ShowYouSuck is a rapper from Chicago. Listen to any one of his One Man Pizza Party releases (there are now four of them) and you’ll quickly hear the variety of his influences, both musically and culturally. There’s a Southern and West Coast feel, merged with the latest trap sound. Yet Show still finds a way to reference Bad Brains and Minor Threat. Lyrically, he’s long made his name on insidery references to snacks, video games, and Positive Mental Attitude.
Last week, ShowYouSuck released OMPP4: Slice After Death, signaling the end of the pizza party life cycle. In our conversation, he hints that he’ll be moving in a new direction with his next release, toward more extreme genre experimentation with writing that is far more personal and revealing than his previous work. We also discussed Yeezus, the “bait and switch” of Lupe Fiasco, and how to be yourself on Twitter. And also how to kinda just be a really positive person who likes to have fun. – Joshua Lerner
JL: You’ve been known to introduce yourself as “a rapper from Chicago.” Describe a moment when you first realized you wanted to be a rapper.
SYS: I’ve always kind of done it because I couldn’t find people to start a band. But, the moment when I realized I should probably really do this, it was January 13, 2011. I had my album release part for One Man Pizza Party 2. It was my first sold-out show. As cheesy as it sounds, it was really as the last song was finished. I closed the show with “All Chill Everything.” I was going through the whole spiel of thanking everyone for coming out. I realized that this is what I want to do. This was the raddest night of my life.
JL: Have you ever worked in a band setting at some point, for any given time?
SYS: I haven’t. I’ve played so many shows with other bands on the bill. But I don’t really like live band rap.
JL: Tell me more about that.
SYS: I’ve heard it done well, with The Roots for example. It definitely can be done well. But for the most part, most rappers when they do it, it doesn’t translate well at all. It just sounds lighter. I like my rap music really heavy. I like it to bang. 808s, you know.
JL: So how would you say your sound has changed over the course of the four One Man Pizza Party installments?
SYS: With the first project, there really wasn’t a focus at all. They just span over different genres, boom bap, songs with a Southern influence, songs with a West Coast influence, it’s just all over the place. The second one is kind of heavier, but the same topics. Me and my producer Mike Jaxx were coming into our own on that one. And the third one is just really dramatic. There aren’t many dynamics in terms of sound on that one. It’s just super fucking heavy. My first plan was for that to be the last one. So I wanted to end it really dramatic.
JL: And this project?
SYS: This project, I let other people take what I built and put it their own way. It’s kind of cool because the remixes are not beats I would have necessarily picked to rap over. It’s just me kind of letting go and hearing my voice over songs I wouldn’t have picked initially, but they turned out really well.
JL: That must be a cool experience.
SYS: Yeah, and it’s really scary at the same time. It was difficult to get excited about a project I hadn’t heard yet.
JL: So when you hear a remix of your own stuff, you have to give up some of that control, some of that authority.
JL: But when you are looking for a beat, what’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for?
SYS: At first, I was recreating rap songs I liked a lot. That was my method. I was taking songs I grew up listening to and making my own versions of them.
JL: And now?
SYS: Now I’m just making music from all different genres that I love. So now when I bring a producer in, I have a reference point. I read up on music of that genre. I read up on that song, the history of that song being created, I bring that into the session.
JL: Can you give an example?
SYS: For instance, I recreated my own version of “Affirmative Action” by The Firm, the group with Nas, Foxy Brown, and AZ. That was an inspiration for a record I did just a few weeks ago. I’m always trying to recreate the feel. I try to read up. I’m into interviews. I try to hunt down the interview with the engineer or the producer of that specific song. I read up on stories about how that song got created. I go back and listen to the sample. I try to bring whatever mindset was used to make that song and bring it into my session.
JL: You’ve also said that Southern rap was a big influence on you. Who were some of the artists you were listening to? How did that style find its way into your music?
