Recorded last summer in Atlanta — but designed as “seasonal depression rebound music” for the time it would eventually drop — Notorious Dump Legends: Volume 2 plays like a short trip to the afterlife that is interrupted, repeated, and folded back in on itself. The album is out tomorrow, ahead of the physical versions of Mach’s Triz saga, which drop on Monday. Dump Legends 2 opens with “Pissy Hästens” (titled for the exorbitantly expensive mattresses made of wool, cotton, and hand-teased horsehair) and its horror-score alienation. But before long the production, which grows light and cheerful (“Bad Hands,” “Niggas Sooooo Good”), more than drowns out that early discordance. “After the first track, you’re dead,” Mach explains in the front seat of that car the first time he plays it for me, shortly before Thanksgiving. “Now you in heaven.”
Like the original Dump Legends, the sequel pairs him with Fahim, who raps as well here as he ever has, especially during his animated turn on “Olajuwon”. As for Mach, his contributions strike a balance that will be familiar to those who have followed his work: at once steely and introspective, rigorous and improvisatory. This is best evidenced on “Everybody (Source Codes),” when an a capella section reveals the precision with which his syllables are made to land even when he pushes his voice to fray at the end of each bar. On closer “Nan Dezo,” a little dread creeps back into the album’s texture, and Porsches creep back into its verses.
In recounting these sessions, Mach talks about the ease of he and Fahim’s writing process — and the trust he has that whichever ideas he burns through on one day will be replaced by twice as many the next. The final song Mach chose to write about for this story is, like the “Verbal Intercourse” freestyle that set him on the course to becoming a professional, likely to remain unheard. But where that early demo cassette must sit unspooled and disintegrating somewhere, this one is kept secure in a presumably airtight hard drive.
I’m picturing you looking at the Basquiat. You’ve spoken to me about being around accomplished musicians from a young age; you’re familiar with a wide range of writers and other creative types. The pricing model for some of your albums has been part of the ongoing conversation about rap’s relationship to supposed “high” culture in America, and about the racism that marginalizes it in the massively profitable international art markets. [Ed.- Mach has in the past sold physical copies of his work for several hundred dollars apiece.] Should HBO — or Pray For Haiti, or Reasonable Doubt for that matter —be behind glass in the same way?
Well, I can sort of roll a lot of what you just asked me into one neat little anecdote. One of my mentors, his name is Pierre Bernard Francillon. One day, he’s digging through this huge fucking commisary pile of T-shirts, hoodies, and windbreakers … must’ve been like 300 pieces. He’s digging through this pile and he just casually pulls out this wicked, purple t-shirt with these gnarly-looking, distressed, partial newspaper clippings printed all over it. He hands it to me and says, “Keith would have wanted you to have this.” Naturally, I’m like, “Keith?” He doesn’t even look up from the pile and then he says, as a matter of factly, “Keith Haring. He would’ve liked you.” That’s Pierre in a nutshell, man. Everything is like, “say that again?”
So, Jean-Michel Basquiat only has four examples of portraiture in his whole 600+ piece catalog. There are four portraits depicting three different models; one of which is Pierre. I read about it in a magazine article because Pierre would never dare mention it himself. He was more focused on the present moment and any reference he would have made to the past was purely anecdotal. He was also insufferably humble, which pissed me off from time to time; but I’ve also heard the same exact thing said about me. Touché.
You know how they say “an idle mind is the devil’s playground?” Like, when you have nothing better to do than purchase more Golden Goose Francy? Like one pair isn’t clearly enough? I was guilty that day.
I get a message from Jigga. He’s like, “Where are you?” To which I reply, “On Melrose. Wasting precious energy.” And then he goes, “Come to the house!” I’m like, “Say less, where am I going?”
So, I get there and it’s hard to decipher whether I’m on a liberal arts college campus or if this is someone’s actual place of residence. Shit got a living tree of life surrounded by glass and directly exposed to the sky, a stupid car collection, an inordinate amount of fine art, Beyoncé crazy fertility bust, a Basquiat, the Empire State of Mind, with little, tiny handprints all over the protective glass that covered it, and not to mention, there was an atrium to boot. Then you get outside by the recording studio part, and there’s an infinity pool flowing perpendicular to the face of a fucking ziggurat. That way.
Fast forward, I’m in the lab with Jay, Gu, and my man Dred who came with me. Guru is playing records off the upcoming album with Jay and Jay Elect. They had my favorite bottled water on deck, room temp, so that was cool. We listened to a few tracks. Jay would chime in every now and again with some mix notes. Track after track he’s like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Gladiator: thumbs up or thumbs down? Shit was surreal, in the moment.
So boom, after about an hour or so, Gu plays this one track. Then Jay is like, “Mach, you got something for this?” Meanwhile, I can’t believe this nigga HOV is asking me that?!? Like “Nigga, is the sky blue?” Shit. Even at 3 in the morning, that motherfucker midnight blue, you know what I’m saying?
