Puffs of smoke pour from Alexander Spit’s mouth as he studies his studio computer, smooth, soulful rap playing in the background. The scene quickly cuts to a shot through a screen door, where we see Spit shaking up with some friends; the scene cuts again to Spit back at work, where he’s relistening to a beat and recording a verse.
These moments are from his new mini-documentary Aliveat Virgil Normal, which showcases the creative process behind his new live album by the same name. The project was a feat in itself: On November 19, Spit gave himself 10 hours to produce, write, record, mix and master the project at the Los Angeles boutique Virgil Normal. In that span of time, the album was also dubbed to 100 cassette tapes, and paired with one-of-one hand drawn pieces by artist and friend Matt McCormick.
The event wasn’t just open to his friends; Spit sent out an open invitation via his Instagram, inviting strangers, fans, and musicians to add their own contributions and become involved in the project. The end result was a 26-minute live album that encompassed all the spontaneity, imperfections, and liveliness that came with the crowd.
“There were like twenty people at the spot kicking it, partying while I was recording and you could hear all of that in the background,” he says. “I was literally recording in a backyard, so you can hear cop sirens, firetrucks, babies screaming. You can hear the neighborhood when we were making the album.”
Alexander Spit was born in L.A., and moved to San Francisco when he was 10-years-old—around the same time he began rapping. He and his friends would go to Tower Records in San Francisco to buy dollar CD single instrumentals to freestyle over. They never knew what beat they were going to get; sometimes they would luck out with a rap beat, and other times it would be “weird pop singles.” When his friend discovered FL Studio, they started making beats together.
Since then, Spit has dropped at least one project a year; he’s 29 now, so you can imagine just how lengthy his catalog is. Barring two projects he dropped through The Hundreds, and his debut album A Breathtaking Trip To That Otherside with Decon Records (which has since merged with Mass Appeal) that dropped in early 2013, his releases have been independent.
But after releasing his debut—and with the exception of a couple loosies—Spit has stepped back from putting out music. “A lot of that was due to just like a weird lack of self-confidence and just being in a weird place musically. I’ve been in a jaded state,” he says. “I was trying to rediscover my sound, figure out the exact story I want to tell. I’ve spent the last three years huddled up in my studio just trying to get better… at the craft of hustling my music.”
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To get out of his rut, Spit wanted to set up a project that would allow him to make music immediately and put it out immediately, instead of just sitting on it—and create a concept that was more dynamic than just another EP or mix. The owner of Virgil Normal wanted Spit to do some sort of pop-up event at the shop; Spit appreciated the shop’s community-driven nature, which is how the whole idea came to fruition.
“I wanted to treat it as if my craft is an installation. So basically, we set-up at the shop at 9 a.m. and I just started making music all day. I encouraged fans, artists, haters, whoever the fuck to come through and politic with me. The only definitive rule I had was that I was gonna create all day and whatever I created that day was gonna get put out… and have a listening party for that night.”
The outcome is an organic, off-the-cuff album that melds the neighborhood’s sounds with freestyles and production by a handful of guests, including KT the Terrible, Senay, AmirSaysNothing and others. The project is a jazzy, impassioned improvisation; one of the last tracks “Open Fire / J Dilla Changed My Life” really shows just how influential the legendary producer has been for Spit.
“As I’ve explored [J Dilla’s] catalog, I’ve discovered a new song like every couple months that I didn’t know existed. What speaks to me is that he was always working and he wasn’t really worried about perfect mixes sometimes—he wasn’t worried about some of the things that we worry about as artists. He found church in just creating. The result is he had an endless catalog of music that I’m still discovering.”
This project—or experiment, rather—was more cathartic and therapeutic than he had imagined. He was able to draw from some creative reserves that he didn’t even know existed and was given the chance to expel the negativity and confusion that comes with being an independent musician.
“As soon as I start strategizing and figuring out what music will be the best to put out and when to put it out, I get really lost. But by like tapping into this like kind of immediate, non-thinking creative process, I just got to tap into like a real, more pure essence of my artistry where other people didn’t really matter. It’s like being confident in my work.
“There’s a lot of pressure on artists to be perfect. Just by recognizing that I wanted to break that down and shed light on the raw, the real of it. I just love the work. Music making—being in the studio making beats and writing songs and being in a session with homies, and just that community. That’s church for me.”
And let us all say, amen.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Diane Abapo