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This text is by Katie Grace McGowan and Doc Waffles in their capacity and does not, necessarily, reflect the views of different infinite mile contributors, infinite mile co-founders, the authors' employers and/or other affiliations.  

Buried Treasure

(A) Conceptual Rap with Doc Waffles

Katie Grace McGowan

emoji phone screen

Doc Waffles and I met as undergraduate writers at Wayne State University. Since our days as jazz cigarette-loving, want-to-be Dadaists, Doc Waffles (née Ben Ness) and I have met in person only a few times, but, because I admire his linguistic finesse, I have kept abreast of his evolving artistic practice. For one thing, he is the only person I know who can drop a Ulysses S. Grant reference into casual conversation without coming off as a blowhard.

The medico and his producer friend Jaws That Bite come by my place late one February afternoon to discuss the new mixtape, “Money Pits & Associates,” among sundry other topics. In spite of the Arctic temperatures, I am inspired to include in my invitation the possibility of cucumber sandwiches. I deliver, sort of, by providing the fixins for the preppy sandwiches; however, I require my guests assemble their own.

Burying money, mini-cakes, drug rave

Amongst our school chums, I was one of the few domesticated types in the group.  In other words, I lived in an apartment with heat and chairs. I also owned a lot of books. Because of these amenities, I hosted our poetry group at my place. “I was excited to come over here and check out your books, but this looks pretty bare bones,” Waffles notes shortly after his arrival. I squirm as we acknowledge the ways in which we judge people based on their books and records. I explain that, having moved a lot over the last fifteen-plus years, I have molted several times, shedding possessions—even books, which may be difficult for the rare book dealer cum rapper to imagine. The book man informs me he is now working at Cass Corridor mainstay, Marcus Market.

George Brecht, diabetes, John King Bookstore

KMcG: So, we met in the late ‘90s, and one of the first things I remember of your writing is about Campbell’s clam chowder from Marcus Market. It was something about a two or three-cans for one price deal. I don’t remember the details, but you or the narrator bought the deal and one of the cans of chowder was fucked up.  It was awesome. Do you remember that?

DW: No, but it sounds like the themes I was interested in back then...reproduction and disposability.  I used to live right across the street from the store, so I was in there every day.

KMcG: How many hours a week do you work at Marcus Market?

DW: I’ve got a really chill schedule (shout out to Adrian and Kareeem).  I spend one full day, twenty-four hours, per week at my day job. I never got to operate a lottery machine before. People have sacred, personal numbers they play every single day.  Others just say random numbers...they’ll go on listing 40-50 numbers for one draw. It gives me an appreciation for just how many numbers there are…It’s an area of addiction I’ve never really had enthusiasm for, that’s part of why I’m fascinated by it. I get to see its machinations in a non-participatory way. As far as the alcohol and cigg. game; I know it thoroughly. It’s cool though, I stopped drinking years ago and now, being on the dispensing end, I feel so much fraternity with the people who come in to buy booze.

KMcG: That makes sense knowing you used to buy booze at literally the same place.

DW: Yeah, one year I spent like seven or eight thousand dollars on Crown Royal at that place. I don’t know if you’ve seen the coat I have that’s made of all Crown Royal bags? It’s one of my performance costumes. It’s beautiful, the inside is lined with silver fur. I do a James Brown cape act with it. I get draped in it. It’s cool, it looks really luxurious from far away, but the closer you get to it, it’s like mealy, and threadbare.

KMcG: Mealy? The idea of a coat being mealy is vile.

DW: Yes, it’s a simultaneously beautiful and ugly object, depending how you look at it, kinda like hair…

The Titanic, saltwater taffy, Toenails

KMcG: Do you think about “Poetry”?

DW: I think about, well, like Raymond Roussel’s “sensations of art.” That’s what I’m out for. Poetry is one of the easiest ways to get it. Although I think poetry now is mostly off the page.  Instagram is a good place to go for poetry. Or, like me and Jaws are working on a project where we photograph neon signs that are distressed in some way. Last night we were driving by the Gem Theater and the “m” in “Gem” was out. Taking a picture of that is more poetically satisfying to me sometimes than “writing” in the traditional way. Like the Kenny Goldsmith thing: finding new ways to have literary effects without trying to write something.

Even back in those days when we tried to get together a poetry group (referring to the late ‘90s), it was sketchy and nostalgic. That was a weird time; all of the digital stuff was just starting. We were sort of groping at all of that but didn’t have the context to really break it open.

But now we have the Internet. So there’s no excuse for making static, pastoral poems anymore…Rapping was sort of my reaction to that, not wanting to write poems in the traditional sense.  Rapping literally gives it an electrical, spacial, theatrical, multi-dimensional quality.

Pineapple farms, treasure, In Living Color

We discuss Vanessa Place, a conceptual writer who is also a criminal appellate attorney. Doc Waffles shares my appreciation of her work, which he says is, “charged with so much real, meaningful, socially consequential stuff.” The conversation shifts to post-internet artists like Marisa Olson and Petra Cortright.

DW: I love Steve Roggenbuck, his videos are super cool. When you see him, you can read him--when he's in selfie-mode there's a theatrical dimension that's totally satisfying. A rap song, especially one that I write, likely involves a radically democratic use of language and resists literal explication but it lets you, like, watch a horse race in the background, versus reading it off the page, where the eye is privatized. I like to be in a more peripheral role.  To use language as an ambient tool.


