An Interview with Atheist Rapper Greydon Square
by Andrew J. Rausch
He is best known as an atheist emcee hailing from Compton, California, known as Greydon Square. His real name is Eddie Collins. He was an Iraq war veteran and is an outspoken atheist. He majored in both physics and computer science in Phoenix, Arizona. Influenced by groups as diverse as Phil Collins, Stanley Clarke, and fellow Compton resident DJ Quik, Greydon Square released his first album, The Compton Effect, in 2007. After being approached by a handful of labels, he opted to distribute the album through his own company. The following year, he released his second album, The CPT Theorem. The music on these two albums mostly dealt with philosophical questions, and Greydon established himself as a talented emcee with a flair for multi-layered lyrics.
He is a member of the international secular hip-hop activist movement The Anti-Injustice Movement, and has also established his own organization, Grand Unified Theory, which “uses creativity to educate people about science and rational thinking.”
Greydon Square has since released three more albums, Type I: The Kardashev Scale, Type II: The Mandelbrot Set, and Omniverse: Type III.
I understand you grew up as a Christian. Is that true?
I grew up as a Christian simply because I was told I was a Christian growing up. I’ve always maintained that I was taught about religion when I was intellectually defenseless by people who had an intellectual advantage over me. They were telling me these things. Being a child and asking, “Where does the universe come from?” These people told me their answer to that, and they did it with such a definitive amount of certainty, they did me and a lot of other kids in similar situations a great disservice. They taught me under the same circumstances that they had been taught. I always maintain that I was taught to think and believe what every other black kid who was a black kid in America was taught to believe—the monotheistic Judeo-Christian belief system.
At what point did you begin to question religion?
I had already come back from Iraq. I had already been deployed, and had that experience in Iraq, so I was pretty shaken by what had happened over there. It wasn’t really until I had been going to school out here in Arizona, when I started studying physics and philosophy—I started reading more secular skeptical authors. The Dan Dennetts, the Christopher Hitchens, even W.B. DuBois.
What made you come up with the idea of combining your love of hip-hop music with atheistic subject matter?
I had always been into hip-hop. I grew up on it. It’s a part of my culture. So growing up on hip-hop is one aspect of it. Just knowing that form of communication to communicate my form of ideas, my struggles, and my hurts, was already there. What made me sort of turn my focus to religion and the dissection of religion, I’d say that came when I was about twenty-six. I’m thirty-four now, but there was a time there where I was struggling with what I believed, and not being totally sure what I believed, because I had been told for so long what I believed.
How difficult is it to find a black audience as an atheist hip-hop artist?
How difficult is it? It’s very difficult, but it’s only difficult because black people have been lied to about the merits of education and skepticism and what it means to be critically-minded and what critical thinking is and what proper reasoning skills are. Black people have been done a major disservice because for a long time this religion was used to control them. The idea of questioning without questioning—a kind of obedience without questioning comes from this idea of being a former slave. You never questioned the slave master, you never questioned the overseer, who just happens to be the preacher or whomever. Obviously he’s the gateway to god.
Why do you think it’s easier for a black audience to digest black Muslim messages in hip-hop—I’m thinking of Ice Cube in the early ’90s—than it is to digest atheistic messages?
Let’s look at that. First of all, that’s a great question. Especially the reference you used, because I grew up on Ice Cube. For me, I looked at Ice Cube not necessarily as a guy who is accepting Islam—the Nation of Islam, which is not really Islam the way that we understand it. It’s been changed and bastardized into some other shit that certain blacks use as a method of political gain and that type of stuff. That’s a whole other conversation.
I think the answer more directly is that atheism and non-belief is seen as being unnatural, because god is considered the most natural expression of nature for most people who think about gods. Black people, with our knowledge and understanding that the first man was African, we kind of take this idea from there and kind of disassociate ourselves from what our original beliefs were. There are many reasons as to why black people are more open to any type of theistic message as opposed to nature. We feel that as the original man on earth, we were the closest to the expressions of nature. Therefore, for us to be completely absolvent of that natural expression that we believe exists, is somewhat an affront to the senses of the African. The African was a very spiritual person, a lot like the native American, and the Aborigine, and whatever ancient man you can pick out of a hat. But that spiritualism, that relationship to nature where that spiritualism was derived from…
We were a polytheistic people. We had a bunch of different gods. I actually had a conversation with a young black man in Long Beach about a week ago. He said, “Just because we believed in multiple gods didn’t make it right.” And I had to stop before I went into this whole other part of this conversation about relative right and wrong. You’ll question if worshiping multiple gods is right or wrong, but you won’t question the god who created the place of eternal damnation and torture? As if that’s not something to be questioned.
