Image via The Koreatown Oddity/Instagram

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Dash Lewis wants to be a celebrated writer.

It’s a bright July afternoon in Los Angeles and traffic is mercifully light. Dominique Purdy, the artist, comedian, and rapper known as The Koreatown Oddity, is sitting shotgun while his partner drives. His daughter coos from the backseat every now and again, transfixed by the colorful blur of scenery streaming past her window. We’re traveling to a gallery space where Purdy will put the finishing touches on an installation piece, the opening of which will double as the release party for his new album, ISTHISFORREAL?. I keep meaning to ask him more about the installation but I’m too distracted by his sunglasses. I’m not actually in the car with Purdy and his family — he’s joined our Zoom call on his phone, which he’s holding close enough to his face for me to see the reflection of the route we’re all traveling in his mirrored lenses. It’s surreal to think that though we’re 2,717 miles apart, I’m riding in his car through Los Angeles and he’s sitting in my house in Richmond.

It’s a fitting mind state to be in when discussing ISTHISFORREAL?, which is perhaps one of the most cosmic rap albums to come out in recent memory. In 25 minutes, Purdy investigates ideas of identity, the finality (or lack thereof) of death, and what it is to exist, letting each question fractal into infinity. It’s a galaxy brain-dump of an album, deceptively towering in scope. K-town doesn’t purport to have any of the answers he’s seeking, explaining that “the fun part is not knowing” when I ask. He’s an artist who revels in the absurdity of it all, both perplexed and delighted by the silliness of being alive. The song “EXISTENTIAL LANDLORD,” as an example, features recordings of a friend translating the philosophical musings found in the journals of K-town’s old landlord. It’s beautiful, heavy, fearful, and serene — all symptoms of a mind struggling to reconcile its existence — but it’s also called “EXISTENTIAL LANDLORD.” In Purdy’s view, the inherent humor in our cosmic struggles softens them a bit.

That humor is present all over the album. The initial conceit is that Purdy reveals that he’s British, not the L.A. native everyone thinks he is. The skits in between songs, which have him switching between British and Southern California accents, are goofy and fun, but illustrate the much deeper idea that it’s impossible to fully know anyone — or anything. His eccentric jokiness appears constantly during our conversation, not as a defense mechanism or a way to take the piss out of weighty subjects, but as a way in; like any good comedian, his quips give depth to whatever it is he’s speaking or rapping about.

Purdy’s career is brimming with confrontational absurdism. For a while, he would perform in a wolf mask, sometimes filming impromptu Koreatown Oddity shows in subway stations or Wendy’s dining rooms. He’s able to cleverly disguise cutting social commentary as druggy raw thoughts. In 2015 he co-wrote and starred in Driving While Black, a stoner comedy about racial profiling based on his experiences as a perpetually stoned pizza delivery guy who constantly gets pulled over by L.A cops.

Songs like the deeply lysergic “Diz Nee Land” from his second 5 Chuckles collaboration with the late Ras G show the cold emptiness behind the cultural institutions we’ve been made to love. The track features Open Mike Eagle accompanying Purdy on a (fictional?) mushroom-fueled trip to America’s favorite theme park, only to get fully freaked out by how many of their neighbors willingly pay buckets of money for miserable experiences. When staring into the void, a jump scare and a punchline have the same effect.

ISTHISFORREAL? feels like a culmination of sorts, combining a little bit of everything Purdy’s done to date. Since signing with Stones Throw in 2016, the fidelity of his records has improved, but he’s managed to keep the immediacy of his initial cassette releases. Though he doesn’t don the wolf mask, he examines other disguises and their effect on how he’s perceived. He doesn’t mine his formative memories as much as on 2020’s Little Dominique’s Nosebleed, nor does he air out quotidian working class frustrations like on 2013’s No Health Insurance. He’s connecting all of it into a sprawling, 30,000 foot view of his life, concluding that there is no real conclusion.

