Image via Jack McKain/Instagram
The album artwork for YUNGMORPHEUS’s latest EP Burnished Sums came to the Miami-bred rapper as a revelation. Painted by LA artist Okey Ofomata, the image features a faceless, nearly nude man that is dragging a boulder-like object with Sisyphyean exertion. YUNGMORPHEUS first saw the painting that would become Burnished Sums at a gallery opening in LA hosted by Ofomata, the artist responsible for the cover art on the rapper’s recent respective tapes with Theravada and ewonee. Prior to the gallery showing, YUNGMORPHEUS already had been kicking around Burnished Sums as a possible title for his upcoming EP. It was seeing Ofomata’s painting – which was not officially displayed as part of the exhibit – that clarified the title’s deeper meaning for the rapper. YUNGMORPHEUS immediately claimed the work.
“To burnish something means to get it or rub it down to its truest core,” YUNGMORPHEUS said. “I was thinking about the things you acquire by going through that. Like what you can gain from going through that arduous process of really fucking trimming away the fat.”
Such an approach is perhaps reflected in the Burnished Sums’s lean runtime at six songs and sixteen minutes. Despite the EP’s shorter length, YUNGMORPHEUS packs a hefty punch, eschewing hooks and choruses for straight-up verses that highlight his effortless flow and knack for beat selection. On “Figure-Four Leg Lock,” he offers biting assertions about his own come up as a rapper against the grim politics of the world around him. “Money the motive I mighta did it for some tokens / Pigs probably clap a brother just for a promotion,” he raps. The track samples soul singer Roy Scott’s 1971 song “The Prayer,” which prays for the violent demise of white supremacist and segregationist George Wallace. With beats from four producers and two guest spots, YUNGMORPHEUS takes full advantage of every second on the tape.
Ofomata’s Burnished Sums serves as the perfect visual metaphor for the title YUNGMORPHEUS had in mind. According to the rapper, the figure in the image and the exhausting toil they appear to be undergoing is representative of the physical difficulty demanded by creative excellence. It also speaks to a consistency in approach over time since music making – like dragging heavy objects by hand from A to B – is something that takes patience and time. The very notion of movement is essential to the music of YUNGMORPHEUS, whose first introduction to hip-hop was b-boying as a kid in Miami.
By his own definition, YUNGMORPHEUS has burnished his sound throughout 2022. In May, the rapper dropped BAG TALK DELUXE with Pink Siifu, an extended version of the duo’s 2019 collab tape of the same name. On the tape, YUNGMORPHEUS shows off his lyrical chops, going bar for bar with Siifu and matching wits with a guestlist of heavy hitters that includes the likes of Fly Anakin, AKAI SOLO, and Chuck Strangers. YUNGMORPHEUS followed up the deluxe LP with a pair of albums crafted by a single producer, releasing SLANG CASINO with Obijuan in July and Up Against the Wall; a Degree of Lunacy with rapper-producer Theravada in August. On both projects, YUNGMORPHEUS displays his chameleon-like ability to match the sonic backdrop of his collaborators while holding onto his own distinct voice.
Burnished Sums was the rapper’s fourth full length project of the year. It is also his first solo release with beats from more than a single producer, a decision that perhaps signals a career shift for the rapper towards further developing himself as a solo artist. “I think it was time,” the rappers said. “Come on over here now. Come into Morph’s world now. You enjoyed what you heard before? Now begins the canon.”
I had the opportunity to get on video call with YUNGMORPHEUS to talk about Burnished Sums, his b-boy years in Miami, and the evolution of his creative process. – By Ryan S. Kim
Do you have an earliest memory of music?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I don’t know. I feel like probably some DMX shit. I remember hearing DMX like dummy young in the whip for real, cause that was my pop’s favorite shit. That and Sizzla. I feel like those might be it… Oh nah nah. My first musical memory is to the Rosa Parks joint, Outkast shit. I used to be in the backseat like jumping up and down to that shit. My mom would tell me that when I got older and shit.
