YUNGMORPHEUS is in the midst of a busy week when we connect over FaceTime in early April. It’s still early morning in LA, and his living room is bathed in soft sunlight as he stifles a yawn. “Just give me a second to calibrate myself here,” he says, gathering his thoughts and his rolling papers as he settles. “I've been fully leaning into the ‘you're a professional rapper’ mindset the last couple of days,” he laughs, listing off a raft of upcoming commitments around the release of his new album From Whence It Came.
The Florida-born rapper and producer’s stock has been steadily rising through a prolific 2022 that saw him release four collaborative albums and a solo EP. After joining forces with Pink Siifu in May for Bag Talk DELUXE, he produced every track of Slang Casino with Obijuan, a reggae-tinged celebration of their shared Caribbean heritage. That was quickly followed by Up Against the Wall; a Degree of Lunacy with rapper-producer Theravada in August, and another turn at production on A Place I Got Lost In with British rapper Clbrks in November. Over these four collaborative projects, MORPH proved himself a shape-shifter: switching between styles and moving back and forth from the booth to the boards. Closing out 2022 with his six-track EP Burnished Sums marked the start of a new chapter: “Come into MORPH’s world now. You enjoyed what you heard before? Now begins the canon,” he told Passion of the Weiss at the time.
“Burnished Sums was the prologue; we are now in chapter one,” he tells me today, when I ask if From Whence It Came is a continuation of that same energy. “Anything you see with the album art from Okey, that is part of the canon.” Indeed, the EP and album share a visual language too, with LA artist Okey Ofomata’s paintings adorning both covers. I’m interested to know if he picks out existing pieces from Okey’s archive, or if each piece is an original commission for the project. “Yeah, that's what we do for everything. I send him the project and tell him a couple of the themes that you wouldn't necessarily garner if I hadn't told you, the things that were in my mind.”
“There’s no guidance from your side on what the finished piece should look like?” I ask. “Nope,” MORPH answers, drawing a deep breath as he lights up. “He just listens and paints, and every single time I've been like, ‘damn, that’s perfect.’”
When did this idea first germinate of you wanting to tell your own story, as opposed to some of your other recent collab projects?
It's been germinating for a minute. I think probably after I finished that project with Eyedress [2021’s Affable with Pointed Teeth], my mind was like, “OK, this is great. People like this record, and you like this record, and it's nice, it's different. But, like, what are you on?” I was listening to my ego a bit to be fair; “do people like this album because it's good, or do they like your records based on the fucking association game?” I had to combat that, instead of fucking ruining my brain with that incessant thought. So that’s where the idea came from to start on the solo shit. And if I put my all into that, the work is gonna speak for itself. I won't have to ask myself that question no more.
Do you find it easier to be more self-reflective on the blank canvas of solo projects, rather than a collaboration with another rapper or producer?
Honestly, I’m on my Erykah Badu shit - I’m an artist and I'm sensitive about my shit. Certain personal trials and tribulations I'm not trying to share with everybody. I'mma naturally be honest on every project, but it's more natural for me to, like, work in that honesty when I'm alone, you know what I'm saying? There's nobody else you get to lean on, and you don't get to have your cape on, like “I’m a coolass motherfucker, I’m MORPH, fuck y’all.” If it’s just you alone at the house, who are you saying that to now? Just look at the true reflection of yourself in the mirror - and a lot of niggas ain’t down to reckon with that shit, because it’s a fucking tough pill to swallow. That's why this album ended up having the name it had.
OK, so what does From Whence It Came mean to you?
That this record is me boiled down to the truest truth. There's no pantomime to this, there's no impish, jester energy. This is a record rooted in honesty. You see how long it is, and there was so much else that didn’t make the cut. The question I was asking as I was cutting songs was does this still ring true, and there’s a different part of myself in each one. It’s not a gang of the same songs. It’s not me saying “fuck these crackers” for 20 songs. Of course there’re some of that in there, but I'm a fucking whole person. I know the nature of my content was sometimes getting boiled down to “he's an anti-establishment rapper” and like, yes, naturally - I'm fucking black. Like, obviously that’s what the fuck I’m gonna be on, if I have any kind of awareness of the world around me. There is more though. There’s more that exists to a person than just the chagrin and disdain they have for the political schema they find themselves in.
“Self Sponsored” feels like an early exploration of those kinds of themes on the album.
Straight up. I cried when I first heard that beat. I was off the ’shrooms, and Ohbliv sent me a pack and I was actually crying. Like, “This is so beautiful, fuck. This is what I need on this album.” That's ill that you caught that introduction to these themes though. That’s why I put it there, so the first song draws you in and then... BOOM - this is what it’s about. That was all intentional. I was really racking my brain arranging this.
On “Layman’s Terms,” there's a line where you say “used to treat the verse like a dissertation.” It’s rare to find someone that's so self-referential and maybe even self-critical of their own work.
Because it's popular in rap shit to be like “This is what it is. Everything I’ve ever done is great.” Which is cool, but that ain’t me dawg. I'm confident in whatever I'm doing at the moment, but we’re people - we grow. I would hope that the art reflects that. If you grow as a human, you should be growing as an artist. So that was me being aware with myself, like dawg, who are you? Over here writing all these verses and treating them like how you would treat all the papers you have to write for school, making sure to hit all these sociological touch points.
Are you having more fun now, than when you were writing those dissertation-like verses? Maybe fun is not the right word because of the subject matter, but is writing like this more fulfilling?
Yeah. It’s more freeing, and I can listen to joints now and look back and be like, “I remember that week.” I’m fucking with that more than like, “Cool, I guess I was mad at the establishment again.” It's more satisfying. I feel a weight off of my shoulders now whenever I finish something, which is really what this is all about for me.
At the end of the day, white people always gonna try to find niche words to try to pigeonhole black art. If there's a space in black art, they’re going to hunt until they can find a label to put on it. Yeah, that's where I'm at with that shit, for real for real. That was part of what I was mentioning about the dissertation shit, like, niggas was trying to box me into just a goddamn conscious rapper zone, or a political MC zone. Like, I can't talk about my life without people being like, “you know, he's one of those political ones.” I mean, you heard the album dawg, I’ve got songs about pussy and shit, like damn, I can’t have fun?! Has everything gotta be about prison reform and the amount you have to pay for college being unjust? Shit, sometimes I'm just trying to get high and have fun, and be a human.
Talking of showing other sides to your personality, I noticed there’s a ton of food references on the album, either in song titles or in lyrics.
Because it's From Whence It Came - that’s me. You can ask anyone who's in my actual life, and they will tell you I am a food-and-wine headass guy. You know what I’m saying? Catch me at the spot ordering some conservas with a baguette. I’m cooking all the time, and I'm not crazy, but I can make some stuff. I can throw down. So I had to throw some of that in there because it can't just be white guys with beards who rap about food I'm gonna leave it at that, so that niggas don’t come at me, but a lot of us rhyme and love food. Anything that you hear me rhyme about food-wise is something that I made or ate. Also, I’m about to take over the wine game, watch.
I knew you were serious about wine when I heard you rap about sulphites on “Shattered Glass.”
Yeah, no sulphites in my shit man, give me that organico. Where I can drink a bottle and not be like “my head's gonna explode!” because that shit ain’t natural. That's not just grapes. You really caught some lines in there, that's funny. I hope people catch a lot of shit, even down to the Florida stuff - little references that got to do with where I'm from. Because I met someone the other day who said “you're from New York, right?” Like bruh, no. I’m putting all of that Florida shit in there so it’s not up to interpretation no more. I will be the interpreter for y'all.