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10-in-10 with NYU's Orrin

And now for something completely different.

by Sophia Welch
August 7, 2020

You’re about to join us for a conversation unlike any other 10-in-10. Because we’re talking to an artist who lives, performs, and presents as if he shares his body and mind with a cyborg from the year 2050. Together, the artist and cyborg are Orrin, and over the past few years, they’ve appeared alongside their worried mother on Dr. Phil, written a comic book about their shared saga, and made a silent video (using a green screen) of themselves in what appears to be a frustrated confrontation. Oh, and they also happen to make some of the most entrancing and innovative art rap you’ve ever heard, and have a growing crowd of fans to match, with 10,000 followers on Instagram, and 36,000 followers on TikTok, and 88,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

In many ways, with their focus on Afro-futurism and philosophical exploration and highly engaged followers, Orrin is not just an artist, but a movement of sorts, whose very premise challenges who we are, why we live as we do, and what tomorrow holds for humanity.

Our video call with Orrin, who lives in Queens, was wide-ranging, covering everything from gardening to cryptocurrency, but also filled with moments where Orrin was loath to reveal too much, saying they wanted their music to speak for itself. For instance, we wanted to know if it was all a gimmick. You may also. For Orrin’s answer -- in a word, an emphatic “no” -- and more that will surely bend your mind, read on.  

So, there’s real Orrin, who’s the artist, and then there’s the collective -- a collective conscience and cyborg from the year 2050. Real Orrin has basically joined that collective. So now it’s us or we.

You’re saying you merged your artist persona with a cyborg persona. More, please?

Well, when we go back and look at what defines us as Orrin, truthfully, we’re big nerds. We love hip hop music. We love sci fi movies. We rewatch The Matrix and 2001: Space Odyssey. But we saw that there was a lapse in the hip-hop community for Afrofuturism, or African American artists that were pushing the image of Black people in space. So we wanted to fill that void. We were like, well, okay, what is futuristic? A cyborg is. We wanted to differentiate ourselves with it, too, so our first album in 2019 was where we really birthed the cyborg character. Some songs, like “System Control,” hinted at mechanization in the title. And then from there, we’ve just been building it out with face filters and music videos and merchandise. We have a vlog series and a podcast, too.

You wrote a comic book that tells your story. That’s something a lot of kids dream about. Did you?

Our mother works for New York City Parks and as kids she put us in the Brooklyn Museum art program. She put us in a gardening class. So little things like that did facilitate an artistic drive. And both our parents are very musically inclined. They go to concerts to this day. They’re always saying, “You need to listen to this.”

When did you start making music?

In high school, we torrented some software and started recording and producing ourselves. But we didn’t start to professionally release music until the last five years. The original music was like spoken word poetry. We were only releasing on SoundCloud, but people were reposting and sharing our stuff, which kind of got us our initial fan base. That was interesting because one of our biggest tracks, “Harakari,” is only 59 seconds, and that has over 150,000 plays, and that’s just because of the subject matter. That song was talking about suicide and self harm, and it resonated with people, and we realized that people really come to music to connect.

What do you think people were connecting with in your music?  

The honesty. We really figured out our approach at NYU, because it was such a creative hub. The music should be honest, but as much as we want to imbue certain values and ideals into it, we have to learn how to say things and how to make them relevant. That’s sort of where the cyborg caricature comes in.

How so?

Well, it preserves the mystery of who real Orrin is, but it also allows us to do things that real Orrin wouldn’t do. We’ve developed a big following on TikTok, and that’s something Orrin would be apprehensive about, but with the caricature, we’ve been able to do these videos as the cyborg, and engage with the audience. So it’s a buffer...but it’s also a place to experiment.

“Real” Orrin has a bit more self-doubt, right? It feels like you address that on “POPTART.”

Yeah, on “POPTART,” we’re talking about ourselves. “Tell me why you really think you’re a rock star / Soft in the middle, little boy you’re a poptart / Punch every line for your track, but that’s not art.” If we were to outwardly show that humanity, it would ruin the caricature, and so we try to keep the emotional and more intimate parts to the music, so there’s a distinction. You get the clean aesthetic in person, but then when you really want to hear our thoughts and our triumphs and our failures and secrets, you go to the music.

Orrin as a concept and an artist has obviously struck a chord with people. You have a big following -- not just on TikTok.

Orrin has created a conversation and a discourse, which has been super exciting for us. For people to DM us and to say, “Hey, have you heard of this alternative theory or this type of way of thinking or living?” It’s really cool to see that people are interested in similar topics and want to share with us. And even under the comments of our videos, they’re having conversations about cyborgs or about the future of humanity. So it’s kind of done what we would hope it would do, which is create a conversation.

How do you educate yourself about the stuff you’re into?

The internet. We are very much into cryptocurrencies, just reading articles on cryptos and emerging technologies and blockchain innovation. A book that was hugely inspirational for us was “Life 3.0” by Max Tegmark, which explores AI. YouTube also has a series on Artificial intelligence, which is voice narrated by Robert Downey Jr. There’s so much out there.

What does a successful future look like for you?

Community building. So getting Orrin to become a recognizable name, but also allowing more people to feel like they’re part of the movement. Any listener is part of the collective. We definitely want to release more comic books and more music and build out this narrative to the point where people feel like Orrin is a rap superhero, and watch that grow.