I sat down with Kofi Edzie, sole creator in the eclectic hip hop project Kofi the Spiderman, and one of three parts comprising Arty $lang, about his newest release Fuck You I Love You.
Here is the transcribed interview in full.
Boston Hassle: You have a weirdly stitched together sound of seemingly disparate elements, and when someone thinks about what an artist’s inspired by. Is is a synthesis of recognizable things or unrecognizable things? What is it that you listen to you, or what were you listening to when writing these tracks?
Kofi: For the most part what I listen to first and foremost is hip hop. I will literally start the day by searching music blogs to see what kind of new sounds are out in the air. When I was making the record, I wanted to go back and include different sounds that were influential to my personality, and also influential to my music if you can separate the two. I think one way I thought about it was that I was working in a patchwork style or a scrapbooking style. One of my tunes has a Bon Iver sample, Skinny Love. Back when I was maybe 19 or 20, when that record was more new, I used to listen to that record all the time, and I would listen to it a lot when I was upset. I would be really sad and go to sleep listening to that record. When It came time to construct my mixtapes, or the tracks on the mixtapes, I went back, pulled up that skinny love sample, then flipped it and turned it into a hip hop tune. I did that with a lot of samples and songs that had important significance to my growing up as a person.
Boston Hassle: In that specific song, is there a connection between its subject matter and an experience from that time, or in that case and maybe others it’s more that you’re using these experiences as a palete to draw on haphazardly?
Kofi: It is a little abstract. I don’t know if there’s a translation between the lyrics in skinny love and the lyrics in my tune. I was more interested in grabbing the mood and the chambers of the instruments, to use those “colors” for my palate to then construct from.
Boston Hassle: Might it be similar if you have a favorite color, like red being my favorite color, but I don’t use the red because it reminds me of my childhood. It’s just that I have it and I like it because of that childhood experience, but I’m not necessarily going to paint a red wagon with that red.
Kofi: I had this color that I had a formative experience around, and I kind of internalized that color. But, I’m very interested in the idea of subjectivity and expressing that in art. It’s not a new concept, it’s how people have been making art for hundreds of years, but I wanted to express myself. It was very important for me to pull colors or tambers from formative personal experiences. There is some kind of translation, but it’s gone through many iterations of change and collected nuance through my experiences.
Boston Hassle: Artists have an aesthetic, a sound. You can clearly pick out people with recognizable voices. I thought a lot about an artist named Captain Beefheart, in terms that all of his music is colored by this rhythmic and melodic dissonance throughout. Every single song has this moment where it feels almost like a jumble of unrelated things. Because of that, it lends itself to really surprising changes and transitions. Was painting this aesthetic throughout your music an intentional thing, or is it a “Kofi thing”?
Kofi: I think it’s a little bit of both, a bit of a subconscious as well as a conscious decision. Part of it comes from never having formal training as a musician, so I’m always defaulting to what I hear, even though it may not be technically correct. I think it also reflects my psychology, where sometimes my mind will be a wash of thoughts, or different things that don’t necessarily jive together – there’s a static in my mind sometimes. I wanted to translate that idea as well. It’s kind of a mixture of the subconscious, and my conciously taking into account translating my psychology in music, and I”m influenced a lot by the noise scene in Lowell. My introduction to the Lowell art scene was at the 119 Gallery hearing noise music.
Boston Hassle: When you say “translate psychology,” can you tease out what that means to you?
Kofi:I think there are many ways to write yourself or your psychology into your music. Obviously you say something that is your thoughts, or you could construct a chord progression that mirrors your emotions, but what I was trying to do was look at a very specific personal psychic event, which is just my brain being on the fritz sometimes ,and I wanted to find a way to allow people to experience that sensation of being on the fritz. I guess the way that I decided to do it was take maybe ideas from noise music, where it was really jarring and nonsensical, and anti-musical, and use those ideas to translate my experience.
Boston Hassle: Love is a big part of this whole release, but it’s love as I sense it in various circumstances and points of view that are not always romantic love. Can you explain?
Kofi: Love is an obsession of mine, but also a cultural obsession. What I was trying to do was to understand love, or to create an understanding of love and the way I wanted to do that, although not consciously, was to like take on an experiment on semiotics. Semiotics is where if you take a word like water, where the meaning of the word is created by context, which is often a cultural or circumstantial context. Water to you and me means something different than it does to a Chilean farmer who lives off the land. It’s the same substance, but really the full expression of meaning, or the full meaning of the word, is different depending on the context of the word. I was taking the idea or the word “love” and I was recontextualizing it, giving it different surroundings, so I could see how love was interacting with those surroundings. Those surroundings would be songs, or narratives within songs. The end it became, first and foremost, very personal. Being plagued by this romantic wanting or this want for love and romance, and being kind of frustrated by it so many times, I was really taking a hard look at this concept of love, and I was looking at my relationship to the concept of love, and then also particularly how that related to obsession and how it related to addiction. How love can be kind of an addiction, as I’ve had experiences being addicted to different drugs. I’m missing this girl the way that I miss cocaine a lot of the time. What is going on here? It’s me trying to understand this personal and cultural obsession with love.
