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December 17, 2018

MC Homeless

MC Homeless – Photos by Leigh Kessel
Matt Greenfield is a part of the fabric of US independent hip-hop history, whether you know his name or not.

To artists, indie-label folks, talent-buyers, managers, and more, Greenfield (aka MC Homeless) was/is a connective tissue that continues to convert inroads mapped on the early days of social media to be paved with real-world experiences in 4D meat-space.

MC Homeless is an artist that has been a part of my creative circle since early 2002, and if you ask your favorite indie-rapper who helped plug them into that seminal scene, it would be hardly surprising to find that MC Homeless was the conduit.

After playing tirelessly across the Rustbelt and the Southeast US from 2004-2006, MC Homeless set out to tour the US and Europe exhaustively, including countries further afield than many deign to travel (Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia). He’s opened for a litany of your favorites too voluminous to name, and patched so many in the burgeoning indie-ground together. His unmistakable blend of emotional sincerity, East Coast influenced abrasiveness and Cali-influenced fluidity, baked thoroughly into a punk rock mold has yielded a formula that has certainly been imitated, but not as effectively deployed as this rare specimen.

He’s warm if he knows you, prickly if he doesn’t, both a class act and an insufferable bastard simultaneously. Matt Greenfield is both your little cousin that wants to borrow your records and the sagacious uncle that’s been there and scoffs at your tastes.

Homeless decided to put down the microphone in 2011, and after some detours mining untapped veins of creativity, he reared his visage once again in 2018. The first tease was a limited cassette split-release with myself on I Had An Accident / MilledPavement Records, and now comes the oppressive, abrasive, and declaratory statement Sex and Death on vinyl and pay-what-you-want digital version via Fake Four Inc. this December. He is a new person, and fans of his past work will appreciate this new music in relation to its antecedents, while recognizing that this is certainly a Second Iteration, and a new beginning of sorts.

Brzowski: Let’s go WAY back. When did you 1st start making hip hop music, and in what capacity? What where those formative first few years like in Ohio? What were some of your early influences, for those that might not be able to intuit them?

MC Homeless: I was making fake hip hop tapes with John Quackenbush in 2nd grade but when I really started rapping was towards the end of 11th grade. I would come up with Too Short influenced freestyle’s and dirty sex rhymes to crack my friends up at lunch or in the halls of high school. They noticed I could freestyle for like ten minutes straight, which was weird to both me and them because I was just screwing around. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought “Hey, maybe I actually am a rapper!” I then bought a Wu Wear shirt to show people that I was down as fuck *laughs* 

Big Daddy Kane gave me the confidence to write my first serious rhyme and the rest is history.. I was slowly getting back into hip hop with the stuff I grew up on like Ice-T, NWA, and Geto Boys, and then I discovered newer people such as MF Doom, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. From there it just got more underground. The Shapeshifters were an early influence…really anyone that was an understudy of Freestyle Fellowship either directly or indirectly had an influence on a young Homeless. Atmosphere was even a big one for me in high school and early college, which is strange because I haven’t heard a song of theirs in over ten years. Probably longer. Now I sound like an old guy.

One of the reasons we 1st gravitated toward each other, is that we were not only applying punk-rock aesthetics to our imagery and performances, but also truly employing DIY methods of operating developed by punk and hardcore bands to indie-rap. That model worked well for us at the time, how do you think the DIY ethos applies to what you are doing now? Has the scene changed to a degree that you’ve adapted your approach to the non-creative side of the music “business”?

Back then it was “get in the van”. Be a road warrior, just keep going, live and breathe the art at all costs, at all times. Now I’m at a different stage in life with different priorities but I’ll always blaze my own path. It’s the same now as it was then, just with different technology, some different rappers, an achy back, and a few friends that are now famous or dead. I still feel like the out-of-place punk rock kid in hip hop. I don’t know that I’m even wanting to approach this with a finely tuned business model after coming out of rap retirement. That sounds boring. Some of my newer unrecorded songs aren’t even hip-hop, they are straight up industrial with a punk/hardcore edge. Being pigeonholed as one specific kind of artist is not for me. I create in many mediums. In certain ways it would cheapen what I do to try and place it in a neat little marketable box. Sex and Death is an uncomfortable record. The subject matter makes people uneasy. Don’t get me wrong, sales and financial gains are nice but really I just want to share my art and have my album be heard. It’s me being me, not anyone else. I want Sex and Death to mean something to someone like it means something to me. I’m lucky to have Fake Four Inc. as my biggest cheerleader right now.

I’ve played more shows with you in random states/countries than nearly anyone, without ever having been on tour together, and must have seen at least 40 sets over the years. Since the early 00s, your live shows have always had a confrontational element, in the way you engage the audience. Tell me about your relationship to this oppositional live presentation, and why it’s been an integral part of the MC Homeless project.

I grew up watching videos of Black Flag. Henry Rollins was fighting audience members. It was a hostile environment, a war of sorts. I took that confrontational style and made it my own. I give everything when I’m performing. I want to be in your face. It’s my catharsis. I wanted to perform hip-hop like a punk front man. I’ve fought people egging me on at shows in my younger years. These days I think the intensity will just come strictly from performance. The punk element will never go away. It’s ingrained in me.

