Azizi Gibson’s Advice for Rappers? Stop Caring About Blogs
In the few years he’s been rapping, Azizi Gibson been consistently marrying the rebellious, afterlife-themed elements of heavy metal with contemporary hip-hop. His clearly identifiable aesthetic—filled with images of skeletons, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, etc.—impressed Flying Lotus (during a chance exchange at a gym) enough to sign him to Brainfeeder before he eventually moved on to Waka Flocka’s Brickhouse Records label.
Switching pace, his freshly dropped album is titled A New Life, symbolizing his arrival in a more broadly appealing territory, musically. But he’s not shedding his old skin entirely—on songs like “Matrix Slave Ship,” he keeps the hook catchy and 808s in tact, while still staying loyal to his dark side.
Adding to Azizi’s layers of intrigue are his so-called nerdier interests, like anime and video games, which juxtapose hip-hop’s egotistical construct, but Azizi is more concerned with making music that feels like himself than concealing his interests to join the cool kids club. Rather than letting the copy-paste attitudes of 2016 hip-hop shape him into a dabbing, trap rap clone, Azizi is doing what any great artist should—tuning out the trends and looking inward.
You’ve been really conceptually consistent since the start. Do you think that artists can be successful by talent alone or do they need a cohesive identity to be interesting?
In this day and age, you need to be interesting because a lot of people poppin’ right now really aren’t that talented. No names need to be said—and it’s still fun music and it’s still in my iTunes—but there’s a lot of silly music that people like to listen to on the fly or when they’re partying. … If you look cool and you dress cool, you’ll get further. That’s sad to say, but that’s just where we are at right now. Right now, it’s whoever can make the coolest and the catchiest music that wins.
There are still other formulas, though, to get poppin’ and sustain yourself. I use the formulas from the people I look up to, like Outkast, or Pharcyde, or even Kanye West—he has that whole aesthetic alongside the music. That’s a route I want to take. The silly rap is going to die out eventually. We’re in a “one-year-wonder” phase. You get one year to just have fun, and then the industry is going to toss you out because you can’t survive as music changes.
Any predictions toward how it’s going to change?
Everyone’s gonna have to build their own world, which is what I’ve been doing from the start. Make music, have fun, it’s whatever. But I’m just on a different caliber—I’m trying to be a legend.
Really the only person of that stature who I see becoming legendary is like, Future. I used to think it was silly and stupid at first, but over time I realized it’s actually an art. Everyone started to follow his swagger—it all started from Future. If you own your style, it’s crazy what can happen. But if you’re just doing it for a few rap checks, you don’t really have what it takes— keeping that continuity on everything you release is difficult.
Can you explain the reasoning behind the title of your new album, A New Life? It’s pretty opposite from the titles of your past works, which have all been death- or Grim Reaper-themed. I’m just trying to own the Grim Reaper association; I want people to think of Azizi. But I know after I drop this, life is going to be different. I have that much faith in this project because it’s more mainstream than my past work. I’m always going to do what I want to do, but I need to step in that realm that icons like A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Chris Brown are in. It’s a good crossover from what I’ve been doing to entering that territory, so it’s going to be really comfortable. I’m stepping into a new life, a new territory, and taking over that ballgame.
What about internally? How have you changed personally over time, and how has that been reflected in your music? The rate of comments and interactions on my music is really high compared to a lot of artists you hear on the radio, and that’s reassured me that I should keep doing me.
… Let time take its course and keep doing you. Stop worrying about what blogs are going to post it, because at the end of the day, there are so many musicians out there who get no blog support who are really making millions of dollars just from in-house production, touring, merch, and doing it all themselves. You really just can’t even worry about anything else, as long as your numbers are going up. If you see progression, then you shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Was there a moment for you when you realized that you didn’t need to be so concerned with other people? From preHISTORIC Till Death, I realized that I had already toured the world. I wasn’t signed, and I had done everything myself. What am I tripping for? It’s only gonna go up from here.
A video posted by Azizi Gibson (@azizigibson) on
Have you ever felt judged because of the quirkier or more atypical things you’re into, like anime and video games?
At a time, but then I was kind of like, “Whatever.” What I’m into is tight, and it’s not worth giving up for anyone thinking that they’re cooler because of this or something like that. I was there at one point, but I just realized, I’m good. I’m gonna be myself.
Do you think there are a lot of rappers who are afraid to be themselves because of the way hip-hop is so focused on ego and being cool?
There are so many people talking about stuff that they don’t even do. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but people are hiding behind rhymes instead of being themselves. I try to capitalize on what’s real.