Rhys Langston is an emcee/producer from Los Angeles. His most recent project was the 2017 EP, Aggressively Ethnically Ambiguous. During SXSW, he sat down to talk with us about that release, coming up in L.A., and some upcoming projects.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with the basics. How did you first get into music? Because you produce and rhyme, did one come before the other?
Rhys Langston: I think I kind of had always been writerly, had a writer’s approach to things. I wrote things when I was young. I still do write things outside of music. But it started out, I had these half-poems, half-songs that I was working with. I think a lot of people start off that way. Whereas some people might search [for] other people to produce things around their music, or compose music around their words, I would look for beats on Youtube and stuff. But I just wasn’t feeling the inclination to use something that was already existing. I wanted to see if these words were unique, could I make these unique casings for them, these musical pieces around them. You know, a little trial and error, obviously. I’ve gotten to the point where I am now because I had to make some stuff that sounded like it was being hashed out while it was being made. I think now, I realize my strength is as a vocalist and rapper and rhymer and stuff, but the music has caught up a little bit. So maybe people can’t see that, that at one point it was very one-sided. That was honestly only about seven years ago that I intentionally did that. I always – probably from the time that I was like eleven to fifteen, or sixteen – I would write a stupid little song once every year. Then there was a moment, 2012, where I just said to myself, “Let’s go! Let’s just do it!”
SV: When it comes to making beats, do you have a particular method that’s your starting point?
Rhys Langston: Yeah, it’s changed a lot. I used to structure around a sample and a drum kit. A limited canvas in that kind of way. Using Logic 9, I still use that – it’s kind of an outdated program, but I know its interface front to back. So I still have that as my basis. It’s kind of crazy though, because whenever I have a sample and good drums, I can make something in ten minutes. But I’m challenging myself a little more now. That’s just a strong foundation that I’m comfortable with doing things. Now I’ve bought a synthesizer, maybe bankrupted myself a little bit on that, and I’ve played bass for a while. So incorporating live instruments, making them sound like they fight right in alongside these found objects, these found sonic objects. And that’s where the genre kind of gets blurred when I do it. It can be incidental, just through experimentation. It ends up being something different than what I anticipated at the start.
SV: You’re in L.A. Born and raised?
Rhys Langston: I was, yeah. People are often surprised, but there’s more than a million people like me there…I’ve lived all around L.A., so it’s not been a static experience. I’ve seen all types of L.A. All places. I’ve seen it evolve lately. As I have friends from out of town – I went to school on the East Coast – I have friends from out of town coming, and they have their own evaluations of my city, and sometimes I get a little annoyed, but I understand that you don’t necessarily own where you live. You can kind of embrace it.
SV: Especially if you live in New York or L.A., there’s always going to be pockets of both. Did you move here to do art, or did you grow up here and…
Rhys Langston: Incidentally do the art. No, it’s interesting, places like New York and L.A., and a lot of other cities, too.
Rhys Langston: Chicago, Austin, or something like Nashville. There’s the place and the reality of it, and then there’s the symbol and the metaphor of it. And you can never really separate them. So, you know, trying to hold it down for the authentic natives there. You just gotta be alright with it.
SV: That takes me to your last project, Aggressively Ethnically Ambiguous. That’s obviously a self-referential title. What does that phrase mean to you, and what did it mean to grow up in L.A. with your heritage?
Rhys Langston: You know, it’s a pluralistic place. A lot more than some other places. It’s known for it’s mixing of many peoples and stuff. When I was growing up, I was always asked where I came from, or not even asked, but able to blend in in certain circumstances, whether or not I wanted to. Unwittingly, kind of being privy to certain information, or not. Just kind of being comfortable or not being comfortable in places and having a lot of different perspectives. It’s almost living cubist sometimes, you know. You’re looking at yourself, looking at others looking at yourself, but you’re also just your own person with your own viewpoints. I mean, that was definitely a way for me, that project, to do a little click bait, if you will. The name was very eye-catching, but it’s also truthful in it’s regards.
SV: You put a lot of personal information on there.
Rhys Langston: I kind of wanted to do it as a concept. As much of a concept as it is semi-autobiographical. By nature, I just do things that are a little more abstract. There’s a line between me spelling things out about where I grew up, as “The Jesus of Los Feliz,” or whatever, but I didn’t spend my whole time out there. Or just having a song about respectability politics, and just changing face, or code-switching…trying to do that in a way that in a way that is heady, but still hits you. Still got some nice melodic elements, some bass in there, stuff like that.
SV: It’s got some hooks to it. It’s accessible as some pop/hip hop, but it’s got some weight to it.
