Surprise! Iceberg Theory wasn’t the only interview I scored this month. Last Saturday, just before their show in Jacksonville, I got on the phone with Matt and Jah, the creative forces behind one of Florida’s fiercest duos– NOBODIES. From the Panhandle State, to California, and back again, these two have been proclaiming an aggressive, do-it-yourself vision of hip-hop, opening for big names and playing to packed house shows, one right after another. Last December, they released their first full LP with Blackhouse Records.
Here’s an excerpt of our conversation on beats, Spongebob, Donald Trump, the state of music in Florida, My Chemical Romance, and Broward Ice Cream. Edited mostly because I talked too much.
SING THE NATION ELECTRIC: […] Jah, actually my first question was for you. I wanted to ask which beat from the album are you the most proud of, because I feel like you’re kinda spoiled for choice in that regard.
JAH: … I’m spoiled?
SNE: No, no– which beat from the album are you the most proud of?
JAH: I think I’d have to say– the recent album?
JAH: I think either ‘Meteor’ or ‘Hermes Trismegistus’.
SNE: Awesome, yeah, I loved those two as well. Did you guys record a live guitar for that beat [for ‘Hermes Trigmegistus’], or was there a sample involved?
JAH: Nah, what’s funny is that that was 2 or 3 notes of a sinewave, and then I ran it through a lot of distortion–
SNE: Oh, awesome!
JAH: Yeah, I really warped the sound. It sounds like a guitar, though, right?
SNE: Yeah, it does! That was my first thought, so I wanted to see how you got that, because it really just set the atmosphere for the rest of the track. It’s a great way to open up the album. […] There’s this great moment in the middle of “Zero Tolerance” where you’re going back into the hook, and you slow it down, and the voice gets put through almost this robotic filter. I think it’s at about 2:23. Yeah. What did you use for that?
MATT: Oh, what did you use for that?
JAH: Honestly, I just stretched the fuck out of his words. The initial sentence was, what? What was the sentence?
JAH: “Niggas actin’ like hoes!”
JAH: “Niggas aaaaaaact!” I stretched the fuck out of “act”. I didn’t even go through a filter. I’m just like, “I’m gonna stretch it,” and see where it should drop. I remember we did that at Audacity Studios– remember, I was mixing that?
JAH: Someone was doing the–
MATT: The actual studio session.
JAH: Yeah, someone was doing a studio session– I didn’t even know why we were there.
MATT: I think we were there to hang out with Brett.
JAH: Yeah, we were just there to hang out with somebody, and I was mixing it the whole time, and I know Matt said, “Do something interesting.” So, Matt said, “Do something interesting,” so I was like, “Alright, I’m just gonna do some really weird shit, but there’s a 50/50 chance people could really love it, or really hate it. It ended really well.”
SNE: […] Actually, I also have to ask– what did you sample at the start of that? It almost sounded like it was from a Spongebob episode.
SNE: I got it, yeah, okay! Which episode?
JAH: Yeah, when Sandy– when they first introduce Sandy, and she’s just like, “Yeah, I can see out of this dome! If I live out in this water, I’ll die!”
SNE: I thought that sounded familiar, yeah.
JAH: Exactly. “I don’t need it!”
SNE: Ha. “Don’t need it!” And then it kicks in. That’s great.
JAH: What’s weird is that I’m a Spongebob fanatic, like, I’ll find different pieces to take from the show and add it to everyday life.
SNE: Yeah, I forget where I heard it, but there’s this great video where somebody took […] one of the background noises from the cartoon and mix it into this sick beat, but I couldn’t tell you who did it. I can’t remember the name at all. It sounded a little surreal and it was just perfect.
JAH: Oh, shit.
SNE: Yeah, but I wanted to jump back into “Hermes” before branching out into some other subjects […] On your first set of verses, we hear lines like “how does it feel to appeal to a generation that’s hooked on a lie”, and later on, right before we kick into the hook, we hear “I am a god, I just look like a thug.” What is the message behind those lines […] when it comes to culture, when it comes to politics, when it comes to to identity in a post-Trump America.
MATT: Post-Trump America. Goddamn, that’s an in-depth question. I dunno. The first one, about the generation hooked on a lie, I just felt like shit’s just going to shit, basically. People don’t go out and educate themselves anymore. They just go off the first tweet they see and run with it. No one really knows anything, and that’s how we end up with situations like Trump, where everybody’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s never gonna happen! It’s never gonna happen!” Nobody fucking goes out and votes. And then it happens, and you wonder why.
MATT: And then there’s countless conspiracy theories and lies that were told on a daily basis. I think it’s ridiculous that Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. I think it’s ridiculous that the government is allowed to mandate certain things that is just a part of everyday life. I mean, I’m not gay, but why are you allowed to tell gay people who the fuck they can marry and who they can’t? I just think it’s ridiculous.
MATT: That’s kinda what the “lie” thing is about. And the “I look like a”– what was the other one?
JAH: “I am a god–”
MATT: “I am a god, I just look like a thug”. I mean, that was just based off of me being a regular looking ass black kid where everybody just assumes I’m a thug because my hair’s a certain way, because I dress a certain way.
