In Conversation: iblss is An Afronaut Orchestrating His Own MAD SPACE Odyssey

“The solution is, like my man said. You have to know yourself.” Nugget sized wisdom begins our voyage through MAD SPACE. In a small, densely packed store a conversation about the perceived wickedness of white people takes place.  Lauryn Hill and Jeru the Damaja’s crossed perspectives provide the opening vocals to album intro “Universal Ace”. The wading percussion instruments loop in every which way, setting the stage for our space abduction as the sample fades. We’re then greeted by Brooklyn artist AKAI SOLO. The album’s introduction is concise, left mostly to the message of the sample. While the music levitates you, ‘Mad, MAD SPACE. AKAI SOLO x iblss’ are the words welcoming you aboard the mothership. Our quick acquaintance is followed by a light speed ascension towards the MAD MOON. Lines like ‘Ally of my guild / enemy of a sorry state’ plunge you directly into the world and other worldly flow of AKAI SOLO at the onset of the project’s opening verse. Each song on MAD SPACE offers reflection and consideration in its lyrics, as AKAI tethers together thoughts about the world he’s experienced, as abstract as it all is. Allowing AKAI to pursue this clarity is the project’s main yet forever hidden character, iblss. 

iblss keeps his production simple, often finding a sample to pull apart which provides space for his bag of tricks. Tracks like “True Truths” are the epitome of the afronauts’ approach to beat making, where an all encompassing loop meanders into every crevice of your ear. On a track like “Easy East”, iblss gives us this ominous slow piano loop dancing between drums and hi hats, recreating the vast darkness of space. The marriage between what you hear in AKAI’s vocals and wordplay and iblss’ sonic tones is what allows MAD MOON to flourish. Your brain doesn’t have to choose to engage in either, it wanders between both. It is easy to be taken back by lines like, “Persistent like infinity and black truth”, as iblss slowly redirects the rhythm of your own stream of consciousness. As the beat on that track switches after AKAI preaches “see the sky get defiant” and the falls steps into Ageha’s (Ah-gay-ha) Stance, iblss slows the instrumental from Star Stepper down, showing both sides of the coin give it value. iblss blesses his listeners with his ability to distort time and space at a button, creating moments where you get taken outside of yourself. Astral projection activated.

iblss and AKAI SOLO

iblss, who hails from Fort Greene, is named in part for his birth name Idris Brewster and in part from iblis, a religious moniker for fallen angel/angel made from fire instead of light also known as the devil. He began making beats in high school with his lifelong friend $hay Buttah, and started to take it more seriously at Occidental, the university he attended in Los Angeles. This set the foundation for his return to New York in 2016 after graduating, when he moved to Brooklyn and met AKAI SOLO through $hay. The new freedom gave him space to begin focusing on recording as well as production, now having someone to record. Thus begins their training arc, as iblss got busy creating music with AKAI and other TASE GRIP members. Some of what we hear on MAD SPACE is from the beginning of that work together. On iblss’ first album released in August 2017 titled Bliss a younger iblss finds his footing in embracing some of those astral loops we hear later with tracks like “oooo[Lala]” and “deepSpace”. From this same project we get “bigTommy” the instrumental behind “Fuck A 16” as it’s titled on MAD SPACE.

MAD SPACE Cover by Omari Douglin

Creating art is second nature for iblss. On top of his beat making he paints, creates visuals to accompany his music, and uses his computer science background to create augmented reality (AR) art as a co-founder of Movers and Shakers NYC, where he uses immersive art and technology to create a space for historical and cultural narratives of communities of color that are so often forgotten about. His affinity for black art is ever present. His album Infinity pays homage to Frank Bowling, using his 2016 work Hothead as its album artSimilarly, the cover art of MAD SPACE is an abstract piece done by Omari Douglin. He credits his work in each field as helping his progression in the others. “Yeah, it all lends itself. Everything is connected.” For iblss blackness and his birthplace play shape in the art he creates. He references collaborating with his ancestors on all his work.  “You have to know your history, you have to know where you came from to move forward”. The ride on this spaceship is piloted by iblss and navigated by those who came before him.

