EXCLUSIVE: Spaceghostpurrp Feature & Film

Gothic imagery, gangsta lyricism and weird beats form the core of SpaceGhost-Purrp’s demented jams. Charlie Robin Jones finds out why the year’s hottest rapper is a space-obsessed 21-year-old from Miami

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Outer space is crucial to African-American music. Early blues musicians would sing sermons of flying with Jesus on a spaceship to heaven. Sun Ra called his jazz orchestra intergalactic and told interviewers he came from Saturn. Lil Wayne raps about being a Martian. SpaceGhostPurrp continues this tradition by rapping about UFOs and writing songs about spaceships. He even put the 60s superhero he takes his name from on the cover of his NASA mixtape. His already vast discography is as psychedelic as the best cosmic jazz, a set of sounds that swirl around the listener’s head. But unlike many of his predecessors, space for SpaceGhostPurrp is not a place of liberation, but isolation. Often, his music sounds like broadcasts from the command node of some interdimensional craft – hugely ambitious but coldly claustrophobic. It’s hard not to think of the young Floridian looking up at the shuttles ascending into the upper atmosphere from Cape Canaveral, then going back to life around Miami’s suburbs.

“My sound is like mysterious phonk,” the 21-year-old explains, sitting in his home studio. “There’s a darkness to it. Other people can try and make their shit like me, but they ain’t crazy like me. They ain’t fucked up like me. I’m fucked up. That’s why my shit crazy.” Darkness cloaks everything he releases – his artwork is drenched in skulls and graves, crosses and exotic dancers, often accompanied by legends such as “The Trillest Album In 1995” or “Dopest Album In 1991”. He has an interesting habit online of inverting his lettering, using Xs and Vs to replace vowels, writing his name SPVCXGHXZTPVRPP. The idea is almost to imitate 20-year-old horrorcore albums never released by rappers that never broke, his music an attempt to revel in a past that never was. His Raider Klan take the logo of a doctored Oakland Raiders shield, but instead of the eye-patched football player they 
wear an Egyptian Pharaoh behind 
crossed swords.

It’s a punk move, DIY to the bone: when DJs wouldn’t let him on mixtapes, he decided to make his own, right down to the sound effects themselves. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll host my own shit and add my own effects and sounds.’ Have my own sounds – so on my space-themed mixtape, I added space sounds from Space Cadet pinball, like ‘flaw-blaw-blaw’. And for Blackland 66.6, it’s trilogy-themed, with clips from Mortal Kombat. No DJ would want to host it, so fuck it.”

Although his gothic imagery has more in common with Gravediggaz and Necro than it does Rick Ross, his music sounds like Miami: the rough end of a holiday town, a city surrounded by swamps where alligators swim. “It’s like the film Underworld, a mix between werewolves and vampires. That’s what Miami is. You got the kids who live the vampire life and those who live werewolf life and they clash. You got the Miami of South Beach, but that’s just like an island that’s richer than the city itself. When you cross the bridge, now you’re in Miami. When you cross the bridge, you won’t see the big projects like New York. But step out of the car, and you will feel the presence of evil itself.”

He’s not being trite. He comes from Carol City, Florida – a working-class suburb of Miami and one of those could-be-better, could-be-worse places that surround inner cities the world over. A few months ago, you wouldn’t find a lot if you Googled it. Now, it’s famous for being the part of the world where Trayvon Martin lived before he was killed in an apparently racist shooting. SpaceGhost’s voice is sad but matter-of-fact when he talks about the unarmed 17-year-old’s slaying at the hands of a local Neighbourhood Watchman. “I’m very pissed right now – I’m trying to 
make everybody see what’s going 
on. That’s why I sing in my songs, ‘Don’t get your head bust, nigga.’ Cause you gotta stay strong in the face of it.”

