Something genuinely special occurred last Saturday at Earth House, with rap and electronica flowing simultaneously. The concert began with the impressive rap stylings of Ari & Arian [Ari Ebstein ’16 and Arian Dehnow ’16], followed by a stellar DJ set by Rimless (Saarim Zaman ’16). Then, without any real introduction or grand entrance, the headliner of the night, Brooklyn-based rap duo Weekend Money (signed to Himanshu Suri ’07’s Greedhead Music label), took over the reigns and performed. Over the course of the night, the entire show had felt less like a series of acts and more like one long party, which was compounded by the intense and excited response the main act managed to evoke from the crowd. Ne$$ (the MC) was out rapping amongst the crowd, Baghdaddy (the producer) had his shirt off halfway through the show, and people were already crowd-surfing just two songs in. Earlier that night, I had a chance to hang out with the duo on the Earth House porch and talk about their history and their music. (Note: when we started the interview, we had to speak over the loud drone of multiple ambulance sirens speeding down High Street.)
The Argus: So to start off, how long have you guys been together as a duo?
Ne$$: Well, we’re actually on the run right now, as you can hear from the police sirens, so it’s actually going to be short lived! Naw, but we’ve been rocking for a couple of years now. It says on our drop card we were formulated in a Brooklyn basement in early 2012, but I think it was a little earlier than that.
[At this point, Ne$$ handed me Weekend Money’s drop card, something I’d never actually seen before: a laminated card with a photo of the band on the front and a code on the back.]
N: That’s how we sell music nowadays; people don’t even sell CDs no more…You go to the site and it gives you a download link for a code, and you can download the music. I’m very proud of that.
A: So, how does the split between you guys work?
Baghdaddy: It’s less of a 50/50 split, and we both go into each other’s territories. For example, I sing, he helps out with the beats. We’re usually writing at the same time. It’s just a really fluid process.
N: We play a part in each others parts; on the surface he’s doing the beats and I’m rapping, but a lot of times Bag will give me a flow idea, like, “What if you hit it like this?” and I’ll be like, “Why don’t we try this drum pattern?” or, “Here’s a melody, and you’ll sound good singing it because your tone is ill.”
A: Looking at your Soundcloud page, I found it interesting that it refers to you as a rap/electronica band. Listening to some samples of your stuff, it seems like the beats are a lot more complex, and a lot more frenzied, than you find in a lot of modern rap. Is this a specific sound that you guys are going for?
B: Ne$$ and I have always approached writing music with complete freedom, and not going “we want to sound like this, we want to sound like that.” I think what comes out is just the personality of who we are as human beings, and I think I tend to be just a bit of a frenzied dude; I’m a little bit…off, and I think that comes across in our music. As for electronica, the reason there is I never really made hip-hop before I met Ne$$.
N: I come from a real heavy hip-hop background, you know, with boom-bap, East Coast, just real hard hip-hop. Around the time I hit up with Bag, I was delving into some other sounds, electro bands like Justice, MSTRKRFT, different French bands that were just blowing my mind…so when I linked with Bag, it was actually through a friend of ours, who’s our engineer, Parker. We were working on some electro shit, and he was like, “I know someone who’d be perfect for you.” When I met Bag, that was the foundation, we both were like, “Oh, you like Justice? I like Justice.” He wanted to get an MC to bless the music he was producing, and I wanted a producer who could take me beyond just boom-bap which I’ve got a full love and respect for; I come from that culture, but I was definitely ready to open it up.
A: So Ne$$, I understand you’ve been in a couple of rap groups before this, right?
N: I was in one group before this; a group called ALX, part of the RBG family, a lot of people were looking at social political, very down with the system…I had that project, and also a solo project called I-2025, which was Ne$$’ attempt to fuck with some electro shit. I mean, coming from the hood, you don’t hear a lot of those sounds.
A: And how about you, Bag? Were you in any projects before this?
B: Not really. I grew up writing music for myself, but I never really released anything. I made video game music for a while, so if any of my production was heard anywhere it was probably from video games.
A: Any particular games we might recognize your work from?
B: They’re all apps, like Ski Ball, or…fucking Dream Land.
N: What about Dragon Quest?
B: Dragon Craft…but mobile games don’t have that long of a life unless they’re completely number one for a really long time, so you might not know them.
N: When I met Bag, it was at a Christmas party for the app company that was making the video games, and I was amazed at the shit that he was doing; it’s real sound design shit so it’s like he’s making music for a scene. When I rap, I don’t necessarily like to just write lyrics that are punch line based, like, “Oh, I wrote something nice, there’s a little punch line.” I like to write whole stories, and I felt like the stuff he did would really lend to that, because he was already making music for that, for scenes.
A: So, seeing as how much your music draws from an electronic base, how would you say that lends itself to a live performance?
B: Well, I think the tracks are pretty much 80 percent there, live. The rest I’m just triggering elements that I can trigger. I don’t want to take away from the experience of the actual track being amazing, but I also don’t want to take away from the organic nature of playing live; it’s a really fine balance of knowing what you should leave in the track and what you can add in later.
A: So do you leave much room for improvisation?
B: Yeah, most of the time I’m just affecting the tracks in certain ways that I wouldn’t be affecting them on the album cut, but just ways that you can hear Ne$$ clearer, or maybe we’re reaching a certain part where I can see the crowd getting amped and I want to amp them more so I’ll throw in a certain EQ, or I’ll throw in certain parts that I want them to hear to make them more into it. Stuff like that…it’s not like I’m rebuilding the track live.
A: So did you guys come out to our fine campus as part of a tour?
N: Yeah, we’re moving around, doing spot dates around the East Coast. We just did a show at Show in New York at SOB’s, a big show at HOT97 Who’s Next Live, and this is just the next show on our schedule. We’re going to be out in Cali in a week, and then we’re just lining up shows for the summer. We were actually super curious about coming here, because we have some friends that actually went here. Our friend Heems [Himanshu Suri ’07] from Das Racist, went here. I think Kool A.D. [Victor Vazquez ’06] was here also. One of my friends Umi, from RBG’s, used to be here. I heard MGMT [Andrew VanWyngarden ’05, Ben Goldwasser ’05] went here, I was like “Aww, that’s dope.” So, I’m excited. Y’all seem like y’all have good taste…a good sense of what’s dope.