Over the last year, a teenager initially known as Spooky Black, now going by his real name - the mononymous ‘Corbin’ – has entranced the internet – and DJ Khaled - with his cerebral paeans. Over two EP’s, Black Silk and Leaving, and a self-titled album...
"I got into music when I took guitar lessons in third grade, around the age of eight. I was playing, like, AC/DC and shit, all the normal young kid rock shit, but over the years I got into different music; I was a dubstep kid, I was an emo kid and then in seventh grade I started singing. In ninth grade, I listened to Gregory Alan Isakov, who's this folk artist from Colorado. I took a lot of my vocal style inspiration from him. Then I got into Lil Ugly Mane, who's this underground rapper from Richmond, Virginia. He makes dark, lugubrious, devil-like, gangsta rap. I put out a devil rap album, Forest, before I put out [my first EP] Black Silk, it was sick, it was so weird. It's on YouTube somewhere. I made Black Silk inspired by Keith Sweat. I started listening to Keith Sweat after my friend's dad recommended him to me. That's what he listened to with his wife [making out] and stuff, so it was pretty funny. One of the biggest inspirations for the Without U video was Joe's I Wanna Know video, that's why I wore all white. I have a broad range of inspirations now. I'm listening to a lot of Björk, James Blake, Beirut, Nils Frahm, ?"lafur Arnalds; I'm getting into Zoo Kid, old King Krule too..."
"The big thing in the US is EDM. I visited my brother's college in Iowa and it was the most stereotypical college you can imagine. There was a Paint EDM festival going on, where you spray-paint people; every room you went to people were casually listening to EDM. I didn't enjoy it [laughs]. My brother and me have the same sperm donor, but different mums. So we have the same dad, let's say. I didn't encounter any problems with my parents; gay marriage is legal now and St. Paul has always been a liberal, non-judgemental place; it's always been a safe place for the LGBT communities, which is sweet. So there was no problem growing up, I was never picked on for it at all. My parents like my music now; they didn't at first, when it was about killing myself and other people... the first mixtape. But they support me now. My mum listens to my music when she cleans the house."
The Death of Spooky Black
"I came up with the name Spooky Black in ninth grade. It was going to be my rapper name when I created that devil rap album, Forest. If you listen to [that album], it will make complete sense what I meant by Spooky Black. But I never expected it to stick. Then I went by Lil Spook; I was like Spooky Black is my rapper name, Lil Spook is my R&B name'. It was a joke name. I cringe when people call me [Spooky Black]. I hate it. It makes me uncomfortable as a musician. I decided to put out my debut as 'Corbin' to solidify my place as a serious musician. I've always been serious about my music but I always like to have humour in my music. I'd just rather not have my name be something that I cringe about."
"When I'm at home writing, it has to be late because that's when I'm in a groggy, deep, contemplative mood. I take my time walking around my basement when the lights are off. If I feel some way I sit down and start writing. [My videos are all shot in St. Paul] because I really like the woods and the raw nature look. Psymun (part of thestand4rd with Corbin) and I were driving to Wisconsin recently, and the whole car ride was amazing, the colours were crazy. There was brown grass shooting out of the snow and trees behind it, I got envious of the people who live there, because I live in a city. That's probably how I'm going to write my album, either driving or getting a cab up north, getting all my beats together and isolating myself. My album is mostly going to be about isolation, and how I've grown used to being alone because I've been alone for so long. People think it's depressing but it's not, I like being alone, how spiritual it is. My new album, so far, has a weird vibe. I don't really like making positive music."
Love, girls and school
"I recently got a girlfriend, but I don't know how long it's going to last. I've grown so used to being alone. I don't crave companionship. I spend most of my time either at the studio or home alone in my basement. That's how I deal with problems, not by talking to people, but being by myself. I found myself by myself, pretty much.There was a long period when I isolated myself from everybody. I switched schools and cut out a bunch of friends I'd been wanting to end relationships with, dudes with substance abuse problems, who turned into stereotypical high school dicks. I ended up not talking to them ever again, and it was probably the worst way of doing it because it hurt them the most. I try to do things in ways that don't hurt people, I try to make people happy but when it comes to people I care about, I always shut down, which sucks. Black Silk isn't really about girls; it's just the platform I chose to convey how I was feeling. That's when I was going through depression. Leaving was more specifically about girls, but then I ruined my chances with [them], so I won't say a lot about that..."
"I don't wear do-rags anymore, but whatever I wear I like to look stupid; I think it's funny. I don't get humiliated by self-humiliation. I like to make myself look uncomfortable; nobody can make fun of you because you're obviously wearing what you're wearing knowingly. If you make yourself look like an idiot, then other people feel less like idiots. I would DJ before our thestand4rd shows and play nightcore. Nightcore is ridiculous sped-up pop music and I would scream into the microphone, and make myself look like an idiot. People are weird about it. My friend told me that somebody in the crowd at the St. Paul show - who looked like a douchebag and wore an Obey snapback cap backwards and a diamond jersey - was like 'What the fuck is he playing?!' He was getting mad at me. That's the type of person I try to piss off. I don't make music to piss people off but I DJ to piss people off."
DJ Khaled is my father
"I made that song around the time when I started thinking 'DJ Khaled is such a ridiculous, weird human being'. It's intriguing. I thought he was really funny and weird. It was an on-the-spot decision, like 'What shall I call the song? Oh, I'll call it DJ Khaled Is My Father. The joke got taken too far, because then I met him; he opened for us in New York. He followed me on Twitter, and then he asked for my number and we talked. He's exactly how you'd think he would be in person. I was like, 'Would you be down to open for me'? And he was like, 'Does your DJ have All I Do Is Win and I was like, 'Of course'! It worked out perfectly; he performed and then we came out and I did DJ Khaled Is My Father. It was crazy."
"It was never my dream to get big. It's great that people are listening to my music, that's all I care about, but I don't like what comes with it... like how some fans care about you so much and worship you. It's hard to understand, because I don't see anybody as better than myself. I don't see famous people as gods. I'm just a normal person; I'm probably more awkward than you. A lot of my fans are teenagers who usually have more of a presence on the internet than they do in person, which is cool. My friend was telling me that when I put out DJ Khaled Is My Father as a video, that's when he knew there was something special. It was raw, and that's how I try to keep it. If you like my music, you can like it but I'm just going to be myself and make my music, and put all that I can into it and say it the way that I feel and I think people appreciate that. I think people respect the honesty."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Jamie Hawkesworth
Production Sylvia Farago
Special thanks to Julia Sarr-Jamois