“There Was Always A Method To The Madness” : An Interview with Big Ghost

Jaap van der Doelen speaks with the blogger-turned-beatmaker about maintaining anonymity despite his growing catalog and linking up with the Griselda camp.
By    May 26, 2020

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It’s been almost ten years since the enigmatic online persona known as Big Ghost rose to prominence. Impersonating Wu-Tang rapper Ghostface’s singular voice in his extensive album reviews, he especially gained traction when discussing the work of Drake. The Canadian superstar was named a “human croissant” who had been “bit by the radioactive butterfly”, his album Take Care “a Code of Hammurabi for dudes wit white iphones n females who hate rap.”

Big Ghost ensured there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments within his rap criticism. Like when he described a beat as the soundtrack to “quirky white folk like Zooey Deschanel or somebody Wilson (…) exchangin’ witty dialog between theyselves while tryin’ to save whales n drink warm soy beverages.” But a sharper reading of his work revealed that there was actually a lot more behind his analysis than mere jokes. Between the laughs, he often proved a deft ear for the way moods are built and albums are sequenced, and a willingness to give every record a fair shake. He was clearly more serious about music than those roped in by the creative insults initially assumed.

So it wasn’t that big a surprise when the writer who called himself ‘the mighty Hands of Zeus’ and ‘Cocaine Biceps’ turned away from blogging, and revealed himself to be an avid beat creator as well. He released his debut album Griselda Ghost in 2015, in collaboration with two by then still relatively unknown brothers from Buffalo, New York: Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine. For many people, it was their first exposure to the dusted world unapologetically laced with snow and soul loops that the Griselda camp conjured.

It’s a world revisited on No One Mourns The Wicked, his latest record with Conway. We spoke about the project to Big Ghost (who still maintains his anonymity) through DM’s. This is that conversation. — Jaap van der Doelen

Hope all is well on your end, and the lockdown isn’t treating you too bad. How are you dealing with it?

Big Ghost LTD: I’m already accustomed to locking myself down so to speak. I’m antisocial. I prefer to be at peace.

That’s not uncommon among creative people, especially beat creators. All my buddies that make beats tend to smoke and work in solitude.

Big Ghost LTD: Word. I enjoy having the time to focus. I do this even when it’s not a global pandemic.

Is that also why you maintain your anonymity? No hassle?

Big Ghost LTD: Precisely. I never wanted to be famous. I never craved fame enough that I would do anything to be poppin. Like do clown shit… this clout chasing thing was never a factor to my existence once. If it was, I probably would have just went viral one time in my life and that woulda been it for me. You can rely on shock tactics and corny antics or go find a purpose in what you do. The anonymity allows me to not mix the creative and the personal together. It’s better that way for everybody.

So were you always making beats, before blogging became a thing?

Big Ghost LTD: I made beats since the ’90s. It was just never something I had the opportunity to pursue seriously. Same way I could freestyle verses for a half hour without repeating myself or saying too many wack bars back then. But I was never out there like that. I was always just like this anomaly to people, I was cool just having these weapons in my arsenal ready to go. Then people find out I’m nice when it comes to the art thing too, or how I was always able to write or whatever. I just had the tools. I use them when it’s time.

And how do you decide the time is right to let one of those tools ring?

Big Ghost LTD: Like for example when the blogging thing jumped off, I was ready. Which led to other opportunities related to being nice with words, such as writing a treatment for a commercial that will remain a secret. Or doing rollouts for artists like Childish Gambino. I was just like ‘cool, let’s go.’ But I wasn’t entertaining every offer…even if it was something I wanted to do. Because it wasn’t the right move for me at that particular time.

You eventually utilized that online fame into getting ears for your beats too. That persona could’ve lead to preconceived notions about your beats though. Have you ever considered releasing your music under a different name altogether?

Big Ghost LTD: Naw… not really. I saw it as my opportunity to silence a lot of the muthafuckas who were asking me what made me feel entitled to shit on artists in my album reviews, or just in general. Making assumptions about me off hearsay, and for the little degenerates trying to fabricate my background story for me. I was just like…ok, bet. But let me put this foot on your neck for the next while as far as this music shit. It’s one thing to have your supporters or ‘fans’ but it’s another thing to shut up people who doubt you.

