Playing God with Dust
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way, here, and ask where you’re from and what crew/label/cult you represent?
Name is Dust and I’m not really from any one place. I moved around a lot growing up because my parents split when I was young and both were geographically indecisive. I usually say I’m from Oakland, because that’s where I spent most of my formative years, but at this point I consider Portland my home through and through.
I’m one half of the group Elevated with DJ Weather; I rep UpperLeft, which is basically me, Weather, Mighty Misc, Load B, and Ifthen up in Seattle, I hold it down for Secular Humanism, Vinyl Samples, and not being a total douche bag.
You were a resident of Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon, but you’re currently in Tel Aviv? What is that like, and why the drastic move?
I’m living in Tel Aviv, Israel, right now just to kinda clear the air of my life a bit. Like hitting the reset button, It’s been one giant breath of fresh air to get seven thousand miles away from Portland and just look back at my life and relationships and rap music and reassess where everything was going. This place really helps me put everything in perspective. I spend most of my days learning Hebrew, swimming in the ocean and not writing any fucking rap music whatsoever.
What prompted the move to Tel Aviv, and for someone who’s recently dropped a song like “Playing God” to study Hebrew, and move to a place with the largest Jewish population?
I get asked the “God” question a lot, which I get, based on some of the themes in my music. When I talk about God or the devil or religion, I’m almost always using them as a metaphor for something; for life, or the world, or whatever thing we feel is bigger than us. Religion holds so much power and significance in our society, I’ve just appropriated it’s lexicon for my own expression.
What was your experience like growing up with religion/God like? There are good portions of your music that seems to have some reference to religion’s failures as a whole. Where does that come from?
I definitely have my personal beliefs on religion and how useful it’s been to the world, but I don’t really want my music to be the platform for those beliefs. Religion tends to divide people faster than it brings them together, and that’s not what I want to do with music.
For me, being in Israel has nothing to do with religion outside of learning about history, society and some of the conflicts in which the world is currently entrenched. Yesterday I was in Jordan talking to a group of Muslim guys about women’s rights in Islam. Two days before, I was having dinner with a Hasidic family in Jerusalem asking them about the future of a Palestinian state. Those kind of conversations help me see the gray areas in the world, no matter my own beliefs.
Great break down. It’s incredible that you are out there having those conversations with people like that. Do you feel your place as an artist is to speak on these kinds of real world issues? Because we have a lot of artists like Brother Ali, Invincible from Detroit, or Sole who are all vocal about global injustices, especially in the Middle East. Where do you feel like you fit in, in terms of social responsibility to shed light on the struggles and battles in places like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
I personally don’t feel like it’s my responsibility as an artist to do anything other than make art. I think it’s great that a lot of artists I enjoy listening to like Sole and Immortal Technique and Brother Ali are making music to try and educate people about social and political problems. I also think it’s important for someone out there to make music that’s just for people to relate to. Hip Hop can be a great platform for social rights, but it doesn’t always have to be. I’m more
interested in making music that people can bump when they get their heart broken, or when they’re driving to work, or when they just have the blues.
When it comes to politics and religion, especially in the Middle East, I think most people speaking on the subject have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Having traveled here and seen a lot of things go down first hand, I do feel a responsibility to have a dialogue with people about the conflict here and ways we can work to change things, but I don’t think music is the place I want to have that conversation.
As a West Coast MC, can you tell me who your first introduction into West Coast Hip Hop was?
Cypress Hill, for sure. I got Black Sunday on cassette in like fifth grade. After that it was NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and Mac Dre’s Young Black Brotha. I used to drive around Oakland in my girl’s Volvo station wagon bumpin’ that shit until I literally broke the tapes. I listen to a lot of East Coast and Midwest stuff, but Mac Dre, Keak and all that Bay Area hyphy stuff is what I really came up on.
I think it’s safe to say most people have guilty pleasure artists, and if I was to look through your hard drive/cd/vinyl collection, who would I be surprised is in there?
Man, my iTunes is so schizophrenic. If you look at my top twenty most played you’ll see Bobby Bland, Xiu Xiu, Necro and Elliott Smith all right next to one another. Guilty pleasures? Other than Jay-Z? Haha, Probably some real pop shit like Everclear. When it comes to writing those stripped down pop ballads I think Art might be one of the greatest songwriters ever. Say what you want about his music, but I really model a lot of my writing after him.
Though you’re currently in Tel Aviv, you have been a pretty active member of the Portland and Pacific Northwest Hip Hop scene. What do you think has held back Portland from really planting itself on the Indie Hip Hop map like say, Minnesota, Chicago, or even Seattle, as of late?
I’ve heard a lot of theories from people over the years: lack of artist support, promoters not booking local acts, institutional prejudice against Hip Hop venues from the OLCC and Portland Police. And while those things are true to a certain extent, and definitely play their part, I’m going to go out on an unpopular limb and say it’s because the music just isn’t there. That’s where I start anyways, at the foundation.
I hear a lot of tapes that just don’t sound as polished or cohesive as they should, at least to my level. Like no one’s really putting in six months to drop a dope record. I think that’s what it takes to build a real scene. Like in the cities you mentioned, where’s our God Loves Ugly? Where’s our Resurrection? Or our Heist? We don’t have records like that. But we will. There’s a lot of talent coming up right now that I’m really excited about. I know it’s just a matter of time for us.
For the last question I want to do a name-association game. I’m going to throw out five words/names and you give me the first thoughts that pop into your head.
Odd Future: jigglypuff
You can pick up Dust Raps the Blues here, as well as his other releases as a “pay what you want” option.