In 2012, a manuscript of Jamaican-American writer and poet Claude McKay’s final novel, Amiable with Big Teeth, was unearthed. McKay was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance and spent his career as a rogue intellectual with no true political home. He wrote books in the Soviet Union examining racism from a Marxist class-conflict perspective only to shun the country when he realized that he was being manipulated by the Communist Party. Back home, he feuded with the Stalinist New York City Communists and was shut down by W. E. B. Du Bois for “nauseating [him]” with both his politics and prose.
McKay’s 1919 masterpiece “If We Must Die,” published in the de facto socialist magazine of the day The Liberator resurfaced in popularity a century later during the summer of Black Lives Matter mobilization. The poem is a call to inspire courage in the face of violent racism, to fight back against oppression. It also serves as the intro to YUNGMORPHEUS and Eyedress’s most recent collaborative album Affable with Pointed Teeth.
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
The intro “IfWeMust…” leans into that dream-like duality of an actual equitable future, presenting McKay’s voiceover as half-lucid. The instrumental is more ready for a beach vacation than battleground marches and agitated Twitter fingers. This is where the duo excels throughout on the 18-track project – finding perfect balance through juxtaposition. Dusty sample loops of occasional optimism counteract YUNGMORPHEUS’s Vonnegutesque “so it goes” delivery. Eyedress layers his guitar and keys over expertly found YouTube samples.
Affable occupies a physical space even if it floats through eras – it knows no city limit but instead lives in an anonymous alleyway where the only light is reflected off its shallow puddles. It soundtracks the back room of an after hours spot filled with cigarette smoke, or scores the meandering journey from point A to B at 3 in the morning. It’s the meditative vinyl crackle in your medial temporal lobe as the ashtray fills up.
“I felt like I was really trying to go for a full scope of a piece on some neo-noir shit. The idea of a shrouded character doing things,” YUNGMORPHEUS explained. That shadowy figure staring down on the cover art is actually a wizard at exposition though – the further you dive into the album, the more the rapper discloses.
The opening guitar riffs on “Red Spheres” are inviting enough to warrant a, “this shit sound like I’m home,” only for YUNGMORPHEUS to drop the following bars to start: “heard my homie just died, so I’m puffin’ sticky/ crackers on my ass, they can come and get me” and “fighting my demons, we had some dumb collisions/ couldn’t learn from my father ‘cause he was stuck in prison.” Loss and conflict both dwell in a familiar enough place to get comfortable.
YUNGMORPHEUS shuts down martyrdom on “Bunchy Carter” (Divine karma/ When i die roll them spliffs in my honor/ n***as give you roses when you gone/ I decry martyrs) over a beat that Russell Crowe and RZA could have listened to on stakeouts in the deleted scenes from the four-hour cut of American Gangster. Then Eyedress turns heel and drops “Slim Fit Peacoats” full of 80’s synths and a damn-near tongue in cheek homage to smooth R&B thanks to baritone vocal samples pitched down just right.
Both Eyedress and YUNGMORPHEUS bonded from being attentive students of Ras G, Los Angeles’s defunct Low End Theory, the ability to improvise on the fly and an admiration to the tactile. “You got to keep it analogue. I fuck with your beats on your SP and all that shit… The fact that you made it on there in the first place – it has a different approach. It comes from a different point of view where it’s more pure,” Eyedress said.
The production on Affable with Pointed Teeth is all over the place. This is a good thing. It’s as if Eyedress is issuing a challenge to his collaborator with each offering, and you never know what exactly YUNGMORPHEUS is going to bring in the flow department as the first few loops play before he makes his entrance. What results is a excess of different cadences paired with growing experimentation as the album advances. These songs hit the hardest when Eyedress leans into improvising on his guitar and keys. The further away from dusty sample revisionism, the better. And this project goes to some far-off places – just listen to “Candyman” and the closer, “My Hands.”
Each song is stamped with a thesis statement. “What the Stakes Is” is a call and response with the rapper’s psyche. What’s the reason for the eighth in the cupboard? Stress. Unanswered and more rhetorical, “tell me why I wanna spray who above us…” “Loose Goose” laughs at an industry full of artists so similar that nobody can tell who’s who. On the finale, YUNGMORPHEUS wonders if he’d be forgotten in less than a week if he was gunned down by police, and that the main lesson he learned actively following politics was corruption. That neo-noir figure lurking in the shadows is taking it all in, methodically plotting his next move.
