New York rapper SHIRT’s Twitter page grandly announces him as: “PERSON RAP DESIGN VISION.” Accordingly, his talents range wide – in addition to rapping, SHIRT is a designer and visual artist. I reached out to him after falling in love with the most recent track on his Soundcloud page, “2015 CHUCHI & JUJO,” an ethereal redux of Springtime Carnivore’s ethereal “Two Scars.” Speaking of which, HBO fans may know SHIRT from his “Phantom Redux,” which played on this season of Silicon Valley. You may also know him from his 2012 track “On Top” with Flume, from his rapping over the entirety of Purity Ring’s Shrines in 2014, or his writing a convincing fake New York Times profile of himself that same year. And if none of these ring a bell, climb out from under that rock and check him out. Read my conversation with the multi-talented New York artist below.
Labeling Men: I'm obsessed with 2015 CHUCHI & JUJO. What inspired you to rap over that song?
SHIRT: These things happen where a song I love will really make me wish I was a part of it. So in between projects I'll write all over things. A friend showed me some of Springtime Carnivore's music and this was the one.
Labeling Men: How did it feel to have your track on Silicon Valley? Are you a fan of the show?
SHIRT: I saw that episode and thought it was cool, yeah. It made me realize how what I'm saying can be applied to the guys in the tech world coming up. If I had more time to watch stuff in general I'd probably be a fan.
Labeling Men: I read your fake NYT article in 2014. Brilliant. What inspired you to write it? Were you happy with how it turned out?
SHIRT: Thanks. Yeah, I felt like fans wanted to see something big. The Times wasn't giving it to me yet so I thought to do something wild and blow it up best I could and maybe even speak to something more in the process. Like toiling away not bothering anyone and getting a NYT article written about you is one thing. It's fantastic. But me doing this elaborate thing, and pairing it with this free rap album, and talking about Kenneth Goldsmith in the article, and designing it myself, and putting my friend who'd just passed in the obituary on the first page, and having all these people that never say a word to me come out the woodwork and offer their support and RT's – that's something else I think.
Labeling Men: Is Biggie really your favorite rapper as you say in the fake article? (He's mine.) If so, what's your favorite Biggie verse?
SHIRT: Big was so good. I just wish he had more time and was able to give us more jewels. Sky's The Limit verses maybe.
Labeling Men: You’re from Queens. Does Queens, or New York more generally, influence your sound? Do you feel more connected to New York rappers?
SHIRT: I do love a good police siren on an ill beat. I naturally feel more connected to NY people, of course. It's what I've been around, who I went to school with, chilled with. I know the plight of the NY kid. I know the schools, the neighborhoods, the trains, the lobbies, what we see everyday.
Labeling Men: This is a music column, so I'm mainly asking about your music. But you're also a designer and a visual artist. Which medium is most natural to you? Which comes easiest? Of which are you most proud?
SHIRT: Rapping comes easiest. Visual work is about training my eye, refining my taste. Not liking is as or more important than liking. I'm proud to like what I like and not like what I don't. I'm proud to be a student of the greats.
Labeling Men: Who are your favorite visual artists?
SHIRT: Ellsworth Kelly, Baldessari. That's me maybe not saying the obvious. I really love what Christo and Jeanne-Claude were doing. So many.
Labeling Men: As T-Shirt, you were featured on Flume's "On Top." What was it like working with Flume? I love that song by the way - definitely Flume's best.
SHIRT: I appreciate you saying that. They sent a beat and I wrote a little hit. Flume and his people haven't been much help past that.
Labeling Men: When are you most inspired?
SHIRT: To write rap? When the new beats I get are ill. Seeing things, reading, having conversations.
Labeling Men: What music is on heavy rotation for you right now?
SHIRT: New Beirut song No No No is so great. We might've heard it 30 times yesterday just over and over dancing around.
Labeling Men: How'd you decide to rap over Purity Ring's Shrines? I'm drawn to the fusion of rap and indie electronica, rap over ethereal beats, so I fucking love it.
SHIRT: My boy played me their shit and I loved it too. I opened up a session a few days later and made this long edit of their whole album with spaces for verses. Then I just wrote it all the way through. I think in general nobody knows how to rap over different shit right. They get weird. I like to think about what Biggie would do on some new sounding shit.
Labeling Me: Favorite song of all time?
SHIRT: I can maybe say that about 100 songs. From Mo Money Mo Problems by Biggie, to I Want You by Elvis Costello, to You Know How We Do It by Ice Cube etc.
Labeling Men: What are your vices?
SHIRT: I can overthink shit.
Labeling Men: Can you talk a little about your Shirt Fucked Rihanna campaign in 2013? How would you describe it?
SHIRT: Like some ill shit. Taking what the artist Cost did in the 90's with his Cost Fucked Madonna campaign and putting it in this new rap context. It was really a vehicle to bring the world AUTOMATIC . I like to pair records with marketing and have like small events happen.
Labeling Men: What is the best book you've read in the past year?
SHIRT: I barely got past the foreword but I feel like John Cage's Silence changed my life.
Labeling Men: Do you blast your own music?
SHIRT: Mostly only while I'm making it and thinking about plans for it. So yeah, all the time.
By Anna Dorn
Photograph by Joel Lopez