An interview

So despite both parties of this interview having complete access to post on here, Jay asked me to post this interview he did with Raven (on behalf of Raven's rapping group Solaris Earth Pipeline). I don't know what kind of queerbait shit is going on where they couldn't get together and cut and paste this stuff themselves, but here you go:

Convincing my wife to let me drive from our home in Connecticut to Virginia was not easy. That I was going to interview a white rapper made it harder. The goocher was that the trip was a labor of curiosity and paid nothing. I was on a vision quest. Solaris Earth Pipeline potentially offered an answer to a long considered question of mine: Could rap music prove honest? Forget about political agendas guised in honesty, or "keeping it real" by fabricating oneself, or the countless misrepresentations of truth in the crux of our country's popular culture. I was after the real deal, and I hoped to have found it in Solaris Earth Pipeline. My wife let me go because she knew me restless mental and she accepted my lunacies.

Solaris Earth Pipeline consists of Psy/0psogist (beat conjuror), Raven Mack (lyricist), and an oft-changing cycle of contributors. Psy/0psogist, as the group's name suggests, tapped into a beat inspiring pipeline, a hip-hop back alley in some lost corner of the space/time continuum. The sincerity in Raven Mack's lyrics are as otherworldly to rap music as homosexuals and fifty-year-old white women—or so was my inclination. Thus is what I hoped to prove. Right now, one could point to any sales charts and show me how deep the pockets of business are, but will it be here in two-hundred years? Can it survive the test of generations? Such an achievement depends on whether or not the culture can overcome the cliché that it has become. The only way for that to be accomplished it to allow rappers to be people. .

It was cool outside. I held my jacket tight around me. I followed Raven Mack to the late seventies model camper that he had commandeered from a gypsy woman who left it in his backyard. It had spent decades nurturing yellowing grass and rusted car parts. Raven had converted it into his den of anti-lucidity. He told me to wait at the door. Seconds later, courtesy of a hanging halogen lamp powered by a series of multicolored extension cords that led back to the house, we had light. The camper's walls were dingy browns and yellows cultivated through years of hard-earned negligence and smoke. Books, magazines, and records were stacked—Jack Kerouac was sandwiched between Julia Child and a biography of Abraham Lincoln. The Source, Popular Mechanics, Playboy, and Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Lynyrd Skynyrd, EPMD, Molly Hatchet, many faces of Wu Tang, and Jim Croche, all of them gathered in the camper as if ready to perform a demon festival—an anti-Woodstock with Raven serving as the Master of Ceremonies. Records were glued at random and it smelled of cheap beer, stale marijuana, dead things. It was the dwelling of a madman, a cranky genius, a misguided hippie, a super-dork. A picture drawn in crayon of a dreadlocked hobo in overalls was taped on the wall next to a foldout table with bench seats. I sat down and placed my tape recorder on the table. It was a clunky machine from the mid 80's I dug up from my parent's basement. I was reluctant to stain my journalistic integrity with primitive equipment, but the sophistication of the Winnebago put me at ease. Raven sat across from me.

"Your lyrics contain a level of cynicism underlined with a hope that things could get better. Is that intentional?"

"Nah, makes sense," he said and pulled a pair of Miller High Lifes from under his seat. He handed me one and opened his own. "I had a [SIC] uncle that killed himself over a crazy bitch, and he visited me in dreams a number of times, and the thing I realized is that as much as life sucks, there's no guarantees beyond it. You never want to go into a gamble completely blind, and at least with life, you can find corners to burrow into and immerse yourself into the perverse shit that makes you feel good." He spoke in breathless rants natural to his Virginian accent. He was tall with thick dreadlocks that draped over his shoulders. His unruly beard seemed more personal philosophy than fashion statement. The 81 on the clearance rack Redskins jersey he wore was chipped and fading. What would Art Monk have thought upon seeing that particular fan wearing that particular jersey?

I opened my Miller and took a sip. "In songs like Rap Grammar you talk about growing up poor in Virginia, and how your parents struggled to raise you and your sister. How did your parents and your immediate surroundings influence your music and your writing process?"

"My dad played a lot of outlaw country, but he played a lot of everything. He never liked the rap music, though. I don't know how I got into it. Probably because I liked to talk a lot of shit and you could talk a whole lot more shit, on pure word count, by rapping than anything else. I don't really think about what I write, though. It just happens," he leaned back and considered the question. "A lot of times, I just have dreams where I'm looking at sheets of paper with lyrics, or sometimes books that are printed and I've written it all, and I usually like to read it, but then I wake up and just try to write down what I can remember seeing."