Do a lot of rappers want to beef with an atheist hip-hop artist?
No, they want to be a champion for their belief system. I guess it’s the same thing in the end. When people try to come at me or take shots at me, they don’t ever do it directly. Because number one, I don’t think they want a direct confrontation with me lyrically, based on my terms. Hip-hop is very political in that way. People look at people who are adversaries or rivals and they say, “Who started it? Why was it started? Is this person talking shit? Was this person minding his own business? What happened?” So someone can feel justified in saying, “You got your ass kicked because you deserve it. You got destroyed in a rhyme because you deserved it.” For me, the only way I’m ever going after someone directly is if they come after me on my terms. No one is going to challenge me on some atheistic “I wanna battle you on religion” sort of thing. Nobody. Because I’ve literally made a career out of it. I’m good at it. So for me it’s like, do they wanna beef? No, I don’t think they wanna beef. I just think they want to be looked at in their communities as champions of their belief system, whether that’s Islam or Christianity or whatever.
Do you get much hate mail?
Not anymore. I’m sure I’m not even relevant enough anymore for hate mail. It’s a different time now. Back in the day in 2006, 2007, I was coming back from Iraq three years prior. I was talking about people who were off limits as far as what you could say about them. People were very afraid of saying things about Islam, saying things about the tenants of Islam that were ridiculous, or Mohammad, or whatever. Remember, “Draw Mohammad Day” was a big thing back then. And now it’s like, “You’re still doing Draw Mohammad Day?” It’s a different time. Now we’ve switched to where radical Islam is no longer the enemy. Now it’s the patriarchal nature of society. Now feminism is the one that’s driving the vehicle. So it’s not really looked at the same, where if I write a song about Islam today as opposed to the way it was six years ago.
Do you see yourself as an atheist activist?
I see myself as a voice for critical thinking and skepticism. Atheism is a result of my critical thinking and skepticism. But I don’t champion atheism today the way I once did. And that’s partly a personal issue with me concerning the atheist community. I feel that the people who make up the atheist community are very biased and very closed-minded. They don’t like a certain level of urban involvement, whether it be from people like me who come from the inner-city, and not some white guy from some place who wrote a book. I’m a black dude from Compton who raps. And I’m hardcore… I don’t sound cheesy when I do it.
With no disrespect, if it’s a white guy who doesn’t come from the hood, it’s like, “Sure, come to our atheist conventions. You don’t threaten us.” But Greydon Square? People know he’ll punch you. If something happens, you still get that little hood element. It doesn’t matter if I’m an atheist, I’m still from Compton. I still grew up in a time where if you said the wrong thing, I’d punch you in the face for it. And not a lot of people would agree with that. Not a lot of people would be like, “Oh, this is the right thing to do.” It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s the lens through which I see the world. So I understand why certain atheist groups are like, “We don’t really wanna deal with Greydon like that.”
Not that I’m acting crazy at performances or anything like that, but I do feel like there’s a certain level of sorting that goes through the people they want to allow in that community to represent that community. I don’t see many dark faces that represent that community. So I don’t champion atheism the way I did back in the day, because I thought this was something we could all get behind. “This is something we could all get behind and be down for each other if someone attacks me.” But then I found out it was mostly atheists who talk the most shit about me—because I was a rapper. Because I wanted to rap about my skepticism, then it wasn’t valid. If I was writing a book, then all of a sudden that makes it more valid.
You joined forces with other atheist emcees on the song “2013 Atheist Dreadnought.” How did that track come together, and what was that experience like?
Well, there have actually been several “Atheist Dreadnought” songs. There was the 2008 version, the 2010, 2013, and most recently 2016. I have a method in which I make my music. A lot of times I will make songs that are independent, and a lot of times there are songs that I make that are considered legacy. My legacy songs are based on earlier ideas that have evolved into a new sound or new opinion that I rewrite for the record. I did a song called “Squared” all the way back in the day, and I talked strongly about atheism. Then I did a song called “Cubed” that was an evolution of that. So “2013 Atheist Dreadnought” was simply an evolution of the legacy song. And the legacy idea behind the dreadnought was, you know, a dreadnought was this big battleship in the war, and I was always a big fan between starships and any type of ship where there was a captain and a crew. So I always liked the idea of leading my crew on a ship to tackle the task at hand. Those songs were always meant to be like this is a captain and his crew. They’re on an away mission, and they’re basically rapping from this perspective of guys who are dismantling religion.
