For years, cLOUDDEAD has hovered just under the radar, doing amazing and profane things to hip-hop. While “vocalists” why?, and Doseone lace their prolix, stream of consciousness verbal calculus over darkly percolating beats, Odd Nosdam creates dense sonic collages that ultimately produce an insane hybrid of pop, rap, and IDM. cLOUDDEAD is defiantly re-imagining rap music by testing the limits of its abstracted territory, carving out an intellectual space occupied by few others.
This interview with Doseone took place shortly after the release of cLOUDDEAD’s masterpiece, Ten (Mush Records), and the group’s putative demise. Always articulate and provoking, the man also known as Adam Drucker discussed the nature of artistic production, the problem of genres, the mapping of cognition, the difference between music and poetry, and how Ten was very nearly titled Eminem.
In the liner notes of Ten, there’s a cryptic message about whether each of you feel as if the record will be your last as cLOUDDEAD. You didn’t think it would be. Do you still believe this?
I think Yoni and I are going to make songs together for the rest of our lives in some capacity. I have faith, and I saw why we broke up as something truly revealing about the circumstances we were living in, and not about the nature of our characters. I think that cLOUDDEAD speaks to how much magic we have between us, and how much we have in common. I have faith, but I don’t know. Those guys deal with things differently. I’m more of a trooper.
Was there a sense that Ten was the culmination of cLOUDDEAD’s body of work?
That’s how we approached it aesthetically that this was the cap. It was so hard to finish this record that we didn’t know when we’d want to do another one.
It sounds like you don’t think you’re done working with why? And Odd Nosdam, but perhaps you’ve done all you can with them in the cLOUDDEAD incarnation.
I think so. A very interesting thing happened with cLOUDDEAD. When we were doing this music, all the rappers I knew were embarrassed of these tapes, and all the artsy musician people, too. So we found our space, Yoni and I, and Dave fit into it well. That became the notion of cLOUDDEAD. Anticon didn’t want to put it out; Mush didn’t. No one was really into it. We were just doing it to do it. But all of a sudden, the world catches up with cLOUDDEAD, and it’s altered into out most successful endeavor. I don’t know why it was picked up instead of the first Them record, which didn’t catch on at all.
I’m an admirer of all your projects, but the first Them record is my favorite. I’ve been listening to it for years and still find new things popping out of the lyrics.
Themselves is doing a record with the Notwist now.
That should be great!
Yeah, those guys are just like us. They’re the same human beings, just in Germany. They’re totally collaborative, totally focused.
Your music rides the fence between the indie hip-hop scene and the avant-garde experimental indie-rock scene, but doesn’t seem to really be accepted by either one. I can understand it more with regard to the hip-hop scene, but I don’t get why you’d have a hard time breaking with fans of, say, Boards of Canada or the Books.
Intelligent people are probably some of the most walled-up human beings. It interesting; it’s hard to break into someone. I mean, you’re looking at Boards and the Books those are people who have an aesthetic. Even though their popular groups making that kind of music, they’re not massive. It’s not like everyone on the streets knows them. They probably have a really refined palette, and maybe there’s something about our content I think the fact that our music comes with such a massive amount of content can be the ultimate turn-on or turn-off.
I can see it being daunting to hip-hop fans looking for punch lines.
And it can be frustrating. You can listen to some of our records, and if you’re not in the right space, or not listening on headphones, you’re actually going to miss the whole point. It might sound like babble. If you wipe all the lyrics off of our music, it’s of the same texture as Books and Boards, but it’s top-loaded with all of this content.
Your music seems more concerned with presenting a map of consciousness via collage and abstract association than traditional dramatic forms. You have to learn to understand a layering of impressions rather than narrative arcs, which is really difficult for some.
It’s because everyone is trained in reverse. When reading a magazine or Grisham novel, most people skim four paragraphs until they see the word “blood” or “cunt” or “happy” or whatever they’re looking for. It’s the exact opposite of how you have to read a poem. You have to read into each separate line and make a little slide show in your head. And for me, that’s perfect. That’s what I process quickly. But I can’t even read magazines. Even if it’s on Robert Wyatt or baby Jesus or something really interesting, I have trouble getting around all the frills.
