For Johnny Polygon, a guy whose just-got-out-of-bed look is nothing less than a trademark, keeping things organic is key. “I try not to plan projects and collabs, I try to let things happen naturally,” he tells me on the other end of a phone call. You don’t need to look any further than his brand new album to see his philosophy come into play.
Following a two-year stint away from music, the Tulsa, Oklahoma rapper released The Nothing last week — a 12-track project which, unlike a large majority of the industry’s offerings, is free of any samples, guest features or high profile credits. Hell, it even lacks label backing. But that’s exactly how Johnny likes it; when rapping, crooning and sometimes even just talking over an eclectic palette of woozy, melodic beats, he’s in his element.
With his catalog freshly extended and gearing up to join West Coast rap trio Pac Div on their Light Up The Night North American tour later this month, we caught up with Mr. Polygon to digest The Nothing, get the incredible backstory to his collaboration with Nas and learn why musicians’ lives are really just like movies.
I always think that all of us artists are sort of the star of our own biopic, and all the other artists we come in contact with are just someone making a little cameo.
Interview by: @aboynamedandy
It’s been two years since we’ve got a project from you, so what’s been going on, man?
I’ve just been living life, making mistakes and writing songs about that. [Laughs]
What was the statement you wanted to make with this comeback release?
You know what, I definitely wouldn’t call it a comeback… I’ve been here for years. [Laughs] The thing I wanted to make was just, I didn’t want any of the beats to have samples, I didn’t want any of the gimmicks that I’m seeing now a lot in the game. Sometimes when I’m looking at some rap tracklistings for other artists and albums, sometimes they look like address books or year books or something. There’s so many features on there it’s like it’s not their album.
I just wanted to make a clear statement where I am — musically, sonically, emotionally — not to have to go with the norm. I mean, even just behind the scenes, getting features is a pain in the ass. I always think that all of us artists are sort of the star of our own biopic, and all the other artists we come in contact with are just someone making a little cameo.
One thing that really stands out is how diverse the project is. “Sir John Pol’s Exit” is like this melodic, piano-lead track, while “Normal” is more trap rap. Was that to maybe prove a point upon your return; to blend all these styles into one project to show you’ve still got it?
It’s not so much to prove a point, I mean, all my records have been like that. And I’ve just grown as an artist, maybe I’m just executing a little better now. My art is a reflection of me as a person, and I’m not a one-dimensional person, so I can’t have a one-dimensional album. So on some songs, it’s like I’m just trying to convey an emotion or feeling I’ve had in life, and once I do that, it’s on to the next thing.
With that said, which track would you say is the most important on the album?
Man, that’s hard to say. But the first one [“Purple Mess”], that was like, “I’m making a new record and this is the first song,” that was the best. I went to Dallas, Texas to work with the producer, Picnic Tyme, who did “Riot Song,” almost all of my singles and like half of my previous projects. So we were working and we recorded like six or seven tracks, and he was just playing around with some sounds and I was just mumbling and he was like, “Yo! That’s it. We’re recording that right now.” And we literally recorded that song in 10 minutes.
You’re set to support Pac Div on their North American tour next month. You must be pretty excited about getting it started in your homestate right?
Yeah, man. It’s really cool to be with great artists that would normally drive through here or fly over here, instead of stopping to play shows and see what’s going on in my homestate. And I’m a huge Pac Div fan, I’ve listened to them for years, so just to be on the same bus and be on tour together, that’s gonna be really amazing.
Do you think it could lead to a collaboration between yourself and Pac Div, or even After The Smoke?
You never know. After The Smoke — like the producers from After The Smoke — actually produced a lot of the things on The Nothing. But yeah, I’m definitely down to work with Pac Div. We’ll get out there and whatever happens, happens sort of thing. I try not to plan projects and collabs, I try to let things happen naturally.
Keep everything organic.
Exactly. You don’t want it to sound like a forced collaboration.
Now not many people might know that you actually guested on Nas’ “Black President,” off his 2008 album, Untitled. How did that collaboration come about?
Man, I was in New York and I was living with Green Lantern at the time. He had a beat and was like, “Hey, can you put vocals on this beat?” And I was like, “yeah sure.” And then four months later, it was on Nas’ album! [Laughs] I forgot all about it, it was the furthest thing from my mind, then I get a phone call that just said, “Yo, you’re gonna be on Nas’ album.” And I was like, “what!?”
That must have been crazy.
Absolutely insane, man. And then being on the road with him and performing with him, I did my first television performance with him, just being able to be a part of his story, his legend, even for just a moment… there’s artists who’ve worked their whole lives who don’t have that.
Do you guys still keep in touch at all?
Not so much. If we see if each other it’s cool. I’m one of those guys that once the song’s over, the only way that I can really pay homage to him and live up to that is get to his level, or get somewhere near his stratosphere on my own. The next time I see him, I want him to be like, “Yo, I love your music, it’s everywhere.” [Laughs] As opposed to me texting him like, “Let’s hang out!”
What’s your label situation right now man?
Yo, I’m independent as fuck right now, man. I left the last deal I was in — I actually left every deal I’ve ever had which is kind of funny. And it’s never anything personal, it’s just I’m always in my own head space. There’s what’s going on in the music business, and then there’s what I’m doing. I like to make songs and I like to perform those songs, and I can’t force it, I can’t live on a scheduled given to me, you know. Instead of getting grey hairs and losing sleep, I just leave. [Laughs]
Even when you were building your name and working with guys like Green Lantern and Kid Cudi, did you always envision being fully independent?
Yeah. You know, Green Lantern was definitely a blessing in my life and I learned so much from him, he put me on so much game and helped me figure out how things actually work. I was on the otherside of the looking glass. Before I met him, I was just couch-surfing, homeless in Los Angeles, and the idea of actually being successful in music and generating an income — I knew it was possible — but I didn’t know anyone who was doing it. It was a big distance there, it was like trying to get inside of a television. How do you do it? But when I was on the otherside of the glass I was like, “Oh, I still have to do all the work.” [Laughs]
Are you still working on your debut album, Pussy Gun?
Yeah I am. It’s actually funny ’cause it’s really become something that has a life of it’s own now. I was working on Pussy Gun when I was in my last deal and then when that didn’t work out, I sorta just left that music behind. I suppose I could have called The Nothing Pussy Gun and everyone would have been happy and no one would have bothered me about it anymore, but it wasn’t Pussy Gun, you know. So now that I’ve put The Nothing out, I can work on Pussy Gun. I don’t know if it’ll be my next thing, but it has to happen.
How will the album compare to The Nothing and your previous releases?
Well, that’s hard to say, because I don’t know what headspace I’ll be in while I’m creating Pussy Gun. I think The Nothing is just a constant progression, constant evolution. If you were to go back and listen to my previous projects, I think there’s elements of The Nothing in each on of those and you see the evolution, you see the progression. Like Wolf in Cheap Clothing, it had some classic rap shit on there, it had storytelling, it had singing, it had ballads, and then it had sorta soundscapey, ambience, don’t-know-how-to-class-it stuff. There’s only like five or six songs on there, so The Nothing is just an extension of that, just elaborated upon.
Any final words on Pussy Gun?
Pussy Gun is gonna be a celebration. [Laughs] That’s all I can say. Once I finish that, I’m gonna be so relieved and I think my fans will be relieved, as well. Pussy Gun is intended to be my opus.