YUNGMORPHEUS and Eyedress joined POW to dive deeper into Affable with Pointed Teeth below. – Patrick Johnson
Tell me about the first time you guys connected and heard each other’s music. What were your first impressions? Who else in your circles drove you to collaborate?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Where did we meet, bro? It was Maxo’s shit, right? His listening joint at Harun Coffee in Leimert Park. I saw your Manila Ice cover and I was like, ‘Yo, did that ni**a draw that?’ And [my homie] Glenn was like, ‘Yeah, he’s actually right here.’ I remember specifically fucking with you because of the Manilla Ice shit though.
Eyedress: Yeah, Glenn is the one. He’s so low-key too. I remember he brought me to the Obey warehouse and he’s always been trying to connect me with everybody because he knew I was Filipino when I moved out here. He just had that vibe about him… that hospital, Filipino love. I love that guy. Why don’t we talk about the first time we recorded where Chris used to live up in Silver Lake.
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, I was bugged. What did we do there? “County Line Rd.” and the “Castelo [Dos Mouros]” joint?
Eyedress: Where I played the synth…
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah, that’s kind of when n***as knew type shit.
Eyedress: We did that in one take and I don’t think I did any more one-takes for the rest of the album. That one was the one. All of the other synth stuff I did I just like punched in.
YUNGMORPHEUS: That really solidified shit. It really pushed us to be like, ‘Yo let’s make some more – this one kind of crazy.’
Eyedress: I was just always down to make a full-length at the time. Now I can’t even say that ‘cause I can’t even finish my own shit [laughs] but at the time I had that spirit where I was like, ‘Oh whoever i work with, I’m gonna be like: let’s make a whole [project].’ Then after we did our album I was like – I don’t think I can do that for anyone else after this. That shit took up a lot of my time. Even the mixing process was really fun. But I was like, ‘God, I need to record my own shit soon.’
That was the last time that I felt like I had that much [music] to deliver. Now I’m back to square one. I don’t even got beats for you bro [laughs]. I’m starting from scratch basically. New set-up, new everything. I don’t even know how to approach shit now after our project came out. I got that out of my system and now it’s like I gotta make some more beats and it might take another couple of years. [Laughs].
YUNGMORPHEUS: It ain’t gonna take that long. The process is the process. When it come, it come.
Eyedress, how did you approach producing for MORPH compared to your solo stuff? Were there any ways you were looking to grow as an artist during this process?
Eyedress: I made these beats [for YUNGMORPHEUS] when I would get sick of working on my own shit. When all the guitar shit was consuming, even clouding my head, I would make these beats on my laptop to get away from my own hell [laughs]. The ‘MORPH beats were when I’d go to heaven because that was on my own free time, everything else was devoted to ‘Eyedress, Eyedress, Eyedress’ and this shit was my escape. It was fun to make because it wasn’t something I was stressing over. I was always having fun.
YUNGMORPHEUS: That’s why that shit came together so easy because it was like n***as was just kicking it for real, you know what I mean? It wasn’t like we got some sort of deal and we had to make an album now.
Eyedress: I just found most of those samples on YouTube.
YUNGMORPHEUS:[Laughs] Omit that.
Eyedress: There’s some songs that aren’t sampled. That came later while we were making this album. We were like, ‘We have too many sample joints, maybe you could throw in some of your instrument stuff in there.’ Once you told me that I was in that mindset. We made that “Rainbow Coalition” shit and honestly, the video for that is a work of art. I’m super stoked with how all the visuals came out. You got good taste, bro.
YUNGMORPHEUS: My g, likewise. This shit was fun for me to do. It was a nice little side-step for me as well.
Eyedress: Yeah man, you’ve been collaborating with everybody. Grinding. I found out about “BLACKFIST” and holy shit, it just opened up a new dimension. I watched all your guys’ vids and was just like, ‘This is fucking sick.’ I’ve always been a fan of the kind of music you guys make and I’ve always had shit lying around – instrumentals – but I never had a friend that I fucked with as a lyricist – and the one homie I did fuck with didn’t really see me as a producer. But with this, I felt like my beats were ready. I moved out to LA…
YUNGMORPHEUS: [LA] it’s a place where you gotta be ready. You gotta stay ready, so you don’t gotta get ready for real.
