Azizi Gibson has always been on the move. The 22-year-old rapper/producer was born a military brat in Germany and lived in Zaire and Singapore before moving to Thailand. After fifth grade, his family moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where he stayed until dropping out of college in 2010. His solo crosscountry move to Los Angeles came the following year.
The youngest of four, Gibson's family –parents included– exposed him to rap early: “It's crazy,” he says, “I've seen videos of me when I was three years old rapping, like freestyling.” Gibson's flow is one of the most polished you'll hear from someone his age, a gift seemingly practiced and nurtured since he began speaking.
He says The Pharcyde is his favorite rap group, and that influence is evident if you listen closely. But Gibson's biggest inspiration, not unlike other rappers his age (see Tyler, the Creator), is Eminem. “Slim Shady is the reason why I became a rapper,” Gibson says. “You know when he's on the track — I want that.”
Today, just outside of a Starbuck's in Downtown L.A., casually dressed in basketball shorts and sneakers, Gibson is quick to geek about his love of Thai food, New York rap group Dipset and anime/manga. On the surface he seems as calm, forthright and easygoing as his rhymes, but Gibson possesses a subtle anxiousness too. He shifts in his chair constantly and launches his L.A. story without prompting.
“I sold all my shoes [and] clothes,” Gibson says of his journey from Maryland to SoCal. “I moved out here with two thousand dollars and a suitcase with my computer in it.” Still, the move wasn't entirely reckless. Gibson had his family's support and a free place to stay.
After he'd purchased his plane ticket to L.A. though, Gibson's future roomie was incarcerated. He moved anyways and has successfully couch surfed ever since.
It was this gypsy lifestyle that led to Gibson meeting Flying Lotus (nee Steven Ellison) at the gym inside of the apartment complex of a temporary roommate. Gibson saw the producer/Brainfeeder founder on the treadmill and immediately approached him. “I told him I was a musician, but I was just more excited to meet Flying Lotus,” Gibson explains. “There's nobody else I'd rather meet in a gym.”
The two exchanged emails, and Gibson sent Ellison music from his
self- Millz produced mixtape Phuck Deluxe. “Fuck, I told everybody,” he says, shaking his head and laughing. “I was like, 'I met Flying Lotus today. I got his fucking e-mail. I'm going to send him my shit.'” The e-mail, however, bounced back. Ellison's inbox was ostensibly full.
See also: Flying Lotus' Nocturnal Visions
Then, on the day Gibson brought copies of his mixtape to his job at Urban Outfitters to give to his fellow employees, he was fired for possession of marijuana. (He'd only brought it to give to a friend in exchange for a ride home, he says.) As fate would have it though, Gibson ran into Ellison again that day. With no job, no real home, and nothing much left to lose, Gibson gave him a copy.
“Later that night [Lotus] shouted me out on Twitter, and then he [messaged] me like, 'Yo, let's get lunch tomorrow,'” Gibson says, beaming as he recounts the experience. The tweet is still saved on his phone.
After a few performances in L.A. alongside Flying Lotus, Gibson was signed to Brainfeeder. He couldn't be happier about being a part of the family. “You have ultimate creative control at Brainfeeder.”
Gibson's latest project Ghost in the Shell dropped June 15. It's nineteen tracks of his most polished music yet. Working exclusively with two producers from his Prehistoric crew, the mixtape combines his appetite for densely layered, idiosyncratic beats with a smattering of futuristic g-funk. “I'm really versatile,” he says. “As long as I like the beat, I think I can make it mine.”
Sonically, Azizi fits in alongside Brainfeeder artists like the perpetually spaced out Ras G. His lyrics though are on the other end of the spectrum when compared to the label's other major rap act, The Underachievers, an East Coast group with lyrics most would classify as complex and introspective, or “conscious.”
There's a far more commercial bent to Gibson's music, with tropes you'd find on many a major label album: weed, as much sex as possible, and love for his crew. Though Gibson is more capable than the average radio rapper, he believes his commercial viability is an asset he'll eventually capitalize on. “I could [create club bangers], easily,” Gibson says. “I just don't want to do that now.”
Level-headed, Gibson has a clear goal for the future. “I think my purpose on Brainfeeder is to take us to a commercial realm,” he says. “I want to shape-shift radio hip-hop.”
Gibson will perform at Low End Theory next month and plans to tour Ghost in the Shell as much as possible. For now, however, he's content to chill. “I came to L.A. with nothing… I still have nothing, but I got a lot to show for it,” Gibson says enthusiastically. “L.A. is my home now.”