Until recently, Huntsville, AL was nearly nonexistent on the rap map. Best known to the outside world for its NASA affiliations, if at all, the city has seen an unexpected creative surge in its hip-hop scene over the past few years, spawning a handful of young talents who quickly turned into blog darlings. Among the most successful of those are ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova, collectively known as G-Side. Since 2007′s Sumthin 2 Hate, the duo has been quietly amassing a catalog of emotionally charged and thoughtfully executed raps backed by the lush, adventurous soundscapes of in-house producers the Block Beataz (imagine Danny Elfman with DJ Toomp’s sample set). Having already dropped the well received The One … Cohesive at the top of the year, the group is currently putting the finishing touches on the followup, Island, set for release in November. ST took some time out from recording to speak to Hive about the genesis of the project, the reason they’ve stayed in Huntsville and their crossover critical appeal in the indie rock world.
Are you approaching Island any differently than you did Cohesive?
Yeah this one will be a lot more hip-hop, whereas Cohesive had a lot of soul and harmonies in it. It’s a lot less structured as far as the formats of the songs, we’re just having fun with it. We did this one in like two months, where Cohesive took about five or six. But we thought on Island for maybe five or six months before we actually touched the studio. We were in the van, traveling city to city and just talking about it and what it should be. And even now that we’re maybe 90% done with it, it’s still growing and changing as time progresses. So we just let it grow naturally, we don’t force it. Whatever’s going on in our lives [goes into our music]. We’re a big family so nine times out of ten whatever’s going on in one person’s life is going on in the next persons’ life.
What’s the significance of the title?
It started with Huntsville. Huntsville is on an island of its own as far as the hip-hop world goes. Not a lot of people come here and we’re not really accepted in a lot of other places like we should be, just because people don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what Huntsville is supposed to sound like. The fact that we don’t sound like [fellow Alabama rappers] Rich Boy or Yela[wolf], it kinda puts us on an island. Also our facilities, our new studio is in a big huge building, like 5500 square feet, and it’s dead in the middle of the city. It’s secluded from everything else, you have to turn down this street and go down this big plaza and it just sits in the middle, this big-ass fucking island. Also in hip-hop we feel like we’re on the island. We do our own thing. We don’t have to conform to what’s supposedly single-ready, we don’t need to try to make radio hits. We’ve gotten to the point where we can just do us and make everything else conform to our way of doing things.
Do you ever worry that you’re limiting yourselves by staying in Huntsville? It seems like you could get your music out there better if you did like Yelawolf did and move to a bigger market like Atlanta.
We made that decision a long time ago. We knew it would be a long road as far as building our own scene and making shit happen on our own instead of going to New York or Atlanta or L.A., but it gives us an identity. It wouldn’t be Huntsville music if we were in Atlanta making it. Us being in Huntsville inspires the music, that’s where the sound comes from. Our regular day-to-day struggles are why people latched on to our shit at first.
Do you have a decent sized hometown following?
Yeah, it’s growing. We knew it was going to take us going outside of the city and doing some big things and then come back in and show what we’d done. Now everybody is like “Oh shit … what the hell have we been doing?” What we had to do is come back and make records for the Huntsville scene. Like with the Tame Impala samples [on Island's "Gettin' It"], nobody knows what the hell Tame Impala is down here! So we had to make records like “Hot Sex and Cold Wine” that could play in the club and give them something that they could latch onto, something they’d feel familiar with but at the same time still do us as far as our other records go, kinda bring them to what we’ve been doing. Catch ‘em up. But we get a lot of love from club DJs now, we get radio spins, got a lot of groupie love.
It seems like there’s a lot of talent blossoming around the city too.
Yeah. [Slow Motion Soundz, the label which G-Side co-runs] has a few new artists: Kristmas, S.L.A.S.H., Bentley, P.H., Joi Tiffany. Joi Tiffany and pH are on the road with us, they’re background singers. We’re gonna start working on pH’s album soon. I put him in the vein of maybe a John Legend. We’ve got an album coming out called No Hooks, I’mma drop it at the first of November as a free download. It’s me, S.L.A.S.H., Kristmas and Bentley and it’s real rappity-rap shit, we’re just going. [It gives us] freedom we don’t have on the albums to just say and do whatever, just have fun. And then we’ll try to out-rap each other all the damn time, so it actually turned out really dope.
Was it a conscious decision to market your stuff through indie rock channels by sampling stuff like Beach House and Tame Impala?
It’s not really the strategy. Our producers are fans of that music or fans of the sound so they’ll just take it and flip it and try to make it their own. A lot of the time me and Clova don’t even know where the shit came from. A lot of times I find out on Twitter.
It’s fascinating to me how you almost have to pick a side. I look at an artist like Big K.R.I.T., for example, who I think is in roughly the same lane as G-Side, but he’s getting all this attention from more traditional hip-hop outlets ,whereas you’re mostly making waves in the indie rock world.
I don’t know where that came from! He’s more accepted by the urban market and we’re not for whatever reason. Maybe because his sound is closer to Pimp C and ours is closer to Tame Impala.
But it’s not exactly. If you didn’t tell me that was a Tame Impala sample I wouldn’t think it was anything but some creative southern rap.
Yeah, but at his core I think K.R.I.T. makes country rap tunes, where our shit is described more as down south hip-hop. It’s not just country rap tunes. It wasn’t based on what Pimp C did, it’s reaching to make a new sound.
Why do you think there’s that conservatism in the urban market? I mean once in a while something like Timbaland happens but for the most part it’s like everyone’s holding back.
I have no idea man. I think it’s just because it’s not a sound that they’re familiar with. When Timbaland came out, he came out with fucking Aaliyah, with the machine behind it. It was a new sound but it was put in your face like this is the new sound. It’s on BET so you’ve already accepted it. Where with us this new sound is on Pitchfork and Stereogum. It’s not so much put in your face or [it doesn't have] major cosigns behind it with everybody telling you that this is what’s next. So people latch on a lot slower. And nowadays with the internet being such a free-for-all people damn near don’t take you serious until you’re on TV.
Are you guys still both working day jobs?
No. I’m full-time music but Clova’s still at the barbershop. Our goal is now to get him out of his job. I think by the end of this year he’ll be able to leave it for good.
So what’s your day-to-day like now?
Usually we’re on the road. After Cohesive dropped we were on the road like crazy so whenever we came home in our off time we’d just chill and relax. I was shooting music videos if there was any extra change I needed to scrape up or whatever, I’d do [that]. But for the past two months it’s just been straight studio, trying to knock the Island out. We stopped all shows and just stayed home and recorded this record. So my day-to-day is I wake up, smoke a blunt and come to the studio.
It seems like you strive to put together records the way people used to — rap songs with ideas and song structures, full lengths that are thoughtfully executed. Is it frustrating that it then goes out to the internet and then has to compete with a hundred half-baked freestyles?
It used to be frustrating. It’s not so much anymore. We appreciate all the recognition and love that we get. The only thing frustrating is trying to wait for that big payoff. But as far as critical acclaim and having diehard fans that are going to come out and support anything that you do, we’ve got that, we’re happy with that, but we’re not content. We still gotta grow and try to reach more people. Our goal is to be able to tour when we’re 40 if we want to and let that be a choice. We want to make classic records, timeless music, and sometimes that takes a little longer to catch onto.