Jalen Motes is probably a lot like you. The Communication junior grew up in moderately-sized Columbia, S.C., watched “SpongeBob Squarepants” and “Rugrats” as a kid and started a band in high school that ultimately broke up. But Motes, who raps as “Caeto Moon,” is more than the average hip-hop-savvy college student. Thanks to his synesthesia, a neurological condition that mixes cognitive stimuli, Motes can literally taste the rhymes and beats he constructs. With his second album, “Caeto Moon’s Grade A Day,” set for release on Nov. 18, Motes talks synesthesia, his stage name and songwriting.
What’s your synesthesia like?
Primarily my synesthesia is in letters and numbers and words. So every letter—all 26 of them—tends to have associated colors with them. I didn’t know that was weird for a very long time. I also have synesthesia with sound, where music sounds like colors. It used to be a lot stronger when I was younger. It’s sad to say, but it is true, that as I get older, it kind of decreases.
I actually remember a very scary period in my life where all music sounded black and white. It was all grayscale and I was really freaked out for two months. I don’t know if it’s terribly interesting, but I feel like other people who don’t have synesthesia tend to think that it’s some amazing thing. Where for me, especially now that I’ve lost some of the immediacy and some of the tangibility of it that I had in youth, it’s more implied.
Like Lupe [Fiasco]’s song “Bitch Bad.” If I’m not thinking about what it looks like then I don’t really notice. But when I listen really closely I’m like, “Oh shit, yeah.” Those green little sparkles blasting up into whatever—if I start talking about it, it makes me sound like I’m crazy.
I remember the first time I said something about it, it was eighth grade. I was talking about a song and I was like, “You know, I don’t really like that song, it just leaves an orange sherbet taste in my mouth.” And they were like, “What are you talking about, man?” Nobody in the room had experienced what I was talking about. It blew my mind that not everybody saw colors when they read things or saw colors when they heard things or tasted sounds or could smell feelings—things that are so obvious in my mind and that other people couldn’t experience. It was one of those points in time where you realized that not everyone in the world is the same as you.
How did “Caeto Moon” become your stage name?
I had a band in high school. It was actually in my junior year. Out of that came a second band, and we thought to ourselves, we needed to have cool names. We were going to try to make it this electro-funk-pop band. I just remember not knowing at all what I wanted my name to be, and randomly one night I was doing my calculus homework and thinking, “This is really boring.” I stopped and looked out the window, and very boringly, the name “Caeto Moon” just appeared in my head, spelled out perfectly. It doesn’t have any special significance—I think that it creates its own significance as time goes on. It creates its own purpose as time goes on, which is cool.
Why did you write your Pokémon-inspired song,“Dig It”?
That song has always been a funny thing to me, because people always tell me how much they like it. But the process of writing it for me was very blasé, almost. It was very late at night one night, sometime during senior year, I was just sitting around messing around on my keyboard, and I just thought it sounded all right. It sounded cool enough to commit to saving it in a project on my computer. Then the next day, I came in and did a little extra work. I decided I was going to freestyle on it. The first thought that came into my head was “dig it like a Diglett.” ‘Cause like I said, I grew up watching way too many cartoons. So Pokémon was very high up on the list of things that I watched a lot. I just started rapping about Pokémon and then it devolved into me talking about social ills at some point, and then it devolved again into just silliness and then it didn’t matter anymore.
I was very shocked that I liked the song so much. It kind of annoyed me at first how many people liked the song, because I always felt like I put so much work into other songs, but people always just seem to love “Dig It” so much. Lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that sometimes you just make songs that people really like or identify with.