Though I never get to my questions about his installation piece, I do ask if he has any rituals he does around the release of a new album or if he has any superstitions he tries to respect. He says he doesn’t, but strives to practice gratitude for the “artsy life” he gets to live. A lot of that comes from being present, being open to the little signs that everything is connected. In Purdy’s view, those synchronicities are the only way we know what we’re experiencing is real. Once you realize that, all you can do is laugh.

What does spirituality look like for you?

The Koreatown Oddity: Honestly, it’s a part of my everyday life. It’s just in me. I might look at something that happened throughout the day and see the connection on why it happened and look at that to figure out the next thing. I’m always keeping my eye and ear out for those types of connections out in life. If you’re a person that’s in tune with it, [connections will] be given to you. It could be a bum, it could be an old lady at the Goodwill, it could be anything that gives a connection. A billboard or a piece of trash. It’s funny like that.

It’s all about the synchronicities that build up over time.

The Koreatown Oddity: Yeah, that’s how we rock. That’s always been in my music whether I actually state that or it just comes off of the energy of the record.

[Zoom freezes] We froze again. I’m gonna wait just a second — there we go.

The Koreatown Oddity: That was hilarious because it looked like you were just staring at me for the longest time. [Laughs]

I enjoy doing interviews over Zoom because it’s nice to be face to face with somebody, but technology does not make our life easier at all. Technology makes it a lot harder in so many respects.

The Koreatown Oddity: Yeah, it’s always a give and take with technology.

It makes me wonder how we did anything before any of this stuff. You were born in ’84, so you’re around 37? I’m 36 and I remember growing up before the internet. [When it became ubiquitous], I remember printing out Mapquest directions and stuff like that.

The Koreatown Oddity: Mapquest, bro! The directions thing is the thing that I wonder like, “How was I doing this?” It was just what it was so you didn’t really think about how we was doing it. But now when I’m going places, and I go ahead and throw the electronic map thing on and I’m like, “Dude, I can’t believe I was like writing this sh*t down.” And if you f*cked up when you wrote it down, you couldn’t call nobody! You’d have to double back your directions or get out at the payphone. I remember my parents doing stuff like that.

It’s wild. We’ve adapted so much and put so much of our identity into technology that it’s funny to think about how much time people spent just being lost. And we were kind of okay with being lost.

The Koreatown Oddity: Yeah, because it was just what it was! I always think about how as a kid I’d go to the homie’s house, he was down the street. If I said, “I’m gonna be there at this time” and I wasn’t there, he wasn’t gonna wait, he’d just leave. I get there and be like, “Damn, I did get here late though.” He might call my house, leave me a message and say, “Yo, I left.” But then I gotta go back to my house, listen to the message and hear like, “Hey, I know I missed you, man, but I’ll be back at this time.” It kind of made a lot of interesting, random missions happen. Because if something didn’t work out timing wise, you had to figure out something else in the meantime until you could connect whatever you were doing. I’m definitely happy that I got to be from that time.

Yeah, it makes me think about finding these synchronicities that you were talking about a second ago and I wonder what that relationship to technology is —- like if you’re more attuned to it now because there’s part of your brain that doesn’t have to think about directions or phone numbers, or if you were more attuned to it before because you were able to have these little side quests all the time.

The Koreatown Oddity: Right? I know I’m just that type of person that will go with the flow, even when things need to happen a certain way. Sometimes the time you spend stressing over some sh*t and it works out, you be like “Damn! All that time, I could have just chilled out and not put my body through that stress energy. It worked out anyway!” The thing that’s going to happen is gonna happen anyway, so it’s all about the little journey to that finalized situation.

It’s the Everything Everywhere All At Once [multiverse] idea where the tiniest little thing will create a new universe and an entirely new path that you go down. So in that sense, there’s no real reason to have any regrets.

