Vulkan the Krusader: A Real Human Being and a Real Hero
Contrary to what popular idioms may suggest, nobody becomes a star overnight.
While performers can jump from relatively low tiers of celebrity to relatively high ones pretty quickly, that only happens after months, years, or in some cases, decades of hard work. The artist labors in obscurity, trying to pay the bills while making time for a real passion and staying true to a sense of creative integrity. The artist insinuates him or herself in a local scene, meeting peers, making connections, knowing the right people. It’s really all a matter of chance; the artist works through the struggle, patiently awaiting the day when a benefactor sees something in the art and invites him or her to the next level of exposure.
Rapper-producer Vulkan the Krusader was a virtual nobody when he made the beat initially titled “V I Z Z E R” in 2002. He plucked the quivering string part from the Platters’ “Please Come Home For Christmas”, added some stock sounds, and drowned them in an ocean of effects. He then sat on the track for several years before releasing it as part of his V For Vendetta LP, and a few years later, A$AP Rocky cherry-picked the beat as the foundation of his At.Long.Last.A$AP highlight “Excuse Me”.
With that key feature, Vulkan’s doors have been blown wide open. In November, he’ll release the newest addition to his extensive catalog, the typically oneiric Vulkan Lives. With more eyeballs on him than ever before, it’s sure to be a smash; Vulkan’s hazy production evokes the hallucinatory compositions of buzzy, in-demand names like Flying Lotus and Clams Casino. The rap game, it seems, is finally ready to embrace the man born Rob Martinez.
Basking in his recent spike in popularity, Vulkan sat for a phone call with Random Nerds from his home in Palm Beach. Confident but never full of himself, he discussed the lasting influence of Dune, the non-theatrical cut that redeems Alien 3, and the hazards of fame.
Random Nerds: So, your new project — what’s going on there?
Vulkan the Krusader: The first three tapes I made, that was the Rebirth Series. This is the second one in a new series I’m doing, the Master Years Series. Robbie Darko was sort of an introduction, and then VX was the first episode, so this is the second episode. It’s called Vulkan Lives.
RN: In a bigger sense, what’s the Master Years trilogy all about?
VK: I read this book — I forget what it was called, my friend gave it to me — it’s about how grown men reach the prime of their life in the ages of 27 to 35. In these years, you’re at your peak abilities, and the guy calls it the Master Years. You’re honing your craft — even you, you’re a writer — and you’re doing your best work, best jobs, best opportunities. All around, you’re functioning at a higher level. In in that period right now, I feel like I’m at my prime, so I call this the Master Years Series.
RN: I wanted to congratulate you on the feature on the new A$AP Rocky record. Has anything changed in your life since the album dropped?
VK: Yeah, man, a lot. The minute it dropped, that first day, I didn’t know if anyone would notice or hit me up or anything. But I found out that people do their research, and the Complex article helped as well. It was funny, industry people hit me up. People were digging it, like, “Who is this guy? This guy’s so obscure, out of nowhere, what’s he doing on this album?” I’m probably the most obscure name on the album, because I got on there through my past relationships with Rakim [Meyers, a.k.a. A$AP Rocky]. Record labels started hitting me up, people looking for beats, people looking into me as an artist, going through my catalogue. Other artists, old friends, ex-girlfriends…
RN: You got hit up by exes after the record came out?
VK: Yeah! There was one specific one, eight years ago. You bang a chick and she calls you eight years later like, “I knew you would make it, I always believed in you.” It was mad real! I was all, “Yeah, thanks. Bye.”
RN: It’s not hard to smell when people want something from you.
VK: Pretty much! And I’m a real reclusive person. When you sit down with me, I’m real cool and down to earth. But when I do my music, it’s a totally different other person. I turn into that guy. I’m very confident, very cocky, in-your-face, passionate about it. But when I’m not doing music, I’m a real quiet man. Very pensive. I can see a lot of people around me right now, even at my regular job, they say, “This guy’s the quietest in the room.” One dude knows my music at work, so he told everyone what’s going on and they were all, “We always knew, we’re very proud of you.” No one knew anything!
RN: Where do you work your day job?
VK: Southwest Airlines, in operations. It’s a pretty boring day job, you know, it’s a living. But I only consider that a part of my life, how I get money and fund myself. I don’t really talk to anybody there. Everybody found out about me just now.
RN: How do you land on a sample when you’re structuring a track? Is it like you’ll be listening to a song and you’ll hear it and then suddenly you have to have that sound in specific, or you have a feeling in mind and then you search for a song that fits that?
VK: I came from the whole breakbeat school from the ‘90s, and I still do that, I’m very sample-heavy. I don’t wanna relive those moments, though, when we used to listen to that type of hip-hop. I wanna advance it. The sounds go from Def Jux to RZA to Depeche Mode to Air. I took all those influences, but sampling is still the main hip-hop element in my production. What I look for is something dreamy, catchy, melodic, and a little obscure like me. Coincidentally, that sample from the Platters? If they heard that song, I don’t think they’d be able to manipulate it like that. I manipulated the shit out of it.
