EBONY TUSKS Interview
When most people think of Lawrence, Kansas, they can vividly hear chants of “rock chalk” reverberating around their head. While the University of Kansas dominates the landscape, many are just now catching on to the city’s thriving music scene. For early adopters, the name EBONY TUSKS is no secret. A dynamic underground hip-hop trio focused on the conscious, lyric-heavy side of the genre, EBONY TUSKS appeared with dozens of leading underground acts throughout the 2010s. Now, they’re ready to take the next step. With newly released music hitting the web just minutes ago, EBONY TUSKS spoke with Vivid Seats about “HDF,” the state of hip-hop and their plans to conquer the new decade.
Vivid Seats: Your music feels so alive. How was EBONY TUSKS born?
EBONY TUSKS: That’s a kind descriptor to use, thank you. I began EBONY TUSKS in 2009 after a difficult period that summer. I was living in the student ghetto near the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It was an eerily calm Friday night and I didn’t have any plans after work so I crashed. I woke up shortly after 9:00 pm because my door was being kicked in. I was beaten and robbed at gunpoint. Thankfully, two of my neighbors were close friends and called the police immediately. I had nightmares for years afterward that included many symbols I’ve come to associate with various religious practices. I also began writing raps for the first time in over a decade. I was working with a couple producers and we had our first show at a house venue called Pizza Power in October 2010. Both Daniel and Geese came into the fold within a couple years of that show.
VS: How did you come up with the name of your group?
ET: I was born in 1983. I’m a fairweather subscriber to astrology and the Chinese Zodiac. 1983 was the Year of the Pig, or Wild Boar. I derive personal power from the wild boar - it’s low to the ground and humbled by its genetics, but it still cuts a unique figure in the animal kingdom. It’s also a nod to being Midwesterners and having to come correct in order to garner any attention.
VS: Lawrence, Kansas isn’t exactly known for its hip-hop scene. How do you think this has affected your sound?
ET: It’s really given us the width and breadth to explore our sound. We’ve seen a lot of musical trends come and go in the last 10 years. Our sound is a testament to the fact that making hardcore hip hop in an earnest way has staying power. It also reflects how diverse our hip hop scene in Lawrence has been for years. We have forebears who paved the way for us to be ourselves musically - Approach, Stik Figa, Heartfelt Anarchy, and Archetype are just a small fraction. With that said, the three of us are always having conversations about how other genres influence us personally. Post-rock, post-hardcore, industrial, indie rock, and electronic all factor in. Our tastes evolve naturally and we follow accordingly.
VS: Rap groups had a resurgence in 2019 with Brockhampton, EarthGang, YBN and more making plenty of noise. How do you all work together to create your sound?
ET: Early on, we created a Dropbox folder to share demos with one another. That really drove our discussions about what we wanted to sound like going forward. It also gave us a bit of language to use in building sounds independent of one another. We live in three different cities along I-70 in Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri and it required us to learn how to communicate ideas with each other online. Our engineer George Henry Valyer IV definitely helped us grow sonically over the last three-plus years as well. Just being able to hear your ideas committed to tape in the way you intended helps you project future material a lot easier.
It’s really been great to see groups make a strong comeback in hip-hop. Our mentality has always been collective and our friends and peers understand that about EBONY TUSKS. We’re definitely drawn to like-minded acts such as clipping., Doomtree, Brockhampton, and Injury Reserve. Seeing them live reinforces the communal experience they aim to cultivate.
VS: What influences each of you to create?
ET: Speaking for myself, I’ve always been conscious of wanting to fill a void or create a space for something to exist. If venues didn’t host hip-hop, I wanted to see it happen. If our friends couldn’t afford to come see us perform, I wanted to play free shows. If our peers weren’t being invited by others to perform on certain bills, I wanted to create an environment that they would feel welcome in and could express themselves. That need to facilitate community is present in all of us. It’s just as important to us as creating our own work.
VS: You just released a new track, “HDF.” Take us through that process.
ET: I was previously involved in a year-long campaign against police violence in my city, Topeka, Kan. Thirty-year-old Dominique White was murdered by two members of our local police department on September 28th, 2017. My fellow organizers and I hosted a series of community conversations called “No Confidence” that began as an airing of grievances and eventually shifted to an action plan. We were joined by our members of our state legislature, who successfully passed a state-wide law that any next of kin for those shot and killed by law enforcement in Kansas would have access to body cam footage within 20 days of a request. The Department of Justice also came into Topeka per our police department’s invitation and I was involved in planning another series of meetings to help advance community relations with TPD.
By December 2018, I was spent and frustrated. I was glad to return to my pen and let out a giant exhale. Most of what I write about speaks to my personal experience but this was the first time in a while that I looked outward and wrote about what I was seeing around me. It felt good and I know that many of our creative peers in our part of the world will understand the sentiment.
VS: As hip-hop continues to evolve, what do you expect to see from the underground sect in 2020?
ET: For us, it’s truly our intention to continue building the legacy that many musicians before us have contributed to. We don’t have any shame in saying that artists like Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Saul Williams, and Aesop Rock are the level of excellence we aspire to. But we also like having fun and want to inject more of that into the underground for sure. From a global perspective, more voices, more inclusion, more laughter and joy. More empathy and interdependence. Less dogma and fewer walls.