The Koreatown Oddity: No, it’s crazy when people talk about regret, because even though everybody takes L’s and W’s throughout they life, some people see some things as regret. I really don’t have that feeling. I’m good with it. If I took the L, it got me to where I am and gave me some pointers for how to move forward with things. I remember Ras G used to always say to me, “Everything and nothing. That’s what’s happening.” It’s true! Even Seinfeld, the show about nothing. It’s not about nothing — it’s about everything.

In the song “AN ENDLESS RUN” on your new record, you ask the question “How will I know when my spirit has grown?” Are you actually searching for the answer to that question? Or does it matter?

The Koreatown Oddity: I’m definitely not searching for the answer. It’s more like a rhetorical question. You don’t really know — you can only give yourself that answer or satisfaction that you did grow. I definitely take reflection a lot during my week, maybe more often than the average person, and so I’m able to see “this is where I’m at.” I just think I’ve always been like this since I was a kid. Obviously, I didn’t have this vocabulary as a child, but I feel like everyone keeps the same core of what they are and then they add these outside elements. If you’re a good [person] at heart, that doesn’t go away. I feel I’m that same person, that same kid, we just kind of lock that kid up. I guess it depends on what kind of path you have in life. Luckily, I’m an artistic person — I live an artsy life. I don’t know what it’s like to work in a cubicle. I guess it all depends on your pathway that either locks up or opens up that young, inner you that was innocently moving through the world.

That makes me think about the person talking on “EXISTENTIAL LANDLORD.” It begins with “why are we so obsessed with thinking about our existence?” which is funny, because it comes near the end of a record that is definitely dissecting existence and identity. But to end it with this idea of “why are we so obsessed with it?” feels like a nice cap to those themes.

The Koreatown Oddity: The “EXISTENTIAL LANDLORD” is a landlord I had at a building I used to stay at. He was an older Korean man. When I was late on rent he never really tripped on me. He was just super cool, always helped me, we talked a lot. He called me Purdy — “Purdy, I trust you!” He had a crazy little garden and plants in the back. He passed in 2020 and his kids were coming to clean out his apartment. We found that this notebook of his that had a picture of him — the artwork for the album has that picture in there. It was a journal that was pretty much blank, but there was like three pages that had all this writing in Korean and some Chinese characters. My girl had a friend that translated it for us. She read it and sent voice memos of what it was, so I recorded those. I didn’t know I would use it for a record until I was actually making the record. It’s like five minutes worth of her talking, so I pieced together these parts. It’s all these deep inner [thoughts].

I never really knew he talked like that or thought like that, even though when I heard those words, it made sense. I really connected with all of that and thought it would be special to share that with people. It was a personal journal of stuff to help him spiritually grow. I thought maybe that’d be inspiring with the music and even where it’s placed in a certain spot in the album, too. I’m really into that — the sequencing is important when you’re making an album. It’s about the full thing, the full experience. I want people to feel like their time wasn’t wasted and that they got something that when they go back into the world — their life — they can have unconsciously in their mind to help out. What else are artists really here for but to help out and show you another view?

So how did you end up connecting these recordings of this very personal spiritual writing to the idea of revealing a true identity? From what I understand, the impetus of this record came from the discovery that Idris Elba is actually British.

The Koreatown Oddity: I watched this movie a long time ago — I forget which one it was, but Idris Elba was in it. At the time, I hadn’t seen The Wire; it was probably on TV [at the time]. I watched the bonus materials which was like him talking behind the scenes, and I was like “Oh, sh*t, he’s British!” Then maybe a week or two after, I’m just walking down Hollywood Boulevard, and I walk up to the corner. Somebody’s standing right next to me — it’s f*cking Idris Elba. I go, “Ay, man, that’s crazy, I never knew you was British!” And he was just kinda looking like, “Yep” and that was it.