One way in which his ideas about community strength are articulated is through Raider Klan, his crew of producers and rappers. He has that quiet charisma and willingness to be a weirdo that often marks out alpha teenagers and leaders of gangs, and a leader he is, at the front of his loose, often online-based group, which is “sorta like the Crips in the 60s, when they weren’t starting shit.” Dressed all in black and sporting those doctored Oakland Raiders logos, he cuts a calm figure. It’s not about shining loud, he stresses. “We don’t need to be in the spotlight. We don’t live-fast-die-young, we live-slow-die-old. Low key. We don’t have time to be out in the open. I think anyone who seeks the spotlight is a bitch. That’s why I keep my niggas in black, because we move in silence. We shadows. It was inspired by the soldiers of Miami. We all known for being humble. All black, with a black bandana, all black leather jackets, speaking your mind – that’s Raider life.” On the inversion of letters, he said it was for similar reasons: “Raider hieroglyphics – it’s our language, our code. We don’t want to give away too much. The thing about hieroglyphics, you can’t figure it out unless you get to know it.” On the Raider Klan vs A$AP freestyle videos, he’s separate from his flashier friends like Amber London and Vince Staples as they rap. His small frame is controlled and introverted, watching and appreciating while his friends clown about. When it’s his time to rap, he does so slowly, head in his own black clouds, relaying lines about the recession, black bibles, Cupid, romance, terrorism and his depression while staring straight in the camera.

Raider Klan, like their contemporaries A$AP, Odd Future, Main Attrakionz, and Flatbush Zombies, are imaginative kids united by a frustration with the rap game as it is and a belief in the way it should and could be – free, fun and young. For SpaceGhost, however, the fight is an especially ideological one. “It’s a business at the end of the day, I know that. But this is hip hop”, he says, with a reverence reserved for words written in capitals. “It’s not the trillwave. I know they’re calling us that, but it’s the dark era – we come through a dark era and we on a dark path. We don’t care about taking over financially. If it comes, it comes. It’s about making a mark.”

Radical as his music is, it’s deeply indebted to the rich, thick mostly southern music that he loves, from DJ Screw to UGK to Curtis Mayfield. “We bump old school. We play the old stars: Parliament, Michael Jackson. Crunk, that came from the funk. Back when Screw was alive, people were bumping it all over the south. They’d be wheeling around on a Chevy 44s, 26s, bumping Screw. I love Screw music,” he explains, before telling me which DJ Screw tapes to get hold of (Chapters 25 and 46, if you’re interested). SpaceGhost’s music often recalls that of the legendary Houston producer, who manipulated and slowed down southern rap songs until they sounded like gauzy, gravity-heavy symphonies. Though 
DJ Screw was enormously famous 
in his hometown and throughout 
the south, he made few concessions for the mass market, and to this day the only way of getting hold 
of many of his 250+ albums is 
to buy them off the street in person in Texas.

SpaceGhostPurrp’s own tapes are already becoming the stuff of legend. Blackland Radio 66.6, his most famous and complete mixtape, is one of the headiest ever made. Unlike most mixtapes, where an unsigned MC will prove himself by enforcing his personality on pre-written and often famous songs, SpaceGhost sits back in the beat, quietly switching personas from horror-film bad-guy to minimum wage worker to starry-eyed fantasist to cartoonish streetkid. The songs drop in and out, switching fidelity from too loud to too quiet, while Mortal Kombat screams do battle against rumbling drums and lo-fi pianos. Ghost is the word – it’s closer to sonic exorcism than straight banger. In crossing the fantastical bleakness of industrial music with the body funk of Miami bass, SpaceGhostPurrp is summoning a moment that never was.

It’s hard to ignore the pain that courses through each of his verses, particularly on his recent God of Black mixtape. SpaceGhost explains that it’s the result of having his heart broken. “Experience. Society. Trust. Being gullible. If you trust, you gonna get fucked up. Everything happens for a reason. When you hear my music, you gonna hear that sadness in the rhythms. You gonna hear that pain and that progress. I’m the God of my era 
– it’s not that 
I think I’m God 
or anything, 
I’m God’s son. 
I got spiritually connected to Mother Nature, to the universe. People think God is controlling them, but it’s life itself. I was birthed from nature, I’m Nature’s child, but I’m Nature’s dark child, that’s why I’m the God of Black. I’m the darkest motherfucker in the night.”

Text by Charlie Robin Jones
Photography and film by Colin Dodgson

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MYSTERIOUS PHONK: CHRONICLES OF SPACEGHOSTPURRP is out on June 11 on 4AD

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