In Conversation: BAGMAN Talks Jersey, The Bronx, Aliens, and His Excellent New Tape OURBOROS

All photography by Birdy, album art by 0TT0

“Honestly now I feel like I’m talking to my psychiatrist,” BAGMAN admits within the first minute of his first ever media interview with GSC. A long-time GSC affiliate, BAGMAN has been quietly working on his craft the last few years. Whether putting together mixes, focusing on his production skills, or being his collaborators’ biggest hype man, the Jersey born + NYC based artist is settling into his own rhythm.

Last month, BAGMAN released his second album OUROBOROS which was self-recorded, mixed, and mastered in-house. As a follow-up to 2020 DNP-CD (a play on the NBA Did Not Play score sheet mark), BAGMAN’s soul focused sound is doubled down here with a focus on the instrumentals taking the listener on a journey around the tri-state. 

BAGMAN is a quintessential New Yorker. Born and raised in NJ, relocating to the Bronx for undergrad, and spending time uptown, downtown, and everywhere in between shows on this project. OUROBOROS is a mind shifting audio excursion to the hazy filled mind and mantras of BAGMAN.

An OUROBOROS listen does not come with a spliff accessory, but when speaking to BAGMAN you can tell each track was built with one in hand. From the opening title track “OUROBOROS” featuring RAW-B, the drum track gives the listener a steady beat to march to as they head off into space. Multiple UFO and alien references aside, BAGMAN’s cosmic journey is a heady trip that demands repeat listens as the instrumentals are just as head bobbing necessities as the hooks are ear candy. 

As BAGMAN explores his mental health throughout the project, his honesty is refreshing and shows a trend to a better self understanding. On “WONDERFUL MiND”, BAGMAN admits “”if I lost my mind / I know where to find it at”. Elsewhere BAGMAN’s repeated references to sleep such as on “WSOTB” remind the listener that NYC is the city that never sleeps. 

Check out our highly in-depth interview below touching on the influences of OUROBOROS, the creation process, sleep, basketball, and more! 

GSC: There are a lot of references to sleep on the project. How have you been sleeping these days? 

BAGMAN: Sleep is important to me. I do need to get my seven hours. Seven hours is my sweet spot. anything more or less makes me groggy. 

GSC: What’s your relationship to your dreams?

BAGMAN: I’ve been having super vivid dreams lately, especially during the pandemic. My mom too has the same thing. I don’t know. They confuse me and interest me.

GSC: Do they inspire you?

BAGMAN: Honestly, no. I’ve never really dreamt of something meaningful or at least that I can think of off the top of my head. Honestly most of my dreams are weird. A lot of it’s usually a gray kind of atmosphere and I’m always living in a house that’s in combination with all the places I’ve lived in like in college at the Birdcage at Fordham. The place in Harlem where I actually ran into you. My childhood home and even the place I live now. It’s funny.

GSC: Shout out to the Birdcage. So there are also a few references to outer space. Do you think we’re alone in the universe? Have you ever seen a UFO?

BAGMAN: I have never had the privilege of even seeing anything that I could mistake as a UFO. I also think that might be a sign I need to look at the sky more. It might also be like pollution in the city. But I feel like if I were to see what I wanted to see, that wouldn’t be a factor. But now I mean, I am of the belief that I think a lot about aliens.

The record label that’s kind of surrounding and slowly trying to develop the brand for a few different projects is Alien Alliance, which is actually Robbie and Youngki who were the originators of the brand. They’re the founding members with me along with the visual artists I work with. We were all interested in the concept. There’s also some other meetings but as far as the aliens go, I’ve always been very interested in that.  

I am of the belief UFOs exist, but am unsure of their origin as there’s a variety of explanations that are plausible to me. For example  oceans are 96% unexplored, that could be one source. A lot of people I’ve heard say exploring space is kind of an absurd concept when we really know nothing about our oceans in that regard. I don’t know. It makes sense, right? They could have been here before us, could be an interdimensional kind of thing. They could be from outside in space. I love to keep an open mind. Consider all possibilities in that regard.

GSC: I know you’re in New York now. Where did you spend your formative years? Where did you grow up? Where do you consider yourself to be from?

BAG: I’m definitely like, no question about it from North Jersey. Nutley is a suburb a few miles north of Newark. I made a couple of good lifelong friends there. My one friend who was the assistant athletic director of IU is my best friend from high school and then my buddy Chris, who’s a fantastic DJ and producer is also from Nutley. It’s where I met him but yeah, North Jersey. I always rep Jersey when I can. What’s cool about me being in Brooklyn now though, is where my mom grew up not far from here, maybe like, I’m not sure how many miles. But, she grew up there until she was like 15 and then her family moved to Clifton and myself and my cousin Brian who is kind of my older brother. We do a lot of work together. He also lives in Brooklyn, so we  see it as a little bit of a homecoming in a way. 

