Sitting on a cushioned bench in the back room of the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, Phil Green takes a drag from a hookah hose and exhales a stream of hazy smoke that hangs in the fading afternoon sunlight before recalling an early memory.
In that memory, Green’s about 6 years old, riding around in their mom’s car (Green identifies as genderqueer), and a Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill cassette belonging to Green’s older brother is playing on the stereo. “Most illingest b-boy, well, I got that feeling / I am most ill and I’m rhymin’ and stealin’. / Ali Baba and the 40 thieves / Ali Baba and the 40 thieves,” goes the first track, “Rhymin’ & Stealin’.”
The increasing volume and attitude of the repeated line “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves” snagged Green’s attention, and in that moment, Green understood the power of music. “It was getting me hype, even when I was little,” Green says, chewing on a white-painted fingernail between puffs of hookah.
Green, 27, who makes electronic-, metal- and punk-influenced hip-hop under the moniker dogfuck, has since realized that music is the only thing that has consistently made sense. Don’t ask Green to explain exactly how or why music makes sense; it just does. “Trying to describe a song is one of the dumbest things a person can do. Music is good because music is good,” says Green with a blend of sincerity and sass; music is something that speaks directly to the intangible within us while facilitating an understanding of that which is outside of us.
Music can move people to do just about anything, Green says. “You can sing someone to sleep; you can try to comfort yourself. Also, potentially, it can start revolutions and shit. Music well-applied can do all of these things.”
For the sake of those who might want to catch Green’s Rugged Arts set at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Thursday night, this reporter will attempt to describe Green’s application of music so that listeners can tune in to what Green’s doing on stage.
“My music is heavily motivated by things I’m afraid of,” says Green. Things like Nazis, the government, disease, dying alone, being put in the proverbial box, leading an unaccomplished life, being an asshole and making mediocre music, among other things.
Most dogfuck songs say something similar, but in different ways, Green says, and what they say is that, “you suck; that’s okay. The world’s pretty awful; that’s okay too. Don’t take bullshit from people; don’t let them lie to you.” Be alive and be aware.
Green says that a lyric off of “Delusion,” a track on Triangle, a forthcoming dogfuck album, sums up dogfuck’s musical intention pretty well: “Whatever picture depicted is aggregate / When I stand up, all you ever see is you starin’ back and shit. / My love is vast as that chasm is / Art is the act of collapsing it / But life is expectation management.”
Green began writing lyrics somewhat accidentally; rhyming is a musical act that requires no equipment whatsoever. But good lyrics are hard to write, and Green is seemingly never satisfied by what they’ve produced. “I’m not trying to be an asshole, but I’m a fairly intelligent dude,” he says. “I’m aware that I have talent for this shit. I just feel like I should have been applying myself for years up until this point. I make decent music; I could be making really good shit. It gets frustrating, witnessing the gap.”
What does come easily to Green is beatmaking. So far this year, Green’s released six different instrumental-only beat tapes on dogfuck’s SoundCloud page, including a 26-track concept beat tape, The Alphabet (or, The Entire Fucking Alphabet, as it’s called on SoundCloud), where Green created a beat for each letter of the English alphabet. A letter is a symbol that represents a specific speech sound; letters are building blocks for words, for languages. But Green imagined a deeper, more complex sonic landscape for each letter—if A were a song instead of just a single sound, what would it sound like? What about B, C or X? It’s an assertion of “that’s what it sounds like now, [because] I made it that way,” Green says of the tracks, named “Number A,” “Number B” and so on, conflating letters and numbers when normally, they’d be separated into two different spheres.
“I don’t know how much I believe this, but, [maybe] people are only free when things are going ‘wrong,’” says Green through a cloud of smoke. “Seeing this hookah on the table, I probably wouldn’t register it as anything in particular,” because it “belongs” on a table in the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, says Green, but see a hookah in a cemetery and you’d wonder what the heck it was doing there. “Those rule-breaking moments, that discloses the world,” says Green.