The Cabal(a) Interview w/ Iceberg Theory(5 Questions)

It’s really exciting to be able to talk to someone who is making a name in underground rap RIGHT NOW. In 2020, Iceberg Theory has been flooding the Bandcamp streets with release after release. His newest collaboration with underground production king August Fanon is called The Cabal(a) and gives the listener a lot to chew on. I knew he had a lot on his mind but my nerd brain really set his off in incredible directions. I’m very proud to present his thoughts. May they bind him to your interests.

1.Q-This album made me think about how the “getting killed on your own track” conversation as misplaced energy. I would think as an artist getting a bad feature would be the true concern. I was thinking about this because all the features are special. I couldn’t think of any better partner than Vic Spencer on Good Rhymin’ Bad Singin’ the chemistry is a real high point. Bloodmoney Perez & Bloodblixing are excellent on Blood Libel and Teller Bank$ on Victory Laps is truly next level. How did this group of features come together? What was your reaction to getting that Teller Bank$ performance?

A-Hopefully this conclusion wasn’t reached by me getting killed on my own tracks LOL. But I completely agree. I consider it a real honor when an emcee/collaborator gets on my song and really delivers something special, which is definitely the case on this album from all of my guests. Every emcee I work with I consider top tier and would never really give a throwaway verse regardless, but when the level of competition is high, it’s definitely a steel sharpening steel scenario. The fact that anyone would consider my album a place to deliver such phenomenal work is a huge compliment to me. No one’s wasting a really good verse if the one before it was wack.

Me and Bloodmoney are actually working on a full length project together, which Blood Libel was initially for, which is coming out very strong so far, despite being in its early stages. Bloodblixing hit me up a few dats before the album was set to release saying that he wanted to feature on the project. The whole tracklist was pretty much done at that point, but when Bloodblixing says he wants to send beats or feature on a song, it’s a good idea to accept so we ended up getting him on that one and using it for The Cabal(a).

The Vic Spencer feature came from him being a close collaborator with Fanon. Their album Psychological Cheat Sheet is one of my favorites of the year, and I’ve been a fan of Vic since The Cost of Victory so it was an honor getting on a song with him. I had sent him the track with my verse and the hook without the thought that he’d even sing on it, but when he sent it back he had titled it Good Rhymin’, Bad Singin’ and joined me in singing on the hook. It was unexpected but made the song standout that much more, and definitely a rare moment which I appreciate greatly. Vic really made it his own.

Me and Teller just connected through Twitter. We had talked about working before and one day he said if anyone wanted to send him something, that happened to be a good time, so I jumped on the opportunity. Teller is one of the best emcees out right now to me and his feature on Victory Laps is definitely a testament to that, as is his body of work in general. When I got the verse I thought it completed the song perfectly and so many crazy bars. He really got what I was going for with the song and approached it from his own perspective. I was glad I chose that song to send, even though I don’t doubt that he would shine on anything.

2. Q-Your work ethic is impressive, I saw you say The Cabal(a) is your fifth album of the year, at the same time your work is philosophical spiritual and conceptual. For August: How do you know a beat is right for Iceberg? What does a perfect Iceberg Theory beat sound like? For Iceberg:  At what point in the process of recording do you start to understand the themes and conceptual through lines of the body of work you are working on?

A-Thank you! Our goal this year in releasing so much work was to try and really cement our place as a group in underground Hip Hop. When August and I started working , pretty much no one knew who I was, even though I have been making music for over 10 years under different monikers and groups ie. The Plexiglass Fountain with Tokyo Cigar. So this barrage of releases is partly strategic in trying to get the name out there, but with a mixture of quantity and quality that would hopefully be impossible to ignore. I also recently moved and started living in a cabin with no TV and no internet outside of my annoyingly slow data so it’s provided a great opportunity to focus on music and writing in my time that I’m not working.

Since Last September, August and I have released 7 albums along with other singles, etc. I’ve also released a few projects including The Last Symbolist EP produced by Bloodblixing as well as Slothmonk & Friends Vol. 1, which is my production compilation. We have one more to release this year and then we are probably going to get a little quieter as a group while we continue work on our magnum opus Birds of Appetite, which we’ve been working on since we began collaborating about 4 years ago or so. Hopefully we’ve put in enough work this year that people will accept a little bit of a lull in our release schedule and really embrace BoA when we eventually are ready. There will still be more work in between, though. And I’m also working on a screenplay for TV series as well as a novel. 

