Interview: Chillin’ with Casper Sun, the Rapper Reppin’ the 626
Rapper Casper Sun (Edward Chao) is a spontaneous workaholic. He’s an artist that doesn’t like to sit still for long, and he’s always thinking about his next project. “Right now my task list is like… 12 tasks deep!” he tells me. While we sip slow, self-roasted afternoon tea–an ironic activity to talk over considering his packed schedule–Chao tells me about all of the different activities he has planned throughout his day and his week.
Despite working a full-time job, Chao always manages to carve out time for himself to practice his art. Mondays belong to Kembe X, another rapper for whom Chao plays bass for. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays he works on POPeye, a growing media platform that he and his friend started years ago that aims to spotlight cross-cultural musicians. Thursday is studio time: you’ll find him hard at work at one of the music studios he frequents throughout Southern California, or in his bedroom where he has built his own studio as well. Friday is a day to chill. Saturdays are for the family. Sundays? A time to catch up, and entertain the idea of being interviewed like he is right now. But despite being only 23, Chao is content with the rush of his daily routine. After all, he is a self-proclaimed workaholic.
It’s this attitude that led to Chao’s first release as a musician, Blue Matter EP, and his subsequent Pink Matter EP. Both rap projects saw him take his music in different directions–the first was a more personal project about relationships and heartbreak. The second was a more liberating album that was “one for the homies,” allowing him to flex his creative chops and work with other like-minded peers. In between all this, Chao has been hard at work planning concerts for the now summertime staple 626 Night Market and working on documentaries–his most recent one about the Treefort Festival in Boise, Idaho. Music is deeply ingrained into Chao’s life, and he’s just getting started.
We talked to Chao about his work as a rapper-slash-media producer, his musical inspirations, and how his latest project Pink Matter EP came about.
What’s the story behind the name Casper Sun?
The idea came from Jasper Sun. That’s how it first started. I love the metaphorical image of the sun, and I think that there’s a lot of layers to that word, but it was also an Asian word so I wanted to keep it within the roots. I just needed a first name–I wanted a full name, not just go by Lil Egghead or something. It’s also so that I could be a little more anonymous. I was going back and forth with a friend, and she said Jasper sounds lame. How about… Casper? And I was like… let’s do it! There’s a certain ring to it. Ever since then I just ran with it. I think hesitancy contaminates the process. I feel like if I were to hesitate and sit on it for a week, it loses its freshness. When I see an idea that I really like, I don’t really second guess it and just go for it. If I do start second guessing it, it loses its touch.
In December I was still preparing a lot of things. I was making headway on Pink Matter and creating the whole marketing scheme for it too. I finished it in February, and got all my verses in from my features in March. March and April was just time I spent with my PR and marketing. I think from December up until that point, it was just a lot of working behind the scenes so that I could get a lot of things done in terms of Casper Sun. And then everything else in my life–trying to find a new day job, getting into grad school, working on my media platform called POPeye. A lot of it was just preparation work. For the past year it’s like I’ve been in a hyperbaric chamber, and every few months I go back in.
Where did the name Pink Matter from? What was inspiration behind it?
If you look through my songs, you can play a game of “hey, what’s that Frank Ocean reference right there?” I think I’ve done a good job of covering all the references, and all the little things I’ve taken from Frank. Especially the name, Pink Matter. That’s where I got it from. When I was working on Blue Matter at the time, it was just songs that I had just finished before I started working on Pink Matter, and I thought the names were just really special to me. Like in Frank’s song, Pink Matter is about love. I guess for me I didn’t want to focus on love, but it was a very cerebral song. It was just everything pink related to the brain. I wanted to really stay in my brain and not my heart.
Blue Matter was focused on things that mattered to my heart, like love and tenderness and shit like that. But on Pink Matter, I was done with it–I just wanted to rap. I didn’t want to rap about my feelings anymore–I just wanted to rap because it’s fun! That’s what hip hop is about, kicking it and having fun with the homies. Pink Matter was the most fun I’ve had because I worked with the homies. Everything else I was just doing by myself because I didn’t want to wait on anyone else’s schedule. This time around I felt like I changed more as an individual because I learned how to work with other people and work within my community.
How has your work been influenced by the music community? Have you found support from it?
I think it all comes from my other side gig, POPeye. The mission statement is… we explore music through culture. That gave us a lot of opportunities to talk to multiple artists about what they were doing. For me it gave me an excuse to talk even more to artists that I admired. I think out of POPeye, the person it brought me close to was LATE LEE. He’s this fantastic individual–he makes amazing music and we share the same idea of community and bringing people together under an umbrella which we can all support ourselves with. I feel like POPeye gave me the opportunity to really expand my vision into seeing who else is doing what we’re doing. Cause we’re definitely not the only ones, but a lot of people act like they’re the only ones. I think a lot of the problems with the Asian American entertainment industry is that everyone wants to put the community on their backs. Everyone has that mentality of “I’m going to do it–I don’t see anyone else doing it!” But it’s so flawed. The only reason why you think that is because you’re actively contributing to it. You think that you have to do it yourself, but everyone else does that too. Why not just work together?
When I brought Joe (LATE LEE) on, I knew he was perfect for the track and it was my way of extending my efforts into another community that I wasn’t necessarily a part of until recently. With Chow, he’s been a homie since three years ago. When I first listened to his music I thought it was dope. He’s nothing short of inspirational. I just knew he just had to be on track two (“Burberry”). It wasn’t like I was actively searching for people, but when I heard the songs it was like, “he would sound really good.” This time around I actually wanted people to be on the track.
