Alec Reinstein, bka Despot, grew up in Queens, NY with an affinity for vintage Polo gear and doing hoodrat stuff with his friends — hoodrat stuff like stealing vintage Polo gear. As he watched his neighborhood consistently grow worse and more crime-ridden, over time, Reinstein naturally gravitated toward hip hop and the music that spoke of the conditions that he recognized, and/or embodied the essence of the same environment that he came from. Being from Queens themselves, Mobb Deep was a huge influence for Despot, who has admitted attempting to mirror Prodigy‘s style, in the early days, when he first began writing raps of his own. By the time he paired with LoDeck on the song “Cynical Bastards” from the 2001 Centrifugal Phorce label compilation, Euphony, however, the young emcee was not only exhibiting some remarkable talent, he had also begun developing a style that was both instantly recognizable and unquestionably his own. It was around this time that he began working with Blockhead, who also appeared on the comp with Aesop Rock, whose album, Labor Days, Blockhead would co-produce the same year for Jaime “EL-P” Meline‘s then-fledgling underground rap label, Definitive Jux. With the promise shown in “Cynical Bastards,” the fact that they had some overlapping acquaintances — legendary radio DJ/Rocksteady Crew member/Fondle ‘Em Records founder/all around hip hop renaissance man, Bobbito Garcia, being a key one of them — and after witnessing some random open mic performances and ciphers/battles that Despot popped up in, Meline showed interest early. Eventually, Despot gave EL a CD with 2 tracks on it and was signed to Def Jux, which released them together as singles. This was 2004 and talk of the new signee’s full-length began back then, but nothing ever really materialized from it until this morning, when the video for what is, supposedly, the first single from his debut album premiered on theFADER.com… 11 years later. In fact, this is Despot‘s first music video of his own, ever.
Despot‘s first 2 tracks, “Homesickness” and “Life With Snarky Parker” (prod. by Blockhead) – the ones that I’m assuming were on that original disc and got him signed — appeared as the B-side of a split 12-inch with the duo of EL-P and the late Camu Tao back in 2004, with “Homesickness” also popping up on the Definitive Jux Volume III compilation that same year. Right out of the gate there was a discussion about his debut full-length coming out, or, at least, being in the works, but tracks only appeared sporadically, over time, before EL put Def Jux into indefinite hiatus in 2010. In the beginning, Reinstein had made claims that the project would be created entirely with the assistance of Blockhead, and in 2006, Def Jux released the single “Crap Artists” b/w “Substance D,” which were both produced by him. “Crap Artists” appeared again as part of the 2010 comp Definitive Jux Presents Time Travel Vol. 1, and Despot‘s unfinished album was even tentatively given the working title of Hooray For Me, taken from the following chorus of that song, which would never appear on it.
“I get paid to breathe
Hooray For Me
Hooray For Me
Hooray For Me”
That chorus alone, does reflect the artist’s cynical perspective on the industry he’s chosen and, in retrospect, he’s even been critical of his own first couple of singles that he initially put out. With such little material being released over such a long period of time and with Reinstein continuing to answer his questioners in the interviews that surface with him every few years or so by stating that the album is still definitely in the works, a solid amount of speculation continues to be made about where the fuck it’s actually at. One tired and completely unfounded theory was that EL-P put the kibosh on the project early on and was keeping his fellow redheaded emcee down, but that conspiracy couldn’t be further from the truth, as both Despot‘s own statements and the following 2 tweets from EL, himself — one from last year and one from last week — have clearly indicated.
this motherfucker @despotroast lives like 10 blocks away AND is driving and is still 42 minutes late. and THAT, kids, is where his album is.
— el-p (@therealelp) September 19, 2014
I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN OR IF @despotroast WILL RELEASE AN ALBUM. I HAVE NO CONTROL OF, INVESTMENT OR INVOLVEMENT IN SAID ALBUM. so help me god.
— el-p (@therealelp) July 13, 2015
Another suggestion is that the former Napoleon of the Def Jux roster is just too much of a perfectionist, which I believe is, at least partially, true. Reinstein has admitted that he’s inherited the neurosis that all of us jews automatically born with, as well as to scrapping endless tracks over the years because, in his opinion, they just weren’t good enough; it’s not that he hasn’t created enough material to fill multiple LPs, he just hasn’t created enough that he’s happy with, or that he ever wants anyone to hear. Still, when it’s all said and done, the Queens native still puts all of the blame on the fact that he’s just incredibly fucking lazy. Back in a 2012 video interview, where he only adds to the anticipation by mentioning that he was able to get Prodigy from Mobb Deep on a track, Despot addresses the inevitable question about what’s been taking him so goddamn long by admitting that the sad fact is that he’s always been someone that would “rather take a nap than write a rap song,” whether he’s proud of that reality or not.