Practice and performance are key ingredients to what makes MAD MOON’s combination so form fitting. Creating everyday is something you see mentioned often from both artists. Whether it’s a show or just experimenting at the crib there’s always intent to improve. Paying attention to every detail of the beat as iblss described, “I view it as I have like 3D audio sculptures of some sorts, and so it’s like I take the sample and start chiseling away at different frequencies”. You can find any of the TASE GRIP members in the basements throughout Brooklyn, honing their crafts, pulling up to each other’s shows, and using shows as direct feedback for what they’ve been working on.

I got iblss on a phone interview, where we spoke about everything that came to mind. Here is our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity:

GSC: I wanted to start with the B-Side show that you AKAI and Keenyn Omari did in February 2019 because it’s a full [MAD MOON] show. I wanted to know what you thought about that show and what led up to it? It connects to a lot of the projects that came out afterward.

iblss: That was a big opportunity, we were pretty fucking hype. B-Side is something we’d watch. My homie Rich aka Silence got the hook up interning at BRIC which is an arts organization in downtown Brooklyn. They put on for Fort Greene, which is my neighborhood I was born in. At that moment we were doing a lot of shows and releasing music, but in terms of media, videos, and online presence it wasn’t [much]. Silence was talking to the people who did B-Side and they asked him for local Brooklyn music artists. We wanted to do something more than we usually do, it’s usually just me on the SP and AKAI rapping. But we’d been doing mad shows, and wanted an element of surprise to create a unique performance. We thought Keenyn, who’s a boss in his own right, makes beats and plays a lot of different instruments, would be the perfect addition. It was a great opportunity and that was kind of like the beginning of us transcending past the glass ceiling.

GSC: There’s a lot of [at the time] exclusive music performed in that set. I was interested in the reasoning behind performing some of those tracks there. Was it because of that platform? Like you said, you guys wanting to break through and have some of that stuff displayed?

iblss: We don’t think about it like that, like we weren’t thinking about it as exclusives but at the same time, AKAI and I have been doing music together for 3 and a half years. And so we’ve been performing for that long. And we’d make shit and perform it the next day or the next week. Especially the ones that we like, and so that was just our set at the time that we pulled up with and added Keenyn too. And so MAD SPACE and RAFT and all these, we have been performing those for years.

GSC:  You met AKAI 3 years ago, so when did it start transitioning from you both making music together to formulating outlines for the albums and further plans. Is that something that started back then or is that something happened over time more recently?

iblss: We met about four years ago through my homie $hay Buttah, my lifelong friend. He knew AKAI from high school. And so he linked us, [we] started going to shows and we started linking and making music. I guess we weren’t really thinking about it like that. We were just kickin it, playing video games and making music and recording. I had just got my recording set-up done. I think we knew that we wanted to do MAD SPACE first, and so that was the first thing. [We made] a lot of music at one of my first cribs, and we were like this is working. A lot of GRIP members are pulling up, it’s like a nice little chill session and just getting a lot done. In the back of our minds we knew a project was coming but we weren’t trying to rush that or anything. We wanted to capture the energy of us just making music, and so we were just chilling a lot. We didn’t start putting together MAD SPACE until this year.

Return 2 Forever 2 Cover Art

A lot of songs didn’t even make it on initially, a lot of the stuff we made early on we just kind of threw to the side. But this year, we reassessed everything that we had and everything that we thought we wanted to [use]. The only project that was set was Return 2 Forever 2. We did that album in like 2-3 days, knocked that shit out and released it later.

GSC: I wanted to ask you about having a studio in your crib. I also wanted to know about your transition from realizing you wanted to make music, and then starting to set [your studio] up in your home.

iblss: That’s the most important part is having a chill space, where the homies can come through at any point, chill, play video games, watch YouTube or whatever. And then the mic is set up, if anything needs to happen. Having a free flowing environment will help the music be more authentic, the physical space has an effect on the end product. I moved out of my parents’ crib in 2016 when I got back from college. I went to some Facebook housing group. Found some crib with some people in Brooklyn. It was rough a lot of the time. I dealt with some weird problematic people…Gentrification is a real problem that encroaches on black space.

GSC: Word? Since 2016?

iblss: Yeah since 2016 I moved to four different places. Living with mad weird roommates but the first situation was in Bed Stuy with a white rock group. And so they were crazy, but I had my own space. They were okay with noise and they gave me a mic and so that was the beginning of it. Just making beats all day and then having AKAI or someone come through, and just start recording. That period was a lot of learning and self growth/exploration. 

