Moses Rockwell – Rochester Flow – an Interview, by Liam Sweeny
Written by Staff on May 25, 2023
Music and poetry intertwine as if the poet’s heartbeat was giving time to a bassline. And it might not be that a musician has a dusty library holding Milton and Yeats, or even Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. It might be that a daily walk down the street gives the inspiration for a line and a stanza is born. Or maybe a lyric.
Moses Rockwell has walked many streets and has crafted many words and ideas into lines and verses. He lives in our western front, Rochester to be exact, and we welcome him. And have a word with him.
RRX: One of the things I love about your music is that you rap about stuff other rappers wouldn’t dream of. Your flow is high creative with a little inner geek thrown in, and I just can’t stop listening. Does having a unique style help you stand out in rap, or do you stand out so much you’re in another room?
MR: Thank you, dude!
In a perfect world every rapper would have a unique and distinct way of going about it. Unfortunately today’s culture doesn’t exactly encourage much of that. So the ones that are trying to forge their own path might have an uphill battle getting new listeners on board. I just try to do it the way I like it to sound and feel. I’ve been very lucky to develop a listenership while avoiding whatever direction the cool-kids have taken it. I just hope and pray that it’s relatable to someone somewhere.
RRX: You include some pretty odd references in your lyric, like varicose veins and milk of magnesia, even some Lord of the Rings stuff. That’s just in the one album I have on repeat in the car, Until You Run Out of Cake. It’s on the one hand a fun flow, and on the other hand a bravery to go so against the grain. Why did you go the “uncommon” route?
MR: I can only talk about what I know. And I can only share whatever’s bouncing around in my own head. Sometimes it comes from conversations with friends. Sometimes I’m hung up on a novel I may not finish. The stuff most rappers make songs about have nothing to do with my experience and I’d never want to go there in my own music because I’d be lying. Authenticity is like rule #1 in hip-hop so I can’t rap about driving a sweet car or shooting up a nightclub. I can rap about having an anxiety attack at the bank or Douglas Adams books. Everyday life is way more interesting and song-worthy, in my opinion.
RRX: We’re all inspired by something. With music, I’ve always been inspired by prose, but with prose itself, I’ve been inspired by poetry. Are you more inspired by poetry or prose? Or is it something else, like art or sculpture or the sounds of other music?
MR: There are a lot of places I’ve pulled inspiration from. Poetry is fine but I like to read fiction more than anything. Being appreciative of prose has improved my own writing a great deal. You get into stuff by McCarthy, DeLillo, Baldwin or whoever and say “Wow, this is how writers write!”. You don’t necessarily get to have that thought when listening to rap and I think that’s why I put songs together the way I do. Or at least attempt to.
I just really adore language and words. It’s corny to say that but nothing gets me more excited. Baseball maybe?
RRX: There’s always a balance to things, especially in music. All the elements have their place, and if one’s off, everyone knows it. But there’s a balance in people too, which is where I ask you about a personal balance. How do you expose your own truth through your music while balancing it with being true to the style you’ve developed?
MR: I think it takes bending the rules a bit. It might be off putting to hear a rapper share vulnerable truths and weird intimate hang ups over music that’s normally accompanied by bragging or party raps. The goal is never to overshare or make listeners uncomfortable but hopefully get them excited to enjoy something they aren’t used to. I know rap’s always been about being the coolest person in the room but what if some folks wanna hear from the least cool person in the room? Maybe it’ll make for an interesting record.
RRX: You live in Rochester, which is a big city compared to Albany, about twice the size. We’re always fascinated by different scenes, especially scenes in New York. Let’s say we were coming to Rochester, and you had the thankless task of being our music tour guide. What stops would we have to make to know the Rochester scene?
MR: I’m probably the worst person in the entire city to be your travel guide. Big homebody types, my gal and I. There are plenty of spaces that host cool music and art though. Photo City Improv is a really great venue with a good amount of space and good sound. I’ve seen some excellent shows at Bug Jar. Small World Books hosts really sweet and intimate gigs. That one’s probably my favorite. To both play and listen. Bars are cool but the alternate venues keep a more contained environment and attentive audience.
RRX: No one hatches out of an egg with a microphone or a guitar in hand. We all learn; we’re all influenced. So I ask you who is one performer that influenced not only you, but all the people you were hanging with growing up in music? And as a connector, who do you have your eye on locally that you think should be blowing up?
MR: The first person that comes to mind would be Hassan Mackey. To this day I’ve yet to see an emcee put on a better improvised rap show. This fella would hit stage with a laptop full of beats and freestyle for 2 or 3 hours. And he was always so clever, thoughtful, funny, never repeating the same line. He was the first person I’d ever met that I wanted to be like. To this day even.
Rochester is packed to the brim with talent. Overflowing. I’m most of all excited about Cammy Enaharo. (Singer/Songwriter) Her writing is brilliant, her compositions are unique, amazing voice, multi-instrumentalist. Her music makes me cry, it makes me dance, it makes me want to be a better songwriter. If I could urge your readers to listen to one thing today it’d be Cam.
RRX: This is where you get to answer the question I didn’t ask. Remarks? Comments? Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
MR: Well I suppose it wouldn’t be a rap interview if I didn’t share my to-do list. I’m working on a few new records that I’m kinda over the moon about. First is my rap duo Regular Henry with buddy Mike in Milwaukee. He’s making all the beats and saying raps with me on every song. The second is an LP produced by Von Pea who I’ve been a literal superfan of since highschool. I’m also working on some songs with Steel Tipped Dove. I’m not really sure what to expect but I know I’m happy when I’m working on them. They should all be out within the next year on HippNOTT records.