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BONES_25 Aug 2017_Los Angeles_Rachael Wright_COLOU

Meet BONES, underground rap king

BONES_25 Aug 2017_Los Angeles_Rachael Wright_COLOU

The unique rapper talks about getting beaten up as a kid in Michigan, being inspired by his friends in TeamSESH and why record labels are embarrassing

BONES is, online, an impenetrably fascinating character. In his homemade, VHS-recorded music videos – shot on his family’s old tape recorder – he’s typically crouched low to the ground, hiding behind long black hair which frames his face like a closed curtain, firing off bars against a brooding beat about the bullshit he sees around him. His sardonic rhymes, haunting production, and grim aesthetic have amassed BONES a cult online following, one that he’s maintained by putting out music and visuals at a manic pace since 2012 – at 23, he’s already got over 60 releases across all of his projects: BONES, OREGON TRAIL, Seshollowaterboyz, surrenderdorothy, Ricky A Go Go, and an earlier venture, Th@ Kid. In person, though, he is Elmo O’ Connor, and he answers the door as such, his hair tied to reveal a warm smile as he reaches for a handshake.

Standing in the kitchen of his brand new home, a gorgeous, Spanish-style, multi-level in Glendale, CA, he rolls a blunt over the counter and apologizes for the mess. He and his fiancée, Sam, who he met years ago at Disneyland through his older brother and manager, Elliott, are in the midst of moving themselves and Elmo’s parents. Sam, in addition to being BONES’ “muse” (“she’s the first person I ask anything, she helps me do everything”), handles design and production of the TeamSESH merch, the artist collective BONES founded in 2013.

Crouched on his terracotta-tiled patio, BONES looks out over his new view and works to seize the beauty of his life in this moment. Making a living off of fan support of his and TeamSESH’s music — featuring collaborators and producers GhostnGhoul, Drew the Architect, Fifty Grand, Cat Soup, and Greaf, BONES’ partner in acoustic project surrenderdorothy – without the financial backing of a label or ever dropping a dime for studio time is unbelievable. Or, as BONES would say, “hilarious,” a word which he peppers at the end of running thoughts with seemingly interchangeable meanings.

“Me and Elliott used to always talk about our expectation of ‘the peak’ and I would always say ‘dude, it would be sick if we had a warehouse [show]. Pack that shit out.’ Bumping music,” he continues, laughing, reflecting on the fact that he now performs sold out gigs across the country and in front of thousands at festivals. “That’s why everything is just so hilarious right now. I have no real opinion. I can’t form an opinion on something I can’t even grasp.”  

Let’s start at the beginning. What was growing up in Northern California like for you?

BONES: It was just awesome. We lived in Muir Beach so we didn’t live in the city, and it was like all of my parents’ hippy friends. All they were was just cashed people, but they were all super nice. And it was really cool. Like, Michigan (where he moved aged 7) was the only time I started thinking about if life was good or bad.

What was the moment you realized Michigan was going to be different than what you were used to?

BONES: Honestly, the first thing — it’s so mundane — but that the kids would get buzzed heads in the summer.

Sam: And that you would get made fun of for your long hair, which never happened in Northern California.

BONES: I would just get called terrible shit. So, like, all their dads are hunters, everybody’s a pseudo racist, or like a fake racist. It’s not real, but I guess it is real, and it’s hilarious and ridiculous and disgusting nonetheless. But it’s like yeah all the kids back there were just such piss. I got my fucking ass kicked the first day of 6th grade by two 8th graders. I was wearing some hat, or a fake Bape jacket that my parents got me, or something like that. Because these kids wore like camo bibs to school and rain boots.

I would imagine hip-hop wear wasn’t very popular in Howell.

BONES: Even though we’re forty-five minutes from Detroit and you’d think it wouldn’t be that big of a problem, it’s a huge problem. There were kids that would act racist but would still listen to “President is Black, My Lambo Is Blue,” like Young Jeezy. I remember this kid pulled up in a pick up truck with a Confederate flag and that playing and I was just like, ‘what the fuck.’ And there’s just nothing to do there. They’re born and they die there. Their parents are born there, they’re gonna die there.

So, is that when you started making music?

BONES: When I was nine. I remember it was one month after my ninth birthday, because my dad’s birthday is in February and mine is in January, so he got one of those big dome Apple computers with with big bubble-backs, and it had a built-in dot mic in the front with the first thing of Garage Band. And it was just the best. I made so many hilarious songs.

