Black Noi$e Maneuvered Through 'Oblivion' and Brought Some Friends Along for the Ride
The Detroit producer’s surreal new project approaches the end with optimism.
If the end of the world sounds like Black Noi$e’s Oblivion, then we should all embrace the forthcoming apocalypse with open arms. The Detroit producer’s new album isn’t a call-to-action for the Earth to purge itself of a human species that has wreaked havoc on its natural resources. It’s also not a foreboding soundtrack to an episode of Doomsday Preppers. Instead, Noi$e’s new full-length is an experimental force that taps into his hometown’s genre-defying history, Detroit footwork homages and off-kilter vocal samples that will make your ears perk up and your head nod. Oblivion embraces the end because it signals a new beginning.
Black Noi$e, born Rob Mansel, doesn’t take his hometown’s pace for granted. “I’m not in a super rush to really do anything. I feel like part of being in Detroit affords me the opportunity to do that because I’m not constantly like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,’” he told HYPEBEAST about his organic approach. “In New York some people are paying like $2,000 a month in rent and we’re not doing that here. This isn’t the same type of situation or urgency to have to get something done.” The LP benefits from that slow cooked patience. Black Noi$e is the type of person who will drive the near-10 hours from his native Detroit to Bushwick, Brooklyn just to grab a slice of pizza, tap in with friends, then head home before the sun goes down.
Oblivion marks the first non-Earl Sweatshirt release on the rapper’s Tan Cressida Records imprint. It was a project years in the making without a proper deadline or particular destination in mind. The producer started formulating the tracklist at the beginning of the coronavirus quarantine but the theme of Oblivion was already decided upon well before life shifted into isolation and unprecedented political turmoil.
Noi$e is a unifying force in a tight knit community of thoughtful and enigmatic vocalists. On the project, the producer utilizes their original voices, recontextualizing each on beats they haven’t rapped or harmonized on before. That chemistry flows throughout Oblivion. New York emcee MIKE brought his bass octave vocals over ominous intro laughter and dark piano chord progressions. Liv.e’s airy and soulful singing were the byproduct of a 10-minute recording session in Seattle, laid down backstage during someone else’s soundcheck. Chattanooga, Tennessee rapper BbyMutha and her southern drawl entered a world located in an alternate universe lodged between Crash Bandicoot level soundtracks and Detroit’s 1980s techno scene — just with more bass.
In a renaissance of producer compilation tapes, Black Noi$e managed to cultivate the best out of his collaborators and make the album his own. That’s no small feat considering song stems were sent across time zones and high-speed internet connections. Through purgatory-esque insulation his crew remained close enough to keep the synergy alive. “At the end of the day I’m still a product of the internet. There’s definitely roots of all the sides from Detroit — you can’t escape that being from around here — but it was still the internet,” he said of the steady stream of music coming his way at an early age.
On “Mo(u)rning” Earl Sweatshirt opens up with, “Same time, hurdling what I had to/ I learned to adapt way better than I could plan.” That sentiment rings especially true given this ever-changing climate. Oblivion is a testament to Black Noi$e’s trust in where his creativity will lead him even if it’s resulted in an inherent nihilism.
In an interview with HYPEBEAST, the producer opened up about putting the moving pieces of his new project together and the serendipitous nature of how it all aligned.
HYPEBEAST: So how are you living these days? Where are you calling in from?
Black Noi$e: I’m home in Detroit but I was just in New York yesterday actually, in Bushwick. I just drove out there for like eight hours then drove back. Just for this super quick trip. It was pretty crazy. The city looks like a whole different city. There were like only two people outside in Chinatown. I was like, “Yo this is wild. This is a different place right now.” Everything is boarded up and spray painted over. Man it’s like some Escape from New York type sh*t.
Do you find that the quarantine is affecting Detroit in a similar way?
Nah, we don’t have no fifth street or no SoHo so our sh*t didn’t really get hit like that. At least not this time with the first wave, it’s not like New York. It looks way different in Detroit, that’s for sure. And especially when there’s nothing to do and you’re paying like over $2,000 for a small space, a New York space, and you’re not supposed to leave — that’s pretty intense.
