Malik Ameer Crumpler 2022 / Photo: Anaïs Pourrouquet
Malik Ameer Crumpler 2022 / Photo: Anaïs Pourrouquet

Big Dada Kane: An Interview with Poet-Rapper Malik Ameer Crumpler

Bestriding boundaries between hip-hop, poetry, and surrealism, poet-musician Malik Ameer Crumpler forges a strange and compelling work that is utterly and uniquely his own.

Little Terrors of Passion and Rhyme

Your recent musical work seems a lot more experimental and more concerned with jazz influences. Sanctified might be the closest thing to a commercial hip-hop album you ever made. Would you ever consider a similar venture into more accessible hip-hop in the future?

All of that is certainly on point. Sanctified was my last album with my Bay Area community. It was the culmination of all those 4-track albums I’d recorded since the early ‘90s in junior high and high school. It was the collage of all those sounds and communities, my vocal obsession with Askari X, 2Pac, Chuck D and Melle Mel. It didn’t achieve exactly what I wanted, due to my own limitations, musically and sonically. Also, I wanted to get more of the reggae, punk-rock, and acoustic blues/country and western vibe on there (which I’d recorded with some of the crew in Bayonics). But the songs that we recorded like that got lost when my computer crashed in 2002.

Anyway, the closest thing to more traditional/ accessible boom-bap I’ve been involved in are a couple of projects with Thatmanmonkz and Zen the Sharpshooter over the years, plus the stuff I collaborated with Pan Amsterdam and Leron Thomas on. As far as accessibility is concerned, I’ve never been an accessible artist, in terms of poetry or music and that’s never bothered me. It’s my personality and so I’ll probably never make any accessible music, because it’s just not in me. But the most accessible hip-hop music I’ve made is with Seven Divine in 2011 and 2012 ((((That Osiris Effect))). He’s one of my favorite rappers so whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him (and we’ve been working together since 1996), he always stresses to me the necessity of not going way out to Neptune, just ‘cause I can. So, between Seven Divine and the albums with Def Presse, those are my most accessible hip-hop offerings (unless someone finds all those tapes from ’88-’99).

The biggest challenge is to make something I haven’t heard or seen or read before. Not just to be new or fresh but to explore what isn’t there sonically, lyrically and style-wise. It’s probably why I’m always watching cosmos and physics documentaries about exploring the quantum and multiverse and theoretical analysis, sci-fi and Dada realms, you know what I mean? What I’ve always been attempting to access, is a unique approach to expressing something that can possibly inspire my future selves and a couple other people to have confidence in pursuing their own thing. That’s all it’s ever been for me.

You are also a published poet. You’ve released several books of poetry, which includes a collection of your song lyrics, as well as a novel in prose-poem (Little Everywhere). Tell us about the work you’ve published in Amber Hymns and Little Everywhere?

All of those books are intended to read like experimental fables, multi-narratives that attempt to express and navigate the multitude of voices I’ve encountered in books, cities, my internal silence, meditations and prayers. All those vibrant ancient mythologies, sci-fi narratives, A.I., virtual reality mystical ascetics and other multi-dimensional quantum quandaries I’m into. A lot of those poems in those books are about breaking grammatical rules in an attempt to do what I loved about Dada painting and writing while ignoring traditional forms to find my own container for my voices. They were an attempt to amplify the voices of specific paintings or sculptures that speak to me in museums, or wherever. In all those narratives, everything’s alive and thinking.

Sometimes a rocking-chair is telling its tale or a tree is ranting about what it’s seen, or even some old depressed drunk, who’s furiously drinking to madness, may complain about the obscure inner state of being. The characters never reveal themselves, which has to do with voluntary censorship, nor do they let you know what particular form they occupy; they instead just tell you something they consider useful on your journey throughout the book. All I ever want to do with poetry is convey images that unlock messages or emotions that may trigger an idea or an epiphany for the reader. It’s similar to when you’re standing on the corner in any big city and a random person walks up to you and starts talking, or you’re walking through the dense forest and you overhear something but no one’s there, and the words inspire some new course of unfamiliar or unpredictable walking while thinking.

In Little Everywhere though, the secret narrator is a Big Data super intelligence that’s merged with a super spiritual intelligence, hoping to free thought-slaves/ computer-slaves/ A.I. slaves from the invisible chains of contemporary spiritual, mental, and financial slavery. Like any black hole, it takes in all the information it acquires, then randomly spews it out on the page, devoid of any comfortable forms or clichès or syntactical grammar as a means to allow quantum continuance.

You moved to France from the States later on in your life. What prompted the move?

The move was predominately prompted by the ceaseless “ism” cultures of the States, which have driven me mad ever since I was a small child. But to be brief, on top of all the “isms” out there, socially and artistically I always felt censored and silenced in the States. I couldn’t bring myself to conform to or accept any of the competitive artistic constraints mandated in the arts industries. Of course, the political/ historical situations and the amnesia/ denial syndrome in the States always made me psychologically and spiritually depressed too.

On another level, since I was a small child, I always wanted to move to New York and Paris, like most of my political and artistic heroes did, like Don Cherry, Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hughes. So, I was always quietly focused on getting to Paris, after I’d started living in New York, to experience what many of my art heroes advertised in all their work. I always felt deeply detached, even ostracized from the American pop culture and its obsession with violent, humiliating entertainment. So, for my own mental and physical health, I needed to get out from under the financial, creative, and spiritual misery in the States that I could never shake while living there.