6-7 years ago, you had achieved a bit of an O.G./luminary status in the US/Western EU indie-rap scene, so what fueled the decision to step away from indie-rap?

My last album 27 (2010, MilledPavement Records – ED.) was a really rough one to make. It was recorded in France while my cousin was dying of an extremely rare form of terminal cancer. I had just gone through my first really rough adult heartache after a breakup, and to top it off, I lost my antidepressants on tour in rural France. Getting cut off from those pills cold-turkey results in some really nasty, suicidal thoughts, and here I am in fucking France making an album as a coping mechanism. It was agonizing but a beautiful release at the same time. I wasn’t sober for a single minute, to be honest. The whole process beat the shit out of me and I put out an album that I didn’t care to top. What else was there to say? It was called “27” because I was ready to die at the age of 27. Even seeing myself write this now I’m like “holy shit, I needed some serious professional help” – or at least some sort of support system. I kept it all inside besides making this album. I came home from France and my cousin Ryan, one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met died two days later. I was on tour again the day after the funeral. I felt totally numb and fractured. I tried to put myself together and did some touring with Aceyalone and Riddlore, which led to me moving from Ohio to Texas. I did some cool stuff here in Austin for a few months but I felt creatively stagnant, sick of the rap scene, and was still a broken person. There was no room, want, or need, for me to grow as a hip-hop artist so I did what I thought was best for myself and stepped away.

During the hiatus, you made a critically acclaimed documentary, and it received fairly vast critical coverage and commercial response. Why the hell did you choose to not continue with a follow-up film, given the success and exposure of the first one?

I tried to be an adult and work some shitty 9-to-5 jobs in Austin. I tried to be responsible and pretended to be “normal”. My soul was slowly being sucked away. Then one day I decided to create again. I had this crazy idea to make a movie about a violent, nasty punk scene that I grew up worshipping. The little pet project that I took on with some friends started to get attention from Vice and all of those types of “cool kid” blogs, that honestly now nauseate me. The trailer for the movie skyrocketed past 20,000 views in a week. I was doing interviews left and right yet the movie wasn’t even done. The premiere sold out in Cleveland. There were over 500 people there in a line wrapped around the fucking block. Felt like I was dreaming.  Unfortunately there was some drama surrounding the movie that left a bad taste in my mouth and I blamed the editors for doing what I felt was a poor job, ruining something that to this day I feel could have propelled us into the world of documentary filmmaking as a full-time career. I became bitter. I had all of these amazing opportunities because of the movie but I only concentrated on the negative. I traveled the world showing this movie, almost just to spite people that tried to hold me back. I watched my film in Milan with Italian subtitles. It all feels like a past life. The thing is…I was a miserable bastard. The movie was about hardcore punk and I started to hate the hardcore punk scene. Everything blew up in my face including my personal relationships.

Then one day I had enough and decided to change my life. I took on positivity as my mantra and it wasn’t fake positivity. I needed it to survive and motivate me. I am not a naturally happy person. Happiness is something I work towards maintaining every day. I had to start exercising, change my diet completely, stop messing around with drugs that suck your goodness away, etc. And somehow it worked. I struggled and continue to struggle with anxiety and personal demons but it worked. I quit a job that made me sick to my stomach and started gluing myself back together as a loving, caring human, not someone dwelling in misery and nihilism, doing shitty drugs and wanting to participate in the chaotic punk lifestyle. I’m like a chameleon and knew it was time to once again adapt and find new surroundings. I really look at how Madonna continuously reinvents herself as an inspiration.

How did those lifestyle changes lead you back to an improbable rap-return, after such a long stop-gap? And by extension, on to far “darker” stuff than we’d ever heard from you? I myself was (pleasantly) surprised by the sharp turn…the 7-year sharp turn.

One day I woke up and decided to start rapping again. It’s that simple. I don’t know how or why it happened but I went with it. Part of me must have subconsciously missed that community. With the assistance of my physician, I was weaning myself off of antidepressants after a six year stint of taking them every day. All of the demons in my head came oozing out like a spilled vat of toxic waste. I was having thoughts of death, depravity and was journeying to the darkest place in my mind so I could look those ghouls right in the face and conquer them. Friends were overdosing or dying of freakish, unexpected young deaths nearly every month. In a way you carry them with you like ghosts.  Sex and Death is not about rapping fast, catchy hooks or being “real hip hop” with hot bars. Close your eyes tightly while listening to the album. Imagine a voyage through a hellish haunted world. In the end you survive and are a stronger person. Sometimes we use sex to deal with death. Sometimes birth comes from tragedy. We all need to be reborn and revised versions of ourselves to navigate this world healthily. “Sex and Death” is really just another way of saying life and death. They are inseparable

How did Moodie Black come to produce Sex and Death? I’m also interested in the HUGE stylistic shift between the 27 album of 2010 on MilledPavement Records, and the Sex and Death / Dig Two Graves releases.

