A Trekkie from Compton. An Iraqi war veteran who majored in physics. An intellectual alt-rapper who idolizes Canibus but beat down his former manager over money.
Without a doubt, Greydon Square is as contradictory and complex a figure as you'll find making music in Phoenix. Not that most people know all that stuff. Internationally — and this ASU student you've probably never heard of has an international fan base — he's known chiefly as "that atheist rapper."
Thanks to name-checking by Richard Dawkins (for organized atheists, the equivalent of an Oprah endorsement) and a somewhat hilarious/puzzling/scary Web drama, he's the major atheist in rap music.
Sitting on the patio at Pita Jungle, the 27-year-old Tempe resident, also known as Eddie Collins, is pretty unassuming. In person, he's not nearly as confrontational as you might think after listening to his music, in which he talks about desecrating Brigham Young's grave and pissing in a synagogue.
"I'm confrontational with people who are, by nature, confrontational with their ideology," he says. "You can't run around and tell people that they're going to hell because they don't believe in the same sky God as you. Are you serious? I will confront you over that."
Mostly, though, Greydon debates.
In addition to enough sci-fi and fantasy references to shame geekcore rapper MC Chris, his rhymes are full of those atheist arguments you learn in Philosophy 101. The idea is to arm atheists with polished, memorable arguments.
"See, what I did was I looked at hip-hop beefs and noticed that it deteriorated when people started calling each other bitches and ho's and basically stopped formulating arguments," he says. "They stopped showing the ability, the skill, and just started talking shit. I brought it back to presenting a position. Now you can call me whatever you want, but until you argue a position, you're wack."
Though he's studying computer science — he'd been a physics major, but all the lab work took too much time away from music and job prospects were slim — Greydon is no schoolboy. Growing up in Compton, California, the same city that spawned Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and The Game, Greydon grew up in group homes, a subject he addresses in his newer tracks. He's got a lot of other life experiences to write about if he wants — he's been in a gang and served in the Army in Iraq — but he prefers to keep things mostly philosophical.
"I come from gang life — don't get it twisted. I could easily be just another gangster rapper. That's not where I am; that's not the life I want to portray," he says. "You have to understand this, you have to understand my history as a soldier. I went to Iraq, I saw people die. It's not a game to me. This is the real deal. This poses a threat to our technological advances that we're going need to escape the human condition."
Predictably, most fans of a rapper claiming he's the "black Carl Sagan" are highly educated, liberal, and white: Greydon's shows make an Aesop Rock concert look like the Million Man March.
Online — most of his fan base congregates on YouTube — you find comments like: "Greydon Square is an atheist rapper. So even if you hate rap, like me, you can appreciate the message."
And this: "Normally I do not listen to rap, but if the volume is low and the words are intelligent, it is not too bad."
Says Greydon, "Not only are my fans mostly white, they're mostly above 30. They're not young, at all. So I do shows in front of senior citizen white people because they're like, 'I can understand what he's talking about. This is hip-hop that I can actually get down with.' I find it humorous. You can't argue with the quality of the music, regardless of whether you like what I'm saying or not. I've yet to hear anybody say 'he's wack, he can't spit.' My music is dope. I know it's dope."
Actually, he's right; it really is dope. Whether or not you like what Greydon's rapping about, after one listen to his latest record, The C.P.T. Theorem, you'd be hard pressed not to put him up there with Willy Northpole and the other top rappers in Phoenix.
Lyrically, he's got a gift for poignant name-dropping and delightfully clever references ("You couldn't beat me with a Game Genie") rivaling Eminem. Flow-wise, he owes a debt to Common. Regrettably, his unfussy beats are more like what you'll hear from those clowns on Def Jux than the T.I.-type bangers I favor, but when you're rapping for aging white intellectuals, it's probably best to keep it simple.
Though he likes to downplay it — and it would seem out of character — Greydon also has a rap sheet.
The most prominent event was an altercation with his former manager, Brian Sapient, founder of the Rational Response Squad, a militant atheist organization. Accounts vary, but in a dispute about CD sales at a secular humanist convention in Washington, D.C., Greydon assaulted Sapient, for which he was put on probation. The event touched off a firestorm of online bickering among everyone involved. For example: Someone posted a diss video of "Sapient" frolicking with a costumed Jesus, then a picture of a church sign Photoshopped to say "Get Well Soon Brian." In atheism circles, this apparently is a major affront. Sapient didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Not that the assault did much to hurt Greydon's popularity. Says one British guy in a YouTube video: "If Grey did beat up Brian Sapient, I don't really care that much. All I care about is that Greydon Square, one of the most amazing rappers I've ever heard, continues making the amazing music he does . . . The geezer is fucking genius."
Actually, after listening to Greydon's records released before and after the split, it's clear the episode helped Greydon evolve. The Compton Effect, which came out before the split with Sapient, whom other even atheists have called a cult leader and compared to David Koresh, is almost entirely about atheism. The C.P.T. Theorem, on the other hand, branches into other political and philosophical territory, with extraordinary results.
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"It never ceases to amaze me that when people join a group, they just accept the group position on everything. And I did that, with the Rational Response Squad. I accepted their methods and I accepted their beefs," says Greydon.
Though Greydon is still "that atheist rapper," he also takes on group home life, the war in Iraq, and race relations. "N Word," following the format of an infamous Chris Rock routine, is as bold a statement as you'll hear from a contemporary rapper. Predictably, Greydon raps, "Niggers believe in God; black people don't." But he gets much more provocative: "A nigger blames white people for slavery, a black knows it was Africans who sold black people into slavery."
That's ground few rappers are willing to tread, but, after tackling the biggest question in the universe, Greydon seems comfortable going there. He seems comfortable going pretty much anywhere, actually, even if it means offending the elderly white liberals at his shows.
"The fundamentalist atheists are not safe, either," he says. "To me, if you run around and you treat non-belief like a religion, then I've gotta get at you, just because you're making everyone else look bad."