-Adam Isaac Itkoff (@adamitkoff)
A good rap song is art, valid as any other particular medium. The brush of Matisse likened to the tongue of Young Thug for a different era, both valid as the forever vivid capture of the present moment through art.
Though not all art is created equal, it’s the act of creation that deserves merit and allows us to shape, and not simply inherit, our circumstance. In the art of viable hip-hop, the truth is that a propensity toward material wealth and the overt glorification of hedonism moves units, while rappers hoping to expose greater truths often have trouble resonating with a wider public. Rappers like Drake have been able to thrive by cultivating a fertile middle ground; succumbing to introspection and crooning about heartbreak one moment, while still reminding you that he’s juggling multiple mortgages and prefers Hennessy to vodka on the very next verse.
With so much fodder, it’s easy to get worked into a nice sweaty lather following the latest nothings of celebrity and force-fed pop-culture aphorisms. How many cakes did Kim Kardashian hire other people to bake for Kanye’s 38th birthday? I can say in full confidence, that I really don’t give a shit. While new generations are being falsely prodded to crave the glow of paparazzi (without cultivating their art first, at least), a few dedicated artists are trying to uncover the veneer being propagated by major media and institutions. Think names like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, artists that have been able to find the limelight, and still use their platform to talk about issues that matter. Still, those artists are few and far between. Nine times out of ten, content is more about eliciting a feeling of wealth, than it is recognizing the shortcomings of the present.
While the exuberant American Dream spawned by post World War II visions of a perpetually suburban America, peppered with infinitely lush lawns and pretty little housewives has died, a revolution in consciousness is gaining speed alongside the seismic socio-economic shift that’s already arrived. Whether it’s the advancement of the first FDA approved psychedelic studies in 30 years, or viral videos catching everyday cops up the murder rate, the truth is going to get out one way or another. Like a weed growing out between two slabs of concrete.
Just ask Champs, the celestial spirit synthesizing a style somewhere between KOOL A.D. and a rap game Allen Ginsberg. I had the pleasure of catching up with Champs about his latest projects, psychedelics and oh yeah, the divine and infinitely wondrous nature of the universe.
“FUCK FASHION AND FUCK MATERIALISM, I WANNA LIVE IN THE WOODS.”
Adam: I first noticed you when the “Karma” video by Y$K$K dropped. What inspired that video, and when did you originally record the track?
Champs: I was really lucky to link with Yinka (1/2 of Y$K$K) a while back just from doing music and all in the city, and through him I met Kira (the other half of Y$K$K) soon after. Both have really great energies about them, they've worked super hard to get where they're at and their product is probably the best in the city man. We just went up North where I was spending a lot of my time, rode my bike around and got some cool shots of the people and the neighborhood. We didn't overthink the video or anything, just something that felt good and was a good representation of Philadelphia. The track is actually mad old man, I recorded it over a year ago now but you know how it is with getting things out and all.
Adam: When did you first start rapping?
I grew up always, always playing in bands, mostly punk and metal shit and all that, so music has been my main source of joy, expression, exorcism, freedom, etc. forever really. I think I wrote my first rap when I was 17? I remember the first couple bars of it...I'm 25 now so maybe I'll call myself a rapper when I hit the 9 year mark next year. From the heavy underground music I was listening to, something about Rage Against the Machine really hit me. It was less heavy, more groovy and Zach and Tom are absolute legends, and then they showed me Immortal Technique which somehow led me to Outkast and so on down the line until now. And memorizing all their stuff made me want to try and write on my own. It was definitely the politically fueled shit that spoke to me first coming from listening to bands like Bad Religion, Pantera, At The Gates and a bunch of Scandinavian death metal types, but now I'm super open to many types of music. I like mostly 70's psychedelic progressive stuff or new age jazz type bands.
Adam: What inspires you to draw on time, space and consciousness in your tracks?
What else is there to discuss? We are already so numb and non-present in actual reality. With rap it’s the girls, the drugs, the money, how cool you are and all that and if I want that shit, there is literally 3,000 television channels pumping that system of priorities into our homes that I can go watch for 30-minutes and receive a bonus 14 minutes of advertisements actually yelling at me to try and get my dollar so I can "be happy." On the rock side, things can get equally as bleak with the boo-hoo self-loathing shit, lack of universal vision and just rock being stale in general. I say fuck all that shit, if I'm going to say something, it's going to be in an attempt to inspire similar conversations that myself and my crew have had just from asking questions of each other and exploring our own consciousness.
I scroll through all the major blogs most days and god dammit I'm so BORED. Give me some art that matters, has consequence, starts a positive chain reaction of thought, makes someone feel something new and powerful but at the same time gives you a connection to our ancient consciousness.
Fuck fashion and fuck materialism, I wanna live in the woods.
Adam: Metaphysically, you seem inspired by the spiritual, the psychedelic and all that good ethereal shit. Is that your brand, your way of life, or both?
