After 2009’s landmark Brooklynati (immortalized on YIMBY’s Best Local Music of 2009 Mixtape and a slew of excellent solo releases, Tanya Morgan, New York’s greatest living heirs to De La Soul is Dead, have finally returned. Their nine-track EP ARMY Edition (out November 22) comes in a “a transitional period” for the group: Founding member Ilyas has left the fold and TM is moving forward, navigating the new hip-hop model as an unsigned duo (their next stop is an album with Bronx rapper/producer 6th Sense).
“Brooklynati was the album we were trying to make this whole time, so for me I felt like, ‘OK, now what?’ says Von Pea. “At the top of this year, everything was different. It’s like, graduating college and moving to a new city. You have to make this new beginning on your own. The best news is we now have an answer to the ‘OK now what?’ and the first answer is this EP.” First single, the breezy “Whatever That’s Mine,” pushes ever-forward with a boinging bassline and Brazilian-tinged sample-work reminiscent of Dilla’s Pharcyde compositions, while the pair tirelessly back-and-forth about staying on path, no matter what.
What inspired “Whatever That’s Mine” lyrically?
Donwill: For me it’s just about being unstoppable. This song is about that nagging voice that tells you to work when you don’t feel like it, or just to believe that you deserve better than what you are getting. The hardest part about being an artist, or hell, I’d say a human, is working through not through other people’s doubts, but your own. For me this song is about those moments where, instead of questioning things, I just powered through it and let the cards fall where they may.
Von Pea: I started off with a quote from one of our old songs, “We Be,” “haterade sippin’ inconsistent nigga,” and using it as tough love. You’re inconsistent because you’re too busy trying to do what the next person is doing! Its also a reintroduction, and… I’d say a taste of newly acquired wisdom. “I realize success is intrusive/ And I enjoy being elusive/ But I can’t prove shit if you can’t view this.”
What inspired it musicially?
Von Pea: Brazilian porn, haha! It has the Brazilian vibe over hip-hop drums. It would be the illest Brazilian porn music ever. In reality, we took a trip to Barcelona and couldn’t even order a damn sandwich properly. We were pointing to pictures and shit like kids in McDonalds. “Yo… voy… queso… um… hamberguesa?… This! Esto!” Real American shit. I got back and made a beat that reminded me of the trip. That groove is so catchy on its own I was just trying to do it justice with all of my little additions. Again, I went to our back catalog for inspiration. If you listen to a song we did called “We Doin’ Our…” you’ll hear a similar swing. I loved that song, I had to do a little nod to that. It’s on our 2008 EP called The Bridge and in my mind, this new one sounds like a sequel to The Bridge.
How did you make this banging rubbery bass drum sound?
Von Pea: After I made the track I trashed it because it didn’t come out right at all. I tried again in… January of this year? I couldn’t get the drum sounds right to save my life. I have this thing I do where I’ll work on music for the day then walk around listening to it. Instead of “the car test” I do the city test and listen that way. The beat kept failing the city test. It was a lot of trial and error. About 20 or 30 different drums and EQs until it sounded like what I heard in my head. Rubbery is the perfect description. The drums sound like I EQ’d a basketball bouncing off of a wall.
Now that you guys are fully Brooklyn, have you considered changing the “Brooklynati” tag?
Donwill: Nah, man. Cincinnati ’til I die! I’ve been in BK for about five years and I refuse to change my driver’s license or my area code. Plus Tanya Morgan is more of a crew than a group at this point. Brickbeats has always been an invisible member, and while Ilyas isn’t there lyrically, his influence definitely is. I definitely can run up in a house party and get amped when they say “Where Brooklyn at?” now though, haha.
Von Pea: No way! Contrary to what Rakim said, for me its about where you from. There’s a song, “In The City,” on the EP where we talk about Cincinnati and Brooklyn. I talk about the first time me and my friends were harassed by cops as kids, and Don talks about going back home and the differences vs. the familiar.
Donwill, what’s your favorite thing about BK that you couldn’t get in Cinci? Conversely, what do you miss about Cinci the most?
Donwill: Rooftop parties are the shit, man, and I’ve learned there is nothing on earth like a proper BK house party. It’s indescribably insane. On the other hand though I just like walking places. I’m still fascinated by the fact that I can walk to the bodega and buy one Band-Aid and a loose Heineken. It’s just a really interesting place to live and it has a really strong spirit. I also love the train, believe it or not. Well, I hate the weekend service but overall I’ve written a lot of my rhymes down there. Something about it helps me to think better. The only thing I miss about Cincinnati other than my friends and family is the space. You are never alone in NYC ever and that’s kinda weird to me. I also miss the rent there.
Von Pea: I want to chime in and say I love Grippos. If you have a hard copy of Brooklynati, they’re the chips I’m eating on the artwork. They only have them in parts of Ohio though.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York City?
Donwill: We played the new Knitting Factory with the Hood Internet and it was just a great vibe. The crowd had no idea who we were and it just instantly turned into a dance party and not a stand-and-stare kinda thing. It was nice to see people just dance and have fun instead of hold up camera phones and stand in place nodding.
Von Pea: I dont know if it qualifies as irony, but we did a show with Wale in 2009. The bill was J. Cole, Big Sean, Wale, and… us. We went right before the headliner, Wale, and killed it! Now all of them are top 10 artists. It’s memorable because it showed me what’s possible if the listeners give you a fair listen. They all got up there and shouted out their respective co-signers and alliances to applause, while we don’t have any major co-sign or popular crew. We have fans in high places but no official hand on our shoulder like a Jay or Ye or whoever. The crowd gave us a fair listen and loved it… not to mention we went after people they knew, so that was the perfect time for them to grow impatient and boo the strangers. That didn’t happen. In my mind, a lot of people fuck with us but there’s no real reason to shout it from the mountains, so they simply don’t.
And, I always ask, what’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Donwill: Fette Sau. My homie took me there one day and I had no idea there was BBQ like that in Williamsburg.
Von Pea: I’m not a foodie at all. I’m one of those people that eat to not be hungry anymore. I have a favorite hero spot, Farmer in the Deli in Ft. Greene, on some hood shit but that’s it. I don’t even have a favorite food! Tragedy.
Von Pea plays a solo show tonight at Public Assembly with Kooley High, Fresh Daily and Median. Women free, guys $5.