New Year, Same UNSTOPPABLE Game

“Can’t stop, won’t stop” is one of the modern era’s most overused clichés. But Jacksonville hip-hop hero Paten Locke eats, breathes and sleeps that mantra, producing more eclectic art in the last few years than most musicians do in a lifetime. From hard-hitting solo joints (check his excellent 2009 debut Super Ramen Spaceship) to star-studded collaborations (2016’s Food Chain opus with longtime partner Dillon is a bona fide Album of the Year contender), not a day goes by without Locke pouring his heart and soul into every lyric, beat and mix. And, as this Boston-native-turned-Jacksonville-staple tells Folio Weekly, 2017 promises to be just as intense.

Folio Weekly: Is the Rain Dogs show on Jan. 6 your first for 2017?
Paten Locke: Technically not, because I did a New Year’s Eve show with my group Stono Echo, where we played before and after midnight.

Let’s start there: What new projects do you have on deck in the New Year?
I have a ton of stuff going on. My label Full Plate, which just put out Food Chain with Dillon, will also release a record by Stono Echo, my collaboration with Jay Maestro that’s a soul/hip-hop thing. Dumbtron, my group with Willie Evans Jr., will also have a record this year, and then I should have my solo album Don’t Dance on My Grave coming out, too.

Damn — three full-lengths in one year. Are you busier now than you’ve ever been?
I’ve always had a lot going on. But by forming a whole new group and already having 40 songs in the can, and having another group, and my solo thing, and a label, yeah, I guess 2017 will be a busy year. 

How much of that is to satisfy your creative impulses, and how much is out of necessity to make it as a full-time musician?
Interesting question! Most of that is stuff I’d be doing even if I weren’t a full-time musician. Some of the production for other artists and DJing might be more to make sure the light bill is paid. But as far as all the entities, that’s just me wanting to create all the time and having a lot of ideas of ways I want to go. As a full-time musician, I can’t convince myself that I shouldn’t have the time to do it all. I don’t have any excuse. I actually can’t stop, won’t stop.

You’ve opted for a mostly DIY, independent career. Have the positives of that outweighed the negatives of, say, not having a major label behind you?
I don’t ever rule out anything — every project might be the one I push to major-label contracts. But I like to make music that isn’t necessarily palatable to them. I have done a lot of music-for-hire work for Red Bull, so I’m open to that. But I have to retain my own vision, and if I feel my vision is going to get tainted, I take a step back. This has been my career for so long that the most important thing for me is doing it for the love and the integrity. I’ll take “the L” on financial backing if it means not having someone put a dirty hand on my art.

Does it feel like your aesthetic is radically different from mainstream hip-hop?
Not always. That’s a tough call. It doesn’t make sense for me to run what I do through the tastes of the masses. I’ve always appreciated more obscure things. But I produced some seriously contemporary things for the first time with my group Stono Echo, so we’re entertaining the idea of major backing for that. That sound might be perfectly palatable to a certain sect of the mainstream. But Dance on My Grave is a purposefully abrasive, in-your-face, gritty and distorted project. Ultimately, it’s the sonic texture that keeps me away from radio music, which is clean and digital. I’m much more analog — I’d rather confuse the listener. Hit people in the face with some shit they don’t usually get.

As a writer, what inspires you?
I take it as it comes. It’s either a case-by-base basis — a project I need to write for — or a personal thing. Dance on My Grave was all me waiting for inspiration to hit. Thematically, I tend to gravitate toward the beautiful contrast of the world. My music deals with a lot of opposites. I might take something sad and make it funny, or something great might happen and I might humble it. Sometimes I get off a plane from somewhere and the first thing I do before I unpack is sit down and write something because it’s that important.

What is it about Jacksonville that keeps you coming back?
I could answer humorously and say it’s just the cost of living. I own a house here, and my people in Brooklyn live in apartments. But I also have a solid connection with several communities of artists here who are very inspiring. My best friend Willie Evans Jr. is more inspiring than whole cities of artists. Being able to drive over to his place and laugh with him is all the inspiration I need. I have mentorship situations with a lot of young cats here, too. That keeps me constantly studying, even while I’m comfortable enough to express my own character.

We’re guessing that’s what the Rain Dogs show is all about.
Definitely. Jacksonville isn’t my primary market, so a lot of the performances I do here are because of my relationship with Ian Ranne, who I’ve known since he passed out his very first flier. At one point, he owned so many venues I told him I was just gonna work at his places when I’m in Jacksonville. But he’s also a very solid friend — anytime he wants to do something with hip-hop, I’m gonna be there. He asked me if I could do a once-a-month thing at Rain Dogs — “You think you can handle that?” I was like, “I got that. [Laughs.] I’m down.”