Sintax The Terrific is a veteran of the underground – maintaining his rap rep as a member of The Pride and deepspace5 collectives while holding down a menial day job as a FREAKING LAWYER. TRU recently caught up with the kid to ask about the very literary new album Prince with a Thousand Enemies he crafted with DJ Kurfu.
TRU: Your new solo album Prince with a Thousand Enemies is loosely based on the book Watership Down – an epic fantasy novel that revolves around a group of anthropomorphised rabbits who are looking for a new home. In what ways did that story inspire you?
Sintax: Wait, they were anthropomorphised?!? That’s a horrible idea for a rap album. Horrible. What the h#ll was I thinking? I mean that’s seriously boo boo. I thought it was a Kid Cudi tell all.
I suppose I was inspired by the fact that Richard Adams, the author, turned something so obviously innocent into something ferocious. His rabbits are super epic. That’s a little like rap. Taking some typical topic and making it in-your-grill aggressive.
It’s also a book about struggle. I was in a little bit of a rough patch personally and themes of difficulty and doubt resonated with me at the time – sort of an against-all-odds tribute. I think the last bit would be the depth of Adams’ created world. It’s on the order of other rich fantasy material with linguistic and mythological structure and context. He builds an entire rabbit (lapine) history and culture within which the book’s particular story of adventure and survival is told. That’s pretty cool. Or maybe just mad corny.
I’ve always thought of myself as a translator. Taking ideas from other and unconventional places and speaking them into the music and language of hip hop. The chance to muse off of this great piece of literature about themes we all can relate to was a great privilege and challenge.
TRU: How did you get turned on to the book? The first time I ran across the title was seeing the character Sawyer read it on an episode of LOST.
Sintax: Mercifully, I have seen less than probably 45 minutes of LOST and none of those brief but excruciating moments included anything approaching the coolness of a Watership Down reference. I can’t think of another piece of entertainment whose success was more a product of its own nonsensical and arbitrary rules than LOST. Well, maybe a Saul Williams album. I kid, I kid.
But, experimental and edgy art, while bending traditional rules, should still slide in and out of the paradigm of its genre. Those boundaries are what give us context to judge and/or appreciate it. Like the difference between the flexibility of jazz and the lawlessness of atonal music. LOST was just atonal.
And, even where something purports to be a brand new thing and of its own self, or a priori, like a piece of fantasy, there needs some internal consistency. In other words, the new and made up rules should create their own cohesion and predictability.
You see this sort of failing in movies and books about magic all the time. There isn’t enough established structure or form for the limits of the magical powers so in one instance the wizard is impotent to open some door and then in the next he slays his nemesis with a tornado out of his pants. Why didn’t he just open the door with the dang tornado? I know I just offended a bunch of people.
In truth, I’ve seen a good bit of the show. So my opinion is well supported . . . wait, this wasn’t a question about my personal view of LOST? Sketch, these questions are not very clear.
I grew up on the movie Watership Down. It was one of a handful of “kids” movies made in the 70’s and 80’s that no parent in their right mind should have ever shown to another living soul, much less any kid entrusted to their care. Of course, I saw them all. The Last Unicorn, Secret of Nimh, Watership Down, the non-Rankin Bass Lord of the Rings movie, etc. These things were like Poltergeist and The Elephant Man spliced together back to back (I actually saw those in the same week — horrified).
So, Watership Down left me with this searing emotional connection from childhood. It has this haunting soundtrack. The movie produced a sort of Stockholm Syndrome — terrified by, but unable to turn from, its horror. I read the book much later and was actually blown away. It’s one of those books I can just read portions of for the sake of reading and literally, and with some irony here, find myself lost.
TRU: Some of these songs deal with some pretty heady stuff, occasionally taking on topics including the recession, illegal immigration, and xenophobia. I thought hip hop was supposed to be party music – what happened?
Sintax: Um, if you can’t get your Dougie on to a little illegal alien rap, well, then that’s on you, ninja.
[deepspace5 member] manCHILD said something in a song once about “being able to look his children in the eye when he was finished.” I want my albums to have balance and to scale the entire keyboard of emotions.
But, I’m always going to err on the side of doing my best to say something serious and adult over something youthful. That’s not a knock on party rap. I love it. It lifts our spirit and gives us leisure. I just don’t do it very well. So, you’re going to get a song or two from me about European tariff policy every once in a while. That’s what the skip and/or delete buttons for.
TRU: As a Caucasian, Christian rapper, did you have any fear that your use of the words “nigga” and “defiant queers” on the song “The Blows” would be misinterpreted?
Sintax: I do. They weren’t written or delivered lightly or without significant consideration. I guess I would make two comments about it. First, technically speaking, the words are spoken as though I am quoting those epithets from another context. Although I literally and obviously am the one speaking them, I mean to be repeating the poor word choices and sentiments of others. In other words, I’m not employing them in the first person.
Second, and more importantly, the song sort of demands them. There were only a handful of vehicles at my disposal to communicate the irrational hatred between people that arises in the mob of a riot or protest, principally, its violence and its language. The song sort of begs for the discomfort and awkwardness of those words.
I don’t say this often, but that part of the song literally sprang from the paper. That line and the surrounding six or so just appeared. In meaning and rhyme scheme and cadence it was just like they were meant to be. I didn’t plan to say them. That’s just where the song went.
But, that’s not to somehow say I’m not accountable for them. I made a purposeful decision to leave them on the record. Not only do I not use that word in private or in jest with my homeboys but I’m generally of the camp that it’s unspeakable under any circumstances.
And, I have a good bit at stake professionally and musically. It’s just not something I did flippantly. And, to that point, I hate inflammatory language for its own sake. That’s what we did when we were 19 – tried to sneak sexual innuendo into a rap about looseleaf or say the word “bastard” in proper context to sound all explicit. That’s immaturity. Ultimately, I felt like these were simply the right words to use.
Sintax: Kurfu and I had wanted to do something together for years. He had sent me a batch of beat snippets and they just suited this type of album which sort of requires a kind of musical cohesion that a single producer is better able to create. It needed to be a type of score. I really think Kurfu accomplished that vision in spades.
As for guest appearances, the idea of them has gotten a little out of hand. At this point, they are largely a type of marketing device. They are used to say, “My music is good or meaningful by association” or, worse, it’s “somehow only listenable and credible with these people on it.”
I think well chosen guest spots can really enhance a song and an album when they are purposeful. And, it is always a legitimate craving of rap fans, myself included, to see your favorites or unexpected duos on the same collab. That is hip hop. But, for me, it’s sometimes hard to feel like I’m on the same page with a collaborator.
And, on something like this, I was concerned about asking someone to contribute to a concept and a theme that was so off the wall and with which they may have little context. manCHILD jumped on the bonus cut “A Shining Wire” basically because we’re boys and we like doing raps together. But, even there I felt like a tool asking him to rap about rabbit traps.
I had a specific vision for this record that I felt like I needed to execute it, for better or worse. Upcoming projects will definitely have some collabs though! On some “Scenario” steez! Like a dungeon dragon . . .
For lyrics and detailed song explanations (you might need ‘em) click here.