As far as conceptualizing our projects together, it really varies. For instance, for Sophia Perennis, my goal from the get go was to make an album about the Perennial Philosophy, drawing from the work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, specifically talks that he gave about his views on evolution as well as climate change and the spiritual roots of the environmental crisis. On Rinpoche I knew I wanted to make an album dedicated to the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa. So in those cases I went into the album with a clear theme and somewhat of an idea for a sonic palate. Other albums like The Cabal(a), I knew how I wanted it to sound, but I didn’t really know how it was going to be pulled together thematically until the end when I listened back to everything and saw a mixture of political and religious musings. A lot of songs, specifically Book of Lamentations and Jew Electronica have to do with Judaism and Zionism. For a lot of people Jewish identity has been tied to Israel and Zionism, so in my own way I think I am trying to counteract that narrative as a Jew who is against Zionism, yet still trying to pull out positive elements of the tradition.

The whole project isn’t necessarily about that exclusively, but it’s definitely there on numerous tracks so it made sense to try and come up with a title and sequencing for the album that would bring out some of those questions. Because of these heavier topics and dense lyricism, we also tried to pull from some sources for the audio clips we included that would be more humorous. In the Curb Your Enthusiasm clip in the outro of Exile (From The Primal Horde), Larry David is pretending to be a super orthodox Jew so he can make friends with the head of some organization in charge of the list for people to receive kidney donations. Not wanting to give his own kidney to his friend Richard Lewis, he purposely smashes this guy’s car and then leaves a note as a way of meeting, so he can become friendly with this man to game the system and get Richard Lewis higher on the list for getting a kidney. 

The comment that he was listening to Jewish radio and lost control of the car because he got so worked up as they were talking about Israel seemed like a good transition to the Jew Electronica song which is a reference to the controversy between Jay and Peter Rosenberg regarding the synagogue of Satan line on Jay’s debut album. Dr. Jared Ball had a very good discussion of this on his podcast where he spoke about some of the history behind the line and details what he would have liked to tell both Jay and Peter Rosenberg if he were given the opportunity. I chose not to include any clips from this largely because it happened to be too long and also had music playing in the background which would have made it difficult to sample. But that’s sort of a brief look on how the song came to be and some of what I was pulling from. I definitely recommend listening to the podcast. 

3.Q-To get specific on themes, I noticed a few quotables in The Great Work.

“In the future where religion died, fascism rise”

“Money worth less than the sum total, disintegrating in my fingers until there’s nothing to hold. People working all their lives with nothing to show.”

I saw a theme developing when I pulled up Ephesians 6:12(another song title) which states: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

What do you see causing the death of religion? How would you describe the ramifications capitalist society has for a citizen’s personal ethical values?

A-The way that our society is set up for profit and productivity, it doesn’t leave much room for any kind of spiritual and contemplative life. Sure, people are still very religious, but I think the trend towards fundamentalism is at least part in reaction to living in a world where much of our wisdom traditions are inaccessible and don’t really make sense to the average person and the kind of life they are living. And so the meaning of many teachings are turned into slogans where being Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc, basically comes down to believing in a certain set of creeds in a very literal way. Instead of having to wrestle with the idea of something like the virgin birth and its symbolism, simply “believing” that that was a literal event that took place becomes the replacement. And as religion loses its meaning, it increasingly only really means anything in a sectarian and political sense.

Instead of encouraging inner and vertical development, we tend outwards and horizontal, thinking that we can achieve satisfaction from materialism. Instead of viewing the world as a finite realm, we treat the earth as if it had infinite resources and possibilities. As humans we cannot escape our need to transcend the self, but the question becomes what will we transcend it with, and to what end. In more traditional civilizations, the need for the infinite is directed towards the “divine” in some way or another. When humans are given space to develop interiorly, we find a vast inner dimension to explore, but when that capability is not developed all we can really do is look for happiness and satisfaction outside of ourselves. And it will never be enough. 

