ABOVE: CITIES AVIV
The joy of exploring the unknown can be an exciting muse for a musician unimpressed by his peers. In the case of Memphis transplant, rapper Cities Aviv (born Gavin Mays), it can keep an artist interesting, innovative, and most importantly, constantly involved in delving into new sounds, themes, and ideas. In questioning the credibility of pop music and the constructs that have led bloggers and blog-readers alike to align their opinions and agree on what is "good" and "bad," Aviv has found an avenue for his music that traverses the mainstream and the obscure. The result, as evidenced by his mixtape Black Pleasure, is a distinct version of pop music that is both nostalgic and futuristic.
In a time when it is topically of-the-moment for early 20-somethings to be unsure about the future, the 23-year-old Aviv is refreshingly unconcerned about where he's headed. In his words, it's going "wherever it's supposed to be." He's no narcissist, and he's no overachiever—he's just a dude making music.
Days before his upcoming show at Santos Party House alongside Antwon and Weekend Money, we spoke to Aviv about black pleasure, sensitive thugs, and the almighty power of Pitchfork.
DAN BUYANOVSKY: I want to know more about your hardcore days, which everyone likes to talk to you about—
CITIES AVIV: [laughs]
BUYANOVSKY: [laughs] I just wanted to ask if you ever saw it as an opportunity to talk about real issues, or did you just decide you wanted to be in a band and that was the type of music you were going to make?
AVIV: It was real shit. At that time, me and my friends wrote all those songs and there were definitely ideas that were brought up. That's so broad to say, like—"ideas were brought up"—but for the most part we would just write about real shit, like Memphis, and in a sense being apathetic to the general scene that was going around.
BUYANOVSKY: Which was Memphis rap?
AVIV: Not necessarily that, just like hardcore, and that kind of shit. Writing for those projects was more just reflecting on what we saw around the city. I feel like, going into that process and thinking of it in that way, it definitely crossed over into the other music that I've made. I mean, I try to keep any lyrical content relevant—like, relevant to me.
BUYANOVSKY: Something that you could listen to and connect to...
AVIV: Yeah, listen to and connect to. But also have it be like a part of me, you know what I mean?
BUYANOVSKY: Do you feel like you have something important to say now, as a hip-hop artist?
AVIV: I mean, with any music I make, I definitely want to open people up to something. Do I feel like it has that power? Yeah, to an extent, if people want to hear it in that light, and don't want it to be just another thing that they toggle through on a playlist, then throw away when the next hype shit is out. So if people actually care to embrace it and pick through it... I mean, if they feel it, that's cool. If not, that's cool too. But it's like, what do you make of it? I've given it to you, now what do you take out of it?
BUYANOVSKY: Do you consider yourself a positive person?
AVIV: I mean, I try to be. I have negative tendencies like anyone, but at the same time I realize that you've got to overpower that shit. There's no sense in like, trying to perpetuate the negativity. Obviously it exists in everyone, and sometimes you've got to bring that shit to light to realize how good the positive is. It's like cathartic, and we need that shit sometimes. But yeah, I try to have a positive outlook.
BUYANOVSKY: On your newer songs, you layer a lot of sounds over your voice. Just curious—do you like your own voice?
AVIV: [laughs] That's a pretty good question, actually. I mean, I always tell people that I don't want to hear my own voice. But in the end I just feel like it shouldn't always have to be at the forefront. Like, it's all there, so why not have everything at the forefront at the same time?
BUYANOVSKY: So your voice becomes one of the instruments.
AVIV: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the words are there, and they kind of guide you in a sense, but it's more so that they accompany the production. But, do I like my own voice? I mean, I'm a goofy motherfucker. [laughs] Straight up. I feel like I sound goofy as hell on a track sometimes, but in the end, that's just me and I have to accept it.
BUYANOVSKY: What does black pleasure mean to you?
AVIV: To me, it's pleasure that's so good that it turns bad, but it's good at the same time. It's the good and the bad, you know? I guess in the end, it's kind of trying to explain that you have to go through shit to get to the light. You have to revel in the dark, like I was saying earlier, to realize how good the light is.
BUYANOVSKY: If an ex-girlfriend nicknamed you Black Pleasure, would you be flattered?
AVIV: [laughs] I wouldn't even know what to say about that. That'd be a suspect female.
BUYANOVSKY: Someone reviewing your last album wrote that it's what happens when "aesthetic intersects with small-stakes Internet rap." What is small-stakes Internet rap, to you?
AVIV: [laughs] I don't know... I don't ever want to just be "Internet rap," per se. But in the end, as far as what the internet entails, it's just like... freedom. You know what I mean? It's like, fools who aren't trying to impress anyone. I mean there are definitely people who come out and latch on to the internet movement, and they aren't really saying anything, they're more so just falling into place. But it's like, small stakes.
BUYANOVSKY: To me, it means that you can put out a whole project for free, without the help of some giant marketing machine behind it. In that sense, it's small stakes.
AVIV: Exactly. Yeah.
BUYANOVSKY: I'm going to read you a Rick Ross lyric, and you respond to it with whatever comes to mind. "Count a million cash, can you blog that?"
AVIV: [laughs] That is good, that he is very wealthy, I guess? [laughs] I don't know.
BUYANOVSKY: I think it's a pretty great line. Bloggers tend to take themselves pretty seriously, so I think it's a funny "fuck you" to bloggers.