I was also kind of trying to understand the different types of love you can have. The title is “Fuck You I Love You.” It’s about how love can be complex and tied up with anger and tied up with all these other emotions. There’s a lot of unhealthy love. There’s people who think, “I love you so I will punch you in the face so you’ll be good.” I was trying to reconcile feelings of anger towards people I loved. Feelings of betrayal from people that I loved. That’s what really inspired the title of the record – getting into a screaming match, and yelling “Fuck you, fuck you!” to someone that I loved.
It’s trying to understand what it means to have a healthy loving relationship as opposed to an unhealthy one. There’s also that addiction piece – I love cocaine, but it’s going to kill me!
Boston Hassle: Mental health. I’ve listened to your other music, and I’ve mentioned it in a review for one of your prior releases – the sheer delivery sounds like someone who is drugged up, and woozy. Is there an element of “expressing a psychology” that is in the content of the delivery?
Kofi: Yeah, so I think as my discography has progressed, my annunciation and pronunciation has gotten better and sharper. But like, on the first record I was especially slurring my words a lot, and I think one of the medications I was taking has honestly affected my speech which kind of sucks, giving me slurred speech and whatever, and I guess I was just dealing with that. I started the project out of feeling I needed not just because I needed to express myself. There’s this romantic ideal of the artist who just expresses themselves out of this pure need to share experience and elevate his community through teaching. But I was like, “yo, I need to eat.” And the group I was playing with wasn’t heading in that direction, so I needed to start something where I could hustle as much as I wanted to. But when I started Kofi the Spiderman, I had no singing experience, and I was having trouble with speaking. The first record is the story of me learning how to rap, and the second record is me learning how to sing. The third record will hopefully be more of a showcase of these abilities. I think that the first record and the early tunes and early flows were reflecting my psychology via my psychiatric medication, but also a reflection of my psychology as an everyday person who needs to eat, who needs to pay bills.
Boston Hassle: Arty $lang and Kofi the Spiderman – what are some of the elements you’ve adopted between the two? Is there truly a “Kofi thing”?
Kofi: Kofi the Spiderman and Arty $lang are born of the same thematic universe. There are musicians who consider it a stylistic faux paux to have bleed between two projects, but for me that was the right fit. I wanted to take the sounds I was playin gin Arty Slang and give them a second life in Kofi the Spiderman. I wanted my personality to come through in both projects. Gentile: Your songs are very weird and disjointed, and sometimes it’s based on your compositional style – for instance, some songs just end. You don't necessarily listen to and conform to what feels like a standard verse chorus verse. When is a song is done? A song is done when it sounds like what I want it to sound like. I’ve really gotten to a point where most of it is being composed in my head, and until it sounds like what it does in my head I just keep going.
But, everything – the sound that I’m going for – is totally idiosyncratic in that it’s based on my personality and my ear, my listening preferences. Music can be politically active, and one of the ways I was trying to convey my politics was continuing in the tradition of hip hop and being disruptive. It stands out, and stands against the status quo to present something different and have something weird. Something about it says this shouldn’t work, but I think it still does. One of the things I was trying to put forth was presenting the idea that you could be someone who is different, but still valid. Maybe in musical terms, I was stealing aesthetic qualities of punk and noise, and even metal with grindcore, but I wanted to tap into this tradition of being disruptive, and being kind of like aggressive in a way, pushing boundaries. Just to present the idea that something can still be weird and still be valid.
Boston Hassle: When someone holds a guitar and decides to write a song to a guitar, the presentation of the song is sort of a facsimile that is put in the context of a man and his instrument. Whatever the song means, it is just a man and his instrument. Any band that has standard instrumentation, is just a collection of people singing and playing to other sounds being created. The difference with your music is it places the vocalist in abstraction. In the case of sampling, these assembled sounds, beats, any number of digital or acoustically made elements, and that there’s some difference between a rapper who puts on a drum machine, the same thing as Bob Dylan, and the music that fills all these other places with all these other elements. Your music is a subjective experience – do you think that hip hop allows you to step into this world, to step into an abstraction, and is there a way to attribute what comes out of you because you are not just a guy using a guitar – you’re using a set of abstractions?
Kofi: I think that’s very true. Right now I would say that I am not beyond my instruments. The instruments and methods I’m using to construct these songs, they definitely shape the compositions. The materials I’m using shape the compositions. As a genre, hip hop and rap music is a kind of folk music, a low music, a people’s music, so there’s less defined rules ,and it’s kind of the norm for someone to step into that world, grab these ideas or these abstractions, assemble them however you want, and just rap. Hip hop has become so commercialized that now it really operates at the highest levels of the money game. But hip hop when it started and as it happens on the street level, it invites newness and difference, and there’s something wild about it that I think allows someone to just jump into that world, and splash around and see what they can make, whereas in other styles of music it may be frowned upon.