New York beatmaker Blockhead produces a highly distinctive brand of abstract hip-hop, both as an instrumental solo artist and behind the boards for rappers including Aesop Rock, Cage, and Billy Woods.
Drawing from genres such as funk, rock, and jazz, he displays a particular talent for incorporating offbeat vocal samples into his tracks. His solo albums, such as 2005's Downtown Science and 2009's The Music Scene, balance playfulness with melancholy, reflecting on his upbringing, relationships, and other life experiences. During the 2010s, he released full-length collaborations with emcees Illogic and Marq Spekt, and his 2019 full-length Free Sweatpants featured verses by rappers like Homeboy Sandman and Open Mike Eagle.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Tony Simon was one of seven children. The bohemian mentality of his father, a painter and sculptor, and the steadfastness of his mother, a social worker, confounded Simon's upbringing, yet informed his musical pursuits. He was aspiring to be an MC -- that is, until he first met Aesop Rock in 1994, the one year he attended Boston University. After hearing Aesop spit verses, he hung up the mike and focused on producing. Blockhead provided most of the beats for Aesop's early releases, including self-pressed material Music for Earthworms (1997) and Appleseed (1999), as well as his proper full-length debut, Float, released in 2000 via Mush Records. In 2001, Mush wound up releasing Blockhead's first beat tape, Blockhead's Broken Beats, as well. Blockhead continued producing Aesop when the abstract MC signed with New York upstart Def Jux in 2000. Upon the 2001 release of Labor Days, for which Blockhead produced nine tracks, critics and indie rap fans alike heavily praised the two's work. It led to the release of the EP Daylight the following year, which was based around the popular "Daylight" song from the Labor Days LP.
With this success, Blockhead began to break out on his own. Though not intended to become a real project, the Manhattan producer formed comedy rap duo Party Fun Action Committee with longtime friend Jeremy Gibson, aka Jer, issuing their debut, Let's Get Serious, on Def Jux in 2003. He also supplied beats for many of the label's signees, including Murs, Hangar 18, and later Cage. However, for his solo material, Blockhead shopped around to other labels, eventually finding a home in U.K. electronic stalwart Ninja Tune. His proper debut, the Insomniac Olympics EP, arrived in 2003, and led up to the more cinematic and down-tempo full-length Music by Cavelight in 2004, and an ode to his Manhattan home, Downtown Science, in 2005. His work with Aesop diminished considerably during this period, until the recording of Aesop's 2007 album, None Shall Pass. That same year, Blockhead self-issued his third long-player, Uncle Tony's Coloring Book, a more joyous piece than his previous records. His 2009 full-length, The Music Scene, was more complex thanks in part to the producer's embrace of the music recording program Ableton. Three years later, Interludes After Midnight (his final release for Ninja Tune) honored the simpler sound of the '80s and late '90s, the time of Blockhead's musical upbringing.
In 2013, Blockhead collaborated with Illogic for the full-length Capture the Sun, in addition to producing Billy Woods' Dour Candy. Solo full-length Bells and Whistles appeared in 2014, and Blockhead worked with emcee Marq Spekt for that year's Justplaywitit, followed by 2016's Keep Playin'. In 2017, Uncle Tony's Coloring Book was issued on vinyl by Young Heavy Souls, who also co-released The Art of the Sample, an album produced using the back catalog of music library De Wolfe. Additionally, Backwoodz Studioz released Blockhead's Funeral Balloons as well as Billy Woods' Known Unknowns, which Blockhead produced. He remained with the label for 2019's Free Sweatpants, a mixture of instrumentals and guest features by Aesop Rock, Armand Hammer, Hemlock Ernst, and others. ~ Cyril Cordor, Rovi