Time, aka Chris Steele, has been involved in the Denver hip-hop scene for over a decade, and his current and future collaborators include Sole of the Anticon collective, Talib Kweli, Drake, Kool Keith and C-Rayz Walz. The snarkier hip-hop aficionados refer to the form Time writes and performs as "alternative hip-hop" -- probably because it's as musically daring and as experimental as its equivalent in the underground rock scene.
Time's lyrics are remarkable for their literary quality, layers of humor and meaning that can be enjoyed on the surface as part of a catchy song, but they also contain deeper meanings for those who enjoy a deft turn of phrase, counter cultural references and social and existential commentary. With longtime collaborator AwareNess and a group of high-profile collaborators, Time is releasing his latest opus, Naked Dinner. The album explores the theme of paranoia and triumph over it with an impressive creative use of interlocking and overlapping metaphors, the appropriation and free association of cultural references and the reworking of cliches into brilliantly poetic phrasing. Time recently completed a tour of Europe and the American west and we caught up to him to talk about his new album and possible status as one of the secret rulers of the world.
Westword (Tom Murphy): There are two YouTube videos circulating now that suggest you're connected with the Illuminati and/or Freemasonry. Is this true and how could someone get that impression about you from your music in the first place?
Chris Steele: First off, it's not true. If it was true, I wouldn't even be here. I'd be in a penthouse chopping up goats and having a good time and having tons of money. As far as the videos, I've seen one of them. I don't know. I do know that after I wrote an article dissing Alex Jones, a newer one popped up. My real take on that is that you can pretty much flip any of that into what it is. The one I saw showed where I said "G" and they turned it into a Mason logo. I actually said, "Hit a couple of them C notes followed by a G." By that I meant more of a piano note but in the sexual way of hip-hop as a woman. You know, stroke her in the right way.
WW: You reference William Cooper (author of the infamous Behold a Pale Horse) and in "Naked Brunch" along with mentioning other conspiracy theory ideas (including David Icke's ideas about "Reptilians") across the album. Why do these ideas play such a prominent role on the album?
CS: Because paranoia is the main theme of the album. When we did Tthe Beatles' song, we took more the occult side of The Beatles with the hidden, supernatural stuff. You could call them conspiracies or publicity stunts, no one knows. People say Sgt. Pepper was Aleister Crowley. People talk about selling their souls for music like Robert Johnson or Jimmy Page. They say Jimmy Page bought Crowley's house. The whole thing with Billy Shears and Paul is dead conspiracy--Billy Shears was the look alike. The reason I flipped it was because Billy is short for William. I just switched it up, William Cooper becomes Billy Cooper who is strongly tied to conspiracy theories. Just like Alex Jones. So we just flipped in more questions to create questions such as this. It creates controversy, it creates thinking but it also just slips it in there with a poppy vibe. Even on Nas' last album, he mentions William Cooper. The whole thing we're going for is opening your mind and not believing everything you see in the media and questioning things.
As for Reptilians, I have read a lot of David Icke. I've always been into aliens and I'm a bigger supporter of the alien truth movement. It's fun to pick on politicians and if these people with all the money and power are a race of aliens, that's hilarious.
WW: Your latest album is called Naked Dinner, clearly a reference to William Burroughs down to the cover art featuring the Underwood Typewriter Company typewriter. Why was that most famous of Burroughs novels, or perhaps Burroughs in general, an inspiration for this record? And was the disordering of the track listing on the back an homage to the cut-up technique?
CS: Yeah, definitely. As far as an homage, I don't know if this album was too much of an homage to that book or to Burroughs. It was more like an answer because Burroughs' book was about paranoia, it's about drugs, doing drugs, aside from all the homosexuality. This album was more an answer to that paranoia. Let's address it and let's end it, such as we did with "Peace Paranoia." It's similar to what we did with "Goodbye Fool World." It's not about killing ourselves, it's talking about leaving the world of bullshit. If you want to call that "enlightenment," moksha or getting hella stoned, then you're all good.
