Downtown LA and Skid Row are absurd, abject, ridiculous and horrifying. The “concrete totalization” of postmodernity. While Santa Monica was once the Frankfurt School’s “most advanced point of observation” of capitalism, now DTLA has integrated the teachings of 4 generations of deconstruction into the design of its steel and concrete and the schizophrenic social organization which moves between the dim metal meadows and shimmering glass glaciers. The $5000 lofts overlooking $3000 crack corners; the one-eyed beggars peeking at pointy-toed stilettos; the faux-designer shades hiding red eyes above chapped lips asking for bus tokens and Venmo ID’s; the house-free owners of $100 Bluetooth speakers and $200 Jordans.
I think if you want to write about culture seriously, you need to spend some time here, and not just holed away on your laptop in a bar booth or Starbucks outlet. You need to party in the penthouses and pick up on the corners. You need to ask strangers to exchange Apple Pay for cash, you need to boost at the outlets and barter with the dope boys for dimes; you need to sniff and smell and breathe this place in all its heavenly hedonism and sickening abjection. Maybe you’ll get roughed up, or robbed, or strung out in the process, but you won’t be separated from the city and culture and present and future that you’re supposed to be capturing. You won’t be pontificating on the globe’s cultural capital from a coffee shop and office space, encased in the bubbles designed to keep the culture industry’s managerial class at a distance from an open air drug market and homeless encampment without a toilet and a hundred blocks of restaurants without a power outlet.
So I come here many days, between Bunker Hill and Gallery Row, and find myself mumbling into my keyboard, doing laps amongst the sights and smells with a bookbag on my back and a hundred bugged out thoughts going nowhere for every idea worth something.
The one idea worth something tonight is wandering down 7th street until I pull up to the gate of the Super Chief gallery, where resident multidisciplinary artist Marcy Mane has agreed to let me interview him. Walking up to the iron gate I peer into a collection of a half dozen people on laptops and spot my subject’s sparkling smile and yelp:
There’s a pause. No one recognizes me, though I met a few at concert Marcy headlined last weekend; though it was 7 pm at Super Chief gallery, our agreed time and place of meeting; though we had an Instagram correspondence.
Still more pinched eyebrows and sideways looks exchanged.
“Lucas, from Instagram, for the interview.”
My momentary nightmare has dissolved into Marcy’s eager hospitality. The rapper, producer, filmmaker, painter, and scene architect opens the iron gate and invites me into his space, then into his Impala (a car also known as the “Underground Railroad” for it’s importance to the Los Angeles chapters of many SoundCloud rapper’s stories) to Peruvian food with reggaeton experimentalist TECHGRL, where we exchange reference points and reflect on the closing months of a decade in which the Goth Money aesthetic Marcy helped discover and harness became a global phenomenon.
While they eat ceviche and I drink water, I find the 30-something mogul genuine, kind, forthcoming, armed with a breezy sense of humor and a disarming smile. Yet I meet sweet and likeable characters on the bus. What strikes me is that the Screwboss is, like few people I have ever met, incredibly intelligent. Naturally, his brain is the product of a family with deep roots in art and music, his uncle is the painter and visual artist Hampton Olfus, who did artwork for Bad Brains, and his grandfather was a saxophonist in Ike Turner’s band.
His intellect was nurtured through earning a degree from distinguished HBCU Howard University, and his artistic impulses and business skills were sharpened through 10 years of navigating the nexus of the experimental music industry and the avant art world as a multidisciplinary artist whose work, through every medium, works to realize his singular vision. A world, Flexico, that is represented in world-building paintings and hinted at in slang and installations and rap songs. An aesthetic of black punk rock and goth money embellished beyond aesthetic signifiers through a half decade of work as the primary puppetmaster of Goth Money Records (and now as the manager of the ascendant and hyper chic Reptillian Club Boyz). A thematic motif of all of his work is a complex and multifaceted investigation into the African diaspora and its influence on both global culture and the black experience globally.
