Commissary, the penal-themed EP that Casanova released in June, is a symphony of chaos and verbal brawling. The songs are punishingly corporal, intimidatingly minimalist, rough around the edges and loud as cicadas in mating season. Casanova is one of New York City’s best-liked rappers, but he scares just as many people as inspires. His music is not for the faint of heart – or sensitive of hearing.
“WUT U SAID,” Casanova’s collaboration with the legendary DJ Premier, is as good a case in point as any. Over a twitchy violin sample and menacing, disapproving piano
arpeggios, Casanova raps grimly and frenetically, his voice shaky with anger but his words anything but ambiguous: “We caught a lick; I gave you the brick/I paid your lawyer so your charges wouldn’t stick/Now you flip? I heard you was talking shit.” This is a man who’s tired of friends and associates making commitments they have no intention of honoring.
I was shocked when DJ Premier told me, Casanova !!!
“When [DJ Premier] told me he wanted to work with me, I was kinda shocked,” Casanova says. “We walked in the studio, and he started the beat from scratch. After that, it was history. He loved the energy and everything about it, and that put me in a different kind of space. Because he’s a legend! He don’t work with everybody.”
Two years ago, Casanova was a recent parolee and amateur rapper with few, if any, followers: “I’d be lying if I said I thought I’d be making music,” he laughs. “I think God blessed me, you know what I mean? But I didn’t think I’d be behind a mic or in a studio or performing in front of people.”
Today Casanova records with Roc Nation, the snazzy imprint founded by none other than grandiloquent rap icon Jay-Z. Casanova is the talk of New York – esteemed for his
mastery of the scrupleless, shank-edged gangsta rap that not so long ago was this city’s pride and joy – but he’s cut from a wholly different cloth than past local superstars.
He’s not a honey-voiced libertine like 50 Cent, a writer of balletic prose like Jay-Z or a God-fearing prisoner-of-conscience like DMX. He’s a normal dude with prosaic concerns, like staying out of police custody and the whitening of his home borough (Brooklyn), and he resonates most strongly with other foul-tempered Average Joes.
When Casanova was invited to perform?
Particularly in New York, the relationship between radio and artist is analogous to that of lord and serf; Hot 97, the city’s flagship hip-hop station, is all-knowing and wields maximal power. So when Casanova was invited to perform at Hot 97’s Summer Jam festival this year, it felt very much like a coronation. He was appropriately tickled
“I was so anxious,” Casanova says. For the first time in our conversation, wonderment had crept into his voice. “My hands were sweating; my knees were shaking; my heart was beating fast. I was so anxious, but as soon as I got out there, the crowd went crazy. That just gave me a different type of energy, you know?”
“At the time, I thought I was gonna be rich next week [laughs],” he continues. “But, like, you still gotta work. You gotta get back in the studio.”
Does Casanova, this exemplar of populism, have globalist aspirations? It would seem so. On the afternoon of his interview with Brooklyn Mag, a jet-lagged Casanova had just returned from all of places, Nigeria. He toured the tenement slums of Lagos and gathered inspiration for his new EP, due out in February.
“I was working with a Nigerian artist, and he thought it’d be a good idea to travel to Lagos, so I took him up on the offer,” Casanova says. “I said, ‘You know what? Let’s
go. Let’s do it.’ Everyone from Roc Nation thought it was a good idea, and I was with it.”
Casanova fans No need to worry
“You can expect different kinds of music from this new record,” he continues. “I was free, off parole, not limited and able to just be me – I didn’t have a heavy weight on my shoulders, so I made more fun music, more music that people can have fun to. As opposed to shoot-’em-up, bang-bang type of stuff.” But Casanova fans need not worry: however divergent from Commissary, the new material will most certainly bang.