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of Black British actors that have become big, like Daniel Kaluuya. Only reason I knew he was British is because I saw him on Black Mirror. Okay, so then I’m watching Snowfall. I see [Damson Idris] in an interview and I’m like, “Oh sh*t, not only is he British he’s like, completely British.” He’s nothing like [his character] Franklin Saint at all. It was crazy, like “Okay damn, so it’s British out here.” Then I’m watching this show called All American, which is funny because the lead character is actually British. Snowfall and All American are based on characters that are from South Central and it just made me start thinking: I’m from LA — everybody knows I’m K-town and the whole thing — but what if people found out that I was British? Like, what if it just came out and I started doing interviews and I had a British accent, like I was brought here as an implant to just trick people or something. I think that would really blow people’s minds.

So, the album is called ISTHISFORREAL?. In this time we live in, people be saying sh*t without finding out for sure if this information is solid. They’ll just tell another person about it. Or now the thing is to get publicity, celebrities will do crazy things to make you think that something’s off, but really, they planned it and then the next week they drop an album. Tying back to Steve, my landlord, he’s talking about life and death. It’s almost like he’s like, “Damn, is this experience even real?” A lot of people think life is a simulation. And even when people die — when Ras G died, I didn’t believe it.

The night before, me and my boy were editing this little short film that I have on Youtube where I’m going to all the homies’ houses and kickin’ with them. I was like, “I’m gonna call G in the morning and see if he’ll give me this beat that’s in this scene that we shot. I need this beat.” I go to sleep, wake up, I got so many missed calls. I didn’t believe it. I got dressed and I just drove straight to his house. When I talked about how my mom’s sister got murdered — all these type of things is when you find out, “Oh, that’s real.” That’s the one thing we know — death. It’s real. You can’t talk to the person anymore. They’re here spiritually, I always see people spiritually in things. The day I was gonna put out that little short film, I walked in the store and Ras G’s music just playing. As soon I walked in the store, it was like, “Oh, Ras!” People here in spirit, and that’s a part of the ISTHISFORREAL? thing too. You forget that people have passed. There’s multiple concepts of what the ISTHISFORREAL? thing is. That’s why I used the the comedy side of it with me being British. You think you know me, but what if I did that then you’d be like, “Damn, I guess I don’t know him.”

Again, the synchronicities thing has come up — you walk in and you hear Ras G’s music playing. I wonder, is that beyond death? Is synchronicity the other way that we understand that things are real? Because they keep popping up?

The Koreatown Oddity: Yeah, honestly, I think that’s the way. We know we’re born, we grow, and then we die. But what’s on the other side of that? What if there’s a whole sequence for death on the other side? We have no idea. It’s just a dark corridor we go down. Everybody has theories, but no one really knows. You read the Bible or the Qur’an or any sort of book like that and they’ll give you an idea of what they think. I think everybody’s right — you’re all right. It’s only your imagination. You might go there and that sh*t might just be silent. Nobody’s there and you’re just chilling in the dark and that’s it, that’s what death is.

Or maybe it might just be like a long dream, you know? We don’t really know. Everybody’s already looking for that. Some people use the word coincidence. [I] ain’t into the coincidence thing. Yeah, there are some things that get me like, “Ah, it’s kind of crazy that that happened.” But every time things happen that line up, I always take a second to pause and be like, “Hmm, okay, something’s going on right now. We catching a wave — we in this and I want to stay within it. So let me really open up right now at this moment, because there’s something going on.” There may be something you need to see.

What I’m getting is that there are no coincidences, because — I don’t know, is there free will in your view?

The Koreatown Oddity: You know, it’s crazy. The free will thing is like — I feel like there’s elements of it because everything is a fork in the road. You do this one or this one and then you go down this one. And then you go to the next fork in the road. If we had like an overhead view of a human being and all the forks they went through, you’ll see like, “Oh, they ended up way over here. They did a bunch of lefts.” So it’s their free will, I guess, making that decision.

