Michigan rapper Chris Orrick has lived out an entire rap career over the past six years. In 2013, Orrick, then performing under the stage name Red Pill, first gained national attention after Detroit producer Apollo Brown recruited him to be one-third of his blue-collar rap project, Ugly Heroes. The group released a pair of acclaimed albums, Ugly Heroes and Everything In Between, and toured Europe. In 2015, he landed a solo record deal with indie rap label Mello Music Group, where he has released five albums and two EPs in five years.
Then Chris Orrick died.
Of course, Chris Orrick the rapper is still alive and well—he released two LPs in 2019—but early last year, he was tagged in an eerie tweet with a link to an obituary for a cryptozoologist from Raleigh, North Carolina with his name. After reading what the other Orrick’s peers and family wrote in the obit, the rapper was left with a harried feeling, almost as if he was reading his eulogy. One friend described the deceased Orrick as someone who “didn’t have much control over” his demons and lived in solitude.
The cryptozoologist’s death helped spark the inspiration behind Orrick’s latest album, a collaborative release with Mello Music producer The Lasso titled I Read That I Was Dead, which is his most adventurous and ambitious release since his 2016 LP, Instinctive Drowning.
“They were talking about a man that struggled with his demons, with his bullshit, but was invested in his art,” Orrick tells me over the phone. “Just shit that resonated with me, and I wondered what that meant. What were the demons he struggled with?”
Orrick, the rapper, has made a career out of struggling with his demons. Throughout his discography, he writes about his problems with alcohol, his mother’s death, and political issues facing America. Orrick raps with the candor and honesty that makes the listener feel like they’re sitting with him at a dive bar in Michigan.
Before the holidays, DJBooth hopped on the phone with Orrick to talk about how his latest album feels like a second chance at evolving his sound, how Earl Sweatshirt inspired him to create shorter records, and how he’s stumbled upon some of his best ideas on accident.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Your new project, I Read That I Was Dead, feels like you’re getting a second chance to experiment with different production styles and sounds.
Chris Orrick: When I get into a similar vibe of a sound, I get bored quickly. I’ve been making records since I was 14, 15 years old. When I get into a groove of making a certain sound, it becomes something I enjoy. Portraits and Out to Sea, those are easy records for me to do that. And I love [it]. But my mind wanders a bit, and when I started working on this record with The Lasso, he was giving me beats that felt similar to the shit I’ve done before. It wasn’t clicking. I felt uninterested in the process. I sat down with him at his house and started going over some ideas for changing the sound of the record.
When I expressed doing the [record]—some of it for me was Rage Against the Machine influence, some Death Grips influenced—he was into the idea, and immediately started sending me shit that was a little heavier, a little more industrial, not the soul samples.
On a handful of songs on this new record (“Singapore, MI,” “Wendigo,” and “Specimens”), your writing feels a little more metaphor-driven and less straightforward.
It was more out of necessity first and then metaphor driven writing fitting the record’s concept and sound. Most of my writing is autobiographical and observational realism. I became bored [with] writing in that style, but also society itself became stranger than fiction. I don’t think every artist is beholden to the idea that you have to use your art to comment on current social/political issues, but I felt a personal responsibility to push my writing that way. It also seemed impossible living in our country without it infiltrating my writing.
You haven’t done a one-producer album since Instinctive Drowning. What made you decide to work with The Lasso for a full-length record?
I love single producer records. I worked with Hir-O on The Kick before [signing with] Mello, Instinctive Drowning with Ill Poetic, now this with The Lasso. I’m big on conceptual records from a thematic/lyrical standpoint, and I think single producer instrumentation can reinforce that. It’s also just so much fucking simpler logistically. Having to gather stems or even fucking high-quality bounces of single track beats from producers, is an infuriating process. Rappers piss off producers; producers are annoying as hell too.
With that said, it was also just an easy creative decision. Lasso and I clicked. He allowed me to work in some sounds I haven’t worked in for a long time. He’s also one of the nicest dudes in the world.
How close were you with The Lasso before making this record?
I knew Andy from the Michigan music scene. He had booked me years ago in Detroit for a show when he was a talent buyer. We were cool but not friends or anything. I consider Andy a good friend now. Getting to work with him in person, getting to travel to Athens, GA, and literally live in the studio apartment at Chase Park Transduction for about a week, that’s huge.
What was the inspiration behind putting out this record so soon after releasing Out to Sea?
Yeah, it was quick. Output is the only way you can continue going in this industry. Especially at the level where there are expectations, rightfully so, about sales and shit like that. That makes it, so you have to keep pushing material out at a clockwork-like level, where shit has to keep coming out. Putting out a record in May and then in November—they’re completely different albums. Out To Sea is a tropical escapism kind of record, still touching on stuff like mental health and the world. [I Read That I Was Dead] is more of a deep dive into a darker version of that.
[These last two albums are] 30-35 minute long records. I enjoyed skipping the idea of having to hit 40-45 minutes for a project because that was based on CDs and shit being a certain length. I’ve enjoyed this new era of shit being—sit down for a half-hour, and you’re done with a record. Earl Sweatshirt’s [Some Rap Songs] gave me the confidence to say fuck it. If you hit nine songs and you feel good about it, I’m not pushing to put out a 15-17 track record that fills out an 80-minute CD. That’s ridiculous nowadays.
The concept of I Read That I Was Dead came from reading about a guy with your name, who studied like mythical creatures or something?
Cryptozoology, I had to look that shit up myself when this happened. Literally, man, I got on Twitter one morning, and someone in that world tweeted, “Chris Orrick, the cryptozoologist, not to be confused [with] Chris Orrick, the musician, has died.” He was well known in the study of cryptozoology, which again I didn’t know. I knew what BigFoot and Chapukabra were, but it wasn’t a hobby of mine. That was the shit that the dude studied, and he was a weird guy. There were some moments in the obituary that resonated.
“Wendigo” was an actual cryptid. There were some other ideas on the record like that. But it’s this random thing that happened. That was Instinctive Drowning, the same shit—just random fucking ideas.