Nazeem Cunningham met Spencer Joles in middle school, and neither expected to be making music together almost a decade later.
“I kind of just went up to him and started freestyling, but we wouldn’t ever freestyle about anything or have it rhyme. It would just be ridiculous,” Joles said.
By the time the collaborators, now both 20, made it to Southwest High School, they began writing music seriously, and the two have been close collaborators ever since.
“Sometime in high school we realized we could actually kind of make music,” Cunningham said. “At first we were going to start a band similar to Rage Against the Machine, but then we started just writing raps, freestyle a capellas and stuff at lunch, and we just decided to be rappers after that.”
Coming of age in South Minneapolis has impacted their worldview and is referenced throughout their songs.
“South Minneapolis is awesome because there’s such a huge hip-hop influence, it’s a huge punk community, and I just like to observe those attitudes and those ideologies in my music and with fashion,” Cunningham said.
Their upcoming mixtape, coyly titled The Album, was produced entirely by Joles. It blends deceptive party tracks like “Smoke Daht” with the incise, razor sharp social commentary on “Chinatown Dreams” or “Fallen Souls,” which also features P.O.S. On the latter, they tackle white privilege, the case for reparations, and gun violence.
“It’s 13 tracks, with a lot of different types of hip-hop. We’re doing trap stuff, old-school hip-hop, soul beats, and some experimentation on it. It’s a very diverse mixtape. It’s very fun to listen to,” Joles said.
Each raps with a style that pushes forward while the other pulls back, complementing one another’s lyrical flow as each song mounts in rising tension. In addition to P.O.S, the mixtape will also feature Maria Isa and even Muja Messiah — Cunningham’s father. Spencer’s production darts between folk, classical, and pop music, and he says he tries take aspects from each and incorporate them into his beats.
“We tried to go with a mainstream palette, but also speak to social justice issues,” Joles said.
“People fight for equality, they fight to be heard, and if I can put that voice in my music, then I’m doing a service for everyone and myself,” Cunningham said.
Elsewhere, themes emerge in their work that include “a lot of inner turmoil,” as Joles puts it. “Besides observing the environment, it’s observing the chaos within the self, and not just the chaos, but also the things that are good. It’s intertwining the flow of the inner being with the flow of the lyrics.”
Their influences range from the likes of Kanye West to local up and comers in thestand4rd crew. While the dup appreciates the thriving local hip-hop scene, they see a trend among young rappers in the Twin Cities refusing to be pigeonholed.
“It’s not all just Rhymesayers stuff,” Joles said. “They’re really dope, and they’ve held it down for a long time, but we’re starting to some different stuff, like thestand4rd crew. They’re all making good, weird songs. A lot of artists are experimenting and putting work in, and getting recognition outside of Minnesota too.”
The Album will be released Feb. 16.