We just say like, “Yeah, you were born to do that” — like, you ever watch a documentary about some great person and you’re like, “Damn, you was gonna do this no matter what.” People get obsessed with documentaries because they’re trying to find the thing that the person is not talking about that happens to help them get there. Somebody who wants to be an artist may watch [something about] Basquiat, Andy Warhol — it’s not that they’re trying to be like them. They’re trying to find out the unspoken thing that’s there in all these people that you could find in yourself. That’s what I think we’re looking for.

Have you seen those photos from the James Webb telescope that NASA put out?

The Koreatown Oddity: No, I didn’t.

They just put out all these super deep, extremely high res photos of the universe. There’s galaxies on galaxies and some are mirror images. As we’re talking about the infinite possibilities that we walk through every day, I was thinking about that line on “HOMEBOYS IN OUTER SPACE” where you say “We walk in universes within universes.” We look at these photos of the universe and see galaxies and whatnot, and the entirety of the infinite is just like, smushed into this tiny box. Everything is so huge, and yet it’s not at all.

The Koreatown Oddity: No, it’s crazy because they can send pictures of space and the universe, but they can only go so far! That sh*t is f*cking infinite, man! Yo, I want to go to the end of that sh*t. That’s the only reason why I’ve ever wanted to go to space — I want to hit the wall like f*cking Truman Show and be like, “Oh, this is it? Okay, this is where it ends at” and tell somebody like, “Yo, over there? That’s the end. No more space.” But we’ll never know! It just blows my mind. And the “walk in universes within universes” [line] — we have a whole universe going on in our body. I remember in high school science class watching a thing about the body and what it’s constantly doing. Like we’re outside doing all this sh*t, but the body’s working, blood’s pumping.

[Ktown’s partner, who’s driving, says “The world is psychedelic” in the background]

[Laughs] My girl said “the world is psychedelic.” I always bring that up when any small thing happens because it already is without drugs. Dude, those documentaries about below the ocean, where it’s like, extra dark? They’re showing all these fish that glow in the dark but the only reason why they glowing in the dark is because we’re down there shining light. They’re just in the dark. And they look crazy! You can’t really deny that there’s some other forces going on here. Like who made that? Who made this little, crazy, wiggly worm creature who has like a leg coming out its back? You’re like “What in the hell is this? Why? Why does this even need to be here? What is it doing?” It makes me tear up, lowkey, because it’s so amazing. I feel like those things, that wonder about the world itself, is what keeps me going. Mundane is just a word — things aren’t mundane, you know what I’m saying? A little world is created in the corner of the floor mat of your car.

Is there an answer to “is this for real?” Does it matter if there’s an answer?

The Koreatown Oddity: You know, that’s a good question. The fun part is not knowing if there is an answer or not. I say that a lot — whenever we find out about something or I see something happening, I’m like “Man, is this for real?” I’m one of those people where the first thing I think about it is like, “Yeah, let me get a little bit more information first ’cause I don’t know.” The fun part is not knowing, because then you could keep going on and on and on. That’s why it’s always fun to watch conspiracy videos on YouTube. I love conspiracy videos because I’m one of the people that can have fun with it and not let it take over my whole entire life.

It’s just fun to watch people talk about what they think is really the thing [watch them] and get all deep on “This person’s a demon” and the Earth is flat. I’m cool with that! Yo, you think the earth is flat? I want to hear why you think this because this is f*cking nuts. People always have these things that are the “final answer” — obviously two plus two is four, that makes sense. But hey, you know, I go to some other land where they don’t got nothing, they do all these rituals — maybe two plus two ain’t four over there, you know what I’m saying? Because that’s the world they rockin’ with, they’re not doing that. So “is this for real?” is a floating, open thing which makes for all the layers that go on in the album. Life is so amazing and crazy at the same time. If I was one of these rappers that tattooed my face, I might tatt [ISTHISFOREAL?] on my face. You know how Post Malone has “always tired” under his eyes? I might do that, I might f*ck around and get a fake little henna tatt just to just to trick people. They’ll be like “Yo, Dominique is f*ckin’ wildin’!”

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