When I hopped on Zoom with YNG Martyr, he sat drinking coffee directly from the press. An odd choice of beverage consumption at first? Maybe (I personally thought it was some king-level activity). But once you get to know the man, you know a cup isn’t the first thing that pops into the creative whirlwind of his mind.
The artistry of this rapidly rising Canberra rapper is rooted in spontaneity. It’s the reason there isn’t a mug in sight when he’s getting his caffeine, and it’s a major part of his success thus far. YNG Martyr creates music in moments, with the vibe of a room or the frenzy of his feelings being encapsulated in a stream of consciousness soliloquies. It started with freestyles at parties and in Call Of Duty lobbies, before blossoming into millions of streams in the forms of songs like the sonic blast of ‘Nike Ticks’, or the transparent emotions of ‘Feels Like This’. This is all capped off with strategic calculation, approaching the URL world of music promotion with his company YNG Marketing, and a wise, self-awareness fueled by a love of reading.
All these factors lead to his upcoming EP MISOGYNY, a 3-track deconstruction of a hip-hop persona. It contains two contrasting moods: The ear-catching, luxury-filled machismo of the opening anthem ‘CANADA’, and the open-book honesty of the heartfelt closer ‘TTYL’. It showcases YNG at his most boisterous, thriving in the realms of flex, and also at his most vulnerable, peeling back the layers and putting his emotions at the forefront. The results? An insight into the man behind Martyr, a testament to his musical versatility, and some vibrant sounds for a voyage in the whip.
In celebration of the project, YNG Martyr talks us through the limitless potential of art, the spontaneity of his creation process, and some of his book recommendations.
Hey YNG Martyr. Congrats on the new EP. You’ve mentioned that you’ve had this project ready for a while, what made now the right time to release it?
It was at a point where I’ve been accumulating singles and trying out different styles. Going into darker music, going into more wholesome music. I finally felt ready to wrap up a chapter of what I’ve been doing. With my big songs like ‘Nike Ticks’ and ‘1992’, I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve perfected that style. It’s reached a point where I want to find a new genre, and this EP is a bridge between what I’ve been doing, and what I intend to do in the future.
The EP feels like a deconstruction of rap machismo. What inspired the concept?
I started when I was 16 making music, and that was when I was just in a Call Of Duty lobby freestyling. It’s been a very weird process going from the kid at a party who freestyles and says outlandish shit, to someone more educated and developed. I almost feel as if I’ve become an adult, and my journey has been documented. It’s gotten to a point where I don’t want to sit there and do the same shit over and over again. I can do more, I can reach out to new styles, I can inspire new people. The concept spawned out of that realisation.
There are programs like The Eric Andre Show that deconstruct the concept of late-night television, peeling back the curtains on fabricated aspects of that format. You, in a sense, do the same thing with the themes of modern hip-hop here. What did you learn about yourself dissecting these themes of misogyny?
Through the process of making music, I feel like I’ve peeled back layers of myself. When I started YNG Martyr, my first song was called ‘Putin’, and the music video was me and a bunch of friends with presidential masks running around killing each other. Just stupid shit. It was always a mockery of hip-hop, but along the way, I’ve found myself embedded and invested in the culture. It’s something I’ve grown to love. Although, I do feel as if at times I’ve gotten lost in the product, rather than the person making it. By releasing new songs, I’ve realised what reflects me, what I’ve portrayed, and what I want to portray, which is just the purest form of myself.
You wrote in your press release for the project “I really think that art and expression should be limitless and you should be able to explore themes that are grotesque or dark and look at them how they are because, at the end of the day, they’re not your own thoughts.” How important is this concept to you during the creative process?
It’s a massive factor in my music. I view music in a very similar lens to film or any other type of media, where we should be able to explore any theme or any territory, without it necessarily reflecting who we are as a person. I feel like all the greatest movies have aspects of violence, extreme humour, or things that are unreal in our everyday lives, so it acts as a vessel for escape. I feel that’s what people love about hip-hop; the gritty dream that is trap music. The money, the cars, we love that as human beings, and that is amazing. We should be able to create things that are so far out from our reality that it gives us new ideas and perspectives. That’s the awesome part about art.
Is there a particular piece of art that inspired this notion in your work?
This is going to make me sound like an egotistical book nerd, but I’m really into self-help stuff. I stumbled upon Carl Jung, who is pretty much the father of modern psychology and a fucking genius. He spoke about how there are aspects of humans we don’t necessarily look at, and he called it the shadow. It’s like the part of your subconscious that you don’t want to acknowledge. So you repress it, push it down, and it comes out through things like outbursts or random accounts of violence. SO I think diving into that shadow figure of myself has been very important. His book ‘Man and His Symbols’ is a great read, it’s about deciphering your dreams and stuff like that. Looking at stuff in those lenses has inspired me to dive into themes like whether or not YNG Martyr is a character, or if it’s repressed feelings. It makes me explore what this music actually is. A lot of it is related to Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow.
I remember the rise of Chicago Drill, and how artists in that culture were painted as glorifiers of violence in mainstream media. Whereas the reality is that these are young, creatives coming out of adversity, and expressing themselves in the purest form. On songs like ‘CANADA’, your artistry thrives through the expression of the flex. Is there a pressure you feel that people will take it too literally, and model their lives off of this content?
There’s always that pressure with music I think. That can stem from a lot of things. But I think at the end of the day, exploring things people can resonate with and use as a form of escape is a beautiful thing. I think exploring different ways of life is the only way to garner perspective.
