Sunday, January 20, 2019

"Minimal Friends" with NOX (2018 Collaborations Overview 2/5)

Minimal Friends” NOX (prod. By Kev Brown) [March 2018]

Nox in full-form performing
NOX is a fellow Long Island rapper and was a relatively new friend at the time of this collaboration, after catching him live a handful of times, it was clear we both had a verbose and intellectual approach to writing with an insistent emphasis on our strange sides and leaning into our interests. He's a fantastic freestyler (Here are some episodes of my Spontaneous Sundays with AllOne we did together: Ep. 55 ep. 60, ep. 90) as well so we bonded on our love for the improvised craft. Nox, like Jesse, presented the ideal preparedness for a guest request, bringing the lo-fi Kev Brown instrumental to me as well as his fully formed verse and a solid intention for my role in the track. When he told me the theme and that he intended on calling it “minimal friends”, a sort of anthem for the outsider, a confessional tribute to our dark places and the light-hearted embracing of our oddities, I enthusiastically agreed. It was time to have a left-field-day.

Going into the verse I had a few plans of attack in mind. It helps to write with a specific intention of style and consider how the choices you make will lend themselves to the message you're trying to convey. (For instance, when writing my EP Dusty Dossiers, I didn't want to use any pop-culture references and very little slang, feeling that it would distract from the human narrative and film-noir theme.)  These style considerations become doubly important when collaborating with another rapper because you simultaneous want cohesion between cadence/word-choice/language but also enough contrast so as to offer dynamic to the song between the lyricists.

Here are some examples of my goals for “Minimal Friends”:

An abstract language palette: NOX and I are both huge Aesop Rock fans, and I suspect that much of why NOX likes my music is because of the high-level of lingual experimentation I bring to the table. When he sent me his lyrics it was clear that he had made an effort to use more references and layered/interesting language. I wanted to compliment this (it helps that word-painting is one of my favorite styles to write in, a collage smattering of feelings and references to characters and experiences that I love as an unabashed experimental love-letter to wordplay.)  I find it tends to open up a lot of fun new rhyme-schemes and just calls to mind more imagery and adventure for the writing and listening experience. I decided to meet the weirdness theme by doubling down on my tendency toward playful use of idiomatic language (...I'm a lone wolf in black sheep's clothing // sink social cues in corner pockets...that's my cue... // nip the wallflower in the bud...) and references (from Sonic the hedgehog and Fantastic Four to Harry Potter and Hunter S Thompson) really genuinely letting my nerd flag fly.

Use fluctuating tempos and cadences: Another way I could contrast NOX's verse was to play with my delivery and lay out my rhyme schemes differently. For this song, he had a more laid-back approach to his flow and places his rhymes in the comfortably spots right at the end of each measure. I intended on making my rhyme patterns a lot more interweaving and scattered and busy.

Unique/precise rhyme schemes: Despite the aforementioned goal of esoteric language, another of my personal writing goals recently has been to use more direct and common word choice and be more careful and interesting about my rhymes. Fusing words and phrases that actually exist or finding conveniently related words within the same rhyme scheme.  Being that I wanted to get to a confessional place, I did feel it important to actually discuss/convey some feelings in plain language.
"God I'm pathetic, codependent code of ethics, costly expenses so invested so indebted sewn enmeshment owed to friendships"

Minimal Friends is one of the most vulnerable and open ended verses that I released in 2018, a cathartic upheaval of my hang-ups and a raw description of my character in a way I seldom tackle (coming to terms with a lot of flaws from balding to codependency). Killing your darlings is an integral and legitimately painful aspect of any good and honest writing experience and the gnashing teeth of editing eviscerated my ego in full force when I decidedly had to scrap nearly my entire first draft. I romanticized too much the concept of the loner artist in trying to adhere to the “minimal friends” theme. I was initially heavily outlining an anti-social character and not describing my personal experience enough. My reality (and that of most others I imagine) is much more nuanced than either being a shy depressive shut in or a popular loquacious extrovert, flourishing in an oscillating spotlight. While I actually am blessed to have a lot of people supporting me and am really happiest on stage and in big groups sharing music and observing art and love connecting with people, I can also get completely anxious and shut in and love my alone time. It seems I require both extremes of isolation and the absorption of hyper-social inputs in crowds and groups to subsist and sustain my sanity. I tried to articulate this balance in the song.

Ironically nearly all of my friends are people who often also love to be let alone, depressive weirdos that somehow, when together, don't exacerbate each other's collective dramas. “...A calm and collected uncommon collective of odd and depressive neurotic eccentrics...”.