Whole Foods, Charles Manson's body, Dougie Pitts

Unthinkable to some, Money Pits & Associates performs the act of burying money in the ground as a way to disrupt the relationship between art and commerce.

Dougie Pits

DW: “Money Pits & Associates” is my most recent mixtape, conceived with my hombre Clyde Moop. Mixtapes are a literary genre innovated by the rap game, perceived as a sketchier version of an album. Historically, they are a space to appropriate other artist’s beats and song concepts. So I made this tape, of well-known other rap. I rap the words to Cappadonna’s famed verse from the WuTang song "Winter Warz" in alphabetical order and I do some newer trap rap songs like—Chief Keef's has a song called "Hoes and Oz”—which I present alphabetically.

KMcG: What do you mean, "present alphabetically"?

DW: I just take the words; alphabetize the poem and just say it.  It’s a form of songwriting that doesn’t require a lot of effort.  I made another song using a website called emojitracker.com, which tracks the ways people use emojis at any given time and ranks their popularity.  It’s great, you can see what people are using, say on Twitter. It's like a stock market of human emotion. It's also great to see how randomly people use, like, the lightning bolt, for example.

KMcG: What's your favorite emoji?

DW: The spiral emoji. The tree palm emoji I use a lot. And the lightning bolt.

We then delve into the intimate exercise of sharing our recently used emojis. Doc Waffles and I have very different emoji vocabularies while Jaws shares some common vernacular with each of us.  All three of us have some type of ❤ . I prioritize the two hearts emoji; Jaws, the purple heart emoji
in various colors, Doc Waffles, the yellow heart

Doc Waffles has a siren on his screen that I mistake for a fez, which sparks conversation about the turbaned man who appears in my window. The rapper is embarrassed by his frequent use of the mushroom and the cloud and is puzzled by my use of the baby octopus, but I explain it is used to show affection.

DW:  Anyway, I wrote a rap that is all emojis. It's based on the website's rankings, so it's also a reference piece. It has a durational aspect that delights me... When I rap it, it takes me like three minutes to perform, 'cause I'm saying like: cocktail glass, soft ice cream, rabbit face, crystal ball, flagpole, large blue circle, and on and on, but I could send it in a single tweet.  When I'm performing it you don't experience it the same way as you would when it's all texted at once. I'm interested in the gap between those experiences.

KMcG: Do you two, gesturing to Jaws That Bite—who still quietly nibbles on cucumber—work together?

DW: Jaws is producing my new project, which is called "Barter Boys." It's the follow up to "Money Pits," after all the money is buried. Bartering is the next step…

We have a shared culture: me and the guy who I do a lot of the writing with--Goldzilla (Kwesi Akaah) from The Anonymous. We've hung out for years, so we have a lot of our own little buzzwords, and legends, and stuff. Like, we eat a lot of mini-cakes, we have fancy jugs that we pass around when we're working on stuff, so we have these songs that are talking about our own specific culture or subculture or whatever.

KMcG: Coming from a punk background, I have always liked when bands have themes, even caricatures of themes, like the Misfits, or The Damned. Or when rap groups, like Gravediggaz, present different worlds in their narratives. It is like going into a comic book.

DW: Gravediggaz is a great example. They have the one note that's so specific that they always return to, that allows them to go off into a hyperbolic space that rap is great for. I feel like rap anticipated the Internet that way. On the Internet we're like these hyperbolic versions of ourselves. We can be ourselves, but also hyperbolic versions of ourselves. We can illuminate certain aspects of our personalities. Doing a record about burying money was cool to do in a Gravediggaz style ‘cause it's just like a weird kind of sketchy, symbolic thing to think about...By burying money we undermine the symbolic value of money.
I'm doing a trilogy where “Money Pits” is the first part, “Barter Boys” is the second, and the third will probably have something to do with potlatch or like really weird ideas about value, exploring the relationships between material necessity and cultural production. I want to make as much money as possible off art without it being the motivating factor for its creation. So when you get money from a show and you go bury it right away, it's a good way to distance from that. You still have the money, but you're disposing of it in a way that means anyone could get it.

Bataille, egg dye, Cobo Hall

He then explains the single track, forty-three minute long record is a heavily encoded treasure map and how he would like his work approached like Finnegan's Wake, or a lazy river… wherein Doc Waffles and I inner-tube down said lazy river discussing pyramids made of Astronaut Ice Cream ("a simultaneously Utopian and nostalgic concept" according to the good doctor), tropical gothic ("trop-goth") style, performance and the difficulty of sitting down and trying to write.

DW:  I adopted the artistic persona of rapper a long time ago. Really I feel like everyone is a rapper, ‘cause writing rap is easy and saying it over a beat is not hard. Like how Instagram lets everyone have the joys of being a photographer.  Anyone can rap and experience its rewards.  The thing that makes it succeed is not technical ability, but the excitement of hearing someone narrating their life in a rhythmic, personal way.

If I could rap with anyone in Detroit, it would probably be Barry Sanders, or some other famous athlete who has achieved a ton outside of rap because nobody has heard them do that before.

With technology, everyone is a vernacular artist in one-way or another. Everyone with a phone can use Instagram, or Twitter, and have access to culture. I like to use this technology in a smart way. It's like, you can watch amateur pornography and it's just as titillating as professionally produced pornography; the same goes for rap and poetry. The technology has brought it to our fingertips. Anyone can make it, almost as good (sic) as anyone else.


@doc_waffles on Twitter and Instagram

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link - issue 15: March 2015