Marcy’s art is more ambitious, and by now more accomplished than most any of the navel gazing high art world’s pedantic chicken scratch and has no interest in engaging with a self-aware discussion of its place in art history. It’s a world entirely self-contained and a body of work that reflects a singular vision. And today, a year after an amicable break Goth Money Records and probably a decade away from being discussed in assigned readings for art students, he is poised to continue to ascend at an age most rappers are five years past relevance.
Acquainting oneself to Marcy Mane is to be equally endeared to and enamored with him. As he brings me into his dimly lit and Christmas-hued living space and art studio in the back of the Super Chief gallery; as I sink into the disorganized collection of mixers and canvasses and turntables and ephemera that has grown in the crevasses and cracks of his Los Angeles home, I flip my Canoga Park Pharmacy snapback into my best “real journalist hat.” I tell myself I am here to document and dissect. And we begin talking about all that I had ever dreamed of discussing with one of the SoundCloud Underground’s chief architects and one of Los Angeles’ most interesting working artists. — Lucas Foster
What’s your favorite screw tape?
Marcy Mane: Screw tape? I wouldn’t say I have a favorite Screw tape because I listened to more Mike Watts than I did DJ Screw. And my favorite Swishahouse tape is Choppin it Up 8.
What’s your favorite Memphis tape besides Triple Six Mafia shit?
Marcy Mane: Uhm, I don’t know, I would say, like Lil Gin. I listened to more Three Six Mafia shit, I was more delving into Juicy J Volume 1, DJ Paul Volume 1.
Fasho, Juicy J’s is hard with the “No I’m Not Dat” with that mystical ass beat.
Marcy Mane: Oh yeah.
Yeah I was just curious ‘cause it seems like you’re really well-versed in hip-hop history.
Marcy Mane: Definitely. I mean I am, but I don’t have a PH.d! Hahaha.
We were talking earlier about all those OG 90s Wu albums.
Marcy Mane: I know the Wu-Chronicles, and The Swarm, and shit like that. Gravediggaz! Ha!
The Killarmy tape!
Marcy Mane: The Killarmy tape! Mostly all my hip-hop came through to me through my older brother and sister.
So growin’ up in D.C. you were probably surrounded by rap.
Marcy Mane: Definitely. Like I was tellin’ you earlier I was into Helter Skelter, Boot Camp Click, Buckshot, shit like that I was definitely into. But when I got older and started getting my own shit, that’s when I was like buying Swishahouse. Cause I would buy that those albums at the same place I got my go-go albums.
Were you going to a lot of go-go shows?
Marcy Mane: Ah, not really ‘cause my parents wouldn’t want me going, ‘cause they was dangerous, but I would definitely sneak to some, I would definitely sneak to them.
So growing up, deep in hip-hop in D.C., then you went to college at Howard, and it sounds like you got a real rigorous education over there.
Marcy Mane: Yeah I studied film, and painting, and then with that, going to Howard, you used to do a lot of Africana Studies; so everything you do over there kinda has a background in knowing the African roots of where it came from, and then where it’s at today within the African diaspora, or outside the diaspora, but, like, kinda within the diaspora of effecting the world globally. It’s kinda a crazy concept, now you just see different things with African roots, that are now just for everybody.
Yeah it goes beyond the music in America, which everyone knows all popular music in America originated with African-Americans.
Marcy Mane: All that goes so far to say but then it’s beyond that. Now it’s, “where did these people get their music from, where did these people get their story?” That’s what I’m learning on now. Before African-Americans were in America where did they get their music from? And where did they get their background from, because travelling to Europe and shit you see different paintings and murals with different Africans in them. Like in random dispensaries in the Netherlands and shit, museums, shit goes way farther back from what we’re told.
That’s interesting, so you’re trying to learn about the music of West and East Africa before the diaspora?