Yeah, I read that your dad was a huge DMX guy. What else did you hear growing up?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I mean, my pop’s was Jamaican and shit so I was listening to a lot of reggae and dancehall shit like that, obviously. And my mom’s liked R&B. Erica, Anita Baker. They definitely gave a bit of the foreground. Ice Cube. Pop’s brought the Ice Cube. He fucked with him heavy, that America’s Most Wanted joint.
You grew up in Florida, right? What was it like to come up there?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I mean Florida is ill. I’m from the Miami area, like Broward County close to North Miami. Yeah I don’t know… it’s the swamp, you know what I’m saying?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah it’s the swamp. It’s tight, It’s weird though too, but like a little good weird, like on some New Orleans type time. Something in the water type shit.
I’ve seen people mislabel you as being from LA or NYC. It’s something you’ve talked about in other interviews as well. Do you feel like Miami has had an influence on you creatively?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah. I mean that Miami shit, man. I’m on some Miami Vice type time. I’m on silk shirt energy, like sonically. Shit like that appeals to the ear. And like, you know, like Miami bass stuff. Shit like that and like dance music playing a role in what my ear fuck with. So definitely in that regard.
Do you have an earliest memory of hip-hop from growing up in Miami?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I mean, I was on some b-boy shit man. A lot of that, those memories are tied to breaking. Like being heavily involved in the breaking world that was where I heard a lot of like, breaks for the first time and shit like that. Stuff that I like would go on to use in the music practice and shit like that.
Yeah I read that you started B boying when you were a freshman in high school. How’d you get into that?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Haha yeah. There was an after school club that was called “Hip-Hop Dance,” you know what I’m saying? They had the choreography shit. And then some of the b-boys on the side. And it was like, “These are the two sections of the hip-hop dance club.” And I was like, “That choreography shit look a little bit too rigid for me. I’m gonna go break.” That was pretty much it. After that, I was pretty locked in for like… several years, pretty much up until n****s started making music.
So you learned what hip-hop is through breaking would you say?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, high key without a doubt. My older heads were like, “Man yo, you gotta watch like Beat Street. And like Freshest Kids.” Like all of that shit. That was the era where I did the knowledge if you will.
When did you make the jump from breaking to rapping or just wanting to make music in general?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Tale end of college for real man. Like I think I was like a senior or junior, think a senior I want to say. And that’s when I started, like fucking around you know what I’m saying, like linking homies who has spots where n****s could record at, like playing with it. But yeah, that was like the little gestation period. I’d say like, super tail end of school like about to leave.
Why do you think the timing worked out that way?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Hmm. I don’t know, I got maybe a little jaded with the breaking shit, like culturally. It felt like it was getting old and like I was getting a bit separated from the original reasons that I started doing that shit and that was because of music. So I was like, you know, let me start fucking with music then if I feel like I’m getting removed from the music based on how like the “b-boying culture” is.
Were you still breaking in college? Because you were up here [in Boston]. What was the scene like?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Shoutout to my Boston n****s, but Boston scene wack bro. A couple homies that are like, you know, ill and shit. But, Boston scene is BORING.
Did that play a factor in you wanting to step away from breaking and towards music?
YUNGMORPHEUS: That’s a good question. I think it probably did for sure. Cause the Florida breaking shit is definitely more… it’s more active. Definitely more active and more ill. There’s more cats who are nice. There’s more of a competitive but camaraderie type of thing going on. Yeah, I think I was like, “Man, fuck this breaking shit. I’m in Boston breaking with these wack ass n****s. I’m good. These n****s listening to wack music. I’m going to practice and just listening to bullshit. I’m cool. I’m gonna go get high and listen to beats.”
So what was like the first thing you recorded?
YUNGMORPHEUS: It was shit from that was on the 44 Laws of Mentalizm shit from like, 2016, most of them shits is like, my first joints that I ever did for real.
Did you do those in Boston?
YUNGMORPHEUS: No, no, I did a lot of that in New York right after I graduated.
So tell me about that. Like after graduation. You moved to New York. Why?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Just to dip.