AVIV: I feel like it's very... yeah, people on blogs feel like they have this power. They're a good source, but it becomes played when people feel like they have this extra power, like they're the gatekeepers to art. But without artists creating, they wouldn't have shit. They would be nothing.
BUYANOVSKY: They forget that.
AVIV: Right. People forget that. Like, people place all this power on the Pitchforks, and all the other fuckin' blogs. It's just really funny.
BUYANOVSKY: Meyhem Lauren just put out a song called "Fuck Pitchfork," which I think is pretty awesome.
AVIV: Yeah, I totally think that's cool. [laughs] I think all that shit will have its day, when people really weigh how much they care about it. There's just too much attention to writing about it, and not enough to the actual art. And I feel like where true music and art is heading, it just doesn't coincide with the blogs, and different houses of media that only serve the purpose of iPods and, you know, a mix to be played in a cubicle somewhere. This year in particular, I feel like true art is going to trump all that bullshit.
BUYANOVSKY: In an old interview, you said that you stayed away from playing instruments. Now that you're producing more, have you picked up instruments or are you still leaving them alone?
AVIV: Not at all. [laughs] As far as drums and guitar and bass, I don't really care. Who knows, I might eventually pick it up, but I'm more into electronics and samplers and drum machines, and staying in that realm. I just feel like that's more relevant to where I come from. I was born in '89, I was the product of baby boomers and the synth nation, so I'd rather stay in that realm.
BUYANOVSKY: When I see bands now that are like a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, it feels kind of outdated.
AVIV: Yeah, totally. It's very archaic, and kind of played, overall. I feel like the one-man show, or a two-man minimal set, is way more powerful than a full band. It's more like the thought and the emotion, and the output is just way stronger.
BUYANOVSKY: How big of a role does sampling play in your production? Do you feel like you'd still be able to, or want to, produce without sampling?
AVIV: Maybe. I mean, I prefer to sample. It's just what I want to do. It's the sound I like to hear. It's also more like taking it back and throwing history in your face, in a way. But a lot of people say, "Oh, that's stealing," and, "Oh, that's just like this..."
BUYANOVSKY: A lot of people say that about your song "Float On."
AVIV: I'm so over that, though. [laughs] I mean, it's funny—a lot of people thought I was shouting out Modest Mouse or something, or trying to align with some indie audience, but it wasn't that at all. It was just that this Blackbird dude made this pretty cool beat, and it had a good feel to it, and I was like, "This could turn into something." And I actually met that dude, and he was really positive about the track. But yeah, like I was saying, it's cool to throw samples back at people and make them see it in a different way. Especially in reference to older music being repurposed, it's definitely like paying homage to it, so that people don't forget. I mean, there is new shit to be brought to music, but at the same time, there's nothing new under the sun. Someone could think they're so ahead of the game, but there was a dude in '74 that was already there, and way ahead. We shouldn't forget that. We're here to create so that when people come back in the next life, they could get that feeling and be like, these people were...about that life. [laughs]
BUYANOVSKY: I saw that you posted a remix of Future's "Turn on the Lights" on your Soundcloud. What do you think it is about Future that crosses over to the alternative hip-hop crowd, but he can still do songs with Gucci Mane and Drake?
AVIV: It's raw, emotional music. I think that's why people attach to it. You get the masculine aspect, which is that Future is getting money and trapping, which is shit that dudes care about. But it also has a feminine presence on a very pressing, hard issue, which is that you're looking for that female who you adore, but does she even exist? Like, where the fuck is she at? It's crazy because it's a very masculine idea, like, I'm looking for that broad, that bad bitch—but it's feminine as well, because you're looking for that relationship, that connection with this person. A lot of people don't want to talk about that shit, which is why Future can appeal to both sides.
BUYANOVSKY: I heard someone call him a sensitive thug, which I think is a perfect way to describe him.
AVIV: I think that's cool. I think more people should be that way, in a sense. I feel like, just trying to go hard 24/7, that idea is so played out. Who really gives a fuck about being a manly ass dude in 2013? Who really gives a fuck about thuggin', and trying to like gangbang and all that bullshit?
BUYANOVSKY: Is his career right now somewhere where you'd eventually like to be?
AVIV: I'm just a dude making music. Artist, composer, whatever. I'd like to end up wherever I'm supposed to end up, I guess. It'd be cool to receive recognition, I guess, but it can only come when the time is right, and I mean, I like to say that Black Pleasure was a pop record. I went into that with a mindset like, what does it mean to make an album when there is an expectation of recognition, and why does that matter to the artist? In the end, it doesn't. That being said, the reason I came here [to New York] is to be a pop star, in a way, but not traditionally. I want to redefine the obscure. Like, why is it that certain ideas get thrown to the side, while other shit is reveled in? Only because it's common to the average person. Like, it's been fed to them, and these listeners don't even realize that they like it because they've been told it's good. For me, where do I see it going? Wherever it's supposed to be, I guess. [laughs] Wherever it's supposed to be.
CITIES AVIV'S MOST RECENT LP, BLACK PLEASURE, IS AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD HERE. HE PLAYS SANTOS PARTY HOUSE WITH ANTWON AND WEEKEND MONEY TOMORROW, JANUARY 24; BUY TICKETS HERE.