Thu, 18 Apr 2013 07:44:49
BLKHRTS truly take hip-hop down a new lane. Rather than adhere to the same old hood conventions, they revolutionize the genre. In fact, they make rap music darker than ever, infusing a Goth sensibility into airtight rhymes and eerie production. It's as if Wu-Tang Clan took up a residency at a jazz club in Dark City. However, even that description doesn't do it justice. BLKHRTS stand on their own and remain one of the most intriguing, incisive, and invigorating alternative outfits of the 21st century.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Yonnas Abraham talks what's ahead for the group and so much more.
The music is unsettling and dark, but it's catchy. It really stays with you.
Wow, that's a serious compliment bro. Thank you! I appreciate that.
Is the music something of a balance between darkness and catchiness?
Yeah, I definitely think that's something we strive for. I think we want to make pop songs. We consider ourselves to be writing pop songs in the verse-chorus-verse structure. For better or worse, we're obviously very interested in Goth culture, sex, drugs, violence, money, and death. We're trying to make these dark little nuggets that would be catchy. It's not all doom-and-gloom. Maybe 75 to 80 percent is doom-and-gloom [Laughs].
That dichotomy is important. It's not what you would expect.
Generally, with being BLKHRTS and Goth, people would assume it's really droopy. A lot of cloud rap that comes out today seems like it's really slow. We're actually very high-energy guys. There's a lot of color in the music. Black is the collection of colors. Inherently, by being BLKHRTS, we're really colorful guys who like all sorts of color, not in our clothes but in our music. As artists, we've all come into ourselves as BLLHRTS. We've found our voice and sound. We're all thirty and up. I think our twenties were essentially spent exploring music and doing a lot of things we wanted to do. When we started BLKHRTS, it was a lot more cunning. First, we got together because they were the best rappers I knew, and I think they felt a similar respect for what I was doing. Secondly, it was really important that we establish our aesthetic and sound and work within that paradigm. Before, we would just do whatever wanted.
I don't know if "paradigm" is the right word, because it's more like you created a world…
A world! That's a great way to put it. For us, the next project we're releasing is an EP called Love is Thicker Than Blood. Like you said, we invented this world and tried to do the diaspora of what the world entails. All of the projects are different sounds, but they follow along the same lines. With Love is Thicker Than Blood we tried to hone in on the post-rock and Goth thing with the records. We wanted to strike a more consistent tone with the project. What I think we do uniquely is mix rock and rap, for better or for worse. We're exploring that for six or seven songs in a row as opposed to just one or two.
What's the thematic thread for Love is Thicker Than Blood?
Yeah! Thematically, it really means you choose your family. Blood is not what makes people do things for each other. Blood is not what makes people care. It's love. There are tons of people with families they don't give a shit about [Laughs]. The reality is you go through your life with a family you're born with and one you choose throughout your life. The next project after that is the full-length Jezebel Jenkins, which we're working on with Dave Sitek. This is the pre-cursor to that. Jezebel Jenkins is a real person. She's a close person friend of mine in the Bay. I met her, and I immediately decided we're going to be family. I haven't known her for that long. It's been a little over a year. I'm starting to realize, in theme of building your own world artistically and in real life, you pick the people you want in your world. You fight for them if you really want them there. It's because of love.
Is it important to paint pictures with the songs?
I usually build beats, show them to everybody, and we pick the ones we like. Then, we decide on a concept and go to our separate corners and write. Personally, I get inspired by visions. If something is said to me and it immediately conjures an image in my brain or I find myself thinking of something and I can see it vividly, that guides me in the process. In my brain, there's an image for every piece of music. Whether it's something I can bring out and turn into a photo or painting, that isn't always the case. However, there's a strong connection for me visually and sonically. On Love is Thicker Than Blood, we wrote a story all the way through. King F.O.E.'s verse is the beginning, Karma The Voice's verse is the middle, and mine is the end. In general, our writing is becoming more visual than less.
If Love is Thicker Than Blood were a movie, what would it be?
That's a great question. I think it travels the gamut. The first song is definitely like Apocalypse Now. It's very cacophonous, and it's about being plunged into apocalyptic situation. The next song "Ghetto Goth" is like this stylish club song that captures our aesthetic. When I think of it visually, I think of a mix between The Crow and something like Belly. As far as modern ghetto films go, I think of films about hip-hop and the hood. It's a mix of The Crow and Undoubted [Laughs]. It's "Ghetto Goth". We've all grown up in urban hood situations, and our aspirations in our lives are very different. We aspire to the Goth thing, but we didn't grow up around a ton of Goth people. We grew up in black neighborhoods surrounded by black people! It's a bit weird. We've always looked at the world that way. It's bleak, but there's death, romance, and the color black. There's a song called "Nights Like This" which is more mellow, but very emotional and melodramatic. I think of The Notebook or something corny I've never seen. Every song is a different movie.
What artists shaped you?
As a kid, I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. Now, we have a joke that our heroes are Mozzy [The Smiths] and Siouxsie [Siouxsie and the Banshees]. Those are the two archetypes. When I talk about "Goth" aesthetically and visually, I talk about Siouxsie. As far as an ethos and writing style though, I think Morrissey is the most "Goth" guy ever, except for the fact that he's not super obsessed with the color black.
Have you heard BLKHRTS? Visit BLKHRTS.com for some free downloads!