Earlier this week, I caught up with Tony the Scribe (@killstreakmpls), the rapping half of Minneapolis duo, KILLSTREAK. Their album, Janus, is out now at killstreak.info and wherever underfunded indie rap records are sold. I was lucky enough to be in the studio for some of the sessions and you can even hear yours truly on some background vocals, handclaps, and backmasked hidden messages.
Named after the Roman god of transitions (beginnings, endings, and the duality thereof), Janus is a record that attempts (and largely succeeds in) grand analyses of serious issues without sacrificing fun or wit. In his own words, Tony describes the rationale for the record’s unique sonic direction, their involvement in the Minneapolis scene, and Guillermo Del Toro. (You can catch producer ICETEP at @icetep or on his excellent Tumblr.)
It’s 2013. You and I are about the same age and we’ve grown up seeing lots of rappers blow up by flooding the internet with free music. Why are you guys deciding to release physical copies and sell the record?
Well, let’s first make clear that the whole album will be available for free streaming at Soundcloud, Spotify, and Bandcamp. But I think we both felt that when we listen to streaming music we really like, our initial instinct is to go buy a copy. Even in 2013 I LOVE getting a physical copy of a record and putting it into a CD player, and I know tons of other people do too. We have seen a lot of support for the album so far and we thought one of the best ways for people who like what we’re doing to support us is to pay for a physical copy knowing that the money will go to the costs of future projects. It feels like a win-win. People get a shiny physical copy and we get a little scrilla to reinvest.
This is truly a debut album. Not only is it the first properly available release to feature you as a rapper, but it’s the first collection of music released under the KILLSTREAK name. Still, you managed to land guest spots from high profile Minneapolis rappers like Guante and Chantz. How’d that happen?
Nothing more complicated than lurking around the Minneapolis hip-hop scene and Twitter for a few years until they had no choice but to be friends with me (GOT EM!) and then sending them really good beats and concepts to play with. That being said, both of them were very consciously chosen for the tracks they appeared on. I feel like too many rappers these days will throw any famous rapper on any track; we chose to use our featured artists as a toolkit: deploying them only when their sound could further a song in a fundamental way.
On paper, a somewhat cerebral rapper over EDM-influenced production might lead some of the so-called backpacker crowd to think it’s “ironic” commentary on that party scene. Listening to the album doesn’t give that impression at all. Everything is very much in earnest. What led you and ICETEP to that sound?
Going out on the weekends and getting really, really fucking drunk. Lol. The whole record is kinda about the contrasts between the colleges we go to during the week, where we are expected to learn critical thinking skills and adapt ourselves for the workforce, and the colleges we go to during the weekend, where we are expected to learn how to take gravity bong hits and sleep with lots of people without compromising our morality. I’ve learned a lot from both and I’m as much a part of the hypocrisy that surrounds college life as anyone else. So why shouldn’t we make an album that is equally at home in a house party or a midnight walk? It seems like in 2013 people think you can either make “cerebral” rap or “party” rap, when in reality hip-hop has embraced both since its inception. It’s just a matter of learning how to make things dope on multiple layers. After all, it IS hip-hop. If it doesn’t bang at least a little, you’re probably doing it wrong.
It seems your social and political ideologies inform your music quite a bit, and you come from a scene that values that. But what was a harder line for you to straddle as a writer: tackling serious topics without being preachy or having fun without being irresponsible?
Definitely the former. Most earnest, socio-politically informed music comes off as boring, preachy, and generally lame as fuck. Sometimes it feels impossible to create emotional music that doesn’t feel melodramatic. Having fun without being (too) irresponsible, on the other hand, is something I already do every day outside of rap. As much as we cut our favorite artists slack for some irresponsible shit, it’s really not all that difficult to avoid invoking date rape and civil rights martyrs in a 16 and still have it sound tight. *Kanye Shrug*. And it’s not like I can’t still rap about sex and drinking too much cheap vodka. I just don’t like letting it monopolize my bars, because it doesn’t monopolize who I am. I’m just trying to make the most honest music I can and that’s where I end up most of the time.
What’s next for you as a rapper and for KILLSTREAK as a group?
Christ, no idea. I have 20 or so solo songs that are done right now, but they haven’t fit well into an album as of yet. We’ll see what happens with that. Meanwhile, KILLSTREAK might be putting out a dystopian science fiction EP by the end of 2013. Or we might not…there’s no way to know. I think finishing up this album has been an incredible growing experience, personally and musically, for both of us and we’ll have to figure out where we are creatively once the dust settles. Fuck a sophomore jinx, though.
What excites you right now?
Pacific Fucking Rim. You’re having Guillermo Del Toro direct what’s basically an Evangelion movie? HELL yeah, I’m excited for that shit. I really hope it doesn’t suck. Musically, I’m excited for the next albums from Soul Position, Audio Perm, P.O.S & Lydia Liza, Guante, and Astronautalis. I’m also really excited about the new Child Rebel Soldier and Dr. Dre albums that are coming out. On a more serious note, I’m excited to see what people think of this album. It’s pretty insane to just drop two year’s worth of my personal observations on people and seeing how people respond to it. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride!