IN CONVERSATION: Fatboi Sharif and noface Talk Meeting in Lungs’ Studio and Putting Together Their Haunting New Tape Preaching in Havana

Thanks to Geng of PTP for the photo at the top of this interview.

You can always tell who is seeing Fatboi Sharif for the first time at his live performances. Usually they start off looking confused, cautiously watching Fatboi rock around the stage and often into the crowd with a mic in his hand. You can imagine their brains spinning as they process the spectacle they’re witnessing, “Why is this dude in a ski-mask, robe, and slippers? Why does this beat sound like it’s leading me down the River Styx? Is he rapping or doing a chant to summon the undead?” Then at some point you see it click for the confused first timer. They pick their jaw up from the floor and shape it into a smile as their head starts to bop along with Fatboi and the rest of the crowd. While Fatboi’s style of rap is without a doubt abrasive, he’s been able to make a fan of almost everyone who has heard his music because there is simply nobody in rap like him right now. His music might transport you to hell, but luckily Fatboi is one hell of a tour guide.

As of late Fatboi Sharif has made a habit of shacking up with one producer for a whole tape to create more cohesive and cinematic records. His Roper Williams produced album Gandhi Loves Children put Sharif on the map and features some of Fatboi’s catchiest and most conventional tracks. “Smithsonian” and the YL assisted “Fly Pelican” are two of his strongest hits and have become staples of his live show. GLC also featured the massively varied vocal modulations and macabre sound and subject matter that Fatboi has become known for. “Murder Them” for example is every bit as intense as the track’s title would suggest, where “Stigmata” sounds like a demon trying to make you heed its warning from the underworld. His last tape, Cyber City Society, was fully produced by Eastgrip rapper Lungs whose production handle is LoneSword. As the title might lead you to think, the tape sounds like a sci-fi epic about the end of the universe, where Fatboi is our sherpa through the static and warped samples that Lungs provided.

Fatboi’s new tape, Preaching in Havana, sees him linking up with noface, a talented Brooklyn based producer from YL and Starker’s RRR collective. I first became familiar with noface after he produced all my favorite tracks on YL’s It Never Entered My Mind, though he and Fatboi first connected in Lung’s studio one fateful day. After realizing the two were fans of one another’s music noface showed Fatboi the strangest beats he had to offer that day which Fatboi promptly rapped over. The tracks recorded during that initial not only made the tape but are among its absolute strongest, including the Lungs assisted ““John Hinckley” which you might have seen Pitchfork describe as “a hazy, bubbling mass of a song anchored by what sounds like a possessed crossfader distorting guitars and horns beyond recognition.” Fatboi definitely brought out the demonic side of noface’s production, as every beat feels like the entrance music for yet another depth of hell. Noface also litters the mix with samples of every different shape and size that give the record a feel of fiddling with the radio trying to get it to settle on the right channel. The tape was seamlessly sequenced by noface and Geng of PTP who did the mastering work on the record. If you aren’t paying attention you might not notice one song flowing into the next, which is part of what really makes the tape feel like a horror movie score as much as a rap album. Fatboi Sharif is the only rapper I can think of who gets compared to Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch as much as he does his peers on the mic, and that is because he works tirelessly with his producers to create a uniquely unsettling atmosphere for every tape. Fatboi and noface might be dragging us to some seedy places on Preaching in Havana, but there are no other people I’d rather have as my guides through the underworld.

I had the chance to ask both Fatboi and noface a couple questions about the process of putting the album together. I asked them these questions separately, first is the interview with Fatboi followed by the interview with noface.

Thanks to Y G A for the photos throughout

GSC: It feels like you have a good deal of momentum coming off the success of Gandhi Loves Children and Cyber City Society. Gandhi got the physical release with POW Recordings and Novelty Records, where I think the obi strip records sold out in 2 seconds and there are only a few pink ones left. Now that you have a few known tapes under your belt are you approaching your music differently? Or same as always?

FATBOI: The creative process always varies depending on the circumstances of what’s going on in my life at the time, it all needs to come naturally no matter what.

GSC:You have had a string of unforgettable covers and this one is a mood setter to say the least. What was the inspiration behind the cover?

FATBOI: Big shout out to noface because he put me on to that spot, it’s like 5 blocks away from where he used to live in Brooklyn. The original idea was for us to shoot the “static vision” music video there, which we did. After the fact we spoke on how gritty the area was and decided the look and feeling was exactly what the album was communicating visually, I think the cover really brought this tape to life. Much love to photographer Y G A who was amazing to work with and gave us that final seasoning on top that the record needed.

GSC: What made you want to work with NOFACE for a full project? How did you two first link and how collaborative was your process?

FATBOI: I first heard about him thru Driveby and Lungs. I checked out his music and instantly knew he had something special that I wasn’t hearing in other producers. We began speaking online and were fans of each other’s work. We decided to link up so he could play me some beats. In that session I recorded over some of his beats and what we were making was really strong, so much so that we decided we wanted to make it a full tape experience and the rest is history. It’s crazy because from those early sessions we got “John Hinckley”, “1999 Hacker Worldwide”, “Static Vision” and a few others that made it to the album.

GSC: You are a world creator with your records to say the least. Cyber City Society felt like a sci-fi epic about the collapse of the universe. What kind of world did you want to create with this tape?

FATBOI: For Preaching in Havana I wanted to quite literally provide a listening experience you may not know how to truly feel about until maybe the third or fourth listen. We wanted to make sure it didn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before from me musically. It had to be powerful, vivid and abrasive for the themes and vision we were going for to come through in the way we wanted it to. We kept three words/phrases in our head with this tape the whole time: INNOVATION, AUDIO JOURNEY, CHALLENGING THE UNKNOWN. 

GSC: I know that you hate the term horrorcore but this is certainly a menacing and haunting record. How would you describe your subgenre of rap? Or is it not worth putting a label on it?

FATBOI: I’ll never put a label on it because that cheapens the experience for me. I always aim to never do the same thing musically twice so to box myself into a subgenre leaves it no room for growth.

GSC: I know that you’ll often fall asleep to beats and come up with rhymes in your dreams, but I have a hard time imagining anyone falling asleep to the haunting piano keys of “The Hybrid” or “Parasite”. Did you have any songs inspired by your dreams this go around?

FATBOI: I always do my technique with sleeping and letting my dreams paint the pictures of the beat. Lol. “Fentanyl Firing Squad” was a big one I zoned out to for a few hours where I came up with the scenery and colors that that particular beat made me vision, as well as like the shapes and textures it made me see that I wanted to bring to the booth. “Nazi Needle Marks” was  another where it took me a while to craft it out but once I sat with the beat for a while and came up with the flow and title for that track it wrote itself rather quick. 

GSC: “John Hinckley” is an early favorite for me, Lungs goes off as always.  Have you been following John’s own music journey since he got free? Was there any attempt to try and get John on the track too? What was the inspiration behind this track?

FATBOI: Yeah that’s one of my favorite tracks Lungs and I ever did. Everything just clicked on that the way it was supposed to in the studio. We wrote that track from scratch in Lungs studio after noface played the beat. It was all a very quick process and when we heard it back we knew we had something special, in my view it’s the centerpiece of the album.

GSC: You really use your voice as an instrument, and every record it feels like you are more and more dynamic. How do you choose which beats to whisper on, which to throw the echo effect on, and where you want to get on your ODB singsongy rap style? Is it all a feeling in the booth? Or do you plot out how you’ll use your voice on each song beforehand for sequencing reasons or something like that?

FATBOI: With using my voice on a track, the adlibs can be just as important as the main verse with creating a world on audio, so it varies. Sometimes I’ll know I’m going to say these exact words in this candace and volume, other times I’ll just do a bunch of stuff and listen back then edit seeing what sticks.

GSC: The record is very fluid where each song feeds into the next, almost feeling like one long meandering dream that you are trying to convince yourself isn’t a nightmare. It almost feels like watching Eraserhead or something like that. Was the cinematic feel intentional? If so did the seamless song transitions play into that? 

FATBOI: Yeah it was very intentional. That’s truly the genius of noface knowing where to add the samples and audio soundbites to each track, and the greatness of the one and only Geng PTP who engineered everything on the mix and master end. Geng truly went above and beyond and noface and I both knew he was the only person who could bring all the pieces together and make them interact as one complete artistic vision. We worked on that aspect of it for months and we knew when we got it exactly where it needed to be. 

GSC: Lungs and Phiik both come in and deliver rapid fire bars that play off your cadence well. How great are those two? What do you feel they bring to the record?

FATBOI: They both are easily two of my favorite creatives/lyricists right now. They always bring tip tier skill and unmatched creativity, they’re two unique creative vessels. Everything they do from their respective solo tapes to their collaborative work in Another Planet genuinely inspires me, they bring their all to every verse and every beat every time. Whenever I hear them rap or get to talk shit with them in the studio they remind me why I fell in love with this artform in the first place. They brought Havana somewhere I couldn’t even imagine and beyond.

GSC: Do you think you’ll continue doing dedicated tapes with one producer? Or do you want to put together an album with a number of different producers?

FATBOI: I love one producer, one lyricist albums. They’ve always had a special place for me, that cohesiveness is truly unmatched. I’m not against a mix produced bag project either, you gotta stay tuned and see! 😈😈

GSC: What is something that brings you joy outside of music that people might find surprising?

FATBOI:I love reading sci-fi books and comics from the late 70s. I love heavy metal, grudge, 80’s and 90’s art house films and just getting in convos with loved ones on all these subjects. I love building and analyzing the world with creative people I respect more than anything.

