Elucid “I never sang in a choir. I never did any of that. I just wanted to be around the equipment.”

Photo: David Evan McDowell

And here we are in East New York at “the final frontier of gentrification.”

Right. When I moved with my girlfriend at the time to Fort Greene, in a way I kind of felt like a gentrifier there; not on my own. (You see where I’m at right now — it wasn’t my money.) She’s very successful at what she did, and I knew her before it all jumped off. She had an opportunity to buy a fucking apartment, she did it, we fell in love, and I was living in this fucking dream world with her for like seven-and-a-half years, and when we moved there, gentrification had started. It was happening, but then I move in and I’m kind of a gentrifier because it was a co-op within what used to be projects, and I look like the old community, but they know I’m not [a part of it], because everyone that’s left knows who’s who. And I’m an outsider completely. So that informed [my] writing; it just made me more conscious of what the fuck is happening, because now I’m kind of the intruder, not really, but I am. I can’t change that fact.

Splitting up with her, moving out here, now I’m aware of what happens to a community as it begins to develop and change. My current girl lives a few stops away on Rockaway Ave., which I would say, now that’s the demarcation line. Right there it’s first-generation gentrifying. It’s hood still, but there’s three waves. That first generation is usually fresh out of school, first job types, service industry kids and fucking hipsters, not like those Williamsburg cats, [but] real fucking dirty hipsters. Then the second generation may be like a young, yuppy couple, they’ve got that second job, they can’t afford that Williamsburg rent, but they can do a little something. Then the third wave, Park Slope level, families.

I would say give it five years before we get that first and second wave happening out here. [Mayor] de Blasio’s been in the news lately about rezoning East New York. There’s tons of factories back here, people getting blowjobs right now, but in like a year that shit’s going to be shut down and all the factories are going to be producing way more. There’s affordable housing plans, [with] millions and millions of dollars being sunk into this community right now, because East New York was originally built to be a Metropolis away from the Metropolis. That’s why you have all the transportation hubs out here. You can get here by any train that runs in Brooklyn: the A, the C, the L, the J, the Z, the 2, the 3, the 4, the 5. That’s how it was designed. This shit is a process. It’s a ghetto, but it wasn’t designed to be that way. Ghettos are made by design, and now it’s also made by design to gentrify your shit. I give it five years before it looks like what Bed Stuy looks like right now.

What’s your experience been like since moving here?

Everything’s been peace, man. My neighbors don’t really talk to me, just nod. Across the street, though, when it gets live, it’s usually coming from there. It’s a transitional housing homeless shelter, and in the summertime it’s loud as fuck. “Winter chill keeps the killers on ice.” It keeps the killers on ice, but it also keeps motherfuckers inside the house, and actually that “Who the fuck you think you talking to?” [sample on “Cold Again”], I recorded on my iPhone just out the window. There were two women fighting out there. It’s a lot of that, a lot of yelling, a lot of music, it’s lively out here, but my experience has been peace.

Does it feel odd not having any type of relationship with your neighbors?

It’s weird, it doesn’t feel very human to me, and this is a neighborhood sort of community, but again, I am the outsider. People know I am not from this community. People have been in this community forever and ever, and I am this new guy. Most people don’t really say much to me. Some of the older guys do. They maybe know the history of this building and what used to go down in this building. This building used to be, from what I’ve been told, the party house on this block, like all sorts of drugs and pussy were being sold out of this building.

[Laughs] Did you bring this couch here?

Nah man, I had to keep it. You see that white stain over there? [Laughs]

On “Shark Fin Soup,” you wrote “Home is a place inside of myself, not a physical domicile.” Where do you most feel most at home, geographically and emotionally?

I don’t know. I’ve lived in so many spaces. That’s how real that line is. I’m comfortable everywhere, literally. If I can sleep here, I’m comfortable. I don’t own anything, you know? Maybe when I own something, that’s when I’ll know a new sense of comfort and have a real sense of home, but I’m good anywhere.

That’s one of my problems. I’ve got too many records. Moving is such a hassle.

