Malkovich, first things first, props to you on the release of your latest album Great Expectations. Love the whole sound of it, speaking of which, I’d like to start right there. I understand you worked with ten different producers, yet the record has a nice consistency to it. Tell me about that process. Is it more inspiring to work with so many talented people, rather than just one production team? What are the advantages or pitfalls of that?
I’m constantly looking for beats. I search through as many Twitter followers’ Soundcloud pages as I can. My favorite thing to do is go to a producer friend’s house and have him sit me in front of his computer so I can browse through all his stuff, because 9 times out of 10 I end up liking some obscure beat he’d forgotten about better than the 10 brand new ones he just came up with. All the producers on Great Expectations are either friends, or friends of friends. The only producer I had no connection to – Becoming Phill – is now my roommate. I’m told I’m picky about beats, and I guess it’s true. I have a lot of friends who will rap over almost anything. Maybe they’re more open-minded than me. I only make songs out of beats that I cannot stop thinking about. If I have to play it over and over and can’t get it out of my head, then it’s on. Otherwise, it’s not happening. Working with a bunch of producers gets confusing in terms of getting the right files, and getting each song mixed to each producer’s liking and still satisfying me. Logistically it can be a pain. But you end up with a unique record. Not to say that working consistently with one producer can’t be great, because it can, and I have a couple of those records coming up. But those are the exception for me. By default I’m a scavenger. I like the leftovers, the odds and ends, the sounds people forgot about.
You have a line on “What I know” that says, “You know when a greasy-haired bastard like me gets a shot at it, everything’s ass-backwards. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, and this couldn’t happen any day but today.” Do you feel Hip-Hop is wide open right now, in terms of acceptance of all races, or do we still have a long upward hill in front of us?
It’s wide open. There’s no kind of person who can’t get a piece of this game right now. The gay rapper is on his way too, I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up this year. There’s already a bunch of them, you can see them on Twitter. They’re just not famous. But the out-the-closet gay rap superstar is coming. Soon.
I’ve been hearing for a while now about the distinction between Rap and Hip-Hop, where people really criticize the Pop influences that have seeped into much of today’s “Hip-Hop” (obviously not yours). Is there a difference, or is it just a matter of style?
I think people are just talking about the connotations each phrase conjures. For me, “hip-hop” makes me think of Sugar Hill Gang, breaking, graffiti, the roots of the culture. “Rap” makes me think of a more street version of all that, and I think most people feel the same way. I think it’s the most tired, pointless debate in a culture full of tired, pointless debates. Hip-hop, or rap, or whatever you wanna call it, has always had a pop side. And if hip-hop/rap didn’t continue to absorb popular sounds it wouldn’t have survived this far. Hip-hop/rap heads are the most knowledgeable overall music fans on the planet, because hip-hop/rap samples everything. Yet the genre also expands to mindless pop, and I think that’s vital to its existence. I don’t feel any more affinity to the average underground rapper than I do to the pop rappers. Neither of them do what I do. Nobody does what I do.
I noticed you’re giving away the album (as well as your previous ones) as a free download on your site (http://malkovichmusic.bandcamp.com/album/great-expectations). Very very generous, by the way. I’m seeing a lot more of this, on both the indie and major fronts. Is the idea of making money by selling music long gone now for the independent artist?
The idea is, you get the fans first, then you charge them. I have fans, but business rules tell us that only ten or twenty percent of them are gonna fork out cash for my music. The new fans I could gain by giving the music away who I could charge later down the line mean more to me than the small amount of money I would make selling this album. Besides, when I go on tour the album will no longer be free physically or digitally. It’s all about timing.
I’d like to talk a little bit about your video “Lies.” I love the idea of people getting rid of their baggage at the end of it. Powerful metaphor. And the first line, “The weight of the world weighing on my brain in pain,” sets up the theme quite nicely. What was the inspiration behind the song and vid?
I had just thrown away all my belongings and given up my L.A. apartment and I had moved to NYC in winter off the heels of my first Great Depression. I was fucked up and lonely and broke and a relative stranger in a new city with lots of alone time on my hands. And it’s not too long before you start to see yourself for what you are, and life for what it is. Of course, life is only what you are. If you have problems with the world, you have problems with yourself. Not to say the world is perfect; the world is a fucked-up place. But your world doesn’t have to be, and if it is that says more about you then it does about the world. We’re all way more unique than we allow ourselves to be. The idea of marriage works for a handful of people. Religion. Political ideology. Desires. These things might have worked for the people who created them. But we are all living according to institutions and ideals that we deep down don’t believe in and they’re killing us. And we drink and get high to make it through but every now and then the lie gets too close and a song like “Lies” pops out. The paradox – and the part of the song I think most people don’t understand – is that one person’s lie is another person’s faith. As a non-religious person, the one thing I wish I had more of in my life is faith, the blind belief that things are going to turn out in my favor. Because I can see that faith has a funny way of coming true. It’s a lie until it comes true. The video is extremely literal for me, because that’s the same bag I stuffed everything I couldn’t bear to throw away into and left town with. I finally did throw away that bag and everything in it, two months ago in a hostel room in Kuala Lumpur.
Last question. Who’s the dude on the cover?
My grandfather. Next to my mother, he’s my only hero. You can learn more about his story and the story of my family at
Well, once again Malkovich, thank you for taking the time out to chat. Great Expections is now available for free download at the link provided above. I encourage everyone to check it out, as well as the lies video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qpurhTYwMw&list=PL1EABC6B368E5A512 . Dope stuff.