A Conversation With Joshua Virtue

By Aviv Hart


“Emotionally nurturing, empathizing, and taking care of people is just as important as like, fucking wanting to get a gun and overthrow the state. It’s sustainable.”
-Dwende Interlude

“Existence need an intermission so we can figure what to paint across the picket sign”
-Late Interlude (Post Faith Monologue)

“You bout the dollar bitch I’m all about organic matter, that’s all that fucking matters”

Joshua Virtue’s recent album, Post Faith Dialogues, brilliantly illustrates the often messy, rarely easy process of healing. The album acts as aggressive catharsis and hard fought self-care. Across nine stellar tracks Joshua wrestles with mental illness, addiction, white Wicker Park hipsters, harmful structures of faith, sexuality, capitalism, and God itself. However, to paint this as just an album of struggle would be reductive, as it is also an album of radical celebration; celebration of friends, community, art, and ultimately, Joshua himself as an autonomous being who deserves to feel good. Post Faith Dialogues not only serves as a narration of Joshua’s journey towards self-acceptance, but as a toolkit for the listener to embark on a similar journey themselves. The album does not necessarily answer all of its own questions, but provides the listener with the comfort that they are not alone in the pondering of these very large, often dark topics.
But beyond all the dense philosophical quandaries and complex emotional landscapes of the album one simple fact holds true: Joshua Virtue is really really good at rapping. Joshua masterfully commands a flow that is both steeped in hip-hop tradition and dripping with the wild eccentricities associated with hip-hop modernity and the Rap Internet. Lyrically, Joshua is both blunt and complicated, balancing DOOM levels of internal rhyme with gem one liners that are sometimes biting, sometimes hilarious, and often both, all while sprinkling in slick references to everyone from Teddy Perkins, to Clipse-era Pharell, to the loose square man, to Clifford the Big Red Dog. Oh, and he makes his own beats too. Aside from Loosie, which was produced by Cultivation, Joshua handles all the production duties on the project himself. Coming both from the Stones Throw school of sampling and the experimental art pop and electronic world, Joshua puts together a flock of instrumentals whose textures range from gorgeously vibrant to unsettlingly gritty without missing a beat (Ha!).
Post Faith Dialogues is sonically experimental and at times esoteric, but make no mistake, it is anything but inaccessible. The bars are hard, the beats knock, and the replay value is endless. This project can work both as an essential contribution to any core backpack-rap head’s canon of underground experimental hip-hop, as well as a solid introduction to left-field hip-hop to newcomers to the genre. Please stream or buy this album. Go ahead and stream/buy music from Joshua’s three (!!!) other collaborative projects (UDABABY, Free Snacks, Not Lovely) as well. If you have the opportunity, go see Joshua speak these sermons in public and pay the money requested, even if the door person doesn’t press you for it. I promise you won’t regret it. Joshua Virtue turned his scar tissue into gold on this project, and inspired me to get out of bed every day and bare-knuckle box gravity. But enough of my rambling, here’s what he has to say:

So let’s get some basic stuff out of the way, when and how did you start rapping? And who were some of your major sonic influences?
I’ve always been a writer and I toyed around with lyricism here and there but I don’t think I really rapped on anything till I was like 19. We were in my friend Bryan Fielder’s attic watching him make music and my homie Jack (who is also in an experimental hip-hop jazz band I’m in called Not Lovely) was like “you’re gonna rap on this” and was I like “uuuuh ok??” A couple years later me and Jack moved into the same house and started making music together. We were both 23 so we called it our Jordan year and put out a song a week for a year. We made most of the beats ourselves and ended up with six volumes and some of it was garbage and some was good but that’s definitely how I found my voice and got my start with Logic Pro. As far as sonic influence, I’ve always been a fan of just weird shit I guess and high concept stuff. When I was younger I got really into The Roots and toured their discography. Black Thought is probably my largest influence lyrically, or at least the most consistent. I was also a huge fan of like, Radiohead and Animal Collective and other experimental college freshman bullshit. My musical tastes have really really evolved since then but those are the acts that made me want to start making music.

I definitely hear those connections, you do a great job of mixing that thoughtful and intentional style that Black Thought was so instrumental in establishing with the broadness and experimentation associated with people like Radiohead, Animal Collective, and other associated pitchfork-esque acts.
Ugh don’t call it that, but yeah that’s essentially what they are? As far as production I’m definitely leaning on more weird raw sounding shit too. Like Madlib, Scruffnuck Dust, DOOM, weird niggas who are like intentionally lo-fi. Also Quelle Chris went a long way in breaking up the boxes of what can and can’t be rap music.

