Perpetually overachieving and frustratingly underappreciated, AJ Suede’s discography is a map of underground hip-hop’s recent Cambrian explosion. As Soundcloud and Bandcamp have grown into breeding grounds for new subgenres and fresh faces over the past decade, the Seattle emcee has dipped his brush into every available palette. He’s laced cloud-rap percussion with drowsy flows, cut his teeth on trap-metal, and even helped his local Underworld Dust Funk collective carve out a sinister niche built on dark ambient production and Esotericism.
That’s not to call the guy a trend-hopper — the opposite is actually true. Suede has a gift for re-creating the sound of the moment in his own image, imbuing new waves with his own vocabulary of ideas. No matter the beat, you can count on Suede conjuring the blue-greens and overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest while name-dropping classic indie rock bands or hinting at his deep knowledge of the dark web. Even his delivery’s instantly recognizable among his peers: it’s honed on the NYC canon, only Suede swaps menace for a soapbox prophet’s pessimistic urgency. MK ULTRA? Conversations with God? It all sounds plausible on the track, wedged between earnest stories of everyday life and artistic ambition.
AJ Suede’s most recent project, the Darth Sueder mixtape series, has seen him develop a sound that’s entirely his own. Largely self-produced, these tapes are more ambient than percussive, using drums sparingly to make room for dreamy sound collages. It could draw comparisons to Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, but Darth Sueder boasts confidence and cohesion while Earl gets by on wild experimentation and abstraction. The series’ third installment, which came out in early January, is its best, featuring an eclectic mix of samples and a surprise appearance from the elusive Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire. Tape on repeat, I typed up some questions for AJ in hopes of adding some lore to the Darth Sueder universe — read his answers below.
(conducted 1.16.19 via google drive)
You released the third installment in your Darth Sueder mixtape series earlier this week. Compared to the rest of your output, this trilogy has a really unified sound and even more spiritual themes. What do you think makes an AJ Suede mixtape a Darth Sueder tape?
I think the Darth Sueder tapes are meant to be more minimal and focus on the lyrics. All the music has always been super spiritual but it didnt really shine as well with all the drums and clutter. I always wanted to make music like this but I had to find a way to separate it from the rest of the catalog.
Your rotation of samples is pretty diverse. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard tracks by Cocteau Twins and Ariel Pink playing in the background of some of your tracks. What do you usually look for in samples?
I just look for replay value, but i have an affinity for female vocals, very soothing to the ear. Across all genres. A lot of times I dont know what I’m looking for until I hear it though.
You’ve made a lot of references to stuff like Newgrounds, the deep web, and Bitcoin in your recent work. What’s your relationship with the internet?
My mom was a computer teacher when I was younger so we were super early on the internet. Dial up, american online etc etc.I alway loved pirating DVDs and limewiring full cds etc etc. The early internet was dope before social media took a stranglehold on everybodys ego. Music forums and angelfire/geocities/blogspot music blogs with RAR and Zip files etc etc. Megaupload all of that shit. Very important to me for getting all this software.
Irl, you’re based in Seattle. Is there much of a hip-hop scene there beyond UDF? What are your thoughts on the city as a whole?
I’ve learned that in seattle theres a couple separate and segregated hip hop scenes that rarely overlap. Everybody’s sneak dissin each other and shit all the time so I definitely dont pay attention to any of that. All my peoples got their own shit going and alot of that other shit cant be mentioned next to any of us. There are a couple artists that I really fuck with as friends and we collaborate all the time and I pop up to their shows. But as far as UDF is concerned it cant be contained to a single area, or country or universe. We’re looking past that. I love living in the city though its a different world than what I’m used to.
What kind of stuff were you listening to growing up? Was there anybody in particular that inspired the current AJ Suede sound?
Would be hard to name everything but as far as the Darth Sueder albums are concerned I’ll say some big influences were Blu and Exile, Def Jux Records (not aesop rock though lol), Stones Throw. Dipset, mostly east coast shit. Production wise, alot of shoegaze, 4ad records, and Low Rider oldies. Too many influences to name. My southern influences shine more on the other albums with all the drums.
You work a lot of esoteric religious references into your work — recently, stuff about the Vatican, the Gnostic gospels, the Temple, etc. Do you consider yourself a Christian?
DEFINITELY NOT a christian. Nor am I a fan of the catholic church. I enjoy trolling the church. Listening to me is like getting the gospel before it gets perverted by the big tax free business that is the church. I draw influence from alot of religions but I also love the occult element that they try to leave out. I love the books that the bible tries to erase. Gotta seek out all this knowledge for yourself and see what you gravitate towards. Elements of abrahamic religions, eastern religions, hermeticism, gnosticism etc etc have always been a big part of the subject matter.
It also seems like you’re pretty into the Hellraiser movies too.
I think I’m more into the characters and visual aspect of hellraiser than the actual movies.
Darth Sueder III includes a few speech samples from the late TempleOS developer Terry Davis. How does he fit into your work?
I think the templeOS situation is super interesting. But once again I’m trolling Terry because he was a genius but he always said a lot of out of pocket racist shit. I’m sure if he was alive he wouldnt like me sampling his voice and thats the point. Same way we sampled a couple burzum tracks on Gotham Fortress because they were fire and we knew Varg would hate a black guy rapping over a sample of his work. TempleOS is hella cool and i think Terry A Davis said a lot of really funny things in between dropping N Bombs and going jesus freak on everybody. A perfect example of the type of people attracted by the church lol.
Speaking of spoken word stuff, I was surprised to see Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire on the DSIII outro. How did you link?
Thats the big homie, watch his vids for Gold Mouth Piranha and Sweet Chick, thats FRMNDS.
What’s planned for the future? More Sueder tapes? Collabs?
Just finished an EP with BB Sun over some fire loops gonna drop that VERY soon. But of course I’m gonna drop more albums, more videos, more shows, more travel, more merch, more recognition, and more everything. I’m excited.