Marcy Mane: Everything! The music, the weed, the art, culture, everything that goes into that. One thing I learned in Amsterdam was the best artists have the best access to the best drugs. Not even just drugs, the best art, the best music, just little things like that, having access to the best of the best. Even now, me, Marcy Mane, I have access to the best shit right now, in this gallery, I have access to some the best artists in the game, just knowing them makes my mind open to so much, in so many different ways.
Yeah this is a pretty crazy space right now, we’re sitting here in the beginnings of an installation from Pretty Puke?
Marcy Mane: Pretty Puke, JJ Villard, Neckface, and some other dudes I probably should know who they are, but I don’t know.
Yeah your art is great too, I love how it has this aesthetic, conceptual consistency, how it all comes back to Flexico, that world you created.
Marcy Mane: I just don’t be doing shit off the whim. I think on it real hard then I’m like “okay, alright, imma build on this.” Even the Boys Gon Cry, Boys is gon’ cry when they see how hard I’m goin’ with my shit! You know what I’m sayin’? That’s where that came from. Boys is gon’ cry! Boys is really gon’ cry when they see Marcy Mane goin’ up with my own shit!
It’s inspirational as fuck. Not to be on your fuckin’ dick, but it’s really inspirational to see what you’ve done. A lot of people don’t understand, on the music side, how foundational you were and are to the whole Underground scene, going all the way back to 2013.
Marcy Mane: We talk about this shit all the time here, a lot of people have been in my fuckin’ car. That car you were just in? I’ve driven a lot of people in L.A. to get to where they’re going, where they want to be, whether it’s like Working on Dying, shit many people have been in my car. Shit what do we call it? We call that shit the Underground Railroad! My car is the Underground Railroad, gets you to where you got to be, me and Posh God be ridin’ around, makin’ clothes just today!
It’s also incredible how many of those artists who’ve been in your car you’ve worked with, over the years.
Marcy Mane: I’ve worked with a lot of artists that are famous; I don’t even realize that they are famous. They just the homie, people be wilin’ “Oh my God you know Lil Tracy, Oh my god you know Ruben Slikk!” “Yeah bro, I know fuckin’ Ruben Slikk, I know fuckin’ Tracy.” All these people, their great artists, I chilled with them early on.
It’s impressive, you did that shit with Goth Money, for shit, 5 years, then, I don’t even know how you found the time but on this year’s Laheem album you advanced your sound and came into a new sound completely independently.
Marcy Mane: Well, that’s just me getting’ into my own pocket, whereas with Goth Money I was tryin’ to be in a cohesive pocket, on some, like, Wu-Tang shit, like “yo we gotta make these fuckin’ classic albums, we gotta get errybody on it.” Whereas with Laheem, I was like I don’t give a fuck about nobody but Marcy right now!” Hahahaha. And that was the sound of it. This is a Marcy tape, and it has nothing to do with anybody else but me. Even though there was other producers on there, other people on it, I didn’t keep nobody in mind but myself.
I love that album man. Very unique. I’m curious, how’s your time management? I know you were makin’ clothes today, and you do all the time, I know you paint all the time, I know you make music all the time, you edit videos all the time. How do you keep your shit on track?
Marcy Mane: It’s pretty difficult. For instance, two days ago I paid for all my orders. Now I gotta ship all the orders out, two days ago I was in here from, like, five to twelve recording [with WifiGawd], then what did I do yesterday? Yesterday I bought blank clothes to print, today I printed, then after we do this I gotta take picture of the clothes and get ‘em online. Then those orders that I paid for, tomorrow I gotta pack those orders and ship ‘em out. It keeps me busy, you know what I’m sayin’? All the tasks that I have to do, is my work, and if I do them, then I get paid, and I’m also payin’ myself.
It also gives you meaning dude, I repeat this quote too much but Ghostie, from Anti-World, once told me “the fun will give you moments, the work will give you meaning.”