"Can you point to a song that came from one of these dreams?"

"On the last S.E.P. [45s on 33], there's a few songs on there where at least big parts of it came from inside my brain beyond what I usually know," he said and produced a crooked joint from behind his ear. "The 'More Than Just breath' song—a lot of that one was like that." He lit it, offered it to me, and shrugged when I refused.

"What's the scene like when you're writing lyrics?" I asked.

"If I want it to it always happens, but I stifle it most times to not be thought of as a rambling-ass homeless dude. You get into letting lyrics loose and it's hard to stop. Your brain just does it, like you gave yourself a foot fetish." He exhaled smoke as he spoke without as much as a stutter; it was a commendable feat of lung capacity, freakish even. "And once it gets to that point, writing lyrics is basically just sitting down and scribbling out what your brain usually does."

"So would you say it's like thinking but with rhythm?" I challenged him with a raised eyebrow, convinced I had managed to reduce his whole system into a trivial statement.

"Not really," he said, the matter-of-fact rebuttal of an expert shit-talker. "There is no rhythm to a man's thinking."

"That sounds like a slogan from a clever t-shirt."

"I should tell my man, Deric. He has a t-shirt company."

"He could put Bob Marley on it."

"Nah, somebody more obscure but cool, though. Sub-Commandant Marcos."

"Who's that?"

"Some Mexican dude who wore a ninja mask and shot motherfuckers with AK-47s."

"He'd have to be smoking weed or the shirt wouldn't sell."

He drained his beverage and gently brought the empty can down as if it were a fine China tea-cup. The smoke that clouded the room looked as appropriate as a lit candle with a romantic dinner. "I don't buy shirts that cost as much as t-shirts like that cost, so I ain't the target demographic, probably. Coffeehouse revolutionaries."

"Exactly. People who would love your music."

A kiss of lunacy danced in his eyes. He looked at me as if I had just called his children ugly. Raven was burly like a rusted aluminum beer keg and exuded menace. Nobody knew where I was but for my wife, and she was none too happy with me. "I say that because there is an honesty about your music that goes down to the core of who you are and what you represent—the exact type of person that 'Coffeehouse Revolutionaries' turn into fashion trends. Maybe it's dishonesty about themselves that make them attracted to honest people. Who does S.E.P. write music for?"

"Me and PSY/OPS, ultimately. Beyond that, if our goodest friends dig it, then we know it's okay."

I sighed. "But besides that, do you ever dream of selling a billion copies?"

"I'd like to tour again, but that's it."

To protect his image would have cancelled my theory. Rap music would forever remain a cliché turned joke turned outright and blatant lie. How many crack dealing, pimping, bullet wounded mafia dons possess latent venomous rhymes. My guess? None. Not one. Maybe one. Possibly two, but that's it—definitely not 85% of the hip-hop community. Rappers in argyle V-necks cashing paychecks earned by caring about social issues, anime loving skateboarders trying to redefine "the game" by redefining themselves, the music addicted, the ass-obsessed party jammers, ballers, playboys, mock serial killers, and those who potty-mouthed for attention rounded off most of the remaining 15%. My whole reason for driving to Virginia was to prove that the ever evasive label that rappers often claim—the truth—actually existed. Raven would have to represent himself with the same unadulterated sincerity found in his lyrics. For everything to fall to the wayside by a punk rock cliché would have broken my heart.

Virginian moonlight shined on him through fogged up window that was framed by a set of mustard colored curtains. He dug deeper. "I'm thirty-five and did this shit in my early twenties when we could have gotten shitty record deals, so I don't think much about all that. Nobody buys records nowadays and the people at our shows would probably be people I didn't like, so I'd get drunk and fight people at the shows, which, knowing the world, would lead to more touring."

"Could you honestly hate somebody who is showing you unconditional love?" I asked.

"Personally, I'd probably dig them. But standing on stage looking at a bunch of dumbass white people in goofy-ass clothes, I'd probably want to fight them, too."

