Thirty Minutes with Hodgy Beats
It takes multiple failed attempts over the course of a week to get Hodgy Beats on the phone. Sure, the scrawny, tatted up rapper – born Gerard Damien Long – and his MellowHype producer-partner Left Brain (Vyron Turner), are touring England with their Los Angeles-based crew Odd Future. No doubt there are press engagements, in-stores, and much-needed skate breaks to take. But when Hodgy finally does answer the phone, late afternoon in a Manchester hotel room, he confirms what I suspected all along: "There's not much in our schedule that we don't want to do – except for interviews. They've got to corner us for those otherwise we'll just run!"
Maybe that's part of the "fuck everybody" ethos that 20 year-old Hodgy says is MellowHype's manifesto (not to be confused with Odd Future's separate mantra: "Kill Them All"). But when he can steer an interview, I think he secretly likes them. After mumbling through procedural topics about how he met Left Brain ("in high school, at a mutual friend's party") and his first time rapping (at six; "my cousin wrote a rhyme for me and told me to rap it"), he sees his chance to veer off topic and speak openly.
London is cool, I wouldn't move there though. London is boring," he says, all world-weary just nine months into a professional career.
"Whoa," I refute. "I've never heard anyone say that."
To me it seems like London sleeps," Hodgy counters, before putting on a smarmy, fake-Brit accent: "Oh, it's nine-thurtay. I'm going to take my arse home." He sounds like Jonah Hill in that dopey Forgetting Sarah Marshall scene with Russell Brand and, laughing, I maintain that London is still a world epicentre of cool.
"Um, but you sound like you're from England or something," he interjects coolly. Because I sense he's trying to flirt away the monotony of back-to-back press obligations, I indulge in kind, telling him I was born right there in Manchester, a really long time ago.
Like all kids who are super new to being a 20-something, Hodgy balks: "Oh so you're, like, 30 then?"
Dismayed, I quickly, stupidly fib. "Nah, 25." (I'm 26) And he's audibly relieved – "Oh, that's okay then" – like I would have been at his naively invincible age.
The back-and-forth is a loose, forgettable moment of connection for someone like Hodgy, whose life is now constantly in motion. But in the context of what's known and propagated about Odd Future – that they're anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-everyone-and-everything, really – it's revealing. And just a few days after we speak, before performing at Chicago's Pitchfork Festival, Odd Future members will bring cupcakes to domestic violence and rape victim advocacy groups set up on event grounds.
It's important to point out that Hodgy, who has a distinctive pipsqueak bark and inventive flow, is often in direct, unflinching contradiction of his own lyrics. "I'll push this fucking pregnant clown into a hydrant stuck in the ground," he menaces on glitchy, grim, "Sandwitches," alongside Tyler, the Creator. "I step through the stomach, replace the baby with some fucking pounds." It's gruesome and vivid, but for what it's worth, I also learn later – via Twitter – that Hodgy is a proud, soon-to-be father.
I don't read it, I don't pay attention to it, I don't care," says Hodgy of Odd Future's well-publicized controversies. "Odd Future is bigger than the music." A vehemently flimsy dismissal for sure, but it's the day before MellowHype's acclaimed second album BlackenedWhite is re-released on dusty Mississippi label Fat Possum and Hodgy is in too good of a mood to care.
MellowHype's first recorded song, "Rotation," is lurking in some far off corner of the internet. Easier to find is Yellowhite, an unassuming, laidback first-go, released in early 2010. But BlackenedWhite is the critical favourite in MellowHype's miniscule canon. Minus Earl Sweatshirt feature "Chordaroy," which couldn't be cleared without the missing rapper's consent, the re-release was packaged to showcase Hodgy and Left Brain's growth. "We did new songs so you can hear the difference since we've grown musically and mentally," he explains. What remains is a fondness for slowed effects, BPM so low it gives their voices squelching, cryptic depth. So do high-energy, assaultive lyrics, questionable, death-obsessed content, and cameos from their friends.
Left Brain is constantly producing pitch-shifted, drum assaults on tour, and though Hodgy prefers to write and record simultaneously, he describes their work ethic as "very productive." Upon returning to L.A., the pair is ready to work on a follow-up, tentatively titled Numbers, and Hodgy's solo, Damien.
Home is a bigger sore point than controversy. Hodgy says he misses being able to constantly make music without distraction. Writing raps, which began as a challenge, turned into a way to connect with others: at first, with a singer father who ran a barbershop and was never around, then later, with high school friends Tyler and Left Brain. "We never had any problems… it was just always easier than difficult," explains Hodgy of MellowHype's almost-immediate partnership. "We were just two kids with a dream that wanted something to work and were ready to find a way to make it happen."
It's funny to talk with someone whose life has drastically changed in a relatively short period of time. Without time to absorb the excitement, maybe that's why Hodgy remains rather clear-eyed about the spoils of success: "It's cool to make money and know that you have that type of security, but it's not there to go to your head and shit." Flashy isn't his thing, he says, adding he's working on getting together a 401k-retirement fund.
And what else will life bring? Hodgy sounds mad zen describing a peaceful existence writing music for others and playing instruments, like the guitar, which he is currently learning on the road. "I'm going to just be playing the bass guitar, the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, and the drums, and the harp. And I'll be fucking wonderful," he drifts. "I just want to be in my own world."
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