[Editor’s note: In “Tweets Is Watching,” Phillip Mlynar asks local artists questions based solely on the contents of their Twitter timeline.]
After signing to EL-P’s Definitive Jux label a decade ago, Despot has teased fans about his long-rumored debut album with a series of one-off tracks and cameos. While you keep waiting on Despot’s long-playing opus, here’s the Queens-raised rapper talking through his Twitter timeline references to beloved iguanas, Lost Boyz songs, and the appeal of the progressive-leaning sounds of Ratking.
You paid tribute to Rex the other day. Who was he?
He was my iguana — well, my brother’s iguana really. He was living in my parents’ apartment in Queens for 23 years and he passed away.
Is that a good age for an iguana?
I think so. I read that the oldest iguana living in captivity was 35-years-old so I think Rex did really well.
What was Rex’s personality like?
He was pretty feisty when he was younger but I think in his old age — like the last five or six years — he was more docile and more like a cat.
What’s your earliest memory of Rex?
We got two iguanas at the same time, Rex and TJ. Rex was the smaller of the two and I remember buying them at a pet store on Queens Boulevard that’s no longer there.
Have you considered writing a tribute song about Rex?
Probably not. I don’t think there’s too much to say about an iguana.
Always though it was so nice of Renee to leave a not cuz she didn’t wanna wake Mr. Cheeks up.
— Despot (@despotroast) April 2, 2014
You were tweeting about the Lost Boyz song “Renee” the other day.
Yeah, I remember my friend Jimmy used to cut my hair in his bathroom when we were in junior high school. We’d cut school and go to his house all the time and I feel like every single time he cut my hair he was playing a cassette single of “Renee.” That song recalls a very specific time of my life.
Were you surprised at the ending of “Renee”?
Not really. I think I knew what happened already.
Have you ever met a girl like Renee in real life?
A girl who wanted to be a lawyer who smoked weed? No, I don’t think I know any girls who want to be lawyers; I know plenty of girls who smoke weed though.
Who’s your favorite female character from a hip-hop song?
What’s the girl from Crime Mob? Diamond or Princess? Whatever, they had a song called “Hit That Bitch With A Bottle” and I thought that was cool. She was hitting a bitch with a bottle — she wasn’t hitting a man with a bottle. I think it’d be cool to go on a date with her and she just beats the shit out of some girl.
Where would you take her on a first date?
Maybe to a pet store and we could look at some iguanas.
the @RatKing album is the first rap album in a long time that conjured some real nyc nostalgia and tangible memories of growing up here.
— Despot (@despotroast) April 2, 2014
You’ve been very complimentary about Ratking. When did you first hear them?
This is a very funny story actually. Maybe eight or nine years ago A-ron the Downtown Don of aNYthing reached out to a friend of mine who was a casting agent and she called me and said, “Hey, you’re a rapper and we need a little kid to be a rapper for this web video thing. You’re not really a little kid but you look like one.” The idea was to have this little rapper named Lil Wiki to be rapping and he has a friend called Googs who makes all the beats. I was like I’ll do it but I’m already Despot and I have music released as Despot so I’d very obviously be playing a character. They were cool with that.
I think I never heard back though until I ran into her a couple of weeks later and she said they found someone else. Then I saw the video and it was Wiki of Ratking and his friend Rob playing the producer. He kicked a little freestyle or whatever. Then not long after that I met them on the street or whatever. Soon after that I was playing a show in Bushwick at the Market Hotel and Wiki was in the crowd and I let him get on stage and kick a verse and that was his first time on stage kicking a rap.
So Wiki owes you a debt of gratitude?
What appeals to you about the Ratking album?
I guess a lot of people are kinda calling it throwback rap a little because they’re actually rapping and a lot of people don’t do that any more, but I think it’s actually pretty progressive and forward-thinking. I like that Hak and Wiki can both rap and I like that the beats can sound a bit messy and cool but I think most of all I like that there’s a lot of very specific references to New York. Wiki is a lot younger than me and seems into a lot of stuff that I was into at his age but I don’t really think about any more, like rapping about a North Face bubble-goose or a Snow Beach jacket. That is some very particularly New York shit. I like New York.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2014