Rhys Langston: Yeah, contemporary weird shit. That’s been part of my experience, just being a person who can move around in different spaces. I’ve understood the ability to reach out and speak to many different things at once. In that way.
SV: Speaking of that, it can be true of a lot of places, but L.A. has certainly different scenes to it. As someone who produces and rhymes, and as someone as you said, fits between the spaces, do you find yourself gravitating to a particular scene, or do hop on shows in different spots?
Rhys Langston: Yeah, it was really the end of an era, but Low End Theory, the greater Low End Theory scene, I really found a home there. But there’s this showcase called “Bananas,” which has been always adjacent to every field in L.A., every subgenre, at least of hip hop, rap, and electronic music. They have bands there, too. My friend V3RBS runs that. He’s a cool dude. He’s a champion of the people. I feel like most of my connections are some degree removed from him. L.A. is very interesting, because there’s definitely a blossoming, in terms of people moving there, which I think is restructuring, kind of, the DIY culture that was there. A lot of things are closing down. I think that might be making scenes tighter. So there’s a greater backbeat L.A. scene that’s kind of off the heels of Low End Theory, the homie Crème Bulay, she’s really doing it. She is kind of taking what Low End was doing, and kind of mixed in an organic element of the new jazz renaissance there. I really like that. And there’s a whole West Side movement that’s going on as well. The showcase I was playing last night, P.O.W. Recordings/Don’t Come To L.A., that’s like…there’s a whole resurgence of neighborhood rap. People canvassing for where they’re from. And that can be super hard gangsta shit, or something outside of that box. Something outside of that field or that camp. I think that’s really cool. But yeah, I would say there are so many constituent parts. I’m definitely tapped into the ones I mentioned. Not as much, there’s this Highland Park scene, KCRW, cold brewed latte, mellow electronic stuff, which is great. I want to get into that, too. People are going to hate me for that one. I take no prisoners. Hopefully that gives you a little info.
SV: You’re out here at SXSW. Do you have any new projects in the work?
Rhys Langston: I do.
SV: What can we be on the lookout for?
Rhys Langston: Later this month, maybe the last week, I’m going to drop a little ten-minute EP, which I’m very excited about. That came about really quickly. That’s a little taste before a larger, full-length LP. I think, even though there’s no real big institutional support behind it, I would consider that a debut. P.O.W. Recordings, they’ve reached out, so I’m pretty sure. Pretty much got that figured out, so those two things are going to come out in the next two months, maybe three or four. But that sample is coming out at the end of the month. I think it’s cool…I kind of got caught up on the album, because it has a larger multimedia project around it. I’m making a book companion to it, along with a book/music interactive web application. So it sounds like mumbo jumbo, it sounds out there, but I have schematics that I’ve drawn up, and I’ve met with this homie of mine, who actually codes and knows a lot of different languages to use that can help that be really cool. Like an actual self-contained application that you can go to, that you can’t find anywhere else. Things will exist as they do on the traditional platforms, but…trying to provide this whole self-contained world. Kind of gotten carried away with that, but the décor of the album is done. It’s tight.
SV: So where should people be looking for this?
Rhys Langston: So my website is going to be re-orchestrated, to have that all, in addition to links to the individual places of it. You can get a link to the Spotify or Soundcloud or Bandcamp, but it’s also going to be the whole world there. I’ve been trying to figure out the delivery of everything, you know? Things are going to be available on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp and stuff…trying to figure out which platform to advertise on. Instagram seems to be the flavor of the day, flavor of the month, flavor of the decade, eternity, I don’t know.
SV: Until tomorrow.
Rhys Langston: I know. It was down a few days ago, and people lost their entire livelihood for about 24 hours.
SV: Especially during this festival.
Rhys Langston: I know. I was like, “Oh my God! I’m not going to be able to post!” And then I was like, “Oh, wait! I’ve still got a ticket.” So yeah, I think the website, Langstonia.org, is the place…trying to figure out how to centralize everything so the gears are moving, circulating…trying to meet people where they’re at, in terms of these projects.
SV: Any other shows where people can find you?
Rhys Langston: I’m currently working on a one man show thing that I’m putting together in L.A. There’s also going to be some shows. Nothing booked right now. I played a show with Serengeti about a month ago, that was fun. I’m just looking for cool moments like that. I’m not trying to take everything that comes my way right now. But out in L.A., pretty much going to play shows out there for the next four months. I’m going try and get up the coast a little bit, maybe get out easterly, but who knows.
SV: I’ll end with the question I ask everyone – if there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would they be?
Rhys Langston: You gotta give me a quick moment for this one…Saul Williams…Milo…you know honestly, Massive Attack. There’s so much in between there, but those three.
To learn more about Rhys Langston, visit:https://www.langstonia.org/