Fort Collins rapper Epoch When offers some lyrical insight into his GRIM state of mind
It's almost a shame when people as talented as Epoch When (aka Alex Koutsoukos) make an album as unflinchingly introspective as GRIM because it's almost certain to not get as much attention as it deserves, which is a lot. His lyrics, which tend to be dense and challenging, are consistently interesting and, at times, quite powerful. The Fort Collins-based MC is immediately reminiscent of Aesop Rock in his stream-of-conciousness style and abstraction, Atmosphere in his dry, tongue in cheek sense of humor and George Watsky in his flow and literariness.
Born in Greeley, Colorado, Koutsoukos briefly moved to Los Angeles to pursue a scholarship he received from Icon Collective music production school. While his initial interests revolved mainly around house and dubstep, he had also been writing lyrics and soon moved more toward hip-hop. Citing an eclectic range of influences from Aesop Rock and Eyedea lyrically to Glitch Mob and Massive Attack in terms of production, Epoch exhibits a cross-genre appeal while staying firmly within the lyrical tradition.
But while his lyricism is impressive, it may be the production that is most striking. The sound combines DJ Shadow's futurism with El-P's dark industrialism with a twinge of Daft Punk electronica. The result is something truly unique; danceable, yet emotive and inspiring. This is even more remarkable considering that Epoch produced the entire album himself. From Epoch's recently released debut, we were particularly impressed with two tracks, "Mind My Mind" and "Dark Side," so we sat down with Epoch When and asked him about his thinking and inspiration while making these tracks.
"Mind My Mind" from GRIM by Epoch When
Get paid, bitch. Wages stay ape-shit.
Money-hungry monkey see, stay, sit.
Screw you guys. I need a ride home, a base-hit.
I'm wasted. I'm a waste, a waste basket for great tips.
I hate tips. Just let me make mistakes, slips,
fake friends. Let me take them day-trips.
Let me take them eighth-hits.
Let me be depressed, obsessed and racist.
Oh, no, no, NO, not the bed.
Not the only place that I can rest my head.
God damn it, I lose every fucking comfort that I love
out of habit, out of pocket, out of talking to myself under the mattress.
I'm crazy. No, I would love to be crazy.
Fuck, I'm too sane.
Fuck, I would love it if I was unstable.
I'd love it if I'd just get signed.
I could blind-lead-blind just fine.
We'll die together.
Epoch's verse is confused and cathartic, and he employs several techniques to achieve that frenetic quality. The first half of the lines feature a traditional multisyllabic rhyme technique. However, when the speaker begins to lose his cool, indicated by the strikingly informal "Oh, no, no, NO," the rhyme structure has all but dissolved, paralleling the thought structure of a hysterical mind. By shortening his sentences and lines, Epoch indicates a quickening of thought, indicating anxiety. The speaker's desperation comes across in the last few lines: "Fuck, I would love it if I was unstable." Ironically, the verse is a model of instability.
The very introspective nature of this verse is highlighted by its stream-of-consciousness style; Epoch relies on puns, alliteration and rhyme to transition naturally from thought to thought, which allows the verse to take the tone of an internal dialogue. Alexander Pope once famously wrote, "'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense/The sound must seem the echo to the sense," which suggests that the best poetry not only sounds good, but it also utilizes its sound to communicate something about the subject matter. Epoch uses his sound to communicate the feeling of a frantic and desperate mind.
"It was kind of the fastest [song] I've done," Epoch explains. "It was more like instant inspiration just kind of slammed out, you know?...I didn't really have time to think of, like, how it should sound or, like, you know, how it should be if I'm trying to do hip-hop. None of my fears really had time to come in and influence it. It was just so fast that it's, like, super real....I think the reason it's such a stream-of-conciousness thing is that I was just focused on getting it out and not making it a standard rhyme scheme, or not even trying to make it flow or sound very good, just expressing whatever I'm trying to express.
"I get freaked out that I'm not artsy enough a lot of the time. There's a huge issue for me that I see other artists, like Trent Reznor or Grimes, who will isolate themselves in one room for a month and not eat for fifteen of those days and do these insanely artsy albums, and they just seem nuts, you know? And you can tell that these people really need this expression, and I get freaked out that, I don't know it's that people will think that I don't need to do this or something, or, I don't know, I just worry that I'm not crazy enough to be an interesting artist."
"Dark Side" from GRIM by Epoch When
Life is not a box of treats. It's the teeth
After we chomp on a chocolate feast in a pompous fashion and waft that tweak.
Jesus. Half of the first half kept me clueless. Sang and danced in the wrong left shoes
When an angel was passing and hands me 'shrooms
and a fanciful cancer would pass me through
Like. This is trippin', this is thinkin', this is sick
When shit just sinks in. This illegal? Skip the system. Let me get a zip
And then some. I can fly. Fuck the shuttle. What's a park-n-ride.
Kingdom of the free so what's the fun without the dark side.
In these lyrics, Epoch eschews traditional standards for a darker, more twisted mode of thought. To illustrate this, he begins with a brilliant inversion of the cliche, "Life is like a box of chocolates," that sucks the sweetness from the well-known trope and connects it with something disgusting by conjuring the image of methamphetamine-rotted teeth. But combined with the ugly images are resiliently defiant ones: dancing in the "wrong left shoes," an angel handing the speaker shrooms and "fanciful cancer."
Drugs provide much of the energy here and, according to Epoch, inform his understanding of the dark side. The 'shrooms induce a state in the speaker which is both cancerous and heaven sent. On the one hand, the drugs are illegal, conventionally immoral and distorting. On the other hand, they're freeing: "This is trippin', this is thinkin', this is sick." The lyrics finally climax at an apex of delusion, "I can fly," and angry joy, "fuck the shuttle...what's the fun without the dark side."
"I think the song is a lot about how much the world hides its dark side, how ashamed of the bad side of people they are of themselves....You're all so willing to go out of your way to show us what's great about you, but where's your bad side? Show us that....Everything looks like flowers and puppies and really beautiful and good, but when you really dig deep into it, there's a lot of dark and negative and terrible and scary things about life kind of ignored....Pop music, at least, everything's happy and we're always partying and there's no repercussions, and that's so false!
"The beginning of my thinking about the opposite side of every point of view, and different perspectives, I think I owe it all to hallucinogens, honestly...once I started seeing certain things for what they were, just feeling wronged, really almost betrayed by just everything, you know....I guess a good metaphor for it is, in the Matrix, when he [Morpheus] says, 'Take the blue pill or the red pill.' With the red pill, you don't get to go back to the happy life of naiveté and ignorance. You're out of it by choice, but at the same time you know the truth. So would you rather be dumb and happy or would you rather know the truth about things?"
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