Measuring the Shape of Blackness: An Interview with YUNGMORPHEUS

“Every Black person knows exactly what the fuck I’m talking about.”
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Being Black in America is intuitively knowing that your “normal” is nonsensical. You work all day maneuvering a world built to your exclusion. What’s worse, this feeling comes while you try to survive systems always reminding you there’s nothing you can do about it. 

For Colby Campbell, better known as rapper YUNGMORPHEUS, his recent project, BLACK SCHEMATA, is a chance to measure the contortions of daily Black life.

As the twinkling “lo-fi” scene has clawed its way into greater visibility over the past three years, MORPH, 26, has sorted near the periphery. He was born and raised in Miami before trading the warm beaches of Florida for the bitter cold of Boston during his undergraduate education. While in New England, the idea of a music career first sprouted, and MORPH fled that white abyss for a pilgrimage to New York, where music became life. Then, with his sound and identity a match, MORPH took everything to Los Angeles, where he currently resides.

After launching this new decade in January with Bag Talka collaborative project with fellow rapper Pink Siifu, MORPH returns with a warm-up to the full-length project he promises will be released “by the time we can go outside.” If Bag Talk was the goal-setter, BLACK SCHEMATA is a roll call. Taking stock of allies and speaking directly to their stresses.

“There’s so many different ways you have to posture and change your behavior,” MORPH tells me over the phone. ”That’s what the Black Schemata is. I gotta be a fucking chameleon all the time; an ever-changing super perfect chameleon.”

At points, BLACK SCHEMATA casually splashes in anger and violence—a kind of equality by way of discrimination that would prompt the assertion, however misguided, that MORPH is racist to white people. In MORPH’s eyes, the unflinching usage of “cracker” and the slugs sent at cops in his rhymes are a cathartic attempt at evening the scales. But he knows his words mean little in the overall balance. You can’t only be racist to white rap fans—that’s not how racism works—but, at best, you can make them uncomfortable with your catharsis.

BLACK SCHEMATA is a character study of Black survival. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: You were born in Miami, went to college in Boston, moved to New York, and now live in LA. How does each of these places shape your identity?

I say the Florida shit is my foundation. All of my central tenements and ideas and shit come from that place. That’s my culture and shit. Boston was the biggest culture shock, coming from [Florida]. Going to college out there was like, “Damn, where the niggas at? This is fucking nuts.” So, I guess that place was formative in the way that you learn a lot about yourself when there’s a lot of the polar opposite around you. You see a lot of what you are not, and even though it is shitty in the way that was, I learned a lot about myself.

New York was the most… I had to live out there once I formed ideas about what I was trying to do with the music shit. I was like, I might as well just fucking live out here and try and figure it out and just be around areas, even though they gentrified. Just being in spots that these niggas was talking about, you know what I mean? To be listening to Jeru the Damaja in Brownsville, moving around Brooklyn listening to certain niggas... It was like, “Oh word. This is what this feels like. This is what that was about.”

You got to walk in their shoes.

Yeah, definitely. There were certain joints where if I was in a certain spot, I was like, “I’mma roll up and just put that joint on and see what this nigga is talking about.” I wanted to do my due diligence. That probably seeped into what was going on with how my shit was sounding, cause a lot of niggas I was fucking with were just in New York. But, that foundation has been found, so now I’m trying to let niggas know where I’m from. I’mma throw up some Florida shit, so niggas know. So, niggas [will be] like, “Oh, shit, he said something ‘bout Miami hardbody. I get it.”

Is that how you’d explain a record like “Vice City”?

Exactly, that’s why I named that shit [“Vice City”]. That’s why I ran it like that. Cause when my nigga sent me that beat, I was like, “Yo, this sound like niggas ye’d up in 88!” Wild Miami type of shit, back when Miami was thugged out. Miami is a beautiful place, but it was built off a lot of blood and a lot of bread.

And what about Los Angeles?

Just being out here is some different shit. I feel like that’s just some environmental influence. It’s similar to Florida; I’m used to the weather being generally nice and shit like that.

On “FloridaMan,” you feel more explicitly political and mistrustful. Politically and socially, is everything broken but fixable, or is it time to run up some new shit?

Definitely the latter. Ain’t no fixing; you can’t destroy the master’s house with that nigga’s tools. You ain’t about to ask that nigga, [enters white voice] “Hey, so, I know we’ve been having some disagreements, but I was wondering if you could lend me some stuff to tear your house down cause I’m not feeling this.” Nigga, hell no! That nigga ain’t givin’ you shit. He’s gonna give you a gotdamn screwdriver and say, “Word, give me like 20 years. That’s all I got for you.” We have to flip this shit on its head. It has to be dismantled and rebuilt with new principles, new tenements.

I hear some Audre Lorde in there, using the phrase “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” What does freedom look like to you?

I think of all the little holes and barriers you feel on the daily because of these racist capitalist systems, none of those. No, “How I’mma eat?” Having financial freedom, freedom to pursue what you want, the ability to make more for your family. Whatever you want it to be. Freedom to me could look like something else for some motherfucker who just wants to be like, “Freedom for me is having a nice little crib, and having a job I go to on the daily that’s cool, and nobody tries me, and then I come back and have dinner.” Other niggas, like me, want to be out here, breaded out, and do things a different way. I should be able to do that as well. We have to have the imagination to figure out what that even means. And we ain’t given the tools.

And you’re not allowed to have an imagination.

Exactly. That’s something you can work on yourself, but that’s intense self-work because of all the shit that’s in front of you telling you, “Nah.” Hopefully, there’s people around you who can give you other shit to counter that. I was blessed enough to have older heads who gave me enough of the other shit. They were like, “Hey, I know they telling you this. But read this Marcus Garvey and read this Malcolm X autobiography.” Thankfully, I had that, and a lot of niggas don’t have that. It’s easy to be susceptible to all the other bullshit.

Education is just indoctrination.

Exactly.

You rap with a lot of violent language, calling white people “crackers” and rapping about shooting and dodging them. What does that kind of writing bring you?

Yo, that shit is catharsis man. That’s the role all that shit plays for real. And it gives me peace in some way to know that it will be jarring to some ears, especially white ears. I was talking to Liv [Pink Siifu] the other day about that shit. He was talking about how niggas say “cracker” all the time, and I was like, bruh, we have to deal with and see so much bullshit all the time. If nothing else, I’mma make some fucking white person feel uncomfortable when they put on the record. Cause that’s what it’s like every day when a nigga wakes up. I don’t have to listen to a song to hear that. I just gotta turn on the news or go on the internet or talk to the homie. Sometimes you gotta get shit off in other ways because the head is a strong thing. [Music] is my way to let that shit out.

Shoutout to weed and raps cause [without them], I’d probably be locked up on some crazy shit.

What is “Black Schemata”?

A [schema] is a framework of thought. So, I was thinking about ways niggas have to maneuver through the world. Black people, to make it happen, have to jump into so many different thought patterns or assume so many different behaviors in so many different situations to get what’s most advantageous to [us]. We be doing a lot of fucking mental work every day to figure it out between code-switching, to dealing with the homies, to romantic things. There’s so many different ways you have to posture and change your behavior. That’s what the Black Schemata is. I gotta be a fucking chameleon all the time; an ever-changing super perfect chameleon. That might mean I have to change every two seconds, but it can’t be flawed. You gotta switch to Black to cream in point two seconds, but can’t nobody see no black in the cream.

And that’s work.

That’s what I’m saying. That’s so many different types of work. Niggas know what it is. Every Black person knows exactly what the fuck I’m talking about.

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