Antonio Williams, 26, lives with his mom in San Jose, CA, a place he doesn’t fully embrace. He raps as Antwon, the larger-than-life emcee with a booming presence on the mic that vacillates vocally between Biggie and Stefan Burnett of Death Grips. He grabbed attention last year with the release of a video for his song “Helicopter,” which mixes scenes from Bullitt with 40’s and a stereo straight from the hands of Radio Raheem. It’s a laidback track that coasts along with its protagonist’s desire to live each day to the fullest, “in the kitchen eating on a full stomach.” Antwon’s newest mixtape, In Dark Denim, showcases his penchant for mixing darker fare with synth-y, driving pop beats. He sounds equally comfortable flowing over a Salem track as he does on a Goldfrapp-sampling beat. We recently spoke about music, notoriety and middle school.
What is the culture like in San Jose?
There is no culture. Consumerism is the culture.
And how do you think that influences what you do?
Uh, I don’t really like San Jose much. It doesn’t really influence me. There’s not much influence in the city, I just kind of live here. I get more influence from other places.
You don’t really claim ownership of San Jose, so why’d you move there and why are you still there?
Because I live at my mom’s house. And I’m like the only family she has. My best friend Doug lives here and a lot of my other friends live here. A lot of people I grew up with still live here. I don’t really want to move move. I’m not really making that much income at the moment. A lot of my friends want me to move down south and my manager wants me to move down south too, like to L.A. I don’t have a car and it’s really hard to live down there without a car.
Has your mom listened to your music?
Yeah, but I don’t know if she listens listens to it.
So does she get bothered by any of the content?
No, not really. I think she understands now that I’m an adult man and that I get recognition for what I’m doing now. I think she’s happier for me that I’m doing something for myself. She doesn’t really bug me as much about stuff like that. She just lets me do what I’m doing because it’s working for me.
Do you think she’s been a big influence in your life?
Oh yeah, definitely. My mom was like my best friend growing up. Now we like have our little things just because we’re adults, we’re not a separate playing field. Now, I’m an adult and I have to find my way in the world.
When did you start rapping? When did you start getting into music?
I don’t know. I’ve been into music since I was younger. I know I started rapping a lot in middle school.
What got you into it?
The thing that got me into rapping was my friend. In middle school he was like the only other kid that DJ’ed. He was kind of weird.
That’s kind of early to start.
Yeah, I guess his uncle taught him how to DJ. I think he just started a year before that. His set up was pretty cool. I went to his house and he had like a recorder, a two deck tape recorder thing. So our rap would play through the stereo. I would freestyle over instrumentals. One of the first times I ever recorded anything. So it wasn’t really like real.
What was middle school like then?
Middle school was weird. I liked a lot of metal and stuff, you know what I mean? I would try to stay up to watch Headbanger’s Ball. I think I was the only- the only person I knew growing up, the only kid who wasn’t white who listened to stuff that wasn’t rap. The whole period where Kid Rock’s stuff came out. It was around that time. There were some schools that had upper middle class kids, but I went to one of the ones that had lower middle class kids. I think the only time that crazy shit went down was on the bus.
What type of stuff happened on the bus?
The first time I ever saw somebody get knocked out was on the bus, I was in middle school. He straight bled. Like all over the bus. I remember kids would smoke weed in the bathroom. I remember hearing about fingering girls. That was like the first time I heard about fingering.
Do you think other kids were more advanced then you when you were in middle school?
In stuff that you learned, like hearing about girls.
Yeah, I guess they were more advanced than me in that type of stuff. But I think I was more advanced culturally than everybody else in my school.
Are you still listening to metal now?
Yeah I’m still listening to metal now.
How is it different now than when you were listening to it in middle school?
It seemed like a thing where you really had to like the music. Because other than that it didn’t seem that cool amongst a majority of people.
Right. And do you think your music is influenced by what you listen to?
Uh, no. Sometimes. Yeah. It’s less stuff I listen to and more of like instances in my life when I feel like I’m growing up and getting older and my opinions change.
You’re still really young. What do you think are some important moments in your life that shape what you talk about in your songs?
Little things. Like things I knew I could achieve and now I’ve achieved a lot of them. I think that’s the coolest thing that’s pretty much happened. Achieving goals that I knew were going to happen and not a lot of people believed it. I need someone to not believe for me to make it true.
You just came out with a new mixtape and it has so many different sounds on it. Do you fit your flow to particular beats? What’s the songwriting process like?
Most people are like “oh I just write something and put it to something” but I like to write it once I hear something I like. It kinda comes naturally.
A lot of people have talked about your work being dark, do you view it like that?
I don’t know, I guess my moods are a little darker. I guess I’m just a darker person.
Where do you think that comes from?
From things in the past; things that have happened to me in the past.
Is there anything specific when you grew up that you think influenced that?
I think it’s part of being an only child and [having] a single mom. My mom had to work a lot so I kind of just had to be by myself or go outside and be on the streets. I probably just saw a lot of things that made me harder to the world, I guess.
People talk about this time as the era of internet rap. Do you agree with that and how do you work within that world to get your music out there?
I know there’s a lot of actual internet rap like kids who never really play shows and they don’t really go anywhere. That is internet rap. But I’ll play in other places and that’s not fucking internet. That’s real life. What I do isn’t considered internet rap because it’s not. What I make is rap music for the people.
What are you most proud of right now?
That I did it on my own at first. I have a manager now but he’s known me since last October. And before that I did everything else on my own. I went through a lot of bullshit. I’m happy now that I’m getting recognition. It’s tight.
A lot of your rap is sexual. What was your best recent sexual encounter?
Oh, oh, I got uh I got a blowjob; it was like crazy. It was like extremely wet and I could feel it all over myself. That wasn’t the craziest but that one comes to mind a lot. From 2012 to today, I’ve had more sexual encounters than in my whole life. I think it’s kind of because of rap music. Who knows?
Do people recognize you when you go out now?
Yeah it’s cool, when I go places and people recognize me. When I’m at work and I’m just trying to do this little job that I can get, it’s kind of weird when people walk in and they’re like “oh are you Antwon?” and I’m like “yeah yeah.” And then they want to talk business, or set up a show. It’s alright but I’d rather not have it be there.
Where do you work?
I’d rather not say (laughing).
Do you think you draw inspiration from other art forms?
Yeah definitely. I took pictures for a while. I would buy tons of fucking film from Walgreen’s and shit but now it’s harder. I still have a lot of film I haven’t developed.
If you had the chance to work with any artist who it would be?
Kate Bush. I think I say it in every interview because I want it to become real. I’d really like to record somewhere like how they recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magik like in a house.
Like renting out a house?
Yeah, I’d want to record an album like that. I would record with any producer but we’d have to live like that for the whole album.
And what do you think is the next step for you, besides SXSW?
A whole bunch of things. I don’t know, I keep it secret. Mainly because my manager knows my schedule more than I do and I forget.
But what would be your next big goal in music?
To release an album on a really big label, like a label label. Just for people to know that this is serious. It’s not just that I’m releasing stuff on the internet and I’m here, flavor of the week, and then I’ll leave soon.
Are you excited to play SXSW?
Yeah, I’m fucking excited. I have never been to Texas, I don’t know how hot it gets. I’m gonna drink a lot of water I guess and take naps.