The third full-length from Brooklyn via Memphis rapper/producer Gavin Mays, aka Cities Aviv, is out today via Young One Records. It's called Come to Life, and Mays is calling it "the total idea merging everything I’ve already done." That includes his nothing-off-bounds, sample-slinging production chops, which he's been sharpening since his 2011 debut, Digital Lows, as well his signature, shout-rapped storytelling, which seems the 24-year-old artist wrestling just as determinedly with the growing pains of becoming a self-aware adult. He was wearing a Google hat when we met up to talk about the project, and fittingly, he combed the farthest corners of the Internet when we asked him to produce this FADER mix, zero-ing in on musically irreverent, avant-garde cult favorites—like Inga Copeland and B L A C K I E—who are just as hard to categorize as he is.
Download: Cities Aviv's FADER Mix
What are some of the themes you’re rapping about on this album? This record definitely talks a lot about merging with the unknown—like the inner unknown. Everyone’s trying to find out who they are. Even when they are 30, and they’re like, I’m old, I know everything, fuck all you young people, they really don’t know shit. They don’t know what the 60 year old knows, and he might not know shit, because there’s a 20-year-old somewhere who knows more than all them. This record was me wanting to give a more gentle approach to everything. I feel like I got really stubborn in the past year, really really tense—with like how I was perceiving my love life, how I was perceiving my friendships, whatever career goals I have. Even thoughts of creating a career out of music, and how disgusting that is, how that makes me feel really fucking weird and uncomfortable. This record was kind of me wanting to put all of those in front of me to be able to pull them down, and be like, Yes, I’m going to own this, Yes, I feel fucked up and I have to just accept it. Because in that acceptance and in that inclusion you can reach a more total state of being—just existence. It’s not an anxiety anymore, because you’ve accepted those anxieties.
A lot of people forget that keeping positive requires embracing those unpleasant emotions. Yeah, there’s so much fake posi. When I’m only telling myself to be positive, then I have to say, Wait! I’m only telling myself to be positive, I have to just be. I have to feel those feelings. Even if it’s a feeling of discomfort, just shift it. I was reading this Aleister Crowley excerpt, and he was talking about this practice where you put your body in a very uncomfortable position, and you just leave it there, and press it until the discomfort becomes normal. Because we’re always in a state of discomfort, something’s always wrong.
Have you read a lot of him? I like to stay as ignorant as possible of all these people, because I hate preachers—when people are like, Well, I’ve read this stack of books, so I know this. I’m like, what do you really know? Is it really that important, filling your head with all these books? Or is more important to fill your head with experiences, learning? For me, I like to pull from everything. Everything I read is valid to an extent—it all just depends on how I internalize it.
That’s kind of a new age mentality—like eclecticism. Take what you want. That’s how I like to proceed. Not to end where the book ends, but go beyond that. It’s almost like sampling. I used to be such a dick, like, Well, if you don’t know about this music, if you haven’t listened to these records for years, you have no business sampling this. And then I got a little older, and just got out of that dumbass mindset. And I’ve reached this point where I started pulling the music more out of the instance—I wanted to hear it and feel it and within that feeling, let it delay over into my hands, like looping a new piece, cutting it in a certain way, hearing it differently.
Which genres of music did you find yourself gravitating toward on this record?
I didn’t want it to be strictly rap, I didn’t want it to be strictly--- I’m not dark wave, is that even the term anymore? No shit like that. Gang vocals. I feel like the vocals, I was intending for them to snap or bite, like punk records. But I wanted it to have more of a smooth element. I wanted it to be more sensual. I wanted it to have a masculine approach, but a very like feminine approach, on all accounts.
How did that manifest itself? I feel like in the production—the production kinda battling my voice. I’m used to hiding when it comes to my voice being displayed. [With this record] I wanted it to be more upfront, but within that, I want the flaws to be present as well. I’m not a tough-ass dude. It’s easy to put on a front, like someone’s dick hard 24-7. But I can listen to any Chicago record and hear that if I want to. That being said, a lot of the samples were taken from female vocal tracks or pitching male vocal tracks, because I feel like a lot of the themes from older songs—even if it’s a male approach to a relationship or something, the energy is very feminine, and it’s like, Oh girl, you don’t want to try to lay with me tonight? Even though that seems like a male approach, it’s very feminine in this longing for this connection. That aside, I just love the idea of beauty, just being blown out beyond existence, smooth discordance…
What sort of gift or experience do you want to give people with this album? Just a feeling, to be honest. Whatever it is. Even if someone listens to it and they’re like, I feel nothing, I feel no words—at least they’ve reached that. But really, I just want to give people a feeling. There’s a lot of nothing coming out right now—there’s a lot of just posturing I feel. A lot of very hollow contributions being tossed on the internet. Because it’s easy just to buy into whatever is being sold. Come to Life is really just… it just is. It’s just an extension of my existence onto whomever wants to latch on to it, whoever can take from what I’ve said. I’m not saying it’s more important than Kanye’s record or Beyoncé’s record, but at the same time, actual feeling—not calculated feeling—is what I want to give people with this record.
What feeling do you get from it? Triumphant. Like legit. To me, the album is like me burning away everything. A dickish part of me was like, I want to end rap.
Explain that. I just mean the state of music and the state of rap where it is. As a listener, I miss hearing other vocal artists and being like, Oh damn, they’re saying some shit that’s got me really open right now. Where conscious rap is now, it’s just been commodified. They’re like “the conscious rappers.” And then there’s the thug rapper or whatever, and the trap, brick rapper or whatever. And you have the kids who want to mimic those rappers, but then they’re too soft, so they go behind this other shit. This record was me just being like, Just burn all that shit. Just fucking be you. If what you do is like weirdo fucked up off shit that doesn’t make any sense, do that, because that’s more beautiful than trying to ride some formula, you know? Someone will say, Oh, you’re just like a Yeezus type thing, or you’re trying to be like Deathgrips or someone. Why can’t I just be like a Gavin type of thing, or a Cities Aviv thing? Why can’t I just be that?
What’s a meal that you like to make and how do you make it? Something very basic, like brussel sprouts. I just like to make playing it by ear, but with care. Never too much, never too little. I usually keep it pretty basic with like salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar. A little garlic. Fresh garlic.
Project Pat - Life We Live
Vincent Price Mane - My Peoples
Inga Copeland - B.M.W.
Grim - PVG
Rimar - Whats The Worry?
No Gang Colors - Deep Blue
Pete Swanson - Punk Authority
T.E.A.M.S. - Pile Up (demo)
B L A C K I E - Revolutionary Party II
Princess Loko - Loko 4 Real
Lil Noid - Death Row
Zone - The Wheel of Light
2/4 Washington D.C. - DC9 !
2/5 Baltimore, MD - Metro Gallery @
2/6 Philadelphia, PA - The Barbary #
2/7 Cambridge, MA - The Middle East (upstairs) !
2/18 Brooklyn, NY - Rough Trade NYC ^
2/27 San Francisco, CA - Slim's (Noise Pop Festival) *
2/28 Los Angeles, CA - The Church on York
3/20 San Diego, CA - Casbah +
3/23 Sacramento, Ca - Harlow's +
3/25 Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios +
3/26 Vancouver, BC - Media Club +
3/27 Seattle, WA - Barboza +
3/29 Spokane, WA - The Bartlett +
3/30 Boise, ID- The Crux +
4/1 Denver - Larimer Lounge +
! w/ Mind Dynamics
@ w/ Mind Dynamics and Abdu Ali
# w/ Mind Dynamics and Suzi Analogue
^ Vinyl Release Show
* w/ Shabazz Palaces
+ w/ Weekend