So the album is called post faith dialogues, what does it mean to you to be “post-faith,” is it an idea of leaving a faith or just reckoning with its meaning? Or both?
So like the original idea was to sort of use the creation of a piece to act as free self-generated mental therapy. I was absurdly depressed near the end of last year, probably the worst spell I’ve ever had. And a lot of that was based on the implosion of belief structures I had held to for years prior. I don’t think those old belief structures are necessarily wrong now, but I was taught a lot of my spiritualism from a series of kind of fucked up abusive teachers? I mean they had their own issues to deal with, and they were good teachers depending on the situation, but it was a lot like learning the right things the wrong way. I kind of crammed a lot of negative emotion in a box and that box kind of exploded. I was just fucking done with everything, so I figured the best way to process everything was to damn near blaspheme it, to do the very opposite of the things I’d learned. My teachers were all about order and health, but they left me damaged so I said “Fuck you I’m gonna let my life fall apart, I’m gonna be chaotic, literally just because I can.” And as time went on it kind of actually worked? And I started to build my own sense of faith and philosophy allowing for mistakes and allowing for my own process and direction and interpretation. So it’s not Post Faith Dialogues cause I’m ‘faithless’ now. It’s Post Faith Dialogues because I disassembled an old belief structure and rearranged it in a way that works for me.

I think you do a brilliant job of illustrating that frustration on the project. This album came out at a very difficult time in my life in terms of mental health, and it felt like reckless empowerment in the face of hopelessness. On the last track, and a personal favorite of mine, Hollowman, you struggle with the possibility of both a merciful and vengeful god, but in the final lyrics, “I am the wind, I am the water, I am the earth, I am the fire,” you seem to recognize yourself as being your own god in a way, which is very inspiring.
For sure, yeah that’s kind of the idea with that song. Like a simultaneous suicidal ideation and an affirmation of self-respect. Like it can mean, “I want to die” or “I don’t want to be at this party. I’m not having fun. I’m going home cause I deserve to feel good.” Then at the end it’s like “Oh shit I exist. I’m here, that’s all that fucking matters. Even if there’s all this fucked up shit going on and the powers that be have been exploiting me forever I’m still a fucking composite of earth material with conscious thought and decision making capabilities and my life is in my own hands.”

That idea actually reminds me a lot of your bandcamp biography, where you describe yourself as a “person inside a person inside a person” etc, which carries a certain personal omnipotence to it. What was the thought process behind that bio?
There literally wasn’t one, I kind of hate that bio I need to update it. But dissecting it now I was probably getting at how there are many many layers that make up a being. We have our spirit, our mind, our emotional state, our experiences, astral bodies. We’re different around our friends and our families. And people shift all the time, like my speech patterns and sexuality and general mood shift moment to moment to moment. Niggas got layers.

So as well as doing solo stuff you’re also involved in multiple other more collaborative projects. Is your process of writing and making different for each project, and if so, how?
It kind of depends as far as writing! Like regardless of project, I write tidbits on my own or when I’m inspired by a beat in the studio (aka my fucking closet) just depending on mood I guess. Each project certainly has its own energy and direction though. Not Lovely is an emotional grappling with existentialism. Free Snacks is a celebration of life in all its ups and downs I think. UDABABY is a positive outlet for the aggression of black men and a sort of fuck you to the rules of hip-hop. The solo stuff is a priestly ritual, a deconstruction of and redefinition of black masculinity and spiritually and queerness I would say.

And throughout these different projects you perform a lot. Specifically, I’ve seen you perform alongside a lot of Chicago punk heavy weights like Side Action, Buggin Out, and Pussyfoot. The cultural and historical parallels between hip-hop and punk are well documented, but what’s your personal connection to the genre and scene?
Well first off, Malaya of Side Action is my best friend and roommate and so is Davis (other half of UDABABY) so that’s how we ended up playing so many punk shows. I’m definitely not a punk, I’ve just known a lot of punk and hardcore kids in my time cause they’re the weird niggas and I fuck with the weird niggas. I dabble in some hardcore and punk music but it’s mostly the people themselves I fuck with.  Punks are by far the most supportive people I’ve come across in the Chicago music scene. And I really appreciate how punk artists are not just anti-capitalist in theory but also in practice. Like, most of them just shove money they don’t really have into their art. They don’t profit usually, like they break even at best. What they do is purely because they love it. I love hip hop but from an analytical sense I think it’s lost its way. I think artists should get paid but when that becomes the driving goal and motivation in a capitalist society the art form itself becomes a form of capitalism. That’s fucked up. Old white people fucked us and perverted the art form but we also continue to allow them too. But then again niggas gotta eat so no hard feelings (I guess).

I feel that, well thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I guess my last question is what’s next? Anything or anyone you wanna plug or shout out?
My collaborator Ruby Watson, aka the other half of Free Snacks, is putting out his debut solo project titled “Balance.” The album comes out April 12th. I’ve heard it. It’s beyond lit. April 13th, Ruby is doing an album release show at Nude Beach and UDABABY will be playing. April 19th there will be a Free Snacks show at The House of Heavy Petting. Eliy Orcko, a sick rapper from Ohio is coming in to play that show and it will surely be fire cause he’s amazing. Then there are two Joshua Virtue shows the day of 4/20, one at Archer Ballroom for Dizzy Invert 3 and another later that night at the Observatory. The homie Malci will be playing on that last one and we MIGHT have something special for ya!

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