"'[PROJECT 2] is a concept mixtape that covers the themes of fame, isolation, Armageddon, suicide, immortality, dark magick, and Christian mysticism. "Glass Half Empty" is the mid-point of this story and deals primarily with the emotion of helplessness... How do you see the glass? Can you see it any other way? Will my visions ever change? [PROJECT 2] on the horizon," self-described Occult Hip-Hop emcee Mahatma Crowley wrote within recent Facebook and Soundcloud statements... Mahatma Crowley's ghoulish delivery vaguely reminds me of his grizzled barking predecessors DMX, Ja Rule, Rick Ross, Yeezus-era Kanye, and at times, even Death Grips' frenzied frontman MC Ride. "Upon first hearing Crowley & The Beholder's Trinity's latest single, "Glass Half Empty" this past moon-lit Saturday evening, I was instantly reminded of his fellow Horrorcore peers Flatbush Zombies—who recently, for whatever reasons, played The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—RZA & Prince Paul's painfully short-lived Gravediggaz, and Swedish Dream Pop/Hip-Hop aficionados jj's phenomenal christmas eve 2010-released kills mixtape," I recently wrote within a write-up centered around Mahatma Crowley's "Glass Half Empty" lifted from his [PROJECT 2] mixtape, now appropriately dubbed iLLMAGIC; a Nas (Illmatic), Earl Sweatshirt, David Lynch, and Bob Dylan-influenced project, iLLMAGIC was properly titled and released on the eve of The Autumnal Equinox. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the ghoulish man, the myth, the legend, Mahatma Crowley himself via email on everything from Danny Brown to Say Anything frontman Max Bemis and his forthcoming The Beholder's Trinity-assisted arc of [PROJECTS 1-4].
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
I. Is there any type of correlation between your latest mixtape iLLMAGIC and Nas' similarly-named seminal Hip-Hop album, Illmatic?
They say you have your whole life to make your first album. It certainly felt that way for me while making THE BEHOLDER'S MARK. I studied some of my favorite albums to make that record; a few that come to mind are [Blu & Exile's] Below The Heavens, [Chance The Rapper's] Acid Rap, and [Kid Cudi's] A KiD Named CuDi. I worked to understand formatting an album and learned how to be cohesive as a narrator, while mixing things up sonically. Illmatic was a record I dug deeper into than ever before during that time. Studying that album in depth filled me with so much inspiration—it spun out beyond THE BEHOLDER'S MARK into iLLMAGIC. You’ll notice more similarities beyond just the name, if you look deep enough.
II. "iLLMAGIC is a concept mixtape that explores the themes of fame, isolation, Armageddon, suicide, immortality, dark magick, and Christian mysticism..." now, does that statement relate to the overall theme, influences, ideals, etc. of iLLMAGIC?
It relates directly to the narrative. The themes up there are covered in different tracks, all laced together by the story. It’s a codex to iLLMAGIC, my way of highlighting song concepts without explaining them. Maybe I need to get the lyrics up online, but if you listen to the album with those seven themes in mind, you’ll certainly be able to notice when they occur. There’s so many nuances, the opening seconds of “Why’s My Name On That Grave?” and the ceremony in “Equivalency” are good examples. I would love to outright explain this album, but that’s not why I made it. I made it so it could be [open] for interpretation.
III. I know you and I spoke about it before, but would you care to detail and identify the samples used throughout iLLMAGIC? Ellie Goulding & Edwin Starr's cover of The Temptations' "War" almost immediately jumped out on my first listen!
A lot of people are catching that Yeah Yeah Yeahs ["Heads Will Roll"] sample on “Equivalency,” as well. On “Glass Half Empty,” there’s a bar sampled from my favorite Earl Sweatshirt song ["Luper"]. For the most part, I’ll let people delve into things themselves. I have a David Lynch, Bob Dylan[-esque] approach to art. I think every interpretation is relevant and I want people to experience the art in their unique way above all else. I don’t want my point of view to be considered definitive.
IV. Would you care to briefly go into detail about the video and art element attached to iLLMAGIC? Will it be anything like THE BEHOLDER'S MARK’s roll-out?
I don’t do release dates or speak too prematurely about any work. I believe talking can prevent action. To briefly touch on it, there will be a video element for iLLMAGIC, absolutely. I think the narrative begs for further observation. Our video unit is studying some really abstract films right now, which is putting us in the direction we are looking to go in. You should definitely expect some iLLMAGIC promo videos before that.
V. I know you've released seven 25-second teaser videos related to THE BEHOLDER'S MARK in recent months, but when might we expect to see the full-length videos?
There will be one sooner than later. Maybe I’ll let you premiere it. We’ve got all the videos planned out and we’re definitely over the halfway point. I thought revisiting THE BEHOLDER'S MARK through videos, while iLLMAGIC is released would be a unique experience. They certainly cross over into each other, which you should keep in mind, as we move forward. The Beholder’s Trinity is a huge aspect of all I create, in any medium, and I think it’ll take people some time to really grasp their significance.
VI. Would you care to describe your planned roll-out for [PROJECTS 1-4] (iLLMAGIC was [PROJECT 2] of said arc)? When can we likely expect to hear [PROJECTS 3-4], Crowley?
Nothing but death will stop my plans. I’m never looking to reveal too much though. THE BEHOLDER'S MARK f/k/a [PROJECT 1] is a biographical album about my life thus far, my perspective, my self-understanding, my dreams, my nightmares. iLLMAGIC f/k/a [PROJECT 2] is a concept mixtape with a fictional narrative, whose metaphors mirror my experiences. [PROJECT 3] is going to be all collaborations; I got over 20 artists and something like nine producers. I don’t do many collaborations, so I saved it all for this next record.
I’m going to repeat that cycle again—starting with [PROJECT 4] another biographical album. I hate saying this ahead of time, but [PROJECT 3] & [PROJECT 4] dropping in 2017 isn’t unreasonable. These project code names are bullsh*t, too; they all have titles, I just like to reveal things at the last possible moment. iLLMAGIC was the title for almost two years and I announced that the day before it dropped.
VII. Who might you deem a few of your "dream" collaborators and what are the odds you'll ever be able to work with any of them?
Young Thug, Grimes, Mick Jenkins, Kamaiyah, The Weeknd, and Max Bemis of Say Anything. I think me with any of them would cook up some heat—a classic song, but I’m not interested in just buying a verse—it’s not my style. I think some are more likely than others, but I CAN tell you that one is already in-the-works.
VIII. What are some of your greatest influences on your unique "Occult Rap" sound? Upon my first few listens to "Glass Half Empty," I was reminded of Death Grips, DMX, Gravediggaz, and Kanye West's Yeezus.
I’m not going to confirm or deny any of your assumptions in the question. I like to guard my influences, but I’ll point out some really important ones you didn’t mention above. Sonically, Young Thug and Danny Brown were very impactful for me. There’s no one else executing experimentation in such a refined way. Vocally, you know it’s them as soon as they show up on a song—I think that’s so important today. They bring such a strong energy to their work and innovate on structure itself.
Lyrically, Tomas Kalnoky of Streetlight Manifesto and Jay Electronica have been inspiring. I heard Act I: Eternal Sunshine (the pledge) in 2008 and it really busted my head open. “Call me Jay Dogon, I’m on some Sirius sh*t,” that bar took me a week to decode, before f**king RapGenius. I knew then that when recording with my friends in a basement, I wanted to shift from talking about things I didn’t do and didn’t have, to saying something that actually mattered. Overall, without hearing Chance The Rapper, without Acid Rap, I never would have dropped public-facing tracks, simple as that. I would bump that album and people would ask me if he’s serious. I knew I wanted to illicit the same emotion in others: divisiveness.
IX. How would you likely attempt to best describe your unique brand of "Occult Rap" to someone who may have never previously heard your music?
Off-kilter flows, dense esoteric subject matter, and dark instrumentals. “Ayahuasca” / “Echoes Eternal” / “Glass Half Empty” / “Equivalency” / “Made The Devil Do It” are exemplary records. “Echoes Eternal” is a journey that no one has been able to decode. We’re pioneering a sound here. Behind the scenes, we’re definitely moving away from sample-heavy tracks, for many reasons. I have two producers, who will each do half of [PROJECT 4] with each getting their own side of the album, their production uninterrupted by the other. That product will be the thesis statement of Occult Rap.
X. What does your typical writing, recording, beat selection, and multi-media design process generally entail?
I have a unique work process. I’m scatter-brained—one thing to the next with no hesitation—so, the multi-media process fits in with this great. Work on what I want, when I want, solely because I’m inspired to. Music, I approach in a really obscure way. It all starts with the beats. I’ll meditate on them for some time. I’ll workshop flows in my mind and do references. During that time, the concepts and song titles take a life of their own. By the time it’s all in my mind, the writing and recording process is nothing. I write 80% stream-of-consciousness with revisions later on and during recording. Recording is just a matter of getting it done.