Edan’s singular talents as an emcee, DJ, musician and producer (the first two performed simultaneously on special occasions), has well earned him the playfully self-dubbed title Grandmaster Multi-Tasker. Beyond the immediately impressive nature of this skill set, the Berklee-schooled, Brooklyn-based artist is distinguished by his ability to harness a seemingly divergent array of interests, influences and affinities (e.g. PAL-era original school flair, ’60s psych rock, post-Rakim rhyme constructions, intermittent kazoo and theremin) into a sensibility that feels uniquely his own. This style, which already felt fully-formed on 2005’s now-classic Beauty and the Beat, has continued to flower in the intervening years via cut-and-paste mixes (Echo Party), recorded collaborations (Humble Pi with Homeboy Sandman), DJ sets and a legendary live show (with longtime performing partner Paten Locke, who sadly returned to the essence in 2019) that reliably inspires. Here, this grandmixer multi-fixer discusses how analogue approaches have played parts in the various aspects of his aesthetic escapades.
I think it’s earth, but more so than that it’s warmth. It’s like, of the soil, you know? As opposed to a math-based facsimile. Maybe a less symmetrical but immeasurable, natural state. Which is beautiful.
How would you say an analogue approach manifests itself in what you do?
I would describe the music that I’m into as warmly flawed. And I think that spirit is with me when I create. Of looking for the beauty in what is typically deemed an imperfection, but maybe in reality is not any sort of imperfection at all.
How self-conscious or self-aware are you about this generally speaking?
There’s some people who may say that aesthetics are secondary to core emotion. Where somebody, let’s say on American Idol is singing their heart out, that that is the most important thing; the sincerity or emotional power that something has is more important than aesthetics or how something is dressed up, so to speak. I don’t agree. I think it’s all important. I’ve come to realize that aesthetics are extremely important, and it’s this sort of non-verbal way to communicate a lot about your worldview and what factions you side with, or don’t side with. It’s just like a means of communication.
When I think about maintaining a certain sonic personality to the work I do it’s to communicate a worldview. So yeah, I try to be conscious of it, but not to the point where I stifle ideas. You want to try something, you want to follow your intuition and try not to overthink. I would like to think that I’m free enough to just create, to not worry about the finished product while I’m in the creative space. And then deal with it once you’ve laid something down.
But you utilize whatever technology is at hand to execute your ideas?
Yeah, I mean I use digital technology for damn sure. But I also use analogue records. Shit, a lot of the records people press nowadays probably aren’t authentically analogue through and through. I will say this, that all of it plays second fiddle to getting the idea across. Just the idea is more important than whether it’s analogue or digital to me. And if someone can receive your transmission and you feel like they understand and y’all can marinate on an idea that matters, that’s all that matters, more than the medium, really. I think the whole analogue/digital thing is just another meditation on what nature is and what does “natural” actually mean?
Do we celebrate Mother Earth and try to make heaven on earth? Or do we look to the stars and look to technology to escape and go to Mars or Jupiter or whatever, what have you? And so I think if you were to pit analogue vs. digital, which there’s no need to do, but there’s something in that debate that’s all wrapped up in the whole thing of what does it mean to maintain analogue? It’s almost like, do you preserve this beautiful thing that you know and have had, or do you look onward and elsewhere once a certain thing is maybe somewhat challenging to sustain? I’m sure like with everything that’s going on right now in the world, it’s also just reflective of mismanagement of the good things we have. All of this somehow is in my mind when I think of these conversations.
Largely when I’ve seen you DJ over the years you’re playing vinyl.
More fun. I don’t wanna bust out the computer, that shit is boring, you know?
How would you articulate why it’s more fun for you?
I don’t know… I get to celebrate my passion. And the passion is obviously music but it does sort of spill into the tactile material that you’re using and the acquisition of things. Just acknowledging the story that an object holds. Mp3s – it’s all good, whatever. There are people who are gonna make a lot of people dance with a mp3 and probably do a better job with that with their mp3s than I would do with my records because my intention is also to go more cerebral, a little bit. But it’s fine, it’s all whatever you enjoy.
I personally just for whatever reason have fallen into the questionable habit of acquiring tens of thousands of things and having done that [laughs], I don’t know if it’s an ego thing, but I just wanna validate that decision by using all this shit in some kinda useful way and not adding some other layer of digitizing something that’s already there. I wanna respect the thing that exists that I spent my hard-earned money on and I wanna use that fuckin’ thing. I don’t wanna digitize it, create a mathematical facsimile, leave that fuckin’ thing on the shelf. I have the luxury of having an automobile. So I could carry records to the gig fairly easily, park outside the spot, make two or three trips with my record boxes, and I’m good. But there’s people that don’t have that luxury and that’s why it doesn’t ultimately matter. It’s a personal choice. I would never say it has some great nobility to it. It’s just that I enjoy the whole process more so and it just simplifies my life. I buy these records, and I use ’em. And I love buying records.