SYS: I came up on early Three 6 Mafia, Swisha House, Houston stuff, Scarface, Geto Boys. Even Screwface. Early Cash Money. I feel like it was equivalent to watching an action movie. It just felt badass. Along with that, when I was listening to metal I would get the same feeling. When I got to the point that I was thinking about rap music, I thought, “What can I make that is the equivalent of listening to metal? What makes you feel fucking cool when you listen to it?” And it was all that Southern shit. Just the dope-ass bass lines and percussion. Just emotionally it strikes a chord. Even before putting lyrics to it.
JL: So this was more the overall feel than anything going on lyrically?
SYS: Yeah. If the music itself strikes a chord already, it leaves me free to paint whatever picture I want on it. And I can really mindfuck people. If the music sets this really dark and ominous tone, and I put a subject to it that doesn’t really match that, then that’s when I’m making something interesting. And that’s my way of pushing boundaries. You know, it might be a beat that sounds like some hood shit, but if I can throw a curve ball in there and put some different topics to it… that’s how I’m creating my own path.
JL: That’s really noticeable with your stuff. A lot of your music has a trap sound, which is really popular right now. But the content you put in there is a little more unique and irreverent and funny. Someone who hears your stuff without listening closely to the lyrics might think it’s very different than what it actually is. Do you listen to popular rap these days? Do you listen to the radio?
SYS: Yeah, I definitely listen to it. But for me, for what I like, though, there’s a huge double standard to it. It goes on a track-by-track basis. Some songs that get played on the radio, the usual shit, sometimes you can hear it, and you know that a person just made this shit to make a hit. The terminology, the rhyme schemes, you can hear that this dude just made this shit in five minutes. You can hear when someone’s just riding a wave. And you can hear when someone made a track that maybe isn’t redesigning music, but at least it’s honest.
JL: What you just said reminded me of what critics were writing about Yeezus. Everyone said Kanye was doing mind-expanding production. But at the same time he’s on record saying he wrote and recorded half of the lyrics in an hour or two. So on one hand he’s pushing boundaries, and on the other hand he’s just recycling ideas. What’s your perspective on that?
SYS: I loved Yeezus for a few different reasons. It’s quite obvious the production is the star of that album. Which is a great thing. There’s elements borrowed from industrial, New Wave, even Death Grips. You can argue that it’s not done as well. But it’s a dope gateway for people who don’t listen to that kind of stuff. Hopefully when people hear that album they will be more receptive to hear the type of music that inspired that album. That’s why I appreciate it. And in terms of rap, someone’s going to copy that album. And they may do it better.
JL: Yeah. Most critics said the production was so good it didn’t matter what he was rapping about. But a minority of Yeezus reviewers claimed an artist like Kanye has a certain responsibility to put the effort in lyrically. Where do you fall on that?
SYS: You have a responsibility to make the shit that you want to make. That’s plain and simple. For someone else to put a responsibility on you for your art, is utter bullshit. I mean, there’s a few lines I would have redone on that album, but there’s also a genius in some of the plain statements he makes. There’s no like or as, there’s no similes or metaphors to that shit, it’s all plainly laid out.
JL: So, back to your own music and some of your lyrics. On “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” you rap: “We’re stickin to the script / so this is how it goes / Homies help homies / hoes hate hoes.” What’s the “script” all about?
SYS: “Sticking to the script” means this is a code that’s been around since the beginning of time. It’s one of the first things I ever learned. Friends help out friends. That’s me saying that this is nothing new at all, and I’m going to uphold this. This is my number one golden rule.
JL: You talk about friendship a lot—on Twitter, in your live act. And then there’s the whole PMA angle in a lot of your songs. Does that have something to do with it?
SYS: Oh, absolutely. With PMA, it’s just a great mindset to have. Whatever I can do to spread that, I absolutely will. On the other hand, people who aren’t familiar with PMA, and who aren’t in the hardcore scene, they realize that I’m also part of this scene. It’s my way of saying I’m part of that scene too. And if you know what that is, then you get me. It’s kind of like an inside connection.
JL: Yeah, actually I first came across the PMA concept through your music.
SYS: Awesome! That means it’s working, dude. It means a lot.