I think a lot of artists are starting to realize that you don’t need to live in New York or Los Angeles to thrive. But it’s also an interesting time to release an album, especially one called Oblivion.
Some of [the album] feels like parts of downtown New York. I’m like, “What is going on?” I’m excited to drop the album and at the same time the way we just receive things now is changing — the way we listen to music, how we interpret music, the settings of where we play music at — it’s all changing. So it’s a wild time, for sure.
When making the record, were you creating sounds in anticipation of touring behind it? Or were you in the middle of it when the quarantines began and that informed some of your creative decisions?
It kinda worked the opposite way. It sounded the way it did already and then everything happened. The title of the album, Oblivion, it’s really about moving forward, we really have no idea what’s happening. Well we have some sort of an idea, but do we really know the full spectrum of all the facts of what’s really going on? That’s what the album feels like to me and that’s what it felt like before everything that has happened. It’s a perfect match. And that’s not even to sound like I’m excited for the end (laughs) but the album just happened the way it did. We’re still here though. We’re not going anywhere. Hopefully there’s still some optimism in there.
It definitely feels like now is the golden age for producers to create their own full-length projects. Would you agree with that sentiment?
Definitely right now, I might just be tapped into that producer algorithm on my timelines so I see a lot of those conversations. But also with my own project I worked with a lot of people that I really know in real life and the stories they’re telling on their record. I feel what they’re saying so it’s really about speaking through them as well as the music.
Detroit has such a diverse music scene. You grew up playing in punk bands and exploring different genres, so how did your hometown influence your musical output?
I always loved to get, not out of the city, but travel and see other sh*t as well while incorporating the things that I learned along the way. The knowledge and respect for music that’s here [in Detroit] it’s ingrained in my process and how I think about music in general.
Growing up there were so many different things. When I was super little I was listening to sh*t like Jackson 5, the radio would play Smashing Pumpkins but also like Bush (laughs). But then there was Cash Money stuff from the radio. I was an only child so I was just listening, flipping through different stations and would be like, “Oh man, I want to just listen to everything that’s on here.”
Detroit radio is some of the best radio out there. When I was a kid it was a different time, you were able to play different sh*t even at prime times on the radio. You could get away with something that’s like from down the street. Now all these radio stations are linked up and during prime time hours you can only play this type of song 20 times over. Detroit strayed away from that.
What was it about the punk and hardcore scene that stood out to you early on?
Once I went to my first live shows, there was this whole group of people, just from word of mouth, that knew about some sh*t that was a different world to me. Things were happening on this really local level where everyone comes together, that was completely DIY — shows at like VFW halls and Knights of Columbus halls and sh*t like that. I was intrigued by how that sh*t even worked. I loved going to the shows to feel that different type of energy.
I came from a skateboarding perspective on music, old videos even. Like I said, I was an only child so I didn’t have any basis to go off of where it’s like, “This is what I should be listening to or this is what I should be thinking about.” I had to figure that out and find what I like, what kind of things I wanted to get into.
I feel like that DIY mentality definitely shows throughout your music and the experimental sounds on this record. Your latest music video with BbyMutha, “Mutha Magick” is a perfect example of that. How did you guys connect?
We linked up on tour a few years ago. It was Earl, Liv.e, Na-Kel Smith. BbyMutha was on half the tour so we just became friends through that. We’d stay up late listening to music then start recording songs and sh*t. I had that beat for some time after the tour and I felt that her flow would definitely kill this beat. With her voice, I really enjoyed the track she sent back.
I don’t know if you grew up playing Crash Bandicoot, but there’s a certain level where Crash is in a sewer jumping over eels and the “Mutha Magick” instrumental brought me straight back to that. It was experimental, electronic but also strangely nostalgic.
That’s fire you said that because I just downloaded the Crash Bandicoot trilogy again so I’m about to dive into that (laughs).
The last time I saw you on stage was opening up for Anderson .Paak’s “Best Teef In The Game” Tour alongside Earl. How did being his tour DJ help you grow?
