Within the abstract hip-hop space, there’s a significant movement towards lyrical agnosticism and over-saturated production. Celestaphone is flipping that script on its ahead—creating experimental hip-hop at its most granular and intrusive. While he hails from California, he has no ties to regional affiliations or genre constructs.
His latest release, A Year of Octobers, is a collaboration with Brooklyn’s YOUNGMAN (MC Paul Barman’s alter-ego). The album is dark, challenging, funny, and thoughtful all the same. It’s full of sociopolitical snark and anarchic beat poetry. Produced over a tumultuous 2-year period amid Covid times, Octobers imagines a world where chaos is comfort and order is passé. I spoke to Celestaphone about working with the great Paul Barman, finding the perfect sample, and how punk-rock saved the day.
NICHOLAS KOPFER: First of all, congrats on the new album. It’s a really compelling listen.
CELESTAPHONE: Thank you.
What attracted you to MC Paul Barman’s work and led you to reach out to him?
The first time I heard Paul was either on Busdriver’s Taxed Jumper Mix, or DOOM’s Mm..LeftOvers. I had the 2nd-gen iPod Nano—it was maybe new at the time—begging my bro to load up everything by DOOM and Busdriver. So fam, Tony Hawk’s Underground, Adult Swim bumps, etc.—these all effectuated an awareness of Paul. Got into his own releases later after a series of reminders. Voice and production choices win me over first with emcees, always; after that it’s the lyricism. Rarely folks will possess a broad monster blend apt to my tastes, and not everyone has to, but Paul locks it in.
Would you say you had a specific sonic concept in mind going in, or did you more-so build around Barman’s verses?
Paul and I first started doing tracks late into 2019. We immediately began talking punk rock—that was a huge mutual interest. Paul gave me the rundown on YOUNGMAN, anyone who heard him pop off on Echo Chamber and elsewhere beforehand would have appreciated the same deets that I got. Dots connected, bangers formed—evidently a focus on creating this rough and raw punky debut for YOUNGMAN arrived. It was already YOUNGMAN’s wheelhouse vocally, and such a natural production for me.
This was your first collaboration album, correct? Was there anything unexpected about the macro-process as a whole, or did it go pretty smoothly?
Well there were two big surprises that really affected things. First being the pandemic: having to adapt to social restrictions; remote locations started being favored over studio recording. Second was MF DOOM passing. I was told that the character YOUNGMAN was suggested and named by DOOM for Paul after a show in Atlanta, so this record was always part-tribute to him. When news broke it hit really hard—it was overwhelming as a superfan, and Paul had real deal history with him. We reached out to his people August of that year with such a twinkle of hope, and the bigger pipe dream was aiming for October 2020 release; it would have been premature but goes to show we had a theme planned the entire time. Extreme outbreak and loss aside, this collab album is the first which fulfilled enough for me to publish. Super proud of it, Paul is amazing.
What was your favorite track to produce? How do you think it came out overall?
I’d say “Medically Induced Coma”, when I first flipped the sample on there it was by using this really low bit-rate WFMU rip that I had to make the best of at the time. That’s usually the case if I don’t have a better file or a physical. Seeking an improvement is almost always a difficult task as I tend to pull from complete obscurity, but I always try to improve these cases and hardly settle. This one may have produced the most emotional digging story I’ve got. The sample is a song called “Cast” by little known NorCal artist Sam Golden. I tried so hard to locate a copy of Sam’s LP Very Little Sleep in the area with no luck at all. The three people I came across that actually owned it would not sell or even record it. Eventually I took the time to find a way to contact Sam, hoping he would at the very least have a recording of the record. He did not have a rip of the album. Even better, he had thirty copies of the LP. I bought each copy as well as the complete rights to the music, sent a copy out to Dave Cooley who did a beautiful transfer and remaster for a digital reissue that I’m so grateful of, and thus updated the sample on “Medically Induced Coma”.
I feel like your albums tend to have a conceptual framework. Do you think it’s easier to work around a modified theme or does that naturally emerge from your listening habits at the time?
Detail is my forte, but you can’t force it all. The end result will always be somewhat serendipitous. We’ve all seen what happens when you mother things too long anywho.
You started off your career with several straight instrumental albums but have lately been releasing rap projects. Is that something you had planned or did it come about naturally?
I’ll put it this way, no plan involved an eternity of instrumental albums, or for that matter, an eternity of anything.
I have trouble describing your music to friends because of how genre-fluid it is. Do you have a shorthand for your style of hip-hop? Is it even important for your music to be considered hip-hop?
No, it’s not important at all. Perhaps dismissive or brand-esque, but a shorthand is the name or title. Music that isn’t quickly synopsized breeds enthusiastic listeners with cultivating, long discussion.
So what’s next for you? Working on anything now?
Started an electronic classical album; those pieces take time as they’re mostly notated and I’m designing a lot of timbres along the way. Next rhymes should be on EDM stuff but not sure yet.
Celestaphone & YOUNGMAN’s A Year of Octobers is available for download on Bandcamp.