In 2007, the Blockhead produced, “Get Rich Or Die Trying” appeared on the Def Jux X Adult Swim compilation, Definitive Swim, and Despot headed out on tour with Brooklyn instrumental/electronic duo, Ratatat. In an interview conducted that year by Earshot-Online, he still maintained that Blockhead would be “producing the majority of the record, but Ratatat is contributing at least three tracks.” In 2009, the Ratatat produced, “Look Alive” appeared on the 4th roster compilation, Definitive Jux Presents IV, with Despot, more or less, inverting his previous plans/claims in a new interview with StreetCarnage.com, where he stated that Ratatat would actually be producing the majority of the album, adding “three or four songs I did with Blockhead will also be on it — stuff we did six years ago.” In the same, somewhat confusing, explanation that he provided in that interview, Reinstein responds to the interviewer’s inquiry about why he’s seen 2 separate titles provided for the album — “Hooray For Me” and “Jerry” — with the following….
“You see, everybody really likes my dad and Jerry is the name of the pretty much full-album I just finished with Ratatat last June. Evan from Ratatat was forcing me to make an album so he was like, “How about I make a beat on the bus everyday and you write a song to it.”
He then clarified that the [hopefully] upcoming album, will actually be titled We’re All Excited, adding, “El-P was like, ‘you have songs now. Let’s put them out for real.’” But, of course, the album didn’t come, Def Jux shut down the following year, and the above comment is confusing, because it sounded as if he was referring to this “Jerry” project as a completely separate albums worth of tracks, which were finished in June of 2008, but also never arrived.
So, why is Despot‘s solo debut still so highly anticipated? In other words, why do people still give a shit at all about getting an album from someone who is, admittedly, just too lazy and unmotivated to put it out? Well… because Reinstein is just one of those anomalies that really is that good. How do you maintain — let alone, grow — a fanbase built from a handful of random singles scattered across compilation tapes over the span of a decade plus? The answer is to crush it every single time, whenever you show up, whether it’s on your own cut, a remix for Mr Muthafuckin eXquire, or a random cameo for an artist like Blood Orange. Despot is a unique voice and can hold his own with the best of them, without missing a beat. When he showed up on the pre-Run The Jewels track, “Tougher Colder Killer,” from EL-P’s 2012 release, Cancer 4 Cure, his verse was just as powerful and commanding as either EL‘s or Killer Mike‘s (not easy to pull off). And when he opened the Into The Wild Tour that year, in which EL and Mike were promoting their respective solo albums, at the time, Despot killed it with a full set, never sounding rusty or outdated in the slightest. Plus, any rapper who is an open fan of both Daniel Johnston and Popol Vuh, gets props from me automatically.
So… what about this “new” track, “House Of Bricks,” which had the audio released for it just last week? It’s great and it was great when I heard him perform the song live 3 years ago. And that’s not a jab, either, because the shit that he’s putting together is timeless and sounds fresher and more relevant than almost anything else that you’re going to hear this year, regardless of when it may have been originally recorded. And then, of course, there’s the video, which was directed by the same person who produced the track, Ratatat‘s Evan Mast (aka E*vax), and was shot in the very same cluttered Queens apartment that Reinstein grew up in. Featured alongside the rapper is his brother (holding their iguana, “Rex”); his father, Jerry (doing thai chi); and his mother, Sophie (twisting up and smoking joints), while the rapper spits his verses next to them and shows off his falconry skills. So, is it good? All that I know is that I can’t stop watching this goddamn thing.
One interesting thing that might be worth mentioning is that there was one particularly ignorant comment made under that 2009 Street Carnage interview, which prompted a number of opposing reactions, and said:
“I can’t believe there are STILL white rappers and VICE or whatever this thing is is still covering them. you can huff and you can puff but you will never blow the house / fact that rap is supposed to be done by blacks down“
It makes one wonder if the chorus for “House Of Bricks” might not, in part, be inspired that statement.
But the real question is if the release of Despot‘s first ever music video isn’t an indicator of his first ever solo album following shortly. One thing that I remember from that Into The Wild Tour was EL explaining to the crowd that the rapper was pretty much set financially to the point where he didn’t really need to fuck around with being involved in music at all; he does it because of his love of the artform. Whether or not that relates to Reinstein being the co-owner of the tremendously successful, award winning nightclub/venue, Santos Party House, alongside Andrew WK, it’s definitely one less reason to speed up the hustle and get something out. From his August 2009 tweet, which simply read “We’re All Excited,” to a 2013 instagram image of British musician/fellow baby-faced ginger, King Krule that also included that phrase/album title, there have been a number dead end teases for this release over the years. Even now, he tells Fader only that he’d “like to say that it’s close, it feels like it’s getting closer,” but he does claim that he has compiled about 10 different tracks that he hasn’t entirely vetoed and which he feels are fit for public auditory consumption. That’s approximately a song a year for the duration that he’s been “working” on this thing. That being said, the implication is that the video is a response to how well received the audio release was last week, so if we all keep posting about this shit, maybe this will actually eventually happen someday. But whether this album does finally come out or not, is all of this really worth our attention? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the word “DESPOT” is an anagram for the word “DOPEST.” We’ll be waiting and if everything else is as good as this video, there might be enough meat on this thing to carry us until the next album comes out. I have absolutely no doubt that it’s going to sound amazing bumping out of our flying cars.