There is no brand! At least not intentionally man, I'm not over here thinking about how to brand myself, I'm thinking about trippy ass raps to write to reflect the collective consciousness and when the next time I can go camping with the crew is. There is such an absurdly beautiful big picture out there and I think part of the human condition is peeping at this wondrous thing through the tiiiiiiniest pinhole...the important thing is to realize that there IS a big picture, although we don't comprehend it. And that's probably the bottom line about my music, humble people before the vastness of the big picture. The day that you realize and actually come to terms with the true existence of what is out there beyond all infinite complexities you can imagine where quantum interactions of particles happen across perhaps billions of light years of space and time instantly...like it’s all there, it’s all connected, it’s all real (maybe simulation theory got me fucked up recently), but what is it? And why is it so damn amazing? I claim zero knowledge, I know not one single thing is true; all I can do is ask questions and hopefully expand my vague understanding.
And be a good person too, man! That's all it is, if these corporations and political lobbyists and reptilian ass leaders would just switch their priorities and realize that in the long term, being a good person in every second of every day is infinitely more valuable than however many millions, billions, trillions, zillions they're worth...the world would be a lot happier.
I like meditation, I like lucid dreaming, I am a student of astral projection with limited but substantial success over the years, I like responsible psychedelic experiences and I want to be one of the best humans to ever live, not famous or rich or successful or anything, but just that in every moment, I am present and aware of my effect on all living beings and I show those beings nothing but unconditional love. Because if we can't love all the things that are in the middle of this massive psychedelic-trip-simulation we call life...well it’s just poop if we don't love.
Adam: Tell us a bit about your involvement with SUB404 and What Scene?
That's the homies! I go way back with Brandon (the founder of What Scene?) and have watched him turn an idea and a blog into one of the go-to production companies in the city throwing some of the most unique and memorable events in Philly (and soon, beyond). Sub404 was founded by my roommate and great friend (and alien super-producer) Sketcho. Truthfully it's just all one big family at this point man, we all support one another. It's crazy but, lately, I don't really listen to any rap/hip-hop/R&B music besides what the team is putting out man. The team pushes me for sure to just be better, write better, rap harder, be more creative, all that. Artist wise, WS? x Sub404 is mainly Marv Mack, Anyee Wright, Sincerely Tahj, Miles Chancellor, SKetcho, myself, our homie Mike Wash and about 10 to 15 other musician friends that we collaborate with to make music. http://www.websitewebsitewebsite.website and www.whatscene.net will keep you in the loop!
Adam: You just dropped your video for “RIP Bill Cosby”. Besides being hilariously (and tragically) prophetic, what inspired the title and the overall art direction?
I think the title of RIP was a commentary on how ridiculous this celebrity-worship culture we live in is. I'm not saying I wouldn't geek out if I was in the same room as Tom Morello or Roger Waters or something but it's just like when is enough, enough? With Cosby, you have this guy who fictionally played the best Dad of all time on TV, and for that, we worshipped him. Now it comes out dude is a total scumbag creep who is most likely going to mental hell when he takes his final DMT trip on his deathbed for all the evil and negativity he has caused during his stay in a human body. Why was he on a pedestal in the first place? Because a talking box showed us pictures of him being great? Other than that, the song is about distractions I think, and seeking truth amidst the sea of bullshit distractions available to each of us every second of every day. Religious rhetoric, Kim Kardashian, political campaigns in the bi-partisan system, that Duck show about the guys with beards, blah blah blah you get the idea. Realize that these things are nothing more than distractions from the true form of reality, our true power as beings living on a god-like trajectory, and ask more questions.
I think that's what the songs about.
Adam: Future shows? (Hook me up on the guest list). How about next releases?
Haha, I will do my damndest man, the next big one is June 26th at the TLA opening up for the legend Curren$y and my man Theodore Grams (one of the dopest out right now). Other than that it’s just little local shows here and there, trying to get a full time band together (it's been a little challenging) but working on it. If people want to come see a show they should just follow me on the bullshit peddling platforms known as Twitter or Instajawn its @xchampsx.
I'm not really working on a project, just dope songs and videos. I don't really want to put out a project until there's a demand for it. When the demand comes I'll have plenty of songs to choose from but for right now me and Sketcho are just focused on making dope music with the team.
Peace and love to all living things man, appreciate the opportunity.
I’ve been privileged enough to tour with major label musicians, and have also dabbled (however briefly) in artist management. There are artists committed to absolutely nothing but a paycheck, and there are artists that spit on a corporate co-sign so long as they have enough money for groceries without overdrawing their debit card.
An artist like Champs is supremely cool not because he wants you to “download his new mixtape, fam”, but precisely because he doesn’t. Sure, he makes music, but it’s up to you to listen and determine if his message is relevant within your own context, within your own life.
Despite the perpetual stomach cramps of a desire-dependent economy, you are the master of your own universe at all times. If Champs leaves you with a single takeaway, than that’s what you should know.