I don’t have a lot of shit. I’ve never held onto things. Growing up, I had a lot of music. A lot of shit got thrown out by my mom. I have a room full of books and shit in the back, with a bunch of vinyl and things in there, and that’s the [greatest] quantity of things I have. My girl was like, “I want to move into your place,” and maybe that’s when it’ll start looking like a home, starting with a closet, with a couple garment racks in the back. But that’s it. I don’t really need much.

What’s your relationship with your family like?

Uh, we’re alright. I wouldn’t say I’m actually close with my family. My brother lives upstairs. We’re family, we love each other, but like I said, with the music, they’re indifferent to it, and that’s a really big part of who I am, so I feel like that’s a wall. We’re alright, though.

There are a number of inebriated oddball New Yorkers on Save Yourself: the coked-out pimp writing diner Yelp reviews in hotel parking lots on “Obama Incense”—

[Laughing and clapping] Yes, East New York all day.

The basehead hocking pancake mix on Franklin Ave. on “No Such Thing” and the Republican rapper on crank on “If You Say So.”

Yeah, Bed Stuy shit.

That, to me, gave the album a bit of a Lou Reed feel, encountering these—

Nighttime creatures. He wrote a lot about them. That’s what I was really drawn to. It sounds so sweet, but when you listen to his lyrics, it’s really fucking seedy. It just dawned on me in the last couple of years that Lou Reed was writing about transsexuals and transgender folk in the ’60s when it was still super-outlaw.

Lou Reed has a similar background to you in a few ways. He’s from Freeport, he grew somewhat conservatively in the way that Long Island people tend to, and then he moved out here and made fucking crazy music.

That’s interesting, man. He’s dope. I’m a fan of Lou Reed. “Bleach Water” was a Lou Reed sample. I was definitely listening to a lot of [his music] during the making of this album: Transformer, Metal Machine Music, Animal. I’m [also] a fan of that woman he was with, Laurie Anderson. But yeah, he wrote about those nighttime creatures.

What draws you to write about those characters?

That’s just who I was around. When I first moved here, it was still summertime. I don’t know this neighborhood. I would just take a walk and over there in the factories, literally, there are women outside in little short skirts, titties overflowing, like 60 years old, out here selling pussy. You’re making a living, and I respect that, but you know, nighttime creatures, man. I ended up over there near the junction and Paphos Diner, the only diner out here. It’s 24 hours. If you got off the Long Island Railroad, the station’s right across from Paphos, so there’s immediate transport to the A and the C. It’s surrounded by little cheap hotels.

I approached that line thinking, “Who reviews a diner on Yelp? Who would actually be doing that? Probably somebody coked out, waiting for their prostitute to come out.”

That’s the second part of it, exactly. You see the pimps out there in their cars, on their cell phones, and I’d been thinking about that shit. One day I was like, “Who the fuck goes to Paphos Diner?” and I’m on Yelp, putting two and two together. That shit is real. Paphos Diner is terrible. Nobody fucks with Paphos.

What about the Republican rapper on crank?

That’s just me thinking about commercial rap in general.

The Saul Williams sense of a Republican rapper.

Right, that was a stretch of imagination there, poetic license if you will.

In my interview with billy woods, he mentioned that you were going through a lot of shit during the making of this album. Some of it was touched on in the album’s press release and Bandcamp description — the breakup, the move, the change of jobs — but I wanted to give you the opportunity to speak more candidly about these experiences and how they affected your creative process.

All that shit just put me in a physical isolation. Moving to East New York, I don’t know anybody out here. Asking people to come to East New York, nobody wants to even though it’s not far at all. If you pull out a map, we’re on the other side of Bushwick. We’re separated by a cemetery.