GSC: Is that when you started making music, or were you already doing it when you were in college?

iblss: I started making music seriously in 2014. So I started late, I used to make beats in high school with my homie Shay but it was nothing serious. I really started taking it up and really being serious with it in 2014. I bought Ableton, got the Ableton push and really started. But I didn’t start recording until I got back and met up with AKAI. I moved to Bushwick, got my own mic, and was actually rooming with my homie Ivan, another dope producer who goes by mndcft. Being with like-minded people, making art and music, is always great. 

GSC: Is moving to Bushwick the beginning of your training arc?

iblss: Yeah, it was the beginning training arc, I had my own set up. I knew how to record, and it was more free flowing. That’s when Return 2 Forever 2 came about. That’s where we recorded that.

GSC: And so you moved twice more after that?

iblss: Yeah, me and the homie Ivan we had a white roommate Tyler, and he was so dirty. He didn’t fuck with us, he actually told AKAI and I our shit was trash. He ended up dipping on us without paying three months worth of rent. We couldn’t cover his back rent, and rent going forward. So we had no choice, we stopped paying rent, got the eviction notice, went to court, got it held over and we ended up not having to pay anything, we just had to dip. We ended up getting a bigger space, better energy, and that’s where AKAI and I recorded a lot of RAFT in that third crib.

GSC: I was interested, does it get kind of stressful at all? Or is it a release, creating so many different things from AR to paintings to producing?

iblss: No it’s definitely a release, just figuring out the best way to express myself. Also gain different skills in areas of interest. All of these skills I was picking up are all different mediums, but they all intersect. My goal is to blend a lot of these seemingly disparate areas.

AKAI and iblss

GSC: I see you talk a lot about doing stuff everyday, creating everyday…

iblss: Yeah, it all lends itself. Everything is connected. I remember, when I was really getting into painting I would see my music start to open up and shift. When I would do a lot of painting my process of making my beats would change. It was teaching me to let go…to worry more about the process and not about the outcome. And I feel like my beats improved exponentially through that. Even the tech work stuff also lends itself, like the process of coding and the process of creating AR. It’s all intertwined. Whatever your form of expression is, it is extremely important to carve out time everyday to get better.

GSC: Is the outcome you have in mind for combining all those things, more to do with lending itself to a music project or visual stuff?

iblss: A combination of both. It’s more about being a true expression of myself, so when you interact with art of mine whether it’s my beats or a visual there’s a common thread.. A very raw approach to things, that’s how I approach my beats and not really thinking about an end product. In terms of the visuals, I’m currently working on making visuals for an upcoming project of mine. That [work] is heavily influenced by the visuals of my paintings. You’ve started to see it already with the painting for MAD SPACE that [Omari Douglin] did, that was born out of me being interested in abstraction. We have a music video coming out, with RUFFMERCY in that similar vein. I don’t know where the end goal is yet, I’m just trying to figure out how I can integrate it all. Whether that’s the album cover, the visuals, or my tech work.

GSC: Can you talk a bit about TASE GRIP?

iblss: TASE GRIP are my brothers, family, just the homies. The people that really helped me channel the music shit. I’ll talk about some of the people we got AKAI of course, Shay, Rich aka Silence, Lungs–DeadLungs, ELRIC, ctyzn, Negro Sage, Amani Fela, Hajino and many others. When I joined we’d be chilling and making music together, and most of all going to shows. Going to shows and  just pulling up to support. And so anytime anybody has a show we try to pull up.

GSC: I wanted to ask you about MAD SPACE. I’m interested in what you were thinking about going into the project, Just how you approached it, describing your production and instrumentation if you can.

iblss: It’s was just experimenting. It was, it’s growth. MAD SPACE is growth. Those beats span from that first crib I was recording with AKAI to a few months before we released the project. It was a lot of me, trying to learn. The samples that I’m manipulating I view them as though I have 3-D audio sculptures, and so I take the sample and start chiseling away at different frequencies. Manipulating the sample in a lot of different ways to create something raw, gritty and unique. But at the same time I’m trying to keep it simple. AKAI and my shit goes very well together because I’m trying to set a good layer to give the rapper the space. Just give them the space to express and be as free as possible. With beats you can get too caught up in trying to make that shit mad complicated. I think at the same time with rappers it’s giving them that foundation to go off on and making that foundation interesting.