Then he disappears for like 2.5 hours. When he returns, he has no idea what’s going on or at least he’s pretending. He then asks me if I think I’m ready to record the verse. The room erupts in laughter. I was done after the first half’hour. Gu starts telling him how he’s not ready and all that jazz. Now Jig, he sits on the sofa, the one that’s parallel to where Gu’s work desk is situated. He’s directly across now, facing the speakers.
We get to my part. He had the shit face going with the hand gestures and everything. About six or seven bars in, the nigga Jay-Z’s Roc Nation hat flies back. I mean the hat flew. You hear me? Paper planes fresh off the tarmac. That way. “Mach, too much Mach, too much!”
Some time passes and the “beatmaker” shows up with his MPC and his bookbag. Alchemist cops a squat. Gu plays the record in question. Alan’s vibing to it, nothing too crazy, a little head bob and a couple furtive glances here and there. When my part comes on, he pops up out of his seat, starts running around and then out of the room like a mad man … plops himself back down onto the sofa sideways … on some Chris Farley type shit. It was all very physical. Come to think of it, that was my third extremely positive reaction to the verse.
The fourth compliment would be the jewel in the crown. Peep. Even I had no earthly idea what was about to happen, Beyoncé walks in. So now, it’s Bey, Jay, Mach-Hommy, Young Guru, Alchemist, and my man Dred. Beyoncé is like, “where’s the stuff you were talking about?” She asked Gu to play certain records I was working on, the week prior, like two or three times in a row. What an experience!
Now it was time for the pièce de résistance, the verse that I recorded earlier that day. At that moment, Gu’s about to press play, guess who walks in? Jay Elect enters. The record plays. Alchemist has another fit. Beyoncé infers, doesn’t inquire, “Y’all tryna hurt somebody.” When she said that … that right there was the finest compliment of the day.
Jay Elect ended up dapping me off and he said something real pithy like, “shit fire” or “tight work” or something to that effect. You get the picture: Compliment #5. Boom.
So even though that particular record was never released with my verse on there, I do know that everyone loved it that day. It’s ironic that they named it “The Neverending Story.”
How’s that for a studio session?
I remember on one occasion we were talking about the music industry, Pierre was still doing street art and had these murals he was putting up in the projects right around that time. He wanted to express the importance of literacy to the local children, especially those living in the projects by creating these huge pieces. One for each letter of the alphabet.
We’re talking right, and he’s dropping all these jewels and shit, mad gems; it was deep. He starts telling me all this intimate stuff about Rammellzee, Donna Karen, Fab Five Freddy, etc. Mad insider perspectives on some of the most mythical art/fashion/music figures of NYCs golden age. Starts talking about what kind of artists other artists listened to and learned from. You know, your favorite designer’s favorite designer. That kind of shit. We go from there, with the artists as our focus, and begin to dial in on specific bodies of work.
We run through all these covers, different genres and time periods … Pierre ends up landing on HBO. Go figure. Then he starts telling me about the time Michele Bennett, who is also his cousin by marriage, pulled a gun on him back in 1978 at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. He was disappointed that I chose Michele as my portrait subject. Because, per his words, she was already, “conceited enough as it is.” Wtf.
We veer off into this debate about what signifies “selling out,” and somehow we end up finding our way into a deep literary discussion about songwriting. He starts to reference my music. He plays Fete Des Morts, The Spook, and HBO. On certain records, he would pause the song, bust out laughing, and say things like, “Oh my god! Jean-Michel would have loved that,” or, “Oh wow man, what made you say that shit? What the fuck.” Then he says something to the effect of, “Jean-Michel would have given you the world, man. Motherfuckers don’t understand. He would have done anything to help protect you.” The logical part of my brain is thinking that it had to be ‘speed,’ but it wasn’t. I’d come to realize over time that he was totally serious. Sometimes he would go on and on. He really needed me to understand what he was saying. We’d be poring over these pieces and out of nowhere he’d break into a little monologue like, “Jean-Michel always admired that devil-may-care quality in an artist, regardless of the medium, especially in a Haitian artist. He would have loved your way with words. You do have a way with words, you know.” After awhile I learned to appreciate his opinions on the matter because at the end of the day, “you wasn’t there.” He was.
We ended up switching gears within that same discussion; ended up discussing album artwork. Naturally, HBO came up again — the painting itself. He was telling me about how I was a “natural” and how I needed to pay more attention to the details of what he was teaching me about paint, especially canvas.
It is his most humble opinion that there are several of Jean-Michel’s paintings that would have sold for significantly higher numbers if he and Jean-Michel had known back then — the things that he ended up discovering later on in his 30s. Specific things about canvas and how to prepare it. He said they were so young back then. Young painters who erred on the side of inexperience, kids who simply didn’t know any better. Those were the kinds of things he would point out to me about my own work, the chinks in the armor if you will. In regards to “Erzuli” specifically, the inspiration for the HBO cover, he said to me, “too bad you’ll never get more than $20 million for it, because it could’ve been worth double, or even triple when the time came if your canvas was prepped the right way.” He also said the canvas was too small to fetch what it was truly worth on the market and that if I ever wanted to make any real ‘dough’ that I needed to go much bigger with my canvas size among other things.
