"I've always liked art, and Warhol's art talked to me the most. It was catchy, it was pop. What he was doing was something like, 'I don't really care about the system of art, but I'm gonna make what I feel is art.' That's what I do."
Local rapper Chancellor Warhol is sitting at Fido, taking a break from the whirlwind of last-minute prep and polish that comes along with releasing a new record. The Silver Factory drops Tuesday, Sept. 6, and if the year-and-a-half following the release of his debut Japanese Lunchbox is any indication, this might be the last break Chance gets for a while. Who could have predicted that Japanese Lunchbox would make him a rock-club mainstay, land him a slot at Bonnaroo and put him at the forefront of the city's burgeoning hip-hop scene?
"I don't talk about selling drugs or all the other things that other people around here talk about," says Warhol. "No offense to them as artists, but I just want to tell a different story. I grew up in a black neighborhood and grew up in an all-white neighborhood, so I see both sides. ... I see more than what most people feel comfortable with."
In a city with so many markedly codified genres and self-segregating niches, it was inevitable that there would be an audience that would find comfort in being pushed outside of their comfort zone. Or maybe it's that the modern music listener has a comfort zone far more expansive than record-store filing systems and narrowcasting media would have you believe. Either way, with its expansive electronic soundscapes, deep rock grooves, soaring hooks and intellectually dexterous lyrics, The Silver Factory stands out from all the usual cliques and scenes we take for granted.
The Silver Factory is a meta-pop record, a puzzle assembled from disparate pieces of culture to create something new and fascinating for the folks who stand beyond the usual cultural barriers. Seriously, it's probably the only rap record you'll find that references Jeff Buckley and Jay-Z, and definitely the only hip-hop record with harpsichord and accordion in the mix. (It's buried, but it's in there.) The Silver Factory is ready for nightclub revelry — "destined" might be a better word — but has so many layers of interstitial discourse pulsing through its bars that it demands detailed analysis and solitary listening. It's a unique artistic statement that manages to capture the many divergent threads of our musical culture and weave them back into a rope that anyone can climb.
"Aesthetically, when I make an album, I want to paint a picture," says Warhol. "I feel that a true artist — in any genre — should approach it that way. I have, maybe not more so, but an equal amount of rock aesthetics — indie-rock aesthetics — with the way I approach my artwork and everything. I don't want to be on the front of my fucking cover in front of a dubbed-out whatever. That's not me. That's never been me.
"I always want to have that 'wow' factor. Not in the Lady Gaga sense where it's comical, but in the sense of just pushing myself and my genre and whoever is listening to my music. ... If you're from Nashville, you rap and you feel like you have to rap a certain way because your crew is this or that, and they tell you this is what's poppin' — no. You can do whatever you want to. You can rap to a Queen song if you want to. Just push yourself to do it."
It's a message that seems to be coming across loud and clear. While we've seen crowds all across town show up and freak out for Warhol's performances with his live band The N.O.B.O.T.S., we didn't realize just how devoted his audience was until we saw him take the stage at Bonnaroo. Warhol was the first act of the day, the sun was scorching, and hangovers from the night before were still heavy in everyone's head. Yet there they were. Hundreds of people raging in the middle of a field, in the middle of the day, chanting with every verse and belting every chorus as they bounced in unison — hip-hopper, hipster and hippie alike.
And it's not just Warhol's audience that's hard to pigeonhole. The Silver Factory's list of collaborators has a WTF? factor almost equal to that "wow" factor. Particle Peeple, the new project from AutoVaughn alumni Darren Edwards and Ben Graham — best known for their epic rock chops — produced four tracks. Goth-wavers Nite Nite tranform "Kings & Queens" into a track so haunting and ethereal you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you were listening to a hip-hip record. Progressive pop songwriter Alvin Love — think Steely Dan-meets-Michael Jackson — brings a folk theatricality to "Obsessed." And Dee Goodz — the lone guest rapper on The Silver Factory — spits pure fire on "Hard to Explain." The Silver Factory is as much an album as a time capsule from one of the most creative eras in one of the most creative cities on earth.
"I just wanted to put all these people in a room and just be like, 'Let's fucking create.' And I've been blessed to be able to do that."
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