Davis is the best kind of fan, one who respects the culture he loves enough to learn about it and from it, not the entitled nightmare currently plaguing the New Yorker and the New York Times. References to the stories and songs he loves are baked into his conversations and inked onto his skin, in the case of a Lilith mask tattoo from Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Davis Blackwell grew up in Chatham on the Eastside of Chicago, not far from Indiana. He attended Columbia College, where he studied creative writing and graduated with a BFA in 2017. Davis became friends and roommates with rapper/producer Joshua Virtue through the local DIY arts scene. He put prose on hold when he started rapping—less than two years ago—finally obliging Virtue’s demands. As UDABABY, the duo’s righteous anger was quickly embraced by the South Side punk scene.
On an unseasonably warm September evening, Davis sounds off on his favorite anime (Akira, Neon Genesis Evangelion but not the new Netflix dub), Wu-Tang Clan members (two-way tie for Rae and Ghost, GZA “a very sturdy #2”), literature (Faulkner, Joyce, Pynchon), and samurai movies (“Shogun Assassin is just Lone Wolf & Cub spliced together in the ‘80s when nobody gave a shit”). All his favorites blend together in the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of Green Parakeet Suite, his debut mixtape, out today.
In 2018, Davis found kindred spirits in Why? Records, the Chicago label/collective run by him, Virtue, Malci and Ruby Watson. His debut project is yet another compelling release from the crew. Green Parakeet Suite is 21 minutes of no-holds-barred raps over hazy beats. “Pick a side, no fence-sitting, Tsuchikages or Maxwell demons / Got the shit that’ll leave ya fiendin' and cast outta Eden,” he raps on “Sick Sad World,” weaving together Naruto, the Bible, and thermodynamic thought experiments all in the span of two lines. It’s the kind of rap made by someone who loves the act of rapping, ready to be replayed and decoded.
“You could look at ‘Kirikou.’ There’s a lot of West African references in that song: Kirikou the title itself, Ninki Nanka is a myth of West African folklore. Even just diaspora in general, the Duvalier dynasty,” the rapper explains. “Without looking into that or having prior knowledge of those things, it would just sound like word vomit.”
I met Davis at his Bridgeport apartment to talk about the new mixtape, local parakeets, and white people wearing FUBU. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: I know Milo is a big influence on you and the other Why? Records members. How does he influence your music?
Davis: Lyrically, I try to fill my shit. I actually saw some shit on Twitter earlier today that was a slight to rappers I consider myself with: “thesaurus rappers.” Rory and I both draw from DOOM, we are thesaurus rappers, unfortunately and fortunately. It’s a matter of tutelage.
What is the significance of your project title, Green Parakeet Suite?
The album is the controlled chaos of the ether of my mind, so these songs are like little blips on a GPS. But also, there are green parakeets here. As a shorty, some of them used to congregate in a tree at the end of my block, and I’d always try to figure out how they got here. Some oldhead told me this fuckin’ oldhead lie. “It’s from the World’s Fair in the 1900s and they got loose.” Lie! Apparently, in the ‘70s, people were bringing them over for illegal bird trading. Either way, it’s a metaphor for n****s—beautiful beings that are displaced.
“Baby Teeth” ends with the idea of whites stealing your teeth. Is that about rap or something deeper than rap?
I have these [baby teeth on the bottom of my mouth]. Never had adult teeth under them, it’s a one in a few thousand type of thing, it’s genetic, my mom has it as well. I always wanted to do something with that. White theft, in general, has always weighed on me, when it comes to creative ideas, physical objects, people. Is it about rap? Yes. Is it about more than rap? Yes.
There are also lines about white people wearing FUBU and boofing kratom. Have you seen either of those?
White people wearing FUBU, I have seen. No disrespect, but the hubris of white people, you would be surprised. Boofing kratom... I cannot say I have seen that.
You reference George Saunders’ The Braindead Megaphone on “Hedgehog’s Dilemma.” How does that relate to other rappers?
It’s not a bullshit-ass knock to mumble rappers or even the term “mumble rappers.” I find that to be very shortsighted and oldhead-ish. Young Thug is a genius, Playboi Carti is amazing. Just because I don’t make that kind of music as a contemporary doesn’t mean I don’t fuck with them. I see rap as a bloodsport, you gotta talk shit. I've experienced shows where I realized rappers weren’t saying shit, just spewing nonsense gibberish babble. When you’re in this sport, there should be intent. I might not even agree with that intent, but if I don’t see intent, then I’m really at your head.
On “E. 87th & Stony,” you reference Faulkner and Shakespeare with “sound and fury signifying everything.” Where did that come from?
Yeah, I flipped it. I love Faulkner. The Sound and the Fury probably has my favorite passage in literature, the part about the watch. That song is very pertinent to the album. I admit that song is an “exercise in exhaustion,” it’s fucking hard to rap [laughs]. It’s signifying everything that I am, that I’ve grown to be, that I’ve learned.
You rap about “investing in our communities” and “rocking praise art baseball caps and some pristine Sharkula hoodies” on “Baby Teeth.” What communities are you referring to, and how do you want to invest in them?
I want to be able to support creatives, specifically black creatives. POC as well but I want to focus on black and young. If you nurture creativity at a young age, it will flourish even greater. There’s a lot to be done, but it’s a laundry list: food deserts, gun violence, this, that. That’s what I’d like to do. I don’t like to see my people struggle. If I’m able to not be struggling, I’mma do everything in my power to make sure me and mine are good.