Antwon with an A+ GG Allin reference.
This might be the last interview Antwon does about punk rock for a while. That’s what his manager and publicist told me anyway prior to my interview with the Bay Area rapper. As a founding member of the thrashy, noise punk Philadelphia band Leather, Antwon gets a lot of questions about his punk pedigree and it sounds like he is trying to lay that to rest now that his new record, Heavy Hearted in Doldrums, has found its way into the world via UNIF. But the thing about punk rock is, you can’t just put it away. Much like the awful tattoos associated with it, the genre’s mentality permeates your skin and becomes a part of you for life. Whether you go on to be a parent, a suit-wearing professional, or in Antwon’s case, a rapper, a small part of it stays with you. Punk rock is a thing you never lose.
Noisey: I was excited to talk to you since I cover a lot of the punk stuff at Noisey and you have a background in that. But then your people told me that maybe you’re putting those days behind you or distancing yourself from that?
Antwon: No, I grew up going to shows and stuff. Like, fucking hardcore shows. I still have friends that are into punk and hardcore and play in bands and stuff. But all punk and hardcore really is is for the kids. People grow out of it. A lot of people, they don’t necessarily grow out of it, but they just get older, and then a lot of your friends aren’t going to the shows anymore. It’s all younger people. And you’ll be like, “I’ve never even met this kid before.” But it’s for the kids, you know?
What bands and records influenced that side of your musical background? I was watching an interview with you and I think you referenced Spazz.
Oh, Spazz! They had a big influence. Dan from Spazz still does hip-hop stuff. They had a crazy influence on the Bay Area for sure.
You were in that band Leather?
Yeah, I did play in Leather.
Why did you transition to hip-hop?
There was no real transition where I fell off. I’m still into hardcore but I just have less time right now and hip-hop is just like, the thing for me right now. It’s helping me out a lot and it’s the biggest thing in my life right now. Right after I was doing Leather, when I came back to California, I was doing art. Living in California, I kinda got on a graffiti kick. So I came out and I was all about art, taking more pictures and stuff, and then my friends were like, “Do you still rap?” People were always asking me about rapping. I was doing it a lot but I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it. I think the last time I did it, I wasn’t really proud of it. I felt that it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. But I tried it again and made Fantasy Beds and it just took off after that.
You bring a lot of that element into your live show. In a lot of hip-hop, there’s a divide between the audience and the performer, but you bring that DIY background to it. It seems less egotistical than most rap.
Yeah, I could see that. I don’t make egotistical rap. I make “egotistical rap”—in quotations. I don’t know. I never really thought I could be a rapper until I heard rappers that weren’t egotistical.
It made it accessible?
Yeah, so I just try to make that kind of rap. There’s time in my music when I come off egotistical, but overall, my music isn’t really like that. I was raised different, I came from a different place. Most rappers never played in bands so they don’t really know how it is to be social. That’s why people fuck with me, because I can actually chill.
I know how easily offended the punk crowd is. And I’ve been listening to your album a lot lately. It’s a really good hip-hop record but a lot of the stuff you say and the language you use, I don’t think would fly in a punk setting. A lot of stuff about bitches sucking your dick, for example.
Yeah, yeah. I agree. In the general punk setting, that would definitely not fly. But that’s where I feel like my music is different and I’m not trying to be insulting or offensive. I’m just being abrasive. It’s like a shock value thing.
If we’re comparing the two genres, do you think hip-hop is more liberating in that way? Because punk is supposed to be this free-form expression but what it’s become now, people are afraid to be un-PC.
Definitely. In punk… I grew up in the suburbs. Punk in my teenage years, I learned a lot about feminism and I got to stay at this feminist house in Philadelphia. I learned a lot about trans people and a lot about queer culture. So I feel like knowing this already and understanding this, it’s easier for me when people have questions like these. I like having questions like this.
As forward-thinking as punk is supposed to be, it’s more conservative in regards to what you can and can’t say. But on the other hand, hip-hop is way behind in its treatment of women and gays.
Oh yeah, definitely.
Do you think hip-hop is making progress in that regard?
I mean, I would like to be one of those people—and a lot of my friends are—who… it’s just, a lot of people misunderstand people a lot of times and they’re not willing to open up anymore and talk to people as people. I don’t know, the way I grew up, I didn’t give a fuck who you were as long as you were nice and a cool person. I was never that cool of a kid. I was pretty much a nerd. You didn’t care who your nerd friends were, what their sexuality was. That’s just how I grew up, I didn’t really give a fuck.
As a self-described nerd, which scene do you think has been more embracing of that?
To being a nerd?
Yeah, to just being yourself.
I mean, I don’t know about hip-hop because most rappers are really “cool” and stuff. I met a couple of rap nerds who are kinda cool. There’s always music nerds in every genre. So I just always blend in with the music nerds more.
You grew up in the Bay Area, right?
Yeah, I grew up in South Bay.
So did you go to a lot of Gilman shows or what?
Yeah, Gilman is not in South Bay, it’s actually in East Bay. We had some places like the Gaslighter. I saw Donnybrook there, that was pretty ill. I think I saw Pressure Point there. I went to Gilman a lot though. I saw a lot of bands’ last shows there. I saw the last Over My Dead Body show there.
Tell me about Heavy Hearted in Doldrums. Are you gonna tour for this?
Yeah, I’m in the middle of booking agents right now. I think we’re looking for a new one. But yeah, definitely going to tour.
So you’ve put out records in both hip-hop and punk, you done shows in both, you’ve traveled in both. What are the best and worst parts of each genre?
I remember I played a show, opening up for this dude I didn’t like and during my set, I fucked up all the songs and I started hearing his name [from the audience]. And I was just like, “Oh man, that sucks!” I was trying not to think about it but I was just like, “Oh my God! This is like a movie right now.” It was like a bad movie. That was the worst case scenario playing a rap show. Otherwise, people are just like, “Oh my God, this guy is rapping but he’s yelling at me and shit.” Oh, and the sound! If the sound sucks, I’m gonna yell and be out of key and shit.
But in hardcore, no one really gives a shit.
Yeah, it’s not really focused on vocals. If it’s a DIY venue, it kinda sucks because they won’t have monitors on the floor so I can’t hear shit and then the PA will be busted. I remember one time, it was the last house show I played, or was going to play, the PA just got fucked up and it sounded like shit so we didn’t play. So someone threw a beer and it hit me in the head and I was like, “What the fuck?” A friend of mine calmed me down. I was just like, “Yo, I’m never gonna play a fucking house show ever again.”
Dan Ozzi will go to karaoke with you and sing Rancid and Biggie songs. Hit him up on Twitter - @danozzi