You know, I’ve actually had someone try and convince me to loan them that same exact portrait for their international art show. It would have been a big deal, too, had I accepted their offer. Hope that answers your question.
Come on now: a ziggurat?
You know what I mean. The structural inspiration for that part of the building is plain as day. And the sentiment is definitely felt when you see it in person for the first time.
When Jay was asking you for the Joaquin look after each track, did you get the sense that a “no” from you might actually nix one from the tracklist? Did you give the thumbs-down after any?
It was Hov who played the role of Joaquin in this instance, not me. “Mach” was the multitude of spectators — bloodthirsty.
I hear a lot of you in Jay’s verses on A Written Testimony. Do you?
If by that you mean to say, you hear a lot of elite lyricism in Jay’s verses on that album, then I’d have to agree that I did hear a lot of elite lyricism, as well. Elevated wordplay. I remember calling my little brother right after we exited that Written Testimony session, mainly because it had left such a profound impression on me. You know what I’m saying? I told my lil’ bro that I had never heard Jay rapping on that level before. I let him know that he was in for a real treat.
Can you see yourself working with Jay in the future?
Of course, I can see us working together. I mean the respect is mutual. Jay is Andy and I’m Jean-Michel, but he’s notoriously picky and so am I. We can’t just make a song for the sake of making a song. He already cleared the hook for me on “Kapeesh.” What defines a feature anyway? You know? That’s a feature: What more do I need, am I right?
Do you know why your verse didn’t make the final version?
“Some things beckon you. No matter what happens, they will find their way to the public — certain things. And then, some others just aren’t that fortunate.”
In spending time around artists with the resources and infrastructure that Jay and Beyoncé have, what do you see as the biggest benefits — and biggest hindrances — those resources afford their creative processes?
The benefits are obvious. Infrastructure allows for more organization which supports the right kind of atmosphere for more vertical growth. More hands on deck not only furthers the economic scope of every business engagement, but also expands the sphere of influence that everyone involved has over their respective niches. Each new deal maps out more and more new and exciting financial territory. Wherever two or more autonomous spheres overlap one another, there you have a new opportunity to change the landscape of business. Whether or not that change is in your favor depends upon how you choose to act when faced with the opportunity to act. When two or more elements come together in the name of mutual progress marvelous things occur. It’s like the difference in threat levels between five individual fingers all spread out versus one tightly wound fist. There’s no competition. If winning is your thing then you will naturally make a fist.
I think the hindrances are not so obvious. From what I can tell, from the outside looking in, at a distance, it seems like with much help comes much delegation which creates a need for more counsel which then gives way to further delay. The smallest item of discussion can drag on for months and months with no favorable end in sight. It becomes harder and harder to shift sensibilities on a dime after a while, which is something that’s vital to any truly healthy creative process. It’s the kind of mental and executive agility that requires lots of wide open space in order to thrive. You can’t run that kind of animal on a treadmill; it’s too wild and much too dense. A positive work environment will always have one or two human dynamos on deck. Sometimes, like in the recent case of someone like Ye, there are certain investors that may go so far as to say, “Fuck it. It’s a necessary evil. We’ll just fucking stomach it, until we can’t no more, because we need it. For now. Then we’ll get rid of it when we’re done.” Time to change the battery, I guess.
As I was saying before, It’s like the difference between an oil tanker and a cigarette boat. It takes a lot of time, manpower, and calculations to turn one around versus the other. Each has it’s own limitations. Behemoths are slow-moving by nature. So much money, influence, and power tied up into certain interests, so many entities bound by one common aim, so much red tape, so many checks and balances, etc. It’s the difference between a little kid running for student body president in 4th grade and a senator running for president of the United States of America. Levels … Alexa, play Meek Mill!
What would Mach-Hommy rap like if he were a billionaire?
When a verse or song you write doesn’t come out for whatever reason, do you often repurpose lines for future verses? Or does everything exist as a finished piece, whether it sees the light of day or not?
It’s half and half really. Some things beckon you. No matter what happens, they will find their way to the public — certain things. And then, some others just aren’t that fortunate. I have entire albums that have never left the studio sessions. Never even bounced a single draft to play in the car (nothing). And then, there’s verses that get second chances at life, reincarnation. You might find little bits and pieces here and there. It all depends.
I had heard a rumor you were on the Jay Electronica record. Then “Stellar Ray Theory” comes out, with the line about dudes “on message boards planting seeds of discord” and a reference to “40 days and 40 nights.” I took those to be about Jay Elec. Were they?
That’s preposterous, Paul.