Young Chicago hip-hop band Kids These Days released their debut album Traphouse Rock as a free download at the end of last week to critical acclaim due to it’s genre bending concept that draws influences from a large pallete of sounds ranging from Crucial Conflict to The Pixies. The seven-piece outfit has been on a national tour around the USA with Asher Roth and Chuck English of The Cool Kids when we managed to catch up with vocalists Vic Mensa and Macie Stewart to talk about their new album.
Would you guys consider Traphouse Rock your debut album or a mixtape?
Vic Mensa: Album.
Macie Stewart: I think it’s more like an album
A lot of effort was put into the album then, why did you decide to release it as a free download?
V: Sample clearance (laughs). I mean that’s an important factor but also I mean it was kind of just it was an artistic decision, you know it wasn’t so much that we got to the end of the process and we were like ‘Oh man too bad we can’t clear that Curtis Mayfield sample so let’s put it out for free’, we understand how music is received these days. I download music everyday, I know music is free and so does everybody else you know (laughs). So you know, we just kinda thought it would be something dope to give to the people for free because that’s really what music needs these days and I hope people appreciate it.
Tell us a bit about the concept behind the Traphouse Rock album.
M: Yeah well we started playing just as a band in basements back in like 2009, I think like one of the first song we ever played together was… A Man’s World, we took that song which was already in existence so we kind of just jammed around it and added a bit of our own elements. We then put Summertime with A Man’s World together and we thought that was a cool concept and that we should try to run with it and make a whole project out of it rather than just one or two songs.
Well Nirvana is sampled in there, Outkast, The Pixies and 50 Cent to name some of the obvious ones. It’s a varied spread that you’ve drawn influences from, how did you guys decide on what bands and what songs you decided to reinterpret? And was it a natural process or did you consciously put particular songs together?
M: I think it was mostly a natural thing, you know sometimes you start off with a song, we’d bring in just a song we’d want to cover, you know like Lane brought in Ghetto Musick, so we kind of just jammed on that for a while and then figured out that Smells Like Teen Spirit might be cool to put over this, oh let’s put in some of this Curtis Mayfield chord progression in too, stuff like that you know so it was pretty natural I’d say. I don’t think we ever specifically said ‘Alright we’re mashing up these three songs.’
V: It’s maybe something I realised that we started to do, songs that we did decided to reinterpret are joints that are very definitive of their time and genre, you know, so these may be songs that are really different from each other and some of them more obscure than others. Where Is My Mind? came out but garage rock era you know, in the same way that Smells Like Teen Spirit is a classic of ‘90s grunge rock, the same way Crucial Conflict’s Smokin’ on Hay is a classic of ‘90s hip-hop and Parliament Funkadelic is a classic of ‘70s funk so we kind of just ended up mashing up a lot of iconic songs.
A lot of kids born in the ‘90s have not heard some of this music you’ve sampled before, so it might be their first time hearing it through you guys, how do you feel about that?
V: A lot of people take our generation for having, you know very little musical knowledge and listen to a bunch of bullshit music that’s all over the radio, but a lot of kids know this shit, and a lot of kids come up and recognize some of the more obscure shit too. I think that something about our generation specifically, exactly our age you know we started getting back into boom bap hip-hop from the ‘90s and old shit, I think that our generation is one that’s had a bit of a revival, a rebirth with a lot of classic styles of music.
You had Jeff Tweedy come on board as a producer for seven tracks on the album, so how was it working with a dude that’s been around in the industry for a long time, how did he contribute to your musical process?
M: It was amazing working with him, I mean somebody…somebody with that amount of creative genius, it’s such an amazing opportunity to work with him. I mean we bought in songs that we thought were practically finished, and we bought them in and then he changed them completely, almost 100%! He really helped guide us along the recording process as we didn’t really have much experience recording as a band before, so he really showed us how to get different sounds.
