What Has Cage Been Up to Since Def Jux?
During a rare visit in Toronto, we spoke to rapper Cage about his tenured history on Def Jux with Aesop Rock and El-P.
For someone who sounds so angry in his songs, the amount of humility that pours from rapper Cage through conversation is kind of shocking. Since 1991, Cage has been delivering sharp, introspective stories on topics ranging from mental health, murder, and drug addiction while releasing several albums, including his seminal debut Movies for the Blind, on respected indie labels like Def Jux and Eastern Conference. He's also one of the founders of New York underground hip-hop crew The Weathermen, whose huge roster includes current day veterans El-P and Aesop Rock. However, after disaster struck fellow Weathermen member Camu Tao, the group called it quits and has been on hiatus ever since. So it came as a pleasant surprise last week when Cage made his way to the frozen tundra of Canada to make his only stop north of the border in Toronto.
While watching Cage perform it’s easy to get the feeling that he’s been doing this forever. He willingly threw himself into the audience and wasn’t afraid to get up in their face, screaming lyrics to a sea of adoring fans. After the show, we caught Cage for a quick chat and talked about everything from politics to social media, and what it was like working with Def Jux and Eastern Conference.
Photo courtesy of Jason Christopher
Noisey: Can you tell me a bit about what it was like working with Definitive Jux and Eastern Conference back in the day?
Cage: What it was like…it was like a job. I felt like I was kind of a complete maniacal force, you know? I needed someone to bring it in a little bit for me, to help me make sense of everything. Those dudes were kind of like my therapists.. I had a lot of rage and aggression to throw out, but I respected El-P so much and I respected all those dudes so much. The fact that they could own a record label. I had no idea how someone could do something like that or manage all those artists. Artist suck. They’re big emotional rats and babies. I would never want to deal with someone like myself. I don’t know how those dudes were able to wear the artist hat and the label hat at the same time, because I could never do that. But yeah a lot of dreams came true but also nightmares at the same time. It was a double edged sword, lots of fun, lots of work. It was fun because you were working with your friends. A double edged sword of fun.
So your last album Kill the Architect was in a different vein from your previous works, what was your inspiration for it and how do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist?
This time I had no publicist, so I didn’t have any [industry] games to play. I feel like sometimes you go against the grain and sometimes you become a part of the grain. I didnt want that to happen to me so I just put a record out. I didn’t care what happened, and that was terrible for business. I’m sure for Eastern Conference and my partners they were like “Great! He’s not doing interviews, he doesn’t give a fuck, that’s awesome. Why did we invest in this asshole?” That was somewhere dormant in the back of my mind, but I wouldn’t waiver and that’s just how I felt. I hate the whole idea of paying a publicist and paying to be in blogs and magazines and such, I don’t like it. If you don’t like my fucking music, you’re not going to write about it, you’re not going to play it for someone else or put it on your little blog and say its awesome. I loath the whole idea that people make money on the backs of artists and artists have to yield to a couple of rich shits that own some sort of rag, be it in the same vein as Rolling Stone or something.
Maybe because they’re corporate assholes?
There we go, and everything else is the hand-me-down version of that. So, if I don’t care to be part of the corporate shitdick then why would I care to be part of the little brother, or the try hards. Fuck them.
Speaking of 'Corporate Shitdicks,' How do you feel about the state of the world right now with all this ultra violence happening?
I feel like its always been there, its just the media plays the little game of what they want to shine the light on. Be it whatever terrorist organization they want to change their name to, or the media, or the government. I feel like it’s the same thing, not much has really changed so I don’t let that kind of shit into my work. I kind of live in my own bubble and just reflect on my own experiences. I don’t believe that I’m any sort of “patriot” or anything like that. I live in the U.S.A. and I like living there, I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world, I think it’s a great country, and there are great people, but I also think the majority of it is fucked. But that’s the whole world anyways. Majority of the world are fucking assholes. I read the news for entertainment, I don’t read it for politics because it doesn’t change my life.
How do you find you deal with the egos in the hip hop scene?
I don’t. I just detach. I don’t want anything to do with it. I’m not trying to join clubs or movements, I’m not doing songs with people, or living vicariously through other artists. I do my own thing and if people give a shit then whatever.
Do you feel like you have a huge ego?
I don’t think I have a huge ego. I think I’m pretty fucking down to earth. I don’t know if anyone can reflect on themselves and say “Yeah I have an ego.” or “No I don’t have an ego” because that would be crazy. That’s for someone else to decide. I do think ego’s are a bad thing. Its a terrible thing to be egotistical.
Photo courtesy of Jason Christopher
A lot of your music deals with women in your lyrics, do you feel like you’re derogatory to women in your music?
I don’t think that I am but I do feel like a lot of women let me down in my life. I don’t think that I say things like “fuck all women,” or “all women can suck my dick” or “fuck bitches.” I don’t make music like that. I talk about my own experiences and I’ve fucked a lot of dummies and I fucked a lot of bums who didn’t want to get jobs, and I fucked a lot of women who didn’t have shit going on, and they used me or whatever it is. I have a daughter who I talk to all the time and she’ll ask me things and then I have to explain things to her. However I feel, if I’m angry or anything that’s what I’m going to talk about. If a woman pisses me off then that’s how I feel. It doesn’t mean that I think the entire female population are all whores or shit. People take things out of context and they wanna make it fit with whatever their agenda is. I definitely do not hate women, and I definitely do not disrespect women, and in fact, like all the people that I might disrespect in my music [men and women], no names attached, those are the ones that I disrespect. the ones that disrespected me. Doesn’t mean all women are assholes, nor all men are assholes, or all humans are assholes. I just think of it as humans, and for the most part, 99.9 percent of humans could probably burn. That’s why things are the way that they are, because of humans.
Fair enough. You didn’t have social media when you started in this game, what was it like making the switch into social media, and doing self promotion instead of letting the label handle it?
If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing I wouldn’t be on social media. I don’t think people should be on social media. I just read this article about selfies and how it means you’re psychotic. So when you see people on Instagram and you scroll through, and 80 percent of their photos are selfies they’re fucking psychotic. I think that social media fucked a lot of peoples heads up. I think that the whole thing is “rockstar” based, celebrity based “hey I’m a celebrity too, look at my followers!” I quit Twitter once before, and when I came back, people would say to me “Why do you do what you do if you’re just going to cut your nose off to spite your face?” Well, my nose keeps getting shorter and shorter, I’ve shot all my toes off, I’ve shot my feet off, I’m limping. I’m noseless… I don’t understand the entertainment industry. I do whatever my form of entertainment is. Whether or not people are entertained. Wherever it leads. I don’t know. I’m a monkey with a tin cup. That’s me. And that’s what I’ll be doing, and living off the fucking pennies that people put into the monkey cup.
I think you’re better than a monkey with a tin cup.
Yeah because I speak. Monkeys can’t talk. They’re cuter though.
Gabe Gilker is a writer living in Montreal - @GabeKill