YC The Cynic is not very good at ping-pong. I know this, because last month YC The Cynic and I met to play ping-pong together at SPiN NYC and I beat him three times in a row. YC is a rapper from the Bronx, and he excels at melding concerns both social and personal into a cohesive narrative. Sometimes, he gets emails asking him if he is the YC who made the song “Racks” with Future (he’s not). He’s 21, incredibly talented, and probably the nicest person in the universe. He raps like the type of person who eats, drinks, and thinks rap music. You should listen to his new mixtape Good Morning, Midnight, because it is very good.
SPiN NYC is a weird-ass place. It’s an upscale nightclub that is owned in part by Susan Sarandon and has a bunch of ping-pong tables inside of it. They play loud music, and then you play ping-pong while sipping expensive drinks. YC doesn’t drink, so we just played ping-pong. After we played, we hung out in a park and talked about everything under the sun. As we were walking to said park, we saw the hip-hop mogul Damon Dash walk out of SPiN, flanked by two women. This is not the type of thing that YC usually sees. We didn’t talk about seeing him in the interview, but I like to think that the spirit of Dame was watching over us as we talked.
VICE: What's your least favorite thing about being interviewed?
YC: Questions. (Laughs)
Do you have a day job?
I rap full time. I helped found a community center in the Bronx, it's called the RDAC-BX. Rebel Diaz Arts Collective. So that's where I am for the summer. But I was talking to a friend of mine who's a blogger, and they were like, "You wake up in the morning and write raps, what are you doing with your life?"
Do you think you're happy?
Right now? Yeah, I think I am happy. I'm a big believer in karma. Good things can only happen when you want them to happen. Cool. So yeah. Would I be happier in the future? I'm sure. And once success comes, I'm sure. Right now I'm cool.
Where do you see yourself in like a year?
I see myself being good at a lot of things. I started singing recently and I feel like I'll be really good at that. I've been writing songs for other singers, and just having all of those different things, I've started engineering for myself and other people... so in a year, I see all of those things growing into their own, more opportunity than the rapping itself. I hope, that'd be amazing.
You just sort of want to be able to do stuff in the industry?
I wanna do everything. Like Cee-Lo is my biggest influence in life, so I want to rap, I want to sing, I want to make songs with people. I wanna be as close to music as I can. I wanna be recognized as one of those types that embodies the music. That's kind of heavy, right?
That's like a better answer than a lot of people say. They're like, I'm gonna be on the top of the rap game
Haha, in one year? It's scary how fast a year goes, man. Especially this past year. LIke, I feel like it was just January 1st. This year flew by. It's crazy.
When did you turn 21?
Did you go to a bar?
No, I just chilled with close friends and drank. It did nothing for me. I was trying to get drunk just to see what it felt like for me, and it did nothing. That was the first time I tried to drink. I grew up around people getting high and drunk and acting so stupid that it just completely turned me off to the act. But I turned 21 and I was like, "I want to see what getting drunk is like." I probably didn't get the best drinks; I had like two Mike's Hard Lemonades... it absolutely knocked me on my ass. Then I got frustrated and drank two shots of whiskey, then I just fell asleep.
What do you think about architecture? We're looking a lot of empty buildings right now.
I think it is probably the most fascinating thing in the world. Like, somebody just drew that building, that came from somebody's drawing. That's crazy.
It is crazy.
How do you even…how do you even build it?
Cranes? Just cranes for days. I have no idea, man.
Like have you ever thought about what it took to build the MTA system? It had to be like aliens or something. I'm convinced. It had to be like the pyramids.
Do you think you'll evolve as a rapper as you evolve as a person? You're still young.
I don't know. I've evolved a lot in just like the stuff I believe in and the stuff that I talk about, in music and in life. I never see how I can get better, I guess it just happens. So I can't really see the next step in my evolution. I mean, it could just be getting better at the things that I pointed out before. That would be an amazing step. But I don't know. That's kind of scary.
Tell me about your Twitter bio. You say you're everyone's favorite socially aware, socially awkward rapper.