4. “Purgatory, Heaven and Hell is equidistant, to reach a state of satisfaction first need is submission.” —Eschatology

Q-While I know less about religion than I should…I know Søren Kierkegaard and one of his central works is Fear and Trembling which is an exploration of Abraham’s task to sacrifice his son. Kierkegaard makes the case within it that the existing moral landscape of an earthly community will never perfectly mirror the needs of the Lord. It is for this reason he says Abraham had to submit and that submission is faith. Am I close to what you were getting at in this line? I think people get nervous talking about submitting to anything so any background you can give is enlightening.

A-That’s a good interpretation. I was speaking about Islam in particular with that line, which literally means submission, though in all Abrahamic traditons (and many other religions) there always is the question of how we are supposed to deal with God’s will. One of the highest Sufi states is Riḍā or satisfaction. I think there is a certain acceptance of God’s will that’s important in life. As you said, submitting to anything, especially in a society that thrives on exploitation is very dangerous, and as organized religion has become an earthly power, I think a lot of people are skeptical and don’t want to be duped. One time I visited a Sufi gathering to observe their meeting and talk to some of the people in the order to consider joining. After dinner, when everyone sat down to ask questions to the Sheikh, he singled me out to address me specifically, saying that when I saw them performing salat, in my mind I was seeing “lambs being led to the slaughter,” but in fact that was not the case. I was a little shocked that he was picking me out of the whole crowd to address when that wasn’t really even the format of the Q&A, but I did find it insightful how he was able to pick out that instinctive bias I had, even though I had enjoyed the meeting very much up until this point.

I experienced something similar when I visited a Benedictine monastery as a potential novice, without even really being Catholic or Christian, but interested in the monastic life because of Thomas Merton’s writing.  I remember going into the chapel to pray with the monks and upon entering, each monk bowed to a statue of Jesus. At the time, I had an aversion to this act, especially in the context of  reading the literature the monks had given me explaining some of the basic tenets of the faith, such as Papal infallibility. I ended up rethinking my vocation as a monk and in the middle of the night I left the monastery, leaving the monks a note thanking them for their hospitality and explaining my reasoning for disappearing. One of the monks wrote to me later on, wishing me the best moving forward, and also saying he wouldn’t be surprised (and would welcome) if I decided to come back in the future. 

So submission is definitely something I’ve struggled with myself. When God is so closely tied to earthly power structures, it becomes ambiguous. On a personal level, I think it’s important to accept certain elements in our lives as God’s will. The difficult part is discerning what’s authentically God’s will and what are the forces that we need to actively fight and struggle against, in a political sense. Is it God’s will that we waste our lives away performing meaningless jobs, completely alienated, to enrich the 1%, going bankrupt paying for healthcare? Etc..  I’m painting in broad strokes but I think that’s where a lot of the aversion to the idea of submission comes from, and with the abuse of power that a lot of religious institutions have participated in, it’s definitely a fair criticism and an element we need to wrestle with. But I don’t think that it necessarily negates the spiritual reality behind submission to God’s will in our lives. 

5. Q-When I was deep in writing short stories, novels, etc I struggled with how dense my material was. What audience would want to take on the thematic excavation of my ideas? My theory was always that a piece should work on three levels which I can apply to Cabal(a): surface level (love the beat, dig the hook, nice flow), character development(listening to the narrator traverse their personal journey through organized religion) and advanced (buying Codeword Barbelon – Danger in the Vatican: The Sons of Loyola and relistening to the song to find hints about the Illuminati). Do you worry about what level of understanding your audience has of the work you’ve done? Are you at peace with listeners who are on the surface level of listening?

A- I’m honestly happy anyone listens to me at all, regardless of their level of interest/involvement with the lyrical content. At the end of the day we’re making music, so on some level we are aiming to make something enjoyable that you can throw on and listen to. August is one of the best producers out so at the very least you know you’re gonna get dope beats, and as much as I’m trying to tackle some serious topics, I also am trying to say some fly shit too. But I definitely do appreciate the listeners who like to dig a little deeper and look into some of the references and ideas I’m building on and working with. I’m glad I could present people with some of the content of my studies and pass some knowledge along, insofar as I can. With all of the references I make, you could go down any number of rabbit holes, some of which I may have been down, others which I’ve only scratched the surface myself. But throughout this year I’ve definitely seen growing interest and support and I appreciate it all. There are a million things you could do, so someone taking their precious time to listen to the music we make is flattering and really a blessing. I hope to continue stepping it up and give people something really beautiful. 



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