Where did the idea for POPeye Media come from? How did working at/creating POPeye influence your work?
With POPeye, Jeff (Sunday on the EP) and I have been homies since high school even though we’ve known each other since middle school. In freshman year of high school, that’s when we started to see that we had a lot of similarities with music. Our history goes way back to doing Guns n Roses covers in high school. I was playing bass and he was playing drums. Then we started rapping together. When I first started rapping, I was like, “Damn, this feels lonely.” So we started putting some songs out together.
He’s always been this film nerd. He loves doing documentaries and stuff. Music was always such a big thing for us and I pursue my music much more intently than he does, but he always had this idea of covering things. POPeye came about when he just wanted to cover musicians. He had that documentary bug in him that just wanted to cover people and cover culture. He was just looking for help. I was entirely down because I love covering culture too. I love experiencing it, and putting people on a platform. If POPeye became big, I would be so happy to put people on. It goes back to the whole community thing. No one should do things by themselves, and no one should have their talent go unnoticed. I joined POPeye two years ago. Back then it was super small. We shot our first live performance music video, which is what we do for our artists in an adult porn shop. That was the first song we did.
I took on the role of A&R, which is what I call me talking to people. I basically brought on a lot of the artists that I’ve made these relationships with. I hope that they’re lasting. I love all the people that we worked with, and I really respect their music. It was just going from the only rostered artist that we had which was me and a few other people, to where we’re at now–we’re planning to throw a stage at the 626 Night Market. We have so many things going on that it confounds me that something so small could’ve turned into something bigger than us. There’s recognition to our name now!
On Pink Matter EP, every single song features a guest verse from a collaborator within the community. What was it like working with all of these different people?
It’s been amazing! It’s been nothing short of amazing. Blue Matter was super personal because it was just me in my bedroom. I’m still a bedroom producer. When I go to the studio, it’s one in Pasadena or North Hollywood. I have multiple studios to go to. But for Pink Matter, it was just a fun album. I wanted an album with the homies. I had this grandiose idea that I would get all my friends. One’s in Sacramento? Let’s fly him down… until I realized I didn’t have money. That was bullshit. I had people in the studio and you could tell in the background of “Burberry” and “November”, that you could just hear snippets of incoherent conversation because I just reverbed the fuck out of it. The original idea was I wanted people to listen to my friends listening to the music. In the end of the day it didn’t work out in the way that I wanted to. But I just left the mic on and just joked around. I would take those segments and make it very spacey and put it in the background instead. It was fun! I just wanted these three songs to chill out to.
If you’re not having fun with a lot of things, don’t do it. It’s pointless!
Do you have any plans for any future full-length releases? What’s next?
Most definitely. I’m not going to be releasing music for a hot minute, because I want to see how far I can run with Pink Matter. By the end of 2019, my goal is to play like ten shows. I have one show at my release party, I have the 626 Night Market, and then I have eight more shows to do. That’s going to be a leg that I want to plan, but I’m already working on an album. I call it an album because it’s more than just three songs this time. The reason why I put three songs is because I know people want more. I want to leave them wanting more! I don’t want to leave them exhausted–I’m just starting out!
I want them to want more of me. Otherwise, I’ll just get played out. I’m working on another three-track EP, and then I’m working on an album that’s seven songs deep already. I want to release my album through a label or something. I think there’s this romanticism of independent artists just being independent and not signing. But I think that time has passed. I think right now it’s going back to labels. If you have label backing, everything is so much easier. I already have so much going on in my life–I don’t want to do anything by myself. If I had the power of a label to back whatever I do wholeheartedly, and I could pursue my creative interests, that would be perfect. If a label is willing to back me but controlling what I do, then I’ll still keep it independent, but the goal is to get signed. My album is the most concise my sound has ever been, and it’s different. I think I’ve been working really hard to find a craft between my influences from indie rock/alternative rock. Imagine the Strokes meets Frank Ocean. That’s what I want to do.
Most rappers out there have a special persona on-stage–what’s yours? How should we remember Casper Sun?
I think the fact that I don’t stand out is the reason why I can stand out. I’m not different from anyone–I go through the same shit, I drink the same tea. I have the same heartbreak, same successes, and same goals. Nothing about me separates me from you or anyone else. It’s just what we pursue. That’s the only difference. I feel like my influences are the same as everyone else too. It’s just that I happened to take a heavier interest in making music while you took a heavier interest in something else. We all have the same passion for the things that we do. I just want to be that person who can represent you. I want to write music for people, to get you through your day, and to help you cope with shit. Or if not, to just kick it.
I got a lot of that from Donald Glover–he was the first rapper that I wholeheartedly listened to. When I first listened to Gambino rap, it was probably the most straightforward rap I heard. I was just him speaking directly to me. I just thought, “What if I try this out?” Put down the guitar for a hot minute and speak into the mic. I was never a good singer, but it wasn’t until I listened to Gambino that I thought maybe there was more to it than just singing. More of a poetic, spoken word element that I haven’t touched yet. Why not touch a different side of music that I haven’t done before?
My persona, starting off at least, is that I’m just like everyone else.
This interview was conducted in person by Li-Wei Chu on June 16, 2019 at Yoshantea.
Photos courtesy of the artist and Planetary Group.