by Nick Hanover
Curbside Jones is an artist we’ve followed closely here at Ovrld for the past few years. A veteran emcee and producer, Curb has produced tracks for a number of local and regional artists and has also produced a string of incredible albums of his own. The latest is Digital Boogie Man, a concept EP about the pitfalls of technological dependence in the modern era. Nick Hanover spoke with Curbside Jones over e-mail to find out what inspired the album and its cover art, Curb’s collaborations with other artists and which rap star he’d want to challenge to an arcade tournament.
Nick Hanover for Ovrld: To my ears, Digital Boogie Man is a more aggressive and distorted offering than your prior albums. The beats are meaner and your vocal delivery is more brash and ferocious. What inspired that change in direction?
Curbside Jones: In my opinion the delivery hasn’t changed much as far as my vocal tone and etc, but it has changed in the way the verses are formatted. I experimented a lot with my delivery on Failed Utopia, which helped me gear up for Digital Boogie Man.
The beats for the project were crafted with the image of a villain lurking from the closet in the dark of the night. I literally had that image hanging on my wall over my computer as I worked, shout out to Juxtapoz Magazine. I wanted everything to be heavier to catch the listener’s attention. I reached out to Corey Arnell, who has collabed with me on more than several occasions, for more groove based themes to add to the digital vibe. I got in contact with SPELLWRKS because he is known to bring super heavy heavy tracks to the table. I footed 6/8 beats on the project and only sampled on 2 1/2 of those beats. My initial thought process in not sampling as much was to avoid reverting back to sampling jazz and soul for the entire project.
Ovrld: The title of the album strikes me as a kind of hip hop play on a “ghost in the machine.” Using boogie man instead of ghost also hints at a suggestion that we’re no longer plagued by neutral ghosts in the machine but by a malevolent technological force and there seem to be some indications of that concept in your lyrics too. What’s your intended meaning with the title? Do you think technology is getting more evil? And how does that connect to you as a technologically savvy and dependent modern musician?
CJ: The concept stems from me noticing that people, including myself, have issues with pulling away from their screens. We spend more time holding our phones than probably any other item in our possession. The Digital Boogie Man is the villain who lurks in our devices keeping us tied to them.
If you listen closely to the album I never depict whether a male or female is speaking because I want the listener to put themselves in the 1st person perspective. I don’t think technology is getting evil, but I do think our infatuation with technology is something that needs to be looked at. As for how it connects to me, I’ve been trying to find that balance of connecting and disconnecting when I start to feel like I’m getting addicted to staring at a TL or screen.
Ovrld: You also spent time before this release focusing on making beats for other artists, including the excellent Space Camp Death Squad track “Fuck Sallie May.” Did taking a slight break to do work for others help you refocus on what makes you different as an artist? Did any of that freelancing influence your new material?
CJ: I think taking that break from rapping helped me more as a producer than anything. I had a period where I was making 1-2 beats a day just to sell to artists who were asking for the “Curbside sound.” That practice of making beats constantly helped me find a groove/pocket where I could learn and experiment with my own music. This year you can expect to hear more artists over my production, it’s going to be a pretty fun year. I’m currently working with Pliny Science [formerly of The Lower Class] on his first solo project, so he’s going to get the best from me.
Ovrld: Since you mentioned Juxtapoz, I want to ask you about your aesthetic. All of your releases feature cover art and promo material that references anime, manga and Western comics styles, as well as elements of street art and video games, including the video you and Kartune did for “Pink.” Do you feel like that element of your style makes you an outlier in a lot of modern hip hop, especially the Austin scene, where the biggest acts– like League, Zeale and LNS Crew– tend to use more postured, photo heavy art? What art, outside of that cover piece, were you consuming most while making this release?
CJ: I love having illustrated art because honestly I don’t like showing my face often. I’m of course influenced by anime and 2D art so I like to push that when it comes to my music. I also feel like art is missing in music and there’s a lot of hungry illustrators out there who are looking to get their visions out; why not reach out to them and create a piece of art? I don’t feel like what I do sets me apart from those you mentioned, I guess it’s just personal preference at the end of the day. I used to be photo heavy a couple years ago, but I’ve met a lot of great illustrators since then. While making the EP I channeled the boogie man from the Power Puff Girls episode and Jerome from Martin. I envisioned the boogie man being suave/pimp like.