"About being white," I said, pausing, organizing. "Successful white rappers, talented or otherwise, seem reliant upon gimmickry. ICP has to be ICP; Eminem has to go lengths to offend. White rappers are automatically a few steps behind, not unlike challenges that I imagine black people face on a daily basis. Do you feel that what you present in your music and onstage is a fair representation of who you really are?"

"It's just me, man. I'm old enough to where I don't give a fuck about impressing people. I got a wife and three kids so I don't need blowjobs from Jennifer Love Hewitts no more. Usually people have gimmicks to remain marketable, but fuck…there's no music market anymore. People are all broke," he said, gesturing with his hands. "White people are like everybody else, so I shouldn't use that phrase so easily, but honestly, it's fucking white people who dropped out of college who tend to like our bullshit. Older black dudes tend to like us, too. Dudes from the Eighties."

"So what's it like working with Psy/Opsogist?" I asked.

"Me and the PSY/OPS aren't really on the same page with a lot of things, musically. 45s on 33 was me trying to influence him more with my thinking. But he's intense, so it works out good, because even if he plays me some beats that I think are shitty, I know he's at least fucking trying."

"Do you guys get along when you're working?"

"Yeah, except for when he gets too high. Although he'd probably tell you it doesn't work when I don't drink," he said through a half-smirk.

I took a deep drink from my beer. He offered me another but I politely declined, mine still being half-full. "Tell me about him. How would you describe him as a musician and how would you describe what he does?"

"He's a failed Indy Rock guitarist. But one who's tormented with sounds like I am tormented with words. He calls his music "Soundtrack to Nightmares" and that's what it is. He's only been doing beats for four years, but I figure he would've ate a bullet by now if he didn't do them."

Sitting in a camper decorated like a post-apocalyptic museum exhibit on American culture while a poorly dressed Virginian feeding on marijuana and beer, a feeling that I had long tried to put into words was finally verbalized for me. If I don't write for a while I start to get frustrated and my chemistry is thrown off. Tormented by words. I repeated it under my breath. "Tormented by words." Anyone engaged in any kind of artistic pursuit should be able to identify. It's one of Raven's greatest lyrical attributes. The ability to turn a clever phrase is the physical manifestation of what rappers do. Raven, though, does it without pretense while maintaining the integrity of the sentiment as if guilt-stricken by lies. He's spot on.

"What do you think about where rap is right now? Pop music and otherwise."

"I don't even listen to anything," he laughed. "It's basically two forms of shit: mainstream shit which is predictable and MSG-laced, and then the underground poly-syllabic hyper-intelligent posturing."

I nodded. "Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Breakfast of Champions, has a line in it that always makes me think I'm smart because I think about it after I read it and raise it whenever appropriate. When responding to the question 'What is the meaning of life?' [Vonnegut's character] Kilgore Trout says, 'To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.' How does that sit with you? Is it a legitimate intense statement or pseudo-deep bullshit?"

"Words are always bullshit. People get caught up in finding a meaning for what they do with themselves all the time, but really, if you enjoy it, what the fuck does it matter? Some uptight old lady crocheting spare toilet paper roll covers, hating on 'coloreds' and eating breakfast at McDonald's everyday, if she's happy, what does she owe anybody? People looking for meaning in life are probably unhappy with their life."

"Isn't finding the meaning of things what makes what we do worth it? Is music strictly carnal or is it something you use to get to the bottom of life?"

"Pretty much carnal," he said. "I do it for personal satisfaction, but hopefully it gives other people something they can dig upon at the same time."

We hung out for another couple of hours and talked over some beers. I left the camper feeling smug about my success. Raven had proven honest. Truth could exist in hip-hop. On the highway heading north, the desperate but nourishing ghetto farmland of rural Virginia tapering off behind me like an echo, I thought about how my wife had let me make this ridiculous trip and spend cash that we didn't really have. Then the lesson behind Raven's words became clear. I am just a guy with a tape recorder and a machine that enables me to record words that build sentences that form opinions. Honesty doesn't have a vocabulary. It is prominent in every single intention we put into action, and every single idea that we ignore. To be conscious, alive, and to choose is to be sincere to our ambitions. To place a claim on the truth is to lose it completely. I drove all the way to Virginia so I could put my stamp of approval or disapproval on the integrity of rap music, but the truth doesn't come from words, images or representations. It comes from singing the song that you want to sing. Cruising ever forward, leaving the Virginia moon to Raven and Psy/0psogist, I came to the conclusion that life is never more real then when you accept things for what they are.