I did use some lines from The Naked Lunch. I took it as more of a poem. I think after he wrote it, he threw it up in the air and sent it to the publisher and that's what we did with our track listing. I used the line "a melancholy baby dies from an overdose of time" directly from the book. I talked about mugwumps. The song "Cockroach Goddess" is kind of a play on relationships. It references Joan, whom he played William Tell with, killed her, and got away with it pretty smoothly. That song is about killing people with the things you say--saying you love someone but killing them like when you're in a relationship, you may love them, but you're sick of them, and subconsciously you make yourself single. I think he did that more than subconsciously. He took it to the headpiece.
WW: Tim Holland, aka Sole of Anticon, contributed to the latest album on "Trouble With Kids." How did you meet and come to work with Tim and have you collaborated more since he moved to town this past spring?
CS: I had opened up for him here and there and he always said he liked my voice and he said he would make me a beat. So he did. That's when the first Skyrider band album dropped, the second one's not out yet. They toured all over for about a year and we kind of lost touch. Then he said he was going to give me a verse but his computer crashed and he lost everything. But then he gave me a new beat. Then we started becoming friends and whenever he was in town we hung out. We just agree on a lot of things and have fun.
We both love commercial rap a lot. We both love Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Scarface--we're all big fans of that. Most underground rap I listen to is still good, but they like crazy stuff like Nurse With Wound, Cut Copy, Fad Gadget.
WW: C-Rayz Walz contributes to the song "Paraghnoid." How did you come to work with him and why did he end up collaborating on that song in particular?
CS: C-Rayz was out here for a while because he got into some B.S. legal trouble in Indiana--some kind of racial profiling case. He didn't have enough money to beat it so he came out here. AwareNess knows some girl in Philly, I believe, who knows him. We ran into him and talked to him about that and he said he could do a track on my album. We gave him that beat and he loved it. I told him to do it on the topic of paranoia and he did a great job. It was a creative verse where he talks about being too afraid to do drugs because he's afraid they'll do him.
WW: There are a lot of mordantly clever puns on your new album. You're definitely known for your skillful turns of phrase, why are those kinds of puns so attractive to you?
CS: I think most people talk in platitudes like "What goes around comes around," "No way José," "There's a chip on my shoulder" - they just hit you with stuff. Or stuff like "My political view is that I'm a socialist" or "My political view is George Bush is Satan." People use a lot of generalizations. So on like on the Calm album when I say "I got a Dorito on my shoulder" or "Goodbye Fool World" it gets the redundant hamster wheel in your head to stop. For most people they stop listening and that's why we have AwareNess because he has the great beats.
That's what we want to do--it's the whole balance between entertainment and poetry. Now we're not poets. I'm not beating on a drum with a Kangol, tapping glasses, smoking cigarettes and snapping my fingers. I'm not at the Mercury Café explaining "dust on a flower" in an extremely slow manner to where it sounds important. I'm doing something in a funky manner because I grew up in North Denver and AwareNess grew up in Park Hill and that's how we had fun--playing basketball and free styling. We weren't talking about children dying and tapping on drums but I respect where that came from.
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On the other hand, that is what we're trying to do--trying to wake people up with music. And that's what those puns are. Plus it's just having fun with the language. It's your swagger. You hear the new Jay-Z album where he says, "She was on the Ponzi scheme the way she just made off." It's just the way you can play with the words and flip them.
WW: You're a regular guest lecturer at a Littleton High School where there's a course on your lyrics. How did that come about and what does it involve?
CS: They teach a whole semester about my first three albums and now they're adding Naked Dinner to the curriculum. We've actually gotten in trouble with the principal quite a few times and it's been sorted out. It came about because the teacher asked some students to bring in the lyrics to their favorite songs and some student brought in a mix tape that had "Treat Me Like a Villain" when only .Calm was out. The teacher emailed me--he didn't think we were from here. I told him we were and I offered to send him a couple of albums and if he wanted, we could come in and talk to his students. He went crazy for it--he's a great guy named Tom Uhl. He even brought out The Hold Steady. He was working with The Flobots before that. He teaches about our albums and my progression. He teaches them about similes and allegory. The tests he has on our albums I can't even pass.
Time, CD Release with Whygee, Agent Strange and Damon JeVon & Doctype, 8 p.m. Thursday, October 8, 7 S. Broadway, $5, 720-570-4500.