a military brat from germany is one of US rap’s most intriguing new voices
Formerly of Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label, Azizi Gibson is the outsider rapper who refuses to be typecast.
Photograph courtesy Azizi Gibson
If you can say one thing about Azizi Gibson, it's that he always brings the weather with him. When we meet, the UK is in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave -- not since the 70s has Britain been subjected to such torturous heat -- and the California native is holed up on the balcony of a borrowed apartment overlooking Kensington Gardens, single bead of sweat dripping down his forehead and a blunt the size of your arm in his hand (rolled by his manager, natch). Halfway through a European tour supporting R&B duo THEY., he seems relaxed, unsurprising when you consider he's a "military brat" -- the child of a parent serving full-time in the US Armed Forces -- born in Frankfurt, he grew up in Zaire, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia before he ever lived in the United States.
The 26 year old rapper relishes in the outsider status it affords him in a rap scene of often fierce territorialism. "I come at things from a completely different angle," he says proudly. "Seeing the world and now being in the States actually doing what I love and figuring out what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm so appreciative of it."
Raised, despite it all, in a fairly typical American household -- fourth child to a Maryland mother and a Harlem father ("he's a New York motherfucker to the bone") -- Azizi moved to Maryland at the age of ten and fell into making music shortly after. "My cousin had a studio and made beats and stuff," he explains. "I'd get in his car and rap and he'd be like, 'What the fuck, what the shit, you can rap?! Let's go make a track!'. That was just so cool for me being that young and having a cousin giving me pointers like that."
At the time his musical world consisted of Outkast, Gorillaz and an undying love for Eminem ("He's like my superhero"). He talks of home videos of himself rapping freestyle at three and four years old and credits a computer in ninth grade with his first tentative steps towards making music himself. "It's crazy. I feel like it's something I always internally wanted to do and I think one day it just clicked… People are really making money from this and people are really making a living, and maybe I should do this too."
Relocating to LA in 2012 -- "I just threw everything I had in a suitcase and moved" -- Azizi began to hone the experimental flows he'd become known for, a chance meeting with Flying Lotus in his apartment complex's gym, resulting in a deal on the similarly recusant artist's own Brainfeeder label. The resulting mixtape, 2013's Ghost In The Shell, was the first in a series of projects that would see the rapper display his warped flair for beatmaking, a series of EPs through Wacka Flocka Flame's 32BrickHouse agency and two LPs on his own imprint, preHISTORIC, met with both critical acclaim and serious hype from the underground hip-hop community.
"It sounds a little weird but I just let the sound be in the moment," says Azizi of a freewheeling style that veers from languid zoned-out stonerisms to warped video game electronics. "I don't want to have a sound, I just want people to know my voice. I want to be able to experiment left and right, do a dance song if want, a rap song if I want, put an R&B twist on something if I want. Being raised overseas, listening to all types of music, I just can't see myself doing one thing."
It's an ethos laid bare on latest release Memoirs Of The Reaper. Building on the "grim reaper" character Azizi developed for last year's A New Life album, it sees the rapper deliver arguably his tightest effort to date, demonstrating across 11 tracks a cut glass ability to deliver killer raps in his own, distinct way. "I want to be at the top and I feel like I can definitely do it," he says. "With the imagery, with the Grim Reaper, with trying to brand everything... I feel like we are going in the right direction. And once we have the world's attention, you know we will be able to attack."
Memoirs Of The Reaper is out now.
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photograph courtesy Azizi Gibson