We Talked to UnkleLuc and Personal About Their New Collaboration, 'The Wild EP'
When you’re hunting for new music in the wild, there’s nothing quite like discovering a great record that everyone ignored. Which is how we felt last November when the Miami-based graphic artist UnkleLuc and enigmatic rapper Personal (who know goes by name Sydney in Theory) combined efforts and released the Wild EP. The project was slept on for the most part, which is unfortunate because it’s incredible.
It’s definitely a product of the 2010s insofar that it’s a rap project that decidedly colors outside of its genre’s margins. The Wild EP, however, deviates radically from what we’ve come to expect from an experimental rap tape. Is the EP a long lost Def Jux/Kanye West collab or is this how rap will sound 40 years from now?
Sure, there’s plenty of lush, forward-thinking production, but don’t expect to hear any half-assed DJ Screw plagiarism or ASAP Mob/Main Attrakionz knockoffs. The tape is rife with cross genre flirtations, but it’s light on the indie rock and heavy on the electro-acoustic soundscapes. There are Raider Klan cameos, but it’s totally bereft of any Triple 6 nostalgia.
It isn’t Based, it isn’t rachet music, it isn’t cloud rap, it isn’t trill, it isn’t drill. It’s not even whatever the hell Future and Young Thug do. The Wild exists in a musical vacuum with no audible peers.
There’s not a mention of Supreme, skateboarding, molly, “the trap,” white girls in bleached cut off shorts, black girls in brothel creepers, grills, late-90s/early-aughties worship, or any of the other trite Tumblr-chic totems that this new breed of “avant garde” MC is so fond of. And most importantly, there’s no PR team; just an organic collaboration between two artists.
As a rapper, Personal has the uncanny ability to be wildly adventurous without being alienating, and he managed to cohesively maintain a sensual vibe throughout the entire tape. Personal did the unthinkable: he made an experimental rap tape you could fuck to that wouldn’t be out of place at MoMA. His rapping is less about his persona, and more about his vision. He’s a rapper who aspires to move beyond rapping.
The EP is accompanied by a PDF booklet, courtesy of UnkleLuc—who handled the project’s visual aspect, in addition to being its promoter. Images of wild beasts are superimposed onto distorted, day-glo stock landscape photos. The booklet is separated into chapters with a theme such as “Birth,” “Death,” or “Delusion.” The EP’s cover is a snarling wolf, surrounded by negative space. If you went by that alone you would mistake the Wild for an old Burzum record, rather than a hip hop tape. And you’d be forgiven. In fact, there’s very little rap on the first half of the The Wild. You hear a female voice repeating the word “dead’, T.D. Jakes loops, industrial drums, and a sonic pastiche which sounds like Nurse With Wound colliding with Yeezy. Which is a lot better than that might sound. The Wild is feral, visually and sonically.
The duo produced a video for two songs off The Wild. We were so excited that we decided to premier their video for the songs “The Wild/Nogly 2” and had a chat with the duo about dropping acid, Kanye West cosigns, The Wild’s genesis, and women masturbating to their music. Oh, and did you know that UnkleLuc’s mentor was the graphic designer/electronic artist Arnold Steiner?
Noisey: When did you all decide that music & visual art was your calling?
Personal: 6th grade, I had already been very enamored with music quite young thanks to my father. And in 5th grade I was an Incubus head because of a growing teenage sister [Laughs], I was the youngest of my two closest friends and they rapped. I had a Windows computer and the only cd burner in the neighborhood with Kazaa; I searched for beats for them to write to secretly writing myself, until I asked one day to rap with them. I became very serious about my music in 2008. I had already been to Virginia where I credit most of my growth as an artist after meeting producer, Quinton Johnson, (who produced Jim Jones’ “Weatherman” featuring Stack Bundles and Lil Wayne) & Sharif JB Wilson (who produced Big Boi’s - “Be Still” featuring Jeanelle Monae and “She Hates Me”), then known as the SoundSquad. I was writing a lot of raps at that time to impress them, I really wanted to work with them, I was finally invited to their home to work on several projects. That's where I really discovered music was my thing. I had just turned 17.