I ask myself when I'm talking so much, is it because I'm nervous or because I'm happy to talk to people? “nip the wallflower in the bud, faux-gregarious, social wariness, aware of this paradox...nervous jabber jaw the fact is I'd rather not talk...”.   I I talk to people and try to entertain them because that is my genuine state of being or am I appeasing a reputation that I think I have to uphold? Some of these neurotic bouts of self-analysis and the feeling of being a spacey outsider while simultaneously a niche-celebrated performer in my little pond were plenty to work with.

In the end, this has some of my favorite writing and phrases and I'm really proud of it, I think most of the tools I have are on full display here while still experimenting further and conveying something newly personal. This was another track, like “Inkwell-being” that I recorded alone in my room (how thematically appropriate) and I'm happy with how that came out as well, my meager recording means lends a conveniently appropriate raw quality to the song  I think. NOX's well-written and tenderly performed spoken interludes added so much to the song and I hadn't expected them at all either.  Speaking of Nox speaking, I asked him to write a little something about the track and he sent me the following:

"I first started writing “Minimal Friends” on a train ride into the city. I was recovering from a depressive episode and penned the verse without intending to use it for anything. Like many artifacts of my darker moods, I wanted nothing more than to bury it and leave it in the dust. It was a catharsis, a way of encoding my feelings into words so that I could make it through that moment, but it wasn’t originally intended to be a piece of art to be shared. It was a private and solitary exercise.
But perhaps that was what drove me, months later, to make use of it. Thumbing through an old notebook, I found that those words still resonated with me months later. Like a time machine, they brought me back to that dark place. Yet, far from renewing any grim thoughts, it made me feel a lot better about where I’d gotten in the interim. From a place of light, I looked back and saw that even though the darkness had seemed impenetrable, there was some illumination waiting on the other end of the tunnel.
It was a very raw piece, and the Aesop Rock-like maze of imagery and non-linear thought communicated not only the way I felt during that time but also the way that I felt it, the way my mind worked when mired down in the dross of depression. If anything, it was powerful, albeit a bit esoteric.
And perhaps that’s why I immediately thought of Bruce when seeking a partner on the song. His own work is deeply poetic, and as an artist, he isn’t afraid of being vulnerable with his audience. When I first got into rap, that was why I liked Tupac more than Biggie (East Coast heresy, I know): while Biggie might have been lyrically superior, Tupac was a complete human being, and he wasn’t afraid of baring his wounds. For a project like “Minimal Friends,” I knew I needed someone who could lower their guard.
Of course, personality is only part of the equation. I also needed someone whose skill and style would do justice to something so personal. I need not boast about Bruce’s lyrical and rhythmic skill (anyone who’s heard his music is already well aware), but his style was what sealed the deal. While he seems perfectly comfortable writing in a more straightforward manner, I find his imagery and sense of the poetic to be the most impressive and unique aspects of his artistry. There’s a sense of depth. One does not get the entire story on the first listen or even the second. And that is exactly what I wanted for Minimal Friends, for my goal was not necessarily to communicate in perfect detail how I experienced that darkness, but to put something out there onto which listeners could project their own experiences.
That is, after all, the purpose of art."

Well said Nox! I expect no less than eloquence and insight from the man.  You wouldn't either if you checked out more of his work, such as his new album "The Formula" which also features another song we did together this past year!  Go stream and purchase "The Formula EP" at the following link: Listen to it with your friends.  Or alone.  Whatever you're into, weirdo.  Thank you for reading, please let me know what you think of all this and what more you'd like to know about other songs or writing techniques and strategies!  
From a distance or up close...our connection means something to me!
Until next week stay crafty,
 -Bruce "AllOne" Pandolfo

"I write when defensive like squid ink cloaking,
No joking, I think an Armadillo's my Patronus
I'm a lone wolf in black sheep's clothing,
white knuckled handshakes, hands shake balled in pockets
Scratch my baldin' noggin sink social cues in corner pockets
That's my cue: Nauseous awkward sweatin'
God I'm pathetic! codependent code of ethics
costly expenses so invested so indebted
sewn enmeshment owed to friendships
calm and collected to an uncommon collective
odd and depressive neurotic eccentrics,
heart is a heaven, art is our best friend,
lost in a head-trip like a Topiary labyrinth
nip the wallflower in the bud, faux gregarious
social wariness aware of this paradox:
nervous jabber jaw fact is I'd rather not talk,
clamming up shocked trapped on the spot and exposed
"the tacit folks you have to watch" the maxim posed,
no matter how it goes you're on the "radar" that's a palindrome
Z-lister, reach inwards, deep thinker off in fantasies
Reads into each whisper. Peace fingers (my apologies,)
My "minimal friend" policy: they're family AND they're quality."

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