“You Never Thought Seapunk Would Take It This Far” – Zombelle Talks Azealia Banks, Rihanna, & the Week the Second Internet Imploded

Hip-hop works well on the Internet. As a genre whose basis is repurposing (i.e. sampling), it easily acquiesces in Web 2.0’s mandate to re-blog and re-tweet. With increased connectivity and communication, hip-hop is not limited to ‘hip-hop audiences,’ at least not in the traditional sense. And that’s problematic. The Internet might be based on free exchange, but it is not a safe space where real-life economics can be ignored in the name of ‘culture.’

That was the dilemma faced by seapunk earlier this month, when two mainstream artists reached into cyberspace to adopt the microgenre’s niche aesthetic as their own. Backed by chroma key seapunk iconography, Azealia Banks and Rihanna struck a strikingly similar chord in their two respective videos that went viral only days apart. We’ll spare you the recap — just Google “Azealia Banks Rihanna seapunk” — but don’t get it twisted: web artists were furious.

Zombelle, a musician, label head, and the first lady of seapunk, has been outspoken in her reaction to pop culture’s sudden spotlight on her once unknown scene. Plus, she and Azealia have a history. We connected with her via Skype to talk beef, cultural ownership, and the week the second Internet imploded.

It’s always worth starting with: what is seapunk? It’s not a musical genre, it’s not an aesthetic – what is it to you?
I mean, what seapunk is to me, versus what the rest of the world sees it as, is two different things based off of personal experience. But ultimately, every time I’m asked that question, the best way to explain it is just as an ideology. A lot of journalists have tried to break it down as a musical genre or a style for fashion, but for me it’s a mixture of all those things, but also an ideology having a lot to do with positivity and creating your own fantasy reality. Since it is Internet-based, it’s a lot about URL/IRL convergence and not seeing your daily surroundings for what they are and trying to make them into something else. Like, creating the world you want to live in via your own fantasies. Even if that’s on the Internet, that’s how you have to do it. Create your world; don’t settle for what’s given to you.

Lil Internet, for example, is obviously riffing off the hip-hop trope of putting the word Lil in front of your name. I was wondering if you could talk about the connection [between seapunk and hip-hop].
I don’t really know how to start.

Are you a fan, for starters?
Of hip-hop? Yeah, I like hip-hop. I mean, artists like Lady, I love Lady; I like Kreayshawn, Brooke Candy. I like hip-hop, yeah. I don’t actually see myself out on the weekend blasting hip-hop, but I do listen to TLC, and that’s hip-hop to me. I might sound ignorant, but I listen to everything, and hip-hop’s been pretty influential so…

Azealia Banks is hip-hop, and Rihanna also is arguably hip-hop – it’s interesting that those two girls took something that is sort of outside of their genre. I’m wondering if there’s some affinity between hip-hop and seapunk that’s sort of unspoken.
I think that you hit the nail on the head by bringing up Lil Internet, because he works for Karmaloop, and he knows a ton of hip-hop artists, obviously. He produced that video for Diplo recently. He actually knows Azealia Banks. Somehow they met each other, and I’m assuming it’s probably from working at Karmaloop. So, I mean, the reason that Azealia’s doing it is basically because of her association with Lil Internet.

She came out with “212,” and I was like, “Oh, this track is hot, like, can I get the stems for a remix?” And she was being really weird, and she followed me, and then within the progressing months she started doing the seapunk thing, and I was like, Why is she ignoring me? Then she started tweeting things at me and subtweeting me: “I’m not seapunk, I’m seacunt.” And then a lot of our fans started seeing what she was doing and started hating on her. I mean, yeah, I guess they were hating on her. I was kind of getting upset. I was like, Come on, you guys, that’s not really necessary. But yeah, she was receiving a lot of What are you doing? Who are you? Who do you think you are? kind of thing from the underground kids, and she was tweeting back lots of hate. She actually admitted on Twitter that she took our aesthetic for profit and that she was gonna turn a profit off of what we were doing.

