Photo credit: Andrew Doench
On January 20th, rap and sound engineering veteran Uncommon Nasa dropped Mink Swimming Pools, a 10 track compilation of Twilight Zone inspired tracks, mixed in with a few original tunes to hold us over before the new album.
The project is available digitally on a pay-what-you-want basis, as well as pressed on limited edition cassette. All proceeds from the album will be donated to the ACLU and NPR.
The project began as an homage to Rod Serling’s work, and quickly became a timely political piece given the current political climate in America. Nasa took some time to answer a few questions about the project and chat politics with us, and even dropped the title of his forthcoming album. Throw on the album, make your donation to the ACLU or NPR, and check out the interview below!
Mink Swimming Pools is a collection of your Twilight Zone inspired tracks and some fresh cuts. Were you looking to collect all of the TZ tracks before we entered this political moment, or was the election a push to structure the project like this?
To be honest, I was starting to think about it in the Fall. I was considering just dropping it as a salute to Serling and the Zone and only making it available during the same time the Marathon was on at New Year’s Eve. As time went on, I could see how dire things were getting with the election loss. I always had a healthy fear that he could win, but deep down, I never thought he would. There was so much data out there before hand pointing to multiple electoral paths for Hillary and really only 1 or 2 for him. But once the results came in, it became a no brainer that this would become a tribute collection with a deeper purpose. I thought hard about what charity/organization(s) I wanted to donate to and came up with the ACLU and NPR. I knew based on what happened under Bush that public radio (and television) would be under attack. I watched the results on PBS on Election Night, it’s the only place left on television where you can get a real sense of honest journalism. And the ACLU of course is the flag bearer in terms of defending civil rights independently in this country. I know Serling would be speaking out heavily against this man, so I’m trying to do him justice.
Perchance to Dream is the fifth track on both this project and Halfway, coincidence or should we be reading deeper into that?
Total coincidence. I actually would have mixed it up if I’d noticed. But I guess that song just naturally fits in that position when I put together track lists. Haha.
Having the proceeds go towards the ACLU and NPR is an excellent touch, a really strong means of activism considering the cuts that are soon to come to arts programs. Aside from donations and putting out politically charged tracks, how else do you see the hip-hop genre working to balance out the damage done under Trump? Will the relationship between politics and hip-hop become too intertwined, and is that even possible given the history of the genre?
My fear is that hip-hop, particularly in the underground, becomes too one noted. That the anger becomes directed at one person and thus, not nuanced. I wish we weren’t going through this. People say “at least music might get better” and whether that’s someone being serious or sarcastic, I have to question – why would anyone want this much upcoming suffering to take place for the sake of music “improving?” Real people and real musicians are going to suffer a lot and a song won’t help any of it for them. My first thought when he won was “All the amazing music, all the defining political and social songs out there and didn’t mean a damned thing tonight.” I’ll continue to speak out and remain involved in issues of social justice as I always have. I think if hip-hop becomes too obsessed with this man, the message will wear thin. We all just need to make the best art we can and speak up whenever we are called to, on or off mics.
Let’s talk about “Dark Roads,” since it’s one of the two originals on the album. You mention that the driving image of the song, a dark road, can appear anywhere and the track is a back and forth between small minded people and the more enlightened. I really took the track to be a warning against being trapped in an echo-chamber, and relating back to politics, I see the warning as a call to action: do your research and see what the other side is saying. Perhaps not to agree with them, but to at least understand the full scope of the conversation. Thoughts?
I think you have a good idea of what I was trying to get across here. I used terms like “small minded” and “enlightened” to describe different attitudes from the track on my site when I broke down the song there. I don’t want “small minded” to come across as condescending as I’m sure it does. When you are only given but so much life experience, but so much exposure to those unlike you, but so much information, naturally you can only go so far. That’s true for anyone from any walk of life. Lots of white people across this country are not exposed to anything outside of their white experiences with other white people. Most of them deliberately ensure this is the case, this is particularly true in a place like the South of Staten Island. A portion of New York City that’s defined by extreme xenophobia and rapidly by it’s ignorance. That was another point of the song that I didn’t want lost. Dark Roads as a term is a metaphor for anyplace where ignorance and dark and evil thought against others thrives, this can be down the most remote country road or a few stops on a high way from a major city. I say often, how I feel about how someone else feels is never as important as how they actually feel. Often times white people are so caught up in their own privilege and supremacy that they really think their opinions on minorities define those minorities, rather then what those very people are actually saying.
For me, the most polemic lyrics on the track are “A race between history and legacy to erase/ Erased because a fallacy of destiny benefits a race/ Everyone has a right to exist when ignorance is bliss.” There’s a lot going on here in terms of discussing white supremacy, and the last line especially looks like a direct hit against the “All Lives Matter” slogan. Was there one line or verse on the track that you felt was most critical from a political perspective?
When I wrote “Chores from the ancient, always been/Sawyer fences painted, colors spread/picket or picked as white as cotton, the furthest from pure” I thought, woah….this is really raw, should I say this? But I think it speaks to the relative ignorance of many white people, even liberal white people, that don’t acknowledge that all of this stems from slavery. All of this stems from generations of slave owning white people dominating our government, either directly or through influence. The Jim Crow years, the gun laws and drug laws in this country, the systematic racism, the privilege that seeps into all of us every day….it was all set up by design by white supremacy. By people that wanted it to become so ingrained in our society that we wouldn’t have to lift a finger to continue it. This isn’t by any accident, the words and things that our President got elected on have been sown by generations of those in power. And that’s what that line gets to, it’s right fucking there in front of us, we just refuse to acknowledge it. Until we do, how can any of this get better?
We all know Nasa isn’t one to shy away from his beliefs, so with your new album in the works, are we going to get more of these explicit and politically charged lyrics?
My new album is called “Written At Night.” I will certainly touch on some of these issues, but I think it would be unhealthy for me, or anyone to get sucked into this disaster of a cycle that’s being perpetrated on us. I can’t allow my music to become a response to every dumb thing said or reported on. I’m too talented to waste my skills on such things. I need to keep pushing on big concepts, things that come from my personal perspective from the inside out and not let the outside influence what’s inside of me as an artist. So I’ll continue to toe the line the way I did with “Halfway.” where I bring these publicized issues down to a human level as best as I can. I want to talk about the human condition and my condition as an individual. That’s how I hope to keep connecting with people and to avoid becoming a one note artist like I mentioned earlier. I want my music to create a true connection and not ever become sloganeering.
What are you hoping listeners carry with them after hearing “Dark Roads” and the project as a whole?
I certainly hope when people listen to any of my music they come away with something. Each of my songs is it’s own thing, I try to have a concept and a theme for each song and then for each album as well. I hope a song like Vaulting connects too, that’s the other original track on Mink Swimming Pools, it’s a series of analogies to just being overwhelmed by horrifying events and words.
I also hope that people find Rod Serling’s work, the Twilight Zone and beyond. He was an amazing artist and man. I hope people find their own Rod Serling, if not him. If someone can truly inspire good through art, they are worth tracking down and spreading the word about and Rod did that. I can only hope to do that myself and be that for someone somewhere.
The project is available on cassette and on bandcamp and all proceeds go to support civil rights and the arts: ACLU and NPR.