I’m proud of being from Jersey. I think Jersey is underrated in a lot of ways as far as the talent that comes out of it musically. I’m also a huge basketball fan. I think it’s one of the best states for hoopers. I’m very proud.

GSC: Jersey is on fire lately. The album is filled with extended instrumental outros. What were you trying to convey in that sequencing?

BAGMAN: The way I make beats is very heavy sequencing where it’s anywhere from two bars to sixteen bars, even like thirty-two bar loops and I’ll often, depending on a case by case thing, experiment a little bit. Allow the listener to enjoy the productions. At the end of the day, I see myself musically as my palate being and producing the creativity that I put behind it. Rapping for me is a release and something I never really thought I would see what I could actually do. I do that because I can, and I don’t get it wrong, it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. 

But I like to let the beats shine. Before I started doing music, I really wanted to fill all the songs with bars and that’s cool, but I think it was my audio friend who does visuals. He’s my studio mate. He’s always right next to me just  helping me work things out, giving me just another perspective. And he always said, “bro, you’re a producer too.” 

GSC: What’s your production process look like? How are you crafting these songs from top to bottom? What’s the beginning? How do you start? How do you end? You start with lyrics or start with beats?

BAGMAN: Yes, so normally, well like I said, every song is different but the general framework is I’ll find the melody, you know, whether that’s a sample or laying it in Ableton, just like you know, an instrument or a one shot, figuring that out. Then once I have a main melody, I’ll get the drum loop up. I’ll usually take a drum sample, either an older break or a newer processed loop from splice. Add some space, change the time signature. You might have noticed that I love throwing a few kicks at the end of a sequence when it goes into another one. I draw on the kind of stuff I like to hear as a listener. So it’s usually melody, drums, then I’ll add either harmonies or little mini shots, which I think of as garnishes on food. You’re adding a little bit of finishing touch. Once I have a workable loop that just bangs that I don’t mind listening to for like 20 to 30 minutes, then I’ll get the notepad out on the phone and write anywhere from like eight to sixteen, whatever comes to me. This is an ideal, especially when everything’s coming together. Other times, I’ll make the beat, just focused on that, feeling tired writing wise.  Then I’ll be on the train the next day going to work listening to The Beatles, and be like “Oh, okay, here’s how I approach it.” I’ve learned to not force anything, so sometimes it comes a little bit later and I’ll just go back and lay the verse real quick. I try not to butcher things, try not to have too many versions or make sounds of the song. On Ableton I’ll just throw in the master template and ready to go. And yeah, it’s kind of a quick process.

GSC: Who are your major influences?

BAGMAN: There’s a ton of like, what I like to call you know, real established artists that everybody knows, popular, that I’m very inspired by. I loved the idea of the rapper producer when I was a kid, like when I learned how beats were made and some of my favorite rappers also made beats, that really blew my mind. In a way it made me think I could never do it, and then once I tried I realized you just gotta put the work in. But as far as influences, I  really kind of draw my creativity from the people I work with. Like I said, Otto really inspires me. He started doing 3D right around the time I started doing music when we were living up in Harlem. And to see how he’s gotten all these huge commissions. He just did a very big skincare campaign for Vogue. He did all the after effects on there. He’s working with a litany of different artists doing different 3D assets. I also have a ton of friends, a lot of them you know, who are some of the best musicians I know and honestly make some of my favorite music, like behind closed doors but don’t put anything out. 

To name a few, Youngki, Robbie, and Hans. Like Hans especially too because his output is like you’d expect him to have like five albums out. I have 200 of Hans’ songs in my iTunes library. He has such a unique style and signature but at the same time buries his voice, buries the way he sequences. Really just to see people work in real time and see you know, I have a few friends who are classically trained with music but don’t know how to use Ableton. That inspires me too because I was ready to bring guitars over, we’ll direct line in, record that stuff, and then I’ll do a lot of post. Last but not least, my friend Donyae. He doesn’t do anything but rap. He’s this real big imposing dude but I know him because he used to work the front desk of my last private equity job. Thank God I don’t work in that anymore, but we met there. Sweet dude, he showed me his music and I could not believe how hard it hit. And then he came over a couple weeks later and recorded this insane ballad, like he covers a couple Frank Ocean lyrics. In a tasteful way I will say. To see somebody who’s so inspired, he doesn’t do anything rap, he just writes lyrics so I can spit. I think our record is like eight tracks in three hours working together. That gave me juice for like three weeks, that session. So a lot of times it’s just that connection you get from collaborating with people and making new friends that you wouldn’t necessarily have without music. That is really my main source of inspiration.

Also, my girlfriend Jess is a major inspiration with her support and willingness to participate. She has a much better ear than me and listens to all types of things unlike me who listens to the same Nas albums on repeat. Sometimes I’ll come home and she will have picked 5 samples for me to try out based on her listening habits. It is inspiring for her to care so much about my craft and wanting to push my artistry along. 