What were they like?

BONES: I would download rap beats. I would go to SoundClick.com and get like tagged instrumentals, sometimes even with pre-made hooks of dudes with auto-tune being like ‘I’m riding slow’ — you know, weird shit. And I would just do like shitty raps. But then I would try to do like auto-tuned R&B, and it sounded so funny, when it was like an eight-year-old voice. It actually sounds cooler than me trying to do it now.

It’s out there that you were influenced by Cash Money and Lil Wayne, but what else were you listening to when you were younger?

BONES: My dad was born in Detroit, so like all motown music. Just old, good music. Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, Bootsy Collins, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell. I owe it to my parents, just for their love of music.

They spoiled you with good taste.

BONES: They definitely did. They spoiled me for sure. And they didn’t ever try to force it on me, like I always listened to rap and tried to pick that up as like, ‘well this is what I like as Elmo. That’s my parents’ taste.’ But when I hit the age of ten I was like, ‘I love this music.’ All the shit I heard when I was growing up, that’s the best shit.

“If I tried to write a book about, ‘oh, what would be dream parents?’, I couldn’t even make anything better than them. All they do is shower me in love. Unconditional love, forever” – BONES

Have your parents ever told you what they think of your music?

BONES: If I tried to write a book about, ‘oh, what would be dream parents?’, I couldn’t even make anything better than them. All they do is shower me in love. Unconditional love, forever. I think that’s the only reason I ever tried to do anything, and ever could do anything.

You’re especially supportive of the other members of the TeamSESH crew, do you think that comes from your family dynamic?

BONES: That’s just because they’re my favourite. All my friends make my favourite music.

How did you find them?

BONES: Honestly, most of them found me, when I made TeamSESH in like 2013. Like Drew [the Architect], Vegard, they were the original ones that were supporting my music and hitting me up and sending me stuff. All of them are just the sweetest kids. And it’s just so funny because it seems like everyone else in our — not in our realm but, we all use the same sites; we all use Twitter, we all use Instagram — and all the shit that we see going on is just so ridiculous. It’s so hilarious. I used to watch Lil Wayne in the studio to get inspired, and it’s so comforting now that there’s nothing actually inspiring out right now.

Would you call yourselves pioneers?

BONES: No, I just think we’re the only ones that don’t care about calling ourselves pioneers. We don’t care about anything. All these people care about — I mean, everybody cares about what people think of them, but we just care about the music. Some kids that we see now have flipped to the top because they’re like, living memes. But you see kids just fuck their lives up signing to these labels and doing all this weird shit, and all this funny drug shit. Which is cool, it’s like, you can do that when you’re young…but it’s so fucked. I wanna make a rehab centre soon for all these rappers, I swear to God.

Your entire aesthetic takes a strong anti-label stance.

BONES: Everybody is anti-label. People just get dicked all the time. I’ve never had a job before, like a nine to five job, ever in my life. Ever. So it’s like, I’m not in a motion of like, ‘alright, you gotta have a boss, you gotta have these people taking care of shit for you.’ I never saw that, so it’s not a necessity. It’s just all piss. All that label shit is embarrassing. And all these kids are fucking themselves.

“It’s just all piss. All that label shit is embarrassing. And all these kids are fucking themselves” – BONES

So, what’s the process like? You’re insanely prolific, especially for not having any label support.

BONES: Nothing special, I swear, it’s not. I don’t even know how to explain this without sounding like a dickhead. I don’t write on my phone, I don’t keep notebooks of rhymes. I just have stickies on my laptop. And I just do it quick. I never write something and try to record it days later. It’s nothing special, there’s no need to try to dissect it.

You seem to have a lot of fans for ‘nothing special’...

BONES: Anybody has songs in them. Even people that don’t like music and don’t make music they have songs in them they just haven’t done them, because they haven’t tried. I just appreciate people that think what I think is cool is cool. Because I just do what I think is cool to my ears. Life’s just a dream for me at this point so I just go with the flow and don’t question anything.  

So, what do you think is cool these days?

BONES: Fuck! What is cool? Buzzfeed. Music. What do I think is cool — I don’t know, life. Life is pretty cool right now. I never thought it would get cool. It’s just all hilarious, the way it panned out.