"I like being the only me." — An Interview with Dezmatic.
The first time I saw Dezmatic was on a TV screen in 2013. I had been doing some research into the local scene and not long after found the video for Giant Gorilla Dog Thing’s “Should.”
It was easy to see why the duo were so well renowned in the local scene. The bombardment of harsh sounds, offensive lyrics and twisted humor creates a sound that encapsulates the aura of Upstate New York. In three minutes and thirty-six seconds, I went from first time listener to stan.
The second time I saw Dezmatic in person was at a Giant Gorilla Dog Thing show in 2015.
It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, second only to another Dez performance earlier this year. As a veteran emcee, Dez displays expert control over crowds. I believe that there is an alternate universe where Dez is sat in front of a temple full of Adidas tracksuits, pouring Kool-Aid.
Something about Dez feels larger than life.
He’s a bit of a hometown hero. In the interview I did with Mic Lanny, we discussed how Dezmatic is to Albany rappers as Larry Byrd was to white kids at the 80s.
Dez is proof that Upstate New York can produce great rappers.
The third time I saw Dezmatic was the first time I met him.
I don’t remember too much about that night, other than that it was cold.
It’s odd, being in a position where one of your greatest emcees is within arms reach. I had to talk to him.
I hoped that the more down to Earth setting of Rap Night would make him feel more approachable. It didn’t. There’s an aura around Dez at any hip hop event. He’s the guy everyone knows. He’s the guy everyone looks to for advice.
I believe that’s called the x-factor.
I grab Dan’s attention, and talk to him briefly. The dialogue was basic, but the moment was unforgettable.
After the brief meeting, I step outside. I just met my hero.
My girlfriend looks at me, “Who was the guy who looked like Louis CK?”
Dez shows up to Rap Night in the proper rain attire - boots and a sweatshirt, covered by a jersey. He’s here for an interview, a hip hop show and a baseball game.
We take a seat on a bench in front of the Allen St. Pub, a cozy bar that’s become the mecca of local hip hop. Rain taps the small awning above us.
Thus begins an interview.
So, we’ve gotta start with a generic rap question: top five?
Top five ever or now? Single or groups?
Top five most influential hip-hop things?
Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Big Pun, Aesop Rock, Sean Price. Ghostface and Black Thought, too. And Chuck D. I could give you a top 30, for real.
You said in Adult Rappers that Chuck D made you wanna rap. Is politics a big thing for you?
It comes and goes. In hindsight, I feel it’s naive.
Everybody goes at their own pace, you know? I should have probably started maturing in life and the material that’s reflective of life a long time ago. Over time, I’ve paid attention. It’s a shame to say I pay more attention when I’m pissed. I was more pissed - not that Obama or Clinton were great, they were douchebags, Bush was a cunt and this dude is a moron.
So, music, especially rap music, is a channel of frustration, a channel of reconciling how I deal with the world. Even some of my relationship songs are frustrated. For the most part, I make pretty aggressive, bully rap. And I’m not a bully. I’m working on that. But all my favorites were dick heads.
The culture in general celebrates immaturity. The most immature versions are consumed at a higher rate, with a higher value placed on them.
Not to excuse myself. I should have grown out of it. And I’m working on it. I think the newer stuff, the next 28 months, should reflect that.
You’re not gonna get any short answers.
Do you think aggression is inherent in hip hop? In the local scene?
Let me say this, hip hop is not limited to it, but (back to my earlier point) the hypermasculinity is celebrated in a cultural and monetary way. It’s been quantified and placed at a higher value.
Hypermasculinity is not a local thing - let’s talk about the world, the country. It’s not an indictment on rap. It’s not an indictment on the culture. It’s an indictment on humanity.
So yes, to all the questions, yes.
Locally, it’s a tough town. A tough three towns. Schenectady is tough. Troy is tough. Albany is tough. And you shouldn’t shake a stick at the towns in between, either. You can say that about a lot of places. South Boston is tough. There’s tough motherfuckers in Cambridge. It’s not unique to Albany or Upstate.
Personally, my upbringing lent itself to me becoming aggressive in my expression. My parents split up, I didn’t really have a direction. I had a good life, I didn’t grow up tough. I grew up near the projects, near a lot of things. I pinballed my way around. But, yeah. Personally, there’s no excuse. I’m old enough, and should have paid more attention to growing out of shit. I’ve been rewarded for being a dickhead for so long that I continue to do it. I’m going through growing pains now I should have 12 years ago. I’m working on it.
How long have you been a rapper?
How do you qualify that? How long have I been paid to do shows? Recording my voice?
How long have you been writing raps?
Over 20 years. Since the mid-nineties.
I grew up in Troy. I was born in Albany, always had family here though. My family in Albany got exposed to cooler shit than me. Troy is a city that struggles with evolving out of its provincial ways. That’s probably not unique to Troy.
But yeah, my family moved there in the 80s, and we came back here once or twice a week until I was 14. Then in high school was when I really started to develop a sense of self.
Because of that time, the early and mid nineties (which is how you can extrapolate how old I am), most of my friends listened to hardcore. My white friends. My black friends listened to rap. I have often found myself feeling like I don’t belong in either group. Not like I’m a mixed race kid, I just always feel like I don’t belong. It’s okay. I like being the only me.
In a genre as introspective as hip hop, do you think being an outsider helps?
First, let me say I don’t think hip hop is introspective. It’s narcissistic, and introspective at best. Putting the emphasis on the self and a magnifying glass inside of the self are different things. It’s the difference between a magnifying glass and a microscope. So, I don’t agree with that.
But, I understand what you’re trying to ask. Does the separation help? For sure.
There are times where it’s excruciating, and I have major social anxiety around not adhering, not understanding other people. But artistically speaking, no one can fuck with me. I have equals, but no superiors. I aspire to be as good as my top five, but in my own way.
And we have greats here. They aren’t all rappers, and they aren’t all men. I want more female voices for sure. I want the genres to mix more around here.
How do you feel about United 518?
I love and support Mike Arson, and I’ll be happy to give advice and constructive criticism if he needs it. I’m not super aware of it right now, but I’m sure he’ll tell me.
Are you hopeful about the local music scene? Is it already strong?
Both of those, and also pessimistic. It’s strong, and I’m hopeful.
People will step up.
You’ve been a huge pillar of the scene.
That’s important to me, as an aspiring rapper. It’s good to see that people can do great things. There’s a lack of visibility that feeds the pessimism. You’ve been such a stalwart, though. Did you consider moving?
I thought about it, a couple times a year. But I feel a civic pride. We have an identity here that can’t be found anywhere else. We should be proud of that, and improve. When I say we, it doesn’t have to be centralized. It doesn’t have to be all of us. We don’t have to agree. Or even like each other. People need to understand you can look out for you. There are repercussions, but they should all be on you. Fuck around, you get fucked around. Keep it straight and narrow, it’ll work out. It depends on how far from the bench you swing. I started swinging wildly, and it’s gotten closer to the center as I got older. And it ebbs and flows now. Disappointment is sort of an inevitability. It’ll be what it is.
I would love the opportunities for financial investment, but I come from a place philosophically where finance is secondary. We get what we get with that. The results are fair.
Do you still love rapping?
Of course. It’s making word puzzles.
Did you always love language?
Yes. My father was always loquacious. I get a lot of that from him. He is equal parts theoretical and pragmatic, or practical, rather. My mom is super abstract, and does design and fashion. And I grew up with the classic Saturday morning cartoons, wrestling. Rap was part of that. I was always artistic, I drew. Then I found rap. And I’ve never had much push back from the universe. It’s fun making this stuff. If you hear it, you can’t refute it. Which is arrogant.
Arrogance is part of the package, right?
Yeah, but you learn to dial it down. That’s not about rap though. People who don’t tighten that faucet - at work, at the synagogue, with their family - if you don’t lose the arrogance, you’ll be a bum. No one wants to hear your shit.
What is your biggest strength as a rapper?
The willingness to tell anyone and everyone to fuck off. I’m willing to jump in the middle of the pit. I appreciate bravery on any level. I don’t think I’m more brave than anyone else, but I have very little fear when it comes to this particular thing. I really have to credit my peers for that. Maybe, selfishly, that was part of building the network we built in the 2000s. To have a safety net, so we could take risks. There was a lot of fist fights.
That goes away though, and all that remains is the craft of bending the English language to your will. That’s what I do best. I feel like I’m saying things that aren’t necessarily commentary. I’m not trying to change the world, though I appreciate that. But when it comes to the English language, no one can fuck with me.
What’s your biggest weakness?
My ego. My fragile male ego.
What’s your writing process like?
It’s changed a lot. Now I need to know exactly what I’m recording to, and I need to be able to communicate with the person who wrote the music. (That’s not production, by the way.) That way I can write the lyrics to the music. And I need to be able to talk to the engineer. I need to be involved in most of it. Sometimes I drop off a verse, but I’ve found that if I don’t maintain creative control things get fucked up.
How involved are you with other Pig Food artists?
Mitch does most of the operational stuff, and we don’t clamp anyone. No one’s technically signed. We present it as more of a label than it is. So, we try to pair everyone up, make sure everyone’s a company man. And if I have a project, I make sure that other artists are on it. But there’s very few rules. If people will let someone like Mitch assert his ideas onto the project, it will be better. He’s got great ideas. And he’s humbly made that clear over the past decade.
And I have a specific production skill set. I can spot samples, I know what works. I’m pretty good at directing what kind of cuts should be made. And I have a pretty big network. That’s an advantage for people I fuck with.
Why’d you start Pig Food?
We got sick of people fucking up our stuff. Mitch watched me get mishandled a couple times. It was never with ill intent. Behemoth came out on Fingerprint Records, and those are still my friends, and they were learning, we were learning and things got lost in the shuffle. We couldn’t capitalize on our momentum and hit a wall.
We started knowing more about what to do than people who were running labels. It was frustrating. This way, if we make mistakes, they’re our mistakes.
You guys scored Adult Rappers, yes?
We didn’t we just did the title track. Pawl put that together, Cryptic One scored it. Pawl, Hangar 18 came out of Adam's Family, who were sort of this cult underground group people loved in the Def Jux indie rap era. That was their project. When Valente had the Hudson Duster, we helped book them. They invited us to one of their videos, and we maintained a respect and a friendship emerged from that. So, he invited me, he said, “You wanna do this?”
I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be in New York.” So, I met him and answered his questions. I always cringe looking back at interviews. You always look like a dick. Not so much with that one, though.
I wish there was more Despot.
It was a passion project and I am honored and blessed to do that. I will always do anything I can to help Pawl, he’s a great dude.
Why is Richard Nixon the Devil?
America is the Devil. But Nixon is - he wanted to be the King. He wanted to do away with the term limits. The people who are referred to as greats in sports would get washed today.
If you look at old Republicans, they are super left. Nixon was an environmentalist. But he was also the guy who started mass incarceration. Mass incarceration and women’s rights are the two major problems facing this country, and he fathered that. He criminalized being a color that wasn’t white.
The war on drugs is Nixon. He pushed the ball and let it roll. It’s an extension of Jim Crow. This country is built on racism.
I’m lucky to have learned and been educated. I’m trying to improve my mindstate, my life and the lives of others with that in my heart.
Other than politics and your upbringing, what influences you? Wrestling?
I’m not a huge wrestling guy. I’m an 80s wrestling guy.
You definitely have the best wrestling rap line.
Andre the Giant, Gorilla Monsoon/ And we retaking Omaha Beach in Pontoons.
I definitely learned that technique from Cage. The combination of words. I appreciate that you appreciate that. It’s been lost.
This mumble thing isn’t new. People say the lowest common denominator shit on the most spread out airwaves since radio started. We put one of Hitler’s speeches in a time capsule.
You studied Psychology at UAlbany?
Nope! Didn’t get my dick hard.
I like being able to analyze the room. I can make observations, and make decisions on those observations. That’s where the kite string on theory gets cut, and you decide who you’re going to be. I was doing that and studying English. All the people I was learning from would do is teach. I didn’t want to get trapped in an academic prison, so I walked out. I didn’t value things that other people valued.
Has psychology influenced you?
Certainly. I’m not going to say I wasn’t influenced by Slug. I’m still pulling gems from him. I love his earlier stuff, their earlier stuff. Everything up until Lemons. They did a song called aspiring sociopath. And he says, “The line between comedian and emcee gets thinner.”
Tommy, who just walked by, is a comedian. Comedy and rap are both observational.
Psychology, like art theory, can be applied in any way. It’s all in how you apply it. Psychology is a globe you can twist, and pick where you want to land. I found rap.
Are you a big comedy fan?
I am. Amy Schumer is overrated, so is Ron Funches, Louis CK is the new George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Chappelle’s new stuff is like a 75%.
He feels jaded.
Yeah, I mean, he’s a human being. I think comedy is a good litmus for what’s happening, and what’s happening now isn’t what was happening 10 years ago. The Wire still stands, but the fashion and music doesn’t. Comedy Central is really trying to recreate him, but they’re only besmirching his legacy.
Fuck Carlos Mencia. Joe Rogan, love him or leave him alone, called him out for stealing jokes.
You asked me if I like comedy, and I’m off on this tangent.
It’s alright, I could talk to you about comedy for hours.
So I did.