Aramis blurs the lines between an unapologetic nerdcore rapper and a straight up boom bap backpacker with sincere talent. Since his first release in 2013, he’s come a long way and stacked up an impressive amount of releases. More recently, he’s teamed up with the creative collective All Of The Above and been working closely with DJ Monk Matthaeus. Aramis premiered a self-produced new track, “Pride,” at Lamp Light on Saturday night, and our editor John Akers caught up with them after their set to talk about joining forces, the Grand Rapids hip hop scene, performing in Japan, and some nerdy stuff of course. Check out his music and support him at his website, http://www.aramis616.com, and follow him on social media for updates on his new EP!
SF: Aside from the technical difficulties, how do you feel about the set?
Aramis: I think it went really good, we did what we could.
SF: Do you normally perform with Monk or a DJ who scratches?
A: Since i’m in the AOTA crew now, it will happen a lot more. I’ve done shows with Monk before but I normally have a DJ with me.
SF: When did you get involved with AOTA?
A: About 8 months ago.
SF: Can you guys explain a little more what AOTA is?
MONK: AOTA has been around for about 7 years, started in Lansing by an artist by the name of Ozay Moore, and it was basically an organization that went out and taught some classes at a YMCA, about graffiti, beat making, MCing and breaking, and when that stopped they became a support system for other organizations and nonprofits that wanted to reach young people. Once the GR chapter started about a year ago, we formed as a crew like Voltron like 8 months ago, but once we started a chapter here, not as a nonprofit, just as a crew, we started doing a lot of things in Ottawa, and people were saying they need us here or need us there, things really roller-coastered from there. So we were like, we gotta become a nonprofit, and we got our status two weeks ago, so that will really change things.
MONK: Thanks, so we will be doing things in the coming future on school nights and things so he [Aramis] will be more involved. The crew is deep too, around 50 people, emcees, DJs, breakers, beat makers, activists, journalists, educators, professors, historians, really focused on the community and young cats. Basically the mission statement is ; AOTA is a group of artists and educators that serves as a hip hop cultural resource for the purpose of mentoring youth, supporting artistic expression, and building leaders. People hit us up to learn how to engage people through the culture all the time.
SF: What recent things have you put on?
MONK: Rock the block, hip hop appreciation week, stuff with Ottawa schools, we do mostly events. We’ve partnered with other organizations too.We did this huge live graffiti piece that we gave to an Ottawa middle school.
SF: So Aramis, before you got involved with AOTA, what was your relationship with Grand Rapids and the hip hop community here?
A: I used to do a lot of open mics, at Louie’s before that closed and at the Intersection. The first time I went to the open mic at the Intersection, I failed miserably. It was terrible. But it taught me a lesson, I was like “I’m ready, I can do this.” Then i got up there and got 8 bars in and was like *swallows voice*…total 8 Mile moment where I just blanked…Dean Martian was DJing and I wanted him to cut it off, but he said to keep going and let the instrumental play out the whole way, so I was up there for the most part just standing still, but i’m kinda glad he did that, only in retrospect, because I was like “this will never ever happen again.” Now I just continue to hit up open mics and record in my room, all my stuff is usually recorded and engineered by me in my bedroom.
SF: Do you think there’s a true nerdcore audience here?
A: I think so, I’ve been focusing on that a lot more, trying to get to that audience. I did a show recently, before I went to Japan, at Vault of Midnight, in the comic book shop. It was really cool, just all nerds, and it’s really cool when you say something really nerdy that would fly over most people’s heads, and they’re like “ohhhh!” It’s the best feeling ever.
SF: What did you do in Japan?
A: I vacationed for three weeks, but I did two shows while I was there. Tokyo has so many different neighborhoods, and it’s so huge. This one neighborhood is known for being really traditional, I actually got to break some clay tiles with my hand there, it was the dopest thing ever. I had met the owner of a bar last year, and he’s really cool. And he’s been playing my music in his bar, like all the time, so when I got there and asked him if I could put together a show in his bar, not even trying to make money, I just wanted to perform in Japan. So he set it up with some other local hip hop artists, and I got to meet a lot of those guys, and the language barrier was a little tough, but i’m learning Japanese, so next time I go it will be a little bit easier, and they were all cool dudes, and a lot of people knew the words to my songs, who I never thought would know, just from him playing it in his bar. And it was awesome, that was the coolest part. And I got recognized on the street there by some dudes, so now i’m trying to build this fanbase over there.
SF: Do you travel much for shows?
A: I’ve done a couple of shows out of state. Last year I did Classic Game Fest in Austin, Texas, which is the biggest retro gaming convention in Texas, and they only say Texas but I’m pretty sure it’s in the whole US cause i don’t know of any other things bigger than the Austin Game Fest. It’s a three day thing and I performed last year and it was awesome, met a lot of people i’ve only known online, other nerdcore rappers and dudes in the community, got to meet them in person and it was great.
SF: So aside from MC Chris, my nerdcore knowledge is pretty limited. What other artists would you recommend?
