“I’m trying to create a lane”, explains 26-year- old rapper, Azizi Gibson, “I want the world to see what I’m doing and be like, ‘damn!’, you know?”.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, but raised in Thailand and Singapore — as well as spendingtime in Cambodia and even Zaire (now the Democratic Repulbic of Congo) — before moving to Maryland with his family aged 11, Gibson’s early life enamoured him to the cultural complexities — and challenges — of the world he was growing up in. “I felt like an outcast”, he states, reflecting on first moving to the US, although, as evidenced by his bold, extroverted and abstract approach to making music, it was these experiences that would equip Gibson with the tools to push boundaries within the world of US rap. “I come at things from a completely different angle”, Gibson ascertains.
A decade after moving to Maryland, Gibson moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue his dream of becoming a rapper. It was a chance meeting with Flying Lotus that proved the catalyst for his current trajectory, bumping into him at a small gym in his then apartment complex. After a series of emails were exchanged, Gibson sent across some demos and Flying Lotus was impressed enough to offer him a deal with his Brainfeeder label — itself a hub for experimental, genre-blurring and boundary pushing music.
In 2013, Gibson dropped his debut solo mixtape, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ — inspired by the classic Japanese manga series of the same name — after working with Flying Lotus and fellow Brainfeeder artist Jeremiah Jae on collaborative tape, ‘Ignorant Prayers’, in 2012. Met with both critical acclaim and serious hype from underground hip-hop fans in the US,
‘Ghosts In The Shell’, saw Gibson build on his penchant for warped flows, zoned-out beats and emotive, conscious lyricism — and alerted the wider rap community to his potential. “I just try strike that balance between the smooth, melodic stuff and what bangs in the club”, he says humbly.
In 2014, Gibson then went onto release ‘Backwards Books’, an 11-track project on Brainfeeder, before parting ways with the label to release two follow-up EPs in 2015 — ‘The Last’ and ‘Grim Meets Evil’ — the former of which landed courtesy of Waka Flocka Flame’s 36BrickHouse agency.
2015 also saw Gibson form his own imprint, preHISTORIC, and release 18-track album, ‘preHISTORIC Till Death’ — again via 36BrickHouse — an LP described by Complex as “incredibly modern and chock full of life”, spanning “multiple levels of tempo, intensity, and subject matter right from the get-go.”
His latest album, 2016’s ‘A New Life’, pushed his sound even further, also welcoming in imagery and an overriding aesthetic consistent with the grim reaper, a character to whom he feels he relates. “I’m always doing something with the grim reaper”, Gibson explains. “He’s someone who has a bad name, someone people automatically perceive to be evil —and I like that.”
As an ‘outsider’ first moving to US shores as an 11 year old, it is the task of challengingperceptions — both of himself, and fictionally, as the grim reaper — that provides continual motivation for his music. “People are blinded by stuff they hear on the radio, when there’s people out here making just as great in their own lanes”, he explains. “All I do is watch anime and play video games, but I happen to be good at making music. I don’t have the 21 Savage background, but I know how to make bangers.”
With a new album in the pipeline for 2017, Azizi Gibson continues to push rap music into new and uncharted territory — and delivers as one of the most creative, intriguing and conscientious rap artists in the game today.