RN: You isolated the string part, right?
VK: That’s basically it. The other ones are samples I took from the beatbox machine myself. The harp sound, I just got it from a file of harp sounds. It’s stock stuff. You manipulate that, and get it all dreamy. The crazy thing is that that’s one of the first beats I ever made in my life. Like, ever. It was the second beat I made.
RN: So you were sitting on that one for years?
VK: Years! I always liked it, because the other stuff I did when I was younger was very hip-hop, back-packy, kind of cookie-cutter. When I experimented when I was younger, people would ask why I was making those types of beats, it sounded like something else. I thought hip-hop should evolve, go somewhere surreal. I think that’s where it’s going now.
RN: That looks like where it’s headed, into psychedelia and that vast, open sort of sound. To get there, do you ever mentally envision something for inspiration?
VK: My music contains a lot of the elements from my childhood. Sci-fi movies, like, I remember making dinner for myself as a kid and watching The Neverending Story. I listened to the soundtrack and thought it might be cool if I did something like that, but with a hip-hop angle. Like De La Soul meets Neverending Story. Prince Paul played a huge part in my work. I look up to him, Dan the Automator, El-P, who’s actually a fan of mine now. Which is crazy! I tweeted something and El retweeted it like “You fucking deserve it,” and I was wowed. El-P, he’s the god to me.
RN: It’s one of those moments you hear about, where it all hits you.
VK: Yeah. A lot of people might not know who you are, but at least these people know. The masses don’t know, but people inside the industry and people around the New York underground know my name. I finally got on a major album, and now artists are hitting me up.
RN: You’ve already collaborated with some pretty big names apart from Rakim. Ideally, who’s someone you’ve dreamed of working with?
VK: In hip-hop?
RN: It doesn’t necessarily have to be hip-hop, it can be anybody.
VK: My dream collaboration is me, RZA, and Depeche Mode. And maybe, like, Lil B featuring Air on another song.
RN: In your solo material, do you feel like your music has a spiritual or metaphysical aspect to it?
VK: A lot of people tell me that, but I don’t really put those themes in the music. Young people will come up to me like, “Your music brings me to this whole other level, this plane of thought.” I just make it because I like how it sounds! They tell me they feel all these vibes, and I’m like, “Really? This just comes from me, wanting to have an artist like myself when I was fifteen.” That’s what Vulkan the Krusader is. When I was fifteen, I wanted an artist like me to exist so I could do what he did. Now, I’m doing this so that maybe kids out there don’t have to go through the same thing.
RN: From your name on down, I see that comic book mythologies have had a big influence on you. What do you like about comic books?
VK: It makes the everyday Joe feel like he can become a superhero. When I was young, I collected a lot of comics and I was wondering when I was gonna become a superhero. But I found that when you grow up, you don’t. There are other ways to be a superhero, other mediums. Art, music. Even you, with the writing, you could be somebody’s hero if you make it inspirational towards them. When my friend named me Vulkan the Krusader, it sounded like a superhero. You pick up a comic book, he sounds like a giant brute with a big sword, and that’s what I wanna do, vocally.
RN: It’s about having that power.
VK: Empowering yourself, and making yourself greater through the music.
RN: Very cool. Judging from your album art, anime and manga are pretty huge to you too. What do you think is the biggest difference between anime or manga, and western comics?
VK: Manga came into my life during the ‘90s, but I been on anime since the ‘80s. The album art’s from a series called Robotech, which is the first anime I saw in my entire life. It’s very dramatic, weird to watch as a kid, because it had a love triangle and themes of death, people die in it. It was almost like porn, growing up. It was like the offspring of anime, a far edgier side of it. The artwork was crazy. I took it all into consideration when making my style, anime, fantasy, comics.
RN: What kind of sci-fi are you into?
VK: Ridley Scott stuff, David Lynch has a lot of sci-fi in his movies.
RN: Like Dune?
VK: I read the book, I didn’t like the movie. I wish they would remake the movie — I dunno, have you seen the documentary about that?
RN: Yeah, Jodorowsky’s Dune?
VK: He was trying to do his own movie by the book. And the book’s awesome, even though a lot of people hate on it because of [Lynch’s] movie. To me, it was like a bible, a forthcoming tale of a kid who’s the messiah and ruler of all spices and he goes on a journey. Every sci-fi adventure that came after Dune was based on that. Star Wars is based on Dune! Everything is based on Dune in sci-fi. So I love Dune, I love Alien, too. The first two movies were awesome, at least.
RN: Yeah, not so much Alien 3.
VK: There’s actually another cut of Alien 3 that makes it pretty decent.
