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Interviews

King Vision Ultra: Meet the Genre-Bending Producer Raised on Rap, Hardcore + Doom

Photo: Richard Ross

I first met Geng at a Black Army Jacket reunion show we did back in NYC in 2010. That night, we chatted briefly about power violence and rap music, and he gave me a t-shirt for Purple Tape Pedigree, an artist collective he founded around that time. Geng named it that because the cassette version of Raekwon's seminal boom-bap-era album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., was purple, the kind of detail that always gets my attention. But I digress...

Since then, Geng has kept his DIY spirit alive through a variety of projects, including King Vision Ultra, a solo venture that finds him melding hip-hop, ambient, noise, doom, resulting in soundscapes that at certain moments can hypnotize, and in others, make you feel like you're losing your mind.

"King Vision Ultra was made as a different entity to my other musical endeavors — as I like to say, I wanted to craft a language which spoke closer to my hip-hop roots, but then I poured in sonics pulling from my more extreme influences like doom, black metal, drone, and harsh noise," Geng tells me recently via an email exchange about his various projects, including King Vision Ultra's Pain of Mind album.

"Over the years, I've been experimenting with this electronic and performative canvas...probably confused the shit outta some older friends who've known me as a DJ or whatever. Now I just wanted to flip that on its head and zero it all in. 360, but still adding on. So, I'm thinking about loops in terms of details that pop out after a few minutes of hearing the repetition. The meditative quality in these interlacing frequencies. Grasping onto the imperfection, especially by means of outdated hardware — using cassette as the mixing and mastering medium since that white noise and warmth were always present in my formative years with music. That's how I collected it, through pause tapes. So, I employed that same physical ritual on Pain Of Mind when capturing bits of dialogue out of a documentary found randomly online. You can hear the button release and compress again to a stop. The sound is breathing through the turning wheels of the cassette. There's no absolute silence."

Photo: Richard Ross

Geng is in his late 30s, which means he came of age during my favorite era of NYC rap music, but his hip-hop roots were planted before that. "I got into hip-hop off of the radio in the mid-'80s, around 1st grade. Salt & Pepa's "Push It" would play on certain stations and I would bug out. I found Video Music Box on TV one day after school, around that time. That was the only show that was playing hip-hop videos, years before Yo! MTV Raps. I got into LL, Public Enemy, the Juice Crew, BDP, Chubb Rock, Lyte, Latifah, all that through Ralph McDaniels. I remember being at Asphalt Green summer camp and rapping the words to De La's “Me, Myself and I” with these two Puerto Rock sisters from uptown, they were kinda shocked that I even knew the song. It was like, “oh okay, we didn’t even know you’d be on it like that," laughs Geng.

"The '90s golden era hit as I was reaching my teens, so I had Wu, Black Moon, Tribe, Beatnuts, Organized Konfusion, Gang Starr in their prime, Nas, etc. I was making my own tapes off the radio by then. I finally started buying stuff and my first purchases were Digable Planets' Blowout Comb, De La's Buhloone Mindstate, Tribe's Midnight Marauders, and Artifacts' Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I was going to Tower Records weekly and getting a new tape or two. 

"I was completely immersed in hip-hop then, to the point of not being able to explain it to a standard onlooker in any relatable manner — probably how some of your readers are reacting when having just read that I missed out on the golden age of '90s NY hardcore."

Speaking of hardcore, Geng breaks down his entry into the community. "One of the first hardcore bands I saw live was Atlas Shrugged, around '98/'99, at SUNY Purchase — that was my first show as a DJ for this underground rap crew called Atoms Family and we shared the bill with AS, along with another hip-hop act from Rockland County. Thean — AS' drummer — also made beats and did some tracks with Atoms. I got tight with his youngest brother, Tyson, and he basically threw me down the rabbit hole — putting me onto a lot of shit like Leeway, Big Black and Shellac, Drive Like Jehu, Dillinger Escape Plan, Neurosis/Tribes of Neurot, Craw, Threadbare, and, yes, Earth and Spazz...both with an intro of, "this band plays the slowest/fastest shit ever," respectively [laughs]. I also ended up befriending Ron Morelli and Bricks (of C.R.) and they put me onto more shit (plus C.R. was fucking ill). Shit, Ron and Bricks gave me my first solo show at CB's basement (the 'Gallery') when I was on my rap twist — but that's a whole different thing."