The Dig Two Graves split with you was really the appetizer, easing people in. I was having fun with those songs and lyrics. Sex and Death I meant as the main course, the really heavy shit. I described the sound I had in my head, and multiple people, including Ceschi, recommended Moodie Black. I hadn’t previously heard of them or their music but when I heard some beats from K, somehow she was making the exact music that I heard in my head. Serendipity.

In our strain of indie-rap from the late 90s-present, sexual activity is very rarely addressed in a direct fashion. You have a fair amount of sexually explicit bars both on Dig Two Graves as well as on Sex and Death. I don’t find these lines particularly offensive, as you treat said bars/references with a divorced and matter-of-fact tone, with no presented demeaning context…but I’m also a white cis-het man. It’s like you are reporting the news, and not some sort of libidinous impulse. I find that to be an interesting angle. Indie-rap near-always regards sexual activity in a highly-veiled fashion or dealt with physical love in the “unrequited” capacity. Why are you deploying sexually explicit material, in an era when that that could be viewed as more harmful than transgressive?

I’m too old to write songs like “poor me, this girl broke my heart and girls stink”. That shit is for children.  I wanted to present the dark side of sexuality in a way that hip hop doesn’t necessarily see too often. I don’t think sexuality is something that should be hidden. There is no hyper-masculine bravado in my lyrics. Listen closely. If anything the “sex” side is self deprecating. I address sexual addiction, fear, and use of sexuality as a way to mask pain. If people don’t want to hear that then go fuckin’ listen to someone else. It’s brash and you’re right,  I do in fact rap in a detached way about raw sexual emotion and the desire to fulfill needs even at the cost of ones mental health. It’s uncomfortable stuff. But let’s be real. Everybody loves fuckin’.  Even your favorite political rapper listens to some Too Short every once in awhile. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Nymphomaniac by Lars Von Trier. It’s a polarizing movie and something I modeled this album after.

I abhor this question, but I think for the rap-centric amongst our readership and respective supporters, it’s important…unpack some of the influences on Sex and Death for us?

The influences on this album aren’t really from the world of hip-hop. I look at it more like a Von Trier or David Lynch film. Nick Cave was a huge influence, so was Rowland Howard of The Birthday Party.

I listened to a lot of Industrial and Goth music while this album was being made. I think the music reflects that.

The music certainly reflects that, it’s unmistakable. What are your plans going forward, now that “Sex and Death and Dig Two Graves have heralded that you are back? Do you have tour plans /or a full-length release on the eventual horizon?

Shows are definitely being booked to promote my new music. Life is different now and with my job/living situation, 30-day marathon tours aren’t happening right now. Luckily I will be all over Texas soon. I also have some stuff lined up in California with Fatlip of Pharcyde, Riddlore (CVE), and a few others around Christmas. I’ll even be doing my first show in Tijuana, Mexico, so the future is exciting and unpredictable.

Tell our readers a little bit about the Homeless House monthly events you’ve been curating in Austin, TX. This is decidedly the most non-commercial move you could make in a very “industry” music town. What moved you to make a monthly non-traditional-venue event?

I do things on my own terms. I wanted to start playing shows again and book touring acts so what better place to do it than in my living room? Eventually other people started hosting the shows in their living rooms too and we now have ourselves a great little community of people that come and support the monthly events. Sometimes food is involved. It’s much more intimate than being in a bar downtown at 1AM. I’ll still play bars and various spaces but Homeless House is my pet project. Bushwick Bill playing in my living room was pretty nuts. We have had a ton of people and South By Southwest is always the big one. The headliner I have lined up for March is insane. My only hint for now is that he has been on various Adult Swim shows as an actor and no it’s not MC Chris.

Oooh. I’m wracking my brain, but can’t visualize who it might be. I woke up the morning after that Homeless 3:16 SXSW party with Bushwick Bill’s number in my phone, not precisely recalling how that happened! Anything else you want to say or shout-out? Let us know where to find you on the net, links, upcoming shows/tours, etc-

I want to say this; I don’t give a flying fuck if you can rap in triplets or super fast if you just sound just like your favorite rapper. Be you, find your own voice. Originality is a wonderful thing.. Don’t let anyone else tell you what’s cool or dictate your sound. Fuck 99% of the blog writers and YouTube critics on the planet. Eventually the world will blow up, you’ll be dead as shit, and none of the dumb stuff will matter. Praise and ego will be forgotten. You don’t “deserve” anything. Not everyone is going to be playing shows the size of Elton John stadium tours. Be fucking thankful for what you have. Some people have zero fans. That’s not an exaggeration. In the end, all that matters is love and community so hold your loved ones tight and get ready for some crazy times. Being an artist isn’t easy. Do this for yourself, first and foremost. What else? Oh yeah, shout out to everyone that has supported me over the years. You are not forgotten. There are many people I miss. My social media is @rustbelthammer on Instagram and then @rustbelthammer1 on Twitter. Just search MC Homeless, that shit is on Facebook too. I miss MySpace, dude.


If you boil this down to bullet-points, we’ll print it on a shirt. Thanks so much my friend, love and salutations to UGSMAG for having us here.