As for how the song came together, I’m the executive producer for all my music, so I have to personally arrange the song, arrange all the people, get all the people to agree, figure out who’s available and what kind of equipment they have. I’m also the executive producer and lead engineer on all my music, so I have to get the files and import them, mix them myself, cover up anybody’s bad qualities on the recording. It was one of the times where I had told everybody I was doing a continuation of the song. I basically told them, “This song is going down in a couple of months, so I’m going to hit you guys up. I’ll send you a beat and let you know.” And sure enough, I got the beat and I knew that was gonna be it just from the energy it had. And I knew that song was going to be one of the singles from that album because that album didn’t have as much atheism in it as previous albums had. I had made an active approach to not put as much direct atheism into my music as what I had done before. And that was one of the songs where I kind of broke that rule.
To be honest with you, I think “Atheist Dreadnought 2016” is better. That’s not to say that one is worse, but I definitely feel like 2016 is much more aggressive and much more brutal in regards to how we go at certain things in society—not just religion.
You recorded the song “War Porn” with Canibus, who is another emcee I respect. What was Canibus’ demeanor like in regards to your beliefs, and what was that experience like?
First and foremost, I want to pay my proper respects to Canibus. I consider him, if not the greatest rapper of all time, one of the greatest rappers of all time. He is a grandmaster in skill and craft. And I feel like he got a raw deal when it came to hip-hop and how they treated him. They were all intimidated by his intelligence. I know people who came right out and said it.
Having said that, ‘Bis with me was cool. I had no problems working with him. The first time we spoke, we didn’t even talk about music. We talked about our experiences in the military. We were both in the Army around the same time. We talked a lot about being soldiers and living in the barracks. That kind of led to conversations about spirituality and religion and aliens and stuff like that. I gotta say, people have this opinion about Canibus that he’s crazy and that he believes in weird stuff. You know, he really doesn’t believe in anything crazier than anyone else I’ve heard. He just happens to believe in much less popular things. He talks about things like MKUltra, the C.I.A., the psychedelic program. That’s not conspiracy talk, but Canibus gets lumped into this “conspiracy nut” thing. “He’s crazy.” He’s just talking about stuff that most ignorant assholes don’t know anything about. Sure he makes some wild accusations about hip-hop and the politics in it, but whatever.
I always look at him as a guy who had an incredibly deep mind. He was maybe the most intelligent rapper I ever heard. He was the reason I started rapping. Any conversation we ever had, I always assumed the role of pupil and conceded the role of teacher to him and his vast intellect.
What do you consider the proudest moment of your career thus far?
Standing on that stage with Canibus.
In the past you’ve said you believe people are having a “dishonest conversation” when it comes to theism vs. atheism. What did you mean by that?
With theists and atheists, I think there are two different starting points. Atheists start from the perspective of asking the questions and letting the data dictate their overall hypothesis of what they think is, whether it be observational direct or indirect evidence to build some sort of hypothesis. Theistic minds start with a conclusion. They start with this premise, and the assumption is this; that existed and then created some stuff. We start from two different places, and we don’t even acknowledge that when we get into the debate. My job is not to disprove a god to you. The theist’s position most of the time is to prove why their beliefs are not ridiculous…why their beliefs are valid. To me, the secular position is simply saying, “That’s a nice story you have. I just don’t believe it.” It’s like, “That’s a nice story you have about having a million dollars in the bank, but until I see an ATM receipt I’m just going to take it as a story.” I don’t believe most people’s story when they say they have a million dollars in the bank. That’s not to say I couldn’t be wrong, but until presented with evidence I’m not going to believe it. And they think when you don’t believe something, then it’s a direct indictment on what they believe. “If you don’t believe it, then that must mean you don’t respect the fact that I believe it.” That’s not even true. I don’t respect the belief itself, but I respect your belief. I just don’t respect the belief that people are going to go someplace where they’re going to be tortured for all of eternity just because they didn’t think a certain way.
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