UnkleLuc: I grew up with an autistic younger brother, so I spent a lot of time home watching TV. I was drawn to films like The Shining, and Needful Things (anything Stephen King). I watched Making the Video and stuff like that. As soon as the internet came around I was downloading Fruity Loops and Photoshop just to see what i could be good at; getting ripped apart on message boards for tips. I found a camcorder in my mom’s closet senior year and would make class videos and short films to spread around school. I met my design mentor Arnold Steiner (AS1) in 2008, he serves as a major influence on my style and taught a few very important things that’s continued to help me make steady growth. I obsessed over Terry Richardson and Shawn Mortensen, LaChapelle when I picked up photography. I've also been directing music videos since 2009, Personal was the first i did a video for. I credit Chris Cunningham, Hype Williams, Nabil, Mark Romanek for much of my early and continued inspiration.
Luc, it looks like you’ve also taken on the role of a promoter.
True, in this era, the creators often times have to assume the role of promoter.
I saw some of your posts on Oddfuturetalk.com, where you said that Kanye West was "keeping an eye on the project".
The same night I got the news from my mom that my older brother passed away, I sent an email to Kanye. I sent him the stuff I had made up to that point, along with a song and just related my experience with his, and he responded. It was a shocking experience to go from the low of losing my brother and the high of Kanye reaching back. I just asked him to peep the inspiration in what Personal and I were creating and to keep an eye out. He said, "I will". We shared a couple more emails in the following months, then he vanished to put in work on Cruel Summer, and his new joint.
Who handled the production for The Wild?
Personal: I do produce, if anything that's where I want to make my staple as an artist. That and songwriting. A lot of the time if I didn't produce the record, I "enhance" it. I play the piano/keyboard as well and have had the opportunity to work with other instrumentalist to really create a record. I love to create music, I love to take things and mold them also. In truth, what I’ve been able to do has been with a very low budget. Theres a sound I’m waiting to develop; this is really just the beginning. I’m going to make the best with what I have until then. Rap in The Wild EP project was used minimally, at least on my behalf. I have other plans with music and the kind of legacy I'd like to leave behind.
How did you guys come to work together?
UnkleLuc: [Personal] hit me up on Myspace back in 2009, about an album he's working on 'til this day, Sydney in Theory. He wanted to get me involved in the vision, I was very impressed by the direction he was heading in with the concept and had no choice but to be a part of it.
Personal: We had actually attended a show where he appears in the back of my photo before we even knew of each other. we noticed a shit load years later. Small world. I was looking to get some photos done at the time and he had a vision I could really relate to. We met after a slew of Myspace messages and immediately got each other. He showed me an MF DOOM fan made video he had done. In my astonishment I asked that we become a team. We later became close-friends, lived in NY together with his older brother for some time, and crashed some couches in Miami as well.
What do you think of this crop of “weird” rapper popping up every week?
I don't pay attention to it. Rap isn't where i'd like to focus my career exactly. If I did it'd be different, but I wouldn't say it'd be aligned with that group of rappers that are coming out now.
UnkleLuc: I can't honestly say that I'm keeping tabs. I always just try to remain focused on the stuff my friends and I are creating, and show love to anything out there thats inspired me.
Do you think of them as peers or competition?
Personal: I have friends that rap now, I enjoy their music. There are artist I enjoy. It's likely I'd work with them. If I believe in an artist I try to help them develop their sound and I love that.
UnkleLuc: I respect everyone who's just out here creating, its self defeating to compete. Ideas are infinite.
Speaking of peers, how did you link up with SpaceGhostPurrp and the Raider Klan and Robb Bank$?
