By Marcel Hidalgo
Vulkan the Krusader was reaching out to me from Palm Beach, Florida. I soon learned that since he began rapping in 2010, he worked with notables like A$AP Ferg, Mr. MFN eXquire, Kool A.D. (of Das Racist). I listened to his album and quickly decided on an interview. Since I live in New York City and he lives in Palm Beach, Florida, we Skyped. During my talk with Vulkan, he spoke about his thoughts on religion, films, medieval history, heavy metal as well as his crush on Grimes and how much the nineteenth century Thomas Couture painting Romans in the Decadence of the Empire inspired him. Throughout the conversation, Vulkan mentioned his own voluntary isolation while creating the V album. My conversations with him left me thinking that the silent moments in our lives are sometimes the noisiest.
Your name is interesting. So, I researched it and found a comic book character named the Crusader. Are you familiar with him?
Vulkan the Krusader: No. Crusaders, to me, are the men who killed for religion. A graph friend of mine added the K, which is a stylized version of my name. I’m “Krusading” for hip hop; a speaker for those who can’t speak for themselves.
What do you mean “by a graph friend”?
Graffiti. I got the name Vulkan from high school, had nothing to with music. Then the graffiti artist friend of mine added the Krusader portion of the name.
Cool, I asked because I felt there’s a super hero/comic book theme going on in your music. Do comic books play an important role in your work and life in general?
Totally. I’m a big comic book fan. People have told me my name reminds them of a superhero or something grand. And, to be honest—yeah—I feel that way when I make music. Like this lone warrior in the fog with a giant eight foot blade. I read a lot of [Peter] Laird and [Kevin] Eastman’s [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles comics, which were really bloody. And Dark Horse comics were my favorite growing up. Of course, Batman. The Maxx was an amazing comic. Graphic novels like Watchmen, or even Hard Boiled—they should make that shit into a movie. It would be classic. Comic books have always given my mind the freedom to expand my imagination. They’re the basic foundation of ideas that inspire people into doing the impossible.
When first describing the process of making the V album, you said you isolated yourself. That sounded meditative or maybe even religious. For you, is making music a sort of religious experience?
It’s totally religious. I had to isolate myself for like six months. I left New York—too many distractions and too many negative things around me to work on music. When I came to Palm Beach, there was no one around me. I like being alone at times. It gives me time to gather up what I want to say and build without anyone saying anything. It was grueling as I basically was alone, except for DJ Buttamilk. In my music, I find myself in my world where I meet my maker, which is myself in my own image. Each song might paint a different picture and even have humorous or abrasive undertones. Though if you listen to it, it will immerse you in my soul and what I’m feeling—the true nature of my mind. You might find beliefs, you might find hell. But, God is there in the words. My mother is a very devoted Catholic. Me, myself, I don’t believe in the Church, but I believe God is there, in my music somewhere. I also believe we are gods ourselves, each one in his world building it. And the whole thing of idolizing—we all have idols. God might be the biggest one of all. Omnipotent words should grace the lips of every musician out there making sounds.
You are obviously attracted to themes of mythology and religion. Since themes like this are commonly found in genres like heavy metal, does that genre affect your craft at all?
I listen to everything under the sun. I always had an open mind. So of course I take all genres into consideration when making music. Bands like Guns & Roses, Alice in Chains, Skid Row, Judas Priest, Slayer are all shit my uncle used to listen to. But they stuck in my mind. When I got a little older I continued to listen to these records, and they had these themes, as well. I guess it kind of rubbed off on me in that fashion. I like Coheed and Cambria. Their fucking albums are amazing with the storylines. And just anything that is a concept album. But, the imagery—that’s dark and foreboding—is definitely my thing. I guess being mysterious is part of my nature. The unknown is always a common theme. So people are always scared of that, which heavy metal basically was—that scary shit people tried to keep their kids away from. Goth kids and such, the make-up, and everything else that goes into that subculture—I dapple in a bit of that nightmarish stuff.
I definitely get the dark tone from the cover of your album and a lot of your videos. But when I’m listening to the music I’m surprised that, for the most part, it’s not as dark as I’m expecting. How would you explain this?
