Meet Malkovich, a rapping entrepreneur from L.A. who has logged more airline miles than most of us combined.
Having returned to the U.S. from a prolonged stint in Namibia and Europe, just last week he released a new video for a song of his most recent studio album, Great Expectations, available on Bandcamp.
The Iran-born, U.S.-raised rapper may be known in some circles for his “I Ran So Far Away” song and video, but he is also brushed up on his politics (He asked me to mention BeforeTheChador.com and to ask you all to catch him on social media).
Malkovich epitomizes the spirit of the L.A. rapper-slash-hustler, and MIMO caught up with him via email to discuss his travels, origins and, of course, music.
MIMO: Where and when did you come up in L.A. and how did you initially link up with Gershwin BLX (correct me if I’m wrong about the clique name)?
Malkovich: I moved to LA in 1992, straight to West LA. I had been to America three times before, but 1992 was when I went for good. We moved straight to my grandfather’s apartment in the Fairfax district – the same grandfather you see on the cover of Great Expectations. His one-bedroom apartment was where most members of my family would stay as soon as they made it to America. We were there a few months before my mom got us an apartment on the Westside. It was me, my sisters, mom, grandparents and a bunch of cousins and uncles. We just sat around and cooked and ate and watched cartoons and shot the breeze about the past and the future and played music loud at night while the old folks cried for home. Amazing times. My mom moved my two younger sisters and I and worked her ass off for years to support three kids in a two-bedroom apartment with no job qualifications. We all went through our own headaches trying to get our U.S. citizenship. I finally got mine two years ago. I started Gershwin BLX with two high school friends in 1996. I’m the only member who has been in the crew from its beginning to today. When Odd Future came out, several people wondered aloud to me if those guys might have grown up listening to us. Besides just being a bunch of difficult kids, crews are difficult to maintain and keep momentum. It’s hard enough keeping yourself on pace, but two, let alone ten people? RZA deserves a Pulitzer. One focused, talented, hardworking person is a force. Three or even two is enough to take over an industry.
MIMO: Are you a fan of John Malkovich the actor? Is that why you named yourself after him?
Malkovich: I am, but more so the movie Being John Malkovich. It just got in my head. I saw it three times in the theater when it came out, and every time I see it, it hits me a different way. I used the name because in the movie people would pay to take rides in his head, and I like to think that’s what I offer people who listen to my music. I also chose Malkovich because I think I’m his rap counterpart: a very skilled rapper with many amazing projects under his belt who almost nobody has heard of. Sometimes it drives me insane just thinking about how much the world is sleeping on me, but then I think about how happy I am that I love making music so much. I’m proud to represent hip-hop, I think it’s one of the world’s most important forces. I have enough unreleased music to drop comfortably until I’m damn near 40, and I make more every week. The way I see it, Beethoven and Bach didn’t worry about anything as much as the music. The music was their legacy, and my music is mine in the same way. The music I make is dead serious. I’m a unique person making the effort to live a unique life, and a big part of the reason I do that is to enrich my music. Some guy sitting on his ass in the same town he’s been in all his life and recording when it suits him is probably not a guy I want to listen to. I think we only live once and we need to explore our world, and meet as many people as we can, and reject the lies and boundaries forced on us by each other, and I’m living my beliefs. The result is significant music.
MIMO: So this global journey you are on, it is not quite an organized tour. It’s more guerilla style than anything and you initially set up shop in Windhoek, Namibia, for what, three or four months? Why Namibia? How’d it work out down there?
Malkovich: I was in Windhoek for a total of eight months, with a two-month trip to Southeast Asia in the middle. A Namibian producer named Becoming Phill saw my “Iran So Far Away” video and followed me on Twitter. We got to talking and he sent me a beat which I turned into “What I Know.” A year later, after I had already thrown all my stuff away and gave up the apartment and was floating around Atlanta, we decided I’d fly down there and live with him and record. Two months later I was there. I wouldn’t have gone down there unless I had a feeling that Phill was one of my tribe, and he is. I’m going back down there next year to finish the album and work on another venture he and I are working on. Namibia is an amazing place full of talent and opportunity and great people and I can’t wait to get back there and help put the place on the map one way or the other. It’s one of my homes. It reaffirmed my faith in the idea that good people you’ve never met are waiting for you around every corner, that reality can beat your dreams.
MIMO: What does your family think of your travels?
Malkovich: Overall they understand. My mom’s side of the family are Iranian Jews. Nobody travels more than Jews. Jews were mostly traveling merchants back in Iran. My mom’s side of the family made the leap from Iran to America and in many ways they still haven’t unpacked. My dad’s side of the family are naval types, from the south of England. World War II, the battle of Normandy, all the way to ancient pirate ships that are still docked in my father’s hometown. My dad travels nonstop and pretty much has one bag to his name. I come from sailors and salesmen. Constantly moving feels more natural to me than maintaining an apartment and a civilian life did. Traveling like this is hard on the health sometimes, but the inspiration it gives me more than makes up for it. I always put the brakes on long-term commitments – relationships, jobs, investments – because I knew that one day I was going to do exactly what I’ve done: throw everything away and travel until something enormous happens. So in 2011 when another half-hearted attempt at being normal fell apart, I decided it was now or never. And here I am.