Thanks to Y G A for the photos throughout

GSC: How did you and Fatboi first meet? Did you know you’d work on a tape together from the jump? How did this project first come together?

NOFACE: I met Sharif randomly through Phiik and Lungs and being in the scene in New York I guess. I was crashing on the floor in Lungs’ living room I think at the time. Sharif came over to work with Lungs one day and heard me making a beat and that was pretty much it. We started the album that night. I gave him whatever I was working on around then and some other weird shit from 2019 that I thought he would like, but we didn’t really know what it would turn into. In the end all those beats from that fateful first studio session made it on the album. That was like January 1st 2021.

GSC: Did you have most of the beats ready, or did you have to custom make any of them special for Fatboi?

NOFACE: Most of these beats I had already made or at least started around the time Sharif and I met. Some of them were older but in general I make a lot of music and I save things in pretty raw forms. I’ll go back to it and arrange it and finish it with a person or project in mind, sometimes years later… so there was definitely customization. Some of the beats I made in front of Sharif with him telling me what to do too.

GSC: How collaborative a process was it working with Fatboi? 

NOFACE: Very. He definitely pushed me to do some stuff I wouldn’t have normally done, and throughout the process he had a large role in shaping the sound and the concept of the album. He was in the studio with me or at my house describing what he wanted to hear while I was doing my thing- arranging some beats or adding on sound effects and transitions, and it was the same in the studio with Geng. Also, a lot of the samples and transitions I chose and added later were influenced by our conversations about the album and the actual lyrics of what we had recorded.

GSC: How is working with Fatboi different from working with other rappers that you’ve worked with in the past?

NOFACE:  It was mostly different because I knew I could play him anything. I wasn’t thinking about making a traditional “rap” record, I was just showing him the weirdest beats I made and seeing what he liked. Sharif is also really professional and focused when it comes to the business side of rap, so the process of actually releasing the record was more extensive and thorough than anything I had done previously.

GSC: I love all the tiny little audio samples you sneak into the mix, it gives some of these tracks a feel of driving on an unfamiliar road and jiggling the radio trying to connect to the right station. How do you create that atmosphere? What is your process of figuring out what sounds will fit where?

NOFACE: That’s a nice description. I think that’s what the whole record is about, just kind of soul searching, on an unfamiliar road. I added some samples throughout that literally say “searching” and “look inside” and whatnot. As far as how I did it, I think I just throw a lot of samples into Ableton and then drag them around. All of it is just instinct and infinite repetition, trial and error. I’ve been making music for 10 years. I can’t really explain it. I follow my heart and my ear.

GSC: What is the strangest sound you snuck into the mix? Do you have a big repository of interesting sounds or did you have to hunt them out? I felt like I heard video game sounds, internet dial up, several foreign movies, and maybe a helicopter.

NOFACE: I can’t reveal the names of the samples but I added some crazy psychedelic gospel radio recordings into the mix that really glued the whole album together. I had accumulated most of these samples beforehand and I just knew it was time to use them. I also have a lot of records, and I went through a bunch of vinyl in my crib to find some religious stuff you know. There’s also some Japanese tv trailer/soundtrack samples in there, there’s a sample from Mad Men haha, all types of shit, I can’t even remember them all.

GSC: To the above point, do you play Super Smash Bros Melee and are you a Roy main? I am pretty sure I heard his voice on “Paging Doctor NoFace”. What was the idea behind that track?

NOFACE: I’ve played a good amount of Smash Bros in my day, Brawl, and Melee, classic.. But I’m not actually into it – I’m not that good. It’s funny that you ask that though, because I definitely used to play as Roy when I first got introduced to the game by my older cousin. The Roy sample on “Paging Dr. noface” is actually an iPhone recording of my friend Abe playing Melee on an emulator. I just added it in there for the chaos. The idea behind that track is very chaotic… It’s really just about getting caught up in the madness and the noise of life and also like selling 8ths I guess.

GSC: I also loved the sequencing on this tape, each song rolls right into the next so seamlessly. Are there any transitions on this record that you are particularly proud of? 

NOFACE: I love the way “5G Celsius Cell Towers” begins. Those samples might be my favorite part. But honesty the whole thing really tells a story and it works together really well. I think I’m really proud of the whole thing. Just sit down for 20 minutes and listen.

GSC: Is any beat on this tape particularly special for you?

NOFACE: The last beat. The samples really talk to me. I think it’s also the first beat I made in 2021.

GSC: Do you have any other projects lined up for the rest of the year?

NOFACE: I have a lot of shit in the works. I’m not sure when it’s coming out but me and Koncept Jack$on have an album that’s almost done. I’m also working on like 2 other albums but I don’t know if i can talk about those yet.

GSC: What is something outside of music that brings you joy that might surprise people to hear?
NOFACE: Rustoleum.

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