GSC: We both went to Fordham and you told me there were 6 fellow Rams on the project. What’s your working relationship like with these people? Is it fully collaborative? Are you sending pieces of your creation or vice versa? 

BAGMAN: The three I mentioned earlier, Hans, Robbie, Youngki are all also rapper-producers. So we can work on Ableton together, a lot of times they’ll send me stuff and vice versa and we can do it remotely. Marlon is a dude that we used to work remotely but now he lives pretty close to me so he comes through for live records. I prefer to do it in person but I’ve gotten better at honestly just understanding stems and how to export stuff. It took me so long, especially how to put them into project files. Now that I have those tools I do it more but really it’s as it comes. Young made a beat for my first project and he actually helped me like you know formulate like the high pitched falsetto to go with it, all that. So he was involved in that but Hans and Robbie just had a couple songs they helped me out with. They didn’t have features so I really wanted to make sure I got them on the project. I knew there was gonna be this project, didn’t know when it was gonna be finished, but I wanted to make sure I got them on there. Like what I was talking about earlier, users are so good they don’t have any music out. Not that many people are listening to my stuff but I would like to be the one that if you couldn’t find their stuff anywhere, like nowhere else, it would be mine

GSC: You brought up basketball earlier and on the album you shout out Chris Paul and the Suns. Who is your team and who is winning the chip this year?

BAGMAN: My team has always been the Knicks, always will be. Giants are terrible now but they won a couple chips when I was younger, Yankees same thing. They’re not terrible, but they’re not as good. So I feel like I get my glory there. I’m still riding with the Knicks, they are not winning the chip though. Unless we flip Randle for something crazy at the deadline, which I’m not a huge proponent of. I think we should get a fair return. But my gut is the Warriors just because Steph continues to amaze me. I would say it’s gonna probably be the Bucks or the Warriors. Whereas I think the Bucks are the safe pick with the Warriors.

GSC: So not the Suns even though they got the shout out?

BAGMAN: Yeah, no, that was more wordplay. I love CP. I don’t know, It’s tough man. Last year was like if they were gonna do it it  was gonna be last year. I don’t know. I could be wrong.

GSC: This is your second album. How is it different from the first? And what are you trying to express on this one?

BAGMAN: So the first one was a concept I had before, well, even like five years ago I never saw myself making music. but if i were, I’d make an album called DNP-CD. Not sure if you’re familiar, but it’s a box score designation in basketball for a healthy scratch. The title is self explanatory. I’ve referenced a couple of times on the project, do not play this CD is what it stands for. I’m just doing this to prove to myself I could and, to be honest, that really is what it was. I had no plans to release anything. I’ve been making music for like six months, since the fall of September 2020 consistently. I had a session with Youngki and he showed me like 15 things in 10 minutes that I was doing wrong making beats, like why my shit is sounding terrible. I applied those and two or three months later the project was ready so I just put it out. I was more concerned with just doing it because there’s a ton of moments where I was like yeah, this is ridiculous and why am I doing this. At the time, I had just been furloughed from a job over the summer. I had a consulting business and was working for an affordable housing developer in Harlem that I loved. It was the medium of using my skills that I learned in college, like finance and investing, but doing it for something that actually serves people who need it. And then, obviously, the pandemic killed us there. But yeah, a lot of times I was like, you know, this is so stupid. I’m gonna be looking ridiculous. But I pushed through. So it was more about putting it out and seeing it happen and proving to myself, I could do it. 

This one, I started recording songs a couple months after and the idea didn’t quite come to me until… honestly, it’s funny, I didn’t have too consistent of a theme with the last other than I had this impression that public domain jazz songs were public domain after a certain amount of time, like I could sample them not that anyone’s checking for me, but that’s wrong. Like any copyright law in the US is fucked up. They never expire, so you can’t ever use that shit. That was the theme, just drum brakes and sample and me rapping just here I am. For this one, stylistically, I use a lot of reverse samples, like the main sample will appear reversed throughout the song, or even sometimes layered underneath for the sparser ones. And I guess that was the ethos within. You can tell in the title song, “What goes around comes around” and Ouroboros is a symbol of rebirth and the cyclical nature of life. The connection between that and reversing samples. It was kind of that simple. And then it was more of a musical journey from May to August, this musical journey. A lot of these songs are recorded not necessarily for the album, like the one LiNEN with Hans. He was just over one day and we made that song. The next day I was like, oh, yeah, I really like this. There was a few like At the moment, I don’t see myself as the type of person that I’ll take you on a lyrical story, it’ll more just be like, I made the beat. This is a new way I’m making beats. I’m gonna try a whole project like that and let my skills grow with it. I think that’s the approach I’m gonna continue to take unless I really have something that inspires me. I mean, I have a few different paths and go after the next one. But I think in the past, it became pretty clear to me what made sense, like, just continue to work.