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, to dip. I wasn’t about to stay in Boston. I wasn’t about to go back home, you know. Yeah, definitely wasn’t about to go back home. Yeah, it just felt like it made sense. Like, yo, if you’re gonna be on some rapper shit, I should move to New York. And like, I was probably coming at it from like, some B-boy, informed Hip Hop head ass shit like “Go to New York. Get the knowledge,” you know what I’m saying.
You know fair enough though, right?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Hell yeah. Get a little bit of the sauce and see where I want to take it after getting some of the foundational sauce if you will.
So when did you get your name? Were you already YUNGMORPHEUS at this point?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, I got that shit in college man. I was like, high, and I used to wear them circle glasses, with some circle shades all the time. And that was pretty much it. N****s would just like say that shit and I was like, “That’s a funny name. I’mma rock with that.” Because that was on some B-boy shit n****s was like, “Yo, you gotta let… n****s gotta give you your name or else it’s not ill.” So I let n****s give me my name. Yeah, it’s funny now. It’s here. We’ll see how it goes when I’m a grown ass man.
I wanted to ask you more specifically about 2022 because this is your fourth full length project of the year. What has your day to day been like in terms of rapping?
YUNGMORPHEUS: That’s all I’m doing. Yeah. Yeah. This is what n****s is on so it don’t really be feeling like there’s strenuous work taking place. It ain’t heavy lifting it’s more like I’m walking type shit. Like I’m exercising, but I just happen to be walking all the time, not like, “I’m going to the gym to lift weights.
So what’s your work process like?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Definitely free flow zone. You know, there’s times when n****s lock in and it’s like “Yo boom, I’m here and I’m doing this.” I definitely like to keep it loose on some like “What am I on?” Come up with a couple here, come up with a couple there. Get a beat here, listen to it for a while. Listen to something else for a while. See what happens. Come back to songs, go back to something else. I’m definitely a bit schizophrenic in that way in the noggin. It be like that SpongeBob episode, where he’s working? Where they tried to make the Krusty Krab all fancy. You remember that episode?
Damn bro, I didn’t watch SpongeBob.
YUNGMORPHEUS: There’s an episode where they try to turn the Krusty Krab wild fancy. And like Spongebob got to learn all this fine dining shit and then they like zoom in on his brain and it’s a gang of SpongeBobs like and they throwing out everything like in the file cabinets of his brain so he can like remember all the fine dining shit. eah, just a gang of SpongeBobs looking in the file cabinets in his mind, like, “I don’t know where the fuck it is!”
How do you find your collaborators? How do you know that you can work well with someone?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Word. I mean, n*****s just gotta be cool. They just gotta be my partners. Yeah, I got to have a genuine relationship with n*****s in order for that to ever make sense. I just fuck with the homies and whose music I’m a fan of and shit like… Mutual appreciation man. I’m a fan, you a fan. There’s good chance it’s going to fucking work you know? I like to keep it like that. Naturally, I like certain cats and if I find out they’re like tapped in like “Oh, wow. Amazing. Thank you. If you’d like to work on something, that’d be tight.” Or just chop it up with them and gain some human rapport before even touching base with that.
So your most recent tape is with Pink Siifu right? Can you tell me about it when you guys first met?
YUNGMORPHEUS: We low key dropped that like way earlier in the year. It just now hit on streaming for real just cause like we both had shit we was doing and we wanted cats who was really tapped in to go get that. Yeah, n****s met a long time ago in like New York, I think, like 2017 maybe. That’s just been bro. We just make shit whenever.
Where was this one recorded?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I think like half New York and half LA. We had a couple of sessions in New York like in Brooklyn somewhere and had like mad n****s slide and then kind of did the same thing in LA for like the second one for the deluxe not for the first joint. We did all the first joint just at one spot in LA, I believe.
What’s your flow like with them when you’re working?
YUNGMORPHEUS: That shit easy man. It’s easy. N****s is both madmen. We’re just like, “I’m always making shit.” So it’d be like “Yo this beat, yo this beat. Yeah. All right, boom.” It be easy as hell, like, n*****s got like, similar but different pilots, but like nothing that’s ever outside of the wheelhouse. There’s rarely a beat that either of us pull up and n****s is like “No not this.”