JL: But to get back to this line once more. When I first heard this line, I didn’t know if maybe you were being sarcastic. Because there’s an element of helping, but also an element of hating. What’s with the hating?
SYS: That line is just about how hate feeds on hate. Negative people attract other negative people. There’s always a good to a bad. Whenever there’s friends helping friends, there’s always enemies hating on other enemies. You know?
JL: That was a big song when I saw your live set a few weeks ago. What are some other tracks of yours that you like to do live?
SYS: I like doing “Big Gulp”. It’s really fun. A lot of times when I perform songs, it’s all about hearing the production. It just sounds super loud and super heavy. “Original ChonChon” is awesome. Oh, and “Girls and Nachos”—that one is so much fun. We always leave it for the end of the set. By that time, people are so riled up I don’t even rap it anymore. It’s my chance to bounce around.
JL: What’s your most recognizable track when you perform?
SYS: Either “Original Chon” or “Homies Help Homies”. But also “Headbanger’s Ball”. When I do that, I see people rapping along with it more and more.
JL: Tell me about your Twitter persona.
SYS: You just have to figure out how you want to use it. For me, I’m all about being myself on it. Dry humor translates well. Especially with Twitter, just short statements and short bursts. So my Twitter account consists of short assessments and opinions on different things. Random videos I like from different genres of music. Every once in a while, my own songs thrown in there. I keep it short and always positive. And you rant every once in a while to show people you stand for something. But, otherwise, it’s just me being me.
JL: Yeah, it seems like your personality comes through really well. Actually, speaking of rants though. Yesterday you tweeted about Lupe’s Revenge of the Nerds tape, saying you were bummed about how he’s changed?
SYS: For me, I was a fan of the guy who was from Chicago, from out West, like me, and who was into anime, and vinyl toys, and street wear. That’s who I became a fan of. That’s who was on the Revenge of the Nerds mixtape. And then when the albums came, I felt like I got bait and switched. He wasn’t that guy anymore. And, to some degree, it is really unfair to stick someone in a box and expect them to be the same all through their career. I mean, I’m gonna change too. I’m changing now. But that’s the artist who I liked. And as the albums came along, that dude went away. So it made me think, “Was he really about that shit?” Or was he just using that as a catalyst to seem different.
JL: You mentioned that you’re changing too. How are you evolving in terms of your next project? I know this was going to be the last in the One Man Pizza Party series.
SYS: Yeah, that’s one. But the music I’m making now is actually more personal. There’s more about my life now. My shit was always going to be fun. And it’s still fun. But you get to hear a little bit more about me. Not just my interests and the stuff that I’m into. That was my bag before. I would tell people what I’m into so they could relate to me. Now I got people who relate to me. Now they’re asking more about me.
JL: So what’s next?
SYS: I’m working on an EP that should be dropping before the year is up. And I’m making a song for every genre I’m into.
JL: So each song will be different from the last?
SYS: Absolutely. With the last projects, it was more of a culture: sitting on the couch, watching TV, snacks, and just the carefree lifestyle. This one, I’m kind of creating an aesthetic and a world with this album that brings people into it. This one is going to be more of a visual project as well, and conceptual.
JL: So looking further out, what do you see for yourself in the next few years?
SYS: Just keep making awesome music. Just continue to have the life of doing the shit I want to do.
JL: You saw Roky Erickson last night at Wicker Park Fest. Are you a 13th Floor Elevators fan? How was the show?
SYS: I’m a Roky Erickson fan. It wasn’t amazing. But he did “Night of the Vampire” and that’s pretty much all I wanted to see. He did that, and that was pretty cool.
JL: What are some other albums or tracks that are you desert island, couldn’t-live-without kind of music?
SYS: Newly, it would be the new Toro y Moi. That’s fucking classic. That album is so good. Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine. The Escape From L.A. soundtrack. Kid Cudi’s WZRD album. That’s really amazing, especially for a rapper that ventured off into quote-unquote rock music. He knocked it out of the park. And Ice T’s Body Count. That one’s pretty awesome too.
JL: Anything else?
SYS: Oh, and the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. When it comes to 80s music, that album is badass.