She would say things like, “I know the man who created seapunk.” Lil Internet may have been our friend and is our friend and may have tweeted “Seapunk: barnacles where the studs used to be,” but as far as the aesthetic that was created, and the music and the style that was created, that was all me and Albert [“Ultrademon” Redwine]. We did all of that. [Lil Internet] came up with the word, and he’s our friend, and that’s great, but to say that somebody that you know… It’s okay because I know this person, but you’re hating on us, and what you’re doing represents us. So it was more personal with her.

Her track “Atlantis” is basically a diss at me if you read the lyrics. And the video [for “TK”] is, like, a troll. She doesn’t take it seriously, and she’s been saying things like, “It’s a joke. What seapunks don’t realize is it’s a joke. It’s not a real thing.” I think that’s funny ‘cause that comes from her reading the New York Times and not actually knowing what she’s talking about. And that New York Times article was taken way out of context.

In that you felt like you were inaccurately represented in the New York Times article?
Yeah, the guy who interviewed us, he misquoted us a bunch. We did a phone interview, I was really sick at the time, and so he was saying that I sounded really angry, but it’s ‘cause I had a cold and was struggling to talk to him. He misquoted us a bunch of times –like me saying I had friends in Lady Gaga’s camp wasn’t exactly what I said. It was a misrepresentation. It’s a huge publication, so people who read it obviously are like, Oh, it’s the New York Times, so it must be real. But [Azealia]’s one of those people who read it and was like, Well, this is what it is: it’s an Internet joke. But it’s not an Internet joke. To a degree it is – it’s an observation on culture and memes and development and popularity and the Internet, but what Albert and I put into it, Ultrademon, is very much real and very much a part of who we are and a representation of ourselves. I mean, we do all kinds of stuff, and it’s not funny.

[Azealia]’s been pulling this nautical fish theme; she has an album called Fantasea and she’s a mermaid on the cover.
No, no, she did that mermaid shit because I told her mermaids aren’t seapunk. ‘Cause she started tweeting about mermaids, and I tweeted at her, “Girl, mermaids aren’t seapunk.” She got pissed off, and everybody started tweeting at her like, Ah, mermaids, fuck mermaids, so she ran with it. She did an entire Mermaid Ball tour. Everything that she’s doing is fueled off of her hate for me, hoping that I will instigate further attention towards her by hating on her online. I ignore her for the most part. I ignore her completely. All she’s doing is trying to infiltrate what we’re doing, so she’s trying to poke at me so that I will be aroused to direct attention towards her. And I’ve tried not to do that.

Why aren’t mermaids seapunk?
Seapunk, if you wanna be really basic, if you replace the S-E-A with C, like cyberpunk – like the Internet and the vast sea of information that you can find on the Internet – if you look at it that way, and then you look at the aesthetic, it kind of makes a little more sense. I definitely have a fascination with the ocean, and I have a lot of different feelings for large bodies of water, including fear and including apocalyptic vibes of fear that some day the ocean’s gonna swallow us, and what are we gonna do about that, like, it’s gonna be a water world reality. So it’s all of those things combined together, and that’s why the style is more of a future vibe. It’s supposed to be like an extreme fantasy.

You sort of took this whole Azealia Banks versus seapunk conundrum as a personal thing. For a while, it seems like she’s intentionally avoiding any association with seapunk, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she completely jacks the style. What happened?
I don’t know because I don’t talk to her. I did hear something – I doubt this has anything to do with it – but I did hear something about Lil Internet going to England to hit the studio with her for a second. And I don’t know what became of that when it was there. I don’t know how long it would take for Fafi to do the video like that, how long his turnaround is. Fafi’s a really good artist, and I think that what [she] did was decent enough. It’s not [her] style necessarily, but… I don’t know how long it took [her] to do that. I have no idea. And then Rihanna stole her thunder.

