Recently on Bizarre Ride, RBMA Radio’s local spotlight on Los Angeles, host Jeff Weiss welcomed Daedelus, the adventurous and prolific producer whose instrumental hip-hop beats have found homes on Brainfeeder and Ninja Tune, and with the likes of Madvillain, Busdriver and even Drake. In this excerpt from the show, Daedelus opens up about his mythological namesake’s impact on his new LP, Labyrinths, and EDM’s impact on artistic creativity.
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I wanted to start off by talking about a note that you wrote for Consequence of Sound about your new album that I found very affecting and resonant. One line, among many, was “the alt-right-rave environment needs a do-over, a major course correction or else it’s not going to weather the IPO cake storms.”
I was wondering if people would understand the whole cake and rave analogy, the fact that it’s so prevalent now. The experience of having literally a cake thrown in your face as the Aokis of the rave world have done.
It’s like one of those weird things where you don’t necessarily want to demonize it too much, but I’ve interviewed Steve Aoki a couple of times and you’re like, clearly you’re a savant at branding. I don’t know if it’s genetic – because his father was a branding genius – but whatever it is, he absorbed it. You think about it and you wonder how much great art gets lost because the branding isn’t right.
Sure, and it was brought to my attention recently that most people going to art school nowadays are just branding artists, they’re really learning the art of a corporate brand as much as they’re learning any kind of technique or idea, and Aoki knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran. He’s been around, he’s seen many, many waves of this culture come and go, so the fact that he settled on this and he’s had this kind of success proves something, but I think there’s something to be said for craft and for passionate upheaval that yields lasting results.
I will forever have forgiveness for Drake just for the fact that he laced up one of my songs when he was still Drake and Nicodemus.
I think about this a lot, because we live in a culture where it’s like, “Stop hating, everything is OK.” Tolerance is obviously a wonderful thing. One of the best things of the last 20 years is that we’ve found a tolerance, but at a certain point tolerance in the arts leads to complacency and it’s an “everybody gets a trophy” culture. I was thinking about it in terms of the underground rap culture. That was one of our early musical loves, you know? A lot of it is regressive in many ways. It’s like, “let’s take it back,” and that’s not necessarily a healthy attitude for art, but at the same time, they produced a lot of great stuff by hating stuff that was good and that’s kind of important, too. You can hate good stuff and it can produce something else, and everyone’s kind of right in their own way.
I think the rap scene in general is a great thing to point at. You have content and you have craft, and they don’t have to be the same. You have people who are especially crafty and they say amazing things but they don’t necessarily deliver it in the most sufficient ways to push one end or the other, so it’s like there are two different hats that you can wear. There’s certainly people who are branding geniuses who bring a lot of art to the table as well. These two worlds can be coexistent but I think the hustle and grind that is ever-present in the rap mindset makes as much sense if not more in this day and age and it is itself an art form and people recognize.
It’s one of the reasons you can see a pop crossover artist and you can be like, “That person’s really killing it,” because they’re not really supposed to be saying something. They’re supposed to be just this grandiose lifestyle that you’re witnessing, so it’s performance art. We all recognize it. Kanye is... As much as he’s an important artist, he’s not a great artist in my opinion. He is just a great artiste or a personage or something else.
He’s either a genius or he’s brilliant but he’s certainly not both. You know what I mean? He’s one of the two, because there is something that is... He’s interesting. He’s the ultimate synthesizer. He’s not the one coming up with these things. To use a metaphor, he’s not the Daedelus, but he’s more the Icarus but has managed to kind of –
Keep it flying!
Yeah, he goes real close to the sun. He figured out the wax that won’t melt, you know?
I will say, too, it’s really easy to look at someone as big as he is and throw any kind of lightning bolts or whatever. I think what this statement’s trying to get at is that I don’t feel like I’m part of this conversation that’s going on in the majority of music industry. I feel like what I’m representing is much more of those SoundCloud masses, those people who are releasing music against the grain or are their own lane and there’s not an industry now for all these unique voices. It’s really an industry for either a Taylor Swift or a Kanye or people who fall in ranks. The industry is stepping hard on people right now.
You have Amir Yaghmai on your new record.
Absolutely, yeah. A long time collaborator. I went to high school with that guy, too.
Oh, really? I didn’t realize that. He went to Santa Monica High School?
He went to Santa Monica High. Unlike a lot of other Persians growing up here in Los Angeles, he did not do the Beverly Hills High thing. He really represented a different identity and grew up on the surfer culture, but also we fidgeted around. He was in the popular band and I was in the not-popular band. It’s great to have these long histories with people.
I really love “Minotaur” with Zeroh. Zeroh’s kind of one of these artists we’re talking about because it’s like you can’t necessarily slot Zeroh in any lane and I feel like there was a moment where if he really wanted to chase that underground rap stardom... He still could, he’s a young guy and he’s amazing, but instead he’s built a really amazing cult where you don’t know that much about him. He’s retained that sense of mystery, which is weird in a world that seems dedicated to snuffing out all elements of it out.
Totally, and the first way I even kind of encountered him is through a live performance he was doing where he was so cognizant of both his output and the audience that it was the most meta show, basically. He was commenting on his own craft and the audience reacting to the music while still launching into fully dedicated songs, but willing to have a wink and a smile as well as just fully berate the crowd who was so lost and also ... Basically, losing 90%, but those 10% that got it were like, that was it, like Zeroh was the one.
It’s almost like an Andy Kaufman type thing that he does and at the show we did with Zeroh, there were people like, “What is he doing? What is he doing?!” I’m like, “It’s kind of amazing!”
People are straight up nervous nowadays because of the path that has been served to them and how easy shows are. Even the most underground artist is pretty rehearsed and professional and they know exactly where they’re standing on stage and the stagecraft is pretty... It may not be super sophisticated but it’s really practiced.
