The man known as Beans cuts an imposing professional figure as a fierce, hyper-literate rapper who made his bones as part of the damn near unimpeachable electro-rap collective Antipop Consortium. We tracked down Beans during a spring tour stop in Seattle behind End it All, his sixth proper solo album and first on the Anticon label. As is our standard practice we promised to ask him two open-ended questions, making this either the easiest or the hardest interview of his life.
Talk about the creative process behind this album—what you did in terms of the timing and the structure for putting the beats and the rhymes together. One thing I’m really interested in is how you found and tracked down all the guests on the album, because this looks like a lot more guests than you’ve had in the past. What was the process to pull all these people and all these sounds together?
I started working on End it All right after I finished Thorns. I knew that I didn’t want to do the same thing that I did as on Thorns in terms of subject matter, and I wanted the album to be more rhyme-heavy—very rap-heavy, a lot of choruses‚ just mainly focusing on speaking. And I knew I didn’t want to do any production on it, due to the fact that I wanted to get outside of my own head. I knew a lot of producers who I thought would be tipped more into the contemporary sense of what people were listening to. So I figured if I got a bunch of producers, people known for doing great beats, that will probably work better for me. That would be an experiment, because I’d never done it before, like a whole album of guest producers. The producers I had in mind, most of them I knew, most of them were friends of mine and people I had toured with in the past. So it made it a lot easier for me to ask them.
That was one thing I was curious about, how you went and sought some of these people out—if you had known some of them or if there was somebody that you had on a wish list where you said, “Hey, let’s try and track this person down.”
I didn’t have a wish list, but it took a while to get some of the producers. There were people I asked who gave me beats that didn’t fit, and then certain beats were O.K. on recording but that I couldn’t use. It was a while because what really held it up—what I did was I wrote all the titles first. I had an outline of how the album was going to be, and basically when I had the tracks I matched those to the titles. So the titles gave me an outline of what the album is going to be.
So you actually came up with the names of the songs first?
Yeah, that’s how it came out, the names of the songs first. … Initially, when I first started doing End it All, I had like eight beats from various producers. I think I had one track that didn’t get used. … The first tracks I had were “Superstar Destroyer,” the two In Flagranti tracks [“Mellow You Out,” “Air is Free”], the Clark track [“Hunter”], the Fred Bigot track [“Hardliner”], the Four Tet tracks [“Gluetraps,” “Anvil Falling”]. And I then recorded eight songs in one session.
The majority of End it All was done before I did the deal with Anticon. It was because I had reached out to Son Lux—I heard Son Lux on the Okayplayer website—that is how I got connected to Anticon, he hooked me out with Anticon. Then I was still touring behind Thorns, and I met Why? at a festival in France. That kind of affirmed the Anticon connection. I had never met Shaun [Anticon label manager Shaun Koplow], I met Shaun down the line, I was in contact with Shaun and let him know I wanted the album to come out on Anticon.
At this time, when I was working on End it All, Antipop gets back together and we work on Fluorescent Black, so that kind of put a hold on End it All. But I still had those solid eight songs, and I was asking producers here and there—I asked Nobody, Nobody gave me the song [“Deathsweater”] like a year before I even wrote to it. I had the chorus, but I didn’t have the lyrics yet. So “Deathsweater” took a while, took a year to write. And then Son Lux gave me his beat, and [the album] started to flesh itself out. End it All was originally supposed to come out in the fall of 2010. It got pushed back to February of 2011. That’s it in a nutshell.
Talk a little bit about the history, the ebb and flow, the dynamics of what happened with Antipop Consortium in the 2000s, about how you guys decided to go your separate ways in 2003.
You know, they hated me and then they got over it. [laughs] And now we’ll see what’s up. We have an album coming out with Matthew Shipp like in May or something. [The album Knives from Heaven, featuring Beans, Shipp, Antipop member High Priest as HPrizm, and jazz performer William Parker was released on Thirsty Ear in June.—Ed.]
Was it that simple?
I don’t really want to get into it.
How are you rectifying or reconciling doing the solo work in addition to the Antipop stuff?
Well, it’s working out well so far. Last time I toured with Antipop live was like August , we went to Brazil. And then I was working again on the release of End it All, all this time I’ve been focusing on End it All. I think I’ll pick up more dates after the Knives from Heaven album comes out. … Antipop’s running, nothing has really been happening with them as far as I know. It is what it is, you know. I was always an individual artist. I mean we are all individual artists and we happen to just work well together. I’m always going to do my thing regardless.