It takes a lot of time for me to find the loops. But that’s the most rewarding part to me, getting most of my stuff off of vinyl. I think most of my time is spent on the textures. I’m trying to make it sound as grainy as possible, add static. I usually have my beats chained through my SP-404, Octatrack and then through Ableton.  I’m trying to make something that’s about capturing that moment in time. I don’t like emailing beats, I like working in person. A lot of the time when I am making beats in front of AKAI, at a certain point he’s like, ‘Nah I’m trying to rap on this right now’. And so that might be when I looped it and only added the drums and the snares but he fucks with it like that. Capturing the essence of the collaboration means a lot. 

GSC: Is there a conscious thought when you’re making beats to have them ‘outer-spacey’? I know Afronaut is something you describe yourself as.

iblss: Yeah, Earth is shitty bro. I’ve had an obsession with outer space, since I was a youngin, and I guess that’s good to see that it’s transferred into my music. But I’m obsessed with the concept of the black planet and forming refuge outside the confines of reality. And also just, expanding your thought processes beyond just one perspective. I also think my beats are outer spacey because I put a lot of delay, a lot of reverb, a lot of echo. It’s very intentional to make it seem spacey. I think of music spatially. Audio is a three dimensional experience.

GSC: I listen to MAD SPACE a lot when I walk, it often takes me out of the real world into the music. You can almost forget where you’re going from being so enveloped in it.

iblss: That’s how I test my music. I’ll make it and then when I’m going about my day, I’ll play it walking through the streets of New York. Through that process, I’m like alright ‘This is transporting me, this isn’t transporting me. I need to fix this.’ I’ll play one beat for my forty five minute trip and it better stand that time, and if it doesn’t it’s like alright I gotta do something with it. And so it’s like a meditation for me. It’s about maintaining that feeling and having my beats be a place for meditation and refuge.

GSC: What’s your favorite track off of MAD SPACE?

iblss: My favorite tracks are different from a lot of people. I mean “True Truths” is one of my favorite tracks, for sure. That’s probably one of AKAI’s favorite tracks too. I think “Black Sawada” is one of my favorite beats on the album.  “Grateful 4 Aura” I just can’t get enough of that song, it’s so hard man. I definitely think there’s better songs on there but that beat is special to me. That’s one of the one’s I played a lot in my head. “BAN” too. 

GSC: I saw you put “Grateful 4 Aura” on your set for FOUNDATION FM Radio.

iblss: Yeah, had to. People like “94’ the Dog Year” OD. On Spotify that song has the most plays. AKAI and I did not expect that. Oh ‘Universal Ace’. That’s also one of my favorites.

GSC: A track that I really enjoyed was how “Star Stepper” goes into “Ageha’s Stance”. The beat switch over literally pulls you back into another dimension.

iblss: We perform that song a lot. Especially the “Ageha’s Stance” portion, that’s real spiritual right there. AKAI is talking a lot of real prophetic stuff on that track, as he is known to do. I love this song because of how uplifting and full of resolve the whole song is to me, makes you feel like you can really take on any challenge through training. That song got us the first look, from RUFFMERCY, he’s a dope animator from Britain. He saw Ageha’s Stance and did an Instagram video that has organically turned into a full video that he’s doing for us for MAD SPACE.

iblss and AKAI Performing

GSC: How does it feel to have 100k streams on MAD SPACE?

iblss: It feels surreal. We spent a lot of time doing a lot of shows for small crowds. It’s really a blessing to see people giving the album a good reception, and to see people are really tuning in now, it’s all we can ask for. The most important part is being able to converse with people you respect. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by such amazing creatives. 

GSC: Is there any chance there exists iblss rapping on iblss beats?

iblss: That does not exist. Like two years ago I would rap on my own beats, but I am not a rapper. I express myself through sounds and experiences but rapping was never something I saw myself putting skill points into. There are also such super talented rappers I am able to call homies, and I’d much rather make beats for them to do their thing over.  But, I freestyle over my beats when I’m making them just to get the flows down and make sure the drums are hitting in the correct areas and that you can do multiple flows.

