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An Interview With Aaron Alexander

Aaron Alexander in the "Life Eye Live" video, directed by @RicoDidIt

Local rap scenes all over the United States are filled to the brim with young people using Twitter spam, flashy videos, imitations of the day's Billboard chart topper, and overhyped single after overhyped single on their all-out dash to fame and riches. 20 year-old Kansas City rapper Aaron Alexander does none of those things. In 2014, along with producer Brandon Williams, he dropped Radiant Child one of the most mature and well-polished hip-hop releases that I (but nobody else I know) heard all year.

Gaining momentum and making connections, this year Alexander worked on three songs on Thoughts Hinder Every1, an album constructed by producer 1Bounce that featured multiple Kansas City talents. He is currently in the studio recording a follow-up to Radiant Child. Alexander benevolently decided to spend a couple hours of his night answering questions for a blog that nobody really reads. Make it worth it for him! Here's what the man had to say.

What did Aaron Alexander do before he rapped?
I wrote a ton of poetry and I drew a lot. I sucked at it but I still drew a lot [laughs].

What happens in your average day?
When I'm not writing or coming up with melodies I'm generally watching anime, listening to music, or working my day job. Nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary.

The oldest song on your SoundCloud is from about one year ago. What were your earliest raps like?
I wish I had the words to explain how bad my songs were when I first started. I used to rap about guns, money, cars, and women that I never had. My first mixtape was recorded when I was a freshman in high school and it is floating out there somewhere in the deepest part of the Internet. My boy Rio actually played some of my first songs recently when we were recording for a new project. We all had a good laugh about it. It's almost like I'm a completely different person from then.

So fast forward to Radiant Child. What was the writing/recording process like for that tape?
The process kind of sucked if I'm being honest here. There were a lot of emails back and forth between BWill and I. Once we linked up during the summer last year. I had way bigger ideas than what I displayed on Radiant Child. I prefer to be in the studio with BWill and whoever else we collaborate with because the emailing back and forth is impersonal and ideas aren't allowed to flourish and good ideas tend to be forgotten, which happened a lot on RC

Lots of your songs on the project have a '90's NY boom-bap sound to them. Is it exciting seeing a revival of the style via Pro Era, World's Fair, and others?
It's funny you say that because I don't listen to much of Pro Era, they can rap their asses off but I'm into more theatrical-sounding records, lush with instrumentation. What we did with RC was try to make the music fit the documentary that we drew our inspiration from. But to answer the question about my excitement about the revival of the boom bap style, I'd have to say I am excited just because New York needs good rappers right now. I don't want the East coast style of rap to die out, so Pro Era, The Underachievers, and other artists that fit into that Beast Coast mold are necessary for the culture.

A clear influence on the mixtape is the art of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat. What draws you to his art?
Basquiat is one of the few artists that could make a crass image have a deep, dense meaning. Another one of my favorites is Salvador Dali because his works are dense with imagery but he uses a lot of colors and vivid pictures. In other words, his paintings look too nice. Basquiat on the other hand used more sketches and would scatter words throughout his paintings. It looked unorganized. My thoughts are scattered in my head like a Basquiat painting. I can relate to it, I can appreciate it more.

Are you mad that Mick Jenkins managed to drop "Jazz" a month before you could release your song "Charlie Parker"?
No, not at all. Although I'm a big Mick fan. "Charlie Parker" and "Jazz" were completely opposite sonically and the intention behind "Charlie Parker" was to celebrate a Kansas City legend. 

How did you get set up with 1Bounce? What was your involvement like working on his album?
I linked up with 1Bounce through a mutual friend of ours. He told Bounce to listen to Radiant Child. I guess he did and he hit me up. The first song we did together was "3 Fingers" off of his Thoughts Hinder Every1 album. While in the studio, he played some beats. The first one he played I didn't feel, so it was originally going to be a song with just Ayel and Devin on it. Bounce's brother told him to play another beat and the "Life Eye Live" beat came on. I had wrote a song about a year and a half ago, prior to meeting Bounce. It just so happened to be a throwaway called "Live Life Love" that I did with a producer overseas. I spit the verse I had from the original to the beat Bounce played. I looked at Brandon, he said "Yup, that's the one." I did not have to change my eight bar verse at all. I went in and knocked it out. I also had the hook written, I made a small tweak to the hook.

Was it strange being on the set of a music video for that song?
Nope, it was really dusty though. It was an abandoned warehouse. My allergies were kicking my ass that day.

You're usually quick to point out when a mainstream rapper does something dumb or drops a bad song. Is it ever hard to be positive about modern hip-hop?
No, I wouldn't say so. There are artists like Vince Staples, Drake, and Kendrick just to name a few, that provide hip hop fans a beacon of hope. Also Kanye is the G.O.A.T and his album is supposed to drop any minute now and that alone makes it easy to be positive about hip-hop. There are plenty bad rappers out there though, hell I may be one of them, but there are just as many good rappers out there.

You've talked some shit on Fetty Wap but mentioned liking Young Thug's newest album. What makes a good trap song for you?
The beats. Trap rap isn't meant to be actively listened to at all. Fetty Wap just isn't my cup of tea. Thugger has the juice though.

Kansas City is often skipped in national rap discussions. Do we deserve more attention than we get? Does it matter?
We got to go get that attention at the end of the day. We have Tech and a whole bunch of "gangster" rappers who bite Oakland's whole style. We have to do something different. It's not just going to he given to us.

If you had to choose one KC rapper most likely to blow up, who would it be?
Aaron Alexander.

Good call. What made seeing D'Angelo so special for you? What have been some other important concerts you've been to?
D'Angelo has been my spirit animal for a year or two now. This man has three classic albums. Who cares if there was a 15-year wait between Voodoo and Black Messiah? That show was simply amazing, from D'Angelo's control of the crowd to Kendra Foster's ballet-inspired dancing. It really, in a way, showed me how a person who is seeing you should feel when they are watching you perform. I was in constant awe from beginning to end. I've seen Kanye twice (Watch The Throne and Yeezus tours). I've seen Chance The Rapper, YG, and a few more but D'Angelo was the best performer I've ever seen. No pyro, no special effects, just an ensemble of talented musicians.

Is playing shows important to you? What's your favorite performance you've done so far?
My favorite show was at the recordBar in Westport. Playing shows is dope. I never really got to do it until "Life Eye Live" dropped. I still haven't done a full set, but I plan on it soon.

Anyone who checks your Twitter knows you're into Florence + The Machine. Does any guitar music influence your music or is she alone in that category?
I listen to everything. Florence kind of strayed away from the experimental sound she and the band had on Ceremonials, so I wouldn't really put her into the category of guitar music. She's more pop now, but her and the band are dope. There's another band called Hundred Waters I'm pretty into. I don't really segment music into genres. It's pretty much either dope or not.

I don't know shit about NBA basketball, but why are the Blazers #1?
It's because my Blazers as a franchise has had so much bad luck. We always bounce back though. Damian Lillard is the next up.

What direction is your next project heading? Will it have a theme again or just be a collection of good tracks?
Every project I'll ever do will have a theme. It'll be heading in a more experimental direction with the use of more live instruments.

What is the most important thing you want to accomplish through your music?
All I need to do is get the respect that I deserve.

Any shout outs or last words for the people?
Shout out to my Ignant Art crew, they know who they are. BWill, Eric, Zay, Chris, Rio and thank you for being interested in what I do. 

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