With Azealia Banks, we sort of know her history and we know who directed the video. For Rihanna, it’s not even clear who actually put that concept together, is it?
It’s not totally clear. Sterling Crispin, one of my friends who is a web designer and makes beautiful web art, he mentioned that he may know the person who was hired to do the art for Rihanna’s performance.

I would love to know who that was.
Me too. You should ask him. I actually have no idea who it is, but he mentioned it in passing.

Do you look at Rihanna and Azealia under the same light – as commercial art ripping off of a subcultural movement – or are they different because Azealia has a history and Rihanna does not?
I think with Rihanna it’s to be expected, and it’s a boost.

For seapunk or for her?
For us. Half of Top 40 fans don’t even know what seapunk is. So watching Rihanna do that, it was like, That was weird, what’s next? But for our community, and for the press that we’re getting, that’s great, that’s amazing. It’s a boost for us. When [Lady Gaga] did it, a lot of people would post pictures of my face next to Lady Gaga’s face and be like, Wow, that’s crazy, but for the most part, no one really knew in the mainstream what we were doing. But since we’ve been working hard and gaining notoriety and popularity, now that Rihanna’s done something that’s a little more obvious, what Lady Gaga did was style related and what Rihanna did is visually related.

Did you like [Azealia’s] video? Did you like the graphics, the production value, the whole thing?
No. You don’t ride a dolphin like that. That’s not seapunk. My friend Zain was like, “She’s riding that dolphin like she’s riding your dick.” It’s like, Jesus, you don’t do that. The imagery was a troll, it was meant to be funny, it was meant to ridicule what we’re doing. That’s the bottom line. And as far as Rihanna’s performance, it was tacky as fuck too, like, I’m not into that style of artwork. That’s not what I do. That’s not what I support. I don’t like 90s desktop wallpaper art. That’s not what I’m into. And it’s a shame that people are misrepresenting it and saying that our aesthetic is based in blah, blah, blah, 90s Internet. It’s not. We all lived that, and some people might embrace that, but if you wanted to talk about me, or maybe even Albert or Kevin, our web designer, then like, no. That’s not really what I’m trying to do.

I saw you were re-tweeting some people who were saying that seapunk has lost some of its fight ‘cause it is a counterculture, it is meant to subvert the norm, and it loses when it gets adopted or co-opted by the mainstream.
That’s Be’s quote, and at the time, I was like, Yeah, and then I reread it, and I was like, I don’t totally agree with that statement. It was one tweet in particular. I don’t think that what we’re doing loses its fight at all or that we’re losing in any way. I mean, all of this has helped us more than anything. It is frustrating for it to happen, for it to be kind of like an annoyance, and to turn everything upside down for a week or two. But ultimately, what it’s done, it’s blown things up bigger, and now we have to work harder to produce more content for all of the new people who are interested. We’ve gained a bunch of new fans. If you search the hashtags on Twitter and you read all of the seapunk tags, it’s hilarious. There’s so many different comments, but for the most part, it’s a lot of love. There’s a lot of ignorant people who are super normal and don’t care about it, and they’re just like, This is stupid, if I hear the word seapunk one more time… It’s like, great, it’s reaching you! Who are you? So that was cool.

You tweeted that the second Internet imploded. What do you mean by that? What changed this week?
More than anything what’s changed is we’ve gained more opportunity to keep doing what we’re doing. I don’t really see anything negative coming from any of it.

What do you mean by implosion?
It’s just a lot of argument. Everyone on the second Internet has a different opinion, and everyone’s battling to be right and arguing over semantics and what’s right and what’s wrong. Which is the proper way to do this? Does it really matter? Is it good or is it bad? It’s imploding on itself ‘cause no one has been able to answer anything. And no publication that I’ve read has been accurate. It’s been a lot of aggregation from other articles. I can literally read blogs and know which blogs they’ve read. So it’s frustrating. But as far as imploding on itself, that just has to do with everybody saying their piece, and I just feel like everyone’s bodies are just gonna poof into black holes and just suck the universe in. There’s so much frustration right now.