Just more respect for the music. I feel like what’s always at the forefront is finding new things and respecting where things are coming from. There’s always a search so it’s a good place to be. Earl’s my brother. It’s beyond the music. The song that we did, [“Mo(u)ning”] we’ve had the song and I was just like, “Do you mind if I put this one on there?” And he said for sure. But that’s just my brother. That’s family.
Back to the Detroit connection, you had Danny Brown and Zelooperz on the album. Danny’s track, “1999,” it really brought me back to Atrocity Exhibition Danny with the industrial sounds you used on the percussion. How did those two collaborations happen?
It was fire because I’ve known Danny and Z for years so it was one of those things where I always wanted to do something but never knew what to do. When I made the beat it sounded like some slowed-down Detroit footwork type sh*t and I felt it would be cool to see what he thought about it and just sent it. [Danny] was like, “Yeah, I got something for this.” Nothing came together too forced — everything was super natural just because most of the people on this are friends and people I really want to do something with. It’s never too hard to get something together.
Your work with Zelooperz too, it always seems to stand out. You guys connected in February for “Tryna figure out where my phone at?” and it was high-energy and the visual was super memorable. What is it about his energy that meshes so well with yours?
It’s been that level since day one. It’s never been like, “Oh sh*t, I’m about to slow down.” It’s always been on that level since I’ve known that man. It’s hard to even explain Zelooperz properly and I feel like if I say something else it wouldn’t do it justice. His energy is inspiring to say the least.
Another major feature of this album was that you got Pink Siifu to go back to rapping after his militant punk record earlier this year. What was it about that collaboration that made you champion it as the title track of the project?
I don’t know why I wanted to go with that one, but he’s basically speaking on the state of the country right now. We really need something else. We have to get what we came for at this moment in time. And I’m excited about that.
You mention the cautious optimism you have in the record despite it being called Oblivion, so how are you feeling about the current times with the election and the wave of protests happening in America right now? How are you keeping that optimism alive?
I thoroughly agree with all sides of the protests. If it’s a riot, a loot, a fight back, in any way that it has to happen I’m all for it. But the state of the country and our leaders? I have little faith for what’s going on and I really feel like my optimism is with the fight of the people and not the fight of this country because it’s looking bleak right now for the country itself. The passports have changed up, we can’t go nowhere. We have the fight for freedoms but they’re just continually getting taken away. And that’s not even talking about the pandemic. It’s really bleak so I hope something comes from the protests because I don’t believe in the leaders doing something more than we can do for ourselves.
I feel that with musicians having more time than ever to focus on new music, a lot of this year’s soundtrack has been backed by politically-driven songs. How do you feel about music’s role in the current wave of protests?
I appreciate the people making songs directly aimed at the situation but also at the same time, music is gonna be doing what it does regardless because of the time it’s being put out. So I’m not actively searching for protest music but just the songs in general are gonna soundtrack that because of what’s going on. I feel like Pop Smoke really soundtracked New York’s uprising and it’s not as political in that sense but it really was just a backdrop to the end of what was going on. I feel like all music right now is gonna be geared towards the movement unless you’re on some bullsh*t and not speaking truthful. I appreciate what’s coming out right now to say the least.
A lot of your creative decisions and even the relationships that you cultivate with your collaborators come off as these natural occurrences that really aren’t forced. Is that your approach to life outside of music, too?
In general, yeah. The music just happens to link up at points. My whole life has been a natural progression. I don’t want to force anything at any time. I don’t wanna force friends. The only thing I believe the force should be towards is pushing back and getting what you want or deserve. Like anything else, it’s gonna happen regardless — if you’re doing what you think you should be doing, then something’s gonna happen naturally. That’s really been my process since I’ve been a kid. I’ve never really thought about it. I just always did what I felt like I wanted to do. I just made those possibilities myself and never took an opportunity for granted.
Do you have any advice on how to incorporate patience and the ability to not force things? I feel like those are super valuable skill sets especially during the quarantine period.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. That’s really my only advice in life right now. Don’t be too hard on yourself.