L.A. VanGogh lives in the unexplored spaces of subjectivity and objectivity. At 25 and based in Chicago, his obsessions range from lyricism to string theory, and his music reflects as much without being a heady mess. On the contrary, for someone down to talk black holes and physical properties of the universe, L.A.—whose name comes from a hot line he spit in his formative years, “I’m a DaVinci of 16s, the VanGogh of the club”—is making approachable and enthused music.
Like most of our imprinted talents, for L.A., everything began when he was three years old. “‘Gin and Juice’ by Snoop Dogg,” VanGogh tells me when I ask what song made him fall in love with music. He loved the beat and that Snoop Dogg really rapped bars he repeats to himself to this day.
From “Gin and Juice,” L.A. VanGogh branched out to the East Coast and Southern corners of hip-hop, with his tastes being shaped by his father, grandmother, and, of course, LimeWire. Digging on the file-sharing platform, L.A. discovered a love for “a lot of Lil Wayne, Diplomats, and any JAY-Z I could get my hands on.” A solid foundation for an artist whose love of lyricism would soon help him bridge the gap between the esoteric and the serviceable.
“I didn’t really get JAY-Z until I was 19,” he admits, “but Lil Wayne, I immediately learned about witty punchlines, being clever, and being entertaining all at once. And being intelligent, while being all of those things.” L.A. VanGogh started recording and producing himself at 15, four years before Jay finally clicked. A rapper’s rapper and a writer’s writer, he filled those years with one of the best features of the Chicago creative scene: open mics.
“Chicago’s just a different beast when it comes to writers,” L.A. explains. “I learned words and storytelling from my Lil Wayne studies and Lupe Fiasco. Lupe is one of my biggest early influences. Chicago just took that to another level by going to the open mics in the city and learning how to twist words around, and how to make other objects come to life. That really changed how I started writing and viewing music.”
Bending and twisting language is how we arrive at the Everything Is Subjective series, where L.A. VanGogh twists our perceptions just as easily as he subverts conventions of language down to the last syllable. His fascination with subjectivity spawned from a high school philosophy class and took on an empowering tone thereafter. “I love the idea that you can kind of make your own reality,” he tells me. “Your perception and how you choose to live in this world and the mindset that you choose is totally yours, and then there is some odd objectivity in that there is subjectivity. I think that it is objective that everything is subjective.”
“Everybody has a different experience. So there is a reality that nobody lives the same reality. That’s what I mean when I say it’s objective that everything is subjective. It allows for a lot of possibilities for me, and I think for a lot of people. If everything is subjective, and you can change your outlook, you can change your life. You could have some type of control, and there’s even more opportunity for understanding if you first understand that they have an experience that you don’t have. There’s a learning opportunity there, and there’s room for understanding in situations where someone disagrees. Understanding someone has their own perception, it gives me room to not be offended, and also learn and teach. ” —L.A. VanGogh
Aside from subjectivity being objective, other things that are objective include quantum mechanics, string theory, and the laws of physics and mathematics. “It gets even more meta than that, because what if there’s another universe where these laws don’t even apply?” L.A. questions. “I think about a bunch of crap which makes people look at me weird [laughs], but that’s what I would say is objective.”
We both agree that you cannot be a true artist unless you have that natural inquisitiveness, though L.A. sees that curiosity as both a gift and a curse. “I think if you overthink and stay in your head too much, that can lead to, from my personal experience, insecurity,” he says of the curse. “Or the complex that you have to always be right because you’re so inquisitive. It does have its downsides to it, but it’s fun, just thinking. Sometimes, I really do want to sit and just enjoy a song.”
To combat that insecurity, L.A. VanGogh just goes for it. His view of his music is thusly twofold. For one, he gets to discuss and let go of his own demons (“The most important story that I tell on Episode 1 is the story of ‘Be Careful,’ just ‘cause it’s a really swagged-out song about going to the hospital for an anxiety attack”), and gets to give his fans that need mental health raps a bundle of tracks to get through their lows.
“It’s an interesting thing to talk about on a record, especially in a genre that’s so much about bravado and materialism,” he says of his mental health talk. “There’s still a good sense of vulnerability in both of those things, but talking about your own mental health downfalls is a different type of vulnerability… I think it’s popular, and not in a trendy way. I think a lot of people feel more open to talking about it and feel more compelled to talk about. I think Kendrick, for me, was the first person to really super open up about it on To Pimp a Butterfly. Logic, of course, played a big role in that. Then it just continued.”
The continuation, as any number of sources will tell you, is welcome. For one, it’s allowed L.A. VanGogh to venture out and truly connect with his fans. “Me going out and meeting people at events, at performances, and just speaking my truth, I’ve come across so many people that have connected to my music and it continues to grow that way,” he says.
“It was something I tried to stay away from,” VanGogh concludes, combatting his reclusive demeanor. “I often consider myself an introvert. I’m trying to unlearn that and actually go out and meet people that love my music. I was like, ‘Y’all don’t need to know me! Forget that. This is 1973, I’m a mystery!’ But that’s not the case anymore. People wanna connect, and the only way I do that honestly outside of the internet was just to go out and meet people and be more candid. A lot of that came with discovering myself and being more comfortable.”
Episode 2 of L.A. VanGogh's Everything Is Subjective series will be released on Friday, November 30.