Ovrld: Speaking of that “Pink” video, can we expect some similarly ambitious video plans for DBM? The themes and production seem to especially lend themselves to visual representation, and before its release you featured teasers like a time lapse video of the making of the cover.
CJ: I would love to do a video/film for DBM in the near future. I want to find a videographer who not only has editing talent and quality, but one that will understand the vision and care about it. I’m picky with how my visuals are represented, which is why I only have one video. I’m a visual person so it’s only right to deliver something other than rapping into a camera somewhere in downtown Austin.
Ovrld: Even though you’re based out of Austin, a significant amount of your following seems to be elsewhere and you seem to be very selective about local shows. What are the things that you think are holding back the local scene the most? Do you have any plans this year to be more involved with the scene on the performance front? Who are the local artists you believe are at the vanguard of Austin hip hop?
CJ: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to have listeners all over the US and on different continents. I think it all boils down to how people who aren’t where you’re from love you more than those where you’re at. Don’t get me wrong, I get love in Austin and at shows, but for some reason people outside of Austin are more supportive.
As for shows I’m selective because I honestly don’t like being on bills with artists I don’t personally know/mesh with. Shows become high school cafeterias where everyone is cliqued up and too cool to talk to people they are performing with. There are too many egos and not enough quality material to back it up. Everyone is concerned about being the best, which is fine, but there’s a world outside of here and moving as a unit is key. Once we can all work together we’ll achieve new sounds and more recognition.
I do want to return to performing now that I have a larger selection of songs to perform and I have more beats to perform live. I would like to do rap/production sets to switch things up and get more producers I like thrown in the mix. I want my sets to be an experience, never the same thing each set, I want people to leave talking about it. As far as locals that I think are the vanguards…they know who they are. They know me personally and they have my number and I’ve reached out to them to work.
Ovrld: On the note of that cliquishness, do you think Austin has become any better over the past few years for local hip hop support? Do you think you will stay in this city or do you anticipate relocating soon? If you moved, where do you think you would fit in the most?
CJ: I feel the hip hop scene has been moving forward, but it won’t reach the next level until more quality music and visuals are released. I just hope the “fans” and venue owners are able to support it and facilitate it to help it grow. Yes, Austin is a place for music, but urban music tends to get the short end of the stick every time. I guess it would take everyone blowing up outside of Austin and coming back to get them to notice the shift. My plan was to get things started here and go somewhere else when I got comfortable.
I’ve been living in Austin since 2010 and I would like to see more places and experience different scenes. I went to LA back in 2013 for a week and I got to go to Low End and it blew me away. LA’s scene is crazy and it’s always evolving and expanding. I would like to move to LA or somewhere close to it, or ATL because I know a lot of really great people/artists out there.
Ovrld: You mentioned you’re collaborating with Pliny Science of The Lower Class on a new project. What can we expect from that in comparison to his Lower Class material? How did that come about?
CJ: I expect Pliny to have one of the best Austin releases this year. I’d go as far as saying Top 5 easy, even outside of Austin it’ll be great. Pliny has been building and trying to get his solo stuff jumping and we’re homies, so it’s nothing to help a friend out. Everything is still in the very early stages but once we start connecting the dots it’s going to be CRAZY. As for what it will sound like compared to the LC stuff, we’re not even 100% sure yet. We’re just going to experiment and bring you all genuine music.
Ovrld: What’s next for you personally? Have you already started working on DBM’s follow up?
CJ: I haven’t started working on the DBM follow up because I’m not releasing any projects this year, plus DBM is still fresh. I’m focusing more on building with others, dropping singles, and working on visuals.
I also want to learn and work the business aspect of music more before I jump into another project, not having a manager or publicist sucks lol. You can expect new music soon featuring Austin artists and producers! I’ve been trying to rope in all the people I feel can make a change in the city.
Ovrld: I know you’re a big fan of fighting games, so as a kind of fun closer question I wanted to ask which artist you would most want to challenge to a game and what game would you choose?
CJ: I already challenged Lupe Fiasco via Twitter and told him when he comes to Austin to go to Arcade UFO and money match me in P4U2 or GGxrd. He ducked my fade so he’s off my list for potential victims.
If I had to choose someone other than Lupe it would have to be Young Thug. He seems like he would play a character with crazy mix ups and set ups. I could see us playing GGxrd or maybe even Under Night, for some reason I just don’t see him as a Street Fighter guy.
Curbside Jones’ new album Digital Boogie Man is out now, stream and purchase it and other work and merch through his Bandcamp
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover