I have really learned how to get what is in my head and my heart onto the track. I think when I was younger I was way more concerned with trying to sound smart, or clever, or complex. I don’t really care about that anymore, because that does not necessarily allow me to say what I want to say.K
Know that Alaska Atoms feels Nihilist Millennial, his collaborative album with Zilla Rocca under the name Cargo Cults, is his best album. You should think about the quote above when listening to it. It’s an album boldly in touch with reality, no slight of hand. He is most known as a member of Hangar 18 on the legendary Def Jux label in the early 2000’s but found new life this year as a central figure within the rap collective Wrecking Crew.
In my interview with Shells Scorcese I got a chance to ask which X-men character each crew member would be. He insisted Alaska has to be Professor X. It has a lot to do with how Alaska gets sharply political, personally contemplative, while still finding time to trade back and forth with Zilla (on Greatest Rap Duo). Every second from the opening introduction that starts Get Off My Lawn on proves that Alaska cares deeply about what he is saying as well as the time he has with his audience. Just listen to the chorus of the last song (Time is Too Valuable). He blessed me with five answers about his 2020 and I hope you enjoy.
Q- On the Rawkus v. Def Jux episode of Call Out Culture Podcast, I was so relieved by how anti-Rawkus you were. The younger music heads I know grew up on streaming and are pretty open to all different kinds of movements and sounds. I experienced hip hop as very siloed, not only were the artists insulated but the fans were. I was relieved because I grew up hating Def Jux, thinking it was a bunch of noise. I’m still catching up on what I missed. The old head way was more passionately devoted but the kids are less stubborn and close minded. How do you see the difference in generational listening habits? Do you have a non-Rock or El 5 best Def Jux albums I should catch up on?
A-Jesus this is a tough one, there was a lot of good music on Jux that slid through the cracks. Though I think our albums were slept on I will keep them out of the conversation, though if anyone wants them they can get them here. So here are my top 5:
5. Chin Chin – Self titled album
4. SA Smash – Smashy Trashy
3. Mr. Lif – Enters the Colossus.
2. Rob Sonic – Telicatessin
1. Murs – 3:16 (The 9th Edition)
Q- The Wrecking Crew is all about healthy cross pollination of talent: Small Professor and Curly Castro as BlUu Edwards, Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro as Grift Company, Zilla Rocca and Small Professor as Career Crooks. Zilla is everywhere, he seems to be the connective tissue in a lot of the Wrecking Crew projects, what makes him such a great collaborator? How would you describe his production?
A-I cannot speak for everyone else, but what I like most about working with Zilla is that there isn’t any ego. The process is about the creation, and I know this sounds really crunchy and granola-y but that is the truth. I enjoy working with people who are open to criticism, both supplying it and receiving it. When I was working with Zilla we both came into the project with the idea of putting forth the best project possible, it wasn’t about shine or being married to an idea of concept. It was about serving the project and doing what made sense for the album. I think we both had things that we loved or that worked good on paper but didn’t work for the album and we allowed those things to end up on the cutting room floor. I think that is important for a collaborator.
As for his production style, I would say that it is grounded in tradition, but explores the edges. I don’t think you can pinpoint a sound persay, his style is openness. Zilla is one of those dudes that emanates hip hop, it is very much in his essence. He loves all aspects of the genre, all of the sounds and subcultures that make the genre, which to me is evident in his production.
Q- I first noticed how great your 2020 was going on Torito-Meat Circus(one of my favorite albums of the year). On the song So Below you said “..when everything’s performative then everything is fraudulent, every presidents sucks, not just the 45th!” and then on the second released single ,Ode to Camp Lo, off Midnight Express by Griff/Scorcese you said “…got me rapping like I’m Birdman when he’s rubbing hands,” I knew you were in your zone. That mix of absolute nihilism and vivid visual humor is the most Alaska ish I can think of. On the latest Call Out Culture Podcast you agreed that your newest album Nihilist Millennial (under the name Cargo Cults) is your best work in years. What do you see as the traits and characteristics in the writing of best version Alaska? Did you feel yourself getting into that groove over the past year?
