HIPHOP... BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT
I was sent a CD last month. Nothing unusual there you might think, but it turned out to be genuinely, radically unlike anything I had ever heard before. Now that is unusual. Not only was it fiercely different, it was also very good. I mean, I've been sent audio recordings of the electro magnetic fields of plants, which are also very different, but happen to be utterly unlistenable. This was something different altogether. Welcome to the world of cLOUDDEAD. A strange, touching, funny, disturbing, world it is too.
cLOUDDEAD consists of three members, Doseone, why? and odd nosdam, all of whom are part of the far larger Anticon collective. But that's another, and possibly stranger story. Doseone is in London because the label Big Dada, continuing to prove its commitment to the future of hip hop, has recently licensed cLOUDDEAD from their US label, Mush, and is about to release their eponymous debut album, a collection of the tracks that mysteriously appeared throughout the last year on a series of 10" singles that involved grainy covers, grainy noises and the ability to enthral, infuriate, confuse and inspire in equal parts.
Doseone is what's known as a dream interviewee: funny, articulate, outspoken, thoughtful and more than willing to turn a clearly sharp intellect back on himself and cLOUDDEAD's musings.
"It's all fate," Dose explains, when I try to get a clearer picture of the strange genesis of cLOUDDEAD. "I was there in Cincinnati, being an underground hip hop kind of guy, and I was starting to get out of the box a little, and the guys I was working with were starting to call me too weird. I guess I got a little more complex because I was always inside myself looking for a little more. why? and me ended up moving in together with his brother and started a band called Apogy, not knowing that it was us who were supposed to be making music together for the rest of our lives, but it was. We started out with a four track and a shitty sampler, and because I was already working in studios, it was nice to work that way and just get loose. nosdam wanted to open up for us one night, so we met up with him and decided to put a record out."
And get loose they did. It may sound a little corny, and as Dose says:" It was like a bad movie," but if there was a case of frustrated creativity, dissatisfaction and a meeting of the minds spewed onto vinyl, then cLOUDDEAD is it.
"It was just a question of a group of guys who felt like there was something missing in their lives making left of centre hip hop," he says. "It was a question of being inspired by everyone because you live in the middle of nowhere, and are satisfied by nothing. But it had to start where it started, in the middle of nowhere, because cLOUDDEAD wouldn't have existed otherwise."
Life In The Asylum
Do you ever think that maybe the lunatics are the only sane people in the world, and it's the majority of society that's insane? That's what cLOUDDEAD is all about. About being on the outside looking in, not liking what you see, and having to find a way to address the fact that the world is out of wack. As one of their lines goes: "Rejecting the truth that I have been served."
Listening to the album is a little like Neo finding out that the whole world is a lie, the rug of reality is pulled from beneath your feet, as why? and Dose's free thinking and surreal lyrics spin metaphorical tales of disillusionment and dark humor, shifting in and out of your consciousness and in and out of the remnants of hip hop loops and swathes of melancholic atmosphere and melody that veer in style from country and western, to folk and ambient. No one said this was gonna be easy. Indeed reality, or at least the accepted version of it, is thrown so far out of the window, that you have to question how much of cLOUDDEAD is actually them and how much is their created personas.
"It's both," says Dose. "It would be a lie to say that it's not. The whole point is, if Bugs Bunny says. 'Fuck the government,' it's kind of cool, but if some human being says it, it's like adopting a persona or working a puppet, so you can get away with anything. So there is a little bit of that. Like of why?s 10" he talks about wearing his werewolf mask, which is actually his bullshit, bearded, smiling face that he wears in his art classes. But it's pretty fucking scary to him. A lot of that is poetic license thrown to the wind, along with our personal lives.
"It's like that line on the album where we mention a dead dog on the shoulder of '71, which relates to our 'dead whale' humor, where we like to say there are dead whales on the roadside. Everything has got so whacked out of fucking proportion that you could see a dead whale on the side of the highway and drive by and go, 'Oh, that's a shame,' like there's nothing ludicrous about it. At times we have reality completely breaking the surface, and that really does it for us."
The reality that cLOUDDEAD must address now is that they are finding some measure of acceptance. Now located in San Francisco, not only are they surrounded by people who will accept and appreciate what they do, but they are also receiving props from all over the world. No longer outsiders perhaps?
"It's still us," answers Dose. "You talk to any dead artist through his coffin or any live artist to his face and it's that outsider thing. You're sat in the classroom, nothing is particularly describing you to a T, so you're forced to do something in a delightful, 'I don't know what's happening to me' manner, and that's the art of it all.
"You don't know what you're doing - it's just coming to you, you're half vessel, half man and you are trying to get something our that's stuck in your throat, because something needs to be said because you're stuck somewhere. That's still there, but now we're trying to remove ourselves a bit further from that and be completely vessel, and make the art we're putting out completely translucent so everyone can relate. The lyrics are gonna be difficult to get your head around because we want them to be the calibre of how we should be writing, after we wrote like this. We have to progress, but at the same time, you want to make it even more profoundly legible."
Intellectuals With Angst?
You will, I'm sure, have noticed by now that cLOUDDEAD stick out of the vast majority of hip hop like a great big broken thumb. It's no surprise then to learn that they have had their fair share of stick from the elements of hip hop's so called massive who would profess to be 'keeping it real' with their tongue nowhere near their cheek. Looking at the Anticon website prior to the interview, I spotted a mail from a guy who was telling people to "stop these lies! This is not hip hop! This is a load of white, middle-class pseudo intellectuals with angst!" I mention this to Dose.