The hardcore and punk aesthetic is alive and well in everything Geng touches, whether that's with Purple Tape Pedigree (PTP) and its releases, or the King Vision Ultra project. "I was filling in the gaps with anything that was foaming-at-the-mouth, yet techy, anything that caught my eye with crazy artwork/merch, plus going to more of those type shows on my own accord. I still was doing the knowledge on the shit I missed like Born Against, Citizens Arrest, Infest, Crossed Out, crazy shit…and Rorschach…that fucking band is probably my all-time favorite. I loved the Cry Now, Cry Later and Reality comps. That's probably how I first heard Black Army Jacket! Also, that’s how I got onto stuff like Grief, Corrupted, Despise You, MITB, Unruh, Cattlepress, etc. 

"The downpour of those bands, those extremes and utter hatred [laughs], whether power violence or sludge/doom… that hit a note with me, and there was a whole world of it to get sucked into."

Photo: Richard Ross

"Another band that fucked me up was Dystopia. Human=Garbage is still visceral as fuck. I tried listening to it a second go-around after my first time hearing it and actually started to feel bad, like a cloud of funk was swallowing me up." I can't say I disagree with my friend on this one.

Musically speaking, the King Vision Ultra material is difficult to pin down. While that is obviously a refreshing aspect of it, I wonder if that makes it harder to market/get the word out. "[Laughs] I definitely don't think anyone can just pin it down under a simple genre term, and I’m fine with that being a fact. I mostly hear some form of, 'doom metal meets '90s hip-hop," to 'doomy hip-hop,' to, my favorite but also not something I'm swearing by, 'doom-hop.' It's on some other shit and I don't think most hip-hop purists or the new batch of rappers who swear by those '90s principles very much vibe with it — it's too dark and tumultuous and slow…even though it’s stupid hard [laughs]. That helps validate my wish to think of it as more than just an 'instrumental hip-hop project.' 

"I'll say this, a huge influence on me from the moment I heard it as a teen was that interlude on Ol' Dirty Bastard's album (Return to the 36 Chambers) where he's talking about getting drunk and just seeing light. That beat in the background of that bit with the 2-note organ drone? I lost it! It was like the first time I heard the song 'Black Sabbath.' It moved my foundation in that way. Thank you to The RZA for that."

Geng has been bringing King Vision Ultra's Pain of Mind album (named after Neurosis' 1987 debut LP) to life in a live setting, including a recent set at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus. "Live, King Vision Ultra is a different beast as I do vocals and have a lot going on in front of me with samplers and a pedal board. The next release will probably be closer to this, but again, I have no clear cut plan until I'm in that moment — I'm not good with constraints. Either way, it's heavy music and I just hope folks feel something when they give it that space."

We shifted gears a bit and got more into Geng's work with PTP. "It's a NYC-born record-label-but-more-so-artist-collective, active in varying degrees since '09. It isn't based on a particular genre nor medium. If you go on the Bandcamp, you'll find a wide range of sounds, but also a consistency in not staying singular. We share a certain type of energy and headspace, even if our art completely differs. The slogan goes, 'purveyors of weaponized media and information,' which ties into what I was saying before about creating with a mind on usefulness towards self-preservation. There's a wide range of music, there's info-impregnated streetwear via East Side Powerviolence (ESP), there has been and will be way more printed publications, there are Youtube playlists and smoothie videos, etc."

"While I'm proud of the movement with each year, the last one and change has really been definitive in realizing PTP's current form and direction. It's been a very natural and careful (slow) progression, resulting in pulling back to a more localized presence/support for folks in the surrounding communities, DIY and those in general, as well as turning the so-called platform into a tool for fundraising to help folks who are in-need. It's been incredibly challenging, but also damn rewarding."..

Available at the PTP store

I moved to Los Angeles in 2006, so since Geng's a fellow native New Yorker, I asked him about the way the city has changed in the last decade or so, and what I might have missed. "In the most jaded New Yorker way, I'd say you missed seeing NYC lose a bigger chunk of its localized flavor pack. The nuance there, that rite of passage, was traded in for this brand packaged, middle ground of URL-inspired 'everyone gets access' type historical and cultural gentrification.

"It's just weird to see people talk about the city on these corny Internet shows, even the native NY'ers. I guess that's more a symptom of the day, but the way that attacks the soul here, it makes everything seem so white-bread loaf [laughs]. But I'll say that some of your old friends have opened up great vegan restaurants!"

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King Vision Ultra's Pain of Mind is available for streaming and preorder for a 3rd cassette repress on Bandcamp.

Also check out the following links for more from Geng:

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