What was the first song that you recorded for Affable? And after building up the collaborative momentum, when did you both know it was time to wrap this album up because you knew you had something here?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Pretty sure it was “County Line Rd.”
Eyedress: We were recording and the smoke alarms were going off. The landlord didn’t change the battery. That shit was going off, we were smoking. We didn’t care. You’ll hear it. It goes off twice in the song and honestly it kills me. ‘MORPH was like, ‘Just mix it in there.’
YUNGMORPHEUS: You rarely get to catch lightning in a bottle like that off of a first link-up. Like that song was pretty much one-take and I was like, ‘This is ill. We can’t even re-do these. We just gotta keep going.’ I never like re-doing shit. It rarely feels good and sounds too forced. No matter what you do to get the circumstances as similar to the original circumstances, it’s not gonna be like when you was first locked in to do that joint.
Eyedress: During the pandemic, everybody halted on everything but when it felt safer, we were like, “fuck it.” There was definitely a time when we weren’t sharing the blunt anymore.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m only really willingly passing to my partners if we working for real. Like, if you my man’s and we exchanging ideas. Then we should get to the same place, same strain. Same wavelength in some capacity. But we linked-up in-person for everything.
Eyedress: Bonding over weed and trauma [laughs].
YUNGMORPHEUS: Doing this in-person was perfect. That’s why it was cool and it was a left-step for me because I usually be on some like, ‘Yo gimme the beat and i’m gonna go home.’
YUNGMORPHEUS, you always find the perfect pocket while working with a particular producer — first on Thumbing Thru Foliage with ewonee then with Siifu on Bag Talk. What do you admire about Eyedress’s approach and how did those previous projects inform you on how you work with producers?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I appreciated that bro was only tryna do these joints when we could link-up in person ‘cause that did differ from my process in the past. I’m pretty sure all of Thumbing Thru Foliage was done back and forth remotely.
Eyedress: We also live far from each other so every time we’d make the trip, we’d try and get more than one song done at least. This fool always did two songs and on a good day he’d be trying to push for three and I’d be like, ‘Let’s just smoke and eat or something.’ He was on that roll though. That was always the energy and I’d just be like, ‘This fool…’
YUNGMORPHEUS: It was cool to be on some ‘this is where we at, this is what we’re doing right now’ and get myself out of the comfort zone that I had established. We weren’t even in studios, niggas was just at the crib.
Eyedress: We were either at my old apartment or your place on Long Beach or that one place in Silver Lake and that did not look pretty.
Hit me with some of your main inspirations that both of you were bringing to this project.
Eyedress: He brought the world to it. The music was just the background to your story.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I wanted to make some shit that was different, some shit that would stand out from the canon that I’d already established. I felt like I was really trying to go for like a full — a full scope of a piece on some neo-noir shit. The idea of a shrouded character doing things.
Eyedress: I think a mutual inspiration that we have is Ras G. For me, sound wise, all those guys on Low End Theory, even Captain Murphy, were my foundation growing up. And you knew Ras G and I’ve always held those guys in high regard because I felt like they were some of the only people pushing music forward during that time.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m glad you said that, dog. G is definitely one of the main inspirations, not gone hold you but after linking with G he was definitely the one to put the battery in my back to run with the ideas – like if the ideas keep coming then keep going. He was on that hard-body. This nigga had Raw Fruit Vol. 12 finished when I was at his crib last before he passed and I think only Raw Fruit Vol. 3 was out at that moment. He was playing me beats from 11 and 12, you know what I’m saying?
Eyedress: That’s a blessing to be around.
YUNGMORPHEUS: Dog, he was locked in. Like… ‘How are you already on this one?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t I be? I’m always working.’
Eyedress: He was definitely ahead of his time. That’s why I fucked with you because I knew that you knew that sound. All that shit with Gonjasufi… That was my shit when I was a teenager. Those fools were seeing some other shit. That’s why when I met you I was like, ‘This fool really knows.’ I would download all of their mixes from the Low End Theory site so I kind of inherited all that by paying attention to all of their DJ mixes. At the time I probably only had the MPC 1000 and I was still learning how to load samples onto it and that shit was so hard.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I haven’t seen one of those in years. Shout out to anyone still getting down on that shit.
Eyedress: I did all our shit on Ableton. When I discovered Ableton I was just like, ‘man this shit is too easy.’ But doing that shit that I wanted to do on the MPC was so hard at the time because I was trying to do it the real way.