Marcy Mane: Exactly! For instance, how hungry I was, before i just ate that meal we had just now, the gratification I had was like a fuckin’ high. I didn’t eat all day. I basically fasted, now I ate and I have this crazy assault of energy. Feelings like that is a big payoff, and lookin’ at all that, all my screams and film and shit I gotta big stack, and then seein’ people pull up, and wearing gear that I made a looong time ago and that I forgot about, and that shit is still fresh and their still wearin’ it I be like “yooo, what the fuck?” Shit like that makes me stoked that I work hard. You might not see the direct effect of it, but, yo, I see the daily growth. For instance, my TuneCore, I can take money out and buy a plane ticket, but two years ago I wasn’t able to pull money out, buy a plane ticket, I was just able to pull money out to eat. Now I’m leveled up so that I have plane ticket money when back in the day I didn’t barely have sandwich money for my music. I got rent money from my music! I got whip money for my music! Shit like that is dope. I’m a underground artist and I own all my music.
Yeah you’re 100% independent, you own all your own publishing right?
Marcy Mane: Everything I’ve uploaded on my TuneCore, I own.
So the streaming bags not bad right now?
Marcy Mane: Only thing I don’t own that I uploaded was the Goth Money [collaborative] album, that was a small independent label. I learned how to do business in art via mistakes that I’ve made. I made a lot of mistakes in business, through art, but every mistake that I’ve made helped me learn. Every mistake I made I’m like “oh, I learned this now, I’m never gonna do that again.” So now I just do really good business. That’s my biggest thing is just doin’ good business, and separatin’ myself from people who don’t do really good business. All my relationships I have is from doin’ good business, and the ones that went sour it’s cause there was bad business goin’ down.
What was your favorite book you read at Howard?
Marcy Mane: This book my professor Dr. Carr gave us when I was a senior, I had to read this book called Black Marxism. I would read it at my work breaks when I was working at GW Hospital, I was a janitor, and on my breaks I would read that book. The first chapters are about these European tribes, the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons, they were basically at war with each other, and they would basically beat each other’s ass and then enslave each other. That was some of the first signs of early slavery, for profit. Even though Africans were enslaving each other, too, in war, they weren’t doing it for monetary gain. Then the European tribes took it further out in Europe and later Africa and did the same thing. The interesting thing is, what I learned after reading that book is, okay, you have the Christian Crusades, the Moors that were in power before the Christian Crusades, I have a theory that the Moors, might have done some slavery trading with the Christians, which were the new power, to like get in good standing, and that’s how some early African slave trading went down.
The timeline makes sense.
Marcy Mane: So that’s a really good book, Black Marxism.
It’s cool to see a artist who cares about shit, who’s not all “I’m getting this money, I’m fuckin’ bitches, I’m gettin’ high.”
Marcy Mane: I’m gettin money…. I’m gettin’ high… I’m fuckin’ bitches!
Marcy Mane: But! When I’m done doin’ that I like to talk bout these things. Haha!
Hahaha, you know what I mean right?
Marcy Mane: That’s a vibe too bro. To have the mental freedom to just only be like: “I do only music, I wake up and do music.” But at the same time, being a independent artist, I gotta do all these other things to make sure I can live, then I can be back to the music. Cause the music, that shit does not feed me, like it should, cause I’m a underground artist, so my music might inspire a lot of people, but I can’t live off that inspiration. I can’t eat inspiration!
What would it take for you to sign?
Marcy Mane: I think something that would allow me to live how I’m livin’ right now, but better, and more efficient business wise, and a situation that would allow me to have custody of my daughter somehow. Enough money to have my daughter, and that’s when I’d be fine. ‘Cause I think with the business skills that I have now I wouldn’t even been to be signed to myself, I just need a label, then operate like that, then I could just have mad artists. Cause I know how to manage artists, I know what dope music sounds like, and I know how to package shit, so that would be my best situation.
Would you want a get an imprint?
Marcy Mane: Yeah. Flexico Worldwide or WorldGang, either one.
I like Flexico Worldwide, sounds better.