GSC: Can we talk about your recent work with Roper Williams?

iblss:  Yeah of course. I started working with Roper three weeks ago actually. Literally three weeks ago. Fat Boi Sharif hit me up and told me to come through. Roper studio is crazy, definitely dope energy. And we work well together, our process feels similar. When I got there, I was there for a few hours and we had already knocked out like five beats. It was just automatic and natural. So I came back a week later and by then we made like 8 beats in the span of like 3-4 hours. We’re actually working on a little project right now, I’m really excited for that to unfold. 

GSC: There’s a lot of blackness and African American concepts covered in MAD MOON music, can you speak about that being a theme in your projects?

iblss:  Yeah, AKAI and I both read a lot, alway seeking higher knowledge.  We speak a lot about race outside of the music. A lot about our positionalities in this crazy world, the plight of the black person in this country but also black joy, celebration, and the black radical imagination. Carving and expressing my perspective, oftentimes very connected to my ancestral past, is what drives to me to make art. A vehicle to bring to light the histories and bliss of my ancestral lineage and present culture through my own translation. Throughout MAD SPACE, we surface that but always through the perspective of self. It doesn’t always have to be so direct either. It can be subtle, like through a Cowboy Bebop skit. The art and our artistic journeys are mirrors for our journey of self-knowledge. Blackness is at the core of what we do and how we move through the world, so that’s at the forefront of the art unabashedly. 

iblss solo

GSC: Working with your ancestors. I was wondering what you mean when you say that?

iblss: You have to know your history, you have to know where you came from to move forward. You’re an extension of where you’ve been. We need to better understand that past in order to understand what is currently manifesting right now. But that tweet was in reference to this Octavia Butler project I am a part of. I’m in a futurist writers room where we’re creating a black utopia in collaboration with Octavia Butler and her writing. We’re creating a world that stems from an alternate history and speculative future. This timeline is basically what would’ve happened if after the emancipation of 1865 we actually did segregate? Or we actually did form our own communities and they thrived in spite of white supremacy. The world that I am specifically building follows a group of void traveling pirates on a journey through an ancestral cosmic highway. By tapping back into Octavia Butler’s frame of mind, we’re building on conversations with her. 

Through art you can have eternal conversations. You’re continuing the legacy. I like to think right now that me and my homies, and the people in this movement are really creating the future of music, and I think if that’s the case we really need to study those who came before us and have them present in the art and in the work. And you can never look at too many people, I don’t think influence is a bad thing.

GSC: Last, last question. ‘Siren song got me out the jam…’

iblss: Oh man.

GSC: I’ve listened to that so many times and it solidified my fandom in you. Because I’ve always loved Earl, but when I heard that and I listened to the things that he’s saying and the fact that you have your influence on something that is…

iblss: the music speaks for itself. I guess it is crazy, and it goes to show that we have a similar ethos. At the end of the day it’s all about finding and collaborating with people who are on a similar wavelength. 

GSC: Is there anything specific you wanted to say about that track and the fact that I think it came from when you were saying you don’t have anyone to rap over your beats right?

iblss: Bruh, yeah. I said I have no one to send my beats to, but that’s not really true. I’ve got a bunch of people that I am getting beats ready to send to. But yeah it just happened organically I guess. I sent him a bunch of beats but wasn’t sure if he would fuck with it. But yeah he killed it.

GSC: Do you feel prepared for the successes that you’ve had and you’re already having?

iblss: No I never feel prepared. I gotta give my beats some space after making them to truly have an idea whether I like it or not. That’s why it’s good to be in the same space as the person/rapper you’re working with. Creating music is a symbiotic process. I like the collaborative aspect of bouncing energies off of each other.  When I’m playing beats for people, I would only play certain beats, and like skip over other tracks that I’m less confident in, but those are always the beats that people end up liking. Moments like that reinforce the idea that music speaks differently to everyone. It’s taught me to not make quick judgments on my music because it might speak to somebody else. In general, improvement is what pushes me to continue. 

Support iblss and AKAI on bandcamp, digital streaming, instagram and twitter.

iblss: bandcampInstagramTwitter, and Spotify

AKAI SOLO: bandcampInstagramTwitter, and Spotify

3 Comments

  1. Excellent interview man. With the lane this music is in there aren’t many places to find interviews in general. MAD SPACE has been in the rotation heavy lately and seeing this gave me a look at how iblss and AKAI operate and it was informative and engaging af.

    Liked by 1 person

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