Personal: I had heard both of them had known of my work, nothing really came of it until I suggested Robb and I work together for The Wild EP, the 'Gliding Through' session happened with Luc's guidance. I guess Purrp was into it as well because I got the vocals back with his verse which was pretty awesome.
UnkleLuc: I been cool with the Klan for close to two years. I first met Purrp in 2011 at CMJ just trying to link on doing some music videos. Robb's manager is my baby moms (Mommy Warbuck$).
A lot of the sounds on The Wild more closely resemble noise music or industrial than hip hop. Which begs the question: do you have influences outside of rap?
Personal: I guess I’ve been answering this question the whole time. I really couldn’t tell you one industrial artist off top. I just want to create experiences. I would eventually like to be known amongst the other great musical pioneers. I think my next project will prove that
UnkleLuc: Speaking from my role, the inspiration came more so from the raw emotion and leftover visions from taking acid than any music.
What was the concept behind The Wild EP?
It expresses a worldview and serves as a mirror. It’s definitely a composite of experiences, emotion. Something people should get lost in; fill in with their own emotion.
Personal: I like the idea of leaving things open for interpretation. I don't like to take that from a listener. I want the music to resonate with them however it may. But I wanted to focus on the world around us that we really are living in The Wild, our own wild. Its an allegory on the human experience of the current times. Ripped bare. Completely naked with no discretion. I wanted to cover every aspect of that. Without being completely blatant. The story in The Wild EP is really about the life & death of an unnamed character growing up in “the Wild”. I had become infatuated with the idea that when someone dies they scatter across the universe so quickly, like light. And change and inspiration can be derived from it.
What was recording The Wild like?
Almost 2 years. Originally the title track came about. I was working on another project at the time, Sydney in Theory. And decided I would tuck it away for later; it was new & different. I kinda played with the idea on Twitter. Luc and I were ready to move from Miami to NY. I decided to not release Sydney in Theory at the time and develop The Wild while we were in NY. Originally the idea was to do a short film with the then lesser known ASAP Rocky & Purrp. I moved back to Florida shortly after being in New York with Luc and his brother. I was out of commission for some time. Then Luc’s brother passed away, that's when I knew I owed this project to [Luc], his brother, and myself. There's a feeling, its about creating that. How do I make people hear & feel what I see? I just go in with that in mind. I always know when its right or wrong. No force.
What made you guys go the experimental route?
This is a funny question. I know there's this copycat thing going on in music, but I never thought twice about how I'd do music. I was doing it for me. When people started to listen I knew that I could make something out of it. Ever since I began making music and producing it’s been "experimental" it just kinda happened that way. It wasn't on purpose it just was.
UnkleLuc: It wasn’t even a decision, it’s just the natural workflow. It’s not even an option to contemplate whether or not to clone. The focus is always creating something from within.
Why did you guys decide to add a visual component?
As collaborators we want to provide dope experiences for folks. We want people to be able to see the music in the art and vice versa.
Personal: [The Wild] is a book. We wanted to create the landscape as well as the soundscape Luc and I have always had these ideas on aesthetics and presentation. Its always been about being the total package. The music and with the visual aspect. They've always gone together to me, its creating the entire experience. Telling the entire story.
The booklet is split into chapters with names like “Birth”, “Death”, or “Delusion”. What’s the significance of the titles?
UnkleLuc: Birth served as a large role as death with the project. The same cycle of life and death manifests in mental states. Often in life and mind we have to pass through the jungle before we reach peace, if ever.
There was a feral quality that permeated The Wild; it felt like it was made to be listened to at night. The project was experimental, but retained a sensual vibe. You could smoke someone out and trip this music or you could put it on when you’re having sex.
Personal: I would agree, there are some great stories attached to the wild. People have told me they've had threesomes to it, sex, a woman told me she masturbated to it. I think that shit is great! [Laughs ] There's a community of kids that do acid to it. I've heard they really enjoy listening to it for its theatrical feel.
UnkleLuc: The Wild is an experience. Drop acid and fall right in.