GSC: “Job Search” is a standout for me. The connection to capitalist driven grind culture and depression is something I appreciate. When did that track come together and how is the job search going since then?

BAGMAN: The first one was when I was looking for a job in 2020 and wound up getting the exact job I wanted. It was an associate role at a startup private equity fund. These two former traders who had never done real estate, which I had done for six years, hired me to help them make a ton of money and they seemed really cool. And it was very obvious that they were fucking crazy and looked at me as somebody they could put through the wringer. I guess if you’re gonna be using my real name maybe…actually, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t work in finance anymore. I actually sell beer now, I’m working for Interborough. But yeah, that was an arduous process. Honestly, right after the album came out, I got the job, which was funny timing. I recorded most of this album while I was still working there because I quit in early October to join Interboro.

It’s a very dehumanizing process. I had a weird non-traditional trajectory. I started out at Morgan Stanley and then I joined a private equity real estate fund that ballooned to a billion dollars in two and a half years. I left there after not being happy and started my own consulting business, which had a lot of ups and downs, and eventually ended when I was furloughed from that affordable housing firm. Now I feel like this is the first time I’m actually prioritizing the right things. Yeah I  took a pay cut to go sell beer for this local brewery, but the way I’m treated as a human being and work-life balance is prioritized. And at the same time, we make fantastic beer, it sells well. It has shown me a whole new thing I didn’t think existed. I say that nobody talks about how dangerous uninhibited success is. I’m talking about when I joined that firm, we funded a billion dollars in a few years. At that point, I thought I was bulletproof. I had this complex where anything I do I’ll be good and then I found the limit of that. A lot of that brought me kind of the humility it requires to be patient and make music I think. At that point in my life I was super impatient, just wanted the next  thing. It took me three years of looking for a job on and off to realize what was important to me. This song tries to document that.

GSC: Why do you like spliffs so much?

BAGMAN: I mean, there’s a few reasons. One, I enjoy how they smoke, how they taste. But also using less weed. I do like to smoke pretty often,  but if I’m working at home, I can smoke a spliff because it’s not going to get me insanely high and actually the nicotine might get my brain working a little faster. I’m also not naive to the fact that I…I’m not addicted to nicotine in the sense that I can’t go a day without it, but like I do like it. I am known for smoking spliffs, that’s just my thing. I’m always offering, especially if I’m working with someone, to put less tobacco or no tobacco at all. I’ll roll that up for you.

GSC: So hospitable.

BAGMAN:  Yeah well I also can’t listen to people be like, “Oh my god, this is terrible.” Just let me roll you something up, I don’t want to hear it.

GSC: “FF” is one of my favorite tracks. Where are the opening and closing samples from? Where did you discover them?

BAGMAN: I’m not unique, I’m sure million producers do this. I have massive, random, obscure YouTube playlists. This one came up, it’s a Tasmanian funk group. Honestly, I should know the name but, part of me, dissociating from me, taking samples sometimes I don’t always remember. But this Tasmanian funk group, it had 1000 views and I couldn’t believe how good the song was. And that’s what plays at the beginning and end. I think I might have taken an isolated melody from it and also have the reverse play at certain points. I can’t remember the exact process behind that off hand. Dawnye was supposed to be on that, but at that point, he hadn’t come over so we didn’t get on it. But yeah, that one’s special for me too, I’m glad you brought that up. That’s one I go back to a lot to listen to. It’s a lot of beats too, a lot of isolated beats. Sometimes voice can get arduous. That one, I think the V2 was the one that ultimately got mastered, it was one that came together. I really enjoyed working with that one.

GSC: How are you taking care of your mental health these days?

BAGMAN: Definitely making music and taking time to myself. Exercise is super important now. I try to keep it simple. Drink a lot of water, exercising. Luckily with being a beer sales job  now I’m out all over the city. My territories are Manhattan north of 30th street and Queens  so I’m all over there all throughout the week. Being in different places, breathing outside air, are things that I didn’t always do during the pandemic. A lot of maintaining my mental health requires a lot of small things done together. I am on top of eating well, drinking well, exercising, and making sure I’m reflecting and meditating.  If I don’t do that for a couple months I’ll lose my perspective, so it’s really a  reflection exercise including putting the right things in my body and also not being mad at myself when I don’t always meet those expectations. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for me.

GSC: Oh man, I was just teaching the kiddos about that this week.

BAGMAN: Man I wish I had you as a teacher bro because they really reinforced that self loathing that drives people. Some of the most successful people in the world fucking hate themselves and that’s why they’re successful. I used to  prioritize things like that but now I realize happiness is really so fucking subjective and you can lose track of it if you don’t pay attention to the things that do make you happy.

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