RN: Really? What’s that one?
VK: It’s called the Assembly Cut, and it’s way different. The alien comes from a cow, instead of a dog. Take a look at that one. It’s a little longer, like thirty minutes, but the story fits in way better.
RN: I’ll be sure to check that out.
VK: They’re doing a new one too, with that kid Neill Blomkamp, I think? That dude’s pretty awesome. That came into play with my sound, I wanted it to sound futuristic, like THX 1138. That’s the first thing I saw from George Lucas as a child. I remember all that stuff from four or five.
RN: That’s pretty intense for a kid.
VK: Yeah. Other kids would bat their eyelashes and walk away from the TV, but I was the kid who was drawn to it. I thought it was fucking cool.
RN: You’ve always been drawn towards that futuristic aesthetic?
VK: Even the soundtracks. I’ve held onto those, and I tried to incorporate those into my work as an adult.
RN: You’ve gone on record as adhering to the Class and Decadence lifestyle. Could you go into a little detail on that, what the Class and Decadence life entails?
VK: That was recently. When you’re younger, you ain’t about Decadence and Class. You’re all about fucking every bitch, getting drunk, smoking weed, doing as many drugs as possible, and aiming your middle finger at every single person. That’s you in your twenties, but I’m getting to my thirties now. I realized that I fuckin’ wiled out, but what have I turned into? I’ve been everywhere, every major city, and the one thing people respect is a gentleman. I’ve met a lot of gentlemen in my lifetime, and one of them was an OG of mine, and he said I had to keep it Decadent. I was like, “What the hell does that word mean?” This was years ago, you know. And he said to me, “Don’t worry about it, you’ll know when you get older. Just keep it Classy.” As soon as you get older, you realize Decadence means getting grown, getting respected. Keeping it real to me was those words, because “keeping it real” sounds so fucking old-school. Decadence and Class should be what it’s all about. When you walk in, you wanna feel prestigious, you wanna own a fucking room, feel like a king walking down the aisle. That’s my motto, keep it Decadent and Classy. If I want my place to feel like a palace, that’s the only way I’m going on.
RN: So, where do you go from here? You’re hitting thirty, what’s the next step?
VK: Hopefully, when I release Vulcan Lives on November 5, I’ll be able to do what I want. I want to start my own label to support other artists who have my kind of aesthetic embedded in them. With my sounds, it’s kinda weird. Sometimes I sing, sometimes I feel like rapping, sometimes it’s a southern type of beat, or an older type of beat, all mixed together. I wanna be the most versatile hip-hop artist ever. That sounds huge, but I feel like I could do that, because my confidence level has always been like that. I feel like I could rap with anyone on a record, I could be a great songwriter, I could be a great producer. I just need someone to give me that hand. Visually, if I had the money for it, my videos would look crazy.
RN: You direct your own videos?
VK: When they let me, yeah. It’s in my ability, I’ve directed videos. But man, if I had a budget? It’d be crazy. Dark, brooding imagery you’ve don’t see in a lot of hip-hop videos. Most of the time, you’ve got cars, asses, throwing money in the air. That’s boring to me. Those are my friends, but at the same time, I don’t wanna do that. It’s such a used-up concept. I could do that, I could get some cars and bitches and throw money in the air. But I want to inspire other people to try something different. They see it, like, “He comes from the same place as everybody else, but he’s doing something that’s never been done before.” I’ve seen trap houses and drug dealers. I could walk around in a trench coat with some Japanese sneaker boots on, and I don’t give a fuck. Those are my friends, but I’m not them.
RN: You come from a tough neighborhood?
VK: I was raised in L.A., but my parents sent me to Florida as a kid. I was involved in a lot of gang violence as a youth. The reason they shipped me out of L.A. as a child was because I got shot at in a drive-by. No one else did, I was the main witness.
RN: Holy shit. Has that affected your lyrics? I can’t say I hear that on the album.
VK: Hardly. It’s something that I feel is overused in hip-hop, the whole machismo thing. Why do I need to rap about it when someone already knows that? I don’t need to do that on every single damn record. Talking about guns and heaters and throwing shots at you and all that. It’s overdone. Any man can do that. You don’t need to be a gangster to kill somebody. You yourself could probably do that, just as well as I can. There’s more important things than shooting people and beating people up for respect.
RN: So then in a final analysis, what would you say is most important in life?
VK: Love, yo. That’s it. All you need to care about is love. If you have the love and passion for somebody or something, that’s all you need in life, because that’s gonna drive you to get where you wanna be at. Even without getting love back, you gotta do that shit. The main thing in my music is love. Every song I do, that’s the main point. You need that to survive.
Like what you read? Share it.
(That helps us.)
Love what you read? Patronize Charles Bramesco.
That helps us and the writer.
What is Patronizing? Learn more here.