They say much of a person's creative process comes after prolonged periods of boredom. In that case, it's probably a good thing that rapper Greg Enemy worked for "three miserable years" behind a desk in the Kansas City Police Department, according to another interview, before he returned to the music scene.
I came across Enemy's Sophisticated Goon Shit while perusing Street Etiquette and was immediately struck by not only the video but the way Enemy rhymed: minimalistic, yet self-assured with a bit of unintentional genius. From there I found out Enemy had just performed with The Cool Kids last week and seems to be keeping himself busy. Though he still considers himself "a young kid" from Kansas, Enemy curates his sound, look, rhymes and beats with emotive spatterings from a vault filled with Francois Truffaut films and James Baldwin novels. Earmilk spoke to the 23-year old rapper about everything from idolizing Sammy Davis Jr. to being stuck on an island with Talking Heads.
Greg Enemy – Muggsy Bogues
GE: When I was coming up with the name, I kind of went through a bunch of different rap names and nothing felt like "me", and then I tried to think of something that was a little more significant and was a derivative of my original, government-given name, Greg Henry. Linguistically, it sounds like that. I think it sounds cool and looks good on paper. And just on some rapper shit, it just sounds like a good MC name. If you want to be the best, you have to be everyone else' opponent and it just made sense. It just made sense: I'm 5'3", 120 pounds, I just found the humor in calling myself 'enemy' because I'm very non-threatening.
EM: I think I heard you mention James Baldwin in your lyrics. What are your main sources of inspiration?
GE: I like to portray a wide variety of influences in my music and my writing. Outkast is a big inspiration, Mos Def, too. But it's also like my favorite writers are Albert Camus, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison – I like to use their styles and their subject matter. I also get a lot of inspiration from directors. One of my biggest sources of stylizing the way i write is from Wes Anderson and Spike Lee and Francois Trummaut – I'm always really open to finding inspiration from a bunch of different sources. I'm a visual artist also, that's what I started to do before I got heavy into music. I look to a lot of painters and illustrators, I try to get a wide variety of inspiration and I definitely try to make sure I portray that it's not just me rapping about rap but being progressive.
GE: Yeah, it's a lot of bits and pieces and in all my verses and I like when people can catch those things. It kind of gives people an insight into my writing. And if you don't get the references, I always try to make it invitational. Not only do you understand my mind a little more but you're learning something too.
GE: Whenever I write songs, and come up for concepts for my songs, I try to make them as honest and as personal as I can, without being too autobiographical. I try to get my mindset and my ideas across. All of the songs I write don't necessarily say, 'This is where I'm from' and 'I was born here,' but I think people can get that from my music. I think a lot of my friends are into the same thing but I really would not be the greatest person to talk to about Kansas City scene. The Kansas City scene is self-contained. What im trying to do is not be a part of the bubble. When people listen to my music and hear me, I do tell them I'm from Kansas City but my particular ideas and sound and things, I dont think that's a derivative of what Kansas City sounds like. I do have lot of love and respect for my friends here, and for those who are producers and musicians here, like Tech N9ne, I've always been fans of theirs.
GE: With everything I do, I try to make multiple meanings or you can make your own meaning. I came up with the video idea and then I came up with the title and then the song. So it was kind of backward. I like the duality of being sophisticated but also being a hoodlum. I know for me and a lot of my friends who are from the hood, but who also read books and like art, it plays on the duality, I think. I was writing the song and dropping references from Freud to James Baldwin. And I'm drinking tea in the beginning and reading the book. And at the end I'm wearing a mask and robbing a house.
GE: I try to always take my time when I'm writing my songs. I know a lot of people like to write the first thing that comes to mind. I usually sit with the beat for a while and write bits and pieces. If I come up with something, I try to come up with better ways to say it, or more you could say, wittier ways to say it. I always try to make sure my songs have similar styles and make off-beat references. People catch the subtleties and I think it adds to the experience.
1. Outkast – My favorite group and people can definitely tell from listening to me. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Stankonia.
2. Mos Def – Same way that Outkast was big influence, I admire the way Mos has progressed in his career.
3. Miles Davis – First jazz artist I got into. My grandfather was really into him and things like that. And I mean, his entire catalog is incredible. But he's definitely a large influence.
4. Michael Jackson – That's probably my first real musical influence, even since I was little, I danced around in penny loafers. I think he'd be on everyone's list.
5. Talking Heads – They are the greatest band ever, in my opinion, in my personal opinion. They are my favorite band. I watched their perofrmance, Stop Making Sense – the best performance I've seen in my life
6. Funkadelic – George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bill Bass, all of them. They're a big one I'd definitely have to keep with me.
GM: I would probably have to say, of all of my influences and all those I admire, the one that is the biggest is Sammy Davis Junior. That is the one person I would want to do something with. It's jsut a lot of reasons; I think arguably he was the greatest entertainer that ever lived and definitely the most talented of all the Rat Pack, I don't care what anyone says. He could sing, dance, entertain. The one thing people dont recognize is he wasn't very tall, he was probably my height but he was a successful black entertainer when that wasn't the norm of his time. He was half Puerto Rican, half black, converted to Judaism and had a weird eye – all these shortcomings but despite all of those things he was still a dope dude. He was still incredible and people respected him for his craft.