Vic, do you normally write your verses and then jam as a band, or is it the other way around? Where you make the track first before you start writing?
V: We usually come up with the bass for songs you know, the groove first, before anything else and then we normally jam that stuff out as a track and a lot of the times Macie will start singing the melody and put words to it later at home. A lot of the time I start verses just freestyling and then run off with that, most of the time when I think of stuff, I usually write it while we’re jamming and it’s kinda all just one creative process all at once and shit.
Well how’s it with you Macie? Do you approach the writing process the same way? Because you’ve also got the keys to worry about as well.
M: I find it kind of hard to do vocals simultaneously with creating the groove so usually I concentrate on making the keys parts first and trying to find at least something that will resemble what I eventually play in the end for the song, and then if I think of a melody in mind I go home and try to write something with just me and the piano and I bring it back for next rehearsal.
And the comparison to the biggest iconic hip-hop band The Roots is natural, what do you think of that comparison, and were they an influence to you guys at the start?
V: I think The Roots are an amazing band, one of the best in the past 20 years, as long as The Roots have been around they’ve been one of the best bands to do it and it’s an honour to be compared to The Roots. I think we’re different from The Roots in a lot of major ways, I think that those ways are pretty evident through our music, but you know I love the comparison just because it makes sense, but fuck comparisons though!
There’s been a lot of talk recently and news about Chicago and the new generation of hyper violent kids in Chicago, what do you guys have to add to this narrative considering you guys grew up there.
V: I think that it’s just hype related to the internet and popularity and commercialism, you know certain things that have been pushed as being at the forefront and all the things going on, but you know we’ve been doing our thing in Chicago for a while. We’ve got a lot of love from Chicago, you know we’ve been selling out big venues in Chicago that other people don’t sell out. Our music is something that’s a bit different you know from what’s being publicized and that’s going against everything else coming out in Chicago.
Do you think the widespread panic is misplaced when it comes to the youth of Chicago?
V: I don’t think it’s incorrect in the least bit, you know because…I don’t think it’s wrong at all, because I’m a part of KTD and I’ve been writing and making music for a while, and I make a different kind of music, something that’s more personal a lot of the time. More introspective and a lot less flash and violence in my music, but I know that shit exists, so I think that the perspective of Chicago being portrayed in the media is real because we all have friends that die from this shit every summer. Not even summer, you know every season…but during summertime dude you know it’s crazy and that shit’s real as fuck.
Well tell us about the Save Money collective that you’re part of.
V: Save money is family first – we all pretty much just grew up together and decided to be a collective of a lot of musicians, rappers and you know, talented cats. Man we just came up together boosting shit, ignorant shit you know? We’ve got a little bit of a different perspective on it and where we are today, everybody is realizing their potential and ambition and trying to take that shit to the top.
Well why did you guys call it Save Money instead of Spending Cash or whatever?
V: Man yo because we used to save a lot of money, you know (laughs). When I was a kid, when I was younger I used to save up all my fuckin’ lunch money to buy sneakers. We used to steal clothes out of Macy’s, we used to boost shit all day, heavily. A lot of fun shit you know, stealing, buying clothes, shit like that, but it’s evolved into being a bit of an antithesis to your average blowin’ money fast, spendin’ cash rap lifestyle. I get money…but I’m gonna save that shit until I got a lot of it (laughs).
Well you guys must be getting some label interest now, have you guys considered being signed to a label or is independent the way to go these days?
M: Umm I think if the right one comes along, if it’s the right situation places itself in front of us we would probably do it, but you know just right now we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.
Well lastly, what’s the future plans for Kids These Days?
M: Yeah I think once we get home we have some stuff we just recorded this week before we left so we’d like to get some more songs actually recorded and maybe do another EP or something, and then another tour soon.
V: A lot of videos for Traphouse Rock. Expect a lot more from Traphouse Rock – I’m thinking about a Don’t Harsh My Mellow remix and just working on new music.