MATT: But little do they know I’m extremely educated and sophisticated. I can hold a conversation with just about anybody, and black kids look down upon [that] in certain situations where, you know, it’s bad to be the smart kid, the weird kid who actually knows stuff. […]
And then, in other situations, everybody just assumes you’re a fucking retard, when in fact you’re quite educated. And that’s how we end up with black people getting shot all the time. That’s how we end up with minorities being the masses in prisons– and overcrowding in prisons– and I think that it speaks to the stereotypes of the world in a big way.
SNE: Yeah, and as you put it later in that song, “shooting people like it’s the sixties,” you know– the idea that not a whole lot has changed since then.
MATT: Nothing’s changed! Really, nothing has changed! The only difference is not knowing [whether] the establishment thinks that you’re good. I’d rather have you tell me that you hate me, so that I’m not surprised when you decide to arrest me for no reason or shoot me for no reason.
JAH: Arrested for something small.
MATT: Exactly! It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous!
SNE: Yeah. And I can tell you– I mean, full disclosure– I’m Caucasian, I grew up in a very different world, and I can tell you that there’s not a whole lot of awareness in a lot of social circles about what’s going on.
MATT: Yeah, I think that’s awful when people say, “That doesn’t happen to you, Matt! You’re like this! They don’t treat you like that!” I’m like, “Are you fucking retarded? Do you not see my skin tone? Of course I get treated like that.”
SNE: Yeah. And I’m really glad you guys talk about education. [..] I was interested because Scott Rozell from Blackhouse Records actually told me you met in high school. Was there a particular class you guys bonded over?
JAH: We never actually never had any classes together.
MATT: We actually met through a mutual friend at a club that we had in school– never really showed up. But that’s actually how we met. That’s how we initially met, and then, afterwards, we actually started making music together, like a year or two later. Neither one of us are super duper school people. We just educate ourselves, mostly. It’s not that hard to pick up a book.
SNE: Yeah, especially in the age of the Internet.
MATT: Yeah, exactly. Audiobooks are everywhere. Research is everywhere. Everything is open to you, but a lot of people who, if it’s not spoonfed to you, or forced down your throat to take a test, they don’t care to read it.
SNE: Yeah. So were you guys in Broward County in Florida at that time? Or was this somewhere else in the state?
MATT: We both grew up in Broward County. […] We’re from here, but the majority of our fanbase is elsewhere. Everywhere else. I don’t know. It’s like the home base is Florida, but the same problem is our fanbase is bigger.
SNE: So what’s the response when it comes to live shows, then? What’s been the town that’s kinda gotten the most into your shows so far? Have you been to Jacksonville before?
MATT: A couple times. I’d say, uh, California? California was probably our best and favorite show ever. But we’ve done Florida up and down several times.
JAH: Yeah, we’ve opened for a lot of big names, too.
SNE: Awesome, yeah, who have you gotten to do shows with so far?
JAH: Yung Lean, Schoolboy Q–
MATT: Denzel Curry– a lot of people.
SNE: Dude, that’s amazing. I’m actually really glad you mention Schoolboy Q, because we’ll be coming back to him later. But yeah, how many people came in for the California show?
MATT: I’d say a hundred, maybe over. It was this little basement in this backwater area. It was cool. It was a big basement. Not, like, a 20-people-size basement. No, the show was fucking huge. It was packed. […] I’m sorry, man, we’re shopping for alcohol. Just give us a few seconds.
SNE: Oh, no problem.
JAH: Oh, is that Heineken?
MATT: Yes, it is.
SNE: Is Heineken usually your drink of choice?
MATT: Nah, but I like Heineken, as well as Red Stripe. But they typically don’t have Red Stripe out here.
SNE: Yeah, good call.
JAH: How much is it?
JAH: I gotcha.
[PAUSE FOR ALCOHOL PURCHASING]
SNE: I wanted to ask about the music video for “Ice Crim Truck”, because I absolutely love the paint job on that truck. Is that a local business that you worked with, or is that something you guys simply painted up?
MATT: Nah, she’s local as fuck.
JAH: That was Broward Ice Cream.
MATT: Yeah, which was perfect!
SNE: Repping the county; that’s awesome! […] I just love that he [FXRBES, the director] works with underground artists. How did you guys first meet? Was it a couple of mutual friends that connected you?
JAH: No, we knew him from middle school, and we had classes together.
SNE: Oh, that’s awesome!
JAH: Yeah, what’s crazy was… I’m not gonna say I 100% made him, but I told him, “What? You’re gonna major in psychology? Fuck that! If you wanna write scripts and pick up a camera, do that shit!” And in high school, he was like, “You know what, man? Fuck this shit!” So he picked up a camera and started shooting videos. So when Matt and I started making music, I just hit him up, like, “Yo, you should post our videos,” and he was like, “Alright, let’s run it!” And it came out great.
MATT: Yeah, like super fucking great.
JAH: And you know, now that you mention it? I met someone yesterday who said they picked up a camera because they saw our videos.
SNE: Are you serious?!
JAH: I swear!
