THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One member of the local hip hop community and six questions. For past editions click here.
Spekulation has gone viral twice and he’s only getting sicker.
Even before the internet meme fiascos wrought by last February’s Bitter Barista episode and, most recently, the Marshawn Lynch-worshipping turned Seahawks rallying cry, “Bout That Action”, the combo rapper/producer/writer had been carrying a following in the local music scene. That was thanks to his detailed, well-honed projects like 2011’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, a remixed collection of Jay Z songs using samples from local jazz outfit The Jason Parker Quartet, and Spekulation, the ambitious 2012 self-titled, self-produced EP that mixed a classic boom-bap aesthetic with live instrumentation.
Spekulation is here (in the nebulous internet-alized sense of “here”) because of two larks that blew up on the strength of… Well, it’s still not totally clear, I suppose. But he’s also here because of a very obvious love and intense dedication to the craft of hip hop music. For better or worse, Spek will forever be associated with Bitter Barista and “Bout That Action”. Similarly, though, there would be no Harrison Ford without Han Solo, no Macklemore (in his current incarnation anyway) without “Thrift Shop”, and certainly no reprieve for bitter baristas the world over without asshole customers to inspire edifying snark. Spek hopped on this week’s edition of THE SIX to let us in on how he does it.
206UP: No need to beat a dead horse, but I’m going to beat a dead horse… Everybody has already heard — or heard about — “Bout That Action”. I’m interested in knowing why you created the track in the first place; you weren’t setting out to go viral, were you?
Spekulation: Going viral was the last thing on my mind; I was barely even trying to make a song — which explains why it’s only three notes and less than two minutes long, I guess. Honestly I assumed that I would be one of a hundred Seattle producers flipping that sample; it just seemed so obvious to me. So I figured it would just be a chance to trade some tracks in the beat scene around town. Plus, I just moved and built a new studio, so it was the first time I’d sat down to work out my new subwoofer.
As for why I made the beat: I had watched the interview a couple times throughout the day because people kept posting it to Twitter, and eventually Marshawn’s cadence just kinda got stuck in my head and the easiest way for me to get something out of my head is to put it into my sampler. Now it’s stuck in everyone else’s head, and I’m very sorry if it’s driving anyone crazy.
What other sorts of opportunities have “Bout That Action” — and your previous claim-to-internet-fame, the Bitter Barista — opened up?
Having been through [going viral] a couple times now, I’m pretty convinced that [it] doesn’t do very much aside from getting my name out there a little bit more. When we see this kind of viral content online, we tend to view it without any context and very few of us actually dig deeper to find out more about the artist who created it. On the same day that my Soundcloud clocked 85,000 hits, my Bandcamp held steady at a solid 22 plays. Then again, I got to perform with Geo, who I’ve looked up to for a lot of years. So that was dope and [it] wouldn’t have happened otherwise. But I still can’t get bookers to return my emails, so who knows.
And in terms of [the] Bitter Barista stuff, I think it’s been a wash in terms of the opportunities it presented. It exposed me to a bunch of folks around the world who might not have taken notice, but it also cemented my place in a lot of their minds as “the guy that writes sarcastic tweets about coffee.” It’s not easy to break out of that box, and the phrase, “I also rap,” isn’t always met with open arms on the internet. That being said, I’ve learned getting your name out to folks is a large part of building a successful career in the public eye, and I think both “Bout That Action” and Bitter Barista have accelerated that process for me, which I’m grateful for.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
I [have] a couple early music memories that blend together: I remember listening to the Axel Foley theme from Beverley Hills Cop on an endless loop when I was three or four years old, and I think I was even making some sad attempts at break dancing to it. It was the ’80s though, so it was an embarrassing time for everyone. I also vividly remember dancing around the kitchen, standing on my mom’s feet while listening to “Maneater” and “Part Time Lover.” I think there were also cookies involved, but that’s neither here nor there.
Your work in music runs the gamut from hip hop in the boom-bap revivalist spirit, to incorporating live instrumentation (jazz and an eleven-piece chamber orchestra), to producing for indie pop bands, to scoring film. Talk about your creative process; how do you stay focused on a particular project?
I’d say that I actively try not to stay focused on a particular project. I haven’t figured out if that’s a product of my moodiness or ADHD, but I’m always working on a few projects at once and I try to keep them as varied as possible so I don’t get too worn out working on one craft. And as I’ve continued to push into other genres, a lot of opportunities have presented themselves — scoring film, for instance, was not something I would have actively pursued — and I try to seize any chance to apply what I do in a new way. I also work with composer Nate Omdal and a bunch of live instrumentalists, so even if a project is outside my comfort zone I’m confident we can make it work and I’m always psyched to be able to give them a stage to perform.
Overall, it feels like my creative process is motivated by panic more than anything else. Since I’m always juggling so many different kinds of projects, I also constantly feel like I’m neglecting [other things]. I’ll be working on a beat and suddenly have the thought, “OMG WHAT IF YOU FORGET HOW TO RAP?” and then I’ll spend the next few days writing verses until the cycle starts over. Good times.
Is there a single genre/form/media that you prefer working in over the others?
I’ve been lucky enough to land a bunch of different gigs that all work different parts of my brain. Rap is my one true love and the only thing I feel comfortable performing on stage, but it’s also the one I find most the most difficult and time consuming. Working on instrumentals are great because I can take a more passive role and let the samples do the heavy lifting. And scoring short films, or choreographed pieces for dance or theater, gives me a chance to work under a director who has different goals and needs than I would ever consider in the hip hop world.
What’s the last great album you heard? The one that you will re-visit time and again for the next 20 years.
Janelle Monae’s last album is undeniably the deepest, most musical record I’ve heard in the last few years. I can’t listen to that album without hearing a new string, horn or vocal line that I’d missed the last time I listened. For god’s sake she has Prince and Erykah on that album and they’re singing backup. And the fact that the album as a whole is so cohesive, from the tempo changes, to the orchestration, it plays like a stage show, which is something I’ll aspire to from here on when putting out records. The damn thing is just so inspiring, and the fact that she’s been able to keep up this level of quality over her last few releases is impressive as hell.