Also, [I went through] a little bit of depression after the breakup. At the time, I wasn’t really trying to work on music. It was like, music isn’t really happening, this isn’t for me. I started doing other things, but eventually once I got [back] into making music, the isolation helped. I was able to just lock in, in my tiny room up there and bang away all night. I had a shitty job. I was like, “I need to earn money, so how can I earn money and make a rap album at the same time? Cool, I’ll go work as a kitchen prep dude at a restaurant.” Come home at two o’clock in the morning. Bang shit out until seven a.m. You hear my brother playing music right now? That can go on for as long as we want. No one fucking cares. I’m out here just fucking doing it, in isolation, so that definitely influenced the album. Also, it was my first real breakup, and I’m thinking differently. I’m a grown-ass man moving out of his girlfriend’s house into some shitty place, from Fort Greene to East New York, seamless to crown-fried, you know what I mean? It’s a 180 degree shift. Just reassessing, “Who the fuck are you? What are you doing with your life?” There’s no one here to talk to about that. It gave me a lot of time to focus on myself.

So Save Yourself in that way is you talking to yourself.

Yeah, like, “What’s going on with you?” It’s so cliché to be like, “It’s my most personal album, it’s my most direct album,” but it really fucking is in the way that I’m expressing all these personal experiences: breaking up with my girl, losing 80 fucking pounds, quitting jobs I hated, getting a new job that I really like. It put me on a track to where I’m gonna be in six months to a year. But I don’t know. You can take that route and it can be really fucking corny, very preachy, and self-helpy. I’m not into that, but I had [some informative] experiences over this past year. You ever hear of this group Landmark? It’s this weird kind of self-help group therapy.

Sounds like a cult.

It absolutely is, man.

How’d you get linked up with that?

My ex-girlfriend went to it. After we broke up, she went through a whole bunch of other shit. She’s like a different person right now. Basically, AA and Landmark changed who she is. I can talk to her and be like, “I don’t know this person anymore.” Landmark is a group that’s [all about] self-help group therapy. It’s super intense. For weekend first sessions, you’re in there for 12 hours a day, you get an hour break, and you see grown men cry. You see people tell their deepest secrets that they’ve never told anyone in the world, but they’ll tell a room of 500 people. You’ll see a whole room in tears, and I’d be like, “I’m not crying. What’s wrong with me? I’m not feeling anything right now.”

But yeah, I’m pretty sure you’ll have somebody tell you within the next year, “Hey man, you want to change your life? Come to Landmark, I’ve got a free session for you,” and they’re going to bring you out to Midtown, they’re going to sit you down, and they’re going to try to sell you on this thing. The age range is pretty incredible. It’s people from all walks of life, like any good cult. Every race is represented. It’s 18-80 and everyone’s out there just fucking broken and not afraid to let everyone know. I was shocked at how many people from 18-40 are in there. It’s full of us. There’s some old people in there, and that shit is sad. I remember one lady. The instructor was like, “So why are you here? What do you want to get out of it?” And she’s like, “I’m 65 years old and I came here because I just want to know how to express myself.” That shit was so fucking sad to me. You’ve lived 65 years on this planet and you don’t know how to express yourself?

Does this organization have a doctrine?

They do. It’s not quite a doctrine. The thing that’s really slick about this, they call it a technology.

That’s super modern.

Diamond-cutting edge.

You have to pay for all this?

Yes, it’s really expensive, of course. It embraces all forms of religion, spiritual systems, new age shit, psychology, self-help and bundles it all into one, and it’s clean and fucking shiny and polished, and people suck it up. You know the Cult Favorite record? This is a modern cult taking over New York City. I’d mentioned to people at the old restaurant where I was working that I was going to Landmark one time, and they was like, “What!? You too?” They was really trying to come down on me, because their friends had done it and completely changed their lives. When my ex-girlfriend called me and introduced me to this shit, I was like, “What’s up with you? You don’t sound like the same person!” The way she was expressing her thoughts was different. The way she organized her thoughts was different. It was weird. Literally, a new person. Three days — Friday, Saturday and Sunday [snapping his fingers] — can literally change your life. It’s scary, man.

What’s ill to me about the title Save Yourself and the larger theme of the album is that on the one hand, it’s about self-therapy through self-expression, but on the other hand, you could read “save yourself” as the words of a guy screaming at people that something’s coming.

