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We Talked to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Nephew About Dissing B.o.B with Science

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By Jabbari Weekes

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Photo courtesy of TYSON

For centuries, it’s been considered basic human knowledge that the earth is round. But over the weekend, rapper B.o.B. decided to spit in the face of a hundreds of years of scientific evidence with tweets and pictures from his phone proving that the earth is, indeed, flat. While many on the internet took turns mocking the artist and some others actually believed him, popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson decided to chime in, educating  B.o.B. and the general public as to why this line of thinking was false. Eventually, B.o.B. would drop diss track “Flatline”  which argues amongst many things that the earth is flat while insulting deGrasse Tyson’s vest. All of which didn’t sit too well with Tyson’s nephew/rapper Steve Tyson, better known as rapper Tyson.

“The day before I recorded the track, I was just texting my uncle about the tweets between him and B.o.B. And then I wake up the next morning with B.o.B dropping a diss track about my uncle and I was like 'Yo! This is outta line! What just happened?.' I originally did a song for his podcast called “StarTalkin’” and was going to put that out but he was like ‘Why don't you just write a track?.’” As a result he—and quite possibly the entire science community—decided to clap back with the Drake “Back to Back” referencing song “Flat to Fact.” According to Tyson, who has been rapping for 10 years but only recently started releasing songs on Soundcloud, the purpose of the song was to educate listeners on the cosmos and do proper research. So, we decided to talk to him about how the song came together, if he believes B.o.B. is a troll,  and the one time he tried to get his famous uncle to listen to DMX.

Noisey: Why did you feel the need to make “Flat to Facts”?
Tyson: I mean, he came at my uncle [Neil]. My uncle had some good responses and put the facts out there and that was that. And then I wake up the next morning with B.o.B dropping a diss track about my uncle and from there my first thought was just to record a demo version of it and to go to the studio to write the full song. But [Neil] was getting up hit by TMZ and so he told me if I wanted to put out the song and get him on it, it would have to be that day. So, it was a four-hour turnaround from it being a concept to it being on Soundcloud. At that time, I didn't even hear the whole track. I just heard the bar about my uncle's vest and I was like “Aight.”

Wait, your uncle; Neil deGrasse Tyson pretty much told you to make a diss track?
Yeah, absolutely. My uncle had to ask me what a diss track was, so had to bring him up to speed on that.

Does he regularly listens to rap?
He listens to my music. It’s funny because most of the hip-hop that I’ve heard him listen to has been on like Jock Jams albums. I’ve never really heard him listen to any real hip-hop before—which I guess that explains why he doesn't know what a diss track was. I think in high school, I tried to put him on to whatever was popping at the time which was a DMX CD and put it on his computer. Ja Rule was also really popular and I was like “Here, you could probably like this.”  It was like 2001 or 2002, that was the only time I had given him music that wasn't my own.

What were you doing before you started rapping full-time?
I’ve worked for several nonprofit organizations that work with youth to get into and through college. One of them being the Harlem Children Zone another being the Philadelphia Futures. Through conversations with some of the students as well as conversations with myself and family, I just made the decision to take the leap of faith and continue to go with my music full throttle because the window is closing as far as me being stuck in that 9 to 5 world. I wanted to live doing my passion.

Now back to this diss... do you think B.o.B is trolling or is he actually serious?
I mean, I have no idea. All I know is that people can believe a whole lot of different things and people are free to believe and think a whole lot of different things. Whether he's doing this because he [believes] it or he’s trying to promote the track, I don't really know. Nonetheless, it’s difficult going into a situation armed with the fact that you think the earth is flat.

How concerned should we be about B.o.B fans carrying on his ideas and convincing a new generation of people to think the earth is actually flat?
[laughs] I think in the big picture, it’s a total distraction from what is actually going on. Especially if you think about the black community in The United States of America. Yeah, it’s entertaining but I wasn't even serious when I was recording this, I did it in my living room. I would ideally hope it would be tracks I’ve made like “Mother Earth” or “Black Lives Matter” instead of this “Flat to Fact” thing that would be drawing people’s attentions, but nonetheless you got to deal with people where they are. And hopefully, everybody will lift up and get to the same place together. 

Why do you think this idea that the earth is flat has become so popular again?
I have no idea. I think that there are always people that look on the horizon and say “Oh it looks flat so it is flat.” I just think that now people of a higher profile are feeling more confident in saying this stuff which is drawing more attention.