I think Drake is the perfect example of that. There is not one hair out of place.
There’s no air in the room.
That’s why I hate his music. You know every rhyme will land in the same pocket.
I will forever have forgiveness for Drake just for the fact that he laced up one of my songs when he was still Drake and Nicodemus. They did a version of “Accordion” like everybody did at that time period, so I have that somewhere. It’s on the internet still, Drake and Nicodemus, and it’s not good. Not good raps, really weird throwback backpacky stuff, but hey. Forgiveness.
A lot of people I feel don’t realize that “Accordion,” obviously from Madvillainy, was originally your song, right? It was a sample from –
From my very first record. That was my first kind of public use of rap narrative. I don’t know how to even put this stuff nowadays. It’s just like my encounter with this culture that I had so much fandom for and then finally being able to work with some of these people, that was tremendous but then it just kind of kept on going.
I think Madvillainy was a really important record for Stones Throw, a super important record for me, but also then to see it just continuing to be an important record for other people. Common constantly recites it. Bas just did kind of a version of that same beat. So did Casey Veggies.
I just did an interview with the Local Natives, and they have a song called “Villainy” on their new album.
Yeah, it’s more of a beat-driven song and I asked about it and one of the guys was like, “Yeah, I was listening to Madvillain on a plane and I just wrote it.” It’s kind of interesting to see how that album has evolved.
I mean, that’s like 13 years old now, right, or something?
Yeah, Earl and Tyler and all those kids grew up on it. It’s interesting because when I came up writing there was kind of a stigma. They were like, “Oh, that’s nerdy rap. That’s backpack rap,” and then all of a sudden like, oh, so like the air quote cool ... Tyler said, “I’m not underground, fuck this shit.” Then he said, “Madvillain is my favorite album.” So then everyone’s like, “Oh, I always liked Stones Throw!”
He also gave props to James Pants, I remember. He must have been a Stones Throw kid because he has deep knowledge of that label.
Earl Sweatshirt’s name is actually from James Pants.
Really? James Pants is the best. That dude was really, I mean, he’s still making great music but like, man. Not rated enough.
Definitely. There was a great song by Open Mike Eagle and this rapper Has-Lo and it’s called “Your Backpack Past” and it’s great. The whole thing is just like making fun of underground rappers in the last five years that were like, “No, I’ve always been into trap...”
There’s a long history of people rapping where they’re not from, that’s for sure. I will say that a lot of the beat scene, I think part of the reason for the rise of this overarching genre is the fact that people were running for the hills from the backpack scene, but the Dibiases of the world making tremendous but really hardcore backpack beat were finding a new voice. Maybe in a previous generation they would’ve just gotten on a mic and styled over something, but instead they redoubled their efforts and made the beats that continued. The easiest through thread I can point at has been this Low End Theory undercurrent.
The first time I went there I was like, “Oh, that’s where everybody went.” I’d been so bored. If I had to go to another underground hip-hop show where someone told me to wave my hands in the air if I loved hip-hop.
Well, they became a formula. It became an algorithm that you could basically –
That’s the best part about rap now. Whether you like Young Thug or hate Young Thug you have to appreciate that it would’ve become classic rock if people like Young Thug didn’t exist. You have to make the older fans hate what they’re doing. It’s just the way that –
The person who I love the most for this, and especially because he is an older dude, is Danny Brown. To me, he is the ultimate example of someone willing to go deep into the artistry and pull out something else that is transformative and that dude is the truth.
He’s truly a national treasure, Danny Brown. What was the overarching concept behind the new album, Labyrinths?
I didn’t want to get too conceptual on this record. I’ve done plenty of really deeply conceptual records that people totally ignore or miss. So “Labyrinths” is a less conceptual record, and yet at the same time I can’t give myself up. I still have this strong reason to make, and “Labyrinths” to me was a kind of more determined look at my namesake, Daedelus, inventing the labyrinths in Greek mythology.
Wanting to go deep on my own sense of confusion, I’d been coming out of a period of time, doing label releases, and really feeling like a lost voice basically yelling at this headwind of EDM that was like a tornado against me, whereas like, I want performance. I want artistry. I want lasting music.
EDM has now come to represent a real corporate mono-culture that is really bro and really alt-right.
The thing is, I’ve seen you perform innumerable times and I know you could’ve EDM’d up your set if you wanted to.
I’ve played those events and I’ve definitely felt the pressure at the time to be more dubstep. The EDM I’m talking about is really just any big room sound. Anything that’s made to be played way too loud for kids with their eyes rolling in the back of their heads. That’s EDM, really, and so I think everyone can kind of go there. Everyone can get a little louder, find the more abrasive edges to their sound and embrace it, but the truth is EDM has now come to represent a real corporate mono-culture that is really bro and really alt-right.
I saw these Pepe memes and it’s like, “Oh, I’ve seen this before,” and it’s like, I’ve seen this in these built-up steroided bros that are like raging to some really mindless stuff. It’s like, there’s a very present friction that’s happening where I see it on the far right and the alt-right and I see it in this EDM scene, and it’s like, “Wow, why aren’t people talking about this? Why isn’t this being brought up in the music?” So, in a very indirect way, this is what this record is about.
It’s about some really quiet moments and some slightly more edgy moments, but really celebrating genre that I perceive that’s really a national treasure in America. Everything from the juke and the jit, and that isn’t for everybody. I get that. It’s just things that got me to make the music.scene to the to the
So, that’s why Labyrinths exists and yet, at the same time, I fully get that nobody cares. I don’t think they should. I think the art should be in the voices that are on the record, should be in the players that are touching strings, and it should be music that when this moment is dead and gone and we’ve ceased talking about it, people can still look at this record as being their couples record, their breakup record.