Z Money, “Dope Boy Magic,” 2014.

A prominent rap blogger, well known for referring to other rap bloggers with oblique phrasal descriptions and dropping super sought-after YouTube gems, described this song as “wonderful,” which threw me for a loop. It is though

Hip-Hop as a Power Tool for Self-Examination: An Interview with Starlito

The interview I did with Starlito last year is in the January issue of the Believer. Buy the print issue for the full thing.

At the beginning of “Nightmares,” the penultimate song on the second of Starlito’s three full-length mixtapes from 2012, the twenty-nine-year-old Nashville rapper distortedly intones, “The last three books I read were The Power of Habit, Hop on Pop, and Dream Psychology.” What follows is a claustrophobic detailing of Starlito’s nightmares—an overzealous PO, no “pot to piss in,” stuck on a label full of “extra middlemen”—atop a terrain well summarized by his recent reading list of pop science, Dr. Seuss, and Freud.

Starlito’s sound has come to be defined by his husky and lithe vocals, embrace of sample-driven soft-rock beats, and complex wordplay. He made a short-lived attempt at traditional commercial success in the middle part of the last decade (while on Cash Money Records, he made a cameo as Lil Wayne’s teammate in Birdman and Wayne’s basketball-based “Pop Bottles” video), and he has spent the past few years self-releasing music and charismatically mapping his psyche on record.

—Joshua Bauchner


THE BELIEVER: You clearly thrive online—a twenty-two-minute music video, pay-what-you-will releases, big presences on Twitter and Instagram, and so on—but you also remain rooted in Nashville and Tennessee and turn out huge crowds for your live shows there. How do you balance the internet career, in which everyone wants new shit for free all the time, with boots-on-the-ground fan-base building, which actually pays the bills?

STARLITO: The internet stuff only goes so far; if people can’t see you, can’t touch you, they can’t gain a real appreciation for what you’ve got going on—if it’s real or not. That’s where a twenty-two-minute video comes from: it’s both trying to give you insight and showing you, OK, I’m not on television like the rest of your favorite rappers or the other guys of the moment, but I have a comparable product. Twenty-two minutes being the standard thirty-minute TV show minus the eight minutes of advertising. I’m not so stubborn to think being on a major label is what prevents other rappers from doing this, that being independent is what allows me or any rapper to kick it from a real place. Regardless of the business stuff, it’s about remaining a freethinker, a free spirit.

It’s almost overwhelming to think that I haven’t had a song on the radio in three years; I haven’t been associated with a record label or any kind of entity other than my own LLC for the last two and a half years. And I made more money in 2011 than I ever had in a year rapping; and I made more money in 2012 than I did in 2011. At this point, it’s not just about the money. If it were, I would approach things differently. But even though I’m not doing it from a commercial standpoint, it’s still becoming more and more commercially viable.

For the full interview, purchase a copy of the print issue at the McSweeney’s Store.

“The ‘paperwork explosion’ expresses both a threat and a wish.”

Jim Henson, The Paperwork Explosion, 1967.

The “paperwork explosion” expresses both a threat and a wish. The threat, an old one, is that we are being overwhelmed by paperwork’s proliferation, its explosion. The wish is to convert all this cumbersome matter into liberating energy, which is exactly what explosions do. From Chaptal’s “electric fluid” to IBM’s “machines should work, people should think” to USA.gov’s slogan “Government Made Easy,” we remain attached to the idea that someday, somehow, we can liberate this energy, put it to other uses. . . .

Yet we must not miss the ambiguity here. “Machines should work, people should think.” The message repeats itself several times; it’s the core of the film’s techno-utopian vision. We can imagine IBM executives and lawyers and public-relations agents sitting across a table from the thirty-year-old Jim Henson reminding him to make sure he includes these lines in his film. What if we shifted the emphasis just a little bit? From “machines should work, people should think” to “machines should work, people should think”? Is it possible the film might be trying to warn us against is own techno-utopianism? Read this way, the film is less an imaginary resolution to the problem of information overload in the modern era than an imaginative critique of this imaginary resolution. Machines should work, but they frequently don’t; people should think, but in this day and age, they seldom have the time.

Ben Kafka, The Demon of Writing (New York: Zone Books, 2012), 149–50.

“Made in America,” The Sopranos, 2007.

An antecedent of the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis.

“Made in America,” The Sopranos, 2007.

An antecedent of the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Chinx Drugz featuring French Montana, “Feelings,” 2013.

“Give a fuck about your feelings.” I actually take this in a very affirmative way.

Rick James, “Love Interlude” / “Spacey Love,” 1979.

Warm up this morning.

Claire Denis, 35 rhums, 2008.

I cry.

Foxy, “Tena’s Song,” 1978.

Feel better about life, Sunday morning.

Clock down

Clock down


Suga Free & Pimpin Young f/ Nate Dogg - “15 Minutes To 5”  (Empire, 2013)

Suga Free is a national treasure.



Malcolm Little ad!

Years ago, an issue of Transition magazine (the journal of Harvard’s Dept. of African and African American Studies) used this as the cover, with the caption “The Secret Relationship.” Genius.



Malcolm Little ad!

Years ago, an issue of Transition magazine (the journal of Harvard’s Dept. of African and African American Studies) used this as the cover, with the caption “The Secret Relationship.” Genius.

Lonnie Holley, “All Rendered Truth,” 2012.

“Who does more, and who does less—the one who can remember but cannot talk, or the one who forgets and can thus speak?”

Freud was not alone in his awareness of the dangers of an excessive faculty of recollection. Among the posthumously published papers of his younger Austro-Hungarian contemporary Franz Kafka, one finds an untitled aphorism that presents the problem of remembering more and doing less in an abbreviated and exemplary form. It reads as follows:

I can swim just like the others. Only I have a better memory [ein besseres Gedächtnis] than the others. I have not forgotten the former inability to swim [literally, “the former being-able-not-to-swim,” das einstige Nicht-schwimmen-können]. But since I have not forgotten it, being able to swim is of no help to me; and so, after all, I cannot swim.

The unnamed speaker of this brief text stands in the same position with respect to swimming that the Freudian aphasics occupy with respect to language. One could say, in the terms of Kafka’s lines, that they can–or could–speak “just like the others”: their recurring “remnants” are the proof. Only a detail remains to he added, which at once clarifies and transforms the sense of their faculties: their memory is better. The aphasics “have not forgotten” the “signs” once printed on a “transcript” of their psyche. But since they have not forgotten them, being ahle to speak is of no help to them; and so they ultimately cannot speak.

One might go still further in the reading of Kafka’s prose. It would he another variation on the theme. One could imagine that aphasics are those who could “speak just like the others.” Only, one would then add, “they have a better memory”: they have “not forgotten the former inahility to speak” (or “the former being-able-not-to-speak”). Their memory would then be much better than good. For it would extend to the age of infant babble in which every individual life begins. It would reach back to the “epoch of life” to which no “sign”—other than the blankness of the unmarked “transcript” itseIf—would be adequate. Silent, the aphasic would obstinately bear witness to what was never written and what could not be said. One would then be obliged to conclude that at times, remembrance can be as destructive as oblivion can be productive: in this case, the end of memory would lie in muteness, and forgetting would lead to speech. There is no doubt that achievement, in these terms, grows difficult to measure. It could be rash to propose any summary judgment of the relative accomplishments of those speaking beings who can and who cannot speak. Who does more, and who does less—the one who can remember but cannot talk, or the one who forgets and can thus speak? Among lesser animals, the possibilities are many; privation bears more than a single mask.

Daniel Heller-Roazen, Echolalias, 2005, 145–47.