YUNGMORPHEUS: Hey man, everybody’s brain is different. However it can happen, it can happen.
Eyedress: As long as I felt like I executed the idea that’s all that really matters. You know I tried to fuck with all the equipment but I grew up in the convenience age where I could do all this on my computer and be a nerd with it. Now it’s easy. You can literally chop up some samples and add your drums on top, then go crazy if you really want to – add synths and make it a whole new thing.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I still don’t fuck with Ableton but I’m gonna have to get that shit soon.
Eyedress: Nah it’s cool man. You got to keep it analogue. I fuck with your beats on your SP and all that shit. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it on there and it has that sound. Like I could run all our shit through an SP now that I have one but the fact that you made it on there in the first place – it has a different approach. It comes from a different point of view where it’s more pure. I could make it on Ableton but it doesn’t have that spirit behind it.
YUNGMORPHEUS: It have that dirt on it, for real.
How did Claude McKay’s poetry inspire you to reference his work via the project title? When did you first stumble on his work and what impression did it make?
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m not even gonna hold you, I found his work when I was making the album when I was trying to come up with new ideas and new concepts and get privy to writers that I wasn’t privy to and was trying to tap in to my culture in a way that would be like tacet in a way. So I started looking up a gang of Jamaican writers and was reading a gang of poems and found one of his that stuck out a lot. He has a book called Amiable with Big Teeth, it’s a book about communism and its failings and the intricacies of that. It’s an intriguing book for sure and I wanted to reference that without just reading excerpts or making those interludes. So using his poetry was the perfect way to get those ideas across but keep it digestible.
Eyedress: It’s that artsy Jamaican. I don’t know shit about writers. I know J.K. Rowling [laughs]. That’s some academic shit. But you’re a writer-writer. I have rapper friends who don’t really write lyrics but you’re writing shit that can go in the books. I like that it’s dirty, like R-rated, but it’s still on some academic, poetic shit. You’re saying a lot of things. That’s how you get remembered out here by the old folks, they respect that shit.
Artwork by Makhai Fahie
I’d love to know the story behind the cover art and “Georgette’s Tea Room” cover art.
YUNGMORPHEUS: Shoutout to Makhai [Fahie] on that one. I know for my rap albums, I really just try to tap into an artist who I’m truly a fan of. I send them a batch of some of the music, if not most of it, and be like ‘Yo, wherever you wanna take it, what that sounds like to you… do that and we’ll take it from there.’ He sent me the first draft and it was pretty tight and had the feeling of what the album was sounding like. It was smokey, dark, and some other elements going on.
For the [single cover] I just told him about the place – Georgette’s Tea Room in Miami and how it was a historical meeting place for Black people who’d come to Miami back in the day. So I sent Makhai the music with that being the central motif, you know what I mean? And I had to rep where I’m from. I had to let n***as know in a way that was poignant, for real.
Eyedress: The Florida roots?
YUNGMORPHEUS: Yeah man, I’m tired of cats thinking I’m from a million other places. Like no, South Florida. LA rapper, Brooklyn rapper – I saw that one too. Because I lived in Brooklyn for two years. Like peace y’all but I’m from Florida.
For both of you — what’s next in the clip? Where do you go from here?
Eyedress: I kinda wanna continue in the vein of “Rainbow Coalition” and give this guy more real shit that I didn’t sample. I just wanna try to make a full album where we don’t have to worry about that shit. I’ve been trying to make some synth-based stuff but it’s hard. I suck at keys so having to learn a new skill is — it’s not gonna happen overnight.
I’ll make some simple shit here and there but that’s what I’ll dedicate the next 10 years of my life to: becoming better at my instruments because all the shit I’ve made, I gotta really challenge myself to get better because I’m not fucking Sun Raw, you know? But I wanna be that good. I wanna be able to play with my eyes closed. Like I can’t do a keyboard solo and sing with my eyes closed but hopefully when I’m older that’s the shit I’ll be on. It’s hard bro. Being a good musician is gonna take me my whole life. Hopefully I make shit that kids will wanna sample when I’m dead.
YUNGMORPHEUS: I’m a fan first. That’s really what it be like. I wanna do the producing myself and everything, but I’m such a fan, dog. The next thing that’s actually in the clip that I can say is that there’s an album that I did the beats on for this cat Obijuan outta London and that’s gonna drop next. I’m just tryna keep the brain active and that’s how I keep growing