JAH: Yeah, he said, “I watched you guys’ videos,” and he was like, “I wanna shoot videos.”
MATT: Damn, I didn’t know it was like that. That’s pretty super for an amateur. We just work with the most guerilla stuff that we can find to make it work. Like, we don’t have any type of budget whatsoever, bro. […]
SNE: Before we get too far away, you guys mentioned Schoolboy Q, and I was really interested that you guys opened for him. I think I was listening to the [Nobodies’ self-titled] album about a third time, and I started thinking about the album artwork with the chalk outline, and I started thinking about the slogan you guys have on your SoundCloud, saying that ‘we’re nobodies, trying to be somebody’, and I suddenly started thinking of Schoolboy’s “Blank Face” LP. Do you think there’s a similarity of message there– trying to find identity in this kind of blankness, this empty space, at all?
MATT: I got it from Marilyn Manson.
SNE: Hey, that works just as well!
MATT: Yeah, I had no idea that that existed, so you just taught me something. […] You’d be surprised how little mainstream music we actually listen to. Very, very little.
JAH: Yeah, I don’t know. After a while, we just started– well, personally, after a while you take in your surroundings. People that make shit around me, that’s something.
MATT: It stipulates to the sound that I have right now. It’s better to get inspired by that than the shit you got on the radio. I listen to 80% old R&B music, which sounds nothing like the music that we make. It doesn’t sound anything like it. We really like it.
JAH: I love singing music, but not like R&B, but maybe like alternative rock, classic rock, I like melodies like that. Like when you listen to the song, you’re like, ‘Damn, this is a big deal’. Even though my beats are really simple, when you share the first sound, it sounds rad as fuck.
MATT: I listen to a lot of Queen, and– what else do I listen to?– Beatles, Fall Out Boy, Journey, people like that.
JAH: Oh, My Chemical Romance!
MATT: Yes! […]
JAH: And Muse– Muse is fire!
MATT: Muse, oh my god!
JAH: It’s funny, the way I actually found out about Muse was some chick told me that the writer of Twilight listened to them and them only, and I listened to an album, and I was sold. I was sold.
SNE: Dude, that’s awesome; what’s your favorite Muse album?
JAH: I don’t know.
MATT: I don’t even know the name of the album.
JAH: Whatever album “Stockholm Syndrome” is from. I remember the first time I played that, right after the Beatles. And I was like, “Holy shit, these guys are good.”
MATT: They just do so much, like so much style; their sound literally evolves throughout the entire song. When the song starts, it sounds nothing like that at the end, and I love that. […]
SNE: I wanted to close out the interview by just asking what’s your ambition, long-term, in the rap game? What do you want to leave behind, in Florida and elsewhere, when you get done?
MATT: To be honest, I’m a big advocate of staying true to you, and what you wanna do, and your style, and how you wanna be perceived, and not falling into the cast of everything else that’s going on. I think that’s really important. I want a kid to come up to us now and tell us like, ‘Oh, man, we started doing this because of you guys! We saw you guys open for this person, and we saw you at one of your early shows and now we do this and blah blah blah.” Shit like that makes me feel really, really, really, really good.
Because there’s so many opportunities now to just become a gimmick and try to make it that way, versus actually organically creating something of your own, and trying to make something out of that, and sticking with it. The long-term, I would hope, to just– not even just make a living off of this. I want to create other things. I want to write. I want to create lanes for not just music, but film and poetry and all types of shit. I would like to have a hand in as many things as possible. […]
JAH: A while ago, my answer would have been nothing, but after months, even Eric asked me, “What are your goals?” I couldn’t think of nothing, but I think I got it. Hopping off of what you said, because now all that matters is when them kids are just like– you know, when you can strike inspiration into somebody, that’s so much bigger than anything.
MATT: That’s important as fuck.
JAH: What I want to leave, personally, is revolutionary shit. Even if we’re not the most known, or the most rich, or the most famous, or this and that, but even if there’s just… oh shit, like niggas said, “nobody is the stem of this.” Like, they changed everything. You know what I’m saying? Like they changed everything. Even if we don’t make millions of dollars, and we don’t tour for years and years, just to know that we changed how people look at Florida’s music.
MATT: Yeah, that we were important, that we sparked something important.
JAH: We’re not just Rick Ross, we’re not just like Ace Hood, or Denzel Curry. You know what I’m saying? There’s so much more music out here than Kodak Black, and shit like that? Like, we actually have brains. No offense to them at all; I love their music. I’m saying just that people are doing different sounds. There’s bands, you know what I’m saying? There’s indie bands. Just like you said, there’s screenwriters, there’s videographers–
MATT: There’s a guy who plays the fucking trumpet.
JAH: Yeah! I’m not explaining it 100%, but there’s people who have a lot to do with what happens down here in Florida, but because of what it’s saturated by, it goes over the, you know what I’m saying? Not everybody does “smoke purp” music. Not everybody smokes weed.
MATT: We’re not all lean and soap operas.
JAH: No, we’re not; we actually have things to say.
MATT: Yeah! And that’s why the music sounds like it does, because, yo– listen. Stop being stupid.