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Listening In

Hannibal Buress Matriculated to Ludacris and Admires Eminem’s Fitness

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“You know who’s an underrated actor? T.I. He was really good in ATL,” Hannibal Buress tells SPIN over the phone from a Vegas hotel room. The notoriously deadpan New York stand-up goes on to name Will Smith as his favorite crossover musician/actor, and 2015’s NFL drama Concussion as his favorite Smith film. “Just kidding,” he clarifies. “I haven’t seen Concussion.”

Such easy switching between truth and jokes in his long-pause drawl is emblematic of the comedian and actor’s attitude and oeuvre. This month he’ll expose both to the harsh klieg lights yet again in his hour-long Netflix special, Comedy Camisado (available February 5), and in the return of Comedy Central’s beloved series of hilarious errors, Broad City, which sees the 33-year-old as an easygoing dentist named Lincoln. Though T.I.’s extensive acting resumé is as much a part of him as his rhymes, Buress’ interest and involvement in music, and his rapping on assorted mixtapes, often takes a backseat to his onstage persona — except, perhaps, when he’s roasting Justin Bieber or dissecting verses by Iggy Azalea. (Though he’s moving away from that in his routine, Buress says if he were to do it again, next up would be Big Sean’s “Final Hour” lyric, “To get to where I’m at, you’d have to suck a hundred dicks.”)

In a rare break from his packed schedule of hosting The Eric Andre Show and his own Comedy Central series, Why? with Hannibal Buress, the gibberish-rap star spoke to SPIN — the day after David Bowie died, as it happened — about buying mixtapes on the street, album-of-the-month clubs, and fitness rapping.

Open Mike Eagle performed “Ziggy Starfish” on Why? with Hannibal Buress this summer, and David Bowie died yesterday, so how did you react to the news?
Sad, I guess? For me, Bowie was one of those artists that I didn’t know, but I knew. He had those hits that were just kind of around, where I’d be like, “Oh! That’s David Bowie? Crazy!” Obviously he influenced a lot of people, so it’s been interesting to see what everybody had to say about it. I thought he was amazing on Extras. Did you see that clip? With Ricky Gervais? Obviously he’s a creative dude, and it seemed like he knew he was about to go, ‘cause his last album was about dying, which was pretty crazy.

What was the very first concert that you went to?
It might’ve been something at the United Center in Chicago: one of those superjams, or one of the radio station super lineups, but I don’t remember connecting to it that much. Ludacris came to my college right when he popped off back in the day, ‘cause I started college in 2000. It was when people still sold hella albums too; when gold was failure for a big rapper. You’d be like, “He only went gold.” Or like, “S**t, he only went one-time platinum! He’s fallin’ off.” [Laughs.] A couple rappers can get to platinum — it just takes the whole year. Like Drake, I think J. ColeKendrick [Lamar] will get there. They can get 100 million streams on Spotify.

What was the first album you bought with your own money, and what was the first album you illegally downloaded?
A lot of the first records I had were back when they had the Columbia House/BMG thing, where you used to get ten CDs. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and the first Wu-Tang, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It was pretty weird to have an 11-year-old listening to things like, “Yeah! Put his nuts on a table! Just his nutsack by itself!” [Laughs.] Listening to this crazy s**t. I remember having a Too $hort album, and my mom took it away from me like, “Nope! Never listening to this!” Doggystyle — a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have listened to.

So basically all the ones with the “Parental Advisory” sticker on it.
Yeah. Knowing all the words to [MC Breed and DFC’s] “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin’” — it’s kind of weird for an 11- or 12-year-old. [Laughs.] I didn’t have my own laptop for a while, but there was “the bootleg man” in college, the guy that had his own computer. You could just write down the songs you wanted, and he would go on Napster and make your mixtape for three dollars or five dollars. Or you’d get the whole album. Stuff that came out around that time, I didn’t buy in the store. Like, I don’t think I bought The Blueprint in the store. I got that from somebody down the hall, s**t like that.

I didn’t even know that was a thing.
When I visited New York for the first time in college, 50 Cent was just starting to pop, in ‘01 or ‘02. You could also get these mixtapes from guys selling ‘em on the street, like DJ Kool tapes.

Who is someone that you’ve worked with that you’ve bonded over music with?
Me and Eric André put each other onto different songs. We have a lot of different artists on [The Eric Andre Show], so we talk a lot about music, or he’ll hear me playing stuff in my office, like, “What is that?” Or I’ll hear him playing some s**t. He made me a mixtape a few years back with some stuff I hadn’t heard. There was this one song by Kid Sister, “Down Azz Jawn,” that just has this old-school ’80s feel to it. I remember meeting her at SXSW a few years ago when Chicago and hip-hop had that burst, with Flosstradamus and the Cool Kids and Kid Sister. I remember meeting her at this bar in Austin and just saying, “Are you gonna do ‘Down Azz Jawn’?” She looked at me like I was kind of crazy. She didn’t do that song. It’s an underrated song!

What’s something that you introduced Eric André to?
I put him onto Chance the Rapper. At first he didn’t know what the f**k I was playing. He would hear it from my office, and I forgot what he heard, but it was some crazy ad-lib, like [yelps] “AY AY AY!” He was like, “What the f**k are you listening to?” And then he started listening to it. He f**ks with it.

If you were to curate Bonnaroo’s lineup this year, who would you have on the lineup? Who would headline?
Oh wow, you’re getting political now. Is this my personal taste or, like, a feasible Bonnaroo headliner?

This is your personal taste.
I’m thinking about acts I’ve seen at Bonnaroo who’ve killed it… I saw Lionel Richie last year. I saw Eminem a few years back, which is crazy, ‘cause you realize how tough it is to rap how he raps live. You have to be in shape. Lupe Fiasco would be awesome. I saw him several months back in L.A. and he did his latest album, Tetsuo & Youth, but he did the whole thing live with no hype-man. Holy s**t, you gotta be in shape to rap like that, especially when it’s just really dense and a lot of straight-up just flowing. That’s why some people have hype-men: not to hype up the crowd, but so they can catch their breath.

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You play a dentist on Broad City. What music would you like to listen to in the dentist chair if you’re getting a root canal?
When I was in L.A., I had to have an emergency tooth removed at night, or something, and the dentist let me hook up my iPod and play what I wanted to play. What did I play, though? It was a new album and I was able to play the new s**t while I was getting my tooth pulled. It was great. Damnit, I don’t remember what it was, but I appreciate that dentist letting me do that. It made me feel cool. I guess if I had to, it would be Hiatus Kaiyote’s last album [Choose Your Weapon], it’s very relaxing. I play that for sex, also.