And when you play out by this point I’d think people realize that’s your thing, playing records.
Also, I just think for the average passer-by or the person who’s sort of oblivious or whatever but is aware that I’m using old records, just even subconsciously it will connect them to a thread that eventually leads to the past. Or like the richness of a world that existed before today, you know what I mean? Music, art should have some mystique, some intrigue to it, and I think when you use the old records in public and some people are like young enough to not even know what you’re using, it’s just nice. So why not?
You mentioned this idea of the story an object holds. When did you start to become aware and appreciative of that?
I probably didn’t fully appreciate it ’til, you know, being a little bit older. And just being better acquainted with what the passage of time actually means. [laughs] For example, like I might have my moms’ old copy of Revolver by the Beatles and it has her handwritten name on it. Like, stories, you know, and depth and people… It’s just all about human beings and what we do on Earth to make the best of this life. All these records indicate a life lived, especially if they have personalized notes on the records. Or just memories of how you acquired something, memories of a friend of yours turning you on to something. And so a record could remind you of a friend, it could remind you of a former lover, it could remind you of a member of your family, it could remind you of a record shop that was once a sanctuary or something for all the weirdos in town to hang out. All of that stuff comes with it. Even if a record is fucked up condition-wise, you’re like, oh wow, they really loved this, they listened to the shit out of this Jimi Hendrix record or whatever. That’s cool too. All of it. Patina, you know what I’m sayin’? [laughs]
One thing I’ve always respected and enjoyed is how your sensibility is consistent across the various facets of what you do. You make music, you play music, but in addition the way you present these experiences shares the same aesthetic visually, which has the look and feel of something analogue even if it’s not solely created or dispensed that way.
When I do flyers for like DJ gigs or promoting something online it’s all going through a digital medium, but instead of just using a font that’s ready-to-go or some sort of computer thing where everything’s in a straight line when you type it out, like I’ll use a sticker letter kind of thing and then I’ll scan that off a piece of paper and then cut and paste the letters individually. I might tilt some on purpose. I want the words on a flyer as part of the composition, to also have some sort of emotional connotation. Where there’s a slant here or a sentence is running diagonally just to give you movement. And yeah, all of that stuff is an opportunity to express a subtle thing. So it is all connected.
It’s almost like we’re hinting at analogue being human error or something. Or like human expression versus some sort of like perfect technological thing. But you know like I said, it’s all going through analogue and digital. [With music] digital makes it so you don’t have to acquire all this reel-to-reel tape or something. So there’s immediacy with that too. And it’s a different medium and you gotta figure out how best to surf that medium to suit your aspirations. I used to kind of intentionally distort breaks when I would sample them into the machine and people would be like, what kind of machine are you using? Like they would think I’m using some crazy machine and no, it’s just the way you apply it, what you do to give it some kind of character. That strikes people as an analogue thing. Technically it’s not always even analogue, but it has the spirit.
I think anything that feels cheap like in a way that isn’t soulful is something that I would try to avoid. Like a digital distortion that sounds like shit, like I don’t wanna hear that. Like how we were just talkin’ about fonts and computers. There’s a lot of late ’90s/early 2000s hip-hop cover art design that to me always looked like it was done on computers and it was fuckin’ boring. And that’s the sort of energy I try to stay away from. I think things should feel a little bit delicate. There’s a preciousness to life and I like to indicate that by not having something look mass produced or devoid of a human touch. So I think that’s what I’m striving for. This is a human experience that we’re all sharing. And there’s something about these like intended tweaks and flairs and “imperfections” that somehow celebrate and reinforce the humanity. If I degrade an instrument that I recorded to tape and then I run it through tape to make it sound a little bit more warbly, it’s also just trying to get it to some notion of authenticity in a way. And it’s weird, it’s like once something is a little bit degraded and less perfect it feels a little more visceral. Yeah, it’s just experimenting with creating an experience that feels more visceral and I think these little subtle variants in the presentation, in the lettering, in the sound, it makes things richer. Analogue will allow for a warmer version of that.
So how does the theremin fit in with all this?
The theremin. I guess yeah, that’s an analogue sound wave, sign wave. That’s just… shit, I just like space sounds and shit, you know what I mean?
words: Jeff Mao
photo: Becky McNeel, Ricky Powell, Edan
Published on 2022.03.01
New York based Edan is known for his unlikely take on hip-hop culture, where traditional rap songs are often skewed by 60’s rock samples, tape echoes, and foreign language choruses (not to mention the off-beat humor and surrealist imagery incorporated via his lyrics). Edan’s album “Beauty And The Beat”, drew worldwide acclaim, most notably for its graceful marriage of hip-hop and rock-based psychedelia. Despite being off the beaten track musically, Edan tastefully/cautiously blends these influences into something new, with an emphasis on skills and originality.