Where do you think hip hop’s interest in science and these conspiracy theories come from?
It’s almost essentially been around whether it's Jay-Z being in the Illuminati or Chingy trying to be woke. As far as conspiracy theories in hip-hop, I think that it comes from the history of valid and invalid conspiracy theories in the black community. If you think about just the history of black America, we all knew the government had something to do with Martin Luther King getting assassinated. But it wasn't until 1999 that the government and the civil trials were proven that the government had something to do with it. So it’s like, there are conspiracy theories that are absolutely valid that we know of but at the same time there is other stuff everybody’s been following since the beginning of hip-hop. You have folks that are following a lot of the stuff that Malachi York was saying, not saying that all of his stuff was a conspiracy, but some of it was clearly not fact and I’m talking like late 80s hip-hop. At the same time, that’s all roped in with a lot of the knowledge and actual stuff in hip-hop that you got from Zulu Nation, that you got from the nation of the Gods and Earth, actual things that enrich, enlighten and uplift people gets tied in with certain stuff that is completely false. So at the end of the day, it all gets balled together and was something that was always there. 

Now, GZA is another rapper who is also making music about science and deeper issues for his upcoming album Dark Matter. Is that something you would be interested in being a part of?
Only if I was invited. I think that whatever GZA has been cooking in the lab for Dark Matter is something he’s been working on for the longest. Artistically, I wouldn't want to interfere with what he’s got going on unless I was invited.

What type of song do you think you’d make with GZA?
I had the opportunity to play pool with GZA when he came down here to Philly for a show. His former manager at the time hooked it up. We were talking and when we left he said his [album] would be something science themed. At the time, he also had just done the StarTalk interview with my uncle, and Dark Matter was brought up a lot during their chat. Granted, it was a hot topic and theme at the time, I don’t see why we couldn't do something like that. At the same time, it’s GZA and the Wu-Tang Clan, so we could do some straight hip-hop that can take it back to the essence of what our culture is about.

How do you think that going forward we can educate not even just rappers but musicians to actually do the research?
I think that the only way that someone can educate themselves about certain pseudoscience theories or even other conspiracies is to just dig into it. Just because somebody is telling you that it’s a fact doesn’t mean that it’s an actual fact. Anyone can produce a study that has 20 individuals but you need to do actual research and dig in to see what has been published, what’s been vetted. Who are these people that they’re talking to and where are they getting their information from? I think that at the end of the day, folks just need to do their due diligence when it comes to doing research and they’ll come to the fact themselves. I mean, B.o.B thought he did enough research to think that the Earth is flat, but it’s clear that he still needs to do more. There’s never enough to be sure that you have your facts straight.

Okay, so B.o.B is not going to some next great scientist or great chemist?
I mean, I have no idea. B.o.B is a smart dude. He’s a great musician and a smart brother, especially when it comes to the business end of stuff. He’s got it. He’s doing everything you need to do in this industry. He’s pushing his artistry. If he’s the type of person who wants to get into the sciences and move cultures and move people toward his line of thinking then more power to him. But at the end of the day, it will just be a catalyst for more people like myself who don’t want to hear this stuff and have the capacity to combat some of the things that he’s putting out there.

Especially those comments B.o.B. made about Stalin and the whole being a Holocaust denier.
There was no need for me to address his holocaust denial and all that other garbage. I got my masters degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, so I’ve been to countries and seen the remnants of what happened in World War II and how many lives and cultures it's affected all over the planet. And to say that... something like that didn't even have to be addressed. I just think that it’s absolutely ridiculous.

To wrap this up, just to confirm, neither you nor your uncle is being paid to tell people the world is flat?
I know I damn sure ain't! [laughs] and my uncle isn’t either.

Anything you want to let us know? I imagine you’re working on more music?
Yeah, I got a whole bunch of stuff on deck. Right now the biggest thing is just getting people to hear “Mother Earth” because it’s so pertinent to what’s going on. “Mother Earth” is my own answer I have to any of this stuff because “Flat to Fact” is a one of one—I’m never doing something like that again. “Mother Earth” is all I need to say about my opinion on the planet.

Finally, and I think it's fair to ask, which show is more educational: The Magic School Bus or Little Einsteins?
[Laughs] I’ve never seen little Einsteins but they flipped that intro into a fire ass track but I got to rock with Magic School Bus and Ms. Frizzle since I grew up on that.

Jabbari Weekes will now only answer to the title Yung Super-Kamiokande. Follow him on Twitter

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