Like the street preacher guy, “Here comes doom.” You could definitely take that in there, thinking about gentrification, thinking about the rise of our next president Donald Trump, and in the middle of that we’ve seen the Flint water crisis, the fucking mass shootings. Pull any current event headline. All this shit was supposed to happen, and for whatever reason, it just seems like it’s happening more.

Or we’re hearing about it more.

Internet, social media blows and magnifies things up, but yeah man, it’s always been this way. Think about this election, how it’s the sleaziest, most trifling election in American history. It’s always been this way, but for some reason, the veil’s been lifted and now everyone sees all the bullshit that people have been talking about forever. I’ve noticed conspiracy theorists’ left-leaning ideas are now mainstream. How does this come to be?

At the close of our Armand Hammer interview, you said you didn’t really see yourself as a producer. How has that changed, or do you still feel that way?

Still don’t feel like a producer. I know how to hook up beats, but I don’t know chords, I don’t know melodies. I know what I think sounds good, I know when it feels good, but now I’m just in a position where if I need help I can ask someone. I met Psychic Twin in the restaurant I was working in, and she’s a crazy-talented musician. She plays synthesizer, she sings, she has a rack of gear that she’s tweaking as she’s singing; on “NY Blanks,” she did that. We didn’t do anything [post-production-wise]. That was just her in our rehearsal studio. I just brought my gear, and she did that shit. So now I have more resources to help me out when I need. Still not a producer, though, man. I’m cool with that.

I mean, you might not be a producer in the sense of say, Timbaland, but your beats are innovative and that can’t be taken away.

I appreciate that. It’s all about the ear though, man. Like that Lou Reed record, everyone has heard that, [but] I like a particular sound I’ll hear that maybe everyone else doesn’t like or skips over. That’s my ear.

Do you have the same reticence about calling yourself a singer? You’re singing more on these records now also. How do you feel about that?

Not a singer, either, definitely not, but it came to a point where — I was talking to L’Wren, who sings on a lot of billy woods records, about this — sometimes, the words aren’t enough to express what I be wanting to say, and sometimes I’ll just sing it, and sometimes I’ll record it, and sometimes it’ll sound alright and I’ll keep it. I do a little thing on “If You Say So.”

“Jealous God!”

The whole fucking song. That song almost didn’t make the album, because I was like, “This is cool for me, but I don’t know if I want to let everybody hear that shit.” But woods was like, “That shit is fire!” And people actually responded to it.

“Wake Up Dead Man” also has some singing, and when I saw you perform that, I noticed that you were kind of shy about singing in a live setting.

That’s what’s fun about performing in public, doing weird shit in public; sometimes it’ll go off and sometimes it doesn’t, but that show you saw me at, it didn’t go off that good. I did it again and it worked out. I actually hit those notes. It sounded like the record. Good days and bad days.

Another name I was surprised to see in the album credits is BKGD Audio. How’d you link up with him?

Formerly Oktopus of the group Dälek: They’re the originators of what we consider noise-rap. All that Death Grips shit, they were doing in like 2000 and were really successful with it, touring Europe for over 10 years nonstop, making a lot of fucking money, doing all these weird-ass festivals. They kind of split up. He’s not working with them anymore. When I met him, he was doing more club music, four on the floor. He heard the dubstep shit I was doing and reached out to me. That’s the vibe he was on at the time, and I went up to his studio a few times, and he played a bunch of shit. That one particular track always stood out to me, and I did that “Blame the Devil” joint, but yeah, he’s a super-talented dude.

You know Beans [from] Antipop [Consortium]? We teamed up for a short project. Right now we’re getting beats together, and I wish I had more news to tell. It’s ill connecting with those dudes, guys who were in the early 2000s at the top of this experimental rap shit, alternative hip-hop when it was still super profitable. Those motherfuckers toured with Radiohead, man! Like how? I can’t imagine any of my peers touring with whoever is the Radiohead equivalent of rock right now. But yeah, we did a bunch of demos, so it’s ill reconnecting with him or [BKGD Audio], just getting that kind of respect from those dudes.

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