"As cLOUDDEAD we pay no mind and we do our art," he says. "I don't think that anyone who is listening to cLOUDDEAD and is into that music would ever spend more than 10 seconds trying to call it purple or grey or green or pink. With Anticon we are completely, delightfully serious and condescending at the same time, and we have slogans like 'Ruining Hip Hop Since 1998', because someone will come up to me and go, 'Dude, you ruined hip hop for me - all I can listen to is cLOUDDEAD!' Then I'll have guys come up to me at hip hop shows and go,' I'm going to fucking punch you if you don't quit doing that shit, 'cos you're fucking with the Eric B and Slum Village.' So I'm going, 'Cool! I'm infringing on your masculinity and your small mindedness!' That's all good, and it makes me comfortably uncomfortable.
"Sometimes I'll read these comments, and if I'm in a depressed mood, or feeling a bit self conscious, like everybody does, I'll take it to heart and I'll call up why? and I'll be like, 'Dude I hate us,' and he'll go, 'Shut up! And he'll do the same with me. You can't respond to that shit, because all you do is give people fuel for calling you pretentious and white. We do have some fun though, giving people something to choke on. They're just asking for it if they're being that closed minded."
I've probably said it in these pages before, but it's the fierce defense that people spring to when it comes to hip hop that is both its greatest strength and it's biggest weakness. It has the power to empower people like cLOUDDEAD, yet it also has the power to knock them for it.
"It's just that human thing isn't it?" says Dose. "It's personalising the gigantic, massive world. It's like the little ant thinking he's the whole ball of wax. But sometimes that shit doesn't make it in there. We're worried about fruit smoothies and Styrofoam cups, and masks, and all those people living in this city, shutting their doors and thinking they live alone, not making love happen. That's what we're worried about. About how few people you meet that change your life. I don't think it needs to be that way. We are so settled into that dissolved classroom syndrome. Once we get out of the classroom it's the same fucking shit; we talk to people and you just listen to what you're supposed to listen to, all these rules that we stack on top of our human bodies."
Outside The System
Despite the fact that cLOUDDEAD may not remain the outsiders as they once were, it's doubtful that they will run out of material. After all, there is much wrong with the world that needs railing against. Their recurring themes of corporatism, depersonalisation, alienation, propaganda and form over substance are not going to go away over night. I question Dose about the fact that as well as dealing with a new found acceptance, they also now have to deal head on with many of the factors they attack.
"If cLOUDDEAD's music hits any kind of mainstream, then we've spent enough time in our bedrooms making sure it's idiot proof, that it's not going to hurt anyone. Tis is not some homophobic, drill bit, bullet-proof shit. This is full of holes, human made, erred music that we put out there. You can sell your picture to the highest bidder. I can pay off my student loans, if that's the way it goes. Why fight the power if it's in your hands? All the work is in being a good person."
Again checking the Anticon website I notice how many people are drawn to the philosophies on show. It must be stated that cLOUDDEAD and Anticon are totally separate entities, but they do deal with similar issues. There are many messages up there from people talking about how they hate their jobs, their lives, their parents and so much more in the wider world. It's full of discourse about conspiracy theories, shitty childhoods and life-changing books that need to be read. I ask Dose how he feels about possibly inhabiting a role as an outlet for disaffection.
"Oh yeah. You come to me with that and I empathise 100 per cent, but I can't tell you how to pick the locks that are all around you. I always struggle with that. The fact that I'm out here, not necessarily telling people what to do, but sometimes it seems like this is too much. Things are going to be my fault or my idea. But that's not the point. All I can say to these people is that there are a lot of people who don't have a clue, and you gotta do your thing. You are going through your life and all of a sudden you start to align your energy with where you are at, and you fall into that dream job, and maybe your dream job is not a fucking job at all.
"I'm all about kids getting in touch with that, because that's the problem, and that's what I'm reacting to - all these people not expressing themselves and zipping their faces up. If they want to say, 'You know what? My childhood fucking sucked and I hate my job and college is a bunch of shit! 'then it's like, 'Your childhood sucked? You can be a really good person. Your job sucks? Some jobs are fun, try one of these!"
Here To Help
An unlikely spokesperson for some disaffected generation Doseone may be, but what's the alternative? Fucking Eminem? The things that cLOUDDEAD say, albeit often masked in humour, metaphor and noise, will always need to be said, and you get the impression that they are not going to stop just because some people have started telling them they are good at what they do. It's a point that comes across when Dose refers to what comes next.
"Dose and why? want to live 'till they are 70," he says. "And they want to be old and healthy, and do art their whole life. Me? I have that feeling that I'm gonna get the plane crash or something. But that's just me, right? All three of us want to make a difference for the rest of our lives, because that is what, in any given moment, I feel like my life lacks. Maybe one more record or maybe 10 more records. We're here to help I think. That sounds pretty hokey, but we're doctors on a feel good tip. Cliches are a wonderful thing if you're on the right side of them. So we want to help people fall in love."
I saw a T-shirt the other day that made me think of cLOUDDEAD. It was emblazoned with the phrase 'You don't have to fuck people over to survive'. I'm not big on slogans, or emblazoning for that matter, but I may have to get it. If you're on the right side of it, I guess it's okay.