Music Festivals

Yoni Wolf on Early Alternative Hip-Hop, Clouddead and Going Solo

Yoni Wolf will headline the Impose Stage at Goldrush Music Festival this Saturday, September 19, at Savoy. Wolf has been a leading figure of alternative/avant-garde hip-hop over the last fifteen years, and he is one of the founders of the respected Anticon imprint.

Wolf grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and while studying video production at the University of Cincinnati, Wolf met future collaborators Adam “Doseone” Drucker and David “Odd Nosdam” Madson. With Drucker, Wolf's brother Josiah and friends Brad “Mr. Dibbs” Forste, Wolf formed a live improvisational group called Apogee. But Drucker and Wolf also started a stranger, much more experimental project, called Greenthink, which only performed live a few times. It did, however, set the stage for their next, more well-known project: Clouddead.

“Live, it was a little blank-stare-ish,” comments Wolf. “We were weird.”

Wolf more recently saw a set list he and Drucker had painted on a piece of particle board that said, “Yoni poem Adam rides fuck machine” or “Adam poem Yoni rides fuck machine.”

“It was some kind of exercise machine we had pulled from a dumpster that we brought on stage for that show. The audience and performers switched places. We were on some 'Let's get weird' shit and break the social norms a little bit.”

Greenthink quickly evolved into Clouddead as the project was solicited for some recordings by local Cincinnati record label Mush. Those six Clouddead EPs were pulled together for a self-titled debut and went on to become one of the most influential and popular alternative hip-hop records. Listen to A$AP Rocky's latest album, At. Long. Last. A$AP and the connections seem obvious. The Clouddead album garnered great critical acclaim at home and abroad. It became something like the calling card for the entire alternative hip-hop scene to the U.K., where Clouddead played to well-attended shows each night. But things weren't as smooth at home: When Clouddead played at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood on June 18, 2002, it was to a slim crowd.

When Clouddead dissolved in 2004, Wolf formed the band Why?, after his own performance moniker, and appealed to a different crowd, one open to hip-hop even though the music he was writing with the band at that time crossed over to the world of indie rock. Wolf continues to record as Why?, and he is active in producing and working on projects outside the songwriting outlet for which he is most well known. There was talk of a Clouddead reunion tour in 2015, but for now, fans of that project should know that there is a reissue  of Clouddead's complete output in the works.

For the Goldrush performance, Wolf is doing something a little different than usual. “It's going to be kind of a throwback show in that it's a rap show, no band,” says Wolf. “I have a DJ. I made some remixes, I used mixes other people made. I use some original beats from songs. I do songs from Why?, Clouddead, Reaching Quiet and Hymie's Basement. Basically anything I've been involved in in the last fifteen years and reworking it and doing that. It's almost a retrospective kind of thing.”

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.