Existential Rap: An Interview With LOSTBOYEVSKY

With the release of his debut mixtape Rhymes 'N' Puns 'N' Shit, art rapper LOSTBOYEVSKY talks about rapping in South Korea, the nature of art rap, and technology's impact on life.
Rhymes ‘N’ Puns ‘N’ Shit

When I first heard the music of LOSTBOYEVSKY, I was weeks away before my first real encounter with collegiate philosophy. The hyper-referential “Herd to Ubermensch” reminded me throughout that semester that philosophy, at its core, can be extremely fun when in the right circles. I just needed to find those circles.

In addition to his music, which can be heard on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, he tweets as LOSTBOYEVSKY, and runs the website Refine the Mind. New music is on the way, but in this conversation, he discussed his debut full-length project.

Thankfully, I tracked down the mastermind behind the song, and found he’d released a full-length project, Rhymes ‘N’ Puns ‘N’ Shit After listening to it, I realized I’d found the rapper to fill the void left by Das Racist, as well as my favorite rap project of the year. Via email, LOSTBOYEVSKY chatted with me about the album, art rap, and performing in South Korea.

I had two main objectives with the project: 1. to try to characterize the modern world (this is more where the technology stuff fits in) 2. to touch on more universal/not-period-specific themes — i.e., the general existential predicament of being a human being.

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What’s your background and how’d the LOSTBOYEVSKY project get started?

Well, I guess I loved rap music from a young age and started making goofy, parody-type songs with friends in late high school. Then I ended up getting pretty into freestyling and would just practice at random times. Eventually I just started writing a bunch of the lyrics down and focusing more on writing stuff. Then I taught English in South Korea and while I was over there I had a lot of time on my hands, so I bought a mic and just started recording in my apartment.

So all of Rhymes ‘N’ Puns ‘N’ Shit comes from South Korea?

Yeah, the majority of Rhymes ‘N’ Puns ‘N’ Shit was written and recorded in South Korea.

What’s breaking out your philosophically-dense art-rap like in South Korea?

I don’t think anyone over there had much knowledge of art rap and most people seemed kind of bemused and baffled by what I was doing but also kind of interested because I think it stood out as distinctly different than other rap people had been exposed to. But these were small, local shows, usually maybe 30-40 people in a bar. Biggest one had maybe 100 people.

Please explain what “art rap” is.

I’d love to teach a class on rap, focusing more on the avant-garde, experimental, “art rap”-type stuff I’ve encountered. I honestly don’t draw much of a distinction between “art rap” and “experimental rap” or “alt rap”…I think I wrote in a blog post that art rap seems to be more conscious of itself as a divergent movement in the history of rap or art generally and tends to draw from a broader array of cultural knowledge/lenses that may have been historically underrepresented in rap or art generally.

I’ve noticed a lot of the lyrics [in art rap] being especially grounded and practical with regards to discussions about life. How much do you think that commentary on the average millennial experience has to do with the current state of the genre?

I think rappers like Open Mike Eagle and Milo stand out to me as guys who are really grounding their lyrics in day-to-day lived human experience and I think that’s part of something that they, specifically, are trying to do—which is to take rappers and celebrities generally down from this pedestal in the sky to unveil them as what they truly are — human beings. I’m reminded of Milo’s lyric “I want to re-define what stunting is” and Open Mike Eagle’s song “Celebrity Reduction Prayer”…

A big part of what those guys are doing seems to be trying to avoid the traditional divide between the heroic, all-star rapper and the roaring masses and to instead sincerely connect with people on a human level, to be vulnerable and sincere. Reminds me of how David Foster Wallace thought that a ‘New Sincerity’ might be the replacement for the ironic detachment that dominated art during the late 20th century. I know Milo was heavily influenced by DFW and so I see a lot of what those guys are doing in terms of DFW’s prediction.

It’s interesting because rap has always been about “keep it real” and there’s this huge emphasis on authenticity, but I think it’s actually been a relatively small strain of rappers throughout the history of the genre that have evidenced the vulnerability that is, I think, really necessary for a truly authentic connection.

Yeah, and in the LOSTBOYEVSKY project, do you think you manifested that well, where the fears are coded within all these technological absurdities, or it was more reference-based only?

I think it’s there to an extent—an underlying current about the state of the world, about mankind’s shortcomings, about existence in general, death, etc. But that aspect of the project is, I think, not the main focus and is probably to some extent obscured by the silliness/jokiness, the overwhelming amount of abstract stuff, and the general tone of the project. I would say that this first project was more influenced by Das Racist and specifically KOOL A.D., but I’m actually working on some music that is moving in a more melancholy, sincere direction because I’m interested in exploring that space. What did you think about that aspect?

I think that I have a skewed perspective because I share the same fears, maybe I projected mine onto them. One of the songs that struck me was “Dragonball Z on a Macbook”, and like, here’s my Macbook. And if you’re not aware of hearing all the possibilities of this machine, not just tacitly “Yes, I know, I can do things with my Macbook”, then you can be afraid of technology.

I think I see what you’re saying.

Also, the line you’ve got about Candy Crush, that geeks me out, too. Like, it’s Bejeweled. But these people have caked tens of millions off Bejeweled in different ways. What does that say about the ability to actually progress?

Right, yeah, I think the unconscious use of technology scares me the most. The sheer mass of people who will spend their lives bathing in the surface-level diversions technology offers and never consider how it could be used more meaningfully or the dangers of using it unconsciously. Dangers, i.e., handing over large amounts of data to corporations, not understanding that your Facebook feed is algorithmically selected to reinforce your pre-existing biases and assumptions, etc.

I certainly don’t claim to grasp all of the implications, but you’re right to intimate, if this is what you’re saying, that a couple of those songs on Rhymes ‘N’ Puns ‘N’ Shit were very much about expressing anxiety about the present tech-saturation and just generally making people more aware of how these devices and apps and corporations have infiltrated our lives.