Dream of the '90s

Antwon and Pictureplane flip inspiration from another decade

Antwon is the 'hip hop everyman.'


MUSIC By now, Antwon's mug has probably nestled somewhere in your brain. It's hard to take your eyes off him in the Brandon Tauszik-directed video for Antwon's song "Helicopter," slowly spitting rhymes over a screaming alarm of a beat, wandering Oakland, drinking on porches, pouring hot sauce on breakfast in between scenes from the classic film, Bullit (1968). Or as one media outlet breathlessly noted, "Malt liquor, Steve McQueen, and Sriracha!"

There he is in the Mission District, in the flesh, taking time out to chat with me; the San Jose-based rapper (who's more often found in Oakland) travels to the city twice a week to work at vintage clothing shop New Jack City, an eye-popping gem of a store, stuffed with letterman's jackets, button-downs, and gently worn Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, mostly plucked from the 1980s and '90s.

Now here's his sturdy frame — which, along with his voice, has inspired not-inaccurate comparisons to Biggie — in a warped movie clip run through a VHS player in yet another music video, this time looking straight out of a '90s positive hip-hop video for his song "Living Every Dream."

The track, produced by witch house term-coiner Pictureplane, is on Antwon's newest mixtape, End of Earth. It's his third since last September's Fantasy Beds, which produced "Helicopter."

"Living Every Dream," the wobbly reworking of Suzanne Vega's a capella cinematic earworm, "Tom's Diner" (Christian Slater with the baboon heart!) is doubtless one of the standout tracks on End of Earth, an album frankly full of surprising turns.

"I had been wanting to sample that song to make a hip-hop song for really as long as I can remember, [since] high school maybe," says Travis Egady a.k.a Pictureplane. "It is just a great tempo and loop. I wanted to hear Antwon's voice on it."

"He is really relatable... no bullshit artist," Pictureplane says of Antwon. "[He's] a rapper you want to be friends with. He is a hip-hop everyman."

Another side of the everyman comes out on End of Earth's more playful "Diamond and Pearls," produced by his longtime DJ Sex Play (formerly Bad Slorp), who produced all of Antwon's December 2011 release, My Westside Horizon.

Other tracks on End of Earth such as "Laugh Now," produced by Wounderaser, and Rpldghsts-produced "Cold Sweat" more recall the hardcore scene Antwon grew up in. A scene he credits with teaching him how to perform. "I learned how to play shows by going to hardcore shows," he says from his post in New Jack City. There are indeed mosh pits and sweaty dogpiles at his shows, which is unexpected at traditional hip-hop club nights, though those lines seem to be blurring across the board.

In particular "Laugh Now" blurs genre and scene, with themes of isolation, anxiety, and personal demons, tethered by actual howls and dragged out vocals growling "La-a-a-gh now," and lyrics like "This for the people that talk shit about you/But when they see you they walk around you."

Antown grew up in Sunnyvale — his mom's from the Philippines and his dad is from Fresno. In middle school he recorded mixtapes with a friend through a karaoke machine, and sold them at school.

He later performed as his own one-man noise act, warping sound on a SP-303 and running his vocals through distortion pedals. In 2009 he traveled to Philadelphia to join the punk band Leather, but he then returned to his roots. He had rapped before, but really got started again when he came back to California. "It really kind of like, took on a life of its own."

Also from this author

  • Love rumbles

    Who is Charlie Megira? A Berlin rebel with a Bay Area connection

  • Down at the Rickshaw

    One of our favorite independent music venues celebrates 10 years of rockin' -- with a week of great shows

  • Rockin' New Year's Eve

    Let 2013 all hang out at these musical blasts