Interview with Anti-Pop Consortium: Back With Flourescent Black

Indelibly connected to ‘80s “old school” hip-hoppers Afrikka Bambaataa, Ultramagnetic MCs, and the Bomb Squad, Anti-Pop Consortium’s four permanent members met at a late-‘90s New York City poetry slam. Like beacons shining down on hardcore rap’s ominous doomsday devises, dexterous lyrical commentators Beans, High Priest, and M. Sayyid gained underground cred alongside constant companion Earl Blaize, their colorful beat-making producer.

By 2000, Anti-Pop Consortium found a modicum of subterraneous notoriety when full-length debut, Tragic Epilogue, gained access to mod hip cats. Paranoiac orchestral mystery, “9.99,” buzz-toned “rock like Kilimanjaro” braggadocio, “Sllab,” and whirring tape-looped news flash, “Your World Is Flat” were defiant hard knock life requiems digging deep into the mind, mixing rock, soul, prog, and free jazz elements in dramatically versatile fashion. “Verses,” the beguilingly boombastic bombast beginning ’01 follow-up, Shopping Carts Crashing, boldly bridged Sayyid’s punctilious baritone wordplay to eruptive TLC-inspired girl group counterpoint while mechanical claptrap rhythms, tingly chimes, and upright bass went along for the haunting ride.

Many fans believe APC hit their zenith with their supposed farewell album, ‘02’s cathartic Arrhythmia. Bringing B-boy poesy, trip-hop transience, and Kraftwerk krautrock to clever Last Poets-linked philosophizing, its minimalist electronic percolation (quick-spit rhyme “Dead In Motion”; spacey choral abstraction “Ghostlawns”; sonic chronic tonic “Bubblz”) and bleating computer-designed schemes (bubble-burped piano pang “Ping Pong”) made for superbly perplexing edu-tainment.

But in 2010, APC finally came back to stake its claim as one of the most innovative East Coast rap acts. Still ably railing against fake-ass faux-soul pretenders, the fantastic foursome keep it real as bustling “New Jack Exterminators” and luminously “Shine” above whack rap imitators like the “Superunfrontable” protagonists they always were on the resolute Fluorescent Black. Askew forewarning “Lay Me Down” plies a loud rhythmic assault to apocalyptic ghetto-centric tutelage. Subsequently, the seasoned musical conquerors overcome evil forces of destruction on “Timpani” and offer revolting minions “The Solution.”
When it’s time to get down on the floor for some serious rug-cutting, reggae-informed Big Dada label mate Roots Manuva joins the crew to bang out freestyling beat-chopped East-West dance party “NY To Tokyo.” Not to be outdone, dynamic group sing-along, “Volcano,” packs an instantaneously catchy hook line that’ll satisfy even the trendiest pop lovers.

On the down low, each APC member has released several scattered solo projects. Highest recommendation goes to White Plains native Beans’ Shock City Maverick, a wondrously didactic ’04 disc featuring cynical syncopated dial-toned confrontation “Diamond Halo Grenade.”

How has the hip-hop community changed since your last APC record dropped six years ago?

Beans: One of the main differences is the climate we came out of. It was a better time for experimentation. Nowadays, many musicians have made use of modern technology and even incorporated that into aspects of mainstream music. But in aspects of what we do, it’s distinct in its own style. The underground climate has changed. People want to fit in. Be yourself and expand upon that.

How did Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon serve as a contemporary template for Fluorescent Black?

We had an idea of what we wanted to do stylistically in terms of things we wanted to get across. Dark Side was simply a template. The album became its own entity after working on it for over a year and touring. And getting reacquainted and re-acclimated with one another in a working environment.

There’s a foreboding sense of uncertainty and injustice.

There’s no clear indication of that. We made an LP that struck a balance between things we had done which people familiar with us can understand and reintroduce ourselves to new people who didn’t know us due to our absence.

‘Volcano’ and ‘Born Electric’ are probably the most approachable and accessible tracks on the new LP. Both seem like the most democratic collaborations. The rest seem to have one person’s directive commandeering the whole.

‘Volcano’s’ aim was to draw in more people. M.Sayyid produced that. But for ‘Born Electric,’ we were at a rehearsal space and that was a group improvisation. Sayyid just one day started the chorus and it turned into a song.

Screeching metal guitars are utilized to harden the tone of ‘Born Electric’ and ‘Lay Me Down.’

That was all Earl Blaize. If he had to do another life, he’d be a metal head. We don’t sample though.

APC’s beats are always fresh and rarely reliant on influences clipped from antecedents.

We’re four different, distinct individuals with varied musical tastes. I listen to things Sayyid may not. Earl balances out our differences to his credit. He corrals the three MC’s and contributes his own taste in the mixes, making the sound cohesive.

Sayyid seems to be more hardcore rap and perhaps you’re more stream-of-consciousness, lyrically speaking.

I don’t know. I can’t call it. I do what I do and can’t help how people conceive it.

Who were early influences beyond Afrikka Bambaata and Bomb Squad?

KISS. I wanted to be KISS. Rick James, also. Those were my early records, as well as Dolly Parton and Saturday Night Fever. I was born in the ‘70s, so…

I could feel jazz experimentalist Sun Ra’s extraterrestrial communiques influencing several tracks.

Sun Ra’s a big influence. I’m definitely a fan.

Was APC originally conceived as the antithesis to ‘90s hardcore ghetto rap?

One of the reasons we did what we did is we grew up listening to hip-hop. We tried to make music in the context of what we grew up with by trying to be true to it and moving forward by bringing our own identity to the music. It wasn’t necessarily a reaction, but instead making music we weren’t hearing. We didn’t do what was popular. We wanted to contribute our own ideas and add to the music we grew up knowing and loving.

(At this point, Earl Blaize enters the conversation) Earl, who were some formative influences?

Earl Blaize: I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin as well as orchestral John Williams soundtracks. I definitely enjoyed old hip-hop by Serious 4, Grandmaster Flash, and Sugar Hill Gang. Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman… Priest listened to a lot of Jazz and he put me on to a lot of things as well. But I loved hip-hop from the beginning. There were things we weren’t hearing and hip-hop’s still a young art form. There’s a lot of things that hadn’t been tried and people seemed afraid to do so trying to fit into the current mode instead of creating something that would expand upon in.

The Ends Against The Middle EP (2001) was mostly instrumental. Was that the record you contributed most on?

Each one of us does production. On that, we did our own tracks. Priest, Sayyid, Beans, and I did a track each. The second instrumental, ‘Dystopian Disco Force,’ had all of us playing.

Who are some new artists you’re currently digging and what are some of your favorite recent LPs?

(Abstract lyricist) Jay Electronica, (Bronx rapper) Corey Gunz, and (Roots affiliated Philly rhymer) Truck North are recent artists I enjoy. I also like new releases from Doom (Unexpected Guests), Nas (Untitled), and Raekwon (Only Built For Cuban Linx 2).

Tell me about APC’s impending collaboration with avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew Shipp?

To be honest, I didn’t really like the first LP we did (‘02’s indistinct APC Vs. Matthew Shipp). It didn’t turn out the way we might’ve wanted and were over-objective at the time when we were breaking up. I’m glad people responded to it but we’re working Nods From Heaven now. The end product will be a bit more under our supervision and cohesive.

Catch APC at the Howard Gillman Opera House in Brooklyn on Jan. 30.