To me, cLOUDDEAD is to hip-hop what a prose poem is to more formal poetry. It expresses a poetic intent without traditional poetic form.
I would add other elements to it, because we’re all traditional rule-breakers and fuckheads. We’re all bad-asses in our heart of hearts, and have ultimate respect for rap. We also do a lot of bastardization.
Do you think of what you do as deconstructing hip-hop?
Yeah, it’s a palette. When I’m laying down a verse, I’ll pull something out of hip-hop that makes me laugh, like I’ll do a total RBX thing or something. Or if I want to be hard, I’ll pull some Kool G Rap thing. The same goes for the drums and music. It’s just one of the aesthetics that we know like the backs of our hands. I’ve always been amazed, ever since I was doing underground hip-hop, how all the other people with some basic exceptions like El-P or Lyrics Born how all these other underground hip-hop guys of my era seem to use Guru lines that have already been said, and all this rehashing. We’re more into recycling. It’s not very comfortable to want to go somewhere with your favorite art form, and to find out that you’re already outside the legal limits, and that anything you do isn’t going to be counted in a court of law.
It’s always going to upset some people when you take something familiar and render it strange. Not doing something entirely different, but taking the core elements and rearranging them in a way that’s disorienting and alludes to how formulaic it is.
Which makes people who are close to us, but who aren’t in our camp and don’t have such a lawlessness to their aesthetic, get self-conscious, because it makes them feel formulaic. There are other interesting things, like how all the guys I started rapping with are veterans now, in rap, and I’m still avant-garde, like I’m still a 15-year-old. It’s kind of a curse, that I’ve stayed young in this weird way.
Are you even concerned with reaching traditional hip-hop fans at this point?
No, I think that the concern is only with the impetus for people like us. When things are pop, or they’re hot, you can really have the luck to have the world turn toward you. And that would be very fortunate for us. Yoni’s really good at dealing with the needs of the world. I was never good at it when I started making music, and it became the one thing that I couldn’t fucking get, how the world reacts to things. I still have no gauge for it.
I think we all worry about it more as we get older. When you’re young, you feel the need to fly in the face of the world, but as you get older you feel more pressure for worldly acceptance to validate your existence.
And after you get the trophy in the mail, it really doesn’t change a thing. But you can’t resist it; it’s a gravity. In the world of schooling, you’re herded and have your clique and feel like your approved of by the world, simply because you’re approved of by this group. With us, we’re all such self-conscious and weird we give each other a serious trust-ability in our lives because we’ve chosen to be together, but we can’t really give each other that, “Oh, no, the world likes you! You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing!” Yoni and I talk about this quite a bit, and it’s not a high point in our character as musicians, but we make very selfish music. We do it constantly for ourselves; we make changes to it so we will be happier with it.
You can’t make art for other people or you’ll be making bad art. Art doesn’t care who likes it. It has to be rooted in specific personal expression, rather than public approval, or it’s going to be worthless.
And cLOUDDEAD, those motherfuckers, man; they have something that I don’t, and I have something that they don’t. They know when something is right with their aesthetic; they were born with the eye. I’m a bit less trained, more spastic. So the three of us really offered each other quite a bit. They were something else, those guys; they knew exactly what they’re going for. It’s really seldom that you come across someone who’s totally grounded in where they’re coming from. They may be a total space cadet in the modern world, but when you look at them in their space, you’re like “Damn.”
cLOUDDEAD’s song “Son of a Gun” has a list of famous dead people and includes a line about how George W. Bush “might just jump the gun.” Was there any debate about including this line, any concern that Rumsfeld might show up and take you to Camp X-Ray?
You want a better story? For 20 days, we were going to call this record Eminem. This was our last record, and I was all like, “Fuck it, man, let’s do that shit, it would be intense! Just think about what that speaks to, even if it is a mistake and thousands of people buy it incorrectly!” And they were like, “They’ll sue us!” And I was like, “No, just turn the E around the other way.”