Well, Griselda Ghost sure made an impact.

Big Ghost LTD: Thank you. I enjoy having the opportunity to catch people off guard. Just doing something different outta nowhere, and have it be dope of course.

For many people—me included—it was their introduction to that whole crew. How did you relationship with them come about?

Big Ghost LTD: It started probably when Camouflage Monk began hitting me on twitter… asking me to peep this new project by his man. He sent me joints from around the time of the first Hitler Wears Hermes, then Hitler Wears Hermes 2; which blew my mind. I started hyping up everything I heard by Westside at that point. Which put me on his radar. We got to chop it up a few times after that. Then Conway started sending me joints and we developed our own connections off of that. Which sparked off this idea in my head to ask him about doing a project.

Did you get the chance to head into the studio with them?

Big Ghost LTD: Naw. I just sent em the beats, which they sat on for maybe a few weeks. I wasn’t sure if anything had clicked. Then suddenly West hit me like “I’m flying to Buffalo right now. We gonna record everything in one night.” I wasn’t aware at the time that he meant that literally.

Wow, that’s sick. Even knowing the amount of work they put out, that’s still pretty amazing. Good way to maintain a cohesive vibe for a project though.

Big Ghost LTD: Absolutely. There was always a method to the madness though. West manifested all the shit he did since then into existence.

So what was the biggest difference between working with them way back then and now?

Big Ghost LTD: The biggest difference is now they got relationships with Jay Z, Eminem, and Virgil… and have worked with every dope living producer you can think of. Back then, they just wanted to get their Soundcloud listens up. Maybe a write-up in Complex or two.

Do you remember your response when you first got your beats back with their verses on ‘em?

Big Ghost LTD: Shit was surreal… Like I can’t lie. I felt like a kid hearing G Rap and Kane for the first time. Not like they sounded like them literally. but that exact feeling of hearing something special on that level for the first time. Being part of it was the icing on the cake though.

You’re obviously a guy with strong opinions on how an album should be built. Are you as a beat creator also involved with how the album with Conway is sequenced, what interludes and skits might be employed?

Big Ghost LTD: I am involved in every single aspect of putting the album together. I ultimately need to be the one who decides on the track sequence and figure out how to connect all the pieces together. I negotiate early on to always be able to be the one to make those types of calls. I try to build the theme, name the songs whenever possible, then decide what goes between the songs. Also need to decide if joints need some scratches on it, or Lukey Cage doing skits on the project, what type of artwork it needs, etc. Only time I did not make all those types of decisions was on the Ghostface project.

That’s dope. Smart to maintain the prerogative to make those kinda executive decisions. Can you expound a bit on your creative process as a beatmaker? What type of equipment do you prefer? What inspires you?

Big Ghost LTD: I mean that’s like the colonel giving up the secret herbs and spices… but lets just say I work in a way that is probably not too different from the average struggling Soundcloud beatmaker… but totally different and way more advanced in history and technique. I got secret weapons that I prefer to not disclose, but definitely prefer software over hardware. Muthafuckas like to romanticize this idea of a producer standing in front of his MPC looking like AraabMuzik in the ’00s. But the visual aspect of using a program such as Reason for example allows you to create a visual map. For what I wanna do.. being able to see the sounds is important.

Haha! ”Looking like AraabMuzik in the 00s” sure evokes a strong visual.

Big Ghost LTD: No disrespect to him. That in itself was his own art. And it was dope.. But I’m tryna put together timeless projects over here.

You’ve grown relatively silent about the current crop of rappers. Does it ever itch to get back behind a keyboard and start handing out Zeus slaps again?

Big Ghost LTD: Nah, not really. I said what I needed to say… and truthfully what I was saying back then can still apply to artists now. But the lack of integrity among artists who could actually make a difference is what made it hard to actually take that shit to the next level. Except for Pusha T. He put his integrity before his thirst.

Does that mean we’re getting a Pusha T x Big Ghost collabo at some point in the future?

Big Ghost LTD: I wouldn’t rule out that possibility. But for now let’s just say I already got to play a part in making some history. I will always put my values before my own personal gain… but it don’t mean I lost my desire to keep muthafuckas guessing.

This feature is an English translation of an interview recently published in Hiphop in je Smoel.

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