When I interviewed you for Acclaim All-Stars, you said “I love the spontaneity of expressing whatever I think or feel in the moment. This lets me create something new each time, and what I truly want rather than what my logical brain tells me will be good.” Did that process change while tackling a specific concept with this EP?
I don’t think the process has changed necessarily. With ‘CANADA’, I was sitting here drunk at 4 AM with my friend and wanted to make something fucking gritty. It was one of those nights, and such an emotional feeling where I just wanted to get it out and go crazy on something. I was also in a very self-reflective period during this time, where I was thinking a lot about my ex, and situations from the past. A lot of my previous music around love has been like “Woe is me, fuck my ex, I’m up now blah blah blah.” But this time, I was in the mindset of wanting to let go, and that’s how the song ‘TTYL’ came about. So while the process hasn’t changed, it was two contrasting moods I was in when I wrote them, creating that variety.
You’ve mentioned that some of your greatest art comes from the darkest places, and finding spontaneity in those low points can be self-destructive. However, you seem to use a stream of consciousness in those periods to come out in a better place. How do you turn those dark times into something that shines?
I think a lot of that comes from the books that I intake. In these types of self-help books, authors always talk about the mystical word that is alchemy, which means turning nothing into gold. I feel that’s what is guiding this, where I turn bad moments, low points, and horrible mindsets into something tangible, and something people can relate to. In turn, that’s how I connect with people, that’s how I make money, and that’s alchemy. It’s a process of not being stuck in those moments. I bet some days you wake up and don’t want to do your job, you don’t want to interview people. But once you get over that hump, you can use that as fuel. I’m the same, wherein those horrible places, I can’t exactly create. But after time, when I’m feeling up, I can reflect on those moments and use them to make art.
Stream of consciousness is something I’ve appreciated in this recent obsession I’ve had with Kanye West’s album ye, where he speaks freely, and repositions his struggles with mental health as his superpower for expression. What is YNG Martyr’s creative superpower?
That’s a great question. I feel like it’s the fact that my music is based on moments, where it allows me to capture things that reflect what’s going on in my life in small bites, and allows insight into who I am. I think I’ve always had that as a power, where I can stream out words and somehow make them make sense. I am eternally grateful for that.
What I love about your use of stream of consciousness is that it allows us to follow you on a journey through your emotions, particularly on ‘TTYL’, which starts as a moment of adversity for you, and blossoms into gratitude by the end of the track. Can you talk us through this process of dealing with this wide spectrum of feelings, and turning it into music?
Regarding that situation on ‘TTYL’ with my ex, who is an amazing person and all the love to her, I had struggled for about 2 years with the fact that we weren’t together. It was a long journey processing that and dealing with it. It made me question whether I should have done certain things, or if it was right to cut that relationship off. It was the best thing for both of us, but I had this voice in my head saying “You fucked that up, that was real love and you fumbled that.” It made me feel as if I may have lost the one real chance I had at finding the right person for me. And I was in a moment where I was so focused on my career, that I neglected relationships with friends, family, and particularly her. It weighed on my mind, where I felt like I fucked things up for a superficial goal. It was a long process, and it started with this disgusting, egotistical mindset where I was like ‘’Fuck that, I’m better off without her, I’m going to show her.” And then I began to understand that I’m at fault for part of what had transpired, until eventually, I came upon the other side, and realised that it’s ok to prioritise yourself and put your dreams over other things. Accepting that, and the fact that the relationship was gone, really led me along a process of forgiveness, figuring out how to be on my own, and manage relationships. That all led me to the moment of ‘TTYL’. Before that song, I had been creating “fuck you” flex music, or songs like ‘Feel Like This’ where I’m down and out. But this feels as if I’m coming up on the other side of it, and coming to terms with everything.
This project is evidence of that, where we learn more about the man behind YNG Martyr. What’s it been like putting yourself out there in this way?
It has been a ride, man. The title MISOGYNY itself is about me coming to terms with inbuilt behaviour I may have not been aware of in the past. It’s honestly a scary process. All my other releases have been about flying through. I put out photos, a snippet, hope people go crazy for it etc. But with this one, and I never thought I’d say this because it’s so cliche, I’m putting myself out to the world. Everybody’s eyes are on you, and it can be a very strenuous, weird thing.
Reading seems to be a very important part of your creative and personal life. Any recommendations?
‘Man and His Symbols’ by Carl Jung is great for getting into the realm of things like deciphering your dreams. ‘The Alchemist’ is an absolute classic if you’re into fiction. Also, I was really into the show Gravity Falls on Disney, and I recommend getting the journal from that, which has all these quirky gnomes and monsters. I pick that up whenever I’m bored and it’s amazing, I love all that shit, I’m a massive nerd.
Lastly, my friend, after the EP drops, what’s next for YNG Martyr in 2021?
After this EP, I’m going into an entirely different direction of music, and I have an entire album of that style. I’m excited about that. On the YNG collective front, we have YNG One who is coming out with some crazy material. Our beat producers have created some fire for all our upcoming releases. Our DJ just started managing a club here in Canberra, he’s going absolutely ballistic with that. And yeah, expect an album from me by the end of the year, expect at least another 12 songs from all of us, and expect us to keep it rolling.
YNG Martyr’s new EP MISOGYNY drops this Friday. Check out the video for his latest single ‘CANADA’ below.