(laughs) Yeah, I'm involved in a lot of activism and politics. That was kind of the place I was put into coming up, and being close to this group called Rebel Diaz. They're a political hip hop group from Chicago who moved to the South Bronx. They're really rooted in activism. They founded and built the community center that I'm a part of. Being super close friends with them and them really putting me onto these political shows, it just thrusted into this political activist world.
Do you think that hip hop in a lot of ways can fulfill the same role that hardcore punk did? As like, this sort of musical force that's also politically driven?
Yeah, yeah, definitely, I think it does. Artists like Public Enemy and Dead Prez and Immortal Technique, those are like the heroes of the political world. And hip hop has always been a tool of rebellion since the beginning. So I think definitely, it is, but it's also, you know, stuff you hear on the radio.
Tell me about the "socially awkward" part.
(laughs) Uh, I think I'm just socially awkward.
You seem fine!
I don't know, maybe it's…maybe it's going away. But I kind of embrace that part of myself. I embrace awkward situations. I don't get embarrassed, so anytime there's like an awkward moment, I kind of live for that. So I take the socially awkward thing like a medal. I enjoy that. It's funny seeing other people react when there's an awkward situation.
In your raps, what percentage of stuff is direct personal experience versus your observations about the world, sort of like your pointed political analysis?
I think that's a tough question because it's been a complete 180 with the last EP I released. Before it was maybe like 80/20 with my perception of things, but this last EP was mostly personal, and that's the direction that I wanna go in. So right now, overall, I would say that it's…65/35. And I'm trying to even it out more. But yeah I just realized the super importance of honest, personal music. It affects people a lot more.
Is there anything that would ever happen to you that would be off-limits to rap about?
Only if I feel like it would make someone real uncomfortable. I don't wanna hurt anyone too bad.
On the new Nas album there's a song about his daughter's personal life.
That was a big controversy. Her mother is really upset. She was like, "You're so selfish, you didn't ask her, you didn't think about she would feel and how it would affect her life." I think his daughter was in the video though, so all of that went out the window. But if I feel if there was someone who would be really hurt by what I rapped about then I probably wouldn't put it in a song, or at least I wouldn't release it. But with me? I don't think anything is off-limits. I feel completely open, now, and honest about everything.
Do you ever go through something and then in the back of your mind be like, "Oh, maybe I'll rap about this someday?"
I don't think that's how it really happens. I never had something happened to me and was like, "Oh this is gonna be a song." I feel like it's more like the beat is played and that emotions kind of like, pops out. This goes on this beat. It kind of just comes together…like that beat is a magnet and that particular event or emotion was attracted to it.
I feel like asking a rapper how they come up with lyrics is like asking a painter how they come up with stuff to paint.
It just happens, yeah. But you know, there's always people that have a real process. It's just always tough to explain.
Do you sit down, hear a beat, wait for it to evoke something?
Yeah. I put on a beat, I walk around, and then hopefully a phrase or an emotion or a melody or something... some first spark, first idea comes to mind. Sometimes it's not a good one, so I look for the first good idea and then I build on that. Usually the words are last. Usually goes like idea, then melody, then words.
Do you have a wishlist for who you want to work with?
Cee-Lo, Eminem, Mos Def... I don't know if I can call him Mos Def.
Yasiin Bey. I will never say Yasiin Bey again. Who else... Kanye West I would love to work with. I would love to work with Andre 3000. Erykah Badu. There's a lot of people. I can't even think of them. But definitely Cee-Lo, Kanye, and Andre are at the top of the list.
I feel like that's almost a meme at this point, working with Andre. If you're of a certain level, Andre will give you a verse.
I'm glad though. He's rapping a lot more frequently than he was before, and that's amazing.
It's almost like a stamp of approval.
It's so dope! It's a whole new way of keeping yourself relevant. Of course everyone wants the album, but the Special Appearances Andre is special.
The thing that always gives me hope is that Big Boi said he was working on an album for five years, so maybe Andre will come through.
He's really smart. He really broke it down in a way that made me and I think a lot of people understand about age in hip-hop—it's not that easy to rap and say things that affect people. So of course it takes more time, and I don't really blame him for falling back the way he did. But if he put out an album, I'd probably buy it.