Despot Still Wants to Be a Rich Drug Dealer
On the afternoon of Friday, September 19, El-P decided to let off some steam in 140 characters or less. "this motherfucker @despotroast," the MC tweeted, referencing his friend and Queens, NY-bred, Brooklyn-based rapper Despot, "lives like 10 blocks away AND is driving and is still 42 minutes late. and THAT, kids, is where his album is." Despot -- a.k.a. Alec Reinstein -- protests the charges leveled against him. "First of all, El said 10 blocks. He don't live 10 blocks away from me. He lives like, pfft, 20 blocks away from me," Reinstein, 32, says of his current tour mate, speaking from Charlottesville, Va. "And he lives in a shitty-ass fucking part of Williamsburg where you can't park your fucking car 'cause all these dickheads got all the parking spots, and that's what happened. And I was still early!"
Dickheads and automobiles notwithstanding, he soon tries to explain why he actually ends up late so often. "I don't know why. It's 'cause I'm lazy. I don't want to do anything. I don't want to do most things. I was always late to school. Then, I just stopped going. I never really had a real job because I'm late for everything, and I just blame everything on everyone else, so yeah, that leads into the album. I don't have an album out because it's probably everybody's else fault, but I don't know why. It's definitely my fault. I'm lazy."
Reinstein speaks in a dry, chilled-out, profoundly deadpan voice, making him the kind of cagey conversationalist whose tone is a tough read. Like El-P with that original tweet, you get the sense that he's half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek when discussing the September situation and why he's always running behind. That said, by this point, the stigma surrounding We're All Excited -- his perpetually in-development debut full-length made alongside electronic rock two-fer Ratatat -- has to be getting to the guy. Despot first gained broader exposure by being connected to indie hip-hop label Definitive Jux and its surrounding scene during its watershed period in the 2000s, and he has been plotting that first record since George Bush was serving his first term.
Over the years, Reinstein, who also co-owns noteworthy Manhattan venue Santos Party House, has slipped on and off hip-hop heads' radars. After spending 2005-ish to 2011-ish touring with Ratatat, working on since-trashed songs and being largely inconspicuous, he re-emerged around 2012 by doing guest shots on songs by rap artists Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire and El-P, plus Blood Orange and Vampire Weekend. Artists reaching out to Despot to work with him has become the primary source for new material from him. "I do have a lot of friends who make music and are successful, and I sometimes do stuff with them," he says, "but I have been doing it since way before most of them have even been making music."
Around age 7, Reinstein was a fan of hair metal outfits like Mötley Crüe, Poison and Whitesnake. As he grew up, hip-hop like Run-D.M.C., the Fat Boys and Young Black Teenagers caught his ear, which eventually led him to underground rap. With hip-hop being the sound of his neighborhood, it was an easy fit for him.
"It told the story of what I was doing, where I lived. All the kids listened to rap and were like drug dealers and wore cool shit, and I wanted to be like them, so I listened to rap. It was an aspirational thing: I wanted to be a drug dealer," he says. "I still want to be like a rich drug dealer. That's what rap is about, I think." (There goes another moment where he's probably just joking, but you still have tiny lingering doubts.)
Responding to a question about his rapping style, Reinstein mentions that initially aimed to carbon-copy Mobb Deep's Prodigy. That soon leads him to more self-reflection, where he laments his wordiness ("I wish I said less words") and says that he sounds "boring." He's also quick to put down any potential mystique of a Chinese Democracy-style wait for We're All Excited making him a more attractive entity. "It's like, 'Oh, look at this guy. The fucking guy who will never make an album,' and 'The guy who has somehow garnered this meager fan base without ever really releasing anything,'" he says. "I guess that's interesting to people, but it's not something that I'm trying to exploit or use as a device to remain somewhat, moderately, barely relevant."
So why are rap fans out there still wondering where his record is and if it'll ever see daylight? Throw on a Despot verse and the draw is immediate. Reinstein is a lyrical MC whose flow flies like the fire of a high-end machine-gun. Every verse is a carefully carved bullet whose interiors are packed with catchy punchlines, imagery, storytelling and symbolism. In one example, his feature spot on Blood Orange's 2013 song "Clipped On" details the end of a doomed relationship in satisfying staccato shots. He has the technique of a perfectionist, and he half-admits to being a perfectionist himself -- a hellish personality trait once combined with his lack of self-motivation.
"I make a lot of songs, and I throw them in the garbage 'cause I don't really like 'em," he says, "but yeah, part of it is that it's not like I'm not doing anything." In its own way, all this self-deprecation is tantalizing, too; Reinstein speaks on his career with the kind of candor and humor that would really light up a solo album. Speaking of which, he hesitates to give a firm deadline forWe're All Excited
after missing so many others. This is all anyone seems to talk to him about, but he's still holding out hope to shed his burdens. "I think a lot of people think that I'm now embracing it as a gimmick, like 'the man who will never release an album,'" he says. "It's a big, funny joke, but it's not really such a funny joke to me. It sucks, and it makes me sad, and I cry about it, like, relatively often."
Despot performs with Run the Jewels and Ratking at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Wed., 7 p.m. $20. All ages.
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