A-I think I have been getting into that groove for the past decade. Really since the end of Hangar 18 back in 2009. I have really learned how to get what is in my head and my heart onto the track. I think when I was younger I was way more concerned with trying to sound smart, or clever, or complex. I don’t really care about that anymore, because that does not necessarily allow me to say what I want to say. I have always been a bit of a misanthrope, who oddly assumes the best about people. I am also a cynical prick. So I think my best work incorporates these characteristics. It is a fine line to walk and I need to really be able to look at myself and see the humor and hypocrisy that live within me, since the things I hate most in the world are usually the things that are a mirror of the things I hate about myself. In a way the best verses I write or as you say peak Alaska are the verses where I am picking at that scab that irritates me, or at something I do not understand. It is my way of finding clarity about myself and the world around me. The tools I use to find this are humor and skepticism, like I know we are all full of shit, we should just fucking own it. I think too many of us try to hide that fact that we either do not know what the fuck we are talking about or we are lying to ourselves. I try to point these things out. I am a firm believer in the fact that we can only save ourselves and doing so is a truly revolutionary act. So I try to jam all that into a verse hahaa.
Q-For a while, anyone who released an album with trace elements of boom bap or classical hip hop sensibilities would get critically disregarded as “nostalgia rap” but I don’t see that tossed around as an insult anymore. Do you think critics have accepted that regions drawing on their historic sonic signature isn’t nostalgia but a part of the regions DNA or is it just getting too profitable to make fun of?
A-I think for a long time this was a fair criticism. I felt it for sure. Personally I do not want to hear someone doing a poor man’s version of Primo or Large Pro. It is the equivalent of being in a tribute band. It sounds familiar but there is no heart to it. What I think has changed over the past half decade or so is that people are building upon the sound. They are innovating within that genre of rap and expanding what is possible. They are channeling the spirit and creating something new. Like you can’t look at Theravada, Woods, Geng and Amani and shit not see that they are anything but straight east coast rappers. However they do not sound like the shit before them. The music got interesting again. For so long it was painted by numbers. I think this is why there is a renaissance of east coast sound.
Q-Nihilist Millennial, Zilla Rocca is the millennial and you are the Nihilist. Most of the time I hear nihilists referenced it is in Big Lebowski references. How would you describe your nihilism as opposed to anarchism? One of my favorite Nihilist philosophers is Max Stirner, in The Ego and His Own he gives some very hip hop quotes:
· He labors, therefore, for his own sake and for the satisfaction of his want. That along with this he was also useful to others, yes, to posterity, does not take from his labor the egoistic character.
· It is not man that makes up your greatness, but you create it, because you are more than man, and mightier than other—men.
Hip hop empowers the un-empowered and they get to declare that power as theirs. People might misunderstand Nihilism as passive but historically the distrust it has for the established towering elements of society is connected directly to a love and dedication to the direct struggle of people. What is the place of Nihilism for you as well as underground hip hop?
A-I think you might have gotten that definition of Nihilist Millennial from a recent Call Out Culture episode when we were talking about the album. That was a joke. I am not a nihilist. I think if you asked both Zilla and I we would have different ideas of what the title means. I think Zilla sees millennials as nihilists in general, but I see it as meaning that the new millenium has brought about an unhealthy nihilism, a nihilism that has been exasperated by the failings of all of our institutions culminating in the election of Trump which has completely broken the psyche of society. We are not locked into a death spiral that I do not see us coming out of for a while, if ever.
I am not sure what nihilism’s place in hip hop should or for me. I think like anything nihilism is a lens to look at the world through. I think it is limiting when you look at hip hop as only empowering the un-empowered, we do not hold other forms of expressions to pursue only one point of view. I think that what their art looks like is entirely up to the individual practicing the art, it can be 20 different points of view at once or something laser focused. I also think as an artist ages their focus shifts from outward to inward. I have found that as I have aged I became less concerned with the things that I cannot affect. I think if we all focused on fixing ourselves and the issues that are close to us we would have a much bigger impact than looking for some global movement or leader to change things. The big movements are easier to undo than the smaller ones.
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