Rapper Speak Has Had an Insane Few Years | West Coast Sound | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Rapper Speak Has Had an Insane Few Years

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Wed, May 28, 2014 at 4:15 AM
click to enlarge Speak - ANDREW QUESADA
  • Andrew Quesada
  • Speak
If all you know about rapper Speak is that he co-wrote "Gucci Gucci" for Kreayshawn (and that he got pretty screwed on the deal), you're missing out on one of the most compelling and consistently entertaining personalities in hip-hop.

The Moreno Valley MC originally made waves in 2011 with his reference-heavy debut Inside Out Boy, mixed by Syd the Kyd of Odd Future. But he's now turned the conversation inward with his new album Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Man, a gleefully frank exploration of his professional and personal relationships.

We talked to Speak about his frustrations as a ghostwriter and, you know, throwing a refrigerator out of a hotel room window.

Has the "Gucci Gucci" association hurt you in any way?

No, it never hurt me. Even when people found out, the most hardcore hip-hop rap fans or industry people were like "Wow, that's so great that you were able to do that." I've never gotten negative backlash from it. If anything, people have rallied behind me like "Yo, you're dope because 1) you can rap your ass off and 2) you can write a catchy ass song. You can do both." And that's a hard thing to do. There's a saying that not every rapper's a good songwriter and not every songwriter's a good rapper, so being able to do both excited a lot of people. If anything, by taking so much time between projects, I've been able to detach myself from it. Its never followed me positively or negatively, it's just, "There's Speak, he makes dope shit," which is what I always wanted. For me, it's not a milestone, it's a footnote. It's not like I cured cancer or climbed Mount Everest. I wrote a catchy song for someone and it got really hot. It's just another weird instance in my very random life.

The visual components of your work always seem well thought out, especially the "Mouth" video.

Thanks, I appreciate that. I like "Mouth." I'm not one of those guys who says "I think of everything my fucking self." That's a play on the old Rocky Horror Picture Show and goes back to my love of pop culture. That song was called "Mouth," the beat was called "Mouth" and I'm kind of mouthing off on it, so it made sense. Mouths are really fucking creepy when you think about it. Even if you have really nice teeth and nice lips, your mouth is always moist because it's like a cavern for bacteria and skin cells. I thought, let's do something kinky, nasty and strange. My homegirl, who's a stripper, memorized this verse. We shot it and tweaked it out. I want to make cool looking things, cool looking videos, designs clothes, I want to do it all.

You refer to yourself a lot as "The Craigslist Killer." Where does The Lifetime Network's Craigslist Killer movie rank amongst your favorite Lifetime movies?

It's pretty bad. My favorite Lifetime movie is actually called Starving For Attention. It's about this chick who has bulimia and anorexia. I'm a piece of shit for knowing that. The Craigslist Killer movie's not that good. When I came up with that, and there's been multiple Craigslist Killers, I remember seeing the original Craigslist Killer was a med student who just liked getting bitches off the internet, robbing them and merking them off. I just thought that was so interesting that this doctor who was good looking and probably has bitches, why would you do that? I've always been super-fascinated by serial killers. Not the brutality or the murder aspect, but the motive. What would drive somebody to do that? Then, you always find, these people were really fucking crazy.

How different has the release for Gnarly Davidson been compared to Inside Out Boy three years ago?

Man, it's been a lot different in terms of process, recording and having a solid plan to release it. With Inside Out Boy, I recorded that at Syd's house at the height of Odd Future blowing up. I would come in on Mondays, she would give me a whole afternoon and evening to record there. There was no plan at all, we two-tracked everything and knocked it out super quick. There was no plan for videos or to properly promote it. I just threw it out to the world. It kind of coincided with everyone finding out I wrote for Kreayshawn and worked with Juicy J, so the release was big in Los Angeles. But then, after that, it kind of just faded to the annals of Datpiff and Tumblr history. There was no real plan.

With this one, I learned so much in recording and fine-tuning the rough edges and I learned so much about songwriting in sessions with people who were way better than I am, I kind of applied that to my music. If I was really going to make a go of it, I can't just throw it to the internet and then look to the sky and hope a record deal falls in my lap or that I make the XXL list. There was a whole lot of thought put into it.

What was the most valuable thing that you learned?

Probably just kind of condensing my thoughts and structuring a song properly. Before that, it was just two tracks. Here's the beat, here's 16 bars, here's a chorus, here's 8 bars, here's a chorus. I've always been enamored and fascinated by good songwriting. But, everyone knows I can rap, I wanted to show everyone not only can I rap, but I can write a super dope song. Not just for someone else, but for myself. Everyone just kind of pegged me as crazy, long-haired swag-swag-swag rapper. They don't really realize, I'm a songwriter, I'm a musician. If was important for me to really fine-tune those rough areas.

On the new project, there's a theme of deconstructed relationships and human interaction. Is that something that fascinates you or does it come from a place of catharsis?

I think it was just me relating my personal experiences and how I was interacting with people, friends, family members, lovers and trying to capture that time frame of everything since the day after the Inside Out Boy release party to now. It's like, ok, it was Inside Out Boy, you got a gold record for writing "Gucci Gucci," you traveled all over the world, then what? It was just me documenting what had happened in that time span. It's hard to really rip open your chest or open your mind. It's easier to write crazy punchlines, but I wanted to relate to human experience and show it's more than your perception of me. It wasn't conscious, I wanted to make something honest and people connected to that. When I wrote "Let Downs," me and Vince Staples had a shitty apartment in Koreatown and this was supposed to be the most exciting time of our lives. Vince is buzzing, I'm buzzing, had a little bit of money in my pocket, but you just feel empty and miserable.

What had you feeling empty and miserable?

I wasn't happy where my career was going. I wasn't happy with the expectations people had of me. I never wanted to be a songwriter really, other than for myself. I kind of fell into everything by accident, which is kind of a recurring theme of my life. It's really charmed and really cursed at times. During the Inside Out Boy time, I was doing sessions at major labels and I would show them the Inside Out Boy songs. They would say "Yeah, that's cool, but you should write a hook for so-and-so." It was like no one took my artistry seriously. The only thing people wanted out of me was to make a hit for someone else. I have no problem writing songs or creating things. Hearing a song you wrote on the radio is pretty fucking cool, but it was very discouraging to play a show in L.A. with 600 people there and lines wrapped around the building, and I couldn't understand how the people who cut the checks and run the labels, why they couldn't understand that. I'd invite them to chill, tell them 700 kids were there, Frank Ocean showed up, media showed up, and they would be like "Yeah yeah yeah, now about this hook for Plies." And I'd be like "What? Really?" I wasn't happy. I didn't want to just be pegged as a writer. I wanted to do everything. When you've people in the glass offices saying "Well maybe you should just write," I was like "maybe you should fuck off." I didn't understand it. There's something there, it's not an act of my imagination or delusions of grandeur. This isn't some online or hashtag thing. Kids are fucking with me, they're buying up all the merch. When I walk around L.A., sometimes I feel like a superhero, kids are fucking with me. I understand it now, but I couldn't understand it at the time why they couldn't see what was going on.

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