A: Mega Ran, like ‘Mega Man’ but Mega-Ran, he’s the nicest dude, and he’s actually a real emcee, like he can freestyle and he’s done Scribble Jam. He can rap forreal. What’s interesting about the nerdcore community is, a lot of people are nerdy rappers, but only a few of them are real rappers. A lot of them are people that love hip hop music and love being nerdy, but they don’t really have that hip hop foundation, and all the stuff they really know is commercialized, so they don’t have that foundation and if you tried to put them in front of a different audience, they wouldn’t really know what to do.
SF: Do you think there’s a division in the hip hop community, not necessarily just by genre but by being accepted into the larger audience or by other artists?
A: For sure, yeah. I think a lot of people completely dismiss it if it’s not mainstream, they hear you rap about video games and comic books, and they’re like “ehhh,” but i feel like if someone has real skills, then people are alright. Cause I tell people all the time ‘yeah i write about videogames and comic books” and they’re immediately like “oh god.” But then they see me on stage like, ‘oh, okay.’ So that’s really important, if you’re gonna be a hip hop artist, you should actually be a real emcee, and then secondarily rap about what you want to rap about. But the foundation and technical skills are important.
Monk: I will say too, the first time I met Aramis was two years ago. I was DJing a freestyle battle at the pyramid scheme, remember that? And Aramis won and he just destroyed those fools, man. In his work clothes too. I was like “what in the hell” but I was like “okay, alright” cause his freestyles just destroyed them.
SF: When you freestyle, do you do off stuff you’ve written?
A: You gotta try not to, sometimes you’ll end up going into a few bars from other stuff just to save yourself, when you can’t think of anything, but for the most part when i freestyle i love to just go completely off the top.
SF: How do you switch that off?
A: It’s really difficult. Just because i do left and right brain stuff all the time, like at my job i’m left brain all day as an engineer, and being able to switch back and forth is really hard. I don’t know if this is how everyone else does it but i’m always thinking, and that’s how I get tripped up sometimes. I eventually run out of things to say.
SF: It’s interesting to hear you guys talk about the GR community. I’ve heard other hip hop artists say they have a hard time establishing a fan base or following in this area, saying there’s a lack of hip hop community in the area. But you guys seem to be more engaged.
MONK: The problem is that people think the hip hop community is rappers. It’s really rappers, DJs, breakers, writers, and fans, there s a lot of components. 99 percent of people think hip hop is rap. So when you think about it that way, yeah it would be hard to have a fanbase, yeah, because it’s super conservative, not really that many rappers, and not really many good ones.
SF: Same thing with every genre…
A: I think the biggest hurdle is it’s very cliquey. That’s what i’ve found out and interesting enough, when i was talking to someone else not from this area, they told me the exact same thing without me saying anything. I asked what they thought about the scene out here and they said ‘i think it’s real cliquey, everyone has their own groups and don’t mess with anyone else, all the shows are the same, same people at every shows’ and i think that’s one of the big problems.”
SF: How do you think you can work to break down those barriers?
A: I think someone has to be willing to be like, reach out and say ‘I want to do this with you, without egos involved, let’s do this for the good of the community.’ I’m not very articulate when it comes to stuff like that, in my head i know what needs to be done, but that’s how i work, identifying a problem and saying what needs to be fixed, but being able to actually do it, and talk to people about that and give an inspiring message, to have everyone come together at the end like Captain Planet or something, but i think that could happen. But a couple people need to work together for that to happen.
MONK: this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but this is coming from a knowledge of the culture. There’s not enough competition in GR, all the emcees are friends and supportive, even if they don’t really support each other, and that’s cool to be nice to people, but the culture will get better and grow if we compete. Not trying to hurt each other but be able to be like, that songs kinda whack. Healthy competition. And that’s where true respect is earned, through competition. I think that will in a strange way unify the community.
A: exactly, and if you lose,it’s like ‘good game man, i’ll get you next time.’
SF: I want to ask about a new song you premiered tonight.
A: “Pride” it’s sampled from Dragon Ball Z, it’s gonna be a free download. It’s sampled, and I haven’t cleared that sample, so i’m not gonna sell it, but i’m gonna put it out there for free. I’m gonna put it on an EP and if the other stuff gets cleared too, cause that’s such a blatant sample, if i can’t clear the samples then i’m’ just gonna drop the songs for free as something for the fans.
SF: What else will be on the EP?
A: Video games samples, foreign traditional music, you’ll find the most obscure and different stuff on there.
SF: I’m not very familiar with anime, so if you had to recommend one…
A: Cowboy Bebop. *A friend interrupts with “Ninja Scroll!”* That can be a bit much for people, but people who don’t like anime can like Cowboy Bebop cause it has good English dubs.
SF: Is there anything else you wanted to plug?
A: AOTA is having a beat battle at the Loft in Lansing on December 16th…last time we had Tall Black Guy come out. Look him up.
Check out Aramis’ music and support him at his website, www.aramis616.com, and follow him on social media (@Aramis616 on everything) for his upcoming EP!
Written by John Akers
Photo provided by Aramis