the tightest part of a track for the most part; I’d rather hear the warm comfort of the bass than the ear piercing treble. For me when the songs hits and you can feel it physically, it’s usually a good track. In regards to the whole EDM world and my outlook and opinion on that, I just think that it has to be tasteful. Like I said earlier, I don’t like music that sounds like it‘s on steroids. I like it to be like how it sounds before compression, before distortion, before correct EQing and before it hits that multi-million dollar studio or something you know. I like to hear how music would sound like even its most raw form.
But with dub, honestly I love that stuff, I mean around a year and a half ago is when I started exploring my soundscape of like, ethereal and ambient atmospheric textures and stuff and while I was exploring those sounds I was listening to stuff that I could, a: reference, or b: take inspiration from and in general put me into that ethereal state and dub music is perfect for that. The thing I always like about it is that a lot of people have mistaken me for trying to make dark music and it is less so that I’m trying to make dark music than it is atmospheric or ethereal music. I just want my shit to sound like it’s in a cave, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be a dark, evil cave, it can be a cave with a bunch of happy ass partiers but I want it to sound like it’s in a cave. Dub music is kind of cool like that because it’s not dark but it has a dark warmth to it, it has warm textures or sounds to it without being overbearing or too in your face and I have always appreciated that about that genre. I remember when the first GTA on Playstation came out with Jah Radio they had the Scientist and that was the first time that I got in to that realm of music because prior to that I really didn’t have an ear for reggae but nowadays I appreciate reggae music a lot.
How have you kept that kind of cavernous warmth from your days of being 10 and recording with Fruity Loops and Cool Edit to now?
Honestly over the years I have been very reverse about everything. I could never afford an MPC when I was growing up, MPCs are what, a thousand books or somewhere around that price, especially when we were younger. So for me I had some hacker homies that had Fruity Loops and Cool Edit so of course I am going to take that for free because I had a computer and I was like fuck it, I’m going to make beats on this but I’m going to make them sound like I made them on MPCs and stuff. So, I spent many years trying to emulate an analogue sound digitally and it’s kind of funny because that’s kind of my comfort zone almost because that’s how I started making music and it’s cool because over the years it has evolved into me using analogue equipment and more stuff still incorporating it with the spice and brightness of a digital sound you know where it’s like, I hate the word but a poppy, more appealing sound, but it has that depth that analogue equipment gives.
So for me now it’s like I still learn, this past year I started kicking it with Alchemist and Evidence of Dilated Peoples and those 2 dudes re-inspired me about the whole genre of hip-hop music for the most part. Pretty much at the end of the day if you’re hip-hop always remember you have to make hip-hop music. It’s a very simple concept but when you think about the soundscape of popular rap music today I think a lot of people forget that. Instead of making a hip-hop track people are thinking about what song is going to make a bunch of 18 year old girls on molly go crazy? What kind of beat can we make for that? Instead of what kind of meat-beat has individuality and innovation and rhythm, you know what I mean? Instead of regarding the ideas and elements that really make a song good by my opinion; they are worrying about other people’s opinion at the end of the day. For me I’m just at this place where I’m back to making music the way I was when I was first making music. I won’t put out a song unless I like it and I won’t make a song unless I want to make it, and I’m in a place where I will only put my name and effort into stuff that I believe in pretty much on deeper terms I guess.
I think what’s really interesting about where folks like yourself and Alchemist are taking it is that now more than ever there is an unpredictability in hip-hop, not that hip-hop has ever been predictable.
It’s taken it a while to get to that point too. I mean just like in regards to for a long time rap was just the beat, 16 bars, hook, 16 bars, hook and then like maybe one last verse and it’s done and you kind of expect that but I like the idea of trying to make a song where, this is the add generation of people fast forwarding through music so I like the idea of people clicking play at the beginning of my song, fast forwarding 30 seconds in and then sounding arguably a little bit different and then fast forwarding 45 seconds in and they’re like, ‘whoa, this is still the same song but it still has the same feel?’ And then like a minute after that you’re in a whole new soundscape but still with the foundation of where it started, you know. I really like the idea of people not being able to digest and having an opinion on my music from the first listen. I like making music like that because it really lets me know who's listening because if somebody hates on it without even giving it a second listen, I know they’re not listening to it correctly or the way they should be, or not should be but you know what I mean.
I always liked the idea of people being able to dance and vibe out to my music but then like when they listen to the lyrics it fucks them up they listen to the lyrics it fucks them up because they want to go hella hard to the beat but then it’s like damn, he’s saying some shit too, what’s going on in here? It trips ‘em out, it’s like a mind and body experience almost so, obviously that’s not going to happen with everybody that listens to it but there is an underlying intension of that for sure. Just trying to flip people’s heads a little bit in regards to what they think rap music should sound like and what it could sound like.
Last question is have you become a Dodger’s fan?
No, no, no, no, no, definitely not, definitely not. I’m like one of the only.. I meet Giants fans down in LA and it’s like always one of those very, very special bonds, like people geek out when they see it. It’s one of those secret code things, like it’s kind of taboo to like and Dodger fans are obviously very passionate about the Dodgers and Giants fans are obviously very passionate about the Giants and when you’re a Giants fan in Los Angeles you can’t go around bragging about your World Series Champion team but when you see another Giants fan it’s one of those head nod moments.
Alexander Spit’s upcoming album, A Breathtaking Trip To That Other Side comes out January 29 from Decon.