Full disclosure, I always felt hunted in the States politically, ethnically, physically, psychologically, and especially spiritually, which caused severe anxiety and addiction issues for me. It was pretty clear that my depressive states and addictions would never improve under the conditions I lived in, in the States. All of that and much much more kept me focused on getting out of the US as soon as I could. As soon as I got the chance, thanks to a chance meeting with a Parisian arts curator at the bookstore I worked at in Manhattan, she recommended I apply for the B’AM artist residency in Paris. So, I did and I was gone.

How do you find your work in music and poetry has changed since your move to France? What are your interactions with France’s art and literary communities like compared to the ones in the Bay Area and New York?

My work changed immediately in France because my anxiety, stress, financial precarity, and spiritual rage were finally able to relax in the incredibly less violent environment of Paris. I didn’t know I had it so bad until my posture changed because I wasn’t on edge and on guard all the time for random acts of violence. So, my ability to focus entirely on my creative work was free from those specifically United Statesian survival stresses.

In terms of the literary communities here, there are more readings more often in Paris – and the literati that own New York and San Francisco, that determine career trajectories based on systemic behavior modification on the page and in life – do not exist in the Anglophone community. Poets are free to do and explore as they please here, the main objective is to please one another instead of pleasing agents, awards boards, reviewers, judging committees, and so on. So, to finally be in a community that’s not distracted or pressured by the need to survive via riches, awards, accolades, fame, and glory, and instead is committed to the deep-space exploration of the inner self, to craft and ruthless revision, allowed me to stop wasting so much of my energy on cloaking my rage, disgust, and bitterness with my personal and professional failures.

Working with artists who gravitate toward risky creations and put art first allows for a stronger focus on encouraging one’s imagination, which embraces an artisanal approach to the craft. The more unique and unpredictable you are [in France], the more fascinating your work is. Whereas in the States, we all suffered from trying to creatively make a living while avoiding the “who’s the best, hottest, most polished, award-winning, trending topic artist of the day”, where agents and managers constantly try to convince you to emulate whatever’s selling or most popular at the moment instead of pursuing your own path.

The game’s definitely different here because most artists I collaborate with aren’t interested in the banal games of seeking celebrity. Although, full disclosure, there is definitely an entire well-paid community [in France] that is specifically committed to emulating American celebrity culture in every way possible, Black American culture in particular. In that corporate scene, most folks are just copying whatever the celebrities in the States, Africa, and England did a decade or two ago.

You are featured on the Dead Can Rap album with Mike Ladd and Remi Rough. How did you get involved with the project?

That was just another typical day in St. Denis, hanging out at Mike’s studio talking about books, contemporary politics, philosophy, traveling and the sort, until Remi rolled through and was like, “Let’s make a song about everything we’re talking about.” Mike fired up the amps and mics, Remi turned the beats on and we all went to writing. I think we did three or four songs that day, and two of them are on that album. Funny thing, though, is how I met Mike. My man, No Surrender, (one of my favorite artists whom I met at my last gig in New York in 2016 at Gambazine) told me to link with Mike when I got to Paris. So, the first time we met up in Paris, we hit the studio and just listened to Mike’s new beats for his new album (which we’re still working on, and is an absolute monster).

The second time we met up was at the first Anti Police Brutality manifestation in Paris in 2017. My wife and I had marched on over to République from our studio in Gambetta with the thousands and settled in with the crowd to enjoy the artists performing on the stage set up behind le Monument à la République. A little later, Mike walks up to us in the crowd, extra-juiced and is like, “I’m about to go on with this experimental free jazz flutist, you wanna rock?” I was like, “I ain’t got nothing memorized.” He was like, “Neither do I,” and 15 minutes later there we were goin’ off, rockin’ off top with all that energy within that swarm of thousands of pumped-protestors. It felt like the old days in the Bay Area at all those protests and rallies. Crowd dug it and, after our set, we went back to protesting until the police broke everything up. Then we hopped on the metro outta there. And so began my collaborations and friendship with Mike Ladd.

What new projects do you have coming up?

Currently, I’m on hiatus from any personal musical projects or books because once the lockdown hit, I went back to teaching English and networking. Nevertheless, I’ve recorded a lot of material over the years that are scattered in digital vaults all over the place, but I have no idea when any of that material will be released, if ever. My most recently released project is Those Whomyns, an exciting collaboration for digital-only release with Daniel Belquer on sound design, arrangement, composition, accordion, and melodica, Paulo Brandao on Bass, Murilo O’Reilly on drums, percussion and sound design, and me on vocals, sound design. I’m reading remodeled poems from Amber Hymns and The Rest Is Now, along with a couple of other new improvised poems. A spoken word poetry piece with my bredren, No Surrender in New York City, will also be out soon.

What else? Been in the lab with Mike Ladd and Jamika Ajalon, working on their new solo albums for the past couple of years, which they’re now finishing up. Both of those albums are incredibly inspiring, musically and lyrically. The Rest Is Now (a poetry EP) was my most recent chapbook that came out in December 2020.

I’ve been spending some time editing issues with The Opiate Magazine and Paris Lit Up. I’ve also been doing several readings, workshops, and lectures online since the Covid crisis hit. They’re ongoing, along with a couple of venues opening up out here in Paris. But there’s always new stuff popping up all the time, and I’m thoroughly enjoying collaborating with folks from all over the world, experimenting, and having fun with wordism.

I guess, whenever everyone can travel freely again, we’ll get back to touring. But for now, I’m teaching a couple of courses out here and enjoying all the ripple effects of silence and daily meditation in my petit jardin.

Malik Ameer Crumpler 2022 / Photo: Anaïs Pourrouquet