That makes it easy. And fun. Especially on some like, collaborative rap shit, it’s gotta be fun. It’s gotta be fun. I got to just be like kickin it with my homies, smoking that weed and like “Yo, damn this beat is crazy. Yeah, this shit is fire.” I just let that shit happen. It be fun. I just be trying to make sure n****s is having fun, man. It’s easy to get bogged down in the whole thing. But, you know, it feels good to make something you like.
Now being away from Miami and traveling as much as you do. Do you feel like there’s a difference from city to city in terms of how the place affects your process?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’m definitely very susceptible to my environment. I feel like in New York, I was more on some curmudgeonly shit because of the pace of New York, like, “This is a fast place and it’s very cold. And, like, keep it moving.” Naturally that affected how I was engaging with my day to day life. I feel like a lot of the output from when I was making shit in New York when I was living there is like, very intense and dark. Because that’s what the fuck I was on, you know? Yeah, and then LA felt more like, similar to back home. So I feel like it just allowed me to open up a bit and be less rigid with myself. Just because it’s not as rigid of a place in how the infrastructure is, I guess, I don’t know. Just even speaking on the city itself. Not even on no people and shit like that.
Yeah. Can you speak more on the similarity that you were seeing between LA and Miami?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I mean. The pretty on the nose one, you know, they’re both sunny places by the water, right? There’s always a constant, like it’s pretty constant weather wise and like how it’s going to be outside, like, what the environment is going to be like, it’s not super hot, and then fucking super cold. Like, yeah, shit kind of just coasts, which can be good and bad in like how it plays out in a human life. It can lead to complacency or not depending on who you are, you know?
Do you have a favorite city? A favorite place to work?
YUNGMORPHEUS: No not really. I like to work in transit a lot. I like working in between places a lot. Like walking around or on a train, on a plane if I can’t sleep, you know.
What’s appealing about that?
YUNGMORPHEUS: It feels like a watershed period, if you will. Like a very tiny watershed period, a watershed period of a couple of hours. You can kind of reflect on what you was doing when you left the place that you just were at what you’re going to do when you go to the next place and then that can go down a rabbit hole of like fucking thinking about it in a very large scale. I mean going from like the micro watershed period of a couple hours to like the macro of like, your fucking life. I think maybe that’s what’s appealing about that shit to me. It’s rare that I sit in one place and be like, “I love working here.” Even if I’m sitting in one room I’m like pacing around like a fucking crazy person. Like, back and forth, back and forth, circles. Something about movement, maybe on some breaking shit, that might have informed that a bit. Something about movement that helps my brain.
I want to ask you more specifically about the new project, Burnished Sums. Can you tell me the inspiration behind the title?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Word. I was trying to find like a, trying to find like a synonym to “polishing,” but in a more hyperbolized fashion. I kind of just went on, as I do when it’s title time, just like thinking about words and like etymology and like fucking “What words mean the same thing? And what words are like greater… a similar sentiment but to a larger degree?” Like synonyms but like, “greater than synonym, the less than synonym.” Cuz I was thinking about like, you know, polishing some shit to get right. Or a fucking a damn like blacksmith that n***a just like banging that joint until this motherfucker make a pristine sword. You know, or like a beautiful axe. But that that takes fucking time. You gotta like, polish that you gotta hit it.
And I’m pretty sure that to burnish something means to get it or rub it down to its truest core. So, yeah, I was thinking about, like, you know, the things you acquire by going through that. Like what you can gain from going through that arduous process of like, really fucking trimming away the fat. Like really hitting the sculpt move on yourself. Like your personage and being like, “Hmm. All right, all right, this is me. Okay, these things are hindering me. Some things are helping me. Let me get rid of the shit that is hindering and let’s build on what’s helping.” Yeah, I think that’s why I came out like that.
How do you feel like that comes through in music?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m trying to… I guess with these singles and this album, I’m being more honest. It’s definitely like “Ayo, here I am doggie.” For better or for worse type shit. Basically a little less character and a little more like, “This me n***a.”