It ventures into dark tones when needed. A lot of the sounds come from dark places. Then some more light-hearted or even high energy raps to play along a beat. I think my dark tones or surreal vibes hit home on songs about the opposite sex. The production is always real gritty. I mean if you hear “Elegant Backpack Rappers” that’s really dark. Or something like “Sweetest Perfection”, which is post-apocalyptic and really menacing. You got to balance the highs with the lows. It also has to inspire people. I like really epic sounding music—like cinematic—where it builds up and crashes down with emotional highs. Cause if I made songs that were just sad or emotional all the time then the album would really be a bummer. “Cut your wrist” type of thing. It’s not that though. Best way I could explain the V record is, when you have the instrumentals, you can announce kings to walk in a room and let them play for each kingdom. Still gritty, but yet brings the spirits up when it’s called for.
A couple of the song titles are also names of films, and you mention movies in your lyrics quite often. And a few songs even sample scenes from films. Which films have influenced you?
Film plays a huge part in my music. As I said, cinematic themes from some of my favorite movies play a role. I would say some movies that play a major part in my inspirations are A Clockwork Orange, because of the violence and character analysis, Aliens—with its atmosphere and militancy. Dune because I always remember “Litany Against Fear” and Paul reminds me of me. Bladerunner. I just love it because it’s so stylish and has such a beautiful looking grittiness to it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a noir kids film. Pulp Fiction—with its wonderful dialogue and great memorable, quirky scenes. The Lord of the Rings with its epic battles and badass warriors. Godfather trilogy—but that’s a given. Evil Dead with its gore and tone and effects. I love real life movies though about relationships. Silver Linings Playbook was really good. You kind of see yourself in those situations as a man. But it’s mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and horror movies that get my attention. I’ve practically seen every goddamn horror movie ever—from Korean stuff, U.K. and even that God awful devilish movie, A Serbian Film. Fuck that shit though. Will never see that shit ever again. But, yes, movies play a major part in my music. I’m inspired by them—even the set up and feel of the placement of the songs on the album. Oh, yeah, I always found value in the way Joker sees the world. It makes sense sometimes.
Since you told me that medieval history is important to you, what is it that you’ve read or watched? In other words, have you studied medieval philosophy, religion, or history?
The Middle Ages has always been a time period I’ve loved. I just studied mostly text books in high school and some architecture books. Most books are filled with fictionalized accounts of what really happened or characters that never existed. I just love the kingly vibes of those times. The decadence. The knights. The women. The buildings. I watch History channel and learn a lot about the actual people who lived in that era. King Arthur has gone on to be my favorite story. The sword in the stone; he makes the round table; his wife cheats on him, Lancelot, and the battles, the rage. I've read the Bible and Quran for my biblical studies. I’m 31 now. I read that stuff around ages 19-22, and it always stuck with me and was musically awakened for me two years ago. Because when you hear it, you can feel that.
How many places have you lived in your life?
I lived in Los Angeles, California from ages 4-14—mostly North Hollywood and El Monte. I moved to Miami, Florida due to gang violence I was involved in. I left to Vegas for a couple years around age 22. Then to Palm Beach, then the last 6 years I have lived in Bushwick, New York. And now I’m back in Palm Beach. The next move for me might be London. I feel that’s the next crusade. So I've pretty much seen most of the US, parts of Canada, and the jungles in Central America looking to kill iguanas.
What’s the story behind “Letter to Claire”?
Well, that song is about an experimental pop artist named Claire Boucher a.k.a. Grimes. I don't want to take away anything from my crush I got with her. But, it was something that people can relate to. People in this new age aint romantic anymore. I feel like they should write their girl a real fucking love letter. One day, my friend was showing me videos of Grimes. And she likes a lot of what I like, and believes a lot of things I believe in. So it’s cool nowadays—you can hear what a person is like without even knowing them—kind of like this interview. I really don't have a girl I really love right now. Or anything to be honest—since my isolation. So, I had this crush and decided to write a new age love letter to that girl you see in school but would not dare to tell her how you feel. So you just hand this really personal and sweet letter to her friends. I felt like it was also a way to let people know it’s alright to just put it out there and just be honest and real. I think Claire is a great musician and producer. I really admire how she empowers herself. In this male dominated world it’s really hard for girls nowadays. There’s a lot of bullshit you gotta deal with in this industry, and I just wanted to make a song that maybe can give her some love. Something to kind of tell her, “It’s okay. I feel you and I like you. This is me and I’m just letting you know there’s a man out here that appreciates that”. I think a lot of men wish they could do that to a stranger they know and admire. But, I would probably blush to hell if I met her in real life and drown in my own words. It’s funny, I can talk to any girl, but if it’s a girl I really like, I turn to a fucking puddle of shyness.