Marcy Mane: My idea is Flexico Worldwide is, like, more United States swag, then WorldGang is Flexico Worldwide for the world made up of people from around the world, cause I got people throughout the world. Through travelling, touring, I got people in Japan, Paris, mad places in Europe. In those places I got so many people I’ve connected to. Plus by me making underground music, me being an underground artist for so long, I got respect in all those places. Like, I was able to smoke mad weed in Japan, mad free food, got to go to mad temples, just off respect. That’s the level of respect. That’s the type of WorldGang shit.
That’s so cool. What would you like to say to any artists that are young, on the come up with shit, any OG wisdom for ‘em?
Marcy Mane: 10,000 hours man. Anything you want to do, you should probably spend 10,000 hours doing it, then you’ll be great. DJing, I definitely spent 10,000 hours doing it, making beats, I’ve probably only spent 8,000 hours making beats but DJing I’ve definitely spent more than 10,000 hours making long ass mixes. And I think another thing is: putting out content. A lot of people are scared to put out content like “oh, it’s not right yet, it’s not right” but where I see it is: most all of the young artists I’ve seen develop, a lot of them have that have made the most content is the ones that have had the most success.
That’s such good advice. My friend Dan, BioQuery, he’s an amazing producer and he told me something that really stick with me, that you can only judge an artist on their output.
Marcy Mane: If somebody drops one album, you can’t say whether they are a good or bad artist. If somebody drops 1000 singles, then they have a body of work you can judge ‘em on. But the. Construct of an album is insane. Cause this is a album:
[Marcy picks up a CD copy of Laheem from a row of two dozen on a shelf]
This is something you can pick up at the store and buy, there is no skip and pick and choose. You listen to it, listen to all the way through, then you listened . Oh yeah you can have this.
I’m big on that, for my criticism process and shit. I have to get a album, walk around a city with my headphones on and listen to it all the way through twice. That’s the most trash shit about music listeners now, they don’t get the concept of an album.
Marcy Mane: People’s attention span is so short. Cause I like rap, I like hip-hop, even at the show the other day I was like “yo you know what would be dope? If we had a freestyle cypher right now!”
On top of rap, I know you were heavy on Tumblr, music sharing blogs from the turn of the decade.
Marcy Mane: Hell yeah, this blogger, The Light that Failed, had all the drone music, found out about Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Million Young, Animal Collective. I was really into chillwave, I actually made a genre I called trillwave (which is different from a West Coast genre also called trillwave) where I would take chillwave songs, loop them, and put Three Six Mafia bass behind it. Which is actually how I linked Kray, just through me uploading trillwave mixes. Only a few of them is there still.
So that’s how you and Kray met?
Marcy Mane: Yeah and then he sent me his tape, and I was still in college, and I put it on, went to class, and when I came back, my roommates was listenin’ to it, so like I was kinda “oh this shit is tight.” Cause I was questioning myself, ‘cause it’s like a lot of shit was coming out around that time SpaceGhostPurrp, Rocky. I was like “yo this shit sounds similar to the Three Six shit I been on, but like a different version of that shit.” And then, once my roommates was listening to it… we was on. I was in college, he was in high school, and from then til like last year that was my lil bruh.
People change. People get older, people evolve. Plus you guys had like almost an 8 year run?
Marcy Mane: I met him in 2012, 2013, I lose track of time. It was definitely a solid five year run. It’s cool, the fans can’t let it go. People think ‘yo, Goth Money invented the swag!’ But like not really, We just reminded people that it existed. Like we were talkin’ about, Heltah Skeltah, Gravediggaz, Three Six. Plus, really the shit goes back to Raider Klan. When we did the whole tread wave, with Working On Dying, I think a lot of people took more notice, and a lot of people took from what we did. But that shit is regular for me now, doing my own thing, like we in the cut. Posh God in the building right now. Oogie did a track with Drake after we worked with him, Posh God gonna be on some shit like that soon. I’m managing Hi-C and Diamondsonmydick right now, Hi-C is gonna be on some shit like that soon.