Where’s that honesty coming from? Why did you make that choice?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the wrestling aspect of the rap shit, specifically rap music, other music too. But it’s easy to get caught up in the wrestler shit where you’re like “I’m this character and such and such.” That shit cool. I get it, but like I’m getting older man that shit is getting less and less cool to me. And like, it’s getting way less cool to me to be like, “Word, you’re this fucking thing.” Like nah, “Who are you dog? Lemme hear that.” As n****s has grown that’s what’s hitting my ear when I’m like, “Whew there he is. There he is on the fucking song.” You don’t really gotta ask much like, “So who is this n***a? Like, he kind of told you? Or she or they kind of told you.”
How do you approach writing from that perspective? Or writing that way?
YUNGMORPHEUS: That’s why I gotta let it happen on some like, “Oh, word I just thought of this just now.” That’s why I like to put on random like, just instrumental shit if I’m just like, walking around, or moving through the world just to have a backdrop like, “Oh shit, I just thought about this? Oh yeah that could be a rhyme.” Like you saw this weird thing? Like you’re looking at something, you know what I mean? Yeah… the other day I think I was there was like some fucking weird spot I was staying at because of some weird shit that was going on. I went to a coffee place and got an almond tea cake and put it on the desk and was just staring at the wall with the almond tea cake, ate a bit of it, left it, did some other shit, sat at the desk, stared at the wall some more. I was just thinking about shit and that wound up going in something, just that image of having an almond tea cake on a desk while you stare at the wall blankly. That became something that went into a thing just because I was like “Yo this is real life.” It’s simple, but I’m sure everybody’s has a moment where you’ve had some fucking mundane ass snack on your desk and you’re staring at nothing, thinking about all of it. The poignancy of that honesty is what’s intriguing me now and what’s drawing me towards that type shit.
How do you keep track of these things that happen to you? Like, are you just remembering them in your head? Or do you write them down? What’s that process?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m writing them down as they’re happening sometimes. Or if they’re sticking out, you know what I mean. Sometimes I like to think about it later on like, “Damn, alright. Let’s process that. Why was that happening?” You know, shit like that. It’s not necessarily all the time when it’s like occurring. It’s definitely, maybe like at the end of the day or the next day, like, “What did I do yesterday? Oh, shit that was weird. What the fuck? Why did you do that?”
The lead single off the new project is with Joe Armon-Jones. How did you guys meet?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I got tapped in with him through the homie Goya [Gumbani]. They got a couple of joints that they’ve done that I fucked with. I think it was that “Fix It” joint that I heard and was like, “Damn, this cat is ill.” And I just hollered at him in some other cats when I was out here last time, like last year. And n****s linked us and I just pulled up on him. That shit was cool. It was definitely easy working with him. And it was fun to put myself in a different headspace than I’m usually in to expand my ears and my palate. You know, I mean, for sure. Like, “Yo, let me jump in this dude’s world because he cool.” I like shit like that, always have. I just haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to like, engage or play around with it, you know? Super super organic with him. I just pulled up on him.
Why was your track with him the lead single?
YUNGMORPHEUS: To show cats that it’s more than what has been previously imagined. To prepare n****s for expanding, you know what I mean. I feel like it’s easy to pigeonhole certain things based on niche and how journalism goes and comparison and “yada yada yada” rhetoric, but I’m taking it upon myself to eschew that like, “Nah this ain’t one thing. This is whatever I want it to be.”
Can you speak on some of the influences you were thinking about while recording?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, I feel like I was fucking with hella Kool Keith, low-key. Like Kool Keith, like Dave Bixby, I’m tryna think of all the shit I was bumping while I was making the album. It was definitely informing it a bit. Yeah, random shit like that. Definitely on a Kool Keith tip right now. Less so in like content and more so in like, “Yo, I don’t give a fuck.” He’s an amazing character in hip-hop. If Kool Keith doesn’t exist, then we don’t get DOOM. He is the prototype of that like, “Yo what the fuck is this nigga on?” All the different characters. Pretty much that, though. It’s not really any like zany shit. I more so just respect that n***a’s ethos and how he come at it on some like, “Nah, it’s whatever the fuck I feel like doing dog.”