“Decadence & Class” is both a track and something that’s mentioned a few times in the album. What’s the meaning behind this?
Decadence is the feel of the music. Something grand. Something extremely self-indulgent in the way it’s prepared and seemly built out of kingly vibes. What inspired me was my favorite painting Romans in the Decadence of the Empire [by 19th century French painter Thomas Couture] which is a roman orgy. Still beautiful and the imagery is so classic and inspiring. Class is just something all people should have. I strive to have it. Just carry yourself in a manner where people respect you for your aura and arts.
What are your thoughts on the current state of music and what have you been listening to lately?
I love the fact that a lot of people I knew before have made it and made their mark on the world. But, as of right now, I think we need another change in hip hop. I feel the mainstream needs to get experimental. Pitbull and fucking Flo Rida should not be playing safe for the people who are scared of real music. I love artists who push boundaries and open minds to new ways of making music. And have a great way of getting their ideas across. Right now, I don't listen to a lot of hip hop. I’m listening to a lot of Kodak to Graph—the producer on my album. He made "Letter to Claire" and "Open Doors". Meth Dad is a dope artist. Purity Ring's album [2012’s Shrines] is still on heavy rotation—of course Grimes’s Visions album. The new Crystal Castles record [2012’s (III)] is fucking brilliant.
The first record that I listened to from front to back—ever in my life—has got to be Depeche Mode's Violator. That thing is the most beautiful sonically inspirational album ever made. I find new things in it all the time, and the way the words and structures are crafted. As a child listening to it—I was around 9—it was just great. I dubbed a cassette and took it with me to listen to at baseball practice in the outfield and when I skated. It was like entering a world, and that’s the feel of my music I wanted to give. So Depeche Mode is definitely a group that has stood the test of time because of their creativity and sounds. The sounds really got to me in a sense of building up and how melodic things should always be. But—that record, man—I fucking love it.
Now in your previous work, you linked up with guys like ASAP Ferg, Mr. Mutherfuckin’ eXquire, and Kool A.D. (of Das Racist). How’d you meet those guys?
Ferg—I bumped into him in Williamsburg near Beacon’s Closet. ASAP Rocky has recently been on Fader and started blowing up. I met ASAP Ferg, and we started chatting and talked about producers we love like Star Slinger and such. I told him I was making V for Vendetta, and would love for him to get on a track with me. Ferg was all love, man. He came on the train, listened to this track Feddy made and put that shit down. I still love that song—it’s called "Coke & Rum". Fucking banger. Afterwards, we left on the train, and he let me listen to "Hundred Million Roses" and I was like “This man has got it”. His cadence is what makes it work. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire I met through a friend of mine named Vic who was his manager at the time. He was very humble, and I loved his laid back demeanor. I told him, as well that I was making a record, and he told me to send him something as soon as possible. I never had such a quick turnaround. I sent him the beat—which was made by DJ Teenwolf—and he sent the verse the next day. So that’s how me and Mr. Mutherfuckin’ eXquire linked up. But, he’s got a record deal now, so he can't fuck with me anymore. I met Das Racist through eXquire since i was always around backstage at concerts. [Victor Vazquez a.k.a Kool A.D.] was mad cool, and Heems was always nice, as well. But Kool A.D. was always in a good mood—always smoking weed, always being a courteous person. We knew a lot of common people like the producer Steel Tipped Dove. I sent him a beat, and the next day I got the verse. It’s as easy as that. All these guys are great people. We made great music. They all are examples of great personalities that have their own voice and talent.