The title of YUNGMORPHEUS‘ New album-Affable with sharp teeth, an integral collaboration with Filipino-born producer Eyedress, is a play named after a novel by Jamaican writer Claude McKay, completed in 1941 and unreleased for over 70 years.
Amicable with Big Teeth: A Romance of the Love Story between Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem is a scathing critique of the political factions within Harlem during the Renaissance and, as the subtitle suggests, of those outside forces that aimed to use black Americans as a political club and nothing else.
“Movements that are meant to be good for oppressed communities may not always be good for them,” the Miami rapper and producer told Audiomack in a recent phone interview. “I know white cats who pretend to be communists and who are still evil, guys who can read Marx from top to bottom and who always say to themselves, ‘Blacks scare me.'”
After his childhood in Florida, Morpheus attended Boston College, an experience he does not fondly recall. But it was at this time that he wrote his first songs and reserved his first recording sessions. A deep familiarity with alternative rap that was popular during his youth mingled with his high school b-boy days and the old-fashioned vacation affinity that came with it; Morpheus finally landed on a style that resembles a Trojan horse, his voice sounding purely textural until it clarified into slyly incisive verse.
Even by the standards of native Internet artists, Morpheus has been remarkably prolific. He publishes music, EPs and feature films, solo or with a variety of collaborators, including women and Siifu pink– at a breakneck pace, and tells me he likes to work on multiple records at the same time. And as that pace picked up, the political clarity of Morpheus’ writing increased. TO Twirl, writer Max Bell called Morpheus’ raps “casually radical,” an apt description. This brings us back to Claude McKay. McKay is perhaps best known for his poetry; YUNGMORPHEUS and Eyedress open their album with a reading of their 1919 sonnet âIf We Must Dieâ:
Was there a lot of music in your house when you were little?
My mom and dads had sick CD collections. My father was a pure and hard DMX fan. Some of my earliest memories of hearing songs are of me sitting in the car on a road trip to Orlando or Atlanta, and everyone has fallen asleep, and my dad has his time listening to DMX at the middle of the night. I would wake up and say to myself, “Yo, he’s in this.”
Leaned over the steering wheel, muttering the words to himself. I was like, “Oh shit, it’s hitting near my house” [rapping Jadakissâ hook from Xâs âWe Donât Give a Fuckâ]. You are thinking of something now that we are all asleep! Moms was on R&B type shit like Mary J. Blige, and she liked rap that hit the mark, shit like Mase. I heard Harlem World very much as a child. This shit is a quiet fire.
However, many people rebel against their parents’ taste, or at least try to carve their own. What was the first music that you found to be yours and not theirs?
I think about the fifth, sixth year, when the n **** would put music on their PSPs, LimeWire, everything. But the first moment is that I had a Ludacris CD and the [Gorillaz] Days of demons CD. Luda was tight, but Days of demons was the first CD I like, bought myself with my own money. I was like, “This is weird, what the hell is this?” After that, I feel like I pushed the gas when I found some weird music. I was starting to get hooked on adult swimming stuff, and I had a hard time finding stuff in my room, browsing the internet.
What did you find?
The first thing I have a poignant memory of, where I needed the whole album, is hearing a joint of [GZAâs] Liquid swords. But it took me so long to find all the leads for this joint. I had to find the artwork so that I could download it and watch it while I listened.
So what happened: Did you start writing nursery rhymes in your math notebooks?
It didn’t happen for a very, very long time. I was really just a fan, for years. I started a more intense relationship with music when I started doing b-boying. It was my principal. In ninth grade I started cracking up, and it was like, “OK, cool, this is what I do.” There is a big scene in Florida, at least when I was going up. There was an after school club in my high school, and when I was trying to figure out my extracurricular activities, the ones you were forced to enroll in, I went to debate first, and I was like, â This shit is cool, but it shits a little silly … “
But I liked music very much and had always liked to dance. I was in love with jumping. There are rules, but there aren’t. It made me learn history. I would ask friends what places I could go, places to practice, and stuff like that. Heads older, I asked them questions: “What music should I know, what movies should I watch?” To run in ‘, Breakin ‘2 [Electric Boogaloo], The coolest kids, all that. All the stuff from the golden age of hip-hop.
Did it open you up to music you didn’t care about before?
Yes of course. The super concern-for-culture ethos cats would bring records to play jams and spin vinyls, and I hear old breaks before I realize they’re old breaks. I dance with them. By the time I was in college and started cracking less – I started smoking weed and hanging out on my own – I was like, âI like these beats more than just dancing. Let me say some bullshit, or at least write some bullshit for myself and see if that looks cool or silly.
When you finally wrote and recordedâ¦ did that sound stupid to you?
I hated. I was like, “Dog, is that how I talk?” It’s crazy. Is that what niggas hear when I move around the world, talking? Florida mate Black Ant was recording me when I was [home from college] On break. He told me to project my voice, he told me what to do. But after hearing myself theoretically “correctly”, I said to myself: “I don’t like that, throw my shit OD”. So all of my shit got stung out of a reverse-Quasimoto shit. I was not confident and I did not like the sound of my voice. Corn [that device] is a loophole: “If I play this with n **** s, they won’t know it’s me.”
You’ve lived in both New York and LA now. How did you find the experience of trying to make music in each one?
I fuck with both places, man. Miami is like both. New York looked like a hyperbolized version of some aspects of Miami; LA looks like a hyperbolized version of other aspects. It helped me a lot to put myself in the context of what was going on. New York made me realize nobody cares, yo. He did it quite strictly; if you really want to do it, you have to do it because you want to. Because nobody cares.
Do you see yourself as part of a particular scene?
I wouldn’t say that, but I have my friends whose work I respect, people I consider my peers, part of my community. I noticed that in this cultural moment we’re doing the silo because it’s a rap renaissance and cats are trying to figure out where to put the stuff.
So how do you feel when people throw the term âlo-fiâ at your job?
This shit is funny man. I used to get hot about it, but at some point you just gotta be like fuck. Either way, you all get there, great. I can tell why I think that term is bullshit, but cats are going to do whatever they need to do when something is a little different than what they’ve heard before.
You do a lot of writing, a lot of recording. Burnout must set in at some point.
I think I just need this shit to stay sane. I feel like if I treated him like a muscle he would tire out, but this shit kinda looks like where I’m in my head in general, so it doesn’t look like muscle strain. It’s like walking instead of going to the gym if that makes sense. You always exercise when you walk, but you are going somewhere.
By Paul Thompson For Audiomack