A lot of things didn’t go my way this year at SXSW: I missed BasedGod’s performance. I had the sorriest excuse for jerk chicken of all time. I invested eight hours of my Thursday into a showcase that Young Thug never showed up to. I won’t keep going. One of the gleaming gems of that week was my first time seeing B L A C K I E live. Active since 2005, the Houston noise rapper is frequently cited as being the artist who birthed Death Grips’ musical aesthetic and after you listen to him once, that idea isn’t farfetched in the least. His most recent album, FUCK THE FALSE, was a heavily-industrial album that revolved around self-motivational speeches, gripes about the mainstream and conquering fear. He told me that he recorded that project in one take, throwed off the whiskey, weed and Red Bull, while channeling The Last Poets.
His SXSW set was insane. B L A C K I E stripped down and started to wail the majority of FUCK THE FALSE over instrumentals different from the ones on which the album was recorded. I saw two dudes fighting back tears during his set and another went over to hug him on three different occasions while he was still performing. But instead of prying the guy off of him, B L A C K I E embraced it like a G and kept performing like a 200-pound grown man wasn't cradling him. It was one of the most rewarding performances I’ve ever experienced and I was lucky enough to kick it with B L A C K I E after his set. Out on 5th Stree, our talk went from the show he’d just put on, to if he’d ever go mainstream to having a random catch-up session with Sam Herring from Future Islands (Austin is insane).
Noisey: You prefer to have as much volume as possible when you perform, but when that can’t happen, how do you alter your performance?
B L A C K I E: When I don’t have my gear, I tend to play the more electronic shit like my album GEN. I can get by playing those kind of tracks in a quieter setting because they’ll become more of a vocal performance for me.
I noticed that the stuff you just performed from FUCK THE FALSE had different instrumentals than what’s recorded.
Those instrumentals are what I originally recorded FUCK THE FALSE on. They’re by this electronic producer from the UK who died named Muslimgauze. I like performing over his stuff because it gives my music more of a The Last Poet kind of feel. I don’t know if I’ll freestyle one verse or go into my written stuff; it’s free-form. Hearing those sounds is very freeing.
FUCK THE FALSE was very self-motivating with songs like “BLACKIE...Is A Wasteland.” Was that a specific approach or did it just come out when you started recording?
It might’ve just been with the speed I was making it. I was just up all night, making those tracks, drinking Red Bull and whiskey, smoking and shit just started to come out. I wasn’t even trying to go that deep. I just wanted to keep it real brutal. You can’t take that the wrong way.
It’s crazy that you recorded that album in just one night. Is that how you usually do projects?
It’s a lot of piecing together, man. It takes me a long time usually. A lot of it is on the whim and sporadic. For a while it’ll be pieces, pieces, pieces then one day I’ll just go crazy and do all the vocals if I’m feeling it.
You’ve been open about knowing how influential your music is even though it doesn’t always get credit. What kind of space does that put you in? Do you even want the credit?
I try to take a chill on it and step outside of myself and ask “What’s really real?” Like back in Houston, there’s a lot of bands and electronic, experimental rap and a real vain person could say, “Ah, fuck these kids they’re just biting me.” Fuck all that. I’m just trying to learn to be better than that. It don’t take anything away from me if somebody else shines. You know? It’s really easy to be jealous. That’s what I’ve learned.
What’s the stuff you’re making right now like?
Some Stanley Clarke, jazz type shit. Still super hard but with a lot of instrumentation. I’m playing all the instruments like the saxophone and it’s heavy on bass guitar. A lot of my last project was heavy on the piano and acoustic guitar but this is really dirty electric bass. Almost like a funk album. I’m really inspired by this old band called War.
All your projects seem to take on a different sound. Is that a challenge you gave yourself?
Yeah, since the start I said I wanted to make a thrash album, a shoegaze album, an acoustic album and now I’m making this jazz album. Back when I was 18 I created this blueprint to always switch things up but to still sound similar. I told myself: here’s hip-hop, now how can I exist on the edge of that constantly?
People expect your music to be crazy and alternative but would you ever consider doing a conventional rap album?
I might go back to straight rapping after this next joint. That way, I can make more music with my homies.
You’re not very active online. Do you put all your stock into face-to-face connections with your fans?
Yeah, I really just focus on face-to-face. I feel like, if you kill it face-to-face, everybody already has Twitter and Facebook so that shit will spread. The internet is a facade so I don’t put all my energy into it. We see people who are hot today, completely disappear tomorrow. If I put on a crazy show and I accidentally spit in someone’s face while I’m performing, they’re probably gonna remember that because it was physical. They might go tell somebody that.
What’s your biggest joy as an artist?
Just making connections with people. I’m a real shut off person and I don’t have many friends, just a tight group of people I used to skateboard with as teenagers. So yeah, meeting and connecting with people I never would if it wasn’t for music. That’s the realest thing.
In one of my favorite songs, “B L A C K I E...Is A Wasteland”, you say: “I get pissed and piss on critics that get rich pitching bullshit with false lyrics/ Leaving lipstick on the tips of dicks of fraudulent major label dipshits with no spirit.” Are you so loyal to the underground that you’d never take a chance at being mainstream? Has that always been the case?
I’m not sure, man. Especially being down here [at SXSW] and seeing all the ads and shit: Taco Bell, Samsung...I don’t know, man. I’m not with all that. A lot of that line was just like, I’d just learned some more about the music industry within the span of a couple months. When I was young I thought I was gonna be on TRL or be on Warped Tour. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. I was kind of ignorant, like “Ima make it!”. But now the definition of “making it” is so different. Maybe making it isn’t what’s up. I’m more concerned with longevity and treating this like it’s a marathon. How can I keep going? I wanna be an old nigga still screaming at people. B.B King’ing that shit.
What do you want B L A C K I E’s legacy to be?
I just wanna be like the people I look up to. I wanna be like Bun B and DJ Screw. Screw made Houston global. I wanna be an offshoot